Jan 30, 2015

A Four Day Sampling of Anza Borrego Desert State Park

January 21, 2015 Joshua Tree NP, White Tank CG 46f

First on the agenda for the day was a shower and soak. Spurred on by our friends Julianne Crane and Jimmy Smith [click here] we visited Desert Hot Springs Hotel and Spa. This facility offers affordable day rates that include soaking pools of various temperatures, a swimming pool, as well as the shower room. Ah yes, the showers and the soak were just what we were looking for.

Passing Palm Springs and Palm Desert, we headed toward the Salton Sea and down the west side to S22, the Borrego Salton Sea Way, which carries the weary traveler west toward Borrego Springs. The road, S22, goes through some dramatic “bad lands” along the way which kept our photo-specialist (Dar) busy. Her trigger finger was vibrating and it appeared the camera was starting to smoke.

Since it was getting late in the day we found a campspot (33.304, -116.280, elev 630) among the boondockers at Clark Dry Lake off Rockhouse Road. It wasn’t our ideal, but it’d do for the night. We’ll get an early start in the morning.

January 22, Clark Dry Lake northeast of Borrego Springs

Drove through the little village of Borrego Springs and stopped for breakfast at Jilbertos. Then out to the Anza Borrego Visitor Center for a little orientation. Anza Borrego is the largest State Park in the United States. At 634,000 acres, it makes up more than half the real estate of the entire California State Park system combined. The largest established campground is near the visitor center. It has a full-hookup section and two no-hookup sections. We made note of the numerous shower facilities for future reference.

A volunteer in the VC gave us the “skinny” on a number of primitive/backcountry camping spots when he found out our vehicle was almost go-anywhere capable. There are over 400 miles of roads (mostly sand, rock, dirt) that traverse the park and as long as you follow a few simple rules, you can camp almost anywhere. Now you’re talkin’.

We explored Borrego Springs a bit more and then headed out toward an area called Hawk Canyon. It’s also near a feature called “The Slot”, a popular slot canyon hike that we think we’ll do tomorrow morning. Today we just wanted to get to a secluded campspot and take it easy.

The road into Hawk Canyon was mostly sand with washboard riffles and a few noteable inflections. The small canyon was a gorgeous display of rock and color that extended about a quarter mile. We found an agreeable spot to set up a quick camp (33.179, -116.204, elev 590), and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the canyon and soaking up the warm sun. A few other vehicles drove through during the afternoon, but as the sun set, we were all alone.

January 23, Anza Borrego - Hawk Canyon camp.

I should mention that all those 400 miles of roads and trails through the park are designated for highway-legal vehicles only. There is another area east of the park called the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area where all those 4 wheeler dune buggies, desert assault vehicles, dust bunnies, and Razor-like side-by-side thingys can go and knock themselves out making as much dust as they can and sending dirt flying in any direction they chose. The lack of these creations is just another feature that makes Anza Borrego a hit with us.

Once we got ourselves up and rolling for the day, we only had a short two or three mile drive over to The Slot, our hike for the day. This highlights a big benefit of our go anywhere, stay anywhere capability. If we had to base ourselves at a campground back in the Borrego Springs area, we’d have to add commuting time and expense to our day. As it is, at least here in this park, we can stay close to where we end the previous days explorations and be ready to explore right away the following day. It’s what the concept of linear travel is all about.

As we were preparing for the hike at the rustic trailhead for The Slot, we ran into a couple from Iowa, Leroy and Linda. As things developed, we made it a foursome and did the hike together. They were positively enjoyable and we had a wonderful time.

Yep... this is the trail.
The Slot itself was a neat experience. The trail starts near the top of the canyon and it becomes deeper and tighter, skinnier, as you walk down until it opens up into a much broader area. The hike itself was an out and back, and we walked something like 4 miles total. A notable side trip was a climb up a rock covered with wind or water carved caves, arches, and hollows. At the top we stopped for a quick snack and soaked in the views. Thanks Leroy and Linda for a good time.

After the hike we got back onto a hard road (asphalt) and drove toward an area called Blair Valley. Along the way we stopped and checked out the Tamarisk Grove CG, one of the handful of developed campgrounds in Anza Borrego. Met the camphost, Becky, and had a very nice long conversation with her. She filled us in on some Park secrets and lesser known facts. By the time we left we felt we had a new friend.

Continuing westward on CA-78, we then turned south on S-2. The first valley, I think called Earthquake Valley is mostly private land with a small community whose name escapes me at the moment. But you soon climb to a saddle on a ridge and drop down into Blair Valley, the site of our next adventures. After a little nosing around to orient ourselves we found the very small dirt trail (suggested by the volunteer at the VC) that led up onto the aforementioned ridge. Now in four wheel drive and at times adding some rather interesting “desert pinstriping” to the sides of the truck, we settled on a small clearing that became our camp for the night (33.036, -116.387, elev 2870).

A few nights ago I said something about our camp for that night being the most secluded we’ve ever had. This one beats that one, hands down. We were miles from anyone and anywhere, and we slept well.

January 24, Anza Borrego - somewhere on a ridge above Blair Valley.

Our battery issue is still looming. We’re just not driving enough the past couple days to bring the battery up to anything close to a full charge. Clearly, a solution is going to be found so we can stay out, unplugged, for extended periods. Even during the summer, with more hours from a sun that’s higher in the sky, we’ll still have cloudy days and we’ll still want to camp in forested areas. Thinking strongly about a small generator.

From our camp we took a rustic dirt road south through Little Blair Valley to the Morteros trail site. This is a self-guided short trail that winds through an ancient indian village site. Sited amid plentiful desert flora there are numerous grinding holes (morteros… mortars) in the rocks where the early people ground the seeds and nuts into meal.

From the Morteros, it was a short jaunt over to the trailhead for Ghost Mountain. In the 1930s, Marshal South and his wife Tanya, desiring a simple life and wanting to live off the land, built a homestead atop Ghost Mountain. Marshal, a tad on the eccentric side, cut a trail up the side of the mountain and then lugged most of their supplies and building materials the 1 to 1.5 miles up the hill. It had to be a rough life.

They spent 16 years up there and raised 3 kids, built a house from scratch, and eeked out a living by writing a few articles and books. It all ended bitterly when Tanya had enough of the eccentric Marshal, divorced him, and moved away with the kids. He died the following year.

Their place on the mountain, which they called Yaquitepec, was left to the elements and is in ruins today. A few partial walls are standing, a metal bedframe, the concrete water system, some other things. It won’t be long and it’ll all be gone.

We had a snack and a small bottle of wine; toasted old Marshal and Tanya with hopes that the memory of them will linger a while longer. It was an entertaining and rewarding hike up the hill.

So, we headed back to “civilization”, thinking we might stop and camp at Becky’s Tamarisk Grove CG, if they had electric power at the sites… so we could give our battery a good soaking charge. Alas, no power at sites in Tamarisk, so we drove up to Borego Springs and the Park’s Borrego Palm Canyon CG. Unfortunately, their full hookup sites were fully occupied, so we reluctantly took a regular site. Battery won’t be happy, but I will be with a good hot shower.

January 25, Anza Borrego - Borrego Palm Canyon Campground

Broke camp and headed for home… back to North Ranch near Congress. Appears the weather is coming into an unsettled spell, cloudier and rainy the next few days. On the drive back we took Box Canyon Road which is a scenic shortcut between I-10 (at the southern entrance to Joshua Tree NP) and the northern end of the Salton Sea. A very pleasant drive. We also stopped at the General George Patton Museum just off I-10 at MP173 to check out how old George’s reputation is holding up. It’s safe to say his reputation is in better shape than the rusting collection of old war machinery parked around the museum. An OK stop.

Arrived back at the bushouse at sundown and toasted a very successful and enjoyable trip with the camper.

Atop Ghost Mountain

Jan 29, 2015

Two Nights in Joshua Tree National Park

Monday, Jan 19, 2015 Quartzsite/Bouse area

This camp near Bouse may be the most remote camp we’ve ever had. (33.84N; 114.04W; elev 1240) Although no other boondocker was visible from camp, if I walked a little ways away I could see two other rigs about a half mile away. And we were far enough from the highway that it wasn’t an issue either. Hard to believe we’re only 10 miles or so away from the Q-hