Idyllwild Town Monument by David Roy

I’ve been watching the progress on the Idyllwild Town Monument for a couple of years now as I drove by in my car, and yesterday I decided to get a closer look. The artist, David Roy, was busy working, but he took a minute to pose for me.

David RoyIdyllwild Town Monument

Idyllwild Town MonumentSign about the Monument

Gargoyles in Idyllwild

The entrance to the artist’s workspace is pictured above – notice the stone lamp posts and the Gargoyles atop each one – they’re wonderful! And funnily enough, they don’t seem out of place in Idyllwild…

David Roybear-statue

David Roy at work, and one of the many other pieces of his work, on the property.

Idyllwild Town Monumentdetail of wood carving

I wasn’t the only one stopping to look – the monument is a big tourist attraction. Note the guy with a camera up to his eye – I wasn’t the only one shooting photographs either! And in fact, the artist encourages it! For more on David Roy, see


Fallbrook Avocado Festival this weekend

Fresh Local Avocados // Photo: Cheryl Spelts>Wasn’t today amazing! It really is starting to feel like summer is on the way, and I love summer, so that makes me very very happy!

In other news, the Fallbrook Avocado Festival is this weekend! If you’ve never been it’s the one Sunday of the year when all of Fallbrook’s neighbors come to town to buy avocados, hear live music, eat really greasy fair food – or escape the fair food by ducking into one of Fallbrook’s wonderful restaurants – and walk past 300 vendor booths selling everything from solar water systems to fine art to junky tchotchkes to more avocados – it’s all available!, the official travel blog for the San Diego Region, run by the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, ran one of my images on their blog today – from the 2008 Festival. It’s the image on the right.

And just because I like it, I’ll leave you today with one of my favorite images from that 2008 Avocado Festival – it’s just soooo Fallbrook! Pretty girls having a grand time – what better image of Fallbrook is there? You can see the rest of my images from that year by clicking here!

Spinning Carnival Ride at the Fallbrook Avocado Festival // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Lake Elsinore, California

Lake Elsinore, California

Crescent Bath House, Lake ElsinoreI’m a fifth generation Californian on one side of my family, and a fourth generation on the other side – and I grew up in San Diego County – but there’s still a lot of Southern California that I’ve never seen – like Lake Elsinore!

I’d always heard negative things about Lake Elsinore – over the years I’d heard that the lake was drying up, that it was polluted, that the fish were all dying and floating on the surface of the lake, that the population was made up of drug dealers and gang-bangers, and finally that the city itself was really ugly and should be bulldozed. Well guess what? All the rumors were WRONG!

I needed to get from Riverside to Orange County a couple of months ago, and Google Maps suggested the Ortega Highway – which sounded great with me! It’s this little two lane highway through the mountains – meaning you get to skip the freeway, and it’s much quicker, and it’s beautiful – lots of oak trees up there!

It was a Sunday morning, and I was looking forward to the drive, but the biggest surprise was when I got to Lake Elsinore and spotted Main Street – vintage buildings, most from the 1920’s and one really special big Victorian building on a side street, with spires on top. I didn’t have time to stop and explore then, but I was thoroughly intrigued! So when I got home, I Googled! Turns out Lake Elsinore is a lot more interesting that I was led to believe!

The big Victorian building with the spires on top is actually a local landmark – it’s the old Crescent Bath House – there are hot springs all over Riverside County, and the town of Elsinore sprang up 1883, because it was the location of one of those springs.

Crescent Bath House, Lake Elsinore

Crescent Bath House Porch PostCrescent Bath House

The Bath House was built in 1887, and enough of it remains as originally built, to get a pretty good idea of what it was like 122 years ago. It’s really fun to see! There are a series of small rooms, each with a small rectangular pool – totally unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Most of the pools are covered over now, but one remains in fairly original condition, and you can peak in and imagine what it must have been like to bathe there, in the naturally heated 132° mineral water. Must have been great! And maybe it can be great again? The building is for sale, so maybe someone with some vision will buy it and open a really upscale yet vintage day spa, with natural mineral baths!

