02-11-2018 Leaving Tucson Heading North

Remember that if you click on a photo, (except for maps and internet photos) it will take you to the larger version on my SmugMug site, where you can also see more photos in that gallery.

When Sunday morning arrived, the gorgeous clear skies over Tucson were showing a bit of gray.  Clouds were coming in.  We didn’t know at the time that there was a lot of rain heading towards the big city in the desert, and as the days passed with extended weather reports from friends and news sites, we knew how lucky we had been.  Our entire time so far had been gorgeous.  Sunny, warm, temperatures much above normal, no wind.  Who could ask for more?!

Leaving Tucson, we knew the best way out of town was on the interstate.  To our delight, I-10 at 9 on a Sunday morning was beautifully quiet.  Note to self, always leave big cities which require freeway travel on Sunday morning.  I was driving so we missed photographs of all the amazing freeway overpasses and bridges between Tucson and Phoenix.  Even the fences are covered with gorgeous sculptures, some in cement, some in rusted metal.  We enjoyed all the art along the highways, both in Arizona and in Nevada.  Next time I’ll have Mo drive this section so I can get some photos.

(The two photos here were taken from the internet just so you get the idea.)

I have noticed this trend growing in many places where we travel.  Made me wonder what it must be like to be a freeway graphic artist and to see your designs bigger than life in such a public venue.  Almost as much fun as the mural craze that seems to be everywhere as well.

We were still not absolutely sure about our route home.  I had checked the weather going north along Highway 395 in California, and it looked a bit iffy.  The fastest route would be to take Highway 95 directly north from Las Vegas to Reno, but geez that part can be boring.  We thought maybe we could boondock in the Alabama Hills if we could get through Death Valley.  Both of us remembered some of the climbs in and out of the valley.

The route we traveled from Tucson to Minden, Nevada

We decided to head for Phoenix, and then north, with no real idea of how far we could or wanted to go and where we might end up that night.  Beatty, Nevada was the goal, and then Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley, but who knew the timing.

I used the freecampsites.net website and found quite a few boondock sites north of Kingman.  I couldn’t believe how big Kingman was, and as we passed through, the boondock sites didn’t look all that welcoming.  We continued north, thinking we could find something.  Once again, freecampsites.net led the way.  We saw a big parking lot available across the street from the Hoover Dam Casino, just east of Boulder City and set a beeline for a free night spot that shouldn’t be terribly crowded.

Turned out to be a perfect place, and we never even bothered to cross the highway to visit the casino.  Dinner was once again some excellent leftovers from the freezer while we watched the sunset and settled in for the evening. A few rigs rolled in during the night, but they weren’t terribly loud.  By morning there were a few trailers, and some car and tent campers scattered around the edges of the big space.

Our plan was to continue north and then cross Death Valley, with a stay at Stovepipe Wells, but the weather had other plans.  It was COLD, and when we drove into Beatty I think the daytime temperatures were in the low 40’s, with a hard freeze predicted for the night.  I called Stovepipe Wells, where we were told all sites were taken, and we did a quick rethink.  We had passed a decent looking park on the way into Beatty, so gave them a quick call, and sure enough there was a space, full hookups.  Death Valley Inn RV Park was a good choice.

It was still early in the day, and as we thought about our options, it seemed like a good thing to relax early and spend some time playing and exploring.  We have been to Death Valley a few times, and the things we would see there are sights we have enjoyed in the past.  Something different would be fun.

We headed for the tiny Visitor center in town, next to the cheapest gas in town, and gathered up some brochures on local interesting things to see and do.  Rhyolite is a ghost town that is fun to explore, but we had already done that a few years ago.  We decided to explore some of the back 4 wheel drive roads, and found an interesting loop that meandered past old mining cabins, through “Secret Pass”, south to the desert, and back via the highway.

We explored the old Flourspar Cabin at a mining site before continuing up the road

The 8 miles to Secret Pass was challenging, but that is why we were out there.  I was a bit of a wreck actually, as Mo crawled over the big, pointy rocks, with me jumping out now and then to move some especially big ones.  Once we were past the bad part, it didn’t seem so bad.  I think for me it was the unknown factor of whether the road actually continued through.  I didn’t like the idea of having to back up and out over those rocks and ditches and eroded dry streambeds. 

