When we visited San Diego my friend who lives there was out of town, so we agreed to meet for a hike on Mount San Jacinto, east of Los Angeles, the following weekend. Mount San Jacinto State Park has two campgrounds and the adjacent San Bernardino National Forest also has some campgrounds. Out of all of those options, only one was open for the season: the Idyllwild Campground. This was a few miles down the street from the trailhead, which at first look was not ideal, but turned out to be a wonderful location.

At the base of the mountain we came across a farm stand (literally a farm stand, on the actual farm) so we stocked up on veggies and were set for a while. This was both exciting (farm fresh produce!) and turned out to be fortuitous.  As a side note while I am on the subject of the farm stand…John picked out a fruit I had never heard of, a mandarinquat. As you can guess by the name, this is a hybrid of a mandarin and a kumquat. It has the ease (no peeling!) and interesting texture variety of a kumquat, but with mandarin sweetness to balance the sourness. I loved them and recommend you try some.

We drove up the twisty-turny mountain road, relieved that it was dry even up to the campground situated at more than 5,000 feet in elevation. Before heading to the campground we visited the town center to pick up some milk. It was Saturday, so people were in town doing their shopping and socializing and the small mountain town was bustling. We noted the beautiful library building, cafe and restaurants. From the town center, we headed to the campground, which was almost directly across the highway from the center of town! Now this is an unusual circumstance: a state park, offering us van-dwellers a quiet, tree-lined space to park our home along with hot showers, within a five minute walk to all the amenities we could ask for – a public library (free internet), a coffee shop (internet and coffee), a movie theatre (date night!) and much more. My friend ended up having to work and couldn’t meet us for the hike after all. Despite the change in plans, we stayed put in Idyllwild for a full week taking in all it had to offer.

Nice library building.

Nice library building.

Coffee shop with ample outdoor seating in addition to the indoor seating.

Coffee shop with ample outdoor seating in addition to the indoor seating. This shop is one of many venues around town featuring live music on the weekends.

Rustic Theatre, a one-screen house. We watched Divergent on a date night.

Rustic Theatre, a one-screen house. We watched Divergent on our date night.

Prior to the date night movie we went out for pizza. John had been jonesing for pizza for weeks.

Prior to the date night movie we went out for pizza. John had been jonesing for pizza for weeks.

Idyllawhile Wine Bar in Idyllwild. I love it!

Idyllawhile Wine Bar in Idyllwild. What a fun name.

Sadly the beer garden was not open during our early spring visit.

Sadly the beer garden was not open during our early spring visit.

I decided this was the perfect place to finally file my taxes, and to also catch up with the online course I’ve been taking for the last couple months. Once we arrive at our final destination for this trip, I plan to search for a data analysis position, similar to the job I left in New York. I have studied probability, the underpinning of all statistical methods, done computational research in statistical mechanics, and developed analytical methods for a technology company. Even with all that experience, there was a huge hole in my knowledge of applied statistics, which I decided to fill in anticipation of the job search. I also thought this would be a good opportunity to check out a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), after having read much about the movement.

Briefly, MOOC’s are touted as a platform to expand access to high-quality education to the general public, both in the US and abroad. The lectures and material are provided by some of the most elite universities, including Harvard, MIT and Stanford. There is push-back, though, as less-elite university professors are being pressured to utilize the MOOC lectures in their own classes, instead of lecturing themselves. So a debate rages about the value of these courses, which I occasionally read about as I follow news about education. Interested in understanding the format myself, I was happy for the occasion to register and try out a course. The course I am taking is “Data Analysis and Statistical Inference” offered from Duke University. It covers exactly the material I needed to learn, so it was a good choice, though keeping up with it while exploring all these amazing places and trying to keep document all the experiences for you, my dear reader, has kept me very busy. Because of this I have been pushing for more downtime, something John also wants, but is hard to commit to when there are so many amazing places to see and fun things to do!

Idyllwild campground and town are overrun by the fattest squirrels I have ever seen. This may be a result of the largest pinecones that I have ever seen, over a foot long and about 6 inches in diameter (though I suppose giant cone does not necessarily mean giant seeds to feed the squirrels). Squirrels are such a prominent part of the environment there that there is even a “Grey Squirrel” clothing and gift store and the inn welcomes you with a squirrel statue. As I mentioned previously, squirrels throwing sticks and cones at us from trees were the one constant for most of our trip. We missed them in the desert, so being in their midst again made us feel at home.

Squirrel!

Squirrel!

Squirrel store.

Squirrel store.

04-03_SquirrelStatue

Squirrel statue.

The Pacific Crest Trail passes very near Idyllwild, making it an important stop to rest and resupply. The Pacific Crest Trail, aka PCT, is a 2,650 mile hiking trail between the Mexican and Canadian borders through the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountain Ranges. Idyllwild embraces the hikers; many businesses hung banners welcoming the hikers and signs offering them discounts. The pizza place gives a 10% discount and even the “Friends of the Idyllwild Library”, which sells used books from a room in the library, offers free books to the thru hikers. Speaking of used books, there is no shortage of them in this town. In addition to the $0.10-$0.25  sale of used books at the library, book exchanges are set up at the laundry mat and the grocery store and there are a couple stand-alone used book stores. People in this town must read a lot.

Idyllwild Inn, welcoming PCT hikers.

Idyllwild Inn, welcoming PCT hikers.

Signs around town, a trailer at the movie house and even the sides of a pickup truck advertised Idyllwild’s “Mayor Max”, who is a dog. Some research revealed that Idyllwild is unincorporated and therefore does not have a Mayor, but as a fundraiser Idyllwild Animal Rescue Friends ran an election for an animal mayor. I am surprised that squirrels did not win the election in a write-in ballot; they always got a lot of votes for student body president at my alma mater.

The Town Hall offers yoga classes, but does not house a mayor (unless the dog mayor lives there...hmmm).

The Town Hall offers yoga classes, but does not house a mayor (unless the dog mayor lives there…hmmm).

Town Crier (actually a visitor center).

Town Crier (actually a visitor center).

Public art honoring the town’s natural history.

Quaint roadside bench.

Quaint roadside bench.

Does this gate lead to a resident's yard, or to a castle?

Does this gate lead to a California resident’s yard, or to an old European castle?

These flags were posted outside of several businesses, recognizing support for a community center. The town appears to have a strong sense of community and town-pride.

These flags were posted outside of several businesses, recognizing support for a community center. The town appears to have a strong sense of community and town-pride.

Firewood for sale on the honor system. The 'Out to lunch, Take wood, leave money in cab' sign seems to be permanent.

Firewood for sale on the honor system. The ‘Out to lunch, Take wood, leave money in cab’ sign seems to be permanent.

As I am sure you can tell, we fell in love with this town. The local businesses that serve as “third places“, the lovely library with helpful staff (where I was able to print and complete my tax forms), the strong sense of community, the outdoor sports shops (hiking/climbing and bicycle) for all my gear needs, and most importantly, the location situated in the midst of ample park and national forest land with abundant opportunities to connect with nature (especially squirrels). We didn’t want to leave. We examined the real estate listings posted in town very closely!

This store is for sale. I would consider buying it if I had the capital!

This store is for sale. I would consider buying it if I had the capital!

March 29 – April 4, 2014

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