Wednesday, April 7, 2010
It had been at least 25 years since we were last in Idyllwild. A friend of Marie's owns a vacation home on the north end of town, and for $100 a night, she rents the place out to friends and acquaintances (sorry, this deal is not available to the general public). This is what the Europeans call a self-catering lodging with a fully equipped kitchen. Rather than cooking in, we decided to try a couple of restaurants in the Village for dinner and breakfast. More about that later.
There are many alternative routes from Pacific Beach to Idyllwild, but beyond the obvious I-5/SR 56/I-15 combination, Marie's friend recommended quite a scenic, historically interesting drive, beginning from State Route 79 east of Temecula.
First, a few remarks about the newish suburban development just east of I-15: We were amazed at the extent of Mormon influence in this area. For example, there is a Jedediah Smith Road near the Temecula LDS Church that lies just north of the Pechanga Resort & Casino (now, there's an odd juxtaposition)! A bit further east, we crossed Butterfield Stage Road that attests to the area's association with the Butterfield Overland Mail System. In fact, SR 79 from Santa Ysabel to Temecula comprises a link in the Butterfield Stage Line between [Fort] Yuma, AZ and Old Town San Diego.
About 17 miles east of the I-15/SR 79 interchange, we turned left (north) on SR 371 at Aguanga, and continued through Anza. SR 371 is part of the 1774-1776 Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail that extends 1,210 miles from Nogales, AZ to San Francisco. SR 371 passes through the 18,900-acre Cahuilla Indian Reservation, operators of the Cahuilla Casino. Other than the casino and a few other enterprises, much of the reservation land is still rural. We then continued to SR 74 and 243, west into Idyllwild.
The early history of Idyllwild and other hamlets in the immediate vicinity centered on the ponderosa pine forest. Idyllwild started as a lumber town that provided building materials for such 1880s boomtowns as Temecula and Hemet. It later became an artists' colony, anchored by the Idyllwild Arts Academy. Idyllwild has retained its low-key artsy village atmosphere in contrast with larger resort towns oriented to more active recreational pursuits such as skiing and boating.
Our first stop was the Idyllwild Arts Academy, located at 52500 Temecula Road. (See the Wikipedia article about the Idyllwild Arts Foundation, established in 1946). We visited the Max and Beatrice Krone Museum (check with the Library across the hall for hours and a key, if necessary). The exhibition space is small, but full of interesting art by students and faculty alike.
Next, we decided to seek out the house that was to serve as our overnight stay. By the time we settled in, it was lunchtime, so we enjoyed our picnic in the sunny kitchen nook. Note: April is still considered winter in 5,000-foot Idyllwild. This meant turning on the water supply from an external valve, and it was chilly enough to switch on the central heating system. A wood stove was available for even faster heating if needed.
Although the house resembles an Arts and Crafts bungalow, it is in reality a modular home built in 2009. It has most of the up-to-date amenities which made for a comfortable stay.
We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling through the village. Not much had changed except for "The Fort", a large shopping complex located in the center of the village, plus some newer freestanding establishments.
We spoke with Brent Miller, representative of the Idyllwild Business Roundtable (IBRT), while we were wandering through one of the newer developments. He is assisting the town in attracting visitors and finding lease space for businesses. According to an article in the Idyllwild Town Crier weekly newspaper, the IBRT has plans "to increase the visibility of Idyllwild as a tourist spot and destination." He was optimistic that Idyllwild would recover from the Great Recession of 2008-9.
Note that the pine forest in and around town appears to be in relatively good shape, with few dead or dying trees felled by the bark beetle and drought evident. We learned that there is an on-going dead tree removal and replanting program throughout the San Bernardino National Forest. The aims are to reduce the effect of fire and prevent erosion.
Later in the afternoon, we drove up Fern Valley Road to the Devils Slide Trail Head to Tahquitz Rock. Note the late afternoon sun on Tahquitz Rock and the frosted upper slopes of Mt. San Jacinto.
We made reservations for dinner at the Restaurant Gastrognome, recommended highly by our friends we rented from. Although the restaurant's name is a play on "gastronome" and "gnome", the food was seriously good and we would not hesitate to recommend it. We both had pasta dishes that were delicious and in the $15 range.
After this full day, we retired to our abode and played a game of Scrabble® followed by the spooky movie "Newport News" on their DVD setup.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
We arose early and headed into town for breakfast at The Red Kettle, also recommended by our friends. The place was certainly popular with construction workers as evidenced by all the pickup trucks lined up outside. Every table was taken and the staff seemed overwhelmed. It seemed an eternity before we could get our coffee refills. Our hearty breakfasts were OK, though.
We returned to the house to re-winterize the water system because freezing temperatures normally occur through April this high in the mountains. This time, we had to pour antifreeze down the toilets and turn off the external water supply.
Our last point of interest was the Idyllwild Nature Center, operated by the Riverside County Park and Open-Space District. It is located about one mile northwest of Idyllwild at 25255 SR 243. Hours are Tuesday-Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission (2010): $2 adults, children under 12 $1, dogs (must be on a leash) $1.
After exploring the museum, the ranger suggested we walk along the adjacent half-mile-long nature trail. It featured not only native vegetation but a well-preserved acorn grinding site, left by the Cahuilla Native Americans.
If you're in Idyllwild on a weekend (and Fridays in the summer), be sure to visit the Idyllwild Area Historical Society Museum, 54470 North Circle Drive. We were sorry to have missed seeing it on this trip.
We found Idyllwild to be an enjoyable "staycation" getaway within an easy 2.5 hour drive from San Diego. Estimated round trip mileage from Pacific Beach: 250.