"Two Thumbs Down" (Legoland, Jack Creek Falls, and San Juan Falls - January 9, 2016 to January 10, 2016)

Looking across a reflective pool just upstream from San Juan FallsLooking across a reflective pool just upstream from San Juan Falls

9-January 2016 to 10-January 2016: When I got back to the main part of the trail, I was on my way back to the car park when I saw Julie and Tahia in the distance headed towards me. Since they were already pretty close to the falls, I encouraged them to come down and join me while getting the view of the falls from the sanctioned lookout (albeit a sorry view at that). When Tahia finally made it down with minimal help (given the somewhat rocky nature of even the sanctioned trail), Tahia saw the tiny falls and said, "Is that it?"

I guess her sentiments pretty much echoed Julie's sentiments about this dinky waterfall (which I was inclined to give it a 0.5 or a 1 since it was kind of flowing). Tahia even said this waterfall was "two thumbs down," which was kind of her way of saying she disapproved of things (something I'm sure she picked up in pre-school). Heck, it wasn't even a sideways thumb, which she tended to give us from time to time as well.

Julie and I wondered if we should start registering Tahia's thumb ratings or something as part of our waterfall writeups. That way we'd get a toddler or child's perspective, which I'm sure was not very common out in the literature...

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Day 1 (January 9, 2016 - Carlsbad, California): "Legoland Perks"

It was about 5:30am when Julie and I first awoke. I actually had my 4:30am alarm on but given that it was Saturday morning and I had already been getting up at 4:30am each workday morning (as it was our first workweek back from the holidays), I still had to hit the snooze button several times before finally getting up. It actually didn't take much to wake Tahia up from her sleep at around 5:45am as she was genuinely excited about going to Legoland. She knew that this was the day we were going on this short trip for her birthday.

It wasn't until about 6:45am when we finally left the house. It was somewhat dark when we awoke, but it seemed like the day was getting brighter by the minute by the time we pulled out of the driveway and onto the freeway. The car was all loaded up with our luggages and some snacks.

Julie and I shared a small luggage while Tahia had a luggage of her own as we gave her the responsibility to figure out what she needed. Our clothing included some hiking pants and socks as we anticipated doing some waterfalling tomorrow thinking that the saturation rains from earlier in the week might have revived some of the drought-stricken waterfalls in San Diego County. But it was still pretty light packing since we were only spending this night away from home.

We had a lot of stuff to take care of before even getting into Legoland, which we planned to do at their opening time. But since we were staying at the Legoland Hotel, we were also looking forward to taking advantage of their half-hour early admission. Anyways, even before that was to happen, we had to pick up Tahia's birthday cake from this place in Carlsbad.

We allocated some two hours to get there since experience told us that it typically took at least that long to get from Los Angeles to around the San Diego area (though Carlsbad and Oceanside were quite a bit further north of there), but Julie thought her cake place didn't open until 8:30am. So while we were zooming along the I-5, it seemed apparent that we'd wind up in the Carlsbad area before 8am. In fact, we got to a Starbucks in Carlsbad at 7:40am. What would we do with the extra time?

Well, when we finally found the cake place after quite a bit of local driving, it was around 8am. We weren't sure if the place was open, but Julie said she thought she saw someone inside the bakery (in an office space area) already. So we figured we might call them or knock on the door to see if we could grab the cake and pay for it without waiting another 30 minutes.

Lo and behold, we were able to do that, and then we headed right for the Legoland Hotel so we could get our early entrance wristband as well as leaving the custom cake in the refrigerator at the hotel kitchen. Eventually at 8:35am, we made it to the reception area of the Legoland Hotel, then we managed to get our bags checked in some storage area (since check-in wasn't until 4pm), and then we got the wristband while we had nearly another hour to kill before the park would let us in.

Fortunately, the hotel reception area had a bunch of lego play pens, including one that looked like part castle and part pirate ship. Tahia was having fun running around there while also trying to interact with the other kids. I sure hope she doesn't lose that tendency to want to socialize.

