Friday, May 29, 2015

EXCLUSIVE: Pat Simmons Jr., Son of a Rock & Roll Legend, Is Not Your Typical Show Biz Kid

Pat Simmons, Jr.  and his trusty ukelele
You know what some people say about the children of celebrities: They're spoiled. Ungrateful. Lazy. Offspring of the rich and famous, especially rock stars, are selfish and clueless, right? Steely Dan's Donald Fagen once noted that show biz kids "Don't give a f**k about anybody else."

But absolutely none of that applies to Pat Simmons Jr. (left), with whom I recently enjoyed a very interesting and enlightening talk. 

Simmons, 24, is one of the more chill, positive and grateful spirits I've encountered. A respected ecologist, social activist and organic farmer, Pat is a smart, good-natured, mellow soul who works with children and is a cancer survivor. And he just happens to be the son of a rock music legend. 

If you've been anywhere near a radio in the past 43 years, you know that Pat's dad, Patrick Simmons, a founding member of the Doobie Brothers, is a bonafide rock star and gifted singer-songwriter who penned such classics as Black Water, South City Midnight Lady, Dependin' On You, Echoes of Love, One Step Closer and more. The Doobies have sold more than 40 million records and won four Grammy Awards.

Pat Jr., who moved with his family from the Redwood country of Northern California to the North Shore of Maui when he was six, has traveled in a bus with his dad on Doobie Brothers tours just about every year of his young life. Why? Because dad wanted his kid to come along. And the kid loved every minute of it.

"I learned how to walk on a tour bus," says Pat, who's the opening act on the Doobies' current national tour, which stops at Humphrey's in San Diego on Wednesday night (June 3). "I was raised on a tour bus, and from hotel to hotel," Pat says. "Every single summer of my life."  

But when Pat steps off that magic bus, his life couldn't be any more different. Earning a degree in Ecology from Evergreen State College in 2012, Pat is now an outspoken and respected environmental activist in Hawaii. 

Pat Simmons Jr. at charity benefit
He cares deeply about the natural world and saving his beautiful island paradise from menacing chemical companies like Monsanto and other corporate invaders. A courageous survivor of testicular cancer, Pat, who's now cancer-free, is fighting to stop the proliferation of Genetically Modified Food (GMO) in Hawaii. 

Sadly, he says, the state and local governments of Hawaii are not as opposed to the idea as they could and should be.

Pat also staunchly supports the current fight by Hawaii's indigenous people to halt the construction of the largest telescope in the world atop Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the big island of Hawaii that at 14,000 feet is the highest point in all of the Islands.

There are already more than a dozen telescopes on Mauna Kea, but the site of the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope is a sacred place where Hawaiians have gone to pray and meditate for centuries. Astronomers say this is the most ideal spot in the entire world for a telescope to study the moon, the planets and the stars. But Pat says enough is enough.

"I'm absolutely opposed to it. Building this telescope on this spot would be a breach of spiritual protocol," Pat says. "The Hawaiian people go there to pray. Hawaii came from the volcano, it is a very sacred place for them. Building this enormous telescope, many here say, would be the ultimate desecration."

Some scientists actually respect what Pat and others are saying. Adam Burgasser, an astronomer from the University of California San Diego who has lived in Hawaii, recently told the San Diego Union-Tribune, "The astronomer in me wants to see it built, but I also recognize that this is sacred land. Consider the outcry if we built the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Dome of the Rock or the Sistine Chapel."

A Career in Music?

Not surprisingly, protecting the earth isn't the only thing for which the young Simmons has passion. He loves to sing, has a natural ability to tell poignant stories that connect with people, and he plays a bunch of musical instruments, including acoustic guitar, metal and wooden flutes, harmonica, djembe, drums, didgeridoo, mandolin, banjo, dobro and thumb piano, and ukelele, which is the first instrument he learned

Pat Simmons. Jr. (left), Elvis Costello, & Patrick Simmons
And the father could not be more proud of the son. 

"Pat's music and his activism go hand in hand," says Patrick Simmons, the elder (left). "The things he sings about are the things he is passionate about. I've watched him grow as a musician, and a songwriter, and I can honestly say I'm very proud of his accomplishments."