When we got to an easier part, I started taking photos, and Mo asked why in the world we didn’t get photos of the scary parts?  I was too busy holding on and gasping! 

Of course, we didn’t have a good local map, and the phone map quit working about half way through.  We just kept going, and following our noses, found our way out of the mountains and across the desert back to the highway.  It was fun, and something we love to do when in the desert.  No flat tires, no getting stuck in sand or creekbeds, and beautiful views.

We had seen Big Dune on the way north to Beatty, and our dirt road intercepted the highway just a few miles north of the road to the sands.  We traveled the washboard gravel just 6 miles with the dunes looming in the distance.  This dune is incredible, a star dune out in the middle of the flat desert, and I loved it much more than the dunes in Death Valley.  Maybe because it rises all alone from the surrounding space, or maybe because it isn’t overrun with people, or at least it wasn’t when we were there.  Unprotected the way the Death Valley dunes are protected, it was covered with 4 wheeler tracks, but when we were there on this mid week afternoon, there wasn’t a soul around.

Mattie had more fun than she has had in a long time.  Something about soft sand makes her completely joyously crazy, and she ran around like a wild thing in the wind. 

She does the same thing at ocean beaches, and in big soft grass as well.  The dune was lit from the west with the late afternoon sun and the backdrop of dark clouds was a photographer’s dream.  Gorgeous!

On our way back, along Highway 95, we finally spotted the wild burros that were touted in the brochure.  All along our route we had seen burro apples, but no burros, so we were glad to finally see them.

A great mural in Beatty along the main road into town

The next morning was cold, so we took our time heading west toward Death Valley.  Stovepipe Wells was busy with tourists, and I stopped in at the Visitor Center and General Store hoping for a really good sweatshirt to add to the one I found at Chaco Canyon 4 years ago.  No luck.  I am pretty specific in what I want, and I guess my current version will have to suffice. 

I was glad we didn’t stay there, with all the people, visiting all the beautiful sights we have seen before.  It was enough to pass through this part of the valley and to save wandering around in the back country for another trip. 

Look closely to see the MoHo winding down the grade toward Panamint Springs

We knew about the long grade up from Stovepipe Wells, and then back down to Panamint Springs, not horrible, but definitely long.  We decided to unhook early on rather than waiting for the really big hill west of Panamint Springs.  Mo went ahead in the MoHo and I followed in the Tracker, making it much easier to stop along the way for photos.

We negotiated the really steep hill up from Death Valley toward Lone Pine without any mishaps, and stopped at the top for lunch and a walk with the dog.  The sun was warm coming through the windows, but the wind was really cold!

As we approached the intersection with Highway 395, I was again enthralled with the magnificent view of the eastern face of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Often at this time of year, the highways are snow covered, but this year the snowpack in the Sierra’s is extremely low.  It was our window in time to travel one of our favorite highways without being worried about the storms and snows.  We have been in serious snow storms with chains required on this road as late as Memorial Day!

We didn’t stop along the way, passing places we have visited in the past, reminiscing about good food, beautiful hikes, historic sites.  Many good memories along this route for us, and it was fine that on this trip we simply passed through viewing the incredible scenery.  We were heading home, and no matter how long we are out, when it gets close to home time, we tend to move along fairly quickly.

There is just so much to see and do along this highway, the list is huge.  It deserves a month, preferably in warmer weather, not just a day.  We will return.

Our destination for the night was Minden, Nevada, where we had stayed at a new park back in 2014 on our way home from Florida.  At that time, it snowed on us, April 1, and we were happy for hookups.  This time the prediction was for temperatures in the teens, and once again we were happy for hookups.  I called ahead, and was glad I did since Silver City Resort seems to have developed into a very popular place in the last 4 years.  Most of the people there are in for long term visits.  That surprised me because it can be cold in this area south of Reno.

When we woke up the next morning, the temperature was 12 degrees F, the Tracker was covered in thick frost, and even the MoHo had frost on the lower sides.  We had turned on our tank heaters for the first time in a long time.

