Tag Archives: california

Out & About—Ramona Grasslands County Preserve

Out & About

The first place I went when I rented a Tamron 150-600mm lens was Ramona Grasslands County Preserve. The Grasslands are located in the Santa Maria Valley between the coastal mesas and the mountains of the Peninsular Ranges in west-central San Diego County.  The Preserve consists of 3,521 acres with a 480-acre western portion having a four-mile loop trail.

The Ramona Grasslands Preserve includes a significant section of the remaining undeveloped portion of the Santa Maria Creek watershed, which supports a variety of habitat types, including native and non-native grasslands, coastal sage scrub, chaparral, oak woodlands, Santa Maria Creek, adjacent riparian area, and a diversity of unique vernal pools, vernal swales, and alkali playas.

Many rare animals make their homes in the Grasslands, including Stephens’ kangaroo rat, fairy shrimp, purple stipa, blue-eyed grass, and woolly blue curls. There is no lack of raptors in the skies, and a nesting pair of American Bald Eagles have been in the Grasslands in the recent few years.

In this post, however, I present only some panoramas of the Grasslands. I’ll have wildlife pictures in a future post, although there is a rabbit in one of these pictures. See if you can find it.

These panoramas used anywhere from 2 to 24 pictures taken from the loop trail and then stitched together using Photoshop’s Photomerge function.

Ramona Grasslands County Preserve, Ramona CA

Ramona Grasslands County Preserve, Ramona CA

Ramona Grasslands County Preserve, Ramona CA

Ramona Grasslands County Preserve, Ramona CA

Ramona Grasslands County Preserve, Ramona CA

Ramona Grasslands County Preserve, Ramona CA

Ramona Grasslands County Preserve, Ramona CA

Ramona Grasslands County Preserve, Ramona CA

The Witch Fire (yes, we name our fires in California, kind of like people in the East name their hurricanes) of 2007 roared through the Grasslands and consumed virtually every blade of grass. Many of the trees also did not make it through the fire, but even the dead trees make beautiful pictures. Mother & Father Nature know what they are doing.

Ramona Grasslands County Preserve, Ramona CA

Ramona Grasslands County Preserve, Ramona CA

Ramona Grasslands County Preserve, Ramona CA

Ramona Grasslands County Preserve, Ramona CA

Ramona Grasslands County Preserve, Ramona CA

This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

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The Channeled Applesnail has invaded!

Picture of the Moment

With a 150-600mm zoom lens I can go into the lake without going into the lake, so this morning I went into Lake Murray to get some pictures of the Channeled Applesnail (who names these things?) laying eggs.

Channeled Apple Snail laying eggs at Lake Murray, San Diego, California

The Channeled Applesnail (Pomacea canaliculata) is a resident of the “Top 100 World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species.” Originally from South America, this snail can get up to six inches in size. Mama mia! Are we sure they are from South America and not Mars?

Experts believe that it arrived in the United States via the aquarium trade, and when it got too big for aquariums, it was released into the wild, a practice known as “aquarium dumping.” Established populations exist in Lake Wawasee in Kosciusko County, Indiana; Langan Park and Three Mile Creek in Mobile, Alabama; a pond bordering the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta in Baldwin County, Alabama; Little Wekiva River, Orlando, Florida; a lake near Jacksonville, Florida; Miramar Reservoir in San Diego County, California; and a pond near Yuma, Arizona. I can state with definitive certainty that it also exists in Lake Murray in San Diego County, which is where I got these pictures this morning.

Channeled Apple Snail laying eggs at Lake Murray, San Diego, California

Channeled Apple Snail eggs at Lake Murray, San Diego, California

Channeled Apple Snail eggs at Lake Murray, San Diego, California

Channeled Apple Snail eggs at Lake Murray, San Diego, California

Channeled Apple Snail eggs at Lake Murray, San Diego, California

Channeled Apple Snail eggs at Lake Murray, San Diego, California

This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

I’m putting you on Facebook!

Picture of the Moment

A couple of days ago I found the Bennington Memorial Oak Grove. The place was full of squirrels. Well, duh. Oaks. Acorns. Squirrels.

One squirrel sat there and stared at me for the longest time as I was taking pictures of other things. Finally, I focused the camera on the little one, said out loud, “I’m putting you on Facebook!” and pushed the shutter button.