Lake Elsinore, CaliforniaOther interesting facts about Lake Elsinore? It was originally named after the Danish city of Elsinore in Shakespeare’s Hamlet – the name was officially changed to Lake Elsinore only recently. The lake did actually go dry for most of the 1930’s and the 1950’s, and there was massive flooding in the 1980’s, but they monitor it now, to keep the water level constant. At one time it was a weekend getaway spot for Hollywood celebrities and one very famous evangelist – Aimee Semple McPherson – who built a castle up on one of the hills overlooking the lake.

And now? Well there are some nice restaurants downtown, a couple of clothing shops, a few antique shops, and a variety of businesses you’d find on any Main Street – a locksmith, real estate office, an accountant, a florist, and an ice cream shop – totally Main Street, America!

Oh, and there are a few dive bars around town – part of the charm of any place that gets tourists, is in the dive bars!

One final note… these images were shot yesterday, and yes the sky really was that blue and it really was that sunny and beautiful. Tomorrow may be the official start of winter and the shortest day of the year, but it’s been 80° and fabulously beautiful here all week! Couldn’t ask for anything better…

Calico Ghost Town

For years it seemed like every time I’d drive through the Mojave Desert on the way to Vegas I see the signs pointing to Calico Ghost Town, and think next time! It’s just off the highway, only a couple of miles, but it always seemed like I was in a big hurry to either get to Vegas, or to get back home, or I had a passenger who wasn’t interested, or I was a passenger and the driver wasn’t interested, or it was the middle of the night, or it was too hot… Get the picture? It just never happened.

But last summer I was driving alone, and I wasn’t in a big rush for once, and when I saw the signs I knew this was the time!

Calico Ghost Town Bottle House // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsBottle House // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

The town originally boomed in the mid 1880’s when it sprouted up near several silver and borax mines. With a population of 1200 at it’s height, it was a prosperous little town with four dentists, several churches, a newspaper, and of course lots of bars and brothels! It was a true wild west town, in every sense. But by the turn of the century the mines were no longer producing, and the population moved on, and the town essentially died. In the 1950’s the Knott Family, of Knott’s Berry Farm bought the town, and using old photos they restored the few remaining original buildings and then rebuilt many of the structures that no longer existed. There’s a definite “theme park” feel to much of the town, but that’s okay – it’s still fun – and it’s not a bit slick, like Disneyland – it’s rustic, and rough, and feels somewhat authentic. A dozen years or so after acquiring it, the Knott Family donated the renovated town to San Bernardino County.

Calico Ghost Town // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Old Window // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

My family visited Calico back when I was a kid – during it’s second hey dey – as a county regional park. I remember it feeling like a cross between Little House on the Prairie and Knott’s Berry Farm – old houses and old fashioned clothing crossed with ghost stories and lots of candy! My favorite things during that trip were a house made entirely of bottles, other houses built into the hillsides, and the sticks of hard candy. So as I drove up this time, those were the things I most wanted to see.

I was surprised to see no one at the gate – no one to collect the fee to get in – just an open gate. It was after 4pm on a hot summer day, and the town was virtually deserted. Just a few tourists – speaking French, Italian, and German – but no English. I was virtually the only one from California in the whole place – except for a handful of employees closing up the shops that line the main street. So I headed straight for the bottle house – somehow I just knew where to find it – childhood memories can be pretty vivid! I was a little disappointed though when I read the sign and realized that it had built by Knott’s employees, in a style that “may” have existed in Calico – but there’s no guarantee there actually was ever a bottle house in Calico back in 1885. All these years my memory was of this great house made of bottles that was over a hundred years old and built by a miner – but that’s not exactly accurate. Try over 50 years old and built by the employees of a theme park! But it’s still fun to see.

