Vampire Tacos, the Devil’s Not-So-Easy Chair, and Adventures in the High Desert

With my tail between my legs, I continued on from Joshua Tree to Orange County.  My spirits were greatly lifted though as I drove by Palm Springs and saw 4,000 silent sentries, arms rotating gently as they stared blankly from their post on the San Gorgonio Mountain Pass out upon the Coachella Valley.  WINDMILLS!!!  Actually, in my research I discovered they are technically wind turbines, not windmills, but hey, close enough.  There wasn’t anywhere opportune to pull over and get a good picture so the one below doesn’t do this impressive wind farm justice, but it’ll give you just a slight idea.  I have always had a fascination with windmills (or wind turbines, apparently).  They are both relaxing and eerie and I can’t help but squeal like a little kid every time I see one.  You can imagine the sounds coming from my car when I spotted 4,000 of them!

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Still basking in my windmill glow, I arrived in Orange County in just enough time to catch some March Madness games and do some laundry to prepare for the week ahead.  The next day, I met up with one of my best friends (the same one with the excellent Carolina’s suggestion back in Phoenix) and we headed to Las Brisas for a belated birthday brunch.  It was at this meal that he earned the nickname, “Sheriff” so he will be referred to as such from here on out.  Las Brisas came highly recommended from a dear friend and co-worker, who lived for many years in Orange County.  I’m not exactly what you’d call a fancy person, but I thought we should give it a shot, considering it was on the water in Laguna Beach.  If you’re looking to have a good brunch with free champagne overlooking the Pacific Ocean, then Las Brisas is your place!

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View from Las Brisas in Laguna Beach, California

The service was great and the four course meal was good.  Nothing spectacular, but it didn’t need to be because the view was unbelievable.  I definitely want to go back for another meal, as the brunch seems to be a hot ticket item on Sundays and is a small somewhat prix fixe menu, so the food may not be made with as much attention as food during regular meals.  You can expect to spend about $130 for Sunday brunch for two people, which depending on how much free champagne you drink, might be a bargain!

The following week was filled with work and a conference, so I didn’t have much time for anything outside of that except for… VAMPIRE TACOS!!  Before I drove the Sheriff back to the airport, we stopped for dinner at Sol Mexican Cocina in Newport Beach.  Holy tacos, Batman!  This place was outstanding.  From the chips and salsa to the margaritas (that I only had one sip of since I had to drive.  Sad.), to the tacos, this place fired on all cylinders.  I had the Taco Vampiro (double tortilla, cheese, serranos, carne asada, guacamole & pico de gallo, chipotle sauce & cotixa) and I can’t remember what else because I was blinded by the love of the Taco Vampiro.  I want to say I had a street taco of some sort and as I was just perusing their menu just now to figure it out, I came across Goat Cheese Enchiladas.  I don’t know how I missed those the first time around but I’m seriously considering an emergency flight to Orange County tomorrow to try them out. Gah.

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Anyhow, Sol Mexican Cocina.  Go there and go there often.  It’s reasonably priced (you could get away with $20-$25 for lunch without alcohol), on some body of water in Newport Beach that looks out over ridiculous mansions and it’s a festive atmosphere.

After a long week of work, I decided to stay in California over the weekend, rather than flying back to Ohio only to turn around and come back that Sunday.  I decided I needed to get away for the weekend with no distractions so I could get work done, so I headed out to Palmdale, which is north of Los Angeles in the high desert behind the San Gabriel Mountains.  I selected Palmdale because it seemed rather innocuous and unassuming with no nearby points of interest.  As I drove from San Bernardino towards Palmdale, I caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye.  Could it be?  I kept my eyes on the rural highway and continued driving.  It was starting to get dark but I could still sense a looming presence on both sides of the road.  Tall and lanky forms dotting the sides of the road, beckoning awkwardly for me to notice them.  JOSHUA TREES!!!

There were literally Joshua Trees for as far as the eye could see!  I couldn’t believe it!  Although it was a sharp reminder of my previous weekend’s embarrassment, I was thrilled to finally see them in person!  And the photos above were taken on my drive back, during the day, when I could properly capture their strange majesty.

I decided to work all day Saturday and then take Sunday for myself for sightseeing on my way back to Orange County.  So on Sunday, I did some random shopping at a Barnes and Noble, where I picked up a stuffed Peter Rabbit for my one-year old niece and a Weird California book, and a few other trinkets.  You may be asking yourself, “why is she telling me this level of minutiae?”   It’s foreshadowing, folks.  Trust me, there’s a reason.  As I started heading back to the OC, I stopped at a place called Charlie Brown Farms in Littlerock, which began as a roadside fruit stand in 1929.  Below is how they describe themselves on their website.

