Friday, July 30, 2010

Revitalizing Downtown

This is my city, though this is the 8th largest city in US, but it was not spared from the threat of urban decay due to suburban sprawl.
San Diego Skyline
The suburban sprawl has brought a lot of upscale and bigger shopping malls away from downtown with major stores such as Macy's, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale, Saks, Neiman Marcus and designer stores such as Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Prada, Gucci, and many more other major designer stores you can think of. Perhaps it is for this reason, that for a certain period, the heart of San Diego District underwent urban decay as people flew to the suburbs.  Perhaps for people not working and living in downtown, there is not much reason anymore to go here. However, San Diego revitalized its downtown and reinforced it with historic preservation, housing, public transportation, public facilities and major destinations that will bring in converging pedestrian traffic. The centerpiece of downtown development was Horton Plaza Mall.
Horton Plaza Mall
This mall, during the 1960s and 1970s was a major transit center and was home to substantial homeless population. However, plans to revitalize downtown transformed Horton Plaza as a centerpiece of downtown development. Twenty years after opening, Horton Plaza generates the city's highest sales per unit area. It generates pedestrian traffic and shares it with other major downtown destinations,
Convention Center ( hosts the annual Comic-con )- one of major destinations in downtown San Diego
paving the way for the revitalization of the Gaslamp District. 
Gaslamp District, San Diego
The Gaslamp District is a 16-1/2 block historical neighborhood in downtown San Diego. The District was originally built in the 1860s and was known as San Diego's New Town, in contrast to San Diego's Old Town, which was the original Spanish colonial settlement of San Diego. 
Old Town San Diego

Now, Old Town San Diego is a State Historic Park and presents to experience the history of early San Diego by providing a connection to the past. Whereas the Gaslamp District or New Town ( or now simply called downtown San Diego) has survived the renewal after undergoing through a period of urban decay.  The revitalization of downtown San Diego has become successful and today serves as a center of business and entertainment.
One of Old Town's Quaint Little Shops
Some Items Just Outside of the Tinsmith Shop Above

However, how many other cities and towns that underwent urban decay continued to suffer and were not able to bring back their old town's glory? Some cities and some small towns may now look like a ghost town for their residents abandoned them to look for job elsewhere. The recent trend in outsourcing jobs for cheaper labor has brought many industries to close down, leaving people without jobs. However, there is no place like home. I am sure if these towns and cities are revitalized, and jobs will come in, people will go back again to the place they have called home for a long time.

Thankfully, there are some companies that are dedicated to revitalize America's small towns, such as Ramblers Way Farm. Knowing that most towns suffer due to lost of jobs due to outsourcing for cheaper labor and also due to imports for cheaper materials, Ramblers Way Farm patronizes everything that is Made in America. Ramblers Way sources, grows, and produces their fine woolen apparel using 100% domestic resources. They have brought manufacturing facilities into distressed small towns and are helping to revitalize the communities. Their corporate office is fully refurbished building that was originally built in 1792 and is located in downtown Kennebunk, Maine. The building has been restored to its original condition, while being modernized to meet today's environmental standard. The company has achieved Gold Lead Certification Level. Hopefully, other companies and industries will follow the example of Ramblers Way's dedication to revitalize communities, preserve the town's history and live the American dream.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sol Duc Falls, Olympic National Park

Sol Duc Falls, Olympic National Park, WA
( taken from the foot bridge)
The hike: 1.8 miles round trip, with easy ups and downs

Do you underestimate easy hikes? We don't. We do not choose our hikes because they are the most challenging and most strenuous, or the opposite. Rather, we choose our hikes on scenic rewards. Others will skip an easy hike, such as this one probably, not knowing the rewards they would miss.   