Here’s the result:

Squirrel butt

Obviously the little one did not want to be on Facebook. Probably knew that Twitler has sold his privacy rights to big corporations and didn’t want them to know where his acorns are stashed….

This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

Bad St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church. Bad, bad church.

Opinion

St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church, San Diego CAI have personal issues with religion, mostly Mormons and Catholics since I grew up in those two religions. I’m now going to add Greek Orthodox to the list.

St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in San Diego CA recently applied for permits to demolish two homes on Indiana Street, one of which, and possibly both, has been designated historic.

The church owns both homes, but nonetheless…. So, how can they demolish something that officially has been designated historic? Well, it’s another issue that I have with religions.

Religions, the bane of humanity in my opinion, not only are exempt from paying property taxes but are exempt from many other rules and regulations that the general public has to abide by. In this case, because of religious exemptions, the church does not have to justify its decision, quite often a torturous and onerous process (as it should be), and does not have to order impact reports on how it intends to use the land.

The demolition permits cost $2,331, and the City approved them, even though their own documents noted that the homes are historic. Even with religious exemptions, though, the City has the power to disapprove the demolition permits. In this case, I think the City failed.

Upon learning of the demolition permits, the Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) immediately went to work to try to save the two houses. They have found a taker for at least one of the two homes but St. Spyridon refuses to delay demolition so that SOHO can get all the paperwork done to relocate the two houses.

The two houses were custom-built in the 1920s. In other words, they aren’t your typical tract homes in this neighborhood.

3688 Indiana Street, San Diego CA
2,886 square feet, 6 bedrooms, 3½ bathrooms
2016 assessed value: $404,500
2016 property taxes: $32.44 (It’s that religious exemption thing)
Last sale: 1987 to St. Spyridon
3688 Indiana Street, San Diego CA

3694 Indiana Street, San Diego CA
1,241 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom
2016 assessed value: $226,664
2016 property taxes: $29.50 (That religious exemption thing again)
Last sale: 1988 to St. Pyridon
3694 Indiana Street, San Diego CA

The North Park Planning Committee’s project review subcommittee has found that there is very little the community can do to keep the houses from being demolished. Although they have contacted St. Spyridon, the church appears not interested in discussing the situation with anyone. “This is so frustrating when we know that at least one of these houses has been designated historic and this loophole lets them tear it down,” said Dionne Carlson. “We’d like to encourage them to think about how it affects the community, and take a little more time to support their community. They have every right to do this, we just hope they will look at other ideas,” she added.

Joaquin Castro, whose business it is to move houses, said that moving the house would save the church the $10,000 cost of demolition and disposing of the building materials.

Already signs are going up on telephone and light poles throughout the neighborhood encouraging a boycott of St. Spyridon’s annual Greek Festival.

Boycott St. Spyridon's annual Greek Festival

I’m hoping the public can put enough pressure on St. Spyridon to do the right thing, and the right thing does not involve demolishing these historic homes.

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Zoey the Cool Cat
with her cute little pink nose
Zoey the Cool Cat's pink nose

Out & About—Sutherland Dam & Reservoir

Out & About

Although meetup.com was launced in 2002, I didn’t discover it until 2007 when the Great Recession caused me to go on staycations and start exploring the nooks and crannies of San Diego County.

Right now I am a member of 27 Meetup groups. The most active ones are my favorite, like the Pacific Photographic Society and The San Diego Photography Collective.

If you think you know everything about your local neighborhoods, join a meetup.com group and you’ll find that there’s always someone who knows more than you.

Yesterday I headed 57 miles into the boondocks with some members of The San Diego Photography Collective meetup.com group to visit the Sutherland Dam and Reservoir. Coolest dam ever. Looks like this (click on panorama pictures to get a bigger picture in a new window/tab):

Sutherland Dam & Reservoir, Ramona CA

Sutherland Dam & Reservoir, Ramona CA

Sutherland Dam, Ramona CA

Sutherland Dam, Ramona CA

If you take the easy way to Sutherland Dam & Reservoir using State Highways 78 or 67 to Sutherland Dam Road, you’ll go through Ramona, a well-known equestrian community. There you can see horseys out to pasture:

Horses out to pasture in Ramona CA

Although Sutherland Dam & Reservoir is owned by the City of San Diego, the Ramona Municipal Water District also has access to the water.

