Ortega Falls

img_5343 A Short, But Rocky Scramble

I knew there was a Falls somewhere off the Ortega Highway, near the Candy Store. I also knew that with the drought, it was dried up and not cascading last year when we stayed in Lake Elsinore for the winter. But this year was different, turning cooler and wetter with severe storms pummeling Southern California. One such storm damaged a section of Road on the Ortega Highway in Orange County preventing traffic flowing from Lake Elsinore to San Juan Capistrano.


But businesses such as the Candy Store, Kristy’s Country Store, Hell’s Kitchen, and The Lookout House were still open, as were our favorite places to hike. It took a homemade sign near the intersection of Grand Avenue and the Ortega Highway to remind me of the Falls. It simply said Candy Store, Hiking, Falls, Camping.

We have driven by this dirt packed turnout between El Cariso Village and the Candy Store many many times not knowing that a trail leading to the Ortega Falls is hidden here. (Or, that from the turnout you could actually view the waterfall.)


So, bound and determined, I used Google Maps for an exact location, trying to visualize the turnout.



Apparently, some 5+ years ago the turnout was marked by a sign requiring all parked cars to display an Adventure Pass or its equivalent.


But not in 2015, 2016, or 2017…

So, after several rainy days we go exploring in search of the Ortega Falls.

There are several trails leading from the turnout where we park, beside many other cars filled with fellow hikers and waterfall seekers. We choose one because Jeff assures me that all trails will meet eventually. As we start out I capture the Santa Ana Mountains above us.


According to hikespeak.com, Ortega Falls is a 35-foot seasonal waterfall just off the Ortega Highway in the Santa Ana Mountains. Although the hike to and back is only 1/3 of a mile, the most prominent trail is an arduous scramble of rocks leading to the base of the Falls. Apparently we missed the fork in the trail leading to the right “uphill along the lip of the canyon along a dirt and rock trail heading straight to the base of the Falls.” 


I scramble on my butt and knees while Jeff confidently hops from rock to rock until it becomes too slippery. (In my defense, I have miss-stepped one too many times spraining my ankle or hurting my knee.) Too much caution, however can be just as dangerous. I rely on Jeff’s strong arms and encouragement to support me.

We arrive at the pool beneath the Falls. (Other hikers along the way have expressed my same hesitation to continue. But a father and his small son jump from rock to rock in bare feet.)




Below the pool, the cascade continues.






We look up to the top of the Falls.


And decide to head back.

I take a picture of the trail back. Can you find it?


Neither can I!

Rain, Rain…

img_5149 …Comes again so many days!

This is the view of the lake from inside the RV over the past several days.



Last winter was sunny, warm, and dry. This winter is cloudy, cool, and wet. But California needs the rain to repair the devastation of the last decade of drought. Unfortunately, many areas are flooded and mudslides from barren mountain sides are closing streets, especially near Los Angeles.

Jeff and I venture out one cool, windy morning to check out the lake.

So cool… these photos look like they were filtered in black and white! Also notice how high the water has risen at the pier.



This is what the pier looked like in October.


We head southeast to the sandy beach where tent campers and RVs with no hook-ups spend the night.


Erosion breaks down the sand creating watery veins off the lake.


The clouds and wind cast a gloomy shadow across the lake while the sun struggles to take over.



To the west the Ortega Highway is shrouded in clouds.


Then we turn around looking back from where we started, toward where our RV is parked…


The black and white view is gone. The sky shines blue and a rainbow peeks in and out.







According to the National Weather Service, Los Angeles has received more than 13.52 inches of rain between October 1, 2016 and January 23, 2017. That’s a 216% increase from the norm! Floods, mudslides, overturned trees, and deaths have occurred.

The Ortega Highway, our mountain pass lifeline into San Juan Capistrano and the Pacific Ocean is also closed indefinitely. Part of the roadway, about 1.5 miles east of Gibby Road in Orange County, has been damaged due to the recent rains.

img_5169 ocregister.com

Originally thought to be a sinkhole, city workers from Lake Elsinore say the damage is actually a “slip out”, where water sliding down from the upper slopes pools into a culvert and starts to erode the highway underneath. This undermining of the road bed under the asphalt has created at least a 2-foot void. Further geo-technical assessments will determine exactly how far down the pavement has been compromised. (Lake Elsinore Patch, January 2017)

According to KTLA News, engineers think the damage is even more significant than first believed. Unfortunately, the equipment needed to assess the damage is in Sacramento, CA. (ktla.com)

img_5167 ocregister.com

Happy New Year?

image 2017

Once again we welcome in a brand new year in Lake Elsinore, CA.


Jeff worked a 2-seating buffet at Pechanga Casino in Temecula, so I welcomed in the New Year with the dogs, watching movies and drinking Prosecco. Across the lake displays of fireworks announced the magic moment to turn the calendar over.  I had a front row seat out the RV windows.