It was time to figure out our home route, and we cooked a nice breakfast while debating whether to take our chances over the northern mountains or give up and cross the Sierra’s over Donner Pass and travel home via I-5.  Decisions, decisions!


 

02-14-2018 Last Leg Home

Our main purpose for traveling Highway 395 toward home was an attempt to avoid traveling north through California on Interstate 5.  We have traveled both 395 and 99 entirely too many times, and when compared to the magnificence of 395, it is simply a no-brainer.  Unless, of course, it is winter.  Highway 44 west from Susanville is a decent road

We made it as far as Minden without mishap, but the weather forecast for the next day made us a bit nervous.  Should we scrap our plans for continuing north all the way to Susanville and then over the mountains to Mt Shasta?  Or should we just give up and travel west from Reno on I-80 over Donner Pass and then home, again, on I-5?

If we had traveled the 5, we may have been able to get up the hill to visit Jimmy and Nicky, but we also had the “horse to the barn” thing going after being away 3 weeks.  We were ready to be home, and the visiting desires were waning.  I decided instead to make a special trip next month for visiting, and will include my friend Maryruth on that visit.  I seem to enjoy it much better when the visit is dedicated to actual visiting instead of traveling.

We looked at the weather, I checked all the road cams, watched the radar.  Everything looks almost OK until Susanville, when the blue streak over the mountains to the west indicated snow.  Still, that blue streak was moving east, and maybe it would pass us by as we headed north and west.

We decided to take our chances, and figured that even if we couldn’t get across 89 up to Mt Shasta, we could no doubt manage 44 across to Redding.  Highway 44 meanders along the north side of Mt Lassen, and except for a very few twisty places, is a fairly good road.  It had been a few years since we traveled that route, when we hiked some fabulous trails in Mt Lassen and returned to Klamath Falls via Susanville.

More choices for getting over the Southern Cascades in California

We were right about the snow, and encountered a few flurries along Highway 395 before we arrived in Susanville, but by the time we continued west on 44, the snow was gone.  The highway was clear and we were even treated to some great views of Mt Lassen.

Even though we were fairly close to home, when we arrived in Redding we decided to slow it down a bit, get a place to park for another cold night, and travel the last 4 hours to home in the morning when we were fresh.  In addition, that would put us at home mid day, much nicer than crawling into our driveway in the dark.

Another happy little reason for taking our time in Redding had to do with Valentine’s Day.  We have a tradition to buy some happy See’s Candy to share as a Valentine’s Day treat.  Such decadence, but at least it is only once a year, or maybe twice if I get some at Christmas.  I haven’t had chocolate as creamy perfect as See’s anywhere in the country, even at some of those fabulous artisan chocolatiers in trendy little tourist towns.

Redding RV Park isn’t fancy, but it is right next to the freeway, and if you get a nice long site on the rows farthest from the freeway it is quiet enough for a good sleep, with space to pull through.  What the very nice looking website doesn’t show is that much of the park is on a fairly steep hill overlooking the freeway.  In all fairness, the actual sites are decently level, at least most of them are. We called ahead for a reservation as soon as we were sure of our route, and it was again a good thing that we did.  The park filled up after dark.

The next morning dawned clear and gorgeous, with Mt Shasta looming in the north to mark our route home.  We again took our time, filled up with gas at the station around the corner from the park, (also the cheapest gas in Redding),and got on the freeway.  Yes, it was I-5, but between this part of California and Oregon there are no other real options.

For the first time in a long time, we stopped at the rest area north of Yreka that is down in a canyon along the Klamath River.  It is also a California Welcome Center with a docent offering information about both California and Oregon, some lovely art, maps and tons of brochures for things to do in both Oregon and California.  We enjoyed the sunshine and the river and Mattie loved the spacious unfenced pet area. 

When we pulled into the driveway at home in the early afternoon, the sun was shining, and we were both still fresh and energetic enough to empty the MoHo and start the laundry. A perfect travel day at the end of a rather amazingly perfect trip.  Love to travel and love to be home.  I am so glad that we can do both.

Art from the Palm Springs Street Fair on the wall at home

Our timing was perfect, because in just a few days winter decided to come to Grants Pass after all, and we had real snow right here at home.  That doesn’t happen often in Grants Pass, and this time as well the snow melted with the afternoon sunshine.

02-01 Days in the Coachella Valley

Palm Springs at Night is always lit up beautifully

Often when we are visiting this part of the desert, we fill up the days with lots of “doings”.  This time we decided that we needed a bit more “being” and a little less “doing”.  That didn’t mean we wanted to sit around all the time doing nothing but hanging out, but we did limit our excursions to one thing per day for the rest of our week at Catalina Spa.  Not counting swimming and reading of course, those two were on the list every single day. 

I finished knitting a winter scarf in camo colors for my great grandson, who loves all things camo.  Managed to get it mailed from the Desert Hot Springs post office in plenty of time.  On our first afternoon in town, after setting up at Catalina, we decided that it was time, after 8 years of driving east on Dillon Road from Indian Canyon road, past the Dillon Burger and Grill that we needed to stop for one of their down home hamburgers. 

The ambience of the bar was great, funky old bar with fun people eating and drinking, a bunch of guys from some plumbing company on a work break, and a bunch of bikers on the patio enjoying the sunshine.  The burgers were decent, not fancy or fabulous, but decent, and at 4.95 each our lunch was under 20 bucks including the beer and wine.

On another day we explored the stone sculptures at the big yard down on Dillon Road.  Another place we have passed often and never visited.  The sculptures were amazing, the artist was a character, and he talked to us about the cost of installation and transportation for these gorgeous pieces of nature’s art.  He has installations all over the country.  We imagined one the of pillars with windows sitting by our driveway at the entrance to the new house, but probably will never pop for the $5000. it would cost to do that.


On Thursday afternoon, we made the half hour drive into Palm Springs to enjoy an early dinner at a restaurant we enjoy.  Macarena’s is  Mexican place right in the center of town, with outdoor seating along the main street where every Thursday night there is a great street fair.  We got a streetside table and good service while watching the vendors set up their booths for the evening festivities.  The Happy Hour appetizer menu had perfect choices for each of us to share,and I had a killer good marguerita to go with it. I like it when a Mexican restaurant has good flavors that surprise me, instead of the same ole same ole.  Dinner was delicious and we ate every bite, no leftovers!  It is easy when you order appetizers instead of the full course deal.

As darkness fell, we joined the throngs walking down the center of the road, enjoying all the vendors and art for sale.  Before we left home, Mo and I scoped out some large exterior walls of the new house, thinking we needed a bit of house art.  I thought at the time that we might find something either in Palm Springs, or Tubac, Arizona, and we scored in both places.  We found a beautiful sun sculpted in stainless steel by a local artist at the street fair, and I managed to get through the crowd of people without puncturing anyone with the pointy sun rays.  Photos will come later for this piece, waiting now in our garage for the bad weather to lift before we decide exactly where it will be placed on the house.

As the evening wore on, the crowds thickened to the point of being tiresome. We were really glad that we came early and had supper before strolling the street fair.  We were back home by 7 fully satisfied with our meal and our outing and ready to settle in for another swim.  It was hard to share the pool with all those other people, you know the ones, the noodlers.  It seems that evening time is when folks like to “noodle”, where they all gather in little pods, floating on their noodles and chatting and laughing.  I have no problem at all with that, but I do wish that they would at least leave me a tiny lane on the far edge of the pool to actually swim.  Another reason I miss my 3 AM swims.  I actually like to swim!

The next day we woke up early to travel south again to Palm Desert to visit the Living Desert.  We went there for the first time in the winter of 2016, just after the little giraffes were born.  Those babies are now 2 year olds, and there are more young ones that are part of the group now. 

We arrived in time for the morning feeding, and while we were on the other side of the feeding fence, we laughed watching all the little kids holding out carrots to be wrapped up by those long black tongues.  Their responses were almost more fun than watching the giraffes.

The Living Desert is a zoo, but an accredited one that does great things for endangered species.  Our timing was good for this visit because unlike last time, the animals were out and about, including the wolves and especially the jaguars.  Those are truly amazing cats, who kill by using their powerful jaws to crush the head of their prey rather than going for the jugular as most cats do when killing. 

The 3 cheetah sisters were a new addition since our last visit, and they were wonderful to watch.  Each day they have the cheetah runs, where the handlers feed them at opposite ends of their enclosure, both for our enjoyment and exercise for them.  Cheetahs need to run.  It was amazing watching those long lanky bodies stretch out even for short distances.

We had to find the meerkats, of course.  I still think that Mattie is part meerkat.  I know I know, but she sure does look like one when she sits on her hind end, straight up, and turns her head from side to side with her little pointy nose in the air.  Pure meerkat.  We confirmed that when we saw the meerkats once again.  They have to be on the list of cutest animals ever.

The gardens are beautiful, even in winter, and walking the pathways will get in a good 3 miles of walking without even trying.  It is spendy, at $17.95 per senior person, but worth it.  I think we might have to go at least every other year, if not every year.

We returned to another favorite place for a lovely morning hike.  The Big Morongo Canyon Refuge is just half an hour up the hill to the north in the Morongo Valley.  It is a no dog hike, but thankfully Mattie is happy to wait at home in her MoHo bed if we want to head out for some non doggie entertainment.

We had hiked this area in the past, and knew it would provide lovely views and great open space.  It was quite chilly when we started out at 7:30 in the morning, but by the time we returned we had shed sweaters and were back to sleeveless shirts.

Unlike the Indian Canyons at Taquitz and Palm Canyon, this hike is free, but doesn’t have the waterfalls and streams, but also doesn’t have the crowds, at least when we went.  We passed a few people on various portions of the trail, but most of the time we had the refuge to ourselves to enjoy. 

In between all the activity, we still managed a lot more down time for walks with the dog, swims, reading in the chairs in the shade, and just enjoying the 80 degree temperatures, heaven after a foggy winter in Grants Pass.

01-30-2018 “Home” to Catalina Spa

Most years when we travel south, we slip into one of our favorite little spots, Catalina Spa and RV Resort.  Last year was a bit of a shock for us, since one of our favorite things about this particular park  was the hot spring fed swimming pool that was open all night.  I have watched moon rises and sun rises from this pool, watched stars at night and one time tracked the space station as it crossed the sky.  I love swimming in the dark without the sun in my eyes.

Last year the “adult” pool in the lower (older) part of the park was closed for renovation, and I had to either walk or drive in the middle of the cold night to get the the upper pool.  We knew that the lower pool renovations were complete and were excited and a bit nervous about the changes.

I discovered that I really am resistant to change.  It infuriates me.  Cracked me up when I realized how I was reacting to the shifts, just like an old person who can’t deal with change.  As time passed, I reminded myself, “change or die”, and I began to adjust to the shifts in our favorite place to camp in the Coachella Valley.

The new pool is quite modern looking.  The lovely old and somewhat amateur murals on the spa wall have been replaced with very spendy and lovely glass tiles.  The pool is spotlessly clean, with some kind of machine that runs during the night.  A very nice technician explained to me that California state law requires that all pools be treated with chlorine, and that not using it could result in the complete shutdown of the pool.  Sigh.  What I loved about that pool, in addition to the 24 hour open thing was the fact that it had no chlorine in it, and neither did the spa.  The hot springs at the resort completely replace the water in the pool every 3 days or so and in the spa more than twice a day.  Technician man said that even when he keeps the chlorine level up to state requirements, it is on the very low level of those requirements.  I only noticed it very faintly early in the morning, at 7am, when the pool now opens.  We also were told that the resort is now being billed as a “family resort destination”.  No such thing as an adult pool any more.  At least they still honor Passport America and our daily rate was a cool $22.50.  Not bad overall. Change or die.

The camping area has changed as well.  Half of the lower park (including the area we always chose to camp) has been closed off for repairs, and for eventual conversion to park models only. We were directed to our spot by a volunteer in a golf cart, unlike in the past where we were allowed to make our own choice.  It wasn’t a bad spot, actually quite level, and the sand had been freshly raked.  Instead of the tall tamarisk trees at the rear of our rig on 11th street as we always chose, we had campers directly behind us, and our patio was completely visible to them.  Not exactly private, but tolerable, since we were lucky enough to have nice, quiet campers in those spots.

The park seemed fairly full, but with half of it shut down, that would explain why.  We were given pages and pages of rules and activities, how to create a “safe bag” for exiting in an emergency and all sorts of other stuff.  TV thank goodness is still not digital, so we were able to get it via cable.  (We left our cable at home somehow and had to buy another one)  So much for knowing where everything is located after our move.

We were so lucky for our entire time in Desert Hot Springs with absolutely perfect weather.  It was especially lucky to be in a place with clear skies for the early morning spectacular show on January 31, the Supermoon and the Lunar Eclipse.  I didn’t even set an alarm, but woke up several times during the night to gaze at the moon, and was awake just after the eclipse started.  Didn’t pack a tripod on this trip, and thought that I really didn’t need to try that hard for a perfect photo.  So many good friends are really good at what they do, and they all have tripods.  I did want to at least try to capture the moment for my own memories, and the photos I got made me happy enough.  I was surprised at how many people around us in the park just slept through the entire display.  Of course, there were a few folks wandering about in bathrobes and slippers, smiling and laughing with me.

Once the sun was fully up the last morning of January, it was time to take Mattie walking in the big desert area just north.  The dog park is small and was muddy from the morning sprinklers, and the desert was much more inviting.  Within a few days, Mattie had made friends with several other dogs whose owners liked walking in the open, and several of us let the kids play off leash when everyone got along well.  As usual, Mattie likes the big dogs best, but there were a few little ones who were playful enough for her.  She can be a bit of a brat when she is on-leash, and gets all excited when she sees new dogs, wanting to play.  Her version of play can look kind of aggressive if you don’t know her, and I spent a lot of time saying, “No!!” 

I was glad for doggie play time for her since she will be going to visit a doggie care center while we are in Mexico next month, and the place requires her to be well behaved with other dogs.  Of course.  At least she had some practice during out three weeks out on this trip.

Time passed slowly for us at Catalina.  This year the weather was so great, with NO wind, an unheard of thing when visiting Desert Hot Springs at this time of year.  We had time to read in our chairs on the shady side of the rig, to swim mornings and evenings, to actually relax.  That is something we both really needed to do since we have been so much on the go for the last two years.  Real relaxation has been missing, and especially relaxation in warm sunshine!  Wonderful.

We had a few plans upcoming for the later part of our week, including some hikes, and some traditional treats like the Living Desert and Palm Springs Street Fair, but the quiet down time we enjoyed those first few days was extra special.


01-15-2017 Wonders of the Coachella Valley

Current Location: Orange Grove RV Park, Bakersfield, California  46 F with a foggy overcast

We are parked this evening at Orange Grove, once again picking oranges to brighten winter days at home.  I am watching the big rigs roll in, up to 4 and 6 at a time, and once again the park is completely full tonight.  It is such an easy stop, after the long drive down the slopes of Tehachapi Pass.  Level pull-through sites, full hookups, nice people to check you in, quick and easy, and yes, the oranges.  It is always about the oranges.

Leaving the Coachella Valley today was bittersweet.  It was perhaps the most blue sky day since we arrived, with temperatures predicted to be in the mid 60’s.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky when I slipped into the pool at 6am to swim through the sunrise lighting up a few small, low clouds in the east and turning the snows on Mt San Jacinto to the west a brilliant pink. 

That sea of green are the tops of all the domestic palms planted in the landscape of Palm Springs

With a short goodbye to new friend Claudia, we were on the road a little after 9am, enjoying the gorgeous light.  We decided again to take the slightly longer and a little bit slower route  through Yucca Valley, north on Highway 247 to Barstow, before intersecting I-40 West.  As we drove through the wide open desert, through what Mo called “A whole lotta nothing”, I basked in that whole lotta nothing.  It is why we love the desert, and this last nostalgic drive north on 247 is a fitting leave-taking of Southern California.

We are timing the trip north to slip between storms, with good forecasts for the next two days as we travel home to Grants Pass.  We also decided to try something different this time, and we will take the old route 99 toward Lodi instead of the wide and incredibly bumpy Interstate 5.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

The title of this blog post is also the title of a great little book that I found at the Indian Canyons visitor center a few days ago when we hiked Palm Canyon.  Wonders of the Coachella Valley, by James W. Cornett, is a lovely small guide to ten of the best natural places to visit in the area.  After 7 annual visits to this area, we are still finding new places to explore.  Finally, after our hike yesterday, we have been to all ten written about in this great book about some of the local natural history. 

