A Mountain Excursion (and Beer) – Alpine, CA
We were looking for a change, a big change. After months in the dry desert we were craving high mountains, cool air and the fresh scent of pine trees…and we were willing to travel miles to get it. Around 180 miles to be exact.
One of the many beauties of being on wheels, and in southern CA/AZ specifically, is easy access to so many varying natural environments. Our drive from KOFA to San Diego on I-8 was going to take us directly through a large section of east-west mountains known as the Laguna Mountains.
This rocky range extends ~1 hour east of San Diego to a max height of around 6,378 feet (1,944 m). It’s not exactly alpine-style, but when you’re coming from sea-level cactus-dwelling land it’s like being transported into a parallel universe. Suddenly the air is 15 degrees cooler with a slight crispness to it and trails are ragged, winding affairs that take you through thick pine trees and grassy meadows. You see colors (GREEEEEEeeeeen) and smell scents (pine, wood) that had almost faded away in your memory. It’s like being re-born, nature-wise.
The fact that Alpine Beer Company (which just happens to be one of San Diego’s top 15 breweries) was also in the vicinity had absolutely no bearing on our decision to go….none at all.
We decided to ease ourselves out of our boondocking months and into the craziness of city life with a few free nights at Viejas Casino.
For those not in the know Casino’s often offer free overnight parking to RVers and are an easy option in many spots, especially in cities which might not offer other free options. They can take any-sized rig, and some even practically pay you to stay if you sign up for their club card (or similar) which is usually free and gives you either free play money (say $10 or so) or discounts on food. We’ve used many Casino’s in our travels and typically find them either through overnightrvparking.com (a great site for quality, verified overnight spots), casino-related sites (casinocamper.com) or free camping websites (e.g. Campendium, FreeCampsites). They are not long-term spots, but can be great go-betweens and overnighters.
Viejas Casino in Alpine, CA is exactly 6 mins from the aforementioned brewery (gosh, what a coincidence) and offers 3 nights (72 hours) of free parking in a HUGE, quiet lot at the far back of the establishment with lots of green areas around the lot to walk doggie. Couldn’t be easier.
In order to prepare our waistlines for the beer tasting we took a day-trip to Laguna Mountains (~25 mins from the Casino) to hike around some of the many mountain trails. Laguna requires a day-pass ($5/day) to access, but has literally hundreds of miles of trails including a large portion of the southern section of the Pacific Crest Trail.
We chose an easy 3- mile hike (Polly having just recovered from a muscle injury) through some lovely pine and meadows. Sadly many years of CA drought has dried-up all the lakes, but the hike was nonetheless invigorating & pretty. Doggie was literally out of her mind with all the new woody smells, especially after such a long time in the desert (must be like the doggie equivalent of catnip), while both Paul and I drank in the deliciously fresh mountain air. Ahhhhhhhhhhh……
Our hike was rewarded by an evening visit to super cozy Alpine Beer Company which brews excellent IPA’s, as well as a rather nice stout. We chose the 6-taster together with some BBQ ribs for dinner. The food was OK, but the beer was amazing and well worth the visit. It’s a popular (and very small) place so be prepared to wait for a seat, especially if you come on the week-end.
Thus ends our little mountain excursion. From the dizzying heights of I-8, we now stand on the precipice of BCL = Big City Life -> the craziness of traffic, the shocking indecency of side-by-side RV parking (no more nude walking around in the RV I tell ya), the insanity of multiple grocery stores (how to handle so much choice?), the sheer lunacy of over 100 (yes 100!!) microbreweries. With all the free camping in the AZ desert, why would we ever subject ourselves to such a thing? As with many things in life it’s because we can, and because sometimes a change of scene is just what the soul needs. But that’s the subject of another blog post.
For now we just say goodbye wilderness and hellooooooo San Diego. Beach and big city here we come!
Note/ Laguna Mountain Recreation Area is entirely dog-friendly (all trails we looked at). Alpine Beer Company sadly does NOT accept dogs, even in their back outdoor seating area.