Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

Current Location: Catalina Spa and RV Resort  Desert Hot Springs California

The morning dawned over the desert yesterday like something in an old European landscape painting.  As we glided  silently in the pool, empty except for the two of us, we watched the puffy clouds shift from gray to pink to white and yellow, a slight breeze ruffling the nearby fine leaved eucalyptus trees. 

The temperatures were predicted to be in the mid 70’s, with some cloud cover and a 9 percent chance of rain.  Nothing to deter us from exploring a new place to hike.Big Morongo Canyon (1 of 63)

Not far north from Desert Hot Springs on Highway 62 in the Morongo Valley, is a lovely desert oasis of one of the largest riparian habitats in California, Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, with the upper part of the canyon in the Mojave Desert and the southern portion entering the lower Colorado Desert.  The preserve is administered by the BLM, and supported by the Nature Conservancy, and The Friends of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, a non-profit group. 

There are no fees to enter the area, but the signs are loud and clear about no dogs allowed.  The preserve is for plants and wildlife and there are mountain lions and other animals that would be terribly disturbed by the presence of dogs.  I understand completely.  It was with a bit of sadness that we traveled there for our day of dog free hiking, but a bit of relief as well.  Much as we miss them, the animals, like children, often called for adjustments in daily life and otherwise.  I certainly don’t miss cleaning the cat box!Big Morongo Canyon (63 of 63)

There is an excellent kiosk with information about the area, trail maps and guides and other brochures at the entrance.  There are bird lists for those who want to use them, but we didn’t bring binoculars or bird books, with apologies to Judy and Carol!  Yes, Carol, I am going to someday get those binoculars that you showed to me.  Today, however, our bird sightings were a bit thin, except for many of your famous “little brown birds” we had no clue about, and one exception, which I write about a bit later.

Big Morongo Canyon (6 of 63)By the time we entered the Mesquite Trail, the sun had come through the clouds and the temperatures were warm enough for shorts and sleeveless shirts.  The skies were beautiful.

Big Morongo Canyon (7 of 63)The excellent trail maps helped guide us to the trails of our choice and the markers were clear and exactly where the maps said they would be.  Hikers know this isn’t always the case. 

Big Morongo Canyon (8 of 63)We chose to walk all the trails except the Canyon Trail, a 9 mile round trip down Big Morongo Canyon ending at Indian Canyon Road and returning uphill to the starting point.morongo canyon hike 2

We did however, manage to see all the other trails, ranging in length from a few tenths of a mile to a mile or so.  In all, we managed 3 miles of easy hiking through several different habitats in the preserve.

Big Morongo Canyon (16 of 63)The preserve is most known for its bird population, and there are several large wooden viewing decks scattered throughout the lower trails in the riparian portions of the park.  After walking the beautiful Yucca Ridge trail with its wide open views, we slipped down into the thick willow, mesquite, and Fremont cottonwood covered trails to enjoy the shade and the sound of birds.  I wish I could learn bird calls, because I think that might help a lot with identifying what is impossible to see in the thick brush.

Big Morongo Canyon (52 of 63)Best moment of the day came at a small observation bench hidden in the thickets.  We sat down and Mo asked, “What do you suppose this is for?”

Big Morongo Canyon (45 of 63)Big Morongo Canyon (50 of 63)I said I thought it was a place to sit and watch for birds, and the words no more than left my mouth than a very friendly, very curious western scrub jay flew right in front of us and landed on a branch not two feet away, checking us out for quite some time before deciding that we had no food and flying off in search of something more enticing.

Big Morongo Canyon (26 of 63)On the higher Yucca trail, that skirts the eastern perimeter of the preserve, there are many plants that are identified with signs, and while the minute differences are visible up close in person, overall all those shrubs looked like gray twiggy things with thorns!  Big Morongo Canyon (32 of 63)We laughed about hiking the beautiful desert in the dormant time of January.  The only sign of life was new green grass on the ridges and near the trails, evidence of the recent rains in the area.Big Morongo Canyon (22 of 63)

Although we only hiked 3 miles, we did spent more than a couple of hours enjoying the viewing platforms, the strategically placed benches, and shaded boardwalks meandering through the marshy areas.

Big Morongo Canyon (10 of 63)Big Morongo Canyon (23 of 63)Big Morongo Canyon (59 of 63)I do think that Whitewater Canyon may be a bit more picturesque, but does not have the big cottonwood and willow forest that makes this preserve a special place to visit. We especially enjoyed the variety of plants, habitats and terrain that we encountered in a reasonably accessible area.Big Morongo Canyon (62 of 63)


01-08-2015 Big Morongo Canyon

Current Location: Catalina Spa and RV Resort Desert Hot Springs

We drove a bit north to the Morongo Valley yesterday to hike in the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve.  More to come later, but for now I thought this collage of the wonderful, colorful, varied plants so well marked along the trails would pique your interest. Desert hiking in January can be interesting.1-01-08-2015 Big Morongo Canyon

While the plants may be less than spectacular this time of year, the views are worth the hike.

