Camping: California Wish List

Dear Students,

Growing up on the East Coast means California is new to me. Here is a list of places I hope to visit with my boys.

Refugio State Park Campground, about 35 miles north of Santa Barbara, Hwy 101. One of the best coastal on the beach campgrounds. Take a walk on the beach and look for sea lions and dolphins.


Refugio State Beach Campground Photo by Ray Anderson of Photos of the West

Camping near the San Andreas Fault at Joshua Tree National Park  Joshua Tree is crisscrossed with hundreds of faults, and is a great place to see raw rocks and the effects of earthquakes. The famous San Andreas Fault bounds the south side of the park, and can be observed from Keys View. Blue Cut Fault in the center of the park can be seen from the hilltop behind Lost Horse Mine. The fault forms the straight, abrupt base of the Hexie Mountains east of Queen Valley.


Hidden Valley Campground, Photo by Doubletee (Flickr)

Los Padres National Forest Set on a bluff overlooking the Pacific, Kirk Creek campground offers an opportunity to enjoy it all – sunsets, wildlife and ocean.


Kirk Creek Campground: Beware the raccoons, enjoy the ocean sights and sounds. Photo by Jones the Cyclist (Flickr)

Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon State Park

Ricardo Campground: Photo by By SZONE.US Zachariah Boren

McGrath State Beach is one of the best bird-watching areas in California, with the lush riverbanks of the Santa Clara River and sand dunes along the shore. A nature trail leads to the Santa Clara Estuary Natural Preserve. Two miles of beach provide surfing and fishing opportunities, however, swimmers are urged to use caution because of strong currents and riptides. The park offers campsites by the beach.

Santa Clara River Estuary View

Santa Clara River Estuary View photo by Mike Forsman (Flickr)


Sequoia National Forest, home of 38 Sequoia groves. The Trail of 100 Giants is an easy 1/2 trail set within the 340 acre grove. Be sure to visit the Giant Forest Museum.

East Fork Kaweah River (also nice Hypochilus habitat!)

Atwell Mill Campground is near the East Fork Kaweah River. Photo by Marshall Hedin

First on my California camping wishlist is Atwell Mill Campground in Sequoia National Forest. And this is the book I want to read while I’m camping:

American Canopy by Eric Rutkow

Do you have a favorite place to camp in California?

Westward bound,
Mrs. Kenney

Beat the Heat: Veteran’s Oasis Park

Wading at Veteran’s Oasis Park

It’s January, time to order clothes in the next size up from the post holiday sales. I just unpacked new water shoes and Crocs that I picked up from

What am I doing with water shoes? Well after a few ill advised and disappointing forays (don’t ask me about the drainage ditch/pink eye 1-2 punch, remember I do the research so you don’t have to) we found a place to wade. My critera for a good place to wade:

  • creek
  • nearby
  • free
  • accessible

I moved here from the East Coast where I took things like soft plants and moisture for granted. Then I came here and was so lonely for a creek. I even googled “Queen Creek” to find out where it was, only to learn that Queen Creek was named after a mine, not a body of water. Bummer!

The Veteran’s Oasis Park at Chandler Heights and Lindsay is a wonderland of play. This park is my favorite park for all reasons and all seasons. They have a beautiful Air Conditioned Visitors Center. The Visitors Center makes a morning summer visit fun with a small exhibit of spiders and snakes and educational material to read. A low table for puzzles and nature toys are out for your little ones, bring your own toys or project to extend the visit. The visitor center also has bathrooms, a small shop (we bought a bento style Laptop Lunchbox here) and friendly staff. They have a full slate of activities, check the website to see what is going on–the calendar is posted on pdf that changes each month so I won’t link to it here. I plan to come on Earth Day for sure!

The new desert tortoise enclosure, best time to see the tortoises is at 8 or 9 AM when the weather is hot

In the evening this is another good place for dinner outside. There are covered Ramadas and picnic areas around the urban fishing lake. (that’s right, you can fish here, just need a license). Wide concrete pathways are good for riding big wheels. Low undulating walls for climbing (and falling off) surround sand pits. You can bring digging toys, riding toys, your camera and don’t forget the fish and birds. The park is recognized as a Certified Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. This is a great honor. One of my dreams is to turn our backyard into a habitat.

The Bento Lunchboxes and much more in the Owl’s Nest Nature store

But back to the water shoes. We like to venture to the back of the park. There is a little creek running downhill full of slippery rocks to dig and climb on. Messy, splashy fun! I have a few places I like to go to beat the heat and this is one of them.

If you don’t feel like wading, a fun way to introduce the park to children is to take the Veteran’s Oasis Park Nature Quest Challenge.

Gilbert Parks: Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch

Climbing the Walls at Riparian Preserve

I like this park for several reasons. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a park-library combo. I love the public sculpture, feeding the ducks and the dinosaur dig area makes this unique. Did I mention it is free?

The 110-acre Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch is a  public park in Gilbert, Arizona. It is behind the South East Regional Library. The library was designed to benefit from it’s proximity to the park with enormous glass windows facing the park.

Riparian Preserve - 9915

photo by AZDew found on Flickr

Why the funny name? Riparian Preserve? This park was designed to conserve water and provide a wildlife habitat. Read more about the intention behind the park.


Great Egrets by BrainPie picture found on Flickr

In the fall and winter when we visit, my boys love to climb the winding walls that undulate along the hills of the park. Don’t forget to bring your digging tools and a little dustpan and brush for the Dinosaur Dig area. Your kids can uncover dinosaur skeletons if you bring the right tools while you sit on the bench under the ramada.

Check out the desert landscaping behind the dinosaur dig area. We always explore the climbing walls and dinosaur dig area first, but near the front of the park is an observatory and a lake with a pretty boardwalk. You can enjoy the ducks and admire the gorgeous wetland habitats. My scanty photos don’t do this place justice. This park is in our repertoire of favorite local parks. You could also try the Desert Path Walk provided by Nature Quest AZ.

Hummingbird - 4925

I stood still and he slowly worked his way toward me. He was well camouflaged with the bushes in the area. Riparian Preserve, Gilbert Arizona. Photo by AZDew found on Flickr

This park has a busy schedule year round. I encourage you to explore their website before you visit to make sure you take advantage of all it has to offer. I focused on activities for younger kids in this post but an older child will love the observatory, trying their hand at photography, the programming and maybe creating an addition to the park. I saw an Eagle Scout project as well as an addition from the Gilbert Leadership Program here. What can you dream up for your community?

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch is located at 2757 E. Guadalupe Road east of Greenfield Road, next to the Southeast Regional Library in Gilbert, Arizona.

Don’t forget your digging tools for them and book for you!

If you go to the park during the summer you can look for respite inside the library. The South East Regional Library has a small bookstore in the front of the library. Buy or browse the collection and sit along the back wall and look out on the pond. I suggest Last Child in the Woods. You can feel good about your parenting as you read it under the Ramada at the Dinosaur dig.

Where do you like to go to climb the walls?