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San Diego, 2008
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San Diego, 2008


Original Article and Photographs by Kenneth A. Larson © 2008 - 2017

We left almost on time on a Saturday morning in May. We were heading south on the San Diego Freeway (I-405) for San Diego. The traffic was a little heavier than we expected but we continued south through Los Angeles and Orange Counties. We first stopped at the rest area just south of Camp Pendalton where I tried out my new zoom lens. It was already crowded at 10:00 am with people heading to San Diego County for the day or weekend. In past years, we had taken Highway 76, but were trying something new so we headed east on Highway 78. This took us through Escondido, past the San Diego Wild Animal Park and San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park. The battlefield park had been devastated by wild fires a few months earlier and would not reopen for another six months or so. The highway continued east through California Poppy lined valleys toward the Junction with Highway 79 at Santa Ysabel.

Within minutes, we were in Julian, a touristy town noted for antique stores, boutiques, and apples. We were running so late that I dropped my wife off at the corner and by the time I parked, she was on her way back with an apple pie from Mom's Pie House. Then I missed my turn and drove a few miles before I realized that I was still on Highway 78 heading into Anza - Borrego Desert State Park instead of Highway 79 south. Once turned around, we continued south through Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, which was recovering well after the fires of a few years earlier, until we reached Interstate 8 west.

We exited at Alpine and spent the afternoon visiting with a friend. Alpine is a rural community, but growing into a suburb of San Diego 30 miles to the west. We enjoyed our visit and then continued west to San Diego where we found our motel and checked in.

We had reservations for one of the Ghost Tours of Old Town. There seems to be two, one inside the State Historic Park, and one outside the park. We had a bit of time to explore on our own before our guide showed up and we began with Heritage Park, a collection of Victorian age buildings just southeast of Old Town that are now home to shops, bed and breakfast inns, and other businesses. We still had a half hour to see what had changed in Old Town since our last visit - not much except Casa de Bandini was undergoing a major restoration of some kind. Once our guide had arrived, she lead us through the south end of Old Town and the Whaley House, telling us stories of deaths and mysterious happenings. It seems that the Whaley House was built on the old town gallows and odd occurrences happen there and there is a doorway between two rooms that the staff won't walk through. The old El Campo Cemetery once extended under the present day street with bronze markers in the street denoting that ground penetrating radar detected a body below. It might be better not to park in the parking lane in front of the cemetery, cars sometimes mysteriously loose air from their tires or won't start. But that's just the story? The old Jewish Cemetery is under the Arco station and the Presbyterian cemetery is under the freeway - enjoy your drive. The tour ended at the cemetery and we were directed to the Alamo for a delicious Mexican late-night dinner.

We returned to our room and drifted off to sleep, dreaming of gallows and ghosts.

Day Two

We enjoyed a wonderful continental breakfast - we stayed at Comfort Inn because of the waffles - and headed the one or two miles to Old Town where we attended Mass at Church of the Immaculate Conception, the second Catholic church built in Old Town, the first is now the Old Adobe Chapel around the corner.

We hurried off to the Maritime Museum of San Diego where we had found no parking two years earlier. Today, parking was filling fast but we found a spot. We had visited about three years earlier, but the Russian sub had just arrived and wasn't yet ready. This time I called ahead and was assured that it was open - which it was. First we revisited the Star of India, the oldest steel hull ship in operation. Next we revisited the H.M.S. Surprise which is a replica of an 18th Century British Royal Navy frigate. Launched in 1970 as H. M. S. Rose, this 179-foot fully rigged ship underwent extensive modifications in 2002 for use in the motion picture Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Finally we came to the B-39 Soviet Attack Submarine which we saw only from the outside on our previous visit. There is a mock-up of a small round door on the approach telling visitors that they must be able to climb through this hole to tour the sub since there are four such doors inside and no other way to get through. The submarine was fascinating with hundreds of knobs, levers, instruments, and gadgets. There are miles of pipes and cables, torpedo launchers and bunks, hatches and engines. I never would have made a good submariner. From the stern deck, we could see the US Navy Aircraft Carriers at the Naval base across the harbor. We next revisited the Berkeley, a ferry boat that once carried passengers across San Francisco Bay and helped in the rescue after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. The Berkeley now houses a nautical museum, museum work shops and facilities, a gift shop, and can be rented for special events. There are two smaller vessels that we visited, Medea and Pilot. The Californian, another tall ship, was out in the harbor and we were again unable to visit this one.

We had a wonderful seafood lunch at Anthony's Fish Grotto and continued exploring the harbor art. Every hundred feet or so, there was a large sculpture, many whimsical, usually with an ocean theme. It reminded me of the street art we've seen in Santa Rosa.