Big Morongo Canyon (19 of 63)


January 2 to January 7 Traveling South

Current Location: Desert Hot Springs, CA at 55 degrees F at 5 in the morning

We left the day after New Years.  I think we were both ready to leave earlier, but we did have a plan, and I wanted to watch the Rose Parade and Mo wanted to see the Rose Bowl Game so we decided to wait.  The weather at home was icy, with just a skiff of snow left over from Christmas.  There was nothing to plow or shovel, and the only real chores to be done were keeping the fire going.  Christmas Day 2014  (1 of 58)

Neither of us are likely to get bored, there is always something to do, but I did notice a bit of restive boredom building, as we made our plans to head south.  Call it hitch-itch or whatever…it has been a month since we had the MoHo on the road and we were both ready to go.  Christmas Day 2014  (16 of 58)

Christmas with family and friends at home

As we watched the parade, we again talked of taking an RV trip, one of those group things, where you get grandstand seats, a nice place to park, and visits to the float barns before the parade.  Might be the only way I’ll ever see the Rose Parade again, since neither of us really wants to mess with that whole traffic parking finding a place to stand thing.  When I was a kid, we would camp overnight on Orange Grove Boulevard sometimes to get good viewing spots. Maybe next year.

This year we watched from the cozy comfort of our home living room, where I spent most of the day taking down more of the Christmas decorations and packing travel food.  Now that the MoHo is stored in Grants Pass, we have to fit everything we take on our trips into the baby car for the trip over the mountain.  We laughed this time, wondering where Abby and Jeremy would have fit in the heavily laden car.

hooking up on a cold foggy morning at the cottageA night with Deborah at the cottage and when morning dawned foggy and icy as usual for Grants Pass this time of year we were off, heading south on the 5 for what has become an annual migration to Desert Hot Springs.  Sometimes we simply pass through on a trek more distant, sometimes like this time, we will stay in the southern deserts, but no matter how we do it, a stay at Catalina Spa and RV Resort always seems to be part of the plan.

map of the route to DHSWe have no fancy memberships, other than Passport America.  With our love of state parks, national parks, national forest and BLM camping and boondocking, it just isn’t worth the extra money.  However the PPA card gets us some nice half price benefits for our days on the road. Unlike last year, when Catalina was changing its management policies and we were only allowed two discounted nights, this year the policy has returned to allowing a week at half price, for us $32.50 a night is what we expect to pay at full price and we don’t pay that often! Still, the thought of those hot spring pools always draws me back. love the auto downshift in the MoHo

Siskiyou Summit, highest point on I-5 between Mexico and Canada.

If we were going to stay a month, I would imagine we would try out Sam’s Spa nearby, a place Nina and Paul enjoy.  Of course, The Sands is big and lovely with a golf course and comes highly recommended by Rick and Paulette who spend extended time there every winter.  For us, Catalina is perfect, with the lower camping area a bit older, sites not perfectly level made lumpy with sand, and older trees around, eucalyptus, tamarisk, and some kind of desert pine. It isn’t especially fancy, but it also isn’t crowded, with the trees and oleander hedges making the sites in the lower area feel much more private than those in the newer upper part of the park.  Without the need for 50 amp hookups, we have the option to stay here.Even Mt Shasta is shrouded by the murky air

Mt Shasta above the inversion caused murky air of the Scott Valley

We have traveled south many times, but often from our home in Rocky Point, going over highway 97 toward Weed, or from Brookings a few times where we stored the MoHo until we got the Grants Pass cottage.  We haven’t traveled south on the 5 from Grants Pass directly very often, and it is always a surprise to remember just how long a pull it is to cross the pass over the Siskiyou’s south of Ashland at the Oregon/California border.  On this crossing, it was icy at 31 degrees F, but Mo did just fine, and I never felt any slipping around at all. 

As we dropped down into the valley near Yreka, the air quality began to deteriorate, due to the strong cold air inversions plaguing most of the Oregon and California valleys.  The skies were dingy all the way south throughout the great state of California. 

Traveling South_004For people who like to travel around as much as we do, and who enjoy new experiences, it is surprising to me how comfortable we are with doing the same route and staying in the same places on this southward journey.  We took a bit of time to stop in Red Bluff to visit my ex mom in law, a dear woman celebrating her 91st birthday this month.Traveling South_005

The entire route is less than 900 miles, but we give ourselves time, spending two nights along the way.  My trucker kids would do that trip in one day! The Flag City RV Park along the freeway in Lodi is our preferred first night stop.  Half price here with the PPA card is $27 per night, and with cement level pull through sites, full hookups, free wifi and cable TV we like the stop.  Easy and fast and we never bother with making a reservation.  The nearby Flying J station has the lowest gas price around according to our GasBuddy app, so it is easy to fill up for the next day.  This time we also filled up propane, and while it was a buck more per gallon than it would have been in Grants Pass, it was a quick and easy fill right in the driveway of the park.