The trail to Sol Duc Falls is one of those easy hikes that is filled with ohs and ahs from trail head to destination. The trail head was beautifully adorned with rhododendrons, 
Beautiful Pacific Rhododenron inside the Forest
and the trail meanders through old-growth forest.
Sol Duc Falls Trail
Sol Duc Falls trail is actually a get-away to a number of more ambitious trails. Those who are into backpacking can apply for wilderness permit, carry their camping gear, and continue to hike further up the mountain. There were several streams to cross in the trail, and at one point, we were so awed by the flowing stream on mossy rocks that we spent some time taking pictures, nourishing our spirits with inspirations from nature.

With the very low light inside the forest, I had to shoot with longer exposure. Since we were lazy to check in our luggage, we decided to only carry what is allowed for carry on, and that meant leaving behind our tripod and trekking poles too. Without a tripod, it was very challenging to take decent picture without camera shake. I made my own tripod by kneeling down and putting my elbow down on the ground. I was in that position to take the picture below, when a well meaning older guy passed by and told me,
 Some of the Streams We had to Cross, with mossy rocks

 "continue on....you will see more wonder".

King of Noodles

Written by Shannon Tillman

King of Noodles is one of your humble little local chinese food restaurants with a special little added style. King of Noodles is your mom and pa style of restaurant and serves Beijing style chinese food. They have a very simple menu and it is mostly filled with small smacks with only a few main course orders. However, people love what they cook there. The restaurant only sits about 20-30 people but it is always full. They do a lot of deliveries and that's where they get most of their business. If you have a taste for chinese food and is a huge noodle fan then you will like this place. I would rate it a 4.5 stars out of 5. The King of noodles restaurant is very close to my house but I still always make sure to set my adt program before I leave. In fact I'm feeling a little hungry right now and might call them for a pick up order. Be sure to get the house special noodles if you ever go there. It is the dish they have to offer. The owners don't speak very well English because they just came over from Beijing a few years ago, but they have achieved the American dream by opening their own business and you should go and show your support!

I Have Mail!

There are days where I am excited to look at what is in my mailbox, like when I am waiting for a rebate that will be mailed to me by the stores I bought. Or, when I am waiting for the cash back check, or waiting for the book I ordered, or waiting for a card from a friend. Though a lot of times checking my mailbox gives me pain as well when junk mails overcrowds my regular mail. However, these junk mails I could just not throw directly into the recycle because they may contain some of my very important information (oh, I really wonder why these bank companies offering credit cars have to do this ) that people can use for their fraudulent transactions. I carefully check each mail, regardless whether they are junk or not that they do not contain our important information. Also, with the mails just simply dumped in the mail boxes create some fear that some mails may be lost or stolen.

Thankfully, our community has residential mailboxes system that are well secured, operating almost like those of commercial mailboxes. Mailboxes are locked and if we go out of town for a long time, we just leave a note inside our mailbox for the post man that we will just pick up our mails in the post office when we get back. This practice has helped us having some peace of mind that all our mails will always be secured even when we are not around to get them. Checking our mail brings me both joy and headache, headache for all those junks that I still need to sort out and carefully shred, and joy, for those happy ones like a little congratulatory note from our school for a job well done, or cards from friends, which I would happily say to myself, "I've Got Mail!"

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Easy Pass Trail, North Cascades National Park