The dam and reservoir are named after John P. Sutherland, a Ramona pioneer, real estate developer, and rancher. According to local author Darrell Beck in his book, On Memory’s Back Trail, “A civil engineer named Post who was surveying the dam site and who was drenched in a rainstorm, stopped at Sutherland’s office to record some papers. Sutherland built a fire and gave Post some dry clothes while Post was waiting. As a result, the grateful surveyor said he would never forget this as Sutherland refused to take any pay for helping him. Thus, when the map was filed for record, Post had the title read, ‘Survey of Sutherland Dam Site,’ as a tribute to Sutherland’s kind deed.”

Construction began in 1927 but the dam wasn’t finished until 1954.

In actuality, the dam only took three years to build. Construction had been halted in 1928 due to lack of funds and a disagreement over water rights. Escondido wanted to claim water rights because the natural course of the water would be flowing west and out to the ocean, not south to Ramona and San Diego, the two cities which currently have water rights.

Money probably was the bigger issue, though, and in 1952 voters approved a $6.5 million bond for construction costs to finish the dam: $3 million for the dam, $1.75 for the tunnel, $250,000 for engineering and miscellaneous costs, and $1.5 million for right-of-way costs. I have no idea where the tunnel is; more research is in order.

The dam was about one-fourth complete when work stopped in 1928. When construction started again in 1952, work picked up where it left off. Concrete had been poured for 9 of the 17 arches and most of the wooden framing was still in place. According to a 1954 newspaper article, “The previously built buttresses were still covered with the old wooden frames. When the workers began removing these, thousands of bats flew out to the amazement of everyone.”

When the second phase of construction began in 1952, pipelines were added to the plans to direct the water flow through Ramona to San Vicente Reservoir in Lakeside and on to Lake Murray.

More than 3oo dignitaries and spectators attended the dedication ceremony and luncheon hosted by the San Diego Chamber of Commerce on June 5, 1954.

The curved arches are called semi-ecological arches. I could find nothing anywhere about semi-ecological (or ecological) arches, and yet here we have 17 of them between 18 buttresses. Sutherland Dam was the last of the multiple-arched dams built in the county.

Back side of a semi-ecological arch at Sutherland Dam
Back of a semi-ecological arch at Sutherland Dam, Ramona CA

I did, however, find information about arch dams. According to Wikipedia, arch dams are designed so that the force of the water against them, the hydrostatic pressure, presses against the arch, compressing and strengthening the structure as it pushes into its foundation and abutments. Arch dams are great for narrow gorges and canyons with steep walls. They typically are thinner than other dam types, thus requiring much less construction material, making them economical and practical in remote areas. So maybe less construction material means a lesser impact on the ecology.

Ecology……

Ecological……

Semi-ecological………

I think we’re there!

Arch dams have a long history, with the first known arch dam being built by the Romans in France in the first century B.C. The latest was built in 2013 in China.

The Sutherland Dam is 161 feet high and 1,240 feet wide, including the spillway. Concrete at the base is ten feet thick, tapering to just forty inches at the top. A walkway across the top of the dam follows the contour of the semi-ecological arches, but it’s not accessible to the public. Ha!

Spillway, Sutherland Dam, Ramona CA

Spillway, Sutherland Dam, Ramona CA

The spillway keeps the water level below 145 feet (2,058 feet above sea level), a level that has only been reached twice, once in the late 1970s and again in the 1990s (haven’t found out the exact years…. yet). During the worst of the recent drought years, Sutherland Reservoir was so low that even after all the rain we have had during the past five months, the reservoir still is only at 7.3 percent of its 29,508 acre-feet capacity.

According to a former reservoir keeper at the dam, there are a few cracks in it but they are considered safe. I’m not sure I would rely on a former reservoir keeper because when I was there on April 15, 2017, there were more than “a few cracks.” And there were leaks everywhere. Big leaks, too. YUGE leaks, as Twitler might say.

Water leaking through the Sutherland Dam, Ramona CA

Water leaking through the Sutherland Dam, Ramona CA

Sutherland Dam is said to be one of the most earthquake-proof dams in Southern California. Judging from all the leaks I saw, if we have a major earthquake anywhere close to this dam, I think it’s going down.