When it got to around 9:20am, we decided to wait at the general area thinking they'd let the hotel guests come in, but when 9:30am passed, we started to wonder why they didn't let us in yet. Then, with a little asking around, we were finally pointed to a side entrance near the Sea Life Aquarium. It was kind of an obscure entrance, and it wasn't terribly obvious that we were supposed to go there from the hotel.

Nevertheless, it was 9:40am when we got in, and we could see right away that they fenced off some of the main parts of the park. So it seemed immediately clear that even with the early entrance, it only applied to certain parts of the park (mainly the southwest part of the park).

Anyways, under the beautiful morning weather that was mostly sunny, we wound up going on the Coastersaurus, then on a Mia's Riding School merry-go-round, and then on the Kid Power Tower before they finally opened up the rest of the park. Then, we spent time doing the driving school, the swinging and turning pirate ship, the Joust Tournament (a really disorienting ride if you do the Level 3 one), and then finally the Green Dragon, the Techno car ride (the one ride Tahia couldn't go on as she was about an inch too short), the Dune Raiders slide, the bouncing chair, and even the target-practice Egyptian ride. And we managed to do all this before it was 12pm!

I guess the early admission (especially on a Saturday) definitely had its perks.

My brother and family were finally pulling up to the Legoland Hotel at 11:45am (just as we were about to but didn't order some barbeque lunch inside the park) so we decided to take a break from all the rides, get our hands stamped, then go to the hotel to meet up with them. Tahia looked forward to seeing cousin Joshua and cousin Sophia.

Once we met up with them, we took our time and had a lunch at the Skyline Cafe inside the Legoland Hotel. The food was decent, and it turned out that Jina brought a tasty chocolate birthday cake for Joshua's birthday since his was just a few days before Tahia's. By the end of lunch, we were quite stuffed with all the food and the sweets. We needed to work off some of these calories back at the park.

So we promptly returned to the park (now the sunny weather gave way to some cloudy weather with even a few sprinkles) and this time we did things like the merry-go-round again as well as the driving school again. Unfortunately, we couldn't get Tahia and Joshua to pass as 6-year-olds so they couldn't do the larger and more fun driving track than the 3-5 year-old one. Oh well, we tried. I guess the employees knew to ask the kids their age since more often than not, they wouldn't lie about their age.

After doing a repeat of the Kid Power Towers as well as some Sky Patrol ride, we then checked out some interesting fun house in Fun Town before spending time waiting to drive a boat through a course. That ride had the longest wait of all the rides we did, and it was probably because that boat gave us the freedom to drive around the course without rails restricting our motion (other than the side rails to keep us on course). However, it was possible to T-bone and get stuck given this degree of freedom.

By the time we were done with the boat ride, that was when our families parted ways as Julie wanted us to go through Mini-Land to get to the boat cruise ride while my brother's family wanted to play some carnival games as well as going on some roller coasters.

The stroll through Mini-Land was interesting because there was some kind of Star Wars gallery that was very detailed. There were lots of scenes recreated from the famous movies from Episodes 1-6. And the impressive thing was that they were all done with Lego bricks.

After doing the boat cruise, where we kind of went on a mini-world tour of famous sites around the world built up of Lego bricks, we then got to the Sea Life Aquarium at 4pm. At first, Tahia wasn't keen on doing this aquarium since we were essentially skipping out on her nap, but once we were in there, she changed her tune when she got to go on some slides, then explore some of the small mazes and checking out some of the big aquarium displays, especialy the one featuring sharks and sting rays. She even got to touch some of the marine life in the touch display.

So by the end of it, we were back in the hotel some time after 5pm. Our birthday dinner reservations at this place called the West Farm wasn't until 6:45pm so we had some time to kill. When we finally checked into our hotel room, we could immediately see that our Medieval-themed room was very thoughtfully designed. Tahia was beside herself as she was in the "Ye Olde Adults Keep Out" area, enjoying herself at the bunk bed while also playing with loose Lego pieces.

Meanwhile, I was dead tired and managed to get a half-hour nap while the Steelers and Bengals Wild Card game was on.

