Jan 2-Jan 23 - Pio Pico
Took us a while to figure out the name Pio Pico. First, it's the name of the 1000 Trails Preserve we stayed at. Before that, Pio de Jesus Pico was the last imperial governor of the Spanish territory of California. In his prime, he owned over 500,000 acres of ranch land, and, by naming it the state capitol, is credited with turning a little town with a fort into an actual city named Los Angeles. The Pio Pico RV preserve sits on part of Rancho Jamul, one of his properties. Pio Pico the man was a prosperous businessman, but not a very good one. After the California Territory became part of the US, he made a lot of bad investments (mostly gambling), and wound up having to sell all of his lands. He died impoverished in 1894. Nevertheless, he's one of the relatively unsung heroes who helped make California whatever it is. In recent years, he's been getting more attention from the historians and folks who like to preserve memories.
We'd planned on making Pio Pico our base and spending these three weeks exploring the San Diego area, where we've never been. But Judy's sprained ankle (first picture in our slide show) kind of detoured us, as walking was not one of the most enjoyable things she could do. So we didn't do very much touristing. But, finding ourselves in close proximity to the Mexican border, we decided to cross the border and seek out a dentist. Neither of us had been to a dentist in over two years. Why a dentist in Mexico? Mostly for the costs. Partly for the novelty. We'd read a lot about the benefits of low-cost dentistry in Mexico, and most border towns have several dentists catering to us Gringos who don't have dental insurance. The border town of Tecate is just 11 miles by winding road from Pio Pico. The dentist we chose is a US citizen, Mexican trained, who's been practicing for 17 years. Dr Veronica Hernandez is a true gem. She runs a very tight operation (counting her, the staff numbers two), does excellent work, and seems to always be busy. Nevertheless, we got our first appointment "tomorrow", and returned every other day for a total of 5 visits. Between us we had a total of 10 fillings (Judy had 9 old amalgam fillings replaced with modern ones), one crown and two cleanings for just over $800. All cash business, no annoying endless paperwork. Clean & simple. We think Dr Hernandez gets most of her business from the 1000 Trails Pio Pico preserve - everybody we met in the waiting room was from there. We'll be back.
We did try a couple of touristy outings - one Saturday, we drove to Campo CA and spent part of the day at the Pacific Southwest Rail Museum, the only all-volunteer organization to operate excursion trains into Mexico. In truth, the museum isn't much, but the organization is pretty amazing. They operate a Federal Railway Administration certified railway operation training facility, so their members can drive the trains. Mostly, it's a club for big kids who like to play with real trains. But we took a neat train ride (almost to Mexico), and got to climb around on and in some old trains. All this on a very windy day (the infamous Santa Ana winds), when it was almost painful to be outside.
Another day, we drove into Chula Vista (9 miles west) and visited the Chula Vista Nature Center. It's a local wildlife park, featuring mostly birds and fish indigenous to the local area. Kind of a mini-aquarium and zoo. We liked it.
The Pio Pico preserve is just a couple of miles as the immigrant walks from the Mexican border, and there was a constant stream of US Border Patrol vehicles passing through to check out the hills behind the park. It was also reasonably close to Chula Vista, with the requisite Costco and Wal-Mart, as well as the delightful Chula Vista Presbyterian Church, where we worshiped three Sundays. Between Chula Vista and Rancho San Diego (about 12 miles the other way), we were able to over-eat on a regular basis. We became fans of Peter Piper Pizza, a Chuck-E-Cheese kind of place, but with exceptionally good pizza. We felt very much at home at Pio Pico - lots of Oregon folks around. About the only downside was a water problem - we had to boil our drinking water for two full weeks until they got things fixed. That and the fact that the whole park is pretty much a cell-phone dead zone. We like that place, and we're pretty sure we'll be back.
As we write this, Judy's ankle is much improved. She walks almost normally, with just the slightest limp when her leg gets tired, and says there's very little discomfort. We keep our fingers crossed.
There are about 75 pictures in our slideshow for this leg of our trip. You'll find them here.