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Month: May 2020

Hiking in Big Bear, CA

In May sally and I went hiking in Big Bear, CA. We are training for Mt. Whitney so we headed to Big Bear to hike at a higher altitude. Living basically at sea level makes it harder to prepare for hikes that start at such a high elevation. We decided on the Castle Rock Trail but followed someone’s advice from All Trails and added Bluff Lake and Champion Lodge Pine to our hike.

Driving to Castle Rock

It takes about an hour and 15 minutes for us to drive to Big Bear from my house. This time we drove up CA-330 and I was unfortunately reminded how windy the road is. The trailhead for Castle Rock is located 1.1 miles east of the Big Bear Dam on State Highway 18. There is very little parking so it’s best to try and not hike here on a busy day. We parked alongside Highway 18, but there is a very small turnout North of the trail. According to All Trails, Castle Rock Trail is 2.6 miles round-trip and is rated as moderate. This is an out and back trail.

Castle Rock Trail

There is a large map posted on the trail sign at the start of the trail. Immediately this trail starts heading up. You will gain over 500 feet of elevation in a short amount of time. The trail is well maintained. It looks like the forest service has built some permanent rock cairns. They are a tower of chicken wire that is encasing a pile of rocks. The cairns along with the trail signs posted on many of the trees help people from veering off the trail. Castle Rock is a large outcropping East of the trail. We watched someone repelling down the side of Castle Rock. On the way up we crossed the stream several times, but the water level is so low so our shoes didn’t get wet.

Castle Creek Trail
Parts of the trail are steep.
Sally & I at the top of Castle Rock Trail.

Heading to Bluff Lake

After Castle Rock Trail we headed to Bluff Lake. When you get to the top of Castle Rock Trail there are signs and a dirt road that cars can drive on. At the sign head west on the dirt road. Turn left at the second road. There is a sign saying that it is a dead-end, but keep going. At the end of the road, there is a large gate to keep out the cars, but hikers are allowed to pass. On the other side of the gate is The Bluff Lake Reserve that is operated by the Wildlands Conservancy. The reserve is open daily from 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. May 1 – November 1st. Admission is free and dogs are allowed, but they must be on a leash. Swimming isn’t allowed at Bluff Lake.

Bluff Lake

The History of Bluff Lake

In the late 1800s, there was a YMCA Camp at Bluff Lake. In the 1920s Pomona College bought the property to use as a nature field study area. Today there is one original cabin remaining that was a stage stop for the burro trains that went through the area in the 1880s. The 1961 original Parent Trap movie was filmed at Bluff Lake as well as the 2002 Dr. Doolittle 2 movie. The Wildland Conservancy obtained the land in 2000 to save it from being developed and they drained the 20-acre lake to rid it of non-native catfish in order to restore the native fish.

An original cabin.
The original cabin.
Ruins

Bluff Lake

In addition to the 20-acre lake, Bluff Lake Reserve is 80 acres of natural beauty. There is a one-mile trail that circles around the lake. The area is home to several species of rare plants. There are towering pine trees and a delicate meadow. We saw a few picnic tables if you want to sit down and have lunch with an amazing view, however, be warned the bugs were fierce the day we were there. The bugs weren’t biting, but they were flying up our noses and trying to get in our eyes.

The entrance to the reserve.
Bluff Lake
Bluff Lake

Champion Lodgepole Pine

Follow the trail signs to Champion Lodgepole Pine. Lodgepole pines usually only grow above 8,000 feet and in the Sierras where it is much cooler, however, there is a small group of them growing in a meadow near Bluff Lake. The Champion Lodgepole Pine was discovered in 1963. This giant towers over the other trees and is around 110 feet tall. It is estimated to be at least 450 years old. There are numbered trail signs for an interpretive trail, but we didn’t follow it.

Champion Lodgepole Pine
The Champion Lodgepole Pine.
Pinecones

Siberia Creek

Sally, Jinx, and I continued on past the Champion Lodgepole Pine heading towards Gunsight. We walked alongside Siberia Creek. At one point we turned a corner and saw smoke smoldering under a tree. It was a little discerning to see. The further we walked we could see that the smoldering was remnants of a prescribed burn. The whole area looked a little like the Apocalypse. Siberia Creek Trail crosses 2 bridges and then starts to climb up a mountain. Soon we could see all the way to Mt. Baldy. We were unsure where or what is Gunsight, so after hiking on the trail for over a mile we turned back around and returned the way we had come.

On the way to Siberia Creek Trail.
The meadow.
Lots of green.
There were still pockets burning.

Keep Your Dog On A Leash

On the way back we had planned to stop at Bluff Lake and have lunch, but our plans were derailed by an encounter with a crazy man and his dog. The man didn’t have his dog on a leash. His dog was a giant Husky and it charged at us because it wanted to play with Jinx. Jinx is still fearful of other dogs and the whole interaction wasn’t positive. We ended up leaving Bluff Lake and hiking to the top of the Castle Rock Trail and ate our lunch overlooking Big Bear Lake.

Jinx on a leash.

Heading Back To The Car

After lunch on our way down a guy on the way up warned us to be careful because he had just passed a big rattlesnake. If you go with children I would be really careful about where you put your hands or where you step, because there are so many hiding places for snakes amongst all the big granite boulders. Overall the trail was a great workout, we ended up hiking over 8 miles. In the morning on the way up the trail, we didn’t see another person, but on the way down in the afternoon, it was really busy. Bluff Lake is beautiful, but if I ever went back again I would hike very early in the morning to avoid the snakes and the hoards of people. The nice thing about Big Bear is there are lots of beautiful hikes to accommodate all different hiking levels.

Castle Rock off in the distance.
Big Bear Lake
Watch out for the snakes.

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Devils Slide to Tahquitz Peak

Devils Slide to Tahquitz Peak is a beautiful trail in the San Bernardino National Forest that leads to a National Forest Fire outlook. Tahquitz Peak is at 8,846-foot elevation. The hike is somewhere between 8 & 9.5 miles (round-trip) with a gain of 2,500 feet through the San Jacinto Wilderness. It is rated as moderate on Alltrails, but as far as peaks go if you hike often it’s on the easier side.

The Legend of Tahquitz

Legend has it that Tahquitz Peak was named by the Cahuilla Indians after a flesh-eating shaman who lived in the mountain. Tahquitz (pronounced tah-KEETS) was captured long ago behind Tahquitz Rock, so it is now safe to hike there.

A Working Fire Lookout

Tahquitz Peak Fire lookout was an active fire lookout until the end of 1993. In 1998 it reopened and is now staffed seasonally with volunteers. Inside the outlook are a single bed, an oven, and plenty of counters and tables for workspace. There is a sign at the bottom of the lookout asking that no more than 5 people at a time go to the top. The day we were there it was unmanned, but I’ve heard if there is a volunteer there they might welcome you inside for a chat. It is very similar to the lookout tower that Sally and I hiked to at Slide Mountain.

Driving to Tahquitz Peak

We started the morning on the 10 freeway heading East. In the city of Banning we turned on to Highway 243 and wound our way up the mountain to the city of Idyllwild. The trail starts at Humber Park, 24559 Fern Valley Rd, Idyllwild, CA 92549. You need an adventure pass to park in the Humber Park parking lot. Passes are $5 a day or $30 a year. Passes can be purchased at ranger stations or sporting goods stores.

You Need a Permit

There are very strict rules about obtaining a permit for this hike. If you are hiking on a weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day you need to obtain a permit beforehand. There is a quota of 30 permits per day. You can confirm all the details with the San Jacinto Ranger District Office. If you are hiking it any other time you need to stop by the ranger’s office on the way to the trail and fill out a self serve permit.

Hiking on Devils Slide Trail

We started hiking at 9:00 a.m. and even though it was the middle of May it was cold. Too cold to be standing in the shade and not moving. The trail starts at 6,000 feet. For the first 2.5 miles we followed Devils Slide Trail. The trail itself is a series of well-maintained switchbacks. It is a moderate uphill the entire way. We stop a few times to take in the sweeping views of the Hemet/San Jacinto area. We crossed the creek a few times and saw lots of pretty wildflowers. The trail is gorgeous with pines, oaks & manzanita the whole way up. We had great views of Lily Rock which is a popular rock climbing spot, but without binoculars we weren’t able to spot any climbers.

Devils Slide Trail
The start of the trail
An ominous warning
We were starting to get a good view.

Saddle Junction

The trail levels out when you get to Saddle Junction. As you walk through the trees you will notice signs for all the various trails you can take. It is possible to hike from Saddle Junction to Mt San Jacinto without taking the tram from the Palm Springs side. There is also a trail leading to Round Valley which is a backpacking destination. To get to Tahquitz you want to make a hard right onto the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT.) After the nice break at the junction the trail again starts heading up. We were only on the PCT for a little over a mile. We came to a sign pointing to Tahquitz Peak and we again turned right.

Saddle Junction
Saddle Junction

A Beautiful Trail

As a whole this is a beautiful hike. Along the way we crossed a few streams and saw a few little waterfalls. We came across two alien looking Snow Plants. The trees provided nice shade for us and we saw lots of birds, lizards and squirrels.

A Snow plant.
The trail is well maintained.
We saw lots of moss.
One of the streams we passed.

The Last Push To The Top

This part of the trail has some amazing views. We passed by views of Marion Mountain and San Jacinto off in the distance. The trail climbed in elevation and we were now above Lily Rock and that really gave us the perspective of just how far we had climbed. We ran into one giant patch of snow that made getting across a little hairy. On one side was a drop off to your death and the other side was a snow berm that looked unstable because it was melting. We took it slow and made it across. It isn’t possible to see the lookout until you are directly below it. After hiking a little less than a mile from the last turnoff we turned a corner and we saw it.

Our first look at the fire lookout

We Made To The Peak

The day we hiked to the peak the fire outlook was still closed for the season. We were able to climb up the stairs and enjoy the view, but we couldn’t see inside of the outlook. The view is outstanding. You can see Lake Hemet, Lake Elsinore, and looking in the other direction The Salton Sea. We took pictures with a trail sign and sat down on the rocks and had lunch.

This was Jinx’s 1st summit
An amazing view from the top
Sally

Hiking With A Dog

In March we got a dog from a rescue. She is a Cattle Dog mix and she has endless energy. I have been taking her on regular hikes and walks. This was her first summit. I packed her water bowl and extra snacks. Her favorite part was walking through the snow. She did great on this hike and I’m sure it helped that there is lots of shade on the trail and it wasn’t hot the day we hiked.

There were a few stream crossings
JInx loved the snow.

Hiking Down

The trail if you want to make it a loop.
Heading back down.
Tree art

From the top of Tahquitz Peak you have the choice to turn around and hike back on the same trail as you hiked up on or head down a different trail that takes you into Idyllwild. We opted to head back down the way we had hiked up. The trail we didn’t try makes the hike into a loop, but it is longer and it doesn’t end in Humber Trail Parking lot. If you opt for that trail you have to walk a little way on the street. Our hike back to the car was nice. Again, this is a beautiful trail. You are treated to amazing views the whole way. Sally, Jinx, and I had a great day and I’m sure we would hike in Idyllwild more often if it didn’t involve an almost 2-hour drive from my house up a very windy road.

In Search of the Perfect Dessert in New York City

Are you in search of the perfect dessert in New York City? If you are I have some suggestions for you. If there was ever a city to splurge on dessert, it is NYC. There are so many options that it might be hard to narrow down your choices. I am going to share a few of my favorites.

Dessert Cookies

Levain Bakery is currently having a cult-like following over their perfect cookies and I for one am a card-carrying member. Levain Bakery has multiple locations in the city. During my last visit to New York City, Nicole and I stopped in to get dessert for the picnic we were going to have in Central Park. We went to the location on Third Avenue. The line was long but efficient and it moved fast. We each ordered a cookie. Their cookies are a staggering 6 ounces each and they cost around $4 each.

The Perfect Cookie

We ordered their classic Chocolate Chip Walnut and their Dark Chocolate Chip. I firmly believe you will never find a more perfect cookie than their Chocolate Chip Walnut. This is the cookie of ALL cookies. Ooey-gooey chocolate, crunchy walnuts, and a crisp and chewy cookie at the same time? Sign this girl up right now. I’m honestly not a fan of nuts in my cookies but the walnuts added more texture than flavor, which was perfect! The Dark chocolate Chip is rich and decadent. It has some brownie qualities to it and it is delicious. I think Levain Bakery just might be serving the perfect cookie.

Cookies from Levain Bakery

Ice Cream in Chinatown

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory has been in business since 1978. It is tucked in on a small street in the middle of a bustling Chinatown. The original location is at 65 Bayor St and they now have a second location in Flushings. Their storefront is small and it’s not unusual for the line to be out the door. When you get inside they have a sign hanging on the wall with all the flavors they are currently serving. They have flavors ranging from every day common to the exotic.

Try Something New

One of my favorite flavors is Almond Cookie. It is Chinese almond cookies from the Famous Fung Wong Bakery soaked and blended into ice cream. Of course, they serve their ice cream in either a cone or a cup. There isn’t a place to sit inside so we always order our ice cream in a cup and walk around the neighborhood while we enjoy it. There’s a reason why Chinatown Ice Cream Factory has been in business for 40 plus years. They serve delicious reasonable price ice cream.

Ice Cream from Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
Walking around Chinatown eating our ice cream.

Magnolia Bakery

Magnolia Bakery is a quintessential New York cupcakery. I’ve watched my fair share of Sex and The City episodes and those ladies loved Magnolia’s Bakery. They opened their first bakery in 1996 on a quiet corner in the West Village. Today they have locations worldwide. The original location is my favorite. It reminds me of stepping into my grandma’s kitchen. Whenever I visit I always feel as though I’ve been transported to another era. Their cupcake menu varies, but they always serve their famous Red Velvet cake with whipped vanilla icing. Each regular size cupcake is $3.95 and they also sell mini sizes.

Banana Pudding

When I go to Magnolia Bakery I rarely get a cupcake, because I have fallen in love with their Banana Pudding. The regular pudding is a layer of vanilla wafers, fresh bananas, and creamy vanilla pudding. The small size is $4.50 and it is served in an adorable branded container. The pudding comes in different sizes, but a small is more than enough for one person. On my last visit, I tasted a chocolate version that has Oreos, bananas, chocolate pudding, and chocolate shavings. The sample was delicious, but I ordered the original. Directly across the street is a city park. We usually take our dessert there and sit on a bench and people watch. The streets in this neighborhood are adorable and they are filled with Brownstones with big stoops. It is a neighborhood that Carrie Bradshaw would love too.

Banana Pudding from Magnolia Bakery
Looking for Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment while we were eating our pudding.

Serendipity 3

Serendipity 3 claims to be the oldest coffee house boutique in New York City. Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, and Jackie Kennedy all frequented this location. A scene from the movie Serendipity with John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale was filmed inside. This upper East Side boutique coffee house is small. They take a limited number of reservations for lunch & dinner, but none for dessert. I always walk in and add my name to the list and then walk around the neighborhood. On the same block is Dylan’s Candy Bar the famous candy store owned by Dylan Lauren. If your wait is really long, (FYI: we’ve waited over 2 hours before) you can head towards the East River and ride on NYC’s only ariel tram. The fee is included in your Metro Card and you can ride the tram to Roosevelt Island.

Frozen Hot Chocolate

You can’t go to Serendipity 3 and not try their Frozen Hot Chocolate. This is the dessert that John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale shared in the movie and it was also featured in episodes of Girls and Gossip Girl. The Frozen Hot Chocolate comes out in a big glass with a saucer underneath to catch the spillover. The drink is thick and rich, but not overly sweet. It is covered with whipped cream and topped with chocolate shavings. It costs $14 and is big enough to share, but beware Serendipity has a $12.50 minimum per dinner. The Hot Chocolate now comes in other flavors such as peanut butter, mint, and S’mores. Everything in NYC is expensive and at Serendipity you are definitely paying for the experience and they don’t disappoint. The Frozen Hot Chocolate is delicious and the inside of the restaurant is kitschy and fun.

Outside Serendipity 3
Frozen Hot Chocolate.

Eileen’s Special Cheesecake

It is hard to add just one place for cheesecake in all of NYC, but I’m going to do it. I do love Junior’s and it has a huge following, but I have fallen in love with this tiny Greenwich Village bakery that specializes in cheesecakes. The best part of Eileen’s is that in addition to a regular size they also make cheesecake minis which means you can try more than one flavor. Their bakery has about 10 stools inside, so it is more of a grab and go location. In 2019 Food & Wine deemed Eileen’s Special Cheesecake as the best in America. The minis cost $5.25 each and there are 10 flavors to choose from. My favorite is the Dulce de Leche it is light and fluffy and the tang of the cheesecake mixes perfectly with the Dulce de Leche.

Eileen’s Special Cheesecake located in Greenwich Village
The cheesecake was so good we forgot to take a picture before we took a bite.

Big Gay Ice Cream

Your life will not be complete until you try a Salty Pimp from Big Gay Ice Cream. Big Gay Ice Cream started as a seasonal food truck and they have now expanded to multiple locations in Manhattan and Philadelphia. They serve traditional soft serve ice cream that is mixed with imaginative and fun ingredients. Their treats range in price from $5 – $10. My favorite location is in the East Village.

The Salty Pimp

I have only tried one thing on the menu, the Salty Pimp because I love it so much. It is a vanilla ice cream cone injected with dulce de leche, lightly salted and dipped in a chocolate shell. During the summer lines to get inside can wrap down the street. There are a few tables and a long bench that you might score a seat at. Overall the ice cream is tasty and the shop is kitschy and fun what more could you ask for in a dessert location.

The Magical Unicorn at Big Gay Ice Cream Shop
The Salty Pimp
An ode to the Golden Girls.

Spot Dessert Bar

Spot Dessert Bar in New York City only serves desserts and drinks. Their flagship location is on St. Marks Street in the East Village. Spot Dessert Bar opened in 2009 and was the vision of Iron Chef of Thailand, Chef Ian Kittichai. Their desserts are served tapas-style, of course, you can order one to eat by yourself, but it is more fun to order multiple desserts for the table and share them. Most of their desserts are $11.95 each. They have their classic desserts that are always on the menu and then some that are seasonal. The restaurant is very small and they have now partnered with Yelp. You can log into Yelp and add your name to the waitlist before you arrive.

Cookie Camp & Matcha Lava

Cookie Camp is a fresh half baked marshmallow cookie, covered with pretzels and cookie crumbs and served with condensed milk ice cream. They bring it to the table in an individual cast iron pan. The warm cookie topped with the cool ice cream is a decadent combination. Matcha Lava is their most popular dessert. It is a warm dark chocolate cake filled with matcha ganache, served with matcha green tea ice cream. The matcha ice cream balances out the sweetness of the chocolate cake. It truly is a delicious dessert.

Cookie Camp
Matcha Lava
Matcha Lava

My Very Favorite Dessert in all of NYC

My favorite dessert in all of New York City is the Golden Toast from Spot Dessert Bar. It is a warm crispy honey buttered toast that is served with strawberries, homemade whipped cream, and condensed milk ice cream. I never thought I would like this dessert because I thought it would be too much bread, but I was so wrong. The combination of the butter and honey makes the outside of the bread sweet and crispy and the ice cream is delicious. The Golden Toast is the best and you absolutely have to try it when you are in the city.

The Golden Toast

There’s Always More to Try

I would go back to all the locations on my list. Some I have been to multiple times and I stop by every time I’m in the city. The good thing about NYC is there are plenty of desserts to choose from and more than likely you will be doing a lot of walking so hopefully you won’t feel guilty about trying a few.

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