Candy Shop // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Vintage Laundry // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsBarrel Candy // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I also stopped in at the general store and bought some root beer barrel candy – just as good as I remember! And I marvelled once again at the beautiful rock that surrounds the town – and was facinated once again by the houses built into that rock. It’s not hard to understand why Calico was a good spot for mining, if you look at the huge walls of rippling rock everywhere.

Door in the Hill at Calico Ghost Town // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Calico Ghost Town // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Mount Rubidoux

It was too hot to go all the way to the top of Mount Rubidoux yesterday. I got a little more than halfway up, and then stopped caring about actually reaching the top. It was over 90° by midmorning, and there were lots of things I could think of to do, way more compelling than a walk in the sun, uphill!

So I got up earlier today, and it was cooler, and I went the rest of the way up – and I was rewarded with a beautiful bright blue sky, and some pretty clouds – it was well worth it!

World Peace Bridge on Mount Rubidoux // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Mount Rubidoux // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsMount Rubidoux Bridge // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I love the plaque on the tower/bridge – even if there was no date on it, you would know it was circa 1925, just by the art deco stylized lettering. It’s an absolutely perfect example of high art deco, and reads, “Peace with Justice for All Men. Anno Domini 1925. This bridge was built by neighbors and friends of Frank Agustus Miller, in recognition of this constant labor in the promotion of civic beauty, community righteousness, and world peace.”

Frank Miller was the second owner of Mount Rubidoux, along with Henry Huntington. The first owner, in the mid-1800s was Louis Robidoux – note Robidoux, not Rubidoux, as it’s spelled today. Miller, of the Mission Inn, and Huntington, a railroad magnate, bought the hill in the early 1900’s, in order to develop the land around it – as a housing development. There’s a spot dedicated to Huntington as well, but it’s not as interesting as Miller’s dedication.

Mount Rubidoux // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsRunning on The Mount // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I was fascinated by the number of people pushing strollers up and down the hill, with one or two children in them, while running. It’s a three mile loop, if you do the whole thing, and at least half of that is uphill, so pushing a stroller would really make it a workout – and lots of people do it. The other popular thing to do is to bring a dog or two, on a leash, while carrying a couple of the blue plastic “doggie” bags that are provided at the start of the trail.

Cross on Mount Rubidoux // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

The cross at the very tip-top of the mountain. The first cross was erected on the spot soon after Miller and Huntington bought the property, and one has stood there ever since. It’s dedicated to Father Junipero Serra, one of the founders of several of the California missions.

The first Easter sunrise service was held here in 1909 – and they still happen today – and in fact, the Mount Rubidoux Easter Service is generally considered the longest-running outdoor Easter service in the United States. I blogged about it in May of 2008.

The tiny dark dot at the base of the cross is actually a guy sitting with his back to the cross. Up on top of the world, it’s a good place to think.

Looking west, toward Jurupa and Rubidoux, and the Santa Ana River // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

The view, looking west, toward Jurupa and Rubidoux, and the Santa Ana River. The top of the mount is exactly 500 feet above the banks of the Santa Ana River below.

View of Downtown Riverside // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

And the view to the east – Downtown Riverside, including the historical cemetery on the bottom left.

Blue Flowers / Photo: Cheryl Spelta

And finally I’ll end with something floral – I just can’t resist the lure of blue flowers, first thing in the morning!

Beaumont and Banning

Beaumont and Banning // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

A few days ago, on my way down the hill, I stopped to shoot the city of Banning from above. The incline is so steep, I didn’t have to go to a special view site, I just pulled over on the side of the road, and shot over the edge! The snowcapped mountain in the background is the Big Bear/Lake Arrowhead area, and directly behind me would be the Idyllwild area – Banning is located smack in the middle between those mountain resort areas, in the valley below.

