Our Succulent Garden

We’ve been growing succulents for quite a while now, starting from a very small collection, and quickly evolving into one that’s taken up just about our entire back yard.

Here are some photos of the plants (not all of them mind you), taken in January of 2012. More updates to come, along with identification of each species, if I can figure out what all of these are.

Spot any that you can ID?















More to come later!

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How Does Invisalign Work?

How Does Invisalign Work

My Teeth Before Invisalign

How Invisalign Works

Invisalign works by using the same principles employed by traditional braces- it pushes your teeth into new positions, creating a beautiful smile by applying physical force to move each tooth in a specific direction. The difference between Invisalign aligners and traditional braces is that Invisalign is painless, convenient, and far less embarrassing.

Invisalign aligners don’t have to rely on permanently installing anything in your mouth! There’s no metal pieces (which cause sensitivity issues for some people), no wires, no rubber bands, no jaw expanders or any of the other nightmare components that make up the system of traditional braces. Does it require headgear? Nope!

Invisalign uses a series of plastic trays to nudge your teeth towards their proper positions. Each person’s treatment plan is different, because they are created specifically to suit the shape of your mouth and the problems with your teeth. Invisalign trays are replaced every two weeks so that the changes to your smile come gradually, painlessly, but also accurately.

Each Invisalign aligner nudges your teeth teeth up to 1 milimeter’s distance from where they currently sit. Some trays will work on all of your teeth at the same time, while others may only be used to shift a single tooth. What does that mean to you, the patient? You’ll barely feel the movement. In fact, you won’t experience any real pain, you won’t have to deal with the splitting headaches known to be caused by braces, and nothing more than tylenol will be required to dull any discomfort that you may experience.

The first couple of days that you use Invisalign, you will experience some soreness, but that is to be expected. You might not know it, but your teeth are held in place by tiny little pieces of tissue- muscles and ligaments- which prevent teeth from shifting around. When little kids lose their teeth, those muscles and ligaments get extremely weak, then give up trying to hold onto the tooth at all, which causes baby teeth to fall out.

When you start Invisalign treatments, your teeth are likely to be held rigidly in place by firm muscles and ligaments, which are not used to experiencing any sort of pressure applied to them. Those muscles and ligaments will loosen up over the period of your treatment, so that your teeth actually start to feel a little loose (I’m on my fifth set of trays and I can wiggle my teeth just a bit with my fingers now!).

Your first aligners will probably cause some tooth soreness because those ligaments will get stretched as the trays push your teeth into new positions. Remember though, since you’re only going to be moving teeth 1 millimeter at a time, it won’t leave you in crippling pain, but you will most likely experience some general soreness. As you move to your next set of trays, and the set after that, your teeth will become more pliable, those ligaments will loosen up, and you will experience less and less soreness with each ensuing aligner.

The process is gentle, it’s relatively convenient, and it definitely produces results. While I’m still extremely early into my treatment plan (I need to wear my aligners for over a year), I can already see massive improvements over what my smile previously looked like.

You may not enjoy wearing your Invisalign aligners, but you will be happy that you didn’t get traditional braces, and you will love the improvements to your smile. I cannot recommend this system enough, and not only because of the fact that its straightening my teeth to give me a Hollywood smile, but also because the Invisalign diet has helped me lose quite a bit of excess weight!

My Invisalign Review

I’ve been using Invisalign for about 10 weeks now (I honestly lost count!), and I can tell you that there’s very little pain involved. I would say it’s more like “discomfort” that you’ll experience, which is the discomfort of having something foreign in your mouth at all times, and feeling a bit of pressure for the first day or two after you insert each tray (every two weeks).

In the beginning, the process seems much harder than it ends up feeling down the line, because you’re not used to keeping things in your mouth for an extended period of time, you’re not used to brushing your teeth after every single meal, and you will need time to adjust to dealing with a new process in your every day life, but after a week or two it will become second nature.

My trays no longer bother me at all. They don’t pinch, they don’t a bad taste, they don’t even dry out my mouth. I’m able to work (even go to client meetings and run conference calls), run (without any additional dry-mouth like a mouthguard causes), kiss (very important!) and do all the other things that I could do before, and I can do it all without any pain or embarrassment that I would get from traditional braces. Perhaps the best part is that most people can’t even tell that I’m using Invisalign.

What is the Invisalign Process?

To start your Invisalign treatment process, you’ll meet with your dentist to take perfect molds of your upper and lower teeth. If you’ve ever had to get X-rays taken, I can tell you from first-hand experience that the process for generating Invisalign molds is similar, though far less obnoxious.

Your dentist will fill a mouthguard like piece of plastic with a gooey substance that is then pressed up against your top teeth, and down against your bottom teeth. The gooey stuff hardens quickly, but takes a couple minutes to perfectly shape out the exact contours of your teeth. It isn’t the most fun experience in the world, but it isn’t all that bad either. There’s no pain, but a little bit of discomfort.

You’ll be amazed at the perfection that the Invisalign molds are able to capture. When I glanced at the mold, I realized for the first time just how crooked my teeth were. You can see every little detail, every little nook and cranny, and all the lines and forms that your crooked teeth make- it’s amazing!

The dentist will then take photographs of your smile from a variety of angles, which he will package up along with the molds and send off to the Invisalign team. They use the molds that you created, along with those photos, to create a 3D-model of your mouth that will be used as the baseline for coming up with your Invisalign treatment plan.

Your next meeting with the dentist will involve reviewing your treatment plan, which gets put together by Invisalign’s experts, but has to be agreed upon by your dentist. He will use a computer model to show you exactly what needs to happen to create your perfect smile, what your teeth look like at each stage of the process (where they will be positioned each two weeks), and you’ll know exactly how long Invisalign will take to straighten your teeth.

If you agree to start Invisalign treatments, your Dentist will order the aligners which take about two weeks to arrive. All of your aligners get shipped to him at the same time, rather than once every two weeks, to save on production and shipping costs. That means that if anything goes really wrong during the course of your treatment, you’ll have to start the process over (because the aligners that were created up front may not work for your new situation).

The good news is that Invisalign allows you to re-start the process a number of times, depending on which plan you purchase from them. Since my teeth are so crooked, I went with the most expensive options (about $5,000), which allows me to restart the entire process (taking the molds, shipping them out for 3d modeling, reviewing the treatment plan, then having all the aligners shipped out to us), up to three times.

Is Invisalign Worth It?

Invisalign may not be the best option for everyone, but I do think it’s the best option for most people. Invisalign won’t fix all smiles, but it’s definitely begun working its magic for me. I’ll hold off on giving a final answer to whether or not it was worth it until after my treatment is complete (about a year from now), but so far, I’m completely satisfied.

Check back soon for more Invisalign posts, updates to my treatment, and before and after photos. I’ll be posting pictures of my mouth along the way as well (taking photos every two weeks to track my progress).

Thanks for visiting, and feel free to ask me any Invisalign questions that you may have in the comments section below.

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Does Invisalign Really Work?

My Smile Before Invisalign

My Smile Before Invisalign

What is Invisalign?

Invisalign is the newest, simplest and most efficient way to straighten crooked teeth. The Invisalign system is light years ahead of traditional braces in terms of technology, and it provides the very same results that metal braces do, without all the fuss (and especially all the pain).

I recently started using the Invisalign system to fix a mouth full of jagged, turned, crooked teeth, that I had always been told would require both traditional braces and a jaw expander to make straight. It’s only been 5 weeks, and already the Invisalign aligners are working for me!

Check back each week for an update on how my teeth look, including a description of what happened during the week, so you can see what it’s actually like to use Invisalign aligners. I’m not being paid to do this, I have no connection to the Invisalign company, and I’m simply recording my story as a testament to my latest adventure.

How Long Does Invisalign Take?

In my case, Invisalign will take 68 weeks to give me the “perfect smile”. The reason my treatment is going to take so long (it could be significantly less for you), is that I never had any sort of orthodontic work, and my teeth are nowhere near straight. Just look at the pictures on this page and you can see how bad they are.

Your Invisalign treatment plan probably won’t take nearly as long as mine does. I have to spin teeth, rotating them in the bone socket (it sounds bad, but it isn’t painful!), change the shape of both my upper and lower jaw, move my teeth up so that I have less of a ‘gummy smile’, and correct for a pretty bad overbite. If you’re just shifting some teeth around, and especially if you’ve already had orthodontic work done, your Invisalign treatments will take significantly less time.

How Much Does Invisalign Cost?

It depends on which level of engagement you purchase. I don’t have the exact details, but I know that there are two different Invisalign packages you can buy, one of which is significantly cheaper than the other (a couple thousand dollars less), but which doesn’t allow you to ‘restart’ the process if it doesn’t work the first time.

At the level I purchased, I’m able to restart the entire ordeal, with brand new moldings taken and new aligners created, up to three times. With that much insurance behind the process, there’s just no way that I won’t end up with straight teeth! It wasn’t cheap, but in my case, because I need so much work done, it was definitely worth it.

Does Invisalign Hurt?

Not one bit. I’m being completely honest here, and it does not hurt. My Dentist promised me that I would feel no pain that a tylenol couldn’t take care of, and he was absolutely right. The worst part of the process has been each time I get a new set of aligners, but it doesn’t produce ‘pain’, just a feeling of pressure.

When I pop a new aligner in for the first time, it’s tight, I can feel it pushing my teeth in a direction, but it doesn’t give me a headache or leave me running for pain pills or anything to that affect. For the first day or two after inserting a new aligner, I definitely do feel a bit of teeth soreness when I eat, but like I said before, it’s nothing that would stop me from eating what I like!