Easy Pass Trailhead, North Cascades National Park, WA
Trailhead Location: milepost 151, Washington State Route 20;
Hike: 7 miles round trip, 2800 ft elevation gain
The first 2 miles of the hike climbs steadily and the trail meanders through hemlock and Pacific silver fir forests.
Hemlock and Pacific Silver Fir Forest
300 yards from the trailhead, there is a neat footlog to cross the Granite Creek.
Footlog to Cross Granite Creek
Despite it was already middle of summer, there were no one else in this trail that made the hike really special for us since the trail was all to ourselves. I guess, one of the advantages of going to a less crowded National Park is having solitude. There were several people who turned in at the parking lot, but after reading the signs at the trailhead, they turned around and drove away, maybe, Easy Pass was not the trailhead they were looking for, or maybe they were just visiting the park from the road. However, the extreme solitude we found in the trail does not mean this is an uninteresting hike, for many believe the Easy Pass and Fisher Basin area to be one of the most superb places in the North Cascades. The short but steep trail is not really that "easy" as one may presume from the name "Easy Pass". Inside the forest, I saw several variety of fungi growing on the trees' branches and some little creeks that their cascades create little waterfalls. They may not be permanent waterfalls, but were just created from all the melting snow.
Group of Brown Fungi
Small Waterfall
( shot without tripod )
After about 1000 ft climb, the trail becomes snow covered and it was hard for us to determine trail.
Snow Covered Trail At Higher Elevation
Our Foot Marks on the Snow 
There were several creek crossing, that added more fun to the hike.
Crossing Easy Pass Creek
(yeah, we had to cross the creek this way)
After 2 miles, the trail emerges into avalanche paths on the flanks of the ragged ridge, with the all the snow however, it was hard to identify the trail.
The Easy Pass Trail was lost in these snow fields, and an ice axe is advised through early summer.

Road Trip Fun

Enjoying a Beautiful Sunset While on The Road
We love to take road trips once a while, may it be on a weekend, or during vacation. In fact, our kind of vacation is always "on the go" type, since we wanted to explore different places. We are the type who are not satisfied with viewing the place from the road only, we prefer to see and experience what is deep within, far from the main road. It is always a different joy to be able to see and experience wonders of nature that most do not see because they choose not to move their feet as much. Whenever we get a chance, we explore our world by car, and by foot.
However, in instances that we needed to fly, we had to rely on rental cars to get to places. Thankfully, there are many reliable rental cars around. There are many cars to choose from, from economy to luxury. If there are just the two of us vacationing, we would usually rent an entry level car such as the mitsubishi lancer. Mitsubishi Lancer is a wonderful car, it is actually my first car, and I love it. However, if we have longer rides, and if there are 3 or 4 of us, we prefer to have a large sedan such as nissan maxima, or a cadillac cts. 
Powerful nissan maxima cruising the road
Sometimes, by the time we get our car, the car we chose would not longer be available and we get an upgrade such as mercedes benz cls for the same price, how lucky can we get? There is just so much in this world to see, and I am glad for these reliable cars to bring us to our destination, and am glad for our feet to bring us further to places where cars can't go. Indeed, life is beautiful.
Hiking at Hidden Canyon, Zion National Park, UT

San Diego's Hillcrest

Whenever I think of good eclectic foods in San Diego, Hillcrest always come to mind. Whether it be Vietnamese, Japanese, Indian, Persian, Mid-Eastern, American, Italian, Mexican and what else my wandering mind can think of, Hillcrest has them all.
Real Good Mexican Food at Ortega in Hillcrest
Hillcrest is a bustling San Diego neighborhood of ethnic restaurants and coffee shops, the atmosphere is fun-loving, and where locals and tourists go to people watch, party, enjoy the night life and/or simply enjoy walking around its stylish thrift stores and artsy bungalows. 

Hillcrest is well known as San Diego's gay and lesbian Mecca. Here, one will experience a very friendly community of tolerance. Here, whether they may be gay or straight, local or tourist, diverse group of people simply welcome each other, spend their night and weekend for some clean and lively fun. 

Every July, Hillcrest hosts the annual San Diego LGBT Parade, which is the 5th largest in US and attracts 150,000 cheering spectators.  After the parade, it is followed by a two day festival at Balboa Park. Balboa Park is right next to Hillcrest, and is the nation's largest urban cultural park. 
Reflecting Pond, Balboa Park
Balboa Park is home to 15 major museums, performing arts venues, beautiful and lush gardens, and of course, of the world famous San Diego Zoo.
Nursing Panda at The San Diego Zoo
 Being close to downtown San Diego, and part of the heart of San Diego, finding nice places to stay or hotels at Hillcrest is not a problem. There are many hotels close by so that one just just stroll in this lively and friendly San Diego neighborhood. 