Simmons, the father, continues, "Naturally I'm happy to see him evolve in his attachment to music, but I never forced him to make this choice. Rather it was a natural inclination on his own part, and I support him 100 percent, if he wants to explore a musical path. Wherever it leads him will be a place of discovery and growth. As far as I'm concerned that's what we're all here to do. There's nothing better than sharing music with my son. Something I love, with someone I love. It's the best!" 

Pat the son is taking the musical side of his life a little more seriously these days. He writes beautiful, earnest songs, mostly about the land he loves. His songwriting influences include everyone from Jack Johnson to Cat Stevens, and there's a strong reggae vibe in much of what he does. His greatest musical inspiration he says is Bob Marley. His music also has touches of folk, blues and the classic rock for which his dad is known. 

Pat has been immersed in music all his life. He's been given the rare opportunity to open for and jam and share the stage with such artists as Jack Johnson, The Wailers, Boz Scaggs, Chicago, Willie Nelson, Dave Mason, Buddy Guy, The Turtles, Little Feat, Kenny Loggins, Los Lobos, War, Tower of Power and Xavier Rudd.

Growing up and playing in a band with Willie Nelson's two sons, his Maui neighbors, Pat says they all felt some pressure to be successful in the music biz because of their parents. But they let go of that soon enough. Hawaii just has a way of chilling you out.

"I just stay present in the moment now," he says. "Life is so short. I find happiness in just being a human on this earth, taking care of the land and each other and sending good messages."

But he does plan to record an album. And he loves playing for people. Usually barefoot. And like just about everything in his life, Pat says, the music gigs happened organically. When he opens for the Doobies now, he performs six or seven songs. He's clearly gaining more confidence in his vocals and honing his performance chops. He loves telling stories about the songs he sings, and his sincere but laid-back stage persona instantly appeals to audiences. 

"I invite my dad up on the last song," Pat explains. "We do 'Ventura Highway' [by America] a lot, and people love it. We did a Maui show last autumn with [former Doobie Brother] Michael McDonald, it was a benefit show for the Pacific Cancer Foundation in Maui. Michael did 'How Long,' the Ace song."

Despite the fact that the music business is often very corrupt, Pat says, making music is a great way to make a living. "I just want to do it honestly," he says. "The music industry is crazy and not conducive to my healthy lifestyle. I'm doing it so I can spread positive messages. Maui is a big deal to me, and I am honored to be able to use music as a vehicle for change in the world. Each song I write is a true story about my life. I'm glad that people enjoy it."

Fellow Cancer Warriors

Pat and I talked for quite a while about what it means to be a cancer survivor. He doesn't take anything for granted anymore. Like me, he endured chemotherapy and is just very happy to be alive. And we also agree that emotions definitely affect your immune system, both positively and negatively.

"I don’t know what the cancer is from," he said. "I was in a serious depression for a while, and I never was depressed.  I went through that first breakup. I was never a sad person, I am really stoked most of the time. But I was stuck in that sadness for month or two."

Pat started chemo in the autumn of 2013 and completed it in January 2014. He's been cancer free ever since. "I feel good," he says. "And I am really conscious of what I put in my body. I've had a lot of good mentors in my life, people who have taught me about plant medicine. I have a Chinese herbalist. And I keep my physical body in shape with hiking and surfing." 

Pat seems to have an old soul but a youthful heart. He knows how lucky he is to have seen so much of the world at a young age. The real key to Pat's success, I believe, is his natural talent and appeal, of course, combined with the fact that he clearly has such good parents. He is loved, and his dad is a demonstrably positive force in his life. 

Being a rock star is often antithetical to being a good parent. 
But Pat's parents did a great job. Pat's mom, Cristine Sommer-Simmons, is a globally respected motorcycle enthusiast and journalist. "My mom and dad met in 1989," Pat says. "She started the magazine Harley Women. She went to cover a Doobies concert during the big motorcycle event in Sturgis."

Enjoying the Ride

Pat is clearly enjoying the ride. He recently sent out this endearing message to his growing number of fans:

"Giving thanks for the land of my ancestors welcoming me and guiding my journey along the way, it's been a wonderful opportunity to share the message of Aloha 'Āina with the south east of America, may the sacred waters of this land flow clean & clear with love, may the forests & creatures of this land be in peace. mahalo nui especially to my dad & the Doobie family for supporting my work. I'll be back out in June for the west coast tour! See you then! Bless all the mothers out there! Especially our great grandmother Earth, she has given us so much. Mahalo ke akua, aloha, a hui hou, mālama pono."

