Southern CA: By Hook Or By Crook

You may know the old saying, “by hook or by crook,” which means “by any means necessary.” That was our week-long trip to Southern California! We visited the Presidential Library of a certain ex-Prez who loudly proclaimed the now infamous phrase “I am not a crook”; toured the not-to-be-believed Rubel Castle, which was truly built “by any means necessary” (legal or illegal); and completed a visit to family in Temecula, which has been tentatively in the works for so long now that we were determined to get there “by hook or by crook”, somehow, before the end of 2022! And so we did!

Morongo Valley, CA

In the Morongo Valley of California, not far from Joshua Tree National Park (Read more about Joshua Tree here), is one of our favorite dive bars called Pappy and Harriett’s Pioneertown Palace. Their unique “hook” to tempt you to stop in, is that Paul McCartney once showed up unannounced and did a live show just for fun. I don’t think it has happened again since (with either Sir Paul or anyone else notable), but it’s a lively, fun place located in the high desert of Pioneertown, a no-longer active old-West movie set used in the 1940’s for filming movies and TV shows, including The Cisco Kid and Judge Roy Bean.

Not far from our campground, but smack-dab in the middle of nothingsville, is the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Art. The now-deceased “assemblage sculptor” Noah Purifoy became marginally famous in 1965 when he created a traveling exhibition called 66 Signs of Neon after the Watts Rebellion in L.A. After retiring to this area, Noah set out to fill his 10 acres of scrub brush desert with large pieces of art. Though many of them are now in varying stages of disrepair and decay, you can wander amongst them and let your imagination roam. His deal was turning everyday detritus (toilets, bedframes, old newspapers, etc.) into interesting or humorous art.

Some of them you could go into … if you dared. Here’s “Shelter” (1992-1993):

Or maybe you prefer “Carousel” (1996):

From the whimsical ….

To the political statement …

To a weird affinity for bowling balls …

And an even bigger fascination with toilets …

To the (I’m just gonna say it) downright weird!

Our favorite was this train, “The Kirby Express” (1995-1996), with more than a dozen cars made of all kinds of junk, including a row of old Kirby vacuum cleaners.

Lest you think this oddball assortment is out of place, here are just a few of the neighbors. Nope! Fit right in! You probably won’t find these on Zillow, but people live here!

Yorba Linda & Glendora, CA

Moving on, we camped in San Dimas, midway between two great destinations, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, and Rubel Castle in Glendora. Despite being in the “big city” right off I-10 east of Los Angeles, the Bonelli Bluffs Campground was beautiful.

We are fascinated with Presidential Libraries, with our favorites so far being Lyndon Baines Johnson (in Austin, Texas), and Gerald R. Ford (in Grand Rapids, Michigan). Although “Presidential Library” sounds pretty boring, and although they do house archives to preserve the history of our Presidents, they always include really well-done museums as well. This trip included the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

Nixon’s Library is at the location of his family’s small citrus farm among pretty gardens in Northern Orange County, and his boyhood home, built by his father, is available to tour.  It is also the final resting place of President Nixon and Mrs. Nixon.

As everyone knows, Richard Nixon ended up being (in)famous for maybe-or-maybe-not being a crook, but in any event proclaiming, “I am not a crook.” At the museum, you can tour the Marine One helicopter he boarded for his last flight outta the White House after resigning the Presidency in 1974.

Beyond that name-defining event, however, Nixon was so much more as the 37th President of the U.S.  Reigning during a very tumultuous period in U.S. history, his tenure included the re-opening of American relations with China through a groundbreaking visit to Beijing, the ending of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and ending of the military draft. Interestingly, all the Presidents who came after Nixon re-hired him as an active stateman on international relations, up until his death – such was his knowledge and skill in this department.

He also created the Environmental Protection Agency, signed into law the Endangered Species Act (to prevent the extinction of threatened plant and animal life), and signed into law Title IX, ending gender-based discrimination in schools and sports.  The Nixon Museum currently has an exhibition entitled “Cold War: Soviets, Spies, and Secrets,” which of course has current day implications more and more as the days go by (lookin’ at you, Putin). In any event, Nixon kept some VERY good (and important) company over the years.