My Invisalign Story

Let’s face it – society is obsessed with straight teeth. Even though I tend to think of myself as specially ‘cultured’, ‘practical’, or even ‘enlightened’, even I have to admit that I care what I look like. I care what other people think about me. I care about what I look like. And I am especially aware of my crooked teeth. First impressions can make or break a job interview, a first date, or a courtroom trial, and a variety of other experiences. If you’re reading this Blog, odds are that you don’t have perfect teeth. And it’s probably obvious to you, as it was to me, that one of the first things people notice about us is our crooked teeth!

I do a lot of traveling, and a great deal of photography, and each and every time my picture is taken I can see a glaring imperfection in my teeth – the differences in color because of their crookedness, which led to vastly different colored shadows being thrown on my two front teeth. When I was in elementary school, I was told that I would need braces, but I didn’t believe the dentist. I thought myself too smart for his ‘marketing hype’. I could see through his ‘advertising’ and tell that he was just trying to use ‘scare tactics’ to convince my parents to drop $5,000 on an unnecessary expenditure, and I wouldn’t have any of it. But boy was I wrong!

I didn’t want to deal with the many problems that come along with wearing traditional braces: the headaches, the toothaches, the canker sores, the cuts in your cheeks, the sleepless lights, the social anxiety, the jaw fatigue, the rubber bands, the stained teeth, and all the rest, but I’ve been paying for it ever since with blown first impressions and unnecessary anxiety about my appearance.

Traditional braces are every school child’s nightmare, but when my Dentist said that I would also need a jaw-expander (the little metal contraption they install in the roof of your mouth, which has a tiny hole for a little key that gets spun each morning and night, forcing your jaw to open up wider with brute force), that was the end of the discussion for me. I would not have any of it, not now, nor ever.

I made up my mind to deal with my ‘crooked’ teeth later in life, when some new technology had been developed that didn’t require so much of a hassle. I figured that if wooden teeth were good enough for George Washington, then surely I could get by with whatever technology would be created by the time my teeth actually started to look quite bad. That wait has gone on for long enough, and that technology has arrived (in fact it’s been tried, tested, and proven true). Invisalign is that technology! I can tell you, without any doubt in my mind, that Invisalign braces are superior to traditional braces in virtually every way. I should know, because I’m wearing Invisalign aligners right now.

How Does Invisalign Work?

Invisalign braces work in nearly the same way that traditional braces do, but without all the fuss and hassle. Without getting into specific details (you can find those here: How do braces work?), traditional metal braces require that a very intricate, complicated and uncomfortable system of force be installed into your mouth. Little bits of metal (brackets, metal bands, arch wires, and something called a ligature elastic) all have to be bonded to your teeth, which is an unsettling, tedious, and now altogether unnecessary process.

Having the equipment for traditional braces installed in your mouth can be a nightmare, not only for kids whose mouths are both extremely small and sensitive, but also for adults. Braces will give you a lisp, their wires will cut up the sides of your gums and your cheeks, and braces will likely give severe headaches (including migraines). Braces look absolutely dreadful, there is no way to make them more comfortable, and you can’t remove them from your mouth, ever, under any circumstances, on your own. At least not without resorting to bashing your teeth out with a hammer, or pulling them out with pliers. Put simply- if you can avoid traditional braces, you should do everything in your power to do just that.

Invisalign aligners introduce none of catastrophes , yet they manage to accomplish the exact same results as traditional metal braces. But how does Invisalign work?

The Invisalign teeth-straightening system revolves around a single technology to straighten your teeth- it uses a highly refined, non-painful, non-intrusive, and comfortable plastic tray that they call an “aligner”. If you’ve ever had to wear a mouthguard for sports (I played Football and Lacrosse in High School), then you’ll be even more comfortable with your Invisalign aligners, as they’re significantly smaller, lighter, and less obnoxious than the plastic molded mouthguards we’ve all worn before.

Invisalign aligners are essentially invisible (in fact, multiple people at my office are still completely unaware that I’m using the system to straighten my teeth, even though I’ve been wearing my aligners for well over a month at the time of this writing). Invisalign aligners are created with a special type of “thermoplastic material” that was developed specifically for the Invisalign teeth-straightening process.

The aligners look similar to a set of teeth whitening trays, if you’ve ever used those, but they feel significantly more comfortable when you’re wearing them since they are custom-molded to fit the exact dimensions of your mouth (and they’re significantly less bulky). The first step in the Invisalign process involves taking molds of your teeth which will be used to create the sets of custom aligners required to get you the perfect smile. It may sound a little scary, but I’ve recently been through it and can promise you that it isn’t nearly as bad as it seems (and is nowhere near the nightmare that you’d get with traditional braces). This is how it went for me:

I had consulted with multiple dentists regarding how best to straighten my crooked teeth. As mentioned earlier, I didn’t want to go the route of using traditional braces (for all the same reasons I listed above), and I certainly wasn’t interested in having a jaw expander installed into the roof of my mouth. I knew that Invisalign was a tested technology that has resulted in successes for people of all ages and with all sorts of teeth problems, so I was hoping that I would be a good candidate for the system (it doesn’t work for EVERYONE, but if it can fix my teeth, I’d almost guarantee that it could do yours as well!).

I was told by multiple orthodontic specialists that Invisalign wouldn’t work for me, due to the fact that my front teeth are pointed slightly backward (tilted toward the back of my mouth at the bottom) and because of the fact that so many of my teeth need to be ‘rotated in the bone’. These dentists, all of whom came highly recommended by both extended family members and friends, claimed to be experts at using traditional braces, and told me that Invisalign was not as effective as metal braces, and was simply out of the question for me. I was nearly convinced, but for financial reasons, I decided to hold off on having traditional braces installed. I felt like I wasn’t being told the entire truth…

About a year later, I was referred to a more local dentist by my girlfriend (who’s now my fiancee), and who, it turns out, has been using Invisalign aligners since their debut. He’s about 30 years younger than the ‘orthodontic specialists’ I had consulted with previously, and his office is also about 30 times more up-to-date. Every dentists chair has perfect view of a fully networked TV that can pull up X-rays and patient records at the click of a mouse, everything is handled via electronic files, rather than traditional folder systems, and he’s very good at what he does. He took one look at my teeth during my first visit (which was just for a cleaning) and told me that Invisalign would absolutely work for me!

I was shocked! I’d been told it wasn’t even on the table. It took me some time to get over my disbelief, but after thinking about it, I realized that the problem wasn’t the Invisalign system, but the outdated, outmoded, and stubborn ‘orthodontic specialists’ who refused to accept that something had been developed which completely superceded their ‘expertise’ in straightening teeth. These old dinosaurs didn’t want to hear it, didn’t want to accept it, and certainly didn’t want to offer it to their patients.

The old guard doesn’t want to contribute to the demise of their old ways, but it’s too late for them, as people around the country have realized that the old ways just don’t cut it anymore. Migraines and blisters and shredded gums are now a thing of the past. If your dentist tells you Invisalign won’t work for you, make absolutely sure that you at least get a second opinion!

To return to my story- following my teeth cleaning, I stayed about 30 extra minutes to create the molds required to start the Invisalign process. The way the system works is that your dentist creates a perfect mold of your teeth, which he then sends to Invisalign’s corporate office, where they turn those molds into a digital replication of your mouth via computer modeling, which allows them to construct your treatment plan.

To create the molds, my Dentist filled a plastic tray the size of a mouthguard with some kind of sticky goop, then inserted it into my mouth, pressing the tray up against my top teeth and holding it there for a few seconds. Within seconds, I could feel the goop start to thicken up, and harden, surrounding my teeth and filling in all the little crooks and crannies. Mere minutes later, he removed the tray from my mouth and showed me an absolutely perfect impression of my top teeth! It was amazing, in just a few minutes, and without any pain, we had created an exact replica, He then did the same thing for the bottom teeth, producing the set of molds that Invisalign would later use to construct my mouth in 3d. We took pictures of my teeth from the front and sides, I’m assuming for a before and after comparison type photo, and I was out the door and on my way just minutes after starting the process.

My Dentist send the molds of my teeth and the pictures that he took to Invisalign, who created a perfect digital replication of my mouth in a computer modeling program (some kind of CAD-system) that both predicted, and showed exactly what needed to be done to straighten my smile. Two weeks later I went back for a consult where my Dentist and I reviewed what he called my ‘case’ (treatment plan), by watching a time-lapse like transformation of the planned movement of my teeth.

Each time he clicked his mouse, the treatment plan (like a power-point slide, but far more sophisticated) advanced by a week, showing us exactly where my teeth would be during each step of the straightening process. It started out with my horribly disfigured and disgusting smile (see it here), and by the final slide, I had the smile of a Hollywood celebrity. My teeth looked absolutely perfect! I’m being honest here in saying that a weaker man might have cried for joy just at knowing that it was possible to have a perfect smile. My Dentist assured me that he had the expertise to get me through the process effectively, and that we could get it done without causing me any pain or discomfort that couldn’t be treated with regular advil. I was amazed!

The Dentist sent back verification to Invisalign that I wanted to proceed with their treatment plan, and two weeks later he received all 34 sets of the custom plastic aligners required to straighten my teeth. As I mentioned earlier, Invisalign aligners are created with a soft, comfortable, yet durable thermoplastic material that very gently, but steadily and altogether comfortably nudges your teeth in a certain direction.