He says he's looking forward to his upcoming gig at Humphrey's, the marina-side San Diego resort and outdoor concert venue where he'll be jamming with his old man Wednesday night. 

"My dad's band plays there every single summer," Pat says. "I have great memories of the place, especially the swimming pool. It's where I learned how to swim."

Friday, May 22, 2015

Now THIS Is Reality: Exclusive Interview With Iraq War Hero, Reality TV Star

Iraq War veteran Dave Bronson and his wife, Cara Bronson
Army veteran Dave Bronson never dreamed he’d become a reality TV star. But his story is easily as compelling, and certainly more heroic, than that of Honey Boo Boo or The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

Ten years ago, while fighting in Iraq, Bronson lost his left leg and nearly lost his life when an improvised explosive device (IED) went off near his HUMVEE. A devoted husband and stay-at-home dad, Bronson co-founded Veterans Amputee Golf Association (VAGA), a charity that helps veterans with amputated limbs and those coping with Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD).

But he has struggled with the physical issues that accompany losing a limb, and with the less visible but equally debilitating emotional symptoms of PTSD. Finding work has been difficult because of his condition. Cara works night shifts as a nurse.

But Dave and Cara’s fortunes recently changed in dramatic fashion. They’re the first couple to be featured in The Briefcase, an intense new CBS reality series that debuts on Wednesday (May 27). On the show, two families are given a briefcase with $101,000, and each family is asked to decide whether to keep the money or help another family who is struggling as badly or worse.

However, what the families don’t know is that the family with whom they are considering sharing this financial windfall have received an identical briefcase with the very same instructions. The choice gets more difficult over the course of 72 hours as the families are given more information about each other. 

To read this entire story, including Dave's exclusive interview in which he talks about about being on the show, and his days in combat, just please click on this Flagship Financial news blog page ....

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

San Diego's New Football Stadium Proposal Is A Fine, Workable Plan - That's Precisely Why San Diegans Will Likely Reject It

An artist's vision of the proposed new stadium for the San Diego Chargers
The shiny, happy $1.1 billion dollar San Diego football stadium proposed this week by the nine-member advisory group appointed by Mayor Kevin Faulconer is a damn good plan. It's an intelligently crafted plan, a surprisingly fair plan. It works. That's precisely why it will surely be rejected by San Diego's own nattering nabobs of negativism (hey, you don't have to like Spiro Agnew to steal his best line). 

“We developed a financing plan that would actually succeed in this unique San Diego environment, ensuring that it is fair for the Chargers and other tenants, fair for the city and county, and fair for taxpayers,” Adam Day, chairman of the Citizens Stadium Advisory Group (CSAG), said on Monday as he introduced the details of the proposal at a much-anticipated press conference.

Adam's right. There are no tax increases in this proposal or increases to the city's general fund. And it doesn't rely on development to pay for it. Yes, there is a serious drought here and that will demand extra money from taxpayers to provide more water. But this city is in much better financial shape than it was just a few short years ago. 

We can very easily do this, people. But will we? The task force notes that because no new taxes would be imposed, a two-thirds vote of the public would not be required. But Faulconer has said that he will call for a vote (all we need is 50 percent) anyway because he wants to let San Diego voters make the final decision.

Big mistake, Kevin. I know, I know, it's morally repugnant and un-American of me to say that voters should not be given the option. But they shouldn't, 'cuz, well, they don't know what's good for them. I'm only half kidding.

For those of you who love the San Diego Opera (but never go) and adore our public libraries (but never go), but you think football is icky and that this new stadium is an extravagant, meaningless expense that will result in schools closing, rec' centers being boarded up, skies falling and people panicking in the streets, please get a grip.

This stadium plan does not represent a crippling public burden. The public money component? It's $7 million a year from San Diego (city) and the same amount from San Diego County 
to pay for $121 million from each in bonds over 30 years. 

The San Diego C
ity Council approves stuff like this regularly without a public vote and without any calamities. Let it work. Let it happen. It will be painless for you, and it will make many, many people very, very happy.

The rest of the money for the stadium would come from the Chargers ($300 million), the sale to a developer of 75 acres at the Mission Valley site, the current home of Qualcomm Stadium ($225 million), the National Football League ($200 million), bondable construction capital from the team’s rent ($173 million), and personal-seat licenses (PSL) and ticket and parking surcharges (more than $100 million). 