I’ve never known very much about Banning, it was always just a dusty little town on the way to the desert. In fact, in my family we say “Beaumont and Banning” like it’s all one place, when in reality they are two separate neighboring cities. Sisters in the same valley, but definitely separate cities. I spent the day exploring both.

Beaumont is the smaller of the two, population-wise, but it seems bigger driving through? I’m not sure why? Banning has twice the population, but it seems smaller and dustier, which I actually like. The fewer big box stores, the better, as far as I’m concerned! It also has a tiny but cute downtown area with an old theater that still shows movies. I read over the weekend that the movie theater was being considered for a grant to get the outside repainted, and the inside renovated – so it sounds like that theater will stay healthy, business-wise.

What I like best about both cities is the fact that there are so many old houses. It was never a terribly wealthy area, so the old houses are all small – there are no big Victorian mansions like you’d find in downtown Riverside or Redlands, but if you’re looking for a little old house, they have them!

Pink Blossoms  // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I’ll end with a shot of a branch from a tree in Banning – nothing special, but every spring, this kind of tree knocks me out – the blossoms are so PINK! And with no leaves, just masses of hot pink flowers, they look too unreal to be real. So I stopped and got my yearly image, and that’s that. And I’ll probably do it again next year!

Jury Duty in Riverside, California

Riverside Courthouse // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I’ve never served on a jury before. It’s not exactly something I wanted to do, but it’s definitely a civic duty and I believe in our judicial system, and since Riverside County seems to summon citizens exactly once a year without fail, it was really only a matter of time before I was selected.

Honestly I enjoyed the trial itself – it was a quick one, only a few days – and the process was fascinating. But once the trial was over, and jury deliberations started, that’s when it got ugly. I was sort of stunned by how easily some of my fellow jurors threw the judge’s instructions out the window – and how some were more interested in following their gut reactions, rather than just rely on the evidence. To say it was an eye-opening experience is to put it mildly. I still believe in our system, but I’m even more grateful that it’s 12 jurors, and not 6 or 8!

Riverside Courthouse // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I took these images on the first day, with my iPhone at lunch. The courthouse was built in 1904, and was modeled after the Grand and Petit Palais in Paris – so it’s absolutely beautiful! And it has orange trees growing in front, reminiscent of Riverside’s heydey – and they were in full bloom. Orange blossoms may be my all-time favorite scent – just pure heaven. And the area around the courthouse is equally as beautiful – it’s right in the middle of downtown, just blocks from where I used to live.

Riverside Courthouse // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Overall the experience was stressful and not fun, but I’m glad I was able to do it. It felt good to see the system working, and it felt good to be a part of it. But if that was my one and only time behind those closed juror doors, that would be fine with me!

Oh, and the newspaper headline in the image above is NOT from the trial I was on. That was the headline on the local paper the first day I served, and it just jumped out at me, so I shot the image in front of the courthouse. I am extremely thankful I wasn’t a part of a trial with an ending like that!

Bay Tree Spring

I grew up in San Diego County, and although I’ve been coming to Idyllwild since I was a kid, I had never taken the road from Idyllwild to Banning. I’d gone from Idyllwild to Palm Springs, and from Idyllwild to Hemet, but I’d never taken that third route off the hill, through Banning, until last year. But since I found it, I love it, since it’s the most direct route to get to both Riverside and Los Angeles.

And on that route, just off the side of the road in a certain spot, there were always a couple of cars stopped. I could see some old rock work as I passed by – it looked sort of like a manmade wading pool or fountain, but I really didn’t know what it was. Then I heard someone talking about the natural spring on Highway 243 and it all made sense. Riverside county was known for it’s springs at one time – think about all the places named after springs – Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Gilman Hot Springs, Murrieta Hot Springs, etc. In fact, the hot springs were a big tourist attraction long ago.