Each aligner forces your teeth to make very slight movements (the word force should be read more like ‘suggests’ since there is literally no pain involved) of about a milimeter in whatever direction is required. Every two weeks, you swap out the old aligners for a new one, and the process continues for as long as it takes to get you the perfect smile. In my case, it’s going to be a long one, with 34 aligners taking 68 weeks.

My Invisalign Review

It’s only been about two months since I began the process (I’m only wearing my third set of trays), but I’m already noticing significant changes! Although I’m still nowhere near “the perfect smile”, I have noticed that my teeth are already shifting into the positions that will allow them to be placed exactly where they need to be. My smile seems fuller, the bent-backwardsness of my two front teeth seems to have been ameliorated at least a bit, and I can see good progress on virtually every tooth.

The thing is, it takes Invisalign (or traditional braces for that matter), quite a while to accomplish anything. My teeth are only supposed to move about 1mm per set of aligners, so it will be quite some time before big changes are noticed, but I’m fairly confident that that’s exactly what I’ll witness over the upcoming weeks and months. To better inform everyone else about how the process works, I will be posting a picture of my smile in this post each week, so that you can follow along with my treatment plan.

To get back to a description of how the aligners work, and how convenient they are, let me continue with what I’ve experienced during these first two months of wearing the Invisalign trays.

One of the biggest benefits, and so far my favorite part of the Invisalign system, is that whenever I need to, I can simply remove my aligners! Try doing that with traditional braces (without dying from blood loss). I’m still able to go to fancy dinners at nice restaurants, barbecue meals that take hours to prepare, and enjoy eating free of pain, inconvenience, and stress that I feel I would be facing while wearing traditional braces. Obviously, it would have been easier for me if I hadn’t had to get attachments placed on my teeth (which help the aligners ‘grip’ my teeth better for the spinning action that has to take place), but after the first couple days, they haven’t caused any real inconvenience.

Invisalign aligners are supposed to remain in your mouth for 20-22 hours per day, which hasn’t been an issue for me, even when I’ve been traveling, camping in Catalina, and vacationing in Palm Springs, where I’ve eaten restaurant meals multiple times each day. I do carry a toothbrush and toothpaste with me everywhere now, because I don’t want the trays to get dirty, but it hasn’t been an issue at all to simply brush my teeth after each meal.

And, since the Invisalign trays are so comfortable, I don’t have any problems keeping my aligners in throughout the course of the day-through conference calls, sales meetings, and even exercise (I run about 5 miles twice a week). The trays don’t cause me any discomfort, or embarrassment, and as I mentioned earlier, they haven’t even given me a lisp of any sort. People I work with are still surprised when I tell them I’m wearing aligners- literally no one notices them!

The only time I do remove my aligners is when it’s time to start eating, when I’ve just finished cooking, or when the food’s arrived at the restaurant table. You cannot eat with Invisalign aligners in your mouth- not only because it would likely destroy them (with filthiness), but also because it’d be impossible to actually chew anything. Biting down on the trays with extreme force, like you do when you chew steak, or tough bread, could cause them to lose their shape, rendering them ineffective.

I am pretty much certain that Invisalign’s aligners are significantly stronger than the company lets on, because during my first week I forgot they were in my mouth and bit down on them with extreme force while chomping down on a Camelbak spout, but it didn’t seem to cause any problems with their shape. It certainly felt strange to bite that hard with the plastic on my teeth, but after the incident I did continue to wear the trays for another entire week. When it came time to swap them out for the next set, my teeth were perfectly positioned for the transition.

To be perfectly honest, the only time I’ve really felt the trays annoying in even the slightest bit is when I just want to have a beer, or when I feel like some juice of some sort. You’re really not supposed to eat or drink anything other than cold or room temperature water with them in, so when you just feel like relaxing with a glass of wine, you will have to remove the aligners before imbibing. This can be a pain, depending on your lifestyle and your situation, but it’s one that I’ve been happy to accept due to the fact that the Invisalign diet is the most powerful weight loss system that I have ever experienced!

In the first two weeks alone, I lost five pounds of fat. And I’m not even close to being overweight! I’ve heard of other people losing significant percentages of body fat while wearing Invisalign, all because it makes you think twice before chowing down on those fattening candy bars, or drinking those unhealthy sodas. Invisalign aligners are the line in the sand between you and your unhealthy eating and drinking habits- they will provide you, both mentally and physically, with the support system that you need to be able to say “No, I don’t think I’ll have any of that”.

I now eat no more than three times per day, I tend to eat my food a little bit faster than I used to, but I also eat significantly less of it. I reach for healthier options, since I need to eat foods that will give me efficient nutrition, rather than short-term bursts of energy. I’m eating far less carbohydrates, and far more protein, vegetables, and fruit than ever before! I haven’t had a candy bar in months, and I was able to completely stop drinking both sodas and coffee. But the best part about it all is that I simply feel better.

In an age when everyone seems to be opting for extreme diets, liposuction and lap band surgery, I see Invisalign as a much more effective, less expensive, and far more efficient system of helping people overcome their problems with over-eating, at the same time as it straightens their teeth. I had been prone to overeating, though I was no major abuser, with far too many sweets and sugars in my diet, but after starting Invisalign my problem-food intake has been reduced to virtually nothing.

Gone are the days of simply snacking my way through work, eating candy bars, flaming hot cheeto’s, and drinking sodas to fill my belly with empty calories. I’ve lost weight, I look better, I feel better, and I have more energy than before I started. But the best part of the entire deal is that as I continue to eat healthier, and as my teeth continue to get straighter, there’s no telling how much better I’ll look and how much more confident I’ll feel. Invisalign is giving me far more than just a new set of teeth, it’s giving me an entirely new image!

I hope you’ve found some value in my review, and that you’ll give the system a look yourself. I promise to continue updating this post, and creating others, throughout the process. I’ll do my best to offer a comprehensive, honest, and reliable review of Invisalign’s system, so that those of you considering using it can enter into the process with a better idea of what to expect.

Thank you for reading, please share my post with your friends, and be sure to come back soon!

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Vasquez Rocks County Park – Agua Dulce, CA

Vasquez Rocks Park is just a quick drive up the 14 from Los Angeles, and certainly worth the trip. I had never even heard of it until my buddy Chaz found it on Google Maps when looking for return directions from our recent camping trip to Saddleback Butte State Park. On the way home from that trip, we pulled off Highway 14 in Agua Dulce and did a bit of exploring in the area.

Vasquez Rocks - Reaching Into the Deep Blue

Vasquez Rocks County Park – Reaching Into the Deep Blue

Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park General Information:

There is no fee to park or explore the area (which is incredible, considering that this is the first place I’ve been in the past two years that didn’t charge for entrance), and there’s certainly plenty of parking. A short drive on a well-maintained dirt road gets you to the parking area, which is equipped with a couple of chemical toilets.

Sean Resting Near the Peak

Sean Resting Near the Peak

Incredibly, residential homes overlook the area, which sits in a bit of a canyon, or bowl, edged by the mountains between the Antelope Valley and the Santa Clarita Valley. You can see the rocks themselves (far and away the main attraction here) from the freeway, but they’re far more impressive up close.

Looking Across the Canyon to the Other Side

The Other Side (sans Sean)

The Vasquez Rocks have appeared in a variety of movies and tv shows, including the Outer Limits, Star Trek (the old tv series and the latest cinematic remake), and an episode of Bonanza. They probably look familiar to you, though you might not be able to place where you’ve seen them before. At least that’s how it was for me.

Overlooking the Parking Lot & the 14 Freeway

Overlooking the Parking Lot & the 14 Freeway

This area is named after one of California’s most famous bandits, Tiburcio Vasquez, way back in 1873 and 1874, who used the place as a hide-out while trying to avoid getting captured. He’s got a great story, so check him out over at Wikipedia. The Rock formations were created by the San Andreas Fault.

Closer View Across the Canyon - Watching the Crows Soar

Closer View Across the Canyon – Watching the Crows Soar

Sunday, May 16, 2010

On the way home from our incredible camping trip to Saddleback Butte State Park, we decided to make a stop to check out the scenery on offer at Vasquez Rocks Park. I pulled off the 14, not really knowing what to expect, but was immediately overjoyed once  had parked my car.

Search & Rescue Training Operations

Search & Rescue Ropes Training

It was relatively busy, with a search and rescue training class working on ropes technique on the hills across the way, a college geology class on a field trip, and a handful of families hiking around the park. I was pretty happy with my new $6.95 straw hat. This thing is light, breathable, and provides enough shade to protect my arms (and camera) from direct sunlight. Watch for it in future photos!

Chaz Relaxing on the Opposing Ridgeline

Chaz Relaxing on the Opposing Ridgeline

Once the loud guy removed himself from the very top of the spire formation of rocks, I made my way up it’s face and sat on top, watching the crows gliding around down below. A pair of them were swooping around on the areas thermal updrafts, flying effortlessly, but noisily too.

Sean Heads Back Down Toward the Parking Lot

Sean Heads Back Down Toward the Parking Lot

I found the area beautiful, but far too busy, and was astonished that houses had been built so close to the rocks. If they had left the entire area undeveloped, it could have had a much more powerful impact on its visitors. As it is, the view from the top is stunning, but loses out on its ability to really move you.

My Parting Shot - Beautiful Open Space, Right Here in SoCal!

My Parting Shot – Beautiful Open Space, Right Here in SoCal!