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Back To Reality

For a few days, I was lost. I was lost in planning for another vacation that will not come soon, but will be for next year's summer vacation. For a while, I could not focus, all my sights and thoughts were with my summer 2011 plan, an Alaska Adventure on land, ice, water and air. I am getting used to plan an itinerary that minimizes the budget yet maximizes the adventure and exploration that makes me dream that maybe someday, I may retire early and be a vacation planner or put up my own tour company that sells vacation packages at a much affordable price. We do not get those vacation packages because they are expensive, imagine, a 7 day tour of Grand Canyon-Zion and Bryce for $2500/person?  It is not only expensive, but I raise my eyebrow as well looking at their itinerary because I believe we covered more hiking adventure and exploration in our own Grand Circle tour at a much lesser price.
from our Grand Circle Exploration
But the dream of putting up my own tour and vacation company stops for now, reality kicks in, and here I am now, blogging :) Yehey, whenever I can bring myself to blog, it means one thing, I am back to reality :) . I am back to enjoying the simple joys in life, such as local hiking, boogie boarding, and yes, blogging. But who knows, maybe, putting up my own tour and vacation company may also happen later? When I retire? Dream big, Betchai. :) Thankfully, I am enjoying my teaching job right now, though teaching has its share of challenges, but I am happy updating myself to keep up with the challenges and turn them into strength. Math and sharing the joys of Math through teaching is still my passion that I do not see leaving soon. So, my reality continues, but once a while, it is good to be lost in a dream as well. Like dreaming summer 2011 be here now :)

While the reality that summer 2011 is still a year from now and am done already with vacation planning for that, now, I am back to checking the local water temperature today ( 66 degree F or 19 degree Celsius) and the surf ( 1- 4ft waves). The water temperature seems to be getting better (or warmer) but the waves are smaller after some days of 4- 7 ft waves. As much as I enjoy riding the waves flat on my boogie board ( I am not brave enough to ride the waves standing on the surf board ),
Boogie Boarding ( Aside from hiking, this is my other outdoor fun in San Diego )
in our recent summer trip to Washington, I found another way of riding the water current that is as fun as riding the waves in the sea, that is riding the white water waves of the river.
White Water Rafting at White Salmon River, Washington ( obviously I did not take this picture since that's me right next to my name )
Having enjoyed immensely the fun of white water rafting, I checked if there is a possibility to do white water rafting as well when I plan for the next vacations. It felt so good being carried  and dropped by the white water of the river, and be washed by the river's cold splash. It is great to know that I can include white water in almost of my planned vacation destinations, Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah ( yeah, I will never get tired of Utah!) and Colorado. For most, probably when they thought of Colorado, it is all about the rockies, skiing and snowboarding, but there is more to Colorado than just being a winter wonderland.
Colorado National Monument ( this is not your typical Colorado picture )
Though of course, Colorado is a world class skiing destination, but aside from skiing, Colorado is also a wonderland for mountain bikers, hikers, campers, and white water rafters. Though I have been to Colorado, but I have not explored many of its wonders, and thus I plan to be back there and enjoy the sheer fun of hiking in Colorado's natural wonders. Places in Colorado that is in my list to see, that you can also help me add to it are: Rocky Mountain National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, and of course, skiing and white water destination such as in Breckenridge, CO.
photo courtesy of vacation rentals Breckenridge
What is great with Breckenridge Property Management is that it is right in between Rocky Mountain National Park and The Great Sand Dunes National Park. It is really in a very strategic place for our kind of vacation which does not stay in one place. Usually staying inside the National Parks is a lot more expensive than outside, and Breckenridge vacation rentals provides a more affordable option.  I always love a vacation in the Southwest, because the places provide a contradiction that blows my mind away, the scenery changes from awe inspiring rocky mountains and winter wonderland to a painted and sculpted desert that seems to transport me back in time. 
Now, I know, whenever I talk about places to explore, I can't stop, just so many places to see and explore, so little time, and yes, so little money :( But I am glad, exploration is the most fun, just here, at home in San Diego, when everything is free! Haha!

