Sandoval Signpost


An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988
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Story photos credit: Barb Belknap

Get out of the damn car and enjoy yourself

A family road trip on the golden shores of California

—Evan A. Belknap

When I was ten, my family went on a winter road trip across Arizona, to the ocean, up the California coast, and back down through Death Valley. Somewhere along the coast, I did a face-first tumble into a troth of poison oak, which then spread to my entire body and stuck around for over a month. Devoted to slathering myself pink a dozen times a day, and yes, crying and itchy in the backseat of our car, I vowed never to go anywhere that had such malevolent flora ever again.

Fourteen years have gone by since, and for old times sake, we decided to retrace our steps. My dad, mom, and Grandma Lois met me in Prescott, Arizona, where I was mindfully tending my own business, etc., and upon trying to leave town, grandma’s car refused to start. Good Samaritan Prescottonians flocked to our engine—from the coffee shop old guys my dad wanted to be, to a group of young dudes in the later stages of rehab treatment, and even a toothless, jumper cable-toting couple. But nothing worked. We towed the car to Bob’s Car Shop and, ignoring the fact that it was still early, retired to the bar for lunch. My mom joked, “Remember all that time you couldn’t drink? That was awkward.”

Out on the patio we took in the blue sky and warm December sun. Grandma said, “Oh, well, this will be a nice vacation, even if we just stay here.”

After lunch, I took my dad on a bike ride through the Granite Dells, one of my favorite rock climbing playgrounds. We circled Watson Lake, with its flocks of migrating birds and twisted cottonwood skeletons growing from the water, then wound our way into the labyrinth of pink granite domes. Within an hour, Bob called—broken fuse repaired, all set. My dad’s easy-going, this-is-the-most-beautiful-place-ever demeanor crumbled into panic, and, suddenly, he was hell-bent on getting back into the car, getting to California, dropping off Grandma at my aunt’s house, and, if it’s the last goddamn thing he did, getting into that ocean.

I drove Grandma and Grandma’s car across the Mojave Desert, heading to Joshua Tree National Park. She told me stories, and when we finally saw a Joshua Tree, she said, “How ugly!”

I said, “Yeah, but if you stare at them long enough, they catch on fire.” We stared out the windows in silence for a few seconds, and then she continued her stories.

We first get to the ocean at Ventura Beach. Dad runs to the water. Mom attempts a cartwheel. “Why don’t we just stay right here the whole trip,” my dad says. We swim, pull out lunch, and watch pelicans dive. Then dad loads us back in the car, and we head on north.

There is another memory I have from being ten: we were camping somewhere. There was a full moon. My dad led me through the woods toward the roar of the ocean. We came to a huge cliff and down below, the waves glowed bright green. For a second I forgot my itchiness and knew I was seeing some sort of magic.

Camped at Plaskett Creek Campground, near Bug Sur, I realize that this that place. As the sun goes down, I climb to the tiptop of trees to try to see the ocean. Mom makes cheese and crackers. We play cribbage. The air gets cold. When it is dark, we head towards the cliff, armed only with a tiny  candlelit lantern that quickly blows out. Staring out over the ocean from undeniably the same spot, I am struck by a powerful feeling of nostalgia and déja vu—as if still looking out from my ten-year-old eyes. I am almost itchy again. I think about how one can change in fourteen years. We bushwack back to camp in the dark through crunchy foliage and go to sleep.

Two days later, waking up in Sebastopol, CA, where we are staying with a friend of mine, and her parents, I can hardly open my left eye. My dad is already up in front of the mirror, staring at his puffed-up face and red butt. We look at each other, compare rashes, and slowly a sinking recognition sets in for both of us. Oh, God. I remember my forgotten childhood vow, and a flash of the pain to come makes me want to vomit. I stare into the mirror, and I tell myself the horrifying truth, “I have poison oak on my face.” I say it a few times.

The rest of our miserable itchy days are spent wine-tasting and beach-going and touring the cold, windy countryside. It is truly beautiful, but I am ten-years-old again, in the back seat, whining about the turgid condition of my upper lip.

“Look,” says my mom, “orcas!”

“On my face!” I declare. “And those aren’t orcas.”

“Give the boy a Benadryl,” says my dad. “Maybe that will shut him up.”

We self-medicate with beer, oysters, and dark humor until my parents can’t stand me anymore, and put me on the plane back to Prescott, where a good friend of mine was graduating college, and I experienced the first really good snowfall of winter.

Meanwhile, my parents drove through Yosemite and happily back home to the end of the road. Now time off is over, and before we can head off again, it is time to make another issue of the Signpost.

Capulin Snow Play Area opening postponed

—Ruth Sutton

The Cibola National Forest and Grasslands’ Sandia Ranger District announced that the Capulin Snow Play Area is not expected to open on December 22 as planned. “We usually open on the first Saturday after Albuquerque Public Schools start their winter break,” said Acting District Ranger Susan Millsap. “However, we’ve had very little snow so far, and the long-range weather forecast is predicting above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation for the coming months.”

The district uses several criteria to make that determination, including:

  • Snow depth of at least 12 inches
  • Temperatures not exceeding 35 degrees in the afternoon
  • Temperatures below freezing at night
  • Verifying that the road to the Capulin Snow Play Area and the parking lot have been cleared

“We are committed to providing the experience our public expects and will continue to monitor the Capulin Snow Play Area to determine when conditions are right to open the area,” said Millsap.

For additional information, contact Bob Heiar at 281-3304 or go to Cibola’s website at:

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