We were exhausted, and scorched from our weekend in the desert, so we didn’t linger too long at Vasquez, but I’d love to return in the Spring for some hiking on a cooler day. It was well worth the visit, and I think these photos prove that this place is worth preserving.

Posted in California, County Parks, Day Hikes, Featured Posts, South West, Southern California, Trip Reports, United States | 5 Comments

Camping at Big Pine Creek Campground – Inyo, CA

Big Pine Creek Campground may be a long drive for those of us in Southern California, but it’s well worth the extra mileage. Stunning views, awesome camp-sites, a winding creek (more like a river to those of us from SoCal) and some pretty decent stream fishing are all on hand.

Big Pine Creek - The North Fork

Big Pine Creek – The North Fork

At around 4-5 hours from Los Angeles (depending on how fast you drive), Big Pine offers some spectacular scenery, the likes of which are rivaled perhaps only by much further destinations like Yosemite National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, or Sequoia National Park. The scenery here certainly rivals those three bastions of beauty, leaving just about nothing to be desired. Oh- and did I mention that there’s a glacier?


The First Waterfall - Big Pine Creek's North Fork Trail

The First Waterfall – Big Pine Creek’s North Fork Trail

Directions to Big Pine Creek Campground from Orange County, CA:

Your five hour journey starts on the 55 North, which you’ll need to take to the 91 East. Try to travel in the middle of the night to avoid the typical 91 parking lot (or if you’re lucky like me, borrow your family’s Fast Track transponder and take the 133 N to the 241). Take the 91 E for 16.5 miles until exit 51 for the 15 North. Follow it for 43.3 miles and merge onto the US 395 North toward Bishop/Adelanto.

Big Pine Creek - Scenery Along the South Fork Trail

Big Pine Creek – Scenery Along the South Fork Trail

Strap in and put on some good music, because you’ll be riding the very slow 395 (criss-crossed with stop-lights for first 15 miles or so) for 107 long miles. Thankfully, once you get out into the middle of nowhere, you can really start to haul ass. I did 100+ mph for the longest sustained period of time in my life on this drive, though I was driving on an empty Highway in the middle of the night.

Big Pine Creek - Overlooking the Campground

Big Pine Creek – Overlooking the Campground

The 395 takes you directly through the tiny town of Big Pine, past Mom & Pop stores, local fishing spots, and an inviting saloon, until turning left at West Crocker Street. It’s tough to read the sign, so pay close attention. If the speed limit starts to go back up to 35, you’ll know you’ve gone too far. West Crocker winds through some country-houses before turning into Glacier Lodge Road, which you’ll follow 9.9 miles all the way up into the mountains. Big Pine Creek Campground is at the end of the road, just before the trailhead for the North and South Big Pine Creek Trails.

Keeping My Feet Cool with Glaciel Meltwater

Keeping My Feet Cool with Glaciel Meltwater

Big Pine Creek Campground Details:

The campground sits at an elevation of 7,700 feet and is surrounded by beautiful Sagebrush and Jeffrey Pines. Big Pine Creek winds its way right by some of the campsites, and there’s a beautiful pond stocked with fish near the general store. There are 30 total campsites here, each equipped with tent platforms, two parking spots, a picnic table, bear storage lockers, and a fire ring, but only one spot has it’s own gigantic brick and granite fireplace – Site #9.You’ll find National Forest standard chemical toilets, but the host keeps things immaculately clean. I didn’t see any showers.

Rugged Scenery Along the North Fork Trail

Rugged Scenery Along the North Fork Trail

It costs $20.00 per night to bring 2 tents, 6 people, and 2 cars, with a $7.00 extra cost per night for additional vehicles. I would certainly suggest making reservations ahead of time, both because of the long drive, and high demand, and because some campsites don’t offer a whole lot of shade. This is a quiet campground, inhabited mostly by families, fishermen, and explorers using the spot as base camp for further adventures along the nearby North Fork and South Fork Big Pine Creek Trails.

Looking Toward Second Falls - Near the 1.5 Mile Mark

Looking Toward Second Falls – Near the 1.5 Mile Mark

Friday, June 4th, 2010

I left Southern CA around 8pm, intent on arriving at the Big Pine Creek Campground for a weekend of hiking and dominoes with my buddy Chaz. Everyone else had other plans, though I’m sure they’ll be regretting their decision to skip this trip once they get the chance to check out our photos, as I can honestly say that this is one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been.

The Inyo National Forest Ranger Cabin

The Inyo National Forest Ranger Cabin

The drive up was a bit of a nightmare, taxing me both mentally and physically, especially during the slow first few miles along the 395 North, which is criss-crossed with stop-light after stop-light and slow driving locals. I grabbed a load of firewood from a gas station in Pearsonville and ended up standing in line for 20 minutes waiting for some drifters to finish their business. I never would have guessed that it could take so long to purchase a bottle of 99 Bananas and some cheap little California-themed statuettes.

A Slow Spot Along The North Fork of Big Pine Creek

A Slow Spot Along The North Fork of Big Pine Creek

It was well into the night, something like 1:30, by the time I arrived at the campground. I was surprised to find multiple people still awake at their sites, standing around their campfires, and hadn’t expected Chaz to still be awake either. I set up my tent and unpacked some of my gear while Chaz stoked the fire in our huge brick-lined chimney, then soon retired for a short, but restful night of sleep in my new tent (the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2).

First ... Pond? Gorgeous Scenery Just Before First Lake

First … Pond? Gorgeous Scenery Just Before First Lake

We’d gotten lucky (there goes the sarcasm alarm) and booked our trip for the same weekend that Big Pine experienced some of the highest temperatures in recent history, in the high 90’s and low 100’s down at the valley floor, lingering in the low 80’s even up around 8000 feet. The good news is that after a heavy snow year, there was still a ton of the white stuff carpeting the high peaks, and even along the Big Pine Creek trails, providing some incredible scenery.

Overlooking First Lake - Debut of the Red Shirt & Straw Hat Series

Overlooking First Lake – Debut of the Red Shirt & Straw Hat Series

Saturday morning we started off along the North Fork of Big Pine Creek toward the set of seven lakes in the 10,000 – 11,000 foot elevation range. We figured it’d be an easy hike, considering the aptly, but boringly naked “First Lake” sat at just 4 miles and a few thousand feet of elevation gain from the trailhead. But the temperatures, and general ruggedness of the country caused the trip to take considerably longer than we had planned.

First Lake on Big Pine Creek's North Fork Trail

First Lake on Big Pine Creek’s North Fork Trail

I was quite pleased to find that the North Fork Trail winds its way up through the mountains right alongside the “Creek” (where I’m from we’d call it a “River”), which allowed me to keep my feet cool the entire way. My boots are about a size too small and I recently realized that the 3-4 mile mark is when their swelling turns things into a total drag, so I stopped to stand in the creek every twenty minutes or so, allowing the frigid glacial-melt water to essentially ice my tired stubs. I had no trouble at all keeping comfortable thanks to this technique, but my feet sure were pruny by the time we de-booted at Second Lake.

Another Shot of Me at First Lake

Another Shot of Me at First Lake

It was just before 2 when we made our way through a patch of snow a couple feet deep and caught our first glimpse of the turquoise waters of First Lake. Chaz made his way down to the shore while I headed higher for some birds-eye-style views. I made good use of the tripod that I’d been lugging along on my camelbak, taking a couple self-portraits of myself, and my new favorite piece of gear- the $6 straw hat. This thing keeps the sun off my head and neck, and more than 50% of the time even protects my hands and arms! I’m shocked they’re so cheap, because in terms of utility, it’s already returned my original investment in spades.

Second Lake - Big Pine Creek's North Fork Trail

Second Lake – From the North Fork Trail at Big Pine Creek

Just half a mile further North we found Second Lake even more captivating than First, mostly due to the fact that it was nearly completely frozen over! I’ve never seen a lake covered by so much ice, and I could hardly believe the scenery in front of me considering it’s June (and 80+ degrees!).

Another Shot of Second Lake

Another Shot of Second Lake

It took me a few tries to get the shots that I wanted since even my 16mm lens wasn’t quite wide enough to capture the entire view. At one point two old guys came by heading South along the trail and one hilariously teased that he didn’t think that the shot I was setting up would come out very good (he was wrong!). I sat down on top the highest pile of rocks I could find, chomped down some grapes and bread, then fell deeply asleep.

An Interesting Cloud Hovers in Deep Blue Alpine Skies

An Interesting Cloud Hovers in Deep Blue Alpine Skies

I woke up nearly 2 hours later and found that Chaz seemed to be already on his way back down the mountain. I quickly geared up and joined him on the trail. I snapped some parting shots of Second Lake, knowing I’d be back at some point this Summer (once the snow melts and the trail isn’t such a slog), but still regretting that we hadn’t made it to Third Lake. I would have loved to see the view from up above it, especially with all the snow on the mountainsides, but alas, it just wasn’t meant to be!

Chaz Hiking on the North Fork Trail at Big Pine Creek

Chaz Hiking on the North Fork Trail at Big Pine Creek

Our hike back to camp took far less time than the way up into the mountains, thanks to it being entirely downhill. My feet were exhausted by the time we reached the campground, and I couldn’t wait to strap on my sandals and get them some rest. We ate a bit, then headed over to the campgrounds general store, hoping to borrow a wine bottle opener since I’d forgotten mine. Along the way we ran into a friendly fisherman who let me borrow his Swiss Army Knife (complete with corkscrew!), and told us to “Get back to work!” as soon as I’d gotten into it.