Eventually at 6:45pm, we got to the West Farm, where we saw my parents, who weren't spending the night here, but they did play a round of golf somewhere in Camp Pendleton. So they, too, had a long day. And eventually, my brother's family showed up (apparently it was raining when they showed up), and from there we had ourselves a pleasant dinner. My brother even brought some virtual-reality helmet for us to check out while we were waiting for our food.

Well, the dinner was pretty good (albeit a bit pricey), and we even celebrated a little cake ceremony. The staff (and some of the other guests) really loved Tahia's outfit (which I think was supposed to be Cinderella as opposed to Elsa).

My brother and I also managed to catch the very end of the Bengals and Steelers game where we watched the Bengals lose it on a pair of penalties. That was real entertaining though I'm sure it must be gut-wrenching for Bengal hopefuls.

Anyways, the night was over as we were back in the hotel at 9:15pm. But before we finished showering, brushing, and sleeping, we managed to solve the little riddle of the combo locks (by counting things in the hotel reception and dining areas), and not surprisingly, there were little Lego sets to take home.

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Day 2 (January 10, 2016 - Los Angeles, California): "Insufficient Storm Power"

It was about 7:30am when we awoke. And this was even with me sleeping in to try to make up for the previous six days of 4:30am wake-ups. We quickly got ready and headed to the included breakfast buffet at 8am. It was already a busy scene down there as I'm sure quite a few families wanted to take advantage of the early entry into the park at 9:30am.

The brekkie buffet was actually a pretty decent helping of both healthy and unhealthy fare. It almost seemed like the kids station had more of the healthy stuff like fresh fruits (though the waffles covered in powdered sugar was probably not so healthy). The adults had an omelette station, some French Toast, bagels, smoked salmon, standard buffet things like mushrooms, hash browns, etc. Plus, there was even a smoothie bar consisting of mango smoothies and mixed berry smoothies.

While we were doing that delicate balancing act of trying to control portions while all this included (in our room rate) food was available, there was someone dressed up in a jester outfit accompanied by a lady in a princess outfit handing out shaped balloons. It seemed like the sword-shaped balloons were really popular, and that was what Tahia wanted as soon as they finally made it to our little corner.

Eventually at around 9am or so, we were done with brekkie and we were about ready to check out. But before doing that, we stopped by my brothers' family's room just to say hi to them since we missed them from brekkie. Tahia did some selfless acts of giving away some of the balloons that she acquired, which was really sweet of her. They were planning on doing the early entry into Legoland, but given that they were going to brekkie late, they were probably gonna have their play time at the park during the general admission.

And as we were rolling our luggages towards the reception to check out, we had ourselves one last go at the disco elevators as well as the whoopie pad at the corner of the room by the elevators. One British guest was like, "I'm gonna miss this lift."

Anyways, at 10am, we left the Legoland Hotel and promptly drive east on the Hwy 76 towards Escondido. Seeing that the nearest waterfall to Legoland was Jack Creek Falls, that was what we were targeting. And so the drive was pretty uneventful as we'd eventually get to the Dixon Lake car park at 10:35am. We had to pay $5 to get in there, where the car park was certainly emptier and less busier than the really packed car park fronting both the gate to Dixon Lake as well as the Daley Ranch. I guess those folks did the smart thing and avoided paying the $5 fee.

Well, after parking the car, Tahia immediately saw there was a playground. And while we were busy getting ready for a hike, Tahia was busy having fun and even making friends or at least chatting it up with passer-bys engaging in some conversations with her.

Next, we followed a sign saying something about a 2.4-mile Grand Loop Trail. From looking at that sign, it seemed like we were in for a short hike, but the trail seemed kind of ill-defined compared to the more obvious roads and paths leading further down the slopes to our left towards another picnic and lawn area.

Eventually, we'd get to a part where the trail descended to our left beyond the lawn area and hugged a little bit of a small cliff overlooking what appeared to be where Jack Creek was supposed to flow. It was just past some kind of big stack of boulders with a numeric signpost next to it.

