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Enjoying the open California air01/05/2010 10:00 AM ET
By Benjamin Hill / MLB.com
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* Day 2: Inland Empire
^ Day 2: Rancho Cucamonga
Pasadena, Calif., sits at the center of the sporting universe this week. The annual Rose Bowl game took place on New Year's Day and the BCS Championship Game is scheduled for Thursday.
But the southern California sporting scene has far more to offer than marquee college bowl games and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The region is also home to several clubs that compete within the California League, a 10-team Class A Advanced circuit.
This edition of "Roadtrip" includes a quartet of Cal League teams: the Lancaster JetHawks, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, Inland Empire 66ers and Lake Elsinore Storm. While located in close proximity to Los Angeles County, these clubs are surrounded by points of interest that feel worlds removed from the glitz, grime and endless urban sprawl that characterize the City of Angels.
Day 1: Lancaster JetHawks (Lancaster, Calif.)JetHawks tickets | 2010 JetHawks schedule
Edwards Air Force Base (AP)
Many of Lancaster's residents work within the aerospace industry, as the region is home to Edwards Air Force Base as well as headquarters for both Boeing and Lockheed. So when visiting the area, why not engage in some high-flying adventures (metaphorically speaking, at least)?
The aforementioned Edwards Air Force Base is truly gargantuan, home to over 1,500 military families as well as a wide array of research and testing facilities. Tours, which include stops at the Air Force Flight Center Test Museum and the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, are offered year-round.
Aviation history can be further explored in Palmdale, located just south of Lancaster proper. There, one will find the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark. The open-air facility currently features 14 full-size military aircraft on display, as well as scale models of others. A visit to the Airpark can be coupled with a trip to the paradoxically named Drytown Water Park, home of the dizzying spectacle that is the Devil's Punch Bowl Water Slide.
But some might want to go in another direction, both literally and metaphorically. In that case, head northeast to Boron. Home of the largest borax mine in the world, this windswept town (population 2,000) boasts another aviation attraction in the form of the Colonel Vernon P. Saxon Aerospace Museum. And located right next door is the Twenty Mule Team Museum, dedicated to preserving the history of borax mining. Other fun facts about Boron: "Erin Brockovich" was filmed there, and one of its most notable residents was "Walking" George Swain (a celebrated eccentric who walked everywhere he went and was rumored to sleep in a hole in the desert).
And then there are the JetHawks, who play at 13-year-old Clear Channel Stadium. This is one of the most offense-friendly facilities in the league, thanks in no small part to the region's exceedingly windy conditions (in the past, the team has staged "Tumbleweed Tuesdays" promotions, in which the ticket price is determined according to the day's wind speed). The club is entering its second season as a Houston Astros affiliate after a two-year stint with the Boston Red Sox.
Day 2: Rancho Cucamonga Quakes/Inland Empire 66ersQuakes tickets | 2010 Quakes schedule
66ers tickets | 2010 66ers schedule
San Bernardino National Forest (AP)
For located directly south of Lancaster is Angeles National Forest, featuring over 650,000 acres of federally protected land. Described on its Web site as "the backyard playground to the huge metropolitan area of Los Angeles," the forest features nearly limitless hiking, boating and camping possibilities. The San Gabriel Mountains, which serve as a barrier between Los Angeles and the Mojave Desert, are located within this forest preserve as well. The highest peak in the range, topping 10,000 feet, is similar to Don Zimmer in that it is referred to as "Mount Baldy."
In a very similar vein is the 800,000-acre San Bernardino National Forest, located directly east of Angeles National Forest. Opportunities abound, from fishing to picnicking to scenic drives. Nearly an eighth of the forest is comprised of old-growth vegetation, including White Firs and Ponderosa Pines.
As for San Bernardino itself, one of the attractions to be found therein is the aforementioned 66ers (named in honor of historic Route 66, that most iconic of road trip travel routes). Since 1996, the Dodgers affiliate has played at Arrowhead Credit Union Park, a 5,000-seat facility that offers a gorgeous mountain view beyond the outfield fence.
Located a short drive west are the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, so named because the town is located near several fault lines. The natural disaster-theme extends to the name of the stadium (The Epicenter) and mascot (Tremor), but the gameday environment is far from calamitous. The team, which was once partially owned by actor Mark Harmon ("St. Elsewhere"), regularly sits atop the list of Cal League attendance leaders.
Day 3: Lake Elsinore Storm (Lake Elsinore, Calif.)Storm tickets | 2010 Storm schedule
Temecula Valley Wine Country (AP)
Located approximately 35 miles south of San Bernardino, Lake Elsinore is home to Skydive Elsinore. Billing itself as the longest-running skydiving operation in the United States, Skydive Elsinore offers tandem skydiving for beginners as well as comprehensive education courses so that one may someday be able to make solo jumps. And it's no coincidence that this area has become a skydiving mecca, as airflow from the nearby mountains keeps jumpers in the air for a longer period of time.
But maybe jumping out of an airplane from 12,500 feet isn't your thing. Maybe you would rather cultivate a nice buzz in a far more relaxing environment. In that case, head south to Temecula Valley Wine Country. The region is home to over two dozen wineries, offering virtually unlimited sampling opportunities. It may be better to leave the driving to someone else in such a situation, something that can be easily arranged by booking a spot on the Grapeline Wine Country Shuttle. Riders on the Grapeline can imbibe without care while cruising through one of the nation's premier viticultural areas.
But make sure to make it back to Lake Elsinore in time for the ballgame. The Storm, who play in the awkward yet awesomely named stadium, The Diamond, have received nationwide recognition for their trendsetting ecological practices as well as irreverent giveaways and theme nights. Waterless urinals and pop culture-influenced mascot skits, all under one roof, as part of the same evening? It's like a dream come true.