(Amanda:) We decided to try something new this weekend - we have never been to the Cleveland National Forest, in fact, I had never heard of the "Cleveland National Forest!"
I would like to report that this trip wasn't all peachy-keen, it had it's bumps and we almost left at one point! But everything worked out in the end and we are very glad that we stayed here. The campground isn't at a very high elevation so it's pretty warm during the day (in the summer of course, might be better in the fall or winter). On top of that Justin wasn't too excited about the site we choose at first. I could see him shifting and feeling uncomfortable. Maybe the uncomfortableness had something to do with the ba-jillion flies that were hovering around our faces and flying in our ears. They were driving us mad!
Well, we decided to stay for the night despite these things and we were glad we did. We ended up finding a better spot. It was a short walk-in site with a nice view into a little valley. That really put Justin at ease. And as soon as the sun went down the flies went away and the weather was nice.
|The road to the campground|
We went for a little hike, put JW to bed (very easily this time!) and had a campfire dinner, it was great. Although that night was kind of rough with JW, he was up A LOT. I was really frustrated until we realized the next day that JW was sick ... he eventually had a fever of 104.8! We had to take him to the hospital and found out he had an ear infection, poor baby.
|We caught this guy walking through our campsite... creepy, YES!|
(Justin:) This weekend Amanda had a photo shoot with some friends in Laguna. So, we deiced to camp some where out that way and after a short internet search (done the night before) we found Blue Jay campground in the Cleveland National Forest. We've never camped in the Cleveland National Forest and we're grateful to get the chance to explore her a bit. The Cleveland National Forest is large (460,000 acres) and reaches from the Lake Elsinore area to about 20 miles from the Mexican border, offering a wide variety of terrain. The mountains here are not big compared with other Southern Californian ranges but are of decent size. Monument peak is the highest point at 6,721 feet and the lowest the El Captain Dam area at 651 feet.
|A view of Lake Elsinore on our ride home on the Ortega HWY|
We took Ortega Highway to the Northern Part of the Forest near the town of Lake Elsinore to Blue Jay. She sits at an elevation of 3,400 feet on top of a small ridge amongst rolling mountains of chaparral. Not nearly as awe-inspiring as Blue Ridge but beautiful in it's own way. At Blue Ridge the beauty is big, a 1,000 foot canyon separates the campground from three of the biggest mountains in Southern Californian. At Blue Jay the beauty is small, found in the details of the chaparral (see photos below).
We eventually ended up at one of the campsites that was along the southern end over looking a small valley. I might reiterate what Amanda suggested about coming here in the winter or fall, it is hot on a summer day, but somewhat pleasant in the shade if your the type of person who doesn't mind a little heat. I did want to leave at one point, right before we paid the $20 to stay the night (I guess charging $20 to stay is better then closing the place as many other of our great State Parks are doing). The heat, the flies and my headache were making me a little uncomfortable to say the least. Don't think about sitting down and reading a book in this campground unless you don't mind flies buzzing around your head in constant succession! Yet, we decided to stay and switching sites made all the difference, looking out over the hazy rolling mountainsides covered in chaparral was down right magical during sunset and as the sun set the heat and flies disappeared.
|Our walk-in site, #13|
Our camp site was one of the six or seven walk-in sites. We're learning to always give the walk-in sites a good look before you choose because they're often some of the best in the campground, usually a little further away from everyone else and most often with better scenery - well worth the extra walk with all your stuff. Keeping that walk in mind has also helped us to slim down our load, making the trip easier and anything that makes camping easier makes us happy campers.
In the morning we awoke to the sound of bees humming along with the birds chirping. Bees love the oak trees and as soon as it started getting light in the early morning they were hard at work in the trees, it was a beautiful sound. The bird watching was great for my ritual morning walk with JW, as much as I hate getting out of bed before the sun rises I'm grateful for being woken up, I don't believe there is a more magical time to take a walk through a campground. We cooked a great breakfast over the fire and packed up and got out before the flies and heat returned. Our first trip to the Cleveland National Forest was a little rough (I guess that's what you get when you plan a trip in less then an hour) but a fine adventure nonetheless. The USDA web site on the Cleveland National Forest is a great place for all the general info you will need, here's the page for Blue Jay Campground.
Found this sign and thought it would be good info to share. Oaks are some of our favorite trees and we hate to see something killing them. Here is the USDA page on the Gold-spotted Oak borer that is killing the Oaks in the Cleveland Forest.