De Luz Schoolhouse

There’s a little one-room schoolhouse in De Luz – the only other existing one-room schoolhouse that I know of in this area, is in Anza, and it’s the school my great-grandma attended. She was born in 1904, lived to be 100-years-old, and rode a donkey five miles to get to school. But this post isn’t about her, it’s about the schoolhouse in De Luz – which is situated in the prettiest oak grove. It’s peaceful and quiet, the ground is fertile and rich, and the oak trees are the tallest I’ve ever seen. It’s paradise.

De Luz Schoolhouse
De Luz Elementary was built in 1927 and one teacher taught all eight grades. In 1968 the school was closed, and since then the building has been used as De Luz Ecology Center.

De Luz Post Office
The tiny post office may look like someone’s idea of a little joke, but there really are mailboxes in the side of the building.

I’ve shot in the area many times, but today was different. It was a gray cloudy day, and the light was flat except for a few brief moments when the sun broke through. But flat, subdued light can be be quite beautiful if you have the right subject matter. So this time I didn’t shoot the big soaring trees, or try for majestic landscapes – instead I mostly went after the subtle details that usually get lost in stronger light. And I found some wickedly beautiful details…

De Luz
Leaves on an oak tree.

De Luz

De Luz

De Luz
Have you ever seen grass this pretty?

De Luz
Where they’ve cut off a limb, the tree oozes sap.

De Luz

De Luz

De Luz

De Luz

Sheep in De Luz
These sheep are very lucky – they live in paradise, have plenty of room to roam, and look healthy and happy.

I was the only human in the area, so I thought they were all watching me, but shortly after I shot this image I saw some coyote footprints, and it occurred to me that this was the kind of day when wildlife is more active – and it’s the exact kind of day I’ve seen bobcats and mountain lions in the past, and here I was all by myself, with no other humans around, and I was concentrating on blades of grass and leaves? I’m usually smarter than that… So I decided to call it a day, and got back to my car, and then watched as a nice-looking healthy coyote trotted across the street. I am not afraid of one lone coyote, but a mountain lion is a different matter.

Oak Tree
And finally I shot this image on the way out to De Luz. I shot the same tree in December on a pretty sunny day, and the difference today, just two months later was striking. Where the hill was brown before, today it was green. Where the sky was bright blue in December, today it was gray. Very, very different day, and very different image – but still a really beautiful and striking tree.

De Luz
And the freshest little weed…

For more on the De Luz Schoolhouse, go to:

A sign of hope or defiance?

Burned Tree Branch with Christmas Decoration

Driving into town on Reche Road you pass some of the worst fire damage – in fact the Valley Oaks Mobile Home Park where over one-hundred homes were lost is visible from the road as you drive by. And there’s other damage – the canyon by Wilt Road was particularly hard hit. It’s a miracle if you look closely, because you can see where the firefighters held back the flames.

At the intersection of Reche and Wilt something interesting is happening. Someone is placing Christmas decorations on the burned branches. It started with just a couple shiny balls. Then it grew, and now it’s starting to spread down the hill. Who knows if it’s one person, or an organized group, or just a bunch of individuals inspired by what they see, and contributing in their own way.

It could have been garish. or ugly, or just in bad taste – but somehow it’s not. It’s beautiful, and it fills me with a combination of hope and defiance every time I drive past. Hope for the future, because the fire did not destroy the truly important things in life – and defiance, because even though the landscape is charred, we’re clearly not letting the fire destroy our hope.

It’s just a few shiny decorations – but it’s very cool! Kudos to whoever is responsible!

Elder House, Fallbrook, California

Elder House, Fallbrook, California // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsI’m planning to shoot some images of the exterior of my studio once I get my new signs, but I thought I could at least show Elder House today! You can see the stairs leading up to my front door, and the large deck, and the wonderful skylights that flood my main room with soft beautiful light. And in the image below you can see my little balcony, and the edge of the deck.

Elder House has an interesting history. According to an article that appeared in the Village News in 1998, it was built as the result of a competition between three local men in 1883. They each were to build a house for under $3000, and the one who built the best house would win. One of these three houses, described as a “beautiful, ornate home,” was built on Juniper Street, and later moved to West Elder. It didn’t win the contest, but it is the only one of the three still standing.

Elder HouseI’m not sure when this photo was taken, but it’s a fairly early shot – probably from before the house was moved to Elder Street. The staircase on the side of the building is long gone, and the house has been extended on both sides, at some point during the last 100 years. But the bay window downstairs and the tiny balcony upstairs look almost exactly the same today as they did when the home was new.

There are stories that one of Fallbrook’s first newspapers was located here. In the 1980’s it was a popular restaurant, then in the early 1990’s a construction company was located here, and in the late 1990’s it was first Fallbrook Country Day School and then The New School in the early 2000’s. And now it’s the home of Fallbrook’s Village News downstairs- and I’m very lucky to have the upstairs!

Elder House | Fallbrook, California

If you’d like to read more about The Building Contest in 1883, go to:

Edited on 6/23/2011 to add…

Grandma's House Restaurant

Even though I no longer have my studio in Elder House, I’m still interested in it! And I found this old postcard featuring Elder House, circa 1970! Evidently it housed Grandma’s House Restaurant at the time – and it looked a little different 40 years ago. The spindles on the railing on the second story deck and balcony are much narrower – and more authentic for the time period. The wider style in place today is charming, but I like the 1970’s version! And it’s hard to tell for sure, but the window on the top story, on the far right, may be the original narrow Victoria-era window. At some point it was replaced by a wider window – which lets in more light – but isn’t quite as authentic to the period of the house. And the staircase on the far right, is clearly different – it seems to be oriented east/west, instead of the current south/north.

But perhaps the biggest change is that there was no porch area in 1970. There’s a tiny little landing, leading to the front door, with a tiny railing – a very simple entrance for such a big house. Today there’s a covered porch that’s still small by most standards, but definitely a lot grander than what was there in 1970!

Other than that? Not much different! Even the color isn’t too different. It looks blue in the photo – and it was gray when I first came to Fallbrook – and now it’s a nice warm tan – but still all in the same vein – a nice medium tone, set off by the bright white railing and black trim. It’s a good look!

First Christian Church in Fallbrook

Stained Glass Church Window

Fallbrook First Christian Church

Fallbrook has some authentic Victorian architecture – the town was founded in 1885. My studio is in a home constructed about that time and there are other houses around town from the same era. And there are even more buildings with Victorian flourishes that were added later – it was the thing to do in Fallbrook during the 100-year anniversery, in the 1980’s!

But the First Christian Church is the real deal. Originally built as a Methodist church, it was constructed in 1887, and is considered Gothic-revival in style.

In 2004 I shot it for, and I shot it again yesterday – the bright blue skies and white clouds were the perfect compliment, I felt, to it’s pretty little steeple and fish scale siding and restrained use of stained glass. And I suspect I’ll shoot it again in the future.

The world could use a few more little white churches with soaring steeples.

For my 2004 photos, go here:

Edited on 5/30/2011 to add the following…

I heard from the granddaughter of the Methodist preacher who originally built the church, and she shared the some more information about the church and her grandfather. His name was George Washington White, and he also helped found the town of Fallbrook, before being named the president of the University of Southern California, from 1895-1899. If you’ve ever seen USC it has the most beautiful vintage brick buildings – it’s the quintessential college campus – and in fact hundreds of TV shows have filmed on campus. So it doesn’t surprize me one bit to learn that the president of the university, during the same time period that many of those buildings were constructed, is the same man who helped give Fallbrook it’s most beautiful little church. Makes perfect sense!

The Road to De Luz

I woke up this morning to a friend pounding on my front door. Why? Because it was such a beautiful day and the clouds were so gorgeous she didn’t want me to miss any of it.

As she said, “You have to go out and shoot!” She was right!

Blue Sky in De Luz

The awesome sky!