My Solo Hike Along the South Fork - Looking Back Over the Valley

My Solo Hike Along the South Fork – Looking Back Over the Valley

Perhaps an hour or two later, after pounding 3/4 of the bottle, I had run completely out of energy and told Chaz that I’d have to retire for the evening. I must have drank a gallon of water before turning in, hoping to resist any potential dehydration, and as a result I spent much of the night stumbling around in the dark. I slept like a baby though, and was up at dawn to cook my usual omelette (four eggs, bell peppers, cheese, and tomato). I added a kiwi, a handful of blueberries, and some blackberries for good measure.

Snow Covers the Switchbacks on the South Fork Trail

Snow Obscures the Switchbacks on the South Fork Trail

Chaz soon got up and let me know that his knees were too busted up for another adventure, but said that I was more than welcome to set out on my own. I put together my stuff, choosing to use my old Granite Gear Backpack instead of the Camelbak (which had made my armpits sore the day before), and my brand new boots – Lowa Renegade II GTX Mid-Tops. I was slightly concerned that the boots would thrash up my feet, considering I’d never worn them before, but they seemed comfortable enough that I felt like it’d be worth the test. I tossed my running shoes in the pack just in case it turned disastrous.

Our Campsite at Big Pine Creek Campground

Our Campsite at Big Pine Creek Campground

I hadn’t made up my mind about which trail to take, the North Fork back up to the lakes, or the South Fork out to Willow and Brainard Lakes, so I stopped in the store and asked the lady for advice. She said that the South Fork Trail was still completely snowed over, but encouraged me to “Go as far as you can”.

Long Shadows on the Road to Big Pine Creek Campground

Long Shadows on the Road to Big Pine Creek Campground

Along the way out there, I ran into a group of four backpackers at First Falls (a big waterfall near the trailhead) who reported that they’d come all the way from Mount Sil – way up past Seventh Lake – which made me feel like a chump for only having made it to Second Lake the day before.

Drinking and Dominoes - Wasting the Night Away

Drinking and Dominoes

About half way to the switchbacks up the steep face along the South Fork Trail I met a couple who looked dismayed and let me know that it was completely snowed over. They said it wasn’t even possible to find the beginning of the trail, but as they turned to walk away the guy told me it “Might be an adventure…” trying to make it to the top. I immediately decided to go as far as I could.

Our Tent Platform & View From Big Pine Creek Campground

Our Tent Platform & View From Big Pine Creek Campground

I stopped to do carry-out blister preventing measures on my left ankle just at the bottom of the switchbacks, then heard some rockfall sounds coming from high up the hillside. I looked up to find two backpackers making their way down from the top of the saddle. When they got to me I assaulted them with questions about trail conditions, finding out that it was essentially a “wet, slushy mess”, and receiving very little in the way of positive assurances that it would be worth the effort required to reach Willow Lake. They said the snow was soft enough that I could kick in foot holds, but that I’d better be super careful on my way down since I didn’t have any poles. And boy were they right!

A View From The Pond at Big Pine Creek Campground

A View From The Pond at Big Pine Creek Campground

I got about half way up the hillside – moving quite slowly – kicking in foot placements with each and every step, being careful not to lose my footing and go sliding back down the mountain. It was tough, tedious, and exhausting work just getting to the half-way point, where I decided to give up the attempt once I realized just how dangerous the way back down would be. I was on a precipitous slope, in a blazing sun, hiking essentially in slush, without any poles or even gloves for my hands- and I was entirely by myself.

Wild Lupine Overlooking Big Pine Creek

Wild Lupine Overlooking Big Pine Creek

I sat on a rock to eat lunch, snapped some more self-portraits, and just generally enjoyed the view of the valley and the sounds of the waterfalls now tricking down the hillside all around me while pondering a return trip to the area. I had really wanted to see Willow Lake (even though the storekeeper told me it was a mosquito infested mess), and especially Brainard (which she said was beautiful), and I absolutely hate giving up on a mission like this, but after setting off an old High School football injury by banging my left elbow on my camera, then losing my remote control, I decided to cut my losses while I was still ahead.

Fields of Lupine and Indian Paintbrush in Full Bloom

Chaz & I Stopped to Shoot the Flowers

I took a final look at the view beneath me, then started what I figured would be a slow descent back down the mountain. Within 20 feet I found myself slipping, landing on my butt and sliding full speed down the slope. I put my hands out to my sides and buried them inches into the slushy snow, hoping to slow my fall, but it didn’t seem to help and I continued to slide around 50 more feet, just about completely out of control.

Beatiful Fields of Lupine near Big Pine Creek

Beatiful Fields of Lupine at Big Pine Creek

Finally, I managed to roll over onto my right side and get my arm buried a couple feet into the snow, creating enough drag to slow me down to stop. My fingers had already nearly frozen solid and as I pulled them back into the sunlight they burned with the massive temperature fluctuation. I did my best to avoid the patches of snow the rest of the way down, refusing to follow the foot steps of the backpackers and instead taking my own off-road route through hard scrabble loose talus, which wasn’t a whole lot of fun either!

Incredible Wild Indian Paintbrush at Big Pine Creek

Incredible Wild Indian Paintbrush at Big Pine Creek

Arriving back at camp, Chaz was shocked to see me so early. We ended up spending much of the rest of the afternoon reading, when I realized that I’d better head down the mountain and into town to get some headache medicine and additional supplies. I also needed to send an email to coworkers so they didn’t wonder where I was when I didn’t show up the next morning (Monday), as I’d only told a few of the people from my company about my plan to take the day off.

Fields Brimming with Wildflowers Near Big Pine Creek

A Field of Lupine & Indian Paintbrush

We stopped along the way and shot some photos of the biggest field of Lupine that I’ve ever seen, catching a few glimpses too of Indian Paintbrush, then hit up the local gas station and snagged some of the best beer I’ve ever had in my entire life. I don’t know what it is about Northern CA, but they seem to just about everything better than us, and apparently beer is no exception to that rule! The Mammoth Brewing Company’s Floating Rock Hefeweizen is perhaps the best Hef I’ve ever had, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to find a local source for it down here. If you happen across it, don’t hesitate to snatch it up, but just remember to turn it upside down and read all the directions before consuming (as the friendly, sunburned, and barefoot fisherman inside the Gas Station Store instructed me to do).

My Last View of the Mountains Overlooking Big Pine Creek

My Last View of the Mountains Overlooking Big Pine Creek

We played dominoes and enjoyed the glow of the campfire well into the night, far later than I had thought I’d be able to stay up, before finally getting to sleep around 12 am. I again slept like a baby, and managed to get up just after dawn on Monday morning. Chaz was ready to head home, but I had other plans in mind, having noticed that the famous Mono Lake (of Pink Floyd fame) was just an hour and forty-five minutes North along the 395. But I’ll leave that story for my next post.

Posted in California, Camping, Featured Posts, Inyo National Forest, National Forests, Northern California, South West, Trip Reports, United States | 22 Comments

Camping at Saddleback Butte State Park – Lancaster, CA

Saddleback Butte State Park is essentially like a mini version of Joshua Tree National Park, but with far less variety (in terms of rock formations), and far fewer foot traffic. Though we only stayed two nights, I got a great feel for the place and I’d love to return sometime. For those in search of desert solitude, or Joshua Tree sightings, this place is tough to beat, especially since it’s so close to Los Angeles. Find it in the Antelope Valley, just east of Lancaster.

Our Campgsite at Saddleback Butte State Park

Our Campgsite at Saddleback Butte State Park

Saddleback Butte Campground Directions:

Take the 14 to Lancaster, then head East on Avenue K until you hit 170th Street East. It’s a long way down a straight country-road. Watch for the Saddleback Butte sign- it’s not that easy to spot (though we arrived at 3:30 am).

Looking West - Back Toward Lancaster

The Little Butte Trail – Looking West Toward Lancaster

Saddleback Butte Campground Details:

At a decent elevation of 3,651 feet, Sattleback Butte looks barren on first inspection, though it’s anything but (at least in the Spring!). A large granite mountain towers over the flat alluvial plane here in the Antelope Valley, just on the western side of the vast Mojave Desert. Saddleback Butte State Park was created in 1960 to protect the unique Joshua Tree forests and other plant and animal species that live here. Campsites are $20 per night, and $5 extra for a second car. Contact the Visitors Center at (661) 727-9899.

A Giant Joshua Tree Looms Over The Little Butte Trail

A Giant Joshua Tree Looms Over The Little Butte Trail

There are 50 camp-sites at the campground, each complete with picnic tables, fire rings, and incredible wooden ramadas. I wish other campgrounds in Southern CA would take the hint from Saddleback Butte, because those ramadas are what make this place really worth visiting. Essentially, you can spend the weekend sitting under a porch, with a view of the incredible desert surrounds.

Self-Portrait & Joshua Tree in Saddleback Butte State Park

Self-Portrait With Joshua Tree

Flush toilets, sinks, and potable water spigots (and drinking fountains) are also available, though showers cannot be found here. There is a limit of 2 cars and 8 people per campsite. Campfires are allowed within the fire rings, but there was no firewood for sale when I got there. You are not allowed to collect firewood since, being the desert, vegetation is relatively rare around here.

Getting Hammered on Free Belvedere & Playing Dominoes

Getting Hammered on Belvedere & Playing Dominoes – Circa 9am

There’s also a short (2 mile) trail from the campground to Saddleback Butte itself. It was too hot, and I was too drunk, to make it the entire way, but I’m fairly certain you can get deep into the area and I may return to the campground just to check it out.

Still Dinking, Still Playing Dominoes - Well Into the Late Afternoon

Still Dinking, Still Playing Dominoes – Well Into the Late Afternoon

Saddleback Butte State Park Contact Information:

Saddleback Butte State Park
Phone: 661-942-0662
Reservations: 800-444-727


Final Game of the Beer Pong Tournament (Chaz Won)

Final Game of the Beer Pong Tournament (Chaz Won)

On Friday May 14th I drove up to LA to meet with Sean for our trip to Saddleback Butte Campground. Chaz had discovered it while researching other campgrounds and we at once figured that it’d be worth checking out – Joshua Trees and Ramadas are what sold me on the idea. I grabbed Sean from  his house and we spent a few hours with our buddy Kaveh, drinking and playing dominos, before taking off to meet with Chaz in Santa Monica for the caravan journey to the campground.

Clouds Roll Through the Antelope Valley - Saddleback Butte State Park

Clouds Roll Through the Antelope Valley – Saddleback Butte State Park

The roads were pretty empty, it being well after 1 am by the time we left, so it didn’t take too long to get there. As soon as we got deep into the drive along the 14, light pollution from LA mostly died out and the stars came out in full effect. It was an impressive sight, with the Milky Way quite easy to distinguish. I guess it helped that I was wearing my contacts too.

Joshua Trees & Saddleback Butte Itself

Joshua Trees & Saddleback Butte Itself

We arrived at the campground after quite a long drive down a very straight street that seemed to be out in the middle of nowhere (but that’s just how Lancaster looks at night), and I couldn’t help but think that we were lost. Finally, we spotted the campground entrance and slowly rolled down the dusty dirt road, finding the place evidently completely deserted. I was blown away by the number of stars that I could see, and did my best to capture it on camera (but it didn’t really work).

A Joshua Tree Just About to Bloom

A Joshua Tree on the Verge of Blooming

I slept on the ground sans-tent, as I’m prone to do as long as sap-bearing trees aren’t around, and woke up early the next morning because of it. I wasn’t upset though, since directly in front of me was one of the brightest, yet deepest blue skies that I’ve ever witnessed. It was absolutely enthralling, one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever witnessed. I grabbed my camera gear and set off on the trail to take some photos since the angle of the sun was just about perfect for strong polarization.

A Juvenile Joshua Tree Along the Little Butte Trail

A Juvenile Joshua Tree Along the Little Butte Trail

I was blown away by the amount of color on the desert floor, with incredible yellow flowers virtually blanketing what I had expected to be barren desert sand. I think we had just missed the peak of wildflower season though, as I witnessed signs of other flowers that seemed to have just wilted. I’d like to return next year a little earlier in the Spring to see if we could catch the Joshua Trees in full-bloom.

The Desert Floor in Full Bloom - Saddleback Butte State Park

The Desert Floor in Full Bloom – Saddleback Butte State Park

Chaz and Sean were out and about by the time I returned to the site, sitting beneath the Ramada and eating breakfast. I cooked up a quick omellete and discovered an entire bottle of Belvedere (that we didn’t realize we had) in the trunk while searching for plates. It was 9am when we started drinking; for the record, Belvedere and Hi-C’s Orange Blast makes a pretty damn good combination!

Another JTree Along the Little Butte Trail

Another JTree Along the Little Butte Trail

We got out the dominos and began what would become quite an epic battle that lasted throughout the rest of the afternoon, with short breaks for Beer Pong and Naps. Most of the rest of the day is pretty much a blur for me, though I’m not surprised since we finished the entire bottle of Belvedere between just Sean and myself. At some point I managed to spill a large amount of my V8 & Vodka (perhaps subconsciously on purpose since it was disgusting) all over my leg.

Multi-Armed Joshua Tree & Scrubby Desert Shrubbery

Multi-Armed Joshua Tree & Scrubby Desert Shrubbery

Late in the afternoon Chaz and I went for a walk along the trail, hoping to find some Desert Tortoises and Golden Eagles (both reputed to live in the area), but without having any luck. I was having trouble walking because it was hot as hell out and I was starting to feel hung-over, so I sat down in the shade of the largest Joshua Tree in the area and took myself a micro-nap that was more like a deep meditation. I felt like the tree was absorbing all my uncomfortable feelings and thoughts, leaving me clear-minded and stone cold sober by the time Chaz caught up to me.

A Beautiful Pink Desert Flower in Full Bloom

A Beautiful Pink Desert Flower in Full Bloom

I wanted to head all the way out up and into Saddleback Butte itself, but the sun was rapidly setting and I hadn’t brought any light sources along so I was forced to turn back. We played some more dominoes, then laid down for bed once it was dark enough to see the stars. Again, I was blown away by the incredible clarity of the stars and Milky Way, but I was too exhausted to try out some more night-shots and soon fell asleep.

Golden Yellow Flowers Basking in the Late Afternoon Sun

Golden Yellow Flowers Basking in the Late Afternoon Sun

The next morning I was up early again thanks to the blazing early sun, and we decided to pack up early and head home in an attempt to beat the heat. I had been planning on doing the entire loop trail hike, but it warmed up so quickly that it seemed like a bad idea.

Lone Joshua Tree in the Fading Afternoon Light

Lone Joshua Tree in the Fading Afternoon Light

All three of us were famished, so we stopped by a Mexican Grocery Store (I forget it’s name) that no one else thought would prove fruitful, even though it had a sign clearly reading “Tacqueria”. I wish I could remember the name of this place, because it was the best goddamned grocery store that I’ve ever been to! I got a strawberry smoothie, a fully loaded quesadilla, and Mexican-style eggs (scrambled eggs with veggies) for under $10! On the way out Sean spotted some straw hats for just $6! We each picked one up since they were so cheap.

Saddleback Butte's Night Sky & Ramada Silhouette

Saddleback Butte’s Night Sky & Ramada Silhouette

The drive home was quick and painless, involving a quick stop at an incredible placed called Vasquez Rocks County Park. The best thing about Saddleback Butte State Park campground, other than it’s desert beauty, is that no one seems to care that it exists!

Our Incredible Ramada - Don Juan Would be Proud

Our Incredible Ramada – Don Juan Would be Proud

We were the only people on site (other than the campground hosts) pretty much the entire time that we were there. If you’re into the solitary desert scene, gorgeous views of the night sky, and exploring way out in the middle of nowhere, then this Saddleback Butte should be high-up on your list of places to see.

Blooming Desert Flowers & Towering Joshua Trees - Saddleback Butte State Park

Blooming Desert Flowers & Towering Joshua Trees

Posted in California, Camping, Featured Posts, South West, Southern California, State Parks, Trip Reports, United States | 5 Comments

Camping at Boulder Basin Campground – San Jacinto, CA

It’s hard to believe some of the imagery in this post, but I promise that every bit of it is 100% accurate and true.

My trip to Boulder Basin Campground turned out to be a lot more exciting than I had originally planned for. What was supposed to be a casual camping trip in 70 degree weather turned into a 20-degree white-out snowstorm that I had no idea was coming. Thankfully, as a good Eagle Scout, I live by the motto “Be Prepared”, and travel with all my gear no matter where I’m headed or what’s expected.

Directions to the Campground:

From the Interstate 10 in Banning, take CA 243 South, then turn left and drive six miles north on the dirt road called Black  Mountain Road (Forest Road 4S01). Black Mountain Road is relatively rough and on some websites is not recommended for non high-clearance vehicles, but I made it through easily in my Honda Civic.

Boulder Basin Campground Details:

The campsites here cost $10 per night and $5 for each additional car. You’ll be sitting at a relatively high elevation of 7500 feet. There are 34 campsites with fire pits and picnic tables at each one. Hiking trails are available on the nearby Black Mountain National Recreation Trail & the Pacific Crest Trail (which is 3 miles away).

Contact Information & Address:

Phone Number: (909) 382-2921

San Jacinto Ranger District

San Bernardino National Forest

54270 Pinecrest, Idyllwild, CA 92549

San Jacinto Wilderness Fire Lookout Tower

San Jacinto Wilderness Fire Lookout Tower

On my way along the 243 South up the mountains in Northern San Bernardino National Forest I encountered fast moving clouds and thick fog. High winds made the drive an interesting experience, and the moon peeking briefly out over the mountaintops set a scene of alluring eerieness. It didn’t help that I was driving by myself in the middle of night, hurtling toward parts unknown and previously unexplored.

Thick Fog Rolling Through the Campground

Thick Fog Rolling Through the Campground

As I passed the Black Mountain Trailhead I noticed an interesting scene on the right-hand side of the road- a huge ledge overlooking the forested canyon below, over which a thick bank of fog was slowly creeping. The stars were out in full and I saw what I figured would make the perfect photograph. I decided to stop and take a shot at it, though I’ve got virtually no experience with astral or even night-time photography. The results were better than I had expected, though not as good as I’m hoping to achieve in future attempts.

Dense Fog Shrouds the Forest at Boulder Basin Campground

Dense Fog Shrouds the Forest at Boulder Basin Campground

Shooting at night was certainly an experience, almost meditative in a way. I probably would have stayed on the scene longer and made additional attempts, but the thickest bank of fog I’ve ever seen rolled in and completely obscured all the moonlight, making shooting all but impossible. As I hopped back into the car my mind felt completely at peace and I at once had the idea to pop in Dark Side of the Moon. I figured it’d make the perfect backdrop for the journey, and I couldn’t have been more right.

20 Degree Temperatures Turn Dew to Frost Overnight

20 Degree Temperatures Turn Dew to Frost Overnight

The drive up the unpaved road was uneven and slightly dangerous, but incredibly exciting! Both of my friends cars had made it without any major issues, so I figured I’d be alright too, but there were certainly a couple close calls. Oddly I had just been discussing Dark Side of the Rainbow and the synch between Echoes and 2001: A Space Odyssey at work that day, and the music seemed to synch up with the drive itself. Perhaps it’s just that the Floyd’s sound is so experimental and rich with subtleties, but occasionally I swear it’s like they’ve found some universal beat that powers the universe.

Looking North Toward Boulder Basin Group Camp

Looking North Toward Boulder Basin Group Camp

Any Colour You Like was just starting as I pulled up to the campsite, finding my friends sitting around the fire. I couldn’t simply turn it off though so I remained in the car and allowed the album to finish off. I felt well rested, invigorated perhaps even, when I finally stepped out into the dark cold. I was amped up from Red Bull, but they were ready to pass out so I ended up playing a little guitar to the forest as the temperatures rapidly dropped. I gave up when I could no longer feel my fingers and switched to photography.

My Double Rainbow's First Time In "Snow"

My Double Rainbow’s First Time In “Snow”

I set up my tripod and pointed it toward the incredible view of the milky way, snapping some long exposures in an attempt to capture it in full-color. It was so cold out that my batteries were completely drained within the first hour of shooting, even though all three of them had just been fully charged. I switched to my trusty old film camera and tried some super long exposures (5, 10, 20 minutes, and finally a 1 hour exposure). I have no idea how they’re turn out, which is both the problem with film, and the reason that I love it. You really never know what you’re getting until it’s developed.

Thick Fog North of our Campsite

Thick Fog North of our Campsite

I finally went to bed around 4:30, just as the sky was starting to get light. Sleep didn’t last too long though since I didn’t have a tent to provide any shade. I woke up to a cold morning (50’s or so) but was also greeted with deep blue skies and radiant sunshine. I sat on a gigantic tree stump to cook up an omelette and some hot chocolate in an attempt to warm myself up. My friends soon awoke and made breakfast for themselves, but we weren’t much in the mood for a hike so we ended up lounging around.

Wide Angle View of the Frozen Forest

Wide Angle View of the Frozen Forest

Well into the afternoon we spent the day laying out in the sun as if we were at the beach. I even pulled out my straw hat to get some shade while basking in the sunlight and enjoying the crisp high-altitude air. At 7500 feet the sun felt nearly as strong as during a mid-summer beach trip.

A Beam of Sunlight Hits the Treetops

A Beam of Sunlight Hits the Treetops

Sean and I then played guitar for a while, trying to figure out the chords to Bowie’s incredible Space Oddity, but we got hung up and had to look up the tab with his phone. Incredibly, there’s full cell reception at this campground, even though it seems to be in the middle of nowhere! The E7 chord was our missing form, and once we had it the rest of the song fell right into place.

Clear of Fog for Just a Moment

Clear of Fog for Just a Moment

Thick fog soon rolled in, considerably dropping the temperature to a no longer comfortable level. In a period of just a few minutes, it changed from beach weather to outright freezing, forcing us to don fleece’s and beanies. We then hiked up to the fire lookout, hoping for a nice view over the valley, but at the top it was totally fogged in. We sat on some big rocks for a few minutes, hoping the fog would clear, catching short glimpses of Casino Morongo and the desert valley below. Everyone else got cold and went back down to camp, but I stayed behind for a quick meditation.

A Fog-Free Shot Down The Slope

A Fog-Free Shot Down The Slope

When I got back down to the campsite we started the beer pong games, with Travis and I taking on Sean and Chaz (Sean chose Chaz as his partner in the hopes that he could resurrect the old all-left-handed dream team “God’s Children” (Sean & Kaveh’s team name at Malibu Creek State Park). It didn’t work out for them though, partly because they couldn’t close out their games, and partly because Travis pulled two five-cup streaks. We played 6 games of 6 cups each. In two of them we made comebacks after being down 5-1, and three times we killed them without retaliation by sinking the last two cups on the same round. It was a smack-down of epic proportions.

The Storm Gathers Over Fuller Lake

The Storm Gathers Over Fuller Lake

After beer pong came dinner and an obsession with trying to keep warm. We got the fire going, but the fog kept getting thicker, temperatures kept dropping, and total darkness soon fell. After a few rounds of large rain drops Sean and I each decided that we’d need to set up our tents for the night – just in case the shit hit the fan. I had been hoping that the fog would clear and give me the chance to do some more star photography, but it never happened. The moon seemed brighter and the clouds only got thicker, without even the slightest sign of letting up.

Dense Banks of Fog Roll Through the San Jacinto Mountains

Dense Banks of Fog Roll Through the San Jacinto Mountains

I was so cold when it came time for bed that I decided to using a “hot water bottle” to keep myself from freezing. I didn’t have a rugged bottle (like a Nalgene), but an old plastic gatorade bottle did just the trick. I was a bit worried it’d spill during the night, but it held up just fine. It provided with hours of good warmth and I’ll definitely be trying it again next time the mercury drops.

The Indian View Lookout Point - Before The Storm Hits

The Indian View Lookout Point – Before The Storm Hits

I woke up well-rested, but absolutely frigid. The hot water bottle had lost all its warmth and even two down jackets weren’t enough to stop the bite of the freezing morning air. I was also pissed that my tent had let in so much fine dust throughout the night that it had covered everything, including my expensive sleeping bag. Some frozen condensation had built up on it’s surface, and as it melted the dust turned into a mud-like substance. I was terrified my bag was getting destroyed, but too damn cold to do anything about it.

The Snowstorm Rages On Around Me

The Snowstorm Rages On Around Me

All I could think about was warming myself up, but I had a severely limited water supply because all of mine (except for the hot water bottle) had frozen completely solid during the night. I reheated what little I had, took a quick sip, then stuffed the now hot bottle beneath my down jacket, just outside my thermal top. I was warm again within just a few minutes. These hot water bottles are a godsend!

My Car During a Lull in the Storm

Snow Building Up On My Freezing Civic

I grabbed my camera and shot some photos of the trees, now completely covered in frost, watching the fog roll in and out. My fingers got so cold that they basically quit working entirely. Everyone else soon woke up and they were so cold that they decided to start packing right away. I was so cold I got back into my bag with the water bottle and both down jackets on, but I didn’t feel like leaving. I wanted to stay in case the fog lifted, even though that seemed like a bit of a long-shot.

The Big Tree - After the First Wave of Snow

The Big Tree – After the First Wave of Snow

After getting a fire going we started packing and the cold got the best of me. I decided it’d be too dangerous to stick around if all my friends left, just in case something went wrong on my drive out the dirt road. My friends headed straight home, but curiosity got the better of me and I stopped at the Lake Fuller picnic area to check out the scene. While hiking around the lake I was greeted with a very light dusting of snowflakes, something I hadn’t experienced in years. It wasn’t anything major, but it still felt like a gift from the Gods. I was ecstatic at the thought of seeing some real snow.

Another Shot of the Big Tree - Looking West

Another Shot of the Big Tree – Looking West

I then decided that instead of driving back North on the 243 and home along the 10, I’d head South through Idyllwild, then back home via the 74. But just a quarter of a mile from Lake Fuller I stopped again at the Indian Vista look out point, hoping to get a good view of the valley below. While standing at the overlook shooting photos of the fog, it started to snow a little harder than before.

Quiet Calm Sets in Between Thick Snow Fluries

Calm Sets in Between Waves of the Storm

Light snow turned into a flurry, which gave way to a tremendous hail-fall and then just minutes later a full on white-out. It got so bad that I had to get my snowboarding goggles from the car and carry my nearly-waterproof camera in a gigantic plastic bag. It was so cold that the batteries went dead again just about instantly, though I was able to resurrect them by placing them in my down jackets pockets for a few minutes. I stood in the falling snow watching the flakes spiraling all around me, enjoying this unique experience and simply listening to the snow. It mad ea sound like nothing I’d ever heard before, and was an incredibly unique experience.

Another View of the Boulder Basin Fire Lookout Tower

The Boulder Basin Fire Lookout Tower

The foliage and dirt was quickly covered by snow, but rocks and the concrete path wouldn’t allow it to stick. After about an inch or so of snow had fallen the skies cleared up virtually instantly, offering spectacular views of the surrounding area. But a new storm-cell and a massive thunderhead soon rolled up through the valley and unleashed a furious snow-fall like I’ve never seen before. I couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of me, but I loved the sound and feel of the storm. Again, it seemed like a gift from the heavens. I’ve never witnessed so much natural power and I was so awestruck that the hours flew by as if they’d only been minutes.

Vertical Shot of the Icy San Jacinto Forest

Vertical Shot of the Icy San Jacinto Forest

Three hours later I finally started to make my way back down the mountain at a speed of just over five miles per hour, but even then nearly skidded out while driving over a patch of ice during a steep uphill climb. I kept what felt like a snail’s pace after that, though still managed to catch up to a slow caravan of SUVs being led by an old car. We paraded ever so slowly down the mountain, making our way past chains checkpoints that had just been set up, and passing along a couple of snow plows on their way up from the valley floor.