Unfortunately, Jack Creek didn't look like it was flowing and so I guess our hopes that the saturation rains from this week might have revived this creek didn't do so on our visit. That was a shame. But I guess it was gonna take more than a half-week's worth of heavy rains to undo four years of drought.

So Julie and Tahia decided to go back to the car park area so Tahia could play a little more on the tiny playground there. Meanwhile, I'd continue along the trail (with a partial view of Dixon Lake, which I'm guessing was man-made) until it descended towards a bridge over what was supposed to be Jack Creek. On the downstream side, there were lots of reeds, and perhaps that was the wetlands where Jack Creek was supposed to feed the lake.

On the far side of the footbridge, there was a trail hugging the far bank of Jack Creek where a few numeric signposts assured me that I was on a sanctioned trail. Eventually as I got between the numeric posts 8 and 9, I could see that there were some faint trails scrambling through the dead-falls and boulders as well as a few stagnant pools towards the base of Jack Creek Falls (or the jumble of boulders that was supposed to be where the falls were). Actually, there was a trickle of water mostly hidden from the creek itself as it appeared most of the water was beneath much of the boulders.

So I guess this waterfall wasn't completely dry, but it wasn't photographable (save for the boulders). So with that, I made the climb back out of the creek, then back up to the trail. When I saw that it appeared that there was some kind of open area at the top of the slope, I decided to cut right up to the top and ditch the trail. And once I got up to the top, I saw that I was in a field (probably a soccer field or something) with picnic tables and the familiar car park on the far side.

So in the end, I guess this "hike" technically wasn't really much of a hike at all. And by 11:20am, I was back at the car. I definitely felt like it was hardly worth the $5 we had spent to be here.

Nevertheless, once again, as I was loading up the car, it seemed like Tahia was engaging in more banter with some adult passer-bys. I told Julie that I really hope she wouldn't lose this tendency to socialize as it's a good trait to have. But at the same time, we also had to be wary of child predators since it seemed to be quite the problem these days.

So after our brief visit to the Dixon Lake Recreation Area, we then briefly drove over to a different view of Dixon Lake (on some pretty beat up roads) before we then left and headed up the I-15 towards Lake Elsinore. I figured since it was also on the way home, we mind as well give the Ortega Highway a shot and check out San Juan Falls, which was one waterfall that neither Julie nor I had visited before even though we had been on this highway numerous times before to see Ortega Falls and even Tenaja Falls further south of Lake Elsinore.

It wasn't until about 12:40pm when we made a brief stop for the familiar pullout for Ortega Falls. As we got out of the car (still full of cars), we could clearly see that Ortega Falls itself wasn't flowing from where we were standing. So that was a foreshadowing of the conditions of San Juan Falls that we had targeted on seeing this day.

At 12:45pm, we finally made it to the San Juan Trailhead, which was right across the Hwy 74 from the Ortega Oaks Candy Store. Actually, the San Juan Trailhead car park was quite busy itself meaning there must've been a lot of people on the trail.

Hwy 74 itself was quite noisy though as it was full of traffic (especially motorcycle traffic), but we intended this to be a short visit to the San Juan Falls (mostly to bag another waterfall we hadn't done before). So far, when it came to local waterfalls that we hadn't done before, it seemed like we were on a drought-induced losing streak as each of the last few waterfalls (Seven Falls and Jack Creek Falls) were either dry or trickling. And we kind of knew going in that San Juan Falls would probably be a fail as well.

This was also a major reason why we hadn't actively sought out any waterfalls in San Diego County, Ventura County, nor Santa Barbara county recently.

Well, nonetheless, we were here, and we promptly got on the trail. I was actually going it alone on this hike while Julie and Tahia were going to check out the Ortega Oaks Candy Store while I was away. The hike itself was pretty straightforward as I went past the trailhead sign and then followed the obvious trail in a slightly uphill direction kind in view of the noisy Hwy 74 down below.

Then the rocky trail rounded a bend where I then saw the little ravine that must've contained the San Juan Falls. There were actually people down there already, but it looked like those folks were looking for the waterfall itself. So I figured that the trail probably made it to the top of the falls, and it would probably require a bit of risk to reach a decent frontal view of the falls itself.