The Rubel Castle truly defies description, but I’m gonna do my best.  It is billed as a “monumental Folk architecture site,” entirely built by hand by one Michael Rubel and hundreds of volunteers over 26 years in the 60’s-80’s. 

That’s him on the left.

Growing up next to a city scrapyard, Rubel loved building forts out of junk and was building 4-story towers by the age of ten.  Basically, he never stopped, even when he grew up … and that is how Rubel Castle came to be!

Located in an ordinary residential neighborhood which grew up around the site, its stone masonry is made of (gathered) river rock, (stolen) railroad ties, (recycled) scrap steel and materials of all sorts, and an assemblage of relics and artifacts that were left behind in the city’s early agricultural and industrial areas. Although Rubel has since passed away, the tour was conducted by his sharp-as-a-tack 82-year-old best friend, who regaled us with two hours of tales about the building of the castle. 

The tour includes multiple buildings all over the property, including a former citrus packing house called The Tin Palace. It was here that Rubel’s mother, vaudeville dancer Dorothy conducted her favorite hobby, THROWING PARTIES, inside this corrugated, galvanized dance hall of sorts, for well-dressed guests by the hundreds.  Guests of note included Dwight Eisenhower, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, and Alfred Hitchcock.

The Bottle House was Michael’s answer to his mom’s rowdy parties.  Unable to find peace from her revelry, he gathered a pile of champagne party bottles and scrounged cement to build himself a get-away house in the center of the empty reservoir.  That was the beginning of the building spree.

With friends, neighbors, strangers and relations lending a hand, the castle grew to be thousands of square feet with towers five stories high.  People frequently dropped off junk to be included in the castle; if it was interesting, it got embedded on the outside; if it was ugly or boring, it was buried deep inside the 8-foot-thick walls.

A restored and valuable 1890 Seth Thomas clock, claimed from the Bausch & Lomb factory in New York, runs the bronze bells and clock faces crowning one of the high towers.

The castle itself is located within the outline of an enormous water reservoir, which he bought at age 19, along with the packing house, on two acres of land.  It is certainly California’s largest recycled construction project of all time! And, various rustic “suites” are rented out to tenants who help to care for the property. Who would like to live here? (Me! me! me!)

 An old Santa Fe caboose serves as the “guest house” for friends of the people living on the property.

Throughout, lots of fun and whimsy!

Although tours are only given at very few specific dates and times, if you can arrange to be near Glendora during one of those times, we highly recommend a tour – you just won’t believe your eyes at all the magic tucked behind this wall!  If you’re not likely to be able to go in person, at least check out these videos on their YouTube channel:

Temecula, CA

Our final stop was in Temecula, a former ranching and railroading town that is now well-known for its wine production.  Indeed, there are hundreds of wineries scattered through the hills of the area, each with its own version of eating, drinking and having a good time. In town, 12 blocks of antique shops, galleries, brewpubs and eateries are located in Old Town Temecula.

We parked our rig at a gorgeous hill-top property (named Villa San Souci … “place without worries”) owned by our niece Tristan, her husband Jon, and their 13-year-old son Jack.  They are also RV’ers and have a gorgeous, meticulously maintained Monaco RV, which of course we took great interest in touring.

They, along with 13-year-old son Jack, kept us busy with wineries, parks, olive oil tastings, antiquing, outdoor bbq’s, card games, and sunsets! Glorious sunsets, indeed!

Although located at the top of a private subdivision, with a narrow road and long driveway (and therefore best suited for smaller rigs), once you are in your spot, the views can’t be beat!  With water and 30 amp electric and wifi, you too can stay here, even if you’re not family!

Thus concludes our week-long spin through some really fun destinations in Southern California. We are back home for a few months, preparing for our second grandchild, a girl, to be born to our daughter Kelsey and her husband Cameron, in January!

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