Since the back of the dam is completely shaded, there is a significant growth of ferns, lichen, and poison ivy.

Ferns at Sutherland Dam, Ramona CA

The Sutherland Dam & Reservoir is on the Santa Ysabel Creek in the Palomar Mountains in the Cleveland National Forest, and is part of the San Dieguito River Park which stretches from its headwaters at Santa Ysabel all the way to the Pacific Ocean, a distance of about 25 miles.

Recreational activities in the area including boating, fishing, and hunting. Turkey season is in full swing right now, and I met a couple of bow hunters out looking for turkeys. Turkey numbers are said to be very high, and authorities are begging for turkey hunters to help out.

Although the area was significantly impacted by the 2007 Witch Creek fire, Mother & Father Nature have returned with a vengeance.

Burned vegetation

Turkey vulture

Flowers at Sutherland Dam, Ramona CA

Flowers at Sutherland Dam, Ramona CA

Yucca flower spike

There are quite a few ruins throughout the area but I have not yet found any information about them.

Ruins at Sutherland Dam, Ramona CA

Fireplace, Sutherland Dam, Ramona CA

The fireplace and chimney standing all alone, with no evidence of a house foundation or walls, really has my interested piqued.

There also are rumors that a garnet mine is out there somewhere, as well as an Iipay Indian village. Some thinking is that both are under water now.

Since you already saw horseys out to pasture on your way in, I can highly recommend taking the back way out. Keep following Sutherland Dam Road, which will follow Santa Ysabel Creek. It’s a crappy road but worth going slowly and looking at the scenery. In the following picture you can see a fire trail climbing the mountain somewhat horizontally, and oaks growing in either a creek bed fed by rains or possibly even a natural spring that feeds into Santa Ysabel Creek. This is Cleveland National Forest, a typical Southern California riparian habitat but not what you’re used to seeing when someone says forest.

Fire trail and oaks along a creek bed

You’ll get down to the intersection with Black Canyon Road where you can see the historic Black Canyon Road Bridge built in 1913. It was one of 18 three-hinged arch bridges built by Thomas & Post between 1909 and 1917. It uses the Thomas method of precast, reinforced concrete sections, which allows movement in two opposite directions using two hinges at the base and one at midspan, a design that compensated for thermal and seismic expansion and contraction.

Black Canyon Road bridge built in 1913

If you go right on Black Canyon Road, you’ll eventually reach part of the Mesa Grande Indian Reservation. You’ll have to turn right on Mesa Grande Road and go down to State Highway 79 to get anywhere.

Turning left on Black Canyon Road will take you back to Ramona and State Highway 78.

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

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This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

Out & About—Cruise historic Highway 80

Out & About

More sights from my driving tour of Old Highway 80 through East San Diego County.

Cruise Highway 80

The Alpine Town Hall (two pictures below) was built in 1899 and served through 1999. Alpine began in the 1870s as a local center for ranching. The building currently is owned by the Alpine Woman’s Club which pretty much has to missions: to preserve the town hall and to provide scholarships to Alpine graduating seniors heading to college.

Alpine town hall in Alpine CA

Alpine town hall in Alpine CA

The Descanso Junction Restaurant is quite popular. I was there around 8:00 a.m., and it was packed. Descanso Junction’s original name was Bohemia Grove, and the original name of the restaurant was El Nido. That’s my car at the left parked next to the truck.

Descanso Junction Restaurant

The Descanso Town Hall was built in 1898. It still is a popular venue for local events and is one of the few community halls still operating in the mountains.

Descanso Town Hall

The Perkins Store has been in operation since 1875. The store in the picture below was built in 1939 after the original store burned.

Perkins Store

The old Guatay Service Station dates from the 1920s but is now just a shell of its former self. The round metal shed was the service bay.

Ruins of the Guatay Service Station

Behind the service station ruins sits a cool stone house, also built in the 1920s and still being used as a private residence.

Stone house

The immensely popular Frosty Burger in Pine Valley occupies another 1920s-era service station. I can highly recommend Frosty Burger. It can get cold in the high desert mountains, and Frosty Burger has only outdoor seating, so take a jacket or plan on eating in your warm car.

Frosty Burger in Pine Valley

The Pine Valley Inn was the main business in Pine Valley for many years. The main dining hall (right in the picture below) is still used as a restaurant, and the rental cabins, although remodeled and updated, still are in use. One of the rental cabins can be seen at the left.