Charlie Brown Farms is your One Day Getaway for real Texas style Bar-B-Que, Local Fruits & Vegetables, Local Honey, Nostalgic Candy & Toys, Soda Pop and their Famous Date Shakes. Charlie Brown Farms is also the home of the World’s Largest Jerky Slab and 60 other varieties of Jerky. We have over 1,000 kinds of Candy including one of the largest selections of Sugar Free Candies, Dried Fruits, Nuts, Brittles and our Fudge is made fresh on site daily and don’t forget our fun foods featuring Original Pennsylvania Dutch Funnel Cakes, Mini Donuts, Deep Fried Twinkies & Oreos.

I, however, would describe it a bit differently.  Walking into Charlie Brown Farms, one hears the sweet voices of angels singing and sees a soft white light casting a heavenly glow upon the aisles and aisles of trinkets.  Or maybe that’s just me, I don’t know.  Listen, there are few things I love more than a good gift shop, and CBF is like the world’s largest, most delicious, and whimsical gift shop.  The winding maze of aisles is full of goodies ranging from honey sticks to coffee mugs to homemade blue sour power belts to hot sauce to Ouija board magnets to Golden Girls coozies to Peter Rabbit gummies.  And yes, I purchased all of the above.  Not to mention the restaurant with its neverending menu.  Seriously, they have everything.  I personally opted for a jalapeno cheese stuffed soft pretzel, a Dole pineapple whip, a coffee, and a wide assortment of old-fashioned candy.  I was SO glad I made this stop and you will be too!  At the very least, you can get a quick and delicious lunch.  Also check out the Crafters Village and Wind Toys, which is across the street and is a cute collection of craft and antique vendors.  For reasons you’ll understand later, I bought several crocheted potholders, a pair of knitted booties for my niece, a magnet that was simply a doll arm, and some vintage Cincinnati postcards and a deck of tarot cards.

With my food baby in tow, I continued along the Pearblossom Highway back towards civilization.  I noticed a sign on the side of the road for Devil’s Punchbowl and felt compelled to make a sharp right turn and see what that was about.  I had heard of it before but still really didn’t know what it was (we saw how well that went in Joshua Tree).  The sign on the main road was unfortunately both the first and last sign I saw for Devil’s Punchbowl, but I pressed on anyhow into an increasingly rural area where it appeared Verizon had failed to place a tower.

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As I wound through the mountains, I did come across some beautiful scenery and a post office, and as I was stopped taking pictures, an older couple pull up alongside me and asked where the Abbey was.  Being the Sound of Music aficionado that I am, of course I had noticed the sign further up the road that pointed wayward travelers to the Waverly Abbey!  I sent them in the proper direction and did not fail to see the irony that I was lost in the middle of nowhere looking for whatever the heck a Devils Punchbowl was, yet knew the directions to a rural Abbey.

A few more miles of aimless driving and not seeing a single soul, I stumbled upon the entrance to Devils Punchbowl.  Grateful to have found what was hopefully a park that contained other humans and perhaps a restroom, I cautiously made my way into the park.  To my relief, I was greeted by a throng of tourists and hikers, but did wonder how on earth they found their way there and what cell provider they had.  I changed into my hiking shoes and located the trailhead.  Since I wasn’t sure what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this park is simply incredible with some of the most unique geological formations I’ve seen in person.

I opted for the one mile loop trail, as opposed to the seven mile Devil’s Chair trail and let me tell you, the one mile trail is no joke – it takes you down into the main formation, which is all fine and well, but one forgets that you have to hike back out of it.  No bueno.  Luckily I sidled up to a rather large foreign family along the trail and even though we didn’t speak the same language, we all spoke the language of huffing and puffing and flopping down on the ground periodically to drink water.  Or cry.  Whatever.  My wilderness skills aren’t exactly my strong suit.  Nor are my preparation for the wilderness skills, as shown in Exhibit A: I considered doing the Devil’s Chair trail.  Park rangers would have found me languishing and cursing along the side of the trail if I had attempted that.  I have no idea what I was thinking.

Nonetheless, once I made it back out of the canyon and sat and wheezed in my car for a bit, I was absolutely glad I made the stop.  Devils Punchbowl is definitely one of California’s hidden treasures and I will be back.  Preferably with more water, better shoes, and downloaded GPS directions.

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