And a cool mud puddle! It’s rained the last two days, so a little mud is to be expected.


Backlit Weeds in De Luz

Awesome, awesome light!


Oak Trees in Deluz

The road to De Luz takes you through some of the prettiest oak groves. When I think of Fallbrook, this is what I picture! And there are other trees as well. It’s just the most beautiful road to drive!

Trees in Deluz

Fallbrook Stream and Pico Promenade

Pico Promenade

My new studio sits on the edge of Fallbrook Stream which runs through town. I always seem to end up near water! Growing up our house in Elevado Heights in Vista was on a stream, and we built forts and would play all day down there. It ran year-round, since our neighbors were so fond of watering their lawns and groves, and that water had to go somewhere. My grandmother still lives on a stream up in Idyllwild. My brother lives on Constant Creek here in Fallbrook. My last two homes were right on streams. It’s definitely a recurring theme in my family!

A decade ago the town decided to create a mini park and walking path along the edge of Fallbrook Stream, and the Pico Promenade runs the three blocks from Major Market to my studio on Elder. It’s like a secret haven in the middle of town, and most people drive right by without ever walking it – but if you take the time to stop and get out of your car, it’s a beautiful spot!

Egret in Fallbrook

I wrote yesterday about people coming to my blog expecting to find photos of wildlife, and what do you know, today I saw some! This Egret is just a baby. There’s a huge Egret that spends time every year near my brother’s house, and this one was maybe a third the size of that bird – but he was so incredibly white and just beautiful. And not a bit scared of me. I watched him use one foot to stir up the mud in the stream, and then swoop in with his beak to grab and eat whatever it was he was finding. And he ate a lot of whatever it was – so it must have been good! I was surprised the first time I saw an Egret in Fallbrook – I had no idea they would come so far inland. But I’ve heard since then that they nest in tall trees and feed in shallow water, so Fallbrook is actually a pretty perfect place for an Egret. I think they’re most beautiful in flight, since they’re so long and elegant.

Pico Promenade

Pico Promenade

The light was really pretty this afternoon – it made everything glow.

Pico Promenade

This must be a magical puddle! It was glistening and glowing, and it reminded me of a fairy tale…

Pico Promenade

The old Fruit Packing Plant used to be right on the stream, and this window is part of the new wall surrounding the property. If the entire renovation turns out as pretty as the wall has, the building could be stunningly beautiful.


Bogenvia blooms along the pathway…

Pico Promenade

This last image expresses how I felt today – bright blue skies, and beautiful colors. Everything is right with the world on a day like today!

Fallbrook Christmas Parade

The night of the Fallbrook Christmas Parade may be my favorite night of the whole holiday season. There’s just nothing like a night parade in your hometown! The parade is always huge – I think there’s an unspoken rule that every kid in town must march in it, or sit on a float, or at the very least, watch it! There were 120 different entries this year – several bands, lots of floats, horses, and goats, and dogs, and ponies, and even the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales. And not a drop of rain! It rained on and off for most of the 24-hours before the parade, and finally stopped less than 2 hours before the parade started.

The loudest cheers were for the firefighters. It was incredibly moving to stand among my neighbors and clap and cheer for those who saved our town last month. There was a lot of gratitude expressed on Main Street tonight. We were very fortunate – and we know it – and it felt good to express it!

Fallbrook Christmas Parade

Vintage Car, Fallbrook Christmas Parade

Fallbrook Fire Department

Fallbrook Christmas Parade

Fallbrook Union High School Flag Team

Fallbrook Christmas Parade

Unicycles in the Fallbrook Christmas Parade

Budweiser Clydesdales

Mexican Dancers, Fallbrook Christmas Parade

Mini Cars, Fallbrook Christmas Parade

Rain Clouds

Rain Clouds in Fallbrook

Rain! Nearly two inches in less than 24-hours. The grey skies finally broke this afternoon and the sun shone through briefly, and then the rain started again. I’m not complaining! We definitely need it.