Pine Valley Inn

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

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This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

Halls of History—Then the tax bills started arriving

Halls of History

I always have done a lot of reading. People have always asked me how I had so much time for reading. I call it multitasking.

When I was in college at Texas A&M University, the lines were long for football tickets, Aggie rings (called “senior rings” at other schools), and the Aggieland (called “yearbooks” at other schools). I learned to take a book or magazine with me to read while waiting in line. Most of the time it was a textbook back then—priorities, you know.

In today’s world, magazines pretty much don’t exist anymore, so Books R Us. I’m usually reading two concurrently, a history book and a fiction book (Stephen King, Lee Child, Lincoln Child, etc.).

The history book I’m reading right now is a history of the area where I currently live: Our Hills and Valleys: A History of the Helix-Spring Valley Region by Thomas Joseph Adema. Here are some tidbits, excerpts, and thoughts:

Picture it. Early 1930s.

Great Depression. You are barely surviving.

You own four acres of land. Your property tax bill arrives.

$1,200. Four times what the land and home are worth.

What are you going to do? Why, stop paying taxes, of course. The Mattoon Act will take care of you.

Must have been the greatest law ever, right? Can’t pay your property taxes? Fall back on The Mattoon Act.

San Vicente DamThe Acquisition and Improvement Act, its proper name, was passed by the California legislature in May 1925. The bill was intended to streamline the process for, and provide funding for, the construction of needed public works—paved streets, lighting, bridges, reservoirs, better and more reliable water delivery.

Property condemnation was quicker and easier. Community authorities had the power to create “improvement districts” that crossed city and county lines. Thus, if a new sewer line was needed, the areas benefiting were designated “improvement areas.” Bonds were sold to fund the construction, and landowners in the improvement district would pay off the bonds with a yearly ad valorem tax.

Real estate developers loved the law. They used public funds to install street lamps, build parks, and widen and pave roads in their newly subdivided neighborhoods. City councils and utility companies also loved it.

Homeowners initially liked the law because their neighborhoods were improved, but they had no choice about which improvement districts they were thrown into. It was entirely possible that if you lived at the boundary of three cities, you could be in three improvement districts.

Meeting of La Mesa, Lemon Grove, and Spring Valley CAAs an example, I live at the corner of the boundaries for La Mesa, Lemon Grove, and Spring Valley. Imagine all of them putting me in their improvement districts and taxing me for anything and everything from which I might benefit as a member of the public. Then throw in that suddenly I am unemployed and the nation is in the midst of a Great Depression. Sunk, I would be.

Then the tax bills started arriving.

The killer provision in The Mattoon Act said what would happen if one could not pay one’s taxes: The rest of the members of the improvement district would have to pay them.

So if Johnny could not pay his taxes, no big deal.

Back in the days of The Mattoon Act, Spring Valley had ten households. When Johnny could not pay his $1,200 tax bill in 1927, his tax bill was split between the other nine households.

Joe, after paying his $1,200 tax bill, suddenly got another tax bill for $133.33, his share of Johnny’s bill. Joe couldn’t pay the additional $133.33, so his tax bill was split between the other eight households.

Mary, after paying her $1,200 and her $133.33 share of Joe’s bill, now got yet another tax bill for $16.66. On and on it went.

Spring Valley CAHomes were lost to foreclosure for failure to pay taxes, or tax liens were placed on their homes, making it impossible to sell the property. Homes fell into disrepair, making them even more difficult to sell.

It didn’t take long before the population rebelled, and The Mattoon Act was repealed in 1931. The damage had been done to many people and many cities and for many years to come. People lost their land and homes but there was no one to buy them so the cities were left with land but no money to pay the bonds on the projects they already had completed. Oh what a tangled web….

In 1935, the United States Supreme Court ruled that The Mattoon Act had been legal, so cities and taxpayers still had to pay the debts which had incurred. It took several years before cities and taxpayers were tax free.

Targeted relief plans were passed, including a gas tax to pay off road bonds. Landowners were given final sums that they could settle with cash. In the case of Johnny, whose home had been foreclosed back in 1927, he got his home back by paying $250 to settle the tax bill.

Money

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

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This post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat