01-15-2015 Joshua Tree Heaven

Current Location: Rocky Point Oregon Current temperature: 45 degrees F and clear

Joshua Tree Morning (50 of 54)Can you see all the magical people in this pile of rocks?  Look close. 

When Judy (bird lady of blogland) and I were visiting, we talked about our blogging habits and one of the thoughts that came up was how important it is to write when everything is fresh.  Some folks are diligent about this, writing everything on the same day in first person present tense.  Others are the opposite extreme, waiting sometimes months to get back to a special trip with tons of information and magnificent photos.

Joshua Tree Evening (8 of 31) I fall somewhere in between.  If we are traveling, I try hard to keep up, but on almost every extended outing, I’ll get behind.  Such is the case today.  I am once again at home, sitting at the office window looking out through the forest, trying to slip back into how it felt to be camping in the dry sunny almost warmth of Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree Evening (14 of 31) Mo and I love to visit Joshua Tree.  In 2008, when we first brought the MoHo home to Oregon from Texas, we stopped for a a bit of exploring around the Joshua Tree campgrounds, and almost got ourselves into a tight situation on one of the Jumbo Rocks campground loops. 

Joshua Tree Evening (15 of 31) In 2013, even though we were camped at Desert Hot Springs, we spent some time exploring the National Park and loved every minute of it.  I made a mental note that we should try to camp in Jumbo Rocks campground on our trip south in 2014.  My planning wasn’t too great, however, since we arrived on New Years Day, and the campground, which has no reservations, was jam packed for the holiday.

We solved that problem with a terrific time boondocking outside the park just south of the southern entrance, within view of I-10. What a great way to see in the new year.

Joshua Tree Evening (28 of 31) This year, we saved our Joshua Tree time for last.  It was hard leaving Arizona after such a short time, but miscellaneous home issues required that we get back on the road north in short order.  Finally, after all these years, we managed a night of beautiful dry camping in the Jumbo Rocks Campground at Joshua Tree National Park.

I somehow expected that in mid January, after all the holidays were over, the park would be quiet.  While it was much quieter than last year, there were still many people exploring, and we were lucky to find a spot long enough for the MoHo when we arrived around 3 in the afternoon. With a short stop in Quartzite, I was still drooling over some of the new Class A rigs that we toured at La Mesa RV.  In spite of all that glass, and all that space, I still love tucking my little 26 footer into tight spaces in national parks, state parks, and forest service campgrounds.

Joshua Tree Morning (52 of 54) The campground is long, with winding roads and a few side loops, but the majority of sites are sized for tent camping.  Sites that are large enough for bigger rigs are built parallel to the road, and require some forethought and jockeying to settle in properly.

Joshua Tree Morning (51 of 54) We figured out that in order to get our slide out on the private side away from the road, we would have to park facing the opposite direction and accept the slight inconvenience of the doorway opening directly into the road.

It worked out just fine, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be any longer.  There were a few big rigs in some of the areas at the far end of the park, but I would imagine that they had to wait around to get a site big enough to accommodate their size.

Joshua Tree Evening (17 of 31) Both of us have always wanted to camp among the beautiful boulders, and with our windows opening up to a giant jumbled pile of wonderfulness, we watched the evening light shifting colors on the granite, and the next morning enjoyed the changing light of sunrise.

Joshua Tree Evening (6 of 31) The night was cold, with frost on the car when morning broke.  There were people in tents nearby and I was reminded of days camping in cold tents and warm sleeping bags, trying to keep warm making coffee over the fire.  Such luxury.  I snuggled back into the down comforter, enjoying the morning with no hurry to beat the sunrise.  I planned to hike, but I didn’t need to do it while the frost was still hanging around.

The other interesting tidbit about Jumbo Rocks is the generator rules.  Generators can be run from 7 to 9 am, from 12 to 2 pm, and from 6 to 8 pm.  Different.  We still had a good charge, even with our furnace running, but it was nice to top it off with an hour of generator time around 9 am before we took off hiking.

Joshua Tree Morning (7 of 54) The hike to Skull Rock from the campground is well marked, however it was easy to wind between the rocks from our campsite until we intercepted the trail meandering east toward the attraction.  At only 1.3 miles, when we found Skull Rock, we weren’t ready to quit, so Mo and I wandered around the boulders for a time, enjoying all the shapes and shadows of the crazy beautiful landscape.

Joshua Tree Morning (23 of 54) What a wonderful place! In all our years passing by this trailhead, we had never actually seen Skull Rock.  I had no clue until we almost ran into it that the famous face is very close to the parking area right on the main park road. 

Joshua Tree Morning (37 of 54) Joshua Tree Morning (30 of 54)This section of Joshua Tree is filled with fantasmagoric boulders that people young and old love to climb and explore.  It is almost like a giant jungle gym for grownups, or maybe not so grownups.  We saw some teenagers doing scary things on high boulders that made me wonder if this park has a high incidence of injuries and rescues. We everything from old folks meandering around the rocks to the aforementioned teenagers, to professional free climbers with some equipment, and other climbers with a ton of equipment.  Joshua Tree Morning (33 of 54)

Once again, we passed many sights on our way out that reminded us to put at least a week of dry camping here on the agenda the next time we travel south in the winter. Joshua Tree Morning (14 of 54)

As I was walking along behind Mo in the morning sunlight, I felt myself slip into a state of wonder that is a bit hard to fathom or explain.  I was just so incredibly happy, so very much in that moment, so high on the light and the rocks and the sandy trail in front of me.  I hope I can remember that moment at times when I am feeling low or bored with the everydayness of life in general.  Moments like that are rare and wonderful.  Most of the time I am in good spirits, but this was somehow different.  Call it Bliss, I suppose, I was there! 

Joshua Tree Morning (12 of 54) We had a wonderful breakfast, a wonderful hike, and a wonderful morning to slip under the belt before we had to leave the clear beautiful desert behind us and head west into the foggy dreariness of the Central Valley of California.  Only thing that made the drive tolerable was the anticipation of spending time with friends on our way home.

Joshua Tree Morning (46 of 54) Next:  Visiting Jimmie and Nickie in Nevada City!

01-11-2015 Other Doings in the Coachella Valley

Current Location: Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, near Yuma, Arizona

While swimming, soaking, and hiking in the warm winter temperatures of the Coachella Valley are high on our list of favorite pastimes here, we do manage to do a few other things as well.  For complex reasons, we decided to travel north and east through Yucca Valley to 29 Palms to check out the Marine base.  murals at 29 Palms (7 of 48)

It was a billboard advertisement that called our attention to the murals in the small desert town.  Murals are always fun to find, but in this case many of them were on north facing walls, making photography a bit challenging.  I suppose this might be to reduce fading on the paintings.  A few of the murals were done fairly recently, and one especially was interesting because the signatures indicated that it was completed in just a weekend in May in 2013.  Quite the project.murals at 29 Palms (28 of 48)murals at 29 Palms (25 of 48)

murals at 29 Palms (9 of 48)murals at 29 Palms (13 of 48)The mural on the Little Church in the Desert had colors that rivaled any I have seen.  It was quite dramatic.

murals at 29 Palms (23 of 48)This was my favorite, however, what a great sense of humor!

murals at 29 Palms (36 of 48)As we headed back west through town, this amazing fence caught our eye.  It was in a parking lot of a now closed Farmers Insurance building, and the building was just as creative, with walls and windows of rusted mine metal and old brick, even though the building was fairly new.

murals at 29 Palms (30 of 48)Although I don’t care to travel the distances that Paulette travels hunting for quilt shops in Southern California, there are two pretty nice shops in the valley.  On Saturday, with gloomy skies and needing a day of down time, we drove south toward Palm Desert and found both shops in the vicinity of I-10. 

Rick and Paulett_233As is usually the case with quilt shops, these two have entirely different styles and offerings.  In previous years I have found great patterns and fabric and made quilts when I got home from the goodies found here.Rick and Paulett_234

This time was no exception, as I added considerably to my stash, and bought enough fabulous batiks to make a quilt similar to a sample I saw in the shop that melted my heart.  Can hardly wait to get home to get started on it.  The colors are so gorgeous.

Rick and Paulett_221Sunday after our swim and leisurely breakfast, I drove the short distance to The Sands for a visit with Rick and Paulette. So nice of them to invite me for coffee and “dippers”, a Trader Joe delight that Rylie thought she should share as well.  Rylie was adorable, as usual, full of energy and such a sweet face. Rick and I have talked often about computer stuff, and I follow Paulette’s quilting blog, so we do have some things in common beside simply traveling in an RV.Rick and Paulett_222

Our days usually included a walk through the park, checking out the rigs and the people.  It was especially interesting to notice how many sites were empty this year.  Surprising considering the cost of fuel seems to have many more people on the road.  Even though we stay here most every year, we have never gone to any of the sales pitches, or actually figured out the ownership style of the park.  Who knows.  We aren’t buying anyway.

murals at 29 Palms (40 of 48)Some people seem to have bought more than one lot, and just down the road from us in the lower park, an owner was installing landscaping, and gravel on one lot next door to his motorhome space.  It looked quite nice.  I was curious how long these owners are allowed to stay in the park, or if they have to leave as some of the other kinds of park memberships require.  However, I didn’t care to find out enough to sit through a sales pitch!

murals at 29 Palms (42 of 48)On another note, I learned again to make the trip to the upper park laundry rather than using the one in the lower campground near our site.  Once again, as in years past, I lost money in the machines with no way of getting a refund. The office was closed on Sunday, the machines are owned by someone offsite (according to the lone person around in the guard shack).  The only way to get back my 1.25 in quarters was to fill out some extensive paperwork and after the problem was resolved, they would mail the money to me.  Right…I never did ask if I had to pay for the stamp for that service which would have cut my return in half.

Traveling South_035The other minor thing to keep in mind at Catalina is the soft sand and uneven sites.  We put pads under the front levelers, but had nothing under the back ones.  When we lifted the levelers, the back one had sunk at least four inches into the sand.  Be sure to have supports for your levelers and plan on complicated leveling.  We have semi-automatic levelers, so can only manage two at a time, and it gets a bit crazy sometimes in these uneven sites.

Don’t want to end thoughts of our stay at Catalina Spa with negative stuff, however.  I still give this park a 9 out of 10 for one of our favorite parks to spend time in the winter.  The pools are the best part, and I will continue to come south for my allotted seven days as long as this park honors our Passport America.  I would NOT pay the regular price of $65 per night no matter how good the pools were!Traveling South_030

We left yesterday morning, traveling east on Dillon Road toward Quartzite and then south toward Yuma. 

Next: Visiting Judy and the birds at Imperial National Wildlife Refuge

 

01-09-2015 Thousand Palms Hike

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

Midnight: I have been lying around listening to the clock hands turn.  Not very entertaining to say the least.  The silence was broken by the pit pat of raindrops on the roof of the rig, so I jumped up to bring in the towels and swim suits draped around the chairs and tables on our patio.  I think the 3 percent chance of rain might not do much damage to our drying swimwear before morning, but why take the chance.Thousand Palms_177

We began our day as usual, with swimming and soaking, breakfast with the news, fresh orange juice.  Although the weather predictions were for cooler temperatures and cloudy skies, by the time we got in the car around mid day to go hunting for our hike, it was sunny and again quite comfortable in the high 60’s.

Our plan was to drive south into Palm Springs and explore the Palm Canyons that are behind a toll gate on lands owned by the Cahuilla people.  It was worth paying the price, I though, to see these beautiful canyons and to try out a few of the hikes that are well reviewed by folks who have visited.

Thousand Palms_210As we emerged from the driveway, toward the north and east the skies were blue and clear, but toward the south, murky smog was obscuring the San Jacinto’s.  It only took us a moment to make the decision to drive north and east rather than into the brownish bands of gooky air that seemed to be coming filling the entire western part of the Coachella Valley, slipping in like a dirty fog through the canyons into Palm Springs.  I guess that is the price we pay for calm air and no winds.  Smog.

21A short distance east on Dillon Road, the major east west road bisecting the lower end of Desert Hot Springs, is the huge Caliente Springs Resort.  I know folks who love to stay here so we thought we would once again check out the digs and see what we thought.  It certainly is big, and the large three sectioned pool is quite lovely, and under a shady structure to keep it from the glaring heat. 

26There is lovely landscaping and several ponds, a golf course, a huge recreation room with posted entertainment venues and several pages of craft classes and activities. It is beautifully landscaped and seemed quite upscale, at least on the surface.

22Quite the spot.  Most of the sites are very nice versions of park model homes, both for sale and for rent, with a very few RV sections mixed in.  Problem for us, however, is that the RV sections are a long way from the pool, a long way from anything.  I guess that is why most everyone seemed to have a golf cart.  It is a very nice place, but not our kind of place. 

I checked out the four hot tubs and the hottest one smelled strongly of chlorine, and the rest of them were about the temperature of our swimming pool.  Chemicals and chilly.  Not my kind of hot mineral pools.  The biggest drawback, even more than the distance, was the posted hours of open pools from 8am to 10 pm.  Nope, no way.  It really made us appreciate our little park with trees and shrubs between our sites, and our beautiful very warm pools that smell of nothing but pure clean hot spring water.

Whipping back out on Dillon Road, we continued east toward Thousand Palms Highway…actually spelled 1000 Palms on the street sign to keep it short enough to fit I guess.  The Thousand Palms Oasis is in the middle of the Coachella Valley Preserve, operated by the Center for Natural Lands Management in Thousand Palms.

Thousand Palms_166I knew of the hiking trails in the preserve, having hiked the Pushawalla Loop on the eastern side of the preserve a few years ago with Laurie and Odel.  Once again, at the time, our hiking was limited because of Abby, and Mo stayed home while Laurie, and Odel, and I spent a lovely sunny Christmas Eve hiking the trails.

thousand palms hikeToday’s hike.  The blue line is our route, and the red line is the San Andreas fault.

Today the parking lot was almost full when we arrived, it is amazing how many people are out hiking on a weekday.  With the sun shining so brightly, it was magical to slip into the thick darkness of the ancient palms.  Some are as much as 150 years old.  This palm is the only native palm in California. 

Thousand Palms_169We stopped in at the small visitor center to enjoy the displays, including some very detailed information about the San Andreas Fault which runs right through the preserve, and bisects the area in front of the center.  The water that is visible at the surface here, comes from the aquifer beneath that emerges due to cracking and fissuring in the fault.  Thousand Palms Oasis is one of the largest groves of desert fan palms (Washingtonia filifera) in California.Thousand Palms_200

Thousand Palms_176The trail we chose was a short 2 mile round trip toward McCallum Pond, also formed by a natural earthquake seep.  The trail meanders through the riparian forest, up to the desert wash, where plants that can survive with less water than the fan palms but which need more water than is available in the open desert thrive.

Thousand Palms_191Thousand Palms_208Once we reached McCallum Pond, we decided to take the Moon Country Loop for the return trip, adding another mile or so to our walk.  I was glad I had the GPS with me, however, because we managed to get on a longer section of Moon Country than we planned.  The afternoon was progressing and we were still walking north on a very lunar landscape.  I finally tried to double check our location to discover that we had a long way to go before the turnaround.  Enuf!

Thousand Palms_215We decided to backtrack, and then cross the wash off trail to reach the other returning leg of the Moon Country Trail, a great decision.  The hike was only a bit longer than yesterday, but because of the deep sandy washes where the trail goes, we were much more tired when we finished.  Much of it was like walking on a beach.  Best part of the Moon Country section of the trail, however, was the lack of people.  Most folks seem content to stay on the lower trails near the oases, and we only saw a single man hiking out in the direction we had traveled into Moon Country.

Thousand Palms_218By the time we ended our hike, the murky smog was thinning and was replaced by dark clouds to the west.  We hadn’t bothered with lunch, and had a couple of diet pepsi’s and some fritos in the car. Perfect food after not eating all day!  I know better than to drink pepsi any time after 2pm, which is why I am still sitting here wide awake writing a blog!  Next time I’ll be sure to have a snack bar and an orange and more water in the car.

Thousand Palms_212

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)