Unfortunately this year is off to a less than an encouraging start. Jeff’s father’s heart is failing. In the first few days of the new year he spent 2 days in the hospital and then returned to the ER several days later. Now Jeff, his 2 brothers, and sister are all in Indianapolis to say goodbye to their father as he settles into hospice care.

Jeff flew out of Santa Ana in Orange County early yesterday morning. By 7:30 I was back in Lake Elsinore feeling sad (and relieved that I survived the drive back, as this was my first time driving on California’s multi-laned freeways, 3 of them, no less!) I took the dogs out for their morning walk and was struck by the surreal view of the lake. So, I went back to get my iPad and took these pictures because they depict the melancholy of my soul right now, a pensive sadness seasoned with gratefulness.


The low lying clouds block the view of the mountains and the city beyond giving me a sense of loneliness and disconnect. But I know that the sun will burn off the clouds and the mountains and city will reappear.

Look closely at the boat ramp and the piers perched next to the orange pylons showing how low the level of the lake is this year. Last summer  was very hot and rainless in Lake Elsinore. But since we’ve been here mid-October, rain and cooler temperatures have prevailed. As a matter of fact, due to all the recent rains, the dam at Canyon Lake was opened to prevent flooding and the excess water spilled into Lake Elsinore raising the overall level of the lake by 1 foot.

Today the sun is bursting over the lake. Last year we took sun and cloudless blue skies for granted.


A few steps later, I can take some softer pics behind some palm trees… pics that inspire me to reflect on what I am feeling inside.




Let me think how to begin… I am not depressed. I am just honestly acknowledging my feelings to myself and fighting the urge to judge myself harshly.

My world feels off- kilter and I don’t know why. I am in love with and married to my best friend. I feel loved by everyone in my family and beyond, and I love everyone in my family and beyond. I am living my dream. I am happy. But, like the picture below, I am in a fog.


Some days I feel so unmotivated and this feeling really scares me. I judge myself when I don’t wake up with a smile, take a walk, do something productive… when all I want to do is eat, drink wine, and sleep. I feel like I am losing a part of myself, like I am grieving something I can’t explain.

This may sound trite and ridiculous but as 2016 came to a close 3 deaths hit me in the face… George Michael and Carrie Fisher were so unexpected, but when Debbie Reynolds passed away the day after her daughter left us, I felt an unexpected sorrow.

Perhaps I felt a premonition.

As I publish this post, I have just found out that Jeff’s father is gone. I am grateful that Jeff could be there to say goodbye to him.

Joe Jernigan, we will all miss you! Your smile, your positive attitude, your jokes, laughter, stories, and love made us all better persons for having been a part of your life! We will grieve losing you and pick up the pieces of our broken hearts and slowly go on living again.


image What am I?

I am 4 letters long. I can be seen in the sky. I am the ocean and the sea. ?????





It’s a sunny, cloudless, 65 degree morning after 2 days of sputtering rain and whipping winds. We venture across the Santa Ana Mountains via the Ortega Highway through San Juan Capistrano, driving as far west as possible until we reach Doheny State Beach in Dana Point and…


arrive at the Pacific Ocean.

It’s quiet at the beach. The bamboo mat is rolled out like a red carpet beckoning us to make our grand entrance.


We reach the sandy pebble-packed “walk of fame”, emblazoned with the footprints large and small, of those who visited before us.




Surfers wait patiently to catch some waves to ride.




And I wait excitedly to capture the waves exploding on the rocks feeling their aftermath bathing my feet and pulling the sand beneath me…






…rendering me and the shore birds off balance as they retreat into the sea again.


The sea shore always looks, sounds, and smells different while still tasting salty and feeling the same between the toes. The sand here, however, is not soft on this rocky beach


and the only shells that wash up are the bits and pieces leftover from the shore birds’ crustacean dinners. Today lobster shells are left behind.





It’s a smelly beach today too with deposits of red and green seaweed and kelp washed ashore by the waves and wind.







Within an hour the waves die down and the tide goes out, revealing the rocky surface that was under the water when we first arrived.


The ocean inspires me to be present and fully alive in each moment. I walk quietly and wait for the waves to embrace me and then let me go. The waves erase my footprints reminding me that I can always start over and admonishing me to not take myself too seriously.

Dressed in sunlight, the water sparkles and the washed up pebbles shine like jewels. I am mesmerized by the brilliance around me and grateful for this gift from the sea.

But the ocean has a dark and angry side as well, which I fear and respect. It’s yin and yang personality tells us a story about nature, life, and earth… lessons we can take to heart.

And finally…


You Can Always Go… Downtown Part 3

imageAs we head back to the Marina and our RV, 2 more venues deserve our attention on Graham Avenue.

