A Weekend in Cleveland National Forest

We’ve been looking forward to this trip all week, in hopes that we found a campsite that won’t let us down as unfortunately Joshua Tree had done just two weeks ago. But also, so we could try out our new tent — a Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 (high-volume, ultralight) versus the Arete ASL 2 (all-season lightness) with one door instead of two, which increases ease of access and limits dirt coming in.

Our old tent, if that’s the case, of a decade in tent years (which REI confirms is any gear over five years old) had seen its share of weather and wear and Caleb was done patching and stitching it together so we opted for something 2.8 pounds lighter versus the newer model of Arete that was released in 2018. The weight difference might not seem like much, being taken from the car, but we plan on doing a very long thru-hike in the future and every ounce will matter on our backs.

Part of getting older is having the ability to look back on how long you’ve been doing stuff you love and I’m glad that we are still fortunate enough to have the time, money, and health to take these trips. I’m also grateful for early days off work so we can get going sooner, though it helps that we’re going against traffic congestion too.

The last 4.5 miles to the Cibbets Flat Campground promise us that the short hour on the highway will be worth the journey as the trees and clouds tell me there’s a chance our tent will have shade versus the ultra hot Jumbo Rocks Campground that takes 3.5 hours to drive to only to leave everything to melt in the mercy of the sun. Ok, I’m done comparing the two campsites. Let’s get back to Kitchen Creek Rd.

I am known to take pictures while driving, regardless of the country, conditions, or company that I’m in but I don’t text while driving so I wouldn’t know that our phones had gladly lost signal at some point between home and our temporary reprieve from the demands that noisy notifications can place on us with the expectations of others to constantly respond.

I love being social but I also think there’s a time and place for being on the phone, unless I’m away from Caleb and then the rules change completely, whether I’m at work or visiting my dad, my husband is my priority, so camping with him means I have everything I need and can hit pause as we soak in nature and all it has to offer before work requires our return to the city and its stipulations.

Caleb will set up the camp bedroom while I prepare the food amongst our friends the ants and yellow jacket wasps after watching some activity on squirrel rock. I will move us to another table for dinner and be watched by a California scrub jay as we get some pre-hike calories ingested. We walk along the road for half an hour looking for the PCT, as we had passed a portion that goes over the road, but it was further than we realized, so we will save it for tomorrow.

Back at camp, Caleb will put the rainfly on the tent just in case and that’s when I find the trail that leads to the PCT from the camping spot next to ours. I read some of the trail log before seeing a hawk grab his dinner and I’ll return to watch the clouds turn from yellow to red to gray with Caleb. As the bats come out, the buzzing stops and the familiar chirps of the night start. These are the sounds and sights of camping as they should be as we sip spicy cocoa in the dusk.

We wait for the stars to emerge, but as they choose to remain hidden in the early evening, we will turn to reading as a way to keep our eyes and minds busy instead. We move into the tent to escape the little winged creatures that my headlamp unwillingly attracts but as the night grows darker around us a peace settles in and we are lulled into a passing slumber.


We are woken around 2am to winds that sound like they will bring rain, but they don’t, so Caleb opens his rainfly door again to get more airflow in the tent. I enjoy that we can get a cross breeze more easily instead of having just the one door or relying on the vents at the top, which do help release humidity. I’m woken again around 5am to the sound of crunching dirt and again when Caleb gets up.

I climb out of the tent when there is twilight to do so and I’ll boil water for our cold granola, which turns out to be beneficial as it’s softer in my mouth that just had a bone graft done on Tuesday. I’ve still got stitches in and was told to chew on the left side, which seems unfair as I try to give my mouth equal chewing capacity, so for now I have to take smaller bites as well.

The morning starts off cool, around 61 degrees, and the ascent is constant. We’ve got long sleeve shirts on to protect against the sun but they won’t make it on our backs for the length of the hike. We walk through the small opening in the fence from the campground that leads to a dirt road that will take us to a good break point in the trail. There is some shade and rocks for resting and stretching.

We choose to go left, which is a continuous climb up 1,205 feet of mountain and with a temperature gain of 20 degrees becomes a more sweat-inducing pastime. I find little details in the passing plants and rocks worthy of stopping for a photo and appreciate the mass variety of shapes and colors to entice my eyes to take note of their beauty and contemplate their journey as I continue on mine.

My camera seems to double in weight as we decide on a turnaround point. We are offered more expansive views as the valley opens up below us. I love that a hike is two adventures in one as each direction has something to offer… like shade when we return to camp after seven miles, so we can go into town for the Chula Vista Lemon Festival taking place in what was once known as the Lemon Capital of the World — one of three in California along with Florida, Mexico, and India.

Chula Vista held the honor from 1888 when the Sweetwater Dam made the area more conducive until the housing boom of the 1950s wiped out the lemon groves. Today, we get to join some 30,000 people in celebrating everything lemon for the half mile of vendors, artists, stages, and contests of eating, wearing, and making lemon-themed consumables, crafts, and clothes.

This festival has been taking place for 25 years now and we’re given seven hours to celebrate on Third Avenue. We buy two loaves of sourdough, one olive and one Oreo, after walking the event which was bigger than we thought it would be. I don’t know why we had expectations with a lack of historical knowledge and no idea how current events would effect the turnout either. We were much more pleased with this gathering than the Fallbrook Avocado Festival in April.

We’ll stop by the house to slice some bread to take with us along with the ENO DoubleNest printed hammock — that Caleb’s sister gifted him some time ago, but we didn’t have the straps or place to hang it until now — and an adult coloring book to take back to a still wet camp from the afternoon rain. Caleb sets up the hammock on a large tree and its sturdy branch but moves it between two smaller trees so we can lie in it together without our bums on the dirt.

Having skipped lunch we’ll make dinner early and read while we pick off ants that find their way amongst our soft body hairs and cause a tickling distraction. We’ll go for a short walk around camp as there’s a bridge to other empty camp sites and then return to our spots in the hammock to watch squirrels, swat flies, and toss more ants while we turn pages (physical and digital) and sip hot drinks. The sunset isn’t as colorful as last night but the bug sounds and bat sightings are on time.

To live at this campground for a month, paying nightly, would cost us a third of what we’re paying in rent now and a third of our rent in the place we’re moving into if the campsite raises their rate from $14/night to $20.. as there was a sign on the vault toilet door suggesting just that. It makes sense to me why former retirees become camp hosts so they can spend their time camping and getting paid for it. I’d gladly do seasonal work and appreciate the changes moving to different parks would bring.

This is what I’m thinking about as darkness takes over the sky. I could get used to weekends like this and covering another four miles after our hike puts us to bed happy and ready to get rest for going south on the PCT in the morning.


I’ll make us breakfast while Caleb packs up the tent. We go on a beautiful hike for hours, mostly downhill going out, but weirdly there are no photos to share of this, minus the one looking back on camp and one of me in the hammock… where we’ll sit until the sounds of thunder and the promise of the daily afternoon downpour send us back to the house.

This entry was posted in Animals, Art, Camping, Events, Food, Hiking, History, People, Photography, Plants and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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