Silent Giants Loom in the Fog at Boulder Basin Campground

Silent Giants Loom in the Fog at Boulder Basin Campground

The storm was getting worse behind me and I must have left just in time to actually make it out without having to call for help. Further down the hill snow turned to hail, which soon became rain, then giving way to deep blue skies and sunshine near the valley floor. Incredible cumulous clouds were scattered throughout the valley, and the weather turned calm and beautiful, but far more boring than that which I’d just been watching.

Looking Down the Valley

Looking Down the Valley

Posted in California, Camping, Featured Posts, National Forests, San Bernardino National Forest, South West, Southern California, Trip Reports, United States | 6 Comments

My First SEO Conference

Newport Beach Sunset

HDR Sunset

A few months back I traveled to San Diego for my first professional SEO Conference. It turned out to be an adventure that I’ll never forget.

I was sent there to “figure out how to make us money” – according to my boss, at least. Personally, I had hoped to get a glimpse at the future of the profession and the trends for 2010. I also secretly desired a couple minutes of face time with the industries so-called “thought leaders”, whom I could speak to about some of my personal theories.

I figured the commute would be hellish, though most of Orange and San Diego counties on a weekday morning, but there was hardly anyone else on the road! I arrived far ahead of schedule, but ended up turning the wrong way at the last direction on my sheet. Instead of entering the resort that would play host to OMS 10, I made a left into the parking lot overlooking Mission Bay. Google Maps had sent me there, but looking back on it now I’m not so sure that Fate itself didn’t play some small role too.

I parked my car as close to the waters edge as I could get, then began to change into my “conference clothes”. Shiny shoes, a dress shirt, and slacks- much more “professional” than my daily work attire of t-shirt and jeans. Though my car’s battery had been having problems in recent weeks, I figured the 80 mile drive would be enough to keep a full charge so I didn’t even bother turning off the radio while I enjoyed the scenery.

But when I got back into the car and went to engage the ignition, I was met with a mechanical whizzing sound, an electric whine, and the tap-tap-tapping of a dead battery. My world collapsed. The dashboard gauges fluttered, and with them went my heart.

“Shit,” I thought as beads of perspiration began to gather on my brow, “of all the times!”

I’d been driving on this dying 7 year-old battery for months, refusing to get a new one until it truly gave out. I’d traversed well over 80,000 miles on that battery alone, hardly making it out of some rough patches, but always on my own time. What a way it was to start my first official conference.

I flagged down a City Parks worker in a gigantic Ford truck and asked him for a jump. He said he wasn’t allowed to use the city car it, but pointed toward a bright red pickup about two hundred yards down the lot from me and said that they could probably help. I followed his glance and noticed two derelicts, obviously vagabonds of some sort, milling around, apparently just killing time. I immediately decided to call AAA, but it was already too late.

He had already started off toward them and was soon deep in conversation. I watched the drifters toss some dirty bags into the truck before hopping into the cab and firing up its engine. I swallowed hard as they approached- I’ve had some intense run-ins with their type in the past.

“You need some help?” the driver asked out his window as I waved to them, forcing a smile.

“I’d really appreciate it, if you’ve got the time.” It was obvious that they did, but I’m always awkward about asking for help.

As I popped the hood I couldn’t help but feel ashamed. There I was in my spit-shined shoes, my french-cuffed collared shirt, and pin-stripe slacks having to waste these guys time who obviously could have spent it better on other things- like showers, laundry, or looking for jobs. I felt like “The Man” himself, asking for assistance from people who had absolutely nothing to give.

But they were nice, and seemed excited to be able to lend a hand, so I grabbed my jumper cables from the trunk and watched them go to work. They said that they knew how to do it just right, but as the first connector was placed on my battery it exploded into a shower of red plastic rain.

Enter paranoia: “Did he do that on purpose?! No, no wait- it must have been an accident.”

The one who’d been watching let me know that they had their own set of cables, much more reliable that the “Chinese pieces of shit” that I had given them. He nodded to the other guy, who disappeared into the truck. As the new set appeared and the two of them got to work fixing up the connections, a third man I hadn’t seen before stumbled out of the truck.

He looked filthy and disoriented, the commotion must have woken him up. He sidled slowly over toward me and just sort of stood there for a second with a vacant look on his face and that familiar thousand-yard stare I’d come to know from my days of volunteering at the VA Hospital’s Schizophrenia Research Lab. He was far dirtier than the other two, with greasy hair that hadn’t been washed in months, filthy teeth, and smudges of grease, or perhaps snot on his ragged denim shirt.

But he reached out his hand for a shake, and introduced himself with gusto: “Nice to meet ya, I’m Totally Tal!” His voice was gruff, yet melodious, and I couldn’t help but like him. I took his outstretched hand, smiled, and let him know how much I appreciated their help. Mid-handshake I noticed the piss stains on his jeans. They’d clearly been soiled with regularity, and it was obvious to me that no Tal was in no way interested of disguising that fact.

Tal started mumbling some incomprehensible things as he searched for a cigarette, checking each of the pockets of his shirt, and all of those in his jeans. Finally locating his pack, he pulled forth a final cigarette as if it were the Holy Grail itself, clearly ecstatic that he’d located that last smoke. As he lit up, the other two announced that everything was ready, that I should give it a shot.

But it took a few tries to get it right.

After the first failed attempts they started arguing about how long I’d have to wait before trying the key again. The first two extolled patience, while Tal pushed for an immediate result. The Ring-Leader called him off with a loud and seemingly uncharacteristic “Shut the fuck up Tal!”

Two minutes later my motor kicked into gear just as Tal began to explain that they were “The Three Musketeers”. He made it clear that he considered it his duty to help out travelers in need, before beginning his lament: “Man- We are sooo broke! We are so broke man. We don’t have annnnnnny money.”

I was relieved, since I’d wanted to offer them cash for their assistance, and saw this as a great opening.

“Could I help you guys out? Would $20 bucks help any?”

All three sets of eyes lit up instantly. “Twenty dollars?! Hell yeah that’d help us out!” Tal seemed ecstatic, but it was also evident that I’d hurt the Ring-Leader’s pride.

“We don’t charge for help Tal…” he said dryly, while packing up the cables. I insisted, telling them they’d literally saved my day, and helped me out far more than I thought $20 would do for them.

He seemed to vacillate, then said that I should take their cables in case my battery died again before I could get it replaced. I tried to turn him down, but gave up when it became obvious that I was fighting a losing battle since pride was at stake.

During the good-bye handshake with the Ring-Leader I again thanked him for their help, to which he responded: “No problem, I mean we couldn’t help it. You’re just so damn cute.”


I flashed a smile, finished the hand-shake, and let them know that I had to get going if I was going to make registration on time. I hopped into the car, shut the door, and breathed a sigh of relief.


After registering with the pretty hostesses and receiving my badge, I went straight to the restroom to wash my hands, where I was floored by the ostentatiousness of my surroundings. I had just been speaking to three men who had nothing more than they could fit in a single pickup, and I now found myself surrounded by people in suits with slicked back hair, fancy laptops, and a consuming sense of self-importance (Marketers are nearly all this way).

I was in awe, but also a little bit disgusted, by the chandeliers, mosaic floors, incredible floral arrangements, and a marina full of sailboats and yachts. The juxtaposition was so extreme that I could hardly focus on the task at hand- the task that I hate above all other tasks- networking! But I was there to do a job, and I did it to the best of my ability.

As the conference progressed and I met an assortment of “Professional Marketers”, “SEO Consultants”, and “Conversion Optimization Specialists”, it became apparent to me that The Three Musketeers were both more real, and certainly far more interesting than the hundreds of highly motivated, talented, and entirely ordinary people attending the Conference. I’d have rather spent the day with the dudes in their truck (had they not hit on me so blatantly), learning about their lifestyle, their skill-sets, and their life outlooks, than trying to figure out how to break Google’s algorithm.

But just before the final presentation my attendance was entirely vindicated when I came in touch with a second set of three companions who were just as fascinating as that earlier group: the CEOs of three of the largest Search Engine Optimization companies in the world. They were the rock-stars of the conference, commanding everyone’s attention. These three are A-list celebrities of the Search Marketing world, and I’ll be leaving out their names since I doubt they’d want to be written about here.

They stood near the registration table, set apart from the rest of the pack, spending the first half of our final twenty minute break talking amongst themselves while the rest of the conference attendees milled around, watching them out of the corner of their eyes. I too felt some apprehensive about approaching them, but I also realized that this was my best chance to prove that Conference attendance fees are worth it, so I put aside my insecurities and walked up to their closed circle, waiting for an in.

Ten minutes later I walked away with answers to my most important questions, with the answers to everything that I had wanted to find out. My idea about the future of the industry had been entirely off-base, shattered with a single sentence, and shot down by the industry’s best and brightest. But they had done so with a smile, and with class, and I was happy to have finally an answer that I could trust.

This was my Mission Accomplished moment.

But more importantly- I was struck by the similarities between those two sets of Three, between the Morning and Afternoon Musketeers

The earlier group were the downtrodden, the impoverished, the ‘failures’ or ‘dregs’ of society – those who had followed Leary’s advice, and paid the consequences for doing so.

The second group were the success stories, the entrepreneurs, the ‘captain’s of industry’ or ‘champions of capitalism’, who had followed dreams of a different nature, and been rewarded with the financial fruits of their intellectual labors.

Yet each set were essentially the same: good people willing to help those in need and happy to be of service to their fellow-men. I learned a much more valuable lesson that day than I had expected to receive.

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged | 2 Comments