Bay Tree Spring // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsBay Tree Spring // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I had never actually seen a spring before, and I kept intending to stop sometime, but I hadn’t actually gotten around to it yet, and then yellow tape went up all around it. Then I read that because of all the snow we got this year, the spring had high levels of bacteria. Evidently as the snow pack melts, it carries contamination from animal waste, and that causes the bacteria level to be too high for safe human consumption. Okay, that makes sense. So yellow caution tape should keep people out – right? Well apparently not. A few people are evidently still drinking the water. I understand – spring water is usually pure, and definitely healthier than water that has been chlorinated – but in this case, those healthy natural minerals are offset by bacteria. Yuck!

Bay Tree Spring // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

But unfortunately, because a few people are drinking the water, despite the signs and warning tape, now the U.S. Forest Service is considering capping off the spring for good. We’re talking about a spring that has been there for decades – the stonework was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps – and it’s safe to drink from the majority of the year, but because it’s potentially unsafe for part of the year, especially after a lot of rain or snow, we may lose it forever? That just makes my head spin. Especially since there have been no reports ever of anyone getting sick from this particular spring. It’s true that the human body can handle some bacteria, and while the Forest Service may have determined that the contamination is too high, there are people drinking from it, and suffering no ill affects. I personally would not drink from it now – but if a few people want to ignore warning signs in three different languages and caution tape, and they aren’t getting sick, is that really a reason to permanently cap it off?

Bay Tree Spring // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

There is a sign at the spring, asking for the public to comment on the matter – nothing is decided yet about the future of Bay Tree Spring – the proposal to close it is just that, a proposal. If you would like to keep it open you can contact Heidi Hoggan, San Jacinto Ranger District, P.O. Box 518, Idyllwild, CA 92549 or email her at by April 20, 2009.

Why keep it open? Well for me, it’s a part of our history. And it’s unusual, and different, and fun. It would be sad to lose something that special. For others, it’s the healing properties of the water – when it’s safe to drink from, the water is oxygen rich and full of minerals. And for others, it’s just the best tasting water in Southern California. I’ve actually heard that from several people, and I do believe it because all the water in Idyllwild is great. Maybe someday I’ll get to try the water from Bay Tree Spring? I hope so!

From Los Angeles, Last Week

Last week I spent a couple of days in Los Angeles – I saw some friends, went to a concert, and shot a really fun session – more on that later! But I also got to spend some time at a few of my favorite places, and made a few images along the way, which I’ll share now…

The Wiltern Theater // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsThe Wiltern Theatre // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Some architectural details from one of my favorite art deco buildings, The Wiltern in Los Angeles. Usually when you think of the Wiltern, which houses the Wiltern Theater, you think of the green tile exterior, but I focused more on the ticket booth area, including the fabulous ceiling and the stamped silver wall. The whole building is just fabulous!

View from Griffith Observatory // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

The view from the Griffith Observatory, at sunset on a very cloudy afternoon in early March. A few big raindrops fell that day, and then the next day was clear and sunny and beautiful – the real rain didn’t come until the day after I left the city.

My last post about the snow…

Idyllwild Snowman // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsI promise, this will be my very last post about the snow and winter and everything cold. It’s almost spring, the seasons are about to change, what more is there to say? Right? Turns out I have a lot to say, so I need this one last post, to get it all out…

I’ll admit it, I didn’t have any idea what a real winter was like before this year. I wasn’t totally oblivious – I spent time in the snow every year, as a tourist. My family spent Christmas in Idyllwild many many times over the years. I thought I “got” snow. But there’s something about living with it, that is very different than visiting it. I also fully understand that dealing with a little snow is a lot better than dealing with bitter cold, and I’m very grateful that we don’t get that kind of weather here in Idyllwild. Even at it’s coldest, it’s never too bad – this is Southern California, after all.

So I’m not complaining – really I’m not! But I have noticed a few interesting things this winter and thought I’d share my top ten!