It was only a few hundred feet to our primary destination for the day, San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum, which I had discovered three years earlier while on the harbor cruise from the Maritime Museum. One of the larger museums in California, actually there is another aircraft carrier museum in Alameda, the USS Midway is now preserved and easily visited. There are three main decks on the tour, beginning with the hangar deck where the aircraft were once stored. There are still several aircraft displayed here and this deck also contains the gift shop and restaurant. This is also where you pick up the audio tour which is included with admission and begin the tour. The audio tour mostly takes you down a deck to the crew areas, but you go up and down and revisit the hangar deck many times before you finally reach the flight deck. It is hard to imagine such a large flat area on top of a ship full of crew going about their important activities. Four launchers once shot aircraft off the forward end of the deck about once per minute. Landing is described as a controlled crash and it all must be very hard on men and equipment. The flight deck is also filled with aircraft and views of the harbor. From the deck, we could see the memorials on the lawn to the south of the ship, but we will need to see those another time. One is a larger than life statue of that famous end of World War II photo of a sailor kissing a nurse. The audio tour saves the Island for last and my recommendation is to visit it first. We spent four hours on the tour and reached the Island a few minutes after it closed, although the rest of the ship was open another hour. We are making plans to return to see the island.

We made a quick stop in Old Town to buy something I had noticed the night before while on the ghost tour and didn't want to carry around. Then we hopped on I-15 north back to Los Angeles. A week later, we would take this same I-15 north from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City and beyond.

Up Date

Two and a half months later, we headed south early one Saturday arriving at the Old Navy Pier parking lot for the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum about 9:30 am. First we walked the two or three blocks to the Union Station / Santa Fe Depot which I had seen form a distance for many years. It is a classic old railroad depot, updated for the Metro and local trolley service. This might be an interesting way to visit the museums in the area without driving all the way from Los Angeles. The Contemporary Art Museum San Diego is across the street on the east and the Embarcadero with its two nautical museums is a short walk west. The trolley will take you to Old Town or the Mexican border.
We took the short walk west to the Embarcadero and I walked to the San Diego Maritime Museum because I forgot to get the names of several smaller boats the last time and couldn't label my photos. I notice that several pieces of the wharf-side public art sculptures had changed in the three months since my previous visit. I also finally found the labels which are small and near the base.
My wife had waited by the Visitor Center which would be a great stop for those taking the train. It is across the street from the middle of the Embarcadero.
We walked back and then south of the Aircraft Carrier Museum to Tuna Harbor Park, several memorials on the lawn across the water from the carrier. The first memorial we came to was Presidential Unit Citation Memorial, a V-shaped memorial with a pedestal to Clifton A. F. Sprague, Vice Admiral, USN; Born 8 January 1896 - Died 11 April 1955 and to Task Unit 77.4.3 (Taffy 3). Next was a close up look at the memorial we saw from the flight deck of the carrier two and a half months earlier. Most people are probably familiar with the photo taken the day WWII ended of a sailor kissing a nurse. No one is sure who these two people really were but some claim to be them. Anyway, here on the Embarcadero is a three dimensional reproduction about thirty feet high of this scene. I couldn't find any info about it so we shot a few photos and continued to the third memorial, National Salute to Bob Hope and the Military. A tribute to Bob Hope and the many Christmas shows he did for the troops is depicted in bronze life-like sculptures of Bob and a collection of military personnel gathered around him. A little further and we could see across the bay at two active aircraft carriers, one covered with white masking as it was repainted or something. We turned around and I stopped to photograph one last memorial, USS San Diego (CL-53) Memorial, before heading back to the Aircraft Carrier Museum.
Once on board the aircraft carrier, we skipped the first two sections because people were already lined up and we went to the third section that takes you through the galleys, sick bay, and other crew support areas. I identified most of the unidentified photos from May, shot a few more photos, and we headed to the Flight Deck. After arriving home the previous time, I had looked at the guide and realized we had missed the Ready Rooms so we found these areas where pilots hang out before a mission. We next got in line for the prime objective, the Island that we missed last time. The Island is the control tower of the carrier. It is from here that aircraft are spotted before a mission, directed to take off, and guided in for a safe landing. Because an aircraft carrier is so top heavy, it leans a lot when turning. Aircraft being spotted need to be tied off before a turn so they don't slide off, and this is also controlled from the Island. It was tight in the Island which is why access is by a human guide whereas the rest of the ship is a paper guide. Originally the bridge was open and charts were in the chart room away from bad weather, but now it is enclosed with windshield wipers on the windows. We finished on the Flight Deck and I tried again the first section which now had a shorter line. This takes visitors through the Junior Officers area and the forecastle where the anchor chains are controlled and sometimes assemblies are held. I felt that we had covered what we missed the time before so we returned to the car and drove north to La Jolla.
We only had about two hours left when we reached Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institute. While not as large or well known as some other aquariums in California, it was filled with excited families and fit perfectly into the time remaining to us. We were fascinated by the giant octopus which was not as scarey as depicted in movies as it slid around the tank. I always find the jelly fish relaxing as they slowly pulse around the tank. There was several small sharks and an exhibit on how shark fin soup is devastating the wild population of some sharks. There is a touch tank in back with a view of the ocean and other exhibits inside. We wrapped up this visit and headed north, arriving home before dark. In this one day, I crossed several sites off my list, but there are many more to see in San Diego.

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This page last updated: Friday, 28-Apr-2017 12:54:22 EDT

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