Travel During Pandemic … Good Idea?

It’s been a year of no travel. It’s been a year of Covid-19 cases rising, deaths, illness, quarantining and keeping in your “bubble”. Some, but not enough, people are getting their vaccinations, but once I got both of my shots I contemplated a birding, bicycling, camping trip in my converted Honda Element with most nights me sleeping in my tent.

My travel goals for this trip were to discover/photograph birds, enjoy time on my bicycle while riding roads, bike lanes and/or bike paths, meet people or see new things – exactly what travel should be wherever and whenever – an adventure! And so California it is!

I drove the southern route of Arizona, Interstate 8, with its quiet grasslands, noted places to visit another time: Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. I knew every time a huge beef cattle feedlot was near … there are a few smelly ones on this route. Fields of solar panels and others with concave mirrors. Sand dunes miles long and wide where off-road vehicle drivers tore through the dunes, and hiking trailheads visited by other people. 

On the out-skirts of the city of San Diego, traffic and noise became my new normal. This continued for more than an hour, all the way to the campground I was to overnight for 4 nights. It was a basic tent site with no water, electricity or wifi at the site, and unfortunately the interstate highway traffic could be heard each night. For a person who usually sleeps in a quiet neighborhood at home, this noise took some getting used to each night.

In all the years I have backpacked and set up a tent in NYS, or Virginia, Wyoming, Idaho, or any of the New England States, I always had enough organic material to pound tent stakes into the ground and/or a rock to pound them in. I began to set up my tent and discovered the hardest land, plus no available rocks! This is not an advertisement for the insulated Klean Kanteen but it became my hammer to knock in the 8 tent stakes. Sure the water bottle is dented and I have since bought a replacement, but I held onto my “hammer” in case I should need it again on this trip.

That’s my tent at San Mateo State Park Campground, San Onofre, CA

The walk to the beach trailhead is 1.5 miles from the campground. It’s not the prettiest of walks and with mountain lion warning signs I was sure to not return close to dusk or to be running on the trail. (I have read to many mountain lion stories.) 

As I approach the beach this is part of the Trestles Wetlands Natural Resource. At the beach, the surfers were busy catching a wave or on their way home, hauling their boards by E-bikes, wagon, skateboard or walking and carrying all their gear. This “Trestles Surf” zone is known for the various waves surfers enjoy. Their sign provided a great explanation.

One bird, long-billed dowitcher, made me happy as it stood around long enough for me to photograph it.

Long-billed dowitcher

On my walk back to the campground I read the trail signs. The Acjchemen (A-ha-che-men) lived in this ancient village Panhe, meaning “place by the water” for thousands of years before the Spanish explorers arrived. The Spanish created permanent settlements and built 21 missions along California’s El Camino Real or “Royal Highway”. The people of Panthe were a major source of labor for the construction of San Juan Capistrano, further north from here, built in 1776. 

The first baptism took place a mile inland from the campground I am at. The dying children were baptized, thus the street to the campground had been named “Cristianitos”. (I wondered where the road name originated and now I know!)

Another trail sign told the story of Marine Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone who was a war hero during World War II. He had been awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts at Guadalcanal and after he died at Iwo Jima he was awarded the Navy Cross and Purple Heart.  

I walked back to the campground and the wind was blowing! I was a bit concerned when I thought I knew where my tent was yet did not see it. But around another corner there it was; making me realize I need to add weight inside it during the day so it is not somewhere else when I return from any of my upcoming day’s activity.

Between the wind, the highway traffic noise and a fellow camper’s music, I am sure to find some beat to hum myself to sleep tonight! And if not, earplugs will come to the rescue. Today I was near no people, outdoors, and hoping to continue this way for the next days away from viral concerns.

Visit San José de Tumacácori

Tumacácori is a park preserving a Spanish mission ruin where you can also walk to the Santa Cruz River and two trailheads of the Juan Bautista de Anza Trail on the park boundary. During this COVID pandemic, rules are listed at the entrance and certain areas, such as visitor center, are not open. Yet one can walk the property and feel its history.

Tumacácori is one of 24 missions founded by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, an advocate for the O’odham native people and spreader of the Catholic faith. As the O’odham people rebelled against Spain a military post was built in Tubac for Spain to protect its interests. Plenty of history to be understood and realized here and fortunately the National Park Service has an informative pamphlet available to help one understand it.

Walking the property, you’ll see fruit trees at the heritage orchard, water ditch, the church built during the 1800’s, a cemetery, lime kiln and courtyard. I also spent time in front of the place where there is a butterfly garden. A “monarch waystation” with flowers which truly attract many butterflies this time of year! This is a park worth visiting and I am sure when the visitor center is open to show displays and videos it will even be better.

Here are some photos from my visit:

The mission church and grounds at Tumacácori.
Another view of the church and Santa Rita Mountains beyond.