Friday, July 23, 2010

My Apologies

I was experimenting with ad networks in my site and added a 120x600 banner from Adbrite yesterday. I believed I checked "family-friendliest" ads only, but did not check the "approve ads manually" thinking that I set my ads already to "family-friendliest" ads. My terrible fault, and sincerest apologies. When I went to bed last night, there were still no running ads, but when I woke up in the morning, to my horror, there were running ads and definitely they were not "family-friendliest" ads, they included adult ads which I was offended. I worked hard on this site to promote a clean outdoor lifestyle where we find simple joys in our natural world which a lot of times cheaper than most other recreation. For those who may have visited my site during this short time where those ads appeared, please accept my sincerest apologies. I did not mean to put up those kind of ads, and I am offended and humbled when I saw them. It exposed my lack of research to the various ad networks. Again, my apologies. I removed the Adbrite ad already in my site and for now, will just stick to my Amazon ads.

Best,
Betchai

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Our Foggy Reality at Mt. Rainier

There is a situation where fog is beautiful, and very dramatic, this is the kind of fog I love.
Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
However, there are situations also, that fogs scare me especially when driving on mountain roads that meanders over cliffs with several thousands feet vertical drop off. What caused this fear in me? Maybe, because  in San Diego, it is very common to have the airplanes not land because of the danger due to nil visibility. So, whenever we are driving on mountain roads and encounter very thick fog we do not see what is in front of us, nor around us, I can't help that fear to get in me.
Our Rented Car Surrounded by Fog
I would usually say a prayer for our safety, and everyone else on the road to be safe. Most of the pictures you see in my previous post about Mt. Rainier National Park was taken on our first day. Our reality was, we did most of our activity in the first day, despite not so good weather, but it was good enough for us to take our chances to hike and explore around. The second day, was a different story. Near Sun Beam Creek is the Reflection Lake,
Reflection Lake, Lost in Fog
where we are supposed to see this inspiring landscape on a beautiful summer day.
Reflection Lake ( picture taken at the poster in Reflection Lake) 
this is how Reflection Lake is supposed to look like on a clear summer day- and when all snow has melted 
Well, we could not even see the trees which are supposed to be in front of us. The lake has not completely thawed yet, but that's all we saw, the ice close to us. Several feet from us, we just have to guess what is in there. We waited, and waited for fogs to clear, but with no hope. It thickened, and thickened  until visibility became poorer and poorer. We decided to drive back to Paradise until hopefully the fogs will be lifted a little bit even just a few feet from the ground that we can at least see what we are walking on. We would walk back and forth between the Visitor Center and Paradise Inn. A lot of people dressed in their winter clothing ( it is in the middle of summer, but with winter conditions) and hiking boots were inside the Visitor Center or the Inn, like us, killing time. Park rangers were not advising to hike because of the very poor visibility and blizzard, and two days before that, a hiker was lost in the trail and the poor visibility is not helping the search team to find the lost hiker. We felt for some tourists who came in for a day ( some by tour buses who will be there for a day only and then drive back to the city), since they would pose in front of the Visitor Center trying to make it still a jovial picture day yet not even the Visitor Center Building would probably be seen in the picture because of almost zero visibility. Some thought of better solution, that is to take picture inside the visitor center! It was a very crowded visitor center. All we did was shop, watch their movie presentation, eat, and get bored. We decided to have fun in the snow ( just no pictures since it was impossible to take pictures) instead of sulking indoors at the Visitor Center and the Inn. However, it was not fun at all when the visibility is so low you're afraid you will hit a tree or a rock, or fall off a cliff as you slide, and the blizzard and icy wind would whip our face. We decided to go back and sulk at the Visitor Center again. About 4:00 pm, the parking lot at the Visitor Center and the Paradise Inn were almost empty, visitors probably left already and had given up. We decided to follow, left the higher elevation and went down. Down at Longmire, at least there was no blizzard, no thick fog that makes visibility zero, just rain. We hiked in the rain, and RAIN IS BEAUTIFUL and REFRESHING!!! We were glad we went down, left the snow and bathe in the rain. 

