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Stories by Steve Sorensen

Please Don't Tell Anyone That Old Surfers End Up Here

A wonderful world well south of the border.

Not long after the New Year, my friend and neighbor here in Zacatitos, Marilyn Z, sent me an email saying that, at 81 years of age, she had lost her battle with cancer and had ...

Don't Pitch Your Tent on San Clemente Island

It's the Navy's Paradise, Not Yours

“We went over to Santa Catalina Island and trapped eight goats, fit them with radio telemetry collars. Because goats are gregarious and tend to congregate together whenever possible, the Judas goats led us to the remnant herds.”

Heaven Sent

“There are four or five dealers in Imperial County who buy scrap off the range, and none of us has been harassed by the law. But the range runners have really been harassed.”

The Good Seed

“What’s the right time to plant celery?” “What’s the best thing to control whiteflies?" "Which beet is the best for making borscht’” "How do you get rid of gophers too smart to trap?"

The Meal Man

He finds them, he feeds them

Foster, a Shawnee Indian originally from Oklahoma, has been delivering about 100 hot meals a day to homebound elderly people on the Pala, Pauma, La Jolla, Rincon, and San Pasqual Indian reservations.

There's Only One Hitch

If you have to thumb a ride, you have to tell a story

The smartest hitchhiker I heard about was a guy who hitched carrying his belongings in a gas can with the bottom cut out. Drivers who will never pick up a hitchhiker will stop for a motorist out of gas.

The Imperial Valley Paradox

Those who work the land don't own the land.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese-Americans were put in relocation camps, and their farms fell to pieces. "Local people went out to their farms, tore down their homes, hauled the materials back, and built homes for themselves,

Up by the Roots

San Diego County has more rare and endangered species than any other place in America.

Today, the largest populations of San Diego mesa mint are found on Miramar Naval Air Station. “Driving by there on 1-15 on a warm day in April, you can smell a pleasant, minty aroma,”

The Understanding of Henry Rodriguez

An Indian tribal elder has discovered the language of life.

It was through Henry’s persuasion that the La Jolla reservation built the campground and water slide below Palomar Mountain, on the San Luis Rey River. Those popular improvements now provide income for the reservation

Hot Place in the Sun

A different breed of snowbird finds a town with no city limits.

One young, enterprising resident, recognizing the lack of trash disposal services in Slab City, painted a sign on the side of his trailer: ‘‘Trash Hauling — Big Sack 50 cents — Small Sack 35 cents.”

Fifty Miles of River

Three days along the San Dieguito

In the next three days, I learned that the San Dieguito River drainage is a kind of graveyard for dead automobiles. They litter the river’s canyons like dinosaur bones. That V-12 was simply the first.

Blood Brothers

With the flow at the Twelfth Avenue plasma center

In the morning hours, the center of activity for the neighborhood is the Alpha Plasma Center on Twelfth between Broadway and C street. The double glass doors are unlocked at 6:00 a.m., and it’s warm inside.

Mission over the Mountains

Mock war in a true wilderness

The northern, more rugged sector of the Chocolates that is owned by the navy. It is probably the most beautiful area of the range, but unfortunately it is also the most heavily bombed, by far.

Life on the Crest

Jerry Schad loves to explore the desert, and the rougher it gets, the better he likes it.

I made my bed in the lee of a stout little juniper, but Schad, fond of wind and rain and discomfort,made his on the crest. Then we huddled together to cook noodles and tuna, with a Kahlúa chaser.

The Nurture of Things

“When I first came to Encinitas, in 1975, every street in Encinitas had its own greenhouse. And every greenhouse had a family with its own story — the Andersons, the Weidners, the Eckes. And every greenhouse had its own clientele."

Bury My Bait at Bombay Beach

Between catastrophe and the Salton Sea lies a truly strange little town

According to the department of fish and game, the catch of one-and-one-half fish per angler hour in the Salton Sea was much higher than any other non-stocked fishery in the state, marine or freshwater.

On the Mat

Coach Wayne Branstetter pushes his Poway wrestlers to the limit. And then some.

“If we had this Poway team back in Iowa,” Branstetter lamented, “the local paper would be covering our matches move by move. Here in San Diego, hardly anybody notices.”

Bobby Riggs, the legendary tennis hustler, has a hundred bucks that says he can beat you. Somehow.

Great Top Spin Never Stops

The legs may be long gone, but at 67, the tennis trickster can still outhustle the best of 'em.

Forty Miles of Bad Road: In search of the authentic El Camino Real

Retracing the route

The modern-day El Camino Real picks up about a half-mile to the west, climbs the bluff, and continues across Encinitas Boulevard to La Costa. But a more obvious route lay directly ahead, along Rancho Santa Fe Road.

The Spectacle at Moonlight Beach

Where the myth meets the sea

A kid on a skateboard weaves his way down the asphalt trail, swinging the cast on his forearm in front of him like a club, twisting and contorting his body in pursuit of some mystical kinesthetic release.

The Spirit of Steve Ponchetti

An Indian leader leaves the earth

Over the years he had acquired a lawyer's knowledge of Indian law. At his home he kept a copy of the Santa Ysabel patent, written in long-hand and signed by Benjamin Harrison in 1893.

Return of the Mountain Lion

Their roar was once rare, but the big cats are back, and local ranchers are eyeing their guns.

Ten years ago when Buzz Johnson moved from Colorado to the 650 acres he owns on Angel Mountain, ten miles south of Mount Palomar, the property was so thick with manzanita and chamiso that a ...

The Only Honest Game in Town

Who needs poker parlors? A bunch of elderly gents up at the Ace'e Duce'e, that's who.

"We thought it was the bingo parlors out on the Indian reservations cutting into our business. For a while they were getting 1500 people a night out there. Now I’ve heard their business is way ofF.”

And on This Farm They Had Some Fish

It can get wet out there in the desert, especially when you're raising tons of fish.

Shortly after dawn on a chilly desert morning, Bill Engler, 44-old fish farmer-entrepreneur, and Victor Wade, his 45-year-old French-Canadian partner, are standing in their pole-barn fish hatchery trying to figure out how to measure a ...

Ten Grand for a Dance: On the prowl with a North County gold-digger

It's a jungle out there, and it takes a certain breed of woman to get what she wants.

The girls know the drug dealers are usually free spenders because their money is illegal — it’s easier to spend it than it is to launder it, and besides, there’s more where that came from.

The Big Hike

Border to border along the Pacific Crest Trail

Orville Cummings, owner of the 9000-acre San Felipe Ranch at the bottom of the Banner Grade east of Julian: “The backpackers would camp right at the windmill and keep the cattle away from the water.”

The Man Who Broke the Rules

When Carl walked down the streets of Encinitas at night he set the dogs to barking. If he reads this I hope he'll understand and forgive me, but there was just something odd about him, ...

The Big Lure

At four o'clock on a Saturday morning about the only people you will find awake in San Diego County are short-order cooks, cops, insomniacs, truck drivers, and bass fishermen. Of them all, the bass fishermen ...

The Devil's Peak

I was standing on the highest point in Baja — the highest point for hundreds of miles in every direction. To the west I could see the Pacific Ocean. To the east I could see the Gulf of California.

Where Demons Thrive

What is it about the desert that brings out the worst in even the best of people?

The kids, annoyed by the tone of Herbert's demand, refused. They exchanged threats, and when one of the kids raised his gun to protect himself. Herbert shot him in the eye and killed him.

In Search of the Genuine, Authentic, Sawdust and Spittoon Honky-Tonk

After a while two sisters from Valley Center sat down on either side of me and introduced themselves as Blondie and Shorty. “We’re not really regulars,” they said. “We haven’t been here since Wednesday.”

Shred Till You're Dead

You don't have to be crazy to be a skateboard fanatic, but it helps

The older skaters who survived the last era have left their marks on the sport, and if they sometimes seem angry and bitter, it is really just their way of warning the younger skaters.

Sweet, Wet, Ugly, Tough

Life at the end of a lobster trap.

He had refrigeration trucks made up to look like camper vans to transport the illegal shorts, and he made arrangements for airplanes to land at San Clemente Island to pick up the shorts and fly them to Las Vegas.

Fat Chance

Ranch Time is the pace at which people would live if they had nothing to worry about, ever.

I wondered if the professor was just a good storyteller. Deborah Szekely: “The spirit of what he says is true, but in that book many of the people’s names aren’t even correct.”

Pilgrims By the Shore

Easter at the Colorado River

At some time, very late at night, somebody plays an old tape of Jim Morrison and the Doors. They turn it up so loud that it drowns everything else out.

Stout Hearts and Salt Water

Across the Sea, in the area called North Shore, the flooding problem isn’t so bad, since they 're a little higher. Nor is the wind quite as unrelenting. The realtors of North Shore call Salton City a “blow-sand area.”

River Run

Hiking to the source of the San Diego River

I finally fall asleep in the early hours and awaken about seven a.m. feeling surprisingly fresh. I had a dream that I went around the next bend and found myself in downtown San Diego.

Pecking Order

Cockfighting: Money and Death in the Pit

Just across the Colorado River from Blythe, less than a mile into Arizona, there’s a big corrugated tin shed at the end of a dusty gravel road. It looks like some kind of deserted warehouse, ...

Don't Fence Me In

Off-road vehicles leave their mark

At the moment, Green Sticker Money is being used by the state parks to purchase 14,000 acres near Ocotillo Wells in an area that has already been heavily, although illegally, used by ORV users for years.

A Quiet Street and an Old Hotel

Interstate 8 missed Jacumba by just two miles, leaving it stranded in the desert. Today, Mr. LaZare, owner of the town, is looking for a buyer. Jacumba is for sale once again.

Then, on top of Jacumba Peak, I rediscovered a time-worn gesture directed from one human being to all his fellows: There on a rock, painted in red, courtesy of the class of ‘79, was the ubiquitous finger.

Whiskey and Water and the 11:00 News

Every night, about halfway between the end of the Johnny Carson show and sunrise, old Art wakes up with cramps in his legs. At least he calls it cramps. It’s really a kind of numbness, ...

A Kingdom Bought and Sold

There had been indications, beginning with when the bathtub in the upstairs bathroom fell through the ceiling of the basement. Nobody was hurt, but it was an omen. Shortly after that fungus began growing on the basement walls.

Sons of the Regiment

For over 30 years the president of the Academy has been Colonel W.C. Atkinson-so long that in some ways he is not just the president of the Academy, but is the Academy.

“I liked the Academy from the first. I like the challenge of promotions, and I'm getting a better education here. The classes are smaller than in a public school, and there isn’t any racial prejudice.”

Bull o' the Woods

Up in the hills outside Leucadia, above the ocean, not far from where the flower fields are spread out along Old Highway 101, there's a grove of eucalyptus trees with a maze of dirt roads ...

I tell them my name is Ernie Klein, I'm 42 years old, and I'm unemployed.

While I sit there waiting for my name to be called. I nervously rehearse my lies to myself. Names. Places I've looked for work. Sad stories about getting there an hour too late ...

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