Morning dawned sweetly with temps in the 50’s, but the air was still murky with the inversion.  Interstate 5 south has been worked on repeatedly, and while last year I remember the road being fairly smooth, this year it seemed to have deteriorated more.  Of course, Stockton is always bad, with construction going on constantly for all the years I have traveled through that area.  With the MoHo jumping and bumping, I looked up the worst cities to live in the US and yes, Stockton is high on the list.  Sad.

The traffic on I-5 all the way to the Highway 58 turnoff toward Bakersfield was steady and thick.  I guess a lot of people were traveling back to Los Angeles after the holidays.  Truck traffic wasn’t as heavy as usual, but the line of cars ahead of us and behind us was solid, and if Mo got behind a truck it often took a bit of effort to get back into the fast moving traffic to pass. I’m glad it was her day to drive!  I took photos of the passing landscape, so beautiful in its own way, but missed having Jeremy on the dash.  So many photos of him sleeping away in the sunshine as we traveled south on this highway.

Traveling South_015We gassed up at the Bakersfield Costco at 2.25 per gallon, amazing for California, and continued east toward Orange Grove RV Park.  I learned last year when we ended up in overflow, that reservations were a smart idea.  Today proved to be so, and as we checked in with our reservation, rig after rig pulled into the big long driveways they have for that purpose.  Taking advantage of the free RV wash area, we got most of the road grime off both vehicles before settling into our full hookup site. 

Traveling South_012As many southward bound RV’rs know, this campground in an old orange grove comes with free picking privileges.  I know you can buy bags of oranges along the road for 5 bucks or so, but they never seem quite as sweet.  Probably brought up green from Mexico or something.  Nothing quite as sweet as ripe oranges directly from the tree.  Hopefully my orange stash will last long enough.  I always feel sad at the moment I slice and squeeze the last orange from Orange Grove RV.

Our favorite route into the Springs is not the one recommended by Google maps, but we ignore their suggestions and travel west into Barstow and take 247 south through the Lucerne Valley, Johnson Valley, and into Yucca Valley, where we then travel down 62 into the Coachella Valley.  I am always amazed at the rugged landscape, the range after range of faulted and folded mountains formed in marine sediments that have smashed into the continent from far lands.  I do have a love hate relationship with my birth state of California and I am always reminded of that when we come south. 

The smell of the southern deserts, the sharp line of the mountains unimpeded by vegetation against the sunset, the twinkling lights of desert cities, all remind me of childhood years long gone.  I am glad they are gone, but also glad that I have the chance to come back and enjoy the best parts of what I remember about living in Southern California.

Traveling South_028Driving south on Corkhill Road toward the resort is almost like coming home.  The familiarity feels nice.  Back again to that dichotomy between something new and something familiar, I guess there are good parts to each.  Within minutes we found a nice spot on 11th street, backed up by nothing but the dog park area, and with no one beside us on the south for two spaces, it feels fairly private.Traveling South_018

I am just a small street and a few steps east of my favorite pool in the world, at least the warmest.  My favorite might still be the infinity pool at the Dusit Resort in Chiang Rai Thailand.  But it is a lot easier and cheaper to get to this one!Traveling South_025

Within minutes of arriving, I checked Facebook and found a note from Betty, another RV blogger, all concerned that no one by the name of Sue Malone had checked in. Nope, it was Mo who checked in, and not with her nickname!  I asked for an hour or so for us to get out the chairs, and sure enough Betty bopped right into our site right on cue.  Bopped is a good description for Betty.  She is a sweet, delightful, happy woman who chatters along so comfortably that it is easy to enjoy her company.  We visited a bit, took some photos, heard some great stories, and then Betty bopped back to her place to prepare for their early morning departure for Arizona.  Nice to meetcha, Betty!

Traveling South_021Traveling South_020We have a week here at the resort, before our travels will take us south toward Yuma.  In the mean time, we hope to catch some of the hiking trails that we haven’t done in the past.  Many trails around this area are not dog friendly.  We miss Abby so much, but are not ready to get another dog, so this is the year to hike all the dog unfriendly trails that we can find.  The weather is with us, the skies are clear and the temperatures are perfect, without the famous Desert Hot Springs winds anywhere in the predictions.  It will be a good week.Traveling South_031

January 6 In Desert Hot Springs

Current Location: Catalina Spa and RV Resort, Desert Hot Springs, CA

Once again we have traveled south to the desert early in January.  Once again we are settled in at our favorite little winter spot, relaxing in the almost balmy temperatures and enjoying the brilliant blue skies.  More to tell, but it will have to wait until morning.  For the time being, imagine mornings that begin before daylight lingering in the spa at 104 F before slipping into the 95 F pool for a few laps and back again.  I had it all to myself this morning.  Delightful.

Traveling South_026After a swim and soak, walk in the cool morning air with hair still wet to watch the sun rise on Mt San Jacinto across the open desert. Not bad.

Traveling South_029Till tomorrow