When I got to the spur trail junction, there was a fence up here looking down at the really tiny waterfall (or what I was able to see of it through the cliff-hugging brush in the way). I saw the picture in Ann Marie Brown's book so I roughly had an idea of where I needed to be to take a photo. And it turned out that there was a trail of use behind the fence that led to a ledge where there also appeared to be some climbing bolts.

Well, I wasn't going to get anywhere closer to the edge of this sheer cliff looking down at San Juan Falls (which by the way was definitely flowing though its stream was quite narrow and borderline trickling) so I got my shots, then headed back to the sanctioned part again.

Then, I followed some folks down the trail leading to the creek bed, where I then headed to the waterfall's brink in search of a way to scramble even lower for a frontal view of the tiny falls. In the back of my mind, I was thinking that it probably wasn't worth the effort, but I figured I mind as well get the full experience here since I wasn't counting on coming back here.

It was a bit dicey to get down to the base of the most visible tier of San Juan Falls mostly because the rocks were slippery. But I managed to get down and in front of that visible tier, but then I saw that there appeared to be another tier immediately below. That lower tier was a bit harder to see let alone get in front of, and it seemed like the stream itself was less visible over that little drop as opposed to the upper drop that I was already at the base of.

So I got my movies and shots while also noticing the sheer verticle cliff right above me. I guess I could see why there were climbing bolts at the top of this cliff because it was probably a worthwhile climbing challenge or even a rappeling or abseiling challenge given the sheer verticality of this cliff.

When I got back to the main part of the trail, I was on my way back to the car park when I saw Julie and Tahia in the distance headed towards me. Since they were already pretty close to the falls, I encouraged them to come down and join me while getting the view of the falls from the sanctioned lookout (albeit a sorry view at that). When Tahia finally made it down with minimal help (given the somewhat rocky nature of even the sanctioned trail), Tahia saw the tiny falls and said, "Is that it?"

I guess her sentiments pretty much echoed Julie's sentiments about this dinky waterfall (which I was inclined to give it a 0.5 or a 1 since it was kind of flowing). Tahia even said this waterfall was "two thumbs down," which was kind of her way of saying she disapproved of things (something I'm sure she picked up in pre-school). Heck, it wasn't even a sideways thumb, which she tended to give us from time to time as well.

Julie and I wondered if we should start registering Tahia's thumb ratings or something as part of our waterfall writeups. That way we'd get a toddler or child's perspective, which I'm sure was not very common out in the literature...

At 1:50pm, we were finally back at the trailhead. At that point, we still hadn't had lunch yet so we decided that since we were going to pass through Irvine on the way back home, we mind as well check out Houston's, which was our favorite chain restaurant (and chain restaurants were something we normally don't do). Maybe they might do something special for Tahia's birthday.

Well, we finally got to the restaurant at 2:50pm and even at this hour, there was still a little bit of a wait. That was kind of surprising, but at least in the end, we'd have our little birthday lunch or lunner. But they didn't do anything for her birthday so it was just a normal (albeit celebratory) lunch. We then stopped by this massive Whole Foods at 4:15pm on Jamboree thinking we might get some grocery shopping before finally getting home. But Julie saw that the selection was pretty much limited as most of the shelves were pretty much sold out of the stuff she cared about.

Another reinforcement of a lesson learned - never go grocery shopping late on Sunday!

We'd eventually get home at almost 6pm. By that time, we were finally able to get unpacked and then get ready for the workweek. But I guess in terms of maximizing our weekend, we definitely filled it up as much as we could. It was almost a throwback to the days when Julie and I would routinely take long weekend trips to places like Yosemite and Southern Utah.

Yet even as we're getting older and less energetic to do these kind of seize-the-moment weekend trips, there's a part of me that still thinks we ought to get back to it seeing that there are no guarantees in life, and that Tahia's growing up fast.

So we'll see what life throws at us and what opportunities arise for our next waterfalling excursions...

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