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Astrogazing in Alpine
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Astrogazing in Alpine

Original Article and Photographs by Kenneth A. Larson © 2007 - 2017

We almost got off on time for our annual visit to my friend in Alpine, a small town a half hour east of San Diego. The freeway south from Los Angeles isn't bad early Saturday morning, but it was already slowing by 8:00. We stopped at our favorite rest stop before Oceanside and then took Highway 76 east to Highway 79 south. Last year there was a large funeral at Mission Asistencia Santa Ysabel and I was hoping for a quieter experience this time. Today it was quiet and we were almost alone. In addition to the 21 better known coastal missions, there was an inland broken chain of extension missions called asistencias. There is little left of the original constructions except a few floor tiles, but a small newer church on the site that is still in use and this visit, there were swallow nest hanging from the eaves. There is a small museum, a gift shop that never seems to be open, and a cemetery that the public is requested to "respect the privacy of the families." It was a short distance to the small town of Santa Ysabel at the intersection of Highways 79 and 78.
It was only about five minutes before we entered the outskirts of the tourist town of Julian where a special breed of apples make pies famous throughout the region. There are a number of historic sites and museums and a mine tour we hope to see next time we visit, but this time we were just passin' through, so we bought a pie at Mom's Pie House and continued south on Highway 79. We made a quick stop at Vista Point for a look down on Anza - Borrego Desert. A few years ago, much of San Diego County was devastated by wild fires and while there are still many tall dead burned out trees, the manzanita and chaparral has grown back and the surface of the hills and valleys is once again green. We continued through Cuyamaca Rancho State Park until we reached Interstate 8 west.
It was only about ten or fifteen minutes until we exited at Tavern Road and entered the City of Alpine. We arrived at my friend's house about 1:00, only an hour behind schedule. My friend treated us to lunch at Janet's Montana Cafe, a popular restaurant along the main drag where I had a avocado/bacon veggie burger.
My friend is associated with the Alpine Historical Society and it happened to be the fourth weekend which is the regularly scheduled weekend for two historic houses to be open. The Doctor Sophronia Nichols House, built in 1896, was the home and office of the first doctor to the Alpine area. Most white people didn't trust a woman doctor, so she mostly attended to the local Indian population. The Alpine Schoolhouse was later added to the back. There is also the carriage house behind. The Nichols House is on the original site, the adjacent Beaty House was moved from another site. The Beaty House was built in 1899. Both houses have been meticulously restored.
We found our lodgings at Ayres Inn Alpine, formerly Country Inn which was nicer than we usually expect and had a friendly feel. We returned to my friends house for an evening of star gazing through his private telescope. Alpine is far enough from San Diego that the skies are much darker and you can see a few thousand more stars than you can in Los Angeles. My wife was reluctant to hike to the telescope, but then thrilled to see Venus in about mid phase and Saturn with it's rings.
We awoke Sunday and attended Mass at Queen of Angels church, a beautiful Gaudi inspired church on the north side of town. We enjoyed a continental breakfast at the motel and checked out. We visited with my friend and then the four of us drove to the Viejas Casino and Outlet Center.
In recent years, "Indian Casinos" have been popping up all over Southern California and while popular, they are usually little more than big buildings filled with slot machines. This one is different. There is a casino building but across the street is a Outlet Center that is an excellent example of a theme environment. In addition to shapes and colors in the Southwest style, there is appropriate music playing throughout and numerous bronze sculptures of native wildlife including bears, hawks, eagles, otter, deer, mountain lion, and more, each with a plaque about the animal. There is a dancing water fountain filled with kids and a large area that at times of the year present concerts and other entertainment. Oh yes, there are also all the big names in consumer products, fashion, and food drawing people from as far as Los Angeles, Arizona, and Mexico. We treated my friends to lunch at Nori Sushi Bar & Grill, said our good-buys, and I took a quick look at the Casino. The casino seems to be the main tourist destination running shuttles to the local hotels.
I had noticed a slight problem with some of my photographs from the day before so we decided to take the long way home, retracing part of out path from the day before. It took about five minutes to reach Highway 79 north and headed back through Julian, buying another pie at Mom's Pie House and taking a quick look at the Historical Society Museum that we hope to visit next time. We stopped again at Santa Ysabel Asistencia and continued north on Highway 79 past the junction with Highway 76 which we came in on and then continued north. In Warner Springs, Saint Francis of Assisi Chapel is somehow associated with Asistencia San Antonio de Pala. I shot a few photographs of this church which sits atop a small hill beside the highway.
By now my wife was complaining that she missed her cat and we drove non-stop the rest of the way home continuing west on Highway 79 through Temecula, north on I-15, west on I-210 and 118 to our cats who had probably given up on us after our 8-day trip four weeks earlier.

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This page last updated: Friday, 28-Apr-2017 12:54:14 EDT

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