I took a walk down by the stream yesterday, during the middle of a downpour and skipped over puddles and watched the stream swirl through town on it’s way out to the ocean. Everything smelled wonderful and fresh and new!

Fallbrook Today

I drove past a Persimmon orchard today, and was struck by how beautiful the trees look right now – completely laden with fruit.

Fallbrook Persimmon Orchard

My Mom makes the best Persimmon bread, and growing up we always knew at least one friend who had a tree and would have tons of fruit to give away between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But I’d never seen a whole orchard of trees before this week – and it’s a beautiful thing to see!


Just a short distance from this beautiful orchard there’s massive fire damage. But not everything was scorched. This pale purple flower is actually a weed that grows on the side of the road – the official name is Datura, but it’s more commonly known as Angel’s Trumpet. When the bloom opens, they remind me of a Georgia O’Keefe painting. But even a bud like this one is beautiful.

Burned Truck

On Reche Road there used to be an old restaurant or road house or country store or house – I’m not sure what exactly – if it’s been open in the last twenty years, I don’t remember it. And the oak trees and vegetation around it were always so thick, all you could see was the old sign – the building was completely hidden. But whatever it was, the fire a month ago claimed it – all that’s left is the gate, the foundation, a chimney, and two vehicles in the yard. And you can see it all from the road as you drive by.

San Diego County Wildfires 2007

The yellow sign reads, “San Diego County Wildfires 2007, Clean-up Program, Hazardous Materials Assessment and Removal COMPLETE.” I’m assuming the charred paint cans marked with green paint, were placed here by the pros doing the assessment and removal…

Aftermath of the Rice Fire, Fallbrook, California.

Not everything burned. This newspaper box attached to a mailbox melted.

Rice Fire, Fallbrook, California.

Aftermath of the Rice Fire, Fallbrook, California.

Once thriving ivy…

Hazardous material has been removed

Another yellow sign signifying the hazardous material has been removed.

Burned Car

There are a lot of classic and vintage cars in Fallbrook – it’s one of the things were famous for – avocados, classic cars, our hometown Christmas Parade, and oak trees! I wonder if this car was a project car, or if it was beautifully restored, or if it was something in between?

Aftermath of the Rice Fire, Fallbrook, California.

I was amazed to see so much plant life still standing, when the homes are completely gone. This plant may be dying, but it is still standing.

Aftermath of the Rice Fire, Fallbrook, California.

Part of a gate…

Aftermath of the Rice Fire, Fallbrook, California.

There were crews everywhere hauling out debris. About a week ago, my Mom spent a whole day digging through the ashes in this same neighborhood, with a relief group trying to find anything the home owners might want. I was really proud of her. It’s one thing to give money, but to give eight hours of your time to dig through ashes and debris? That’s just really special…

Evolution of the Old Packing Plant

There’s an old fruit packing plant in Fallbrook that I’ve been shooting for years. It was a great big beautiful eyesore. The one area in Fallbrook that could be called truly unattractive, but there was great beauty there too. I was fascinated by it, and shot it often. Some of my favorite shots are below – including a CD cover for a local band.

Fallbrook Fruit Packing Plant in 1996 // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Shot in 1996 – notice the pool of standing water.

Old Fruit Packing Plant // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Taken at twilight in 1996.

CD Cover for "Raizin' the Rent" by Ces Jacuzzi.
CD cover for Ces Jacuzzi, 1998

Ces Jacuzzi, "Raizin' the Rent"
CD insert for Ces Jacuzzi, 1998

Old Fruit Packing Plant at Night // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

In April of this year I did some night shooting around Fallbrook, and got to the packing house around midnight – the exposure was several seconds.

Old Fruit Packing House in 2007 // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

The property sold recently and the new owner is doing a total renovation. Every time I drive by I get excited by the changes I see. Hopefully soon it will be filled with restaurants and shops – and lots of people! Construction is moving fast at this point, so I went by today to shoot, knowing it might be my last chance to shoot the building in the midst of evolution.

Old Fruit Packing House // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I’ll miss my favorite eyesore, but I’m excited to see the change!