A cash-only dive bar, Wreck, commemorates the November 2014 Grand Prix racing on its colorful outside mural. Inside, local color and hospitality greet customers.




The Motorsports Park on Cereal Street hosts annual races each November.

image moto-media.net

Jack’s BBQ Shack serves monstrous proportions of beef ribs and sides. Its motto is real wood, real fire, real smoke… real good! And, I might add, real spicy! First time customers are invited to try a sample from the pot. Delicious!





You Can Always Go… Downtown Part 2

image  By April of 1888 Elsinore became a thriving city. Brick buildings began to line Main Street downtown. A post office delivered mail daily. The soil, water, and climate contributed to successful harvests of fruits and nuts. Coal, clay, and gold mines prospered.

By the 1920s, Lake Elsinore was a favorite playground for the rich and famous. High speed boat racing was popular. The mural below is on the corner of a building at the intersection of Main Street and Graham Avenue.



The writing on the bottom reads: Scenic Lake Elsinore circa 1924, The Clevlin Pier on Lakeshore Drive. Yacht racing and the “Princess” can be seen in the background. 

Celebrities seeking an escape from the glamour of Hollywood built vacation homes on the hills overlooking Lakeshore Drive. Apparently the house built by actor Bela Lugosi, the original Dracula, still stands today on these hills in the district called Country Club Heights. A famous house that can be seen from Lakeshore Drive is a unique Moorish-style temple called “Aimee’s Castle.”


In 1928 Aimee Semple McPherson, a famous evangelist based in Los Angeles, built quite a palace which she lived in part-time until 1939. A Canadian-American, Sister Aimee founded the Foursquare Church and became a media sensation known for her radio broadcasts. Rumor has it that Johnny Depp once owned this spacious house.






More Lake History…

Ah, the lake! It has survived a pattern of droughts and floods, floods and droughts. After going completely dry in the 1950s, something had to be done. In 1964 the lake was filled artificially with water brought in from the Colorado River. And in 1972 the city was officially named Lake Elsinore. With lake in its title the city had to do something to end the cycle of flooding and drying. So it lobbied the federal government in 1984 and received a loan and grant to implement the Lake Elsinore Management Project which was completed in 1995. By 1997 the Recycled Water Task Force successfully supplements the lake level with recycled water that is safe for full body contact.  The recycled water also irrigates the land in the area. There are plaques along the River Walk that explain this process.

(lake-elsinore.org, en.m.wikipedia.org)

Hudson, Tom. Lake Elsinore Valley, It’s Story, 1776-1977. Lake Elsinore, CA: Published for Lake Elsinore Valley Bicentennial Commission by Laguna House, 1978.

Today Lake Elsinore has a population of 51,821. (suburbanstats.org) Main Street is home to antique stores, thrift shops, restaurants, specialty stores, and city hall.



City Hall

City Hall

You Can Always Go… Downtown Part 1

imageFrom the Marina turn right onto Riverside Drive, heading east. Turn right at Lakeshore Drive and head south. At the fork in the road bear left and continue on Graham Avenue until it intersects with Main Street.

Lake Elsinore’s downtown dates back to 1888 when the city became incorporated as Elsinore with a population of 1,000.





But let’s step back in time to discover a little bit about its history and how it became known as Lake Elsinore.

The earliest inhabitants were the Luiseno tribe of Native Americans and they called the area “Entengvo Wumoma” which meant Hot Springs by the Little Sea. Later the Spaniards named the lake Laguna Grande and when the future city became part of a Mexican land grant, the area was known as Rancho La Laguna.

Fast forward now to 1858. Don Agustin Machado acquires the entire 12,832 acres of the Rancho and builds a house on what is now Grand Avenue as part of the Butterfield stage coach route relay station for passengers and mail.

The house is now vacant but it remains in an open field near the intersection of Riverside Drive and Grand Avenue facing west toward the Ortega Highway.


In 1883 Franklin Heald purchases the Rancho for $24,000. A wife of one of the group of founders names the city Elsinore after the Danish city mentioned in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet.

Heading back downtown, The Crescent Bath House, known as “The Chimes”, opened in 1887. Visitors came seeking the healing power of the hot springs rich in minerals and sulphur. Today this building still stands on the corner of Graham Avenue and Spring Street but is no longer open to the public.



Diagonally across the street from “The Chimes” is the Atchinson, Topeka, and Santa Fe Train Depot. The building is now home to the Lake Elsinore Chamber of Commerce.



The caption on the mural reads: Elsinore Santa Fe Train Station depicted here, circa late 1890s with a few of our founders. From left Donald Graham, Margaret Collier Graham, William Collier, and Capt. Leonard Buckingham Peck. (Yes, I know the order of names is incorrect. So, who is William and who is Leonard?)