Taquitz Canyon is one more treasure, another beautiful canyon at the edge of Palm Springs.  It is owned by the Aqua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians, as are the Indian Canyons we visited previously.  This canyon, however, has a separate visitor center and a separate entrance.  The cost to hike the 2 mile trail is $12.50 per person and worth every penny.  There are no senior discounts, but it is free to folks with a military ID, either active or retired.

The history of the canyon goes back at least 2,000 years, with evidence of humans occupying the area at that time, traveling to the Ancient Lake Cahuilla for fish, and building materials for their homes, and returning to the lands near the canyon for other plant and animal food sources.  Included with the entrance fee is the opportunity to view the short film about the legend of Taquitz, and the reason that no Native Americans have chosen to live within the canyon itself.

More recent history of the canyon is interesting, with hippies living in caves during the 60’s, and vagrants and trespassers ignoring the no trespassing signs.  Even though it belonged to the tribe, they didn’t have the resources to maintain the trails and keep out the vagrants.  We read several newspaper articles displayed from the last few decades that document the problems in the canyon, and the eventual successful restoration of this magical place.  The tribal people have cleaned it up, kept it clean and free of scary squatters, and allow us to walk the beautifully maintained trails to one of the loveliest waterfalls I have seen in this part of the world. 

There are lots of stone steps leading up the canyon, and the small stone bridges crossing the active creek are works of art.  I love a loop trail, and this one follows both sides of the creek to the falls, so there are options to go in either direction.  I think we picked the best, staying toward the right as we left the visitor center.  I don’t mind climbing up all the steps, with a knee that likes ups much more than downs, and I think there were fewer steps on the other side of the creek on our route downhill.

Even on a sunny Saturday around 11 there weren’t so many people on the trail that it was uncomfortable.  It is a hike that can be completed by just about anyone willing to climb the steps and we saw families with kids, runners in bright shoes, and old people with walking sticks enjoying the trail. 

The falls is enclosed in shadow, and judging from the high walls surrounding the cascade, I would imagine that the sun never shines in that alcove.  The sound was beautiful, but even with only a few people on the trail, it felt as though it would be hogging the scene to hang around too long.  Everyone wanted their photo right in front of the falls, and it was only fair to take turns.

With the dark shadows and dim light it was difficult to capture the beauty of the white bark of the huge old sycamores that thrive in the moist soils of the canyon floor and at the base of the falls.  With the brilliant yellow brittlebush that covers the hillsides not yet blooming, our only spot of color was Justica californica, Chuparosa, with a salvia type flower that was brilliant red.  Chuparosa is a colloquial Spanish word for hummingbird bush, and I did see a hummingbird hanging around in the lower part of the canyon.

Our hike was a perfect finale to the 11 days we spent in the Coachella Valley, finally visiting a beautiful place that no one should miss when traveling to this area. We now have seen all ten places listed in the book, and yet there are many more trails to explore within each of those sites. 

I know we will come back.  Whether for a day or a few, this valley is on our way to whatever desert we chose to explore.  No matter the shifts and changes at Catalina Spa, I am reasonably certain we will park there again as well.  Who knows what we will find the next time we come.  I still miss the “lower” pool, and the bigger one in the upper park is a substitute.  But it worked, I still was able to swim in the middle of the night or at sunrise, and had the pool to myself.  That is still the best part of Catalina Spa for me.

For Mattie, I think the dog park is fun, but the best part for her is the open desert to the north of the park, filled with debris from park cleanups, but also filled with rabbit smells and open space where she can run off leash a bit.  Mo and I like walking out there as well, watching whatever lightshow appears for us on the distant mountains.

I do feel incredibly lucky to have the chance to escape to the deserts, no matter how long or how short the trip may be.  There was a time, as my daughter reminded me on the phone today, when February would put me in a dark place. I don’t take for granted the shifts in my life that allow me the freedom to roam, to wander, to swim at dawn or hike on a weekday, or sit in a fabulous movie theater on a rainy afternoon.  Retirement really is incredible.