SSS: Heading Home

Western art by Olaf Wieghorst hangs at a museum in El Cajon.Joe Raffetto is the owner of California Overland Tour and in his opinion, “If you want to really experience the desert, you can’t just drive on a paved road and look at it through a windshield. You’ve got to climb into it, roll through it, and feel it.”

I rolled and felt it! Using a five-foot step ladder to get into and out of the open-air, transport leftover from World War II taxed my 2,000 body parts, none of which work as well as once they did, but I did it as gracefully as possible. 

We rattled off the pavement into Anza Borrego State Park, east of San Diego. I was impressed that Joe stopped to pick up trash. He explained the few blooming trees and plants, a desert lesson especially for the couple from Ohio. 

California was a seldom-visited Spanish province for 200 years, and then briefly a Mexican state before it was admitted to the Union in 1850. In the 1770s, Juan Bautista de Anza journeyed through northern Anza Borrego, leading to the colonization of San Francisco. In the late 1800s, cattlemen found grazing for their animals here. California’s Great Gold Rush of 1848 and Julian’s gold rush of 1869 brought miners, pioneers, and a “growing” interest in farming.

Badlands are a  part of Anza Borrego State Park.Joe took us up through the treeless Badlands to Fonts Point. With rain forming into a storm over the mountains, the view of Borrego Springs from this high point was spectacular.  He told us of the Badland and Salton Sea creations through eons of time.  

This was a two-hour tour, but you can take four- and eight-hour trips. What really sounded fun were the overnight trips. Living in the desert in Arizona, I know how magical a moonlit desert can be. The Black Diamond Overnight Tour includes dinner, hot breakfast, camping gear, and a guitarist.  One promises the “lush green of the canyon…the sound of trickling water and song birds…”  Another, “a canyon oasis of native fan palm groves, cascading pools, sycamore trees; a cold, pristine pool…” Maybe someday.

This was a fun afternoon.

It never fails if you are already “a little late.” I came around a corner to a construction flagger and a big fifth-wheel blocking the road. Fifteen minutes later, I followed him through the canyon. As a seasoned RVer, I knew I needed patience because that driver wasn’t going anywhere fast. I drove the back roads for five days, now it was time to get back into traffic on my way to my next stop. 

Olaf Wieghorst Museum & Western Heritage Center
WWII TruckJudy Moore showed me around the Olaf Wieghorst Museum & Western Heritage Center in El Cajon. I am always enthralled with anything western. I felt I could walk right into those paintings and tell their stories. Wieghorst sketched and painted cowboys, Native Americans, and early settlers of the nineteenth century American West in the tradition of Remington and Russell, and his works hang in museums throughout the U.S. In the 1980s, his paintings were selling for as much as $500,000.

Olaf Wieghorst was a self-taught artist who began painting in 1916, eventually mastering oils, watercolors and other art mediums.  Born in Viborg, Denmark, he developed a love for horses that would eventually become a major theme in his artistic endeavors.  In 1918, he worked his way to the United States as a steamship cabin boy, and then jumped ship in New York City. Drawn to anything horse-related, he served in the U.S. Cavalry, worked as a cowboy in New Mexico and Arizona and later as a New York City mounted policeman.

In 1944, “O,” as he become known, and his family moved to El Cajon. He built a studio and devoted his energies to painting horses and cowboys.  He studied their personalities, and said, “I try to paint the little natural things, the way a horse turns his tail to the wind on cold nights, the way he flattens his ears in the rain, seasonal changes in the coat of a horse, and psychology of his behavior. Horses have been my life.” This love of horses showed in his paintings, including his portrayals of Gene Autry’s Champion and Roy Rogers’ Trigger. 

Wieghorst and his wife lived in the El Cajon community for over 40 years until his death in 1987. The entire Wieghorst house is now enclosed in this museum compound.

A huge mural painted on the museum wall says, “When the time comes for me to put away my palette and unsaddle my pony for the last time, I hope that my canvases will in some small measure add to the historical recording of an era, the cowboy, and the great American West.”

Gingham Restaurant
The Gingham is one of a chain of San Diego area restaurants.La Mesa Village, the historical center of La Mesa, provides annual celebrations such as the La Mesa Village Oktoberfest, Christmas in the Village, and the Antique Street Faire.  La Mesa Boulevard offers specialty retail shops, antique stores and interesting dining. One such place is the Gingham restaurant. 

I asked the enthusiastic young fellow in charge what he recommended for lunch. He said, “The tri-tip melt with Gruyere, jalapeno jam, mushroom and salad with garlic fries.” I finally paid attention when he said “jam.”  Jam on a meat sandwich?  I completely missed the jalapeno part, and threw caution to the wind. 

The long narrow room had tall tables and chairs on one side and on the other side, cubicles with couches and pillows. I sat at a low table on a cowhide fabric-covered cube. Lunch arrived in an oblong baking pan with salad on one end and this enormous sandwich with fries on the other. Oh yeah! 

The fellow I was to meet wasn’t there but Matt Cope draped himself comfortably on the couch and kept me company.  He told me all about the “fabric” restaurants throughout the San Diego area: Seersucker, Burlap, Gabardine, and Herringbone, etc.  It was so different and I thoroughly enjoyed the lunch, the atmosphere, and the company.  I guess it is way too much to hope that they might open something similar in Congress, Arizona, a Camouflage Café or a Faux Fur Feastery. 

Gingham is described as “a lively neighborhood hub,” just one of many ideas from Chef Brian Malarkey and his partners.  The theme of their restaurants is: “Think slow roasted meats, beer, whiskey, and rock ‘n roll—something completely fun and unique to the community.”  I can believe that since they offer fried green tomato salad and wild boar bratwurst with stewed onions and peppers. Wild boar?

As we chatted, another accommodating fellow brought two enormous thick chocolate chunk cookies stuck together with a ball of ice cream. Maybe one of these restaurants in my neighborhood isn’t such a good idea. I waddled to the car, returned the car to Enterprise, and flew back to Phoenix to recover. 

That Robert Arends of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau really knows how to plan a trip!  God Bless.

Autographed copies of Sharlene Minshall’s fourth edition RVing Alaska and Canada ($19.95) and Adventures with the Silver Gypsy ($14.95) are available through

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