Yep, it's all very workable. This is realistic, despite what you will undoubtedly hear from the Charger brass. This proposal just makes far too much sense to work in this city.

Memo to the Spanos Family: Accept This Plan, and Enjoy Your Life

Not only will the San Diego citizenry inevitably make false and absurd assumptions about this proposal and probably vote against it, the Chargers' owners, too, will undoubtedly find something in it about which to whine and complain.  

The Chargers wanted to build the new stadium downtown, not in Mission Valley, for example. And they wanted to spend $200 million, not $300 million. You get the idea.

But I have some very friendly advice for you, Spanos family: Just zip your lips and accept it. Fork over the $300 million, then sit back and enjoy the rest of your lives in America's Finest City, where you will be hailed as heroes.

Embrace it, Dean Spanos. This is your last chance to remain ensconced in the most beautiful big city in the country, a city that has been so very good to the Chargers for the last 54 years. This is your golden 11th-hour opportunity to repair the crumbling goodwill between you and the people of San Diego.

If you sabotage this thing, if you say this plan is unworkable, which it isn't, and you end up bolting to Carson or Inglewood, you will become the Art Modell of the West Coast. Modell, of course, was the longtime owner of the NFL's Cleveland Browns who, despite enjoying support from the public and pols in Cleveland for a new stadium, bailed on that very loyal city and its hapless sports fans and took his team to Baltimore and renamed it the Ravens.

An appropriate new name, The Ravens, since Modell was for ever more treated by Clevelanders as if he were an evil figure in an Edgar Allen Poe novel. He could not set foot in Cleveland without fearing for his life. He was to that city what Salman Rushdie is to Mecca. 

Dean Spanos will be in the same sinking boat if he muddies this fresh deal. San Diego will forgive all if he accepts this proposal, or even if he negotiates it hard but in good faith. The football is now in your hands, Dean. You gave up the daily grind of team ownership to your kids this past week. But you're still the man. You can now throw the game-winning touchdown pass, or punt.

Modern Sports is Culture

Here's the thing that many of my beloved intellectual and artsy San Diego friends will never fully appreciate: In America in the 21st century, sports is culture. It is an integral and profound part of a large American city's image, ethos and lifestyle. And it is uniquely uniting.

There are very few things that bring disparate and typically unfamiliar elements of a big city population together more effectively than a professional or college sports team, especially when that team is winning. 

It's no small thing. Sports are fun, and they create a camaraderie and a good vibe in a city that few other things can. I'm not a big fan of subsidizing billionaire sports owners, either. But I am big on sports and what they can do for a city. And this new stadium is the only thing that will keep this team here. A team that has been a huge part of San Diego for 54 years and a big part of my life for the past 31 years.

I can tell you that in my section at Qualcomm Stadium, where I had season tickets for many years, there were people of all races, religions, political parties and ages, and we were all one voice. We all got along great. Why? Because we had a common bond: the team on that field.

From what I've seen of the new stadium plan, this beautiful open-air stadium and the surrounding development will be something San Diegans will point to with pride for the next 50-plus years. It will be a beacon in the center of Mission Valley that will also enhance the nearby San Diego River, which for so long has been neglected.

And it won't break anyone's bank. Not the city. Not the taxpayers. Not the Chargers. Not the NFL. And not the fans, though a chunk of the burden does fall on future fans with a spike in tickets and parking. 

These planners even saved room for tailgating, which is a hugely popular tradition here. I was frankly stunned at how smartly this thing was crafted, given the fact that it was created in such a short time frame and in large part by a bureaucrats and Faulconer cronies. 

To their credit, they came up with an almost-brilliant framework. It'll be debated, challenged and changed, for sure, but it works. 

San Diego's Nattering Nabobs 

Despite all the positives, though, there will always be San Diegans who will find a reason to say no to anything to do with spending public money on sports. San Diego is the eighth largest city in the nation, and we like to think of our city as a hip, vital, contemporary metropolis with a thriving inner city. 
To some degree, that is true. Just look at the Gaslamp District, which is booming. Or Little Italy. Or Bankers' Hill. 

But San Diego can still at times feel like a small, provincial, reactionary, visionless burg. It's a minor miracle that Petco Park was built downtown. But that was a perfect storm. Give credit to Larry Lucchino's genius, and the timing of the World Series, and the fact that Downtown's East Village was a dump. 