My Potato Chip Rock At Mt. Woodson

Let me take a break from sharing our fun and wonderful summer trip at Washington and Oregon to go back to what is closer to heart and home. I know some may find the picture below scary, but it's not really that scary when you are up there. That slab or rock is pretty strong and not as narrow as you might think.
On Top of The World at Potato Chip Rock
click here for the different hiking trail options  to Potato Chip Rock in Mt. Woodson.
What are the different options to reach Potato Chip Rock? Clicking on the link will lead you to various trail options hiking Mt. Woodson, where the Potato Chip Rock can be found near the summit.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mt. Rainier National Park

Our Hike at Mt. Rainier :(
Frankly, the picture above (and some more below) is the very reason why I am not that very excited to post yet about Mt. Rainier National Park. I still do not feel like leaving my pictures of star fish with the sea stacks, and the enchanted kingdom-like rain forests in my Olympic National Park post. It is not that Mt. Rainier National Park has nothing to offer, for Mt. Rainier is an amazing nature wonderland and National Park. Only that for 2 days we were there, we had gray sky, had mostly thick fogs the visibility was so poor, we had rain, snow, and some sort of blizzard blowing on us. How was the visibility like when we were there? It was like these.
( the picture above with the wide landscape of Mt. Rainier is what we were supposed to see in front of us, but in the picture, you will only see some snow and nothing, thick fog in front of us that won't let us see a few feet away from us)
Now, I do not really dislike fog, in fact, I love waking up to it most of the time in the morning here in San Diego, especially when the sun breaks in middle of the day. But not when we spent for 2-nights lodging and get thick fogs, rain, on and off snow and blizzard for 2 days we were there. But then, of course, this is not the fault of Mt.Rainier National Park, for the park is really a natural beauty and a source of inspiration, even when we were there at one of Mt. Rainier's worst days in the middle of summer. So, let me count the ways how we enjoyed the park despite having bad weather......
1. stopped on the road for whatever waterfalls we hear ( we can't see it from afar because of fog), and true enough, it was as joyful to listen to the sound of nature.
What is He Taking a Video Of? 
This Waterfall Below....
Waterfall in Fog Beside the Road
2. Hiked despited we did not know if we will be seeing anything because of visibility. But then, the thick fogs were lifted once a while for a brief moment for us to take pictures.
Does This Look Like a Summer Hike?
( Love it when fogs are lifted higher and can take some pictures)
But we were rewarded in some of our hikes, such as:
What? We See Mt. Rainier Now :)
Fogs Slowly Rising, Ice, River and Comet Falls
Blocks of Ice and Comet Falls
(it's such a joy being here, after 1500 ft uphill hike on icy snow packed trail in some parts, steep rocky strewn trail in other parts, and a not so good weather )
320 ft-tall Comet Falls Behind Me
( even despite dark skies and storms, you never know when the heaven will lift the fog to open up to you a world of wonder )
3. Focused on waterfalls and wildflowers, something that you can still take pictures up close when visibility is poor.
Christine Falls
Narada Falls
Despite a bad weather when we were there, nevertheless, we were still able to have some fun, and enjoyed Mt. Rainier our way. 
Sliding Down Instead of Hiking Down
Definitely, we will be back here at Mt. Rainier, and we will call it, Mt. Rainier take 2, hopefully, the next time we go back the weather will be on our side to explore and experience Mt. Rainier at its beautiful best.