First, I think it’s kind of funny that I came to Idyllwild thinking it would probably be a light year for snow. I don’t know why I thought that? It wasn’t based on anything I’d heard or read, just my own personal desire. But I was really wrong. In December we got the second largest snowfall since 1947, and the power was out for four days – something that hasn’t happened in at least 30 years. In January very little new snow fell, but February so far has had the fourth highest snowfall totals on record – so not only was it not a light year for snow, it was a record year.

Second, I’ve been surprised at how different the snowfall can vary between different locations within Idyllwild. The official snowfall total for the big December storm was 21 inches downtown, but the elevation of the downtown area is only about 5400 feet, and where I live at 6800 feet, we got well over 36 inches in that same storm. The totals were very similar in last week’s storm – downtown got 18.7 and we got just under 36 inches.

Third, I’ve learned that snow can blow sideways, and if it does, there will be pockets that are really deep. The storm last week dumped about three feet of snow here, over six days, but I heard about a guy who had snow drifts five feet high, because of that sideways-blowing snow. Can you even imagine? Three feet is tough enough, you sink up to your thighs, and it’s difficult to get around, but you can do it. With five feet of snow, you’d be literally stuck. Even if you wanted to shovel out, where would you heave the excess snow? I know I couldn’t heave it up over my head for very long! I almost hope the story was a bit of an exaggeration – maybe he only had four feet? I might be able to deal with four feet…

Fourth, I’ve noticed that the area near the entrance to Idyllwild gets a lot more sun than we do, and so the snow melts much faster on that side of town. They get less snow to begin with, and it melts super fast, so living on the South side of town has some real advantages, if you want to live a somewhat normal life in winter, and be able to get in and out easily.

Fifth, I’ve noticed that different people deal with the snow very differently. Some dig out immediately, and are bopping around town right after a storm ends. Others will let their cars stay buried for a week, and just burrow into their warm little homes. That contrast was super-apparent to me today as I watched a guy in shorts, jog along the side of the road, right in front of homes with cars totally buried under two feet of snow. Everybody deals differently!

Snow in Idyllwild

Sixth, I’ve noticed that nearly everyone in Idyllwild drives a green Subaru with All-Wheel Drive – as do I – but with me it was not a choice, it was more chance, and I plan to trade it in at some point – but not until winter is officially over. All-Wheel Drive rocks in the snow! When other cars are spinning on the slick icy pavement, I’ve been fine. This car may not have been a choice for me, but I’m really happy to have it right now. But it is sort of weird to see so many others driving the exact same car as I do. It’s like we’re all members of the Idyllwild Green Subaru Club.

Seventh, I’ve noticed the tourists stop way too soon to play in the snow. Some don’t even make it into town, they stop at the first patch of white they see, even when the roads are not icy and totally safe. That’s fine, if they’re happy with patchy snow that isn’t very deep, and is usually kind of dirty after a few days – but if they want better snow, all they have to do is drive into town. Plus, if they get into the downtown area there are restaurants where you can warm up after playing and get a great meal. It’s a win-win to come all the way into town! The tourists would have more fun, and the merchants would have more customers.

Eighth, I’ve learned how to really build a good fire – not a wimpy little fire on Christmas Eve for atmosphere, or a fire at the beach to roast marshmallows, but a real rip-roaring-fire that keeps the whole house warm. The secret is air, and thin spaces between the logs, that cause a sucking whoosh of air, that carries the fire up. Who knew?

Ninth, I’ve learned that snow can be treacherous. Today I was slogging through two-feet deep snow, and didn’t realize that the ground below sloped down. It was that darn sideways snow again. It didn’t fall evenly, so you never know how deep it is, and I got tricked in an unfamiliar area, and twisted my ankle – not fun.

Tenth, I’ve learned that you really can wear snow boots with a skirt – up here – not anywhere else. As long as they match in style and color, no one is going to look at you askance if you take a fashion risk, and wear brown fur boots with a brown skirt. Just be sure and take your regular shoes with you, so you can change once you get down off the hill, because down in the real world that kind of a fashion risk is just not happening!