The baseball stadium has obviously been an enormous success downtown. The new football stadium in Mission Valley will be, too. And if we build it, they will come. San Diegans, that is. It's up to Chargers ownership, first, then the San Diego electorate. I'm depending on you. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Borrego's La Casa del Zorro: America's Greatest Getaway

A traffic jam on Palm Canyon Drive in Borrego Springs
When you hear the words Palm Canyon Drive, you probably think of the main drag in Palm Springs, where you're likely to get a strong whiff of Polo cologne and see balding, middle-aged men cruising in convertible Lamborghini's and leather-skinned, Gucci-loving, poodle-clutching shoppers who've had a few too many plastic surgeries. 

But there's another Palm Canyon Drive in another Southern California desert community that has an altogether different vibe. The Palm Canyon Drive I'm talking about, which is known for its down-to-earth, art-loving locals and fun, hole-in-the-wall eateries and shops, is the main street in Borrego Springs, a charming little town happily isolated within the 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Just 90 minutes from San Diego, and refreshingly worlds away from Palm Springs, Borrego Springs, or Borrego as I prefer to call it, is a quiet, scenic, visitor-friendly desert gem with no pretense and no stoplights. It is what Palm Springs probably was 60 years ago. But I doubt Palm Springs was ever this peaceful.

Borrego has been a favorite destination of mine for more than 25 years, and the jewel in its crown remains La Casa del Zorro ("House of the fox"), an extraordinary desert respite that is the closest thing to paradise for those among us who crave rustic American elegance. Can a resort hotel really be this classy and upscale and yet stay utterly grounded and unpretentious? La Casa somehow pulls it off. It represents that rarest of things: unassuming luxury. 

Built in the 1930s, the sun-drenched retreat boasts impeccably landscaped grounds, an impressively knowledgeable and ever-pleasant staff, and tons of things to do when you're not blissfully floating on a pool raft while trying (but not trying too hard) to remember your own middle name.

As many of my readers know, we're a tennis family, and La Casa has an outstanding tennis facility with six lighted, pristine courts. A pro is available if you want a lesson. 
There are also jogging paths, a fitness center, a yoga studio, shuffleboard, ping pong, horseshoes, a full-service spa, a terrific gourmet restaurant as well as a more casual bar and restaurant, and the championship Rams Hill Golf Course next door.

A quieter and more romantic alternative to the corporate, cookie-cutter resort hotel haunts in Palm Springs, La Casa is the perfect blend of earthy and luxurious. For my money, it is America's Greatest Getaway. No other place gives me a greater sense of tranquility. Nowhere do I feel more comfortably distanced from the maddening crowds.

These days, I'm not as interested in exploring the world's four corners. I'm all about getaways that aren't too far away. As a cancer survivor I've had my share of life-altering battles. Long-distance travel is more stress and trouble than it's worth. For me, now, it's about enjoying every minute. And the closer to home the better, as long as we don't feel close to home. 

I love to find relatively nearby places with my family where we can recharge and regroup, places that feed our soul and mind and relax us but still satisfy our curious natures. Don't get me wrong: I'm still a working journalist and author and I love my work. I'll probably never retire. But I do like to take a little more time now between assignments. 

I enjoy the four-day weekends and three-day work weeks, if and whenever possible. I suspect you do, too, or you probably wouldn't still be reading this. And the place to enjoy them is La Casa. It's my first choice when I want to turn off my smartphone and my semi-smart brain. As they said in those 1970's Alka-Seltzer commercials, "Try it, you'll like it!"  

To fully appreciate the La Casa experience, book yourself into one of the casitas, the spacious private homes with their own pool. These are truly homes away from home, with wood-burning fireplaces, service bars, and total privacy. The Casitas' interiors have been upgraded since we last stayed there. They're beautifully furnished now but still offer classic Southwest desert decor.

Welcome Back, La Casa! 

La Casa del Zorro's welcoming lobby awaits you
Unbelievably, La Casa shut its glorious carved-wood doors back in 2010 after it was sold a few years prior to that by longtime owner David Copley, whose family owned Copley Press, including the San Diego Union-Tribune. The new owner, Greg Perlman, rolled into Borrego like a villain in a Clint Eastwood flick, showing up with an oversized ego and all the grace and finesse of a bighorn sheep with a big thorn stuck in his paw. 

Multiple sources tell me that Perlman tried to single-handedly turn Borrego into another Palm Springs. Yikes. And while doing so he had very little regard, I'm told, for the natural charm of the resort or the innate value of the town's wonderful residents. He almost destroyed the place. 

The hotel was shuttered for three years and no one was certain if it would ever reopen. It was a huge blow to the Borrego economy and spirit, needless to say, and a huge loss for so many who love to visit the resort.

But La Casa has new ownership and management, and this time they're doing it right. The new proprietors have upgraded but not detracted. And they've smartly embraced the locals. This is still a resort that caters to tourists from all over the world, but now the hotel is also a proud part of the community. 

Borrego's own, who include about 25,000 seasonal residents and some 3,500 who stick it out even during the blisteringly hot summer months, can use the fitness and tennis facilities now, enjoy the restaurants, etc. 

Rediscover Your Love For Nature 

Unless you're Woody Allen or you're allergic to sunlight, you can't spend your entire La Casa stay in your air-conditioned casita, as tempting as this can sometimes be. Why? Because you love nature. Yes, you do, really. And there's a reason why Borrego is best known for its hiking and scenic desert tours. 

During nature hikes with my family and friends, the abundance of life we find in what some city slickers shallowly think is the lifeless desert always renews our sense of wonder. We especially love our encounters with the critters. Even the shortest of hikes in the Anza-Borrego Desert will probably introduce you to coyotes (don't worry, they're more scared of you than you are of them), as well as road runners, eagles, desert foxes, jack rabbits, bighorn sheep (if you're lucky), rattlesnakes (if you're unlucky, just keep walking), and more.

The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park offers all kinds of jaw-dropping scenery, from the wildflowers in early spring to the canyons to the buttes to the mesas. Highlights include Font's Point, Borrego Palm Canyon, 17 Palm Oasis, Southern Emigrant Trail and Split Mountain. 

The park's main visitors' center offers a wide variety of programs, short and entertaining educational films, tours, etc., covering areas such as paleontology, geology, animal/plant life, astronomy, history and more. The visitors' center is just west of town off Palm Canyon Drive, call them at 760-767-4205.

And bring your telescope. Borrego is surrounded by the majestic Santa Rosa Mountains which help block out interfering light. Borrego, one of the best places in the nation for stargazing, is one of just seven "dark-sky communities" in the world and the only one in California. You may never see a more crystal-clear desert sky. You'll see huge clusters of stars, but thankfully very few of the Hollywood variety.

A drive into "town" and a walk along Palm Canyon Drive is also a must. It's still spring in Borrego, it's hot now, but not too hot. But in a couple of months, only the real diehard desert rats and sun worshippers will be out there. 

While in town, eat at Carlee's Place, our favorite local hangout. This retro restaurant/bar with the cushy red leather booths has good old-fashioned comfort food - steaks, pizza, burgers, pasta, onion rings, chocolate cake, etc. The atmosphere is friendly, casual and fun. And yes, it's cool. Literally. The A/C is always cranking. There's live music some nights.

But Beware the Borrego Dinosaurs!

And finally, one of the newest and most amazing Borrego highlights inside and outside of La Casa's grounds are the dinosaurs. Yes, the dinosaurs like the one on the right, and the other metal but chillingly lifelike sculptures that dot the landscape now from one side of town to the other. The 130 welded artworks include a T. Rex, sabertooth tigers, wild horses, desert tortoises and other creatures that inhabited this area millions of years ago, as well as historical characters, and even a 350-foot-long serpent that is one of the most creative sculptures I've seen.

The fabulous art was commissioned by the late Dennis Avery, land owner of Galleta Meadows Estates in Borrego Springs, who had the idea of adding free-standing art to his property created by brilliant artist and welder Ricardo Breceda, who's based in Perris, California. It is a unique and amazing public art project and something of which Borrego locals are rightly proud.

One final suggestion: If you're coming out to La Casa del Zorro from San Diego, stop first in the quaint mountain town of Julian. It's on the way. Have a piece of Julian's famous apple pie, go horseback riding or just walk around that heart-stealing mountain community and explore. Meet the friendly Julian locals and contribute to their economy before heading down the mountain and into the glorious desert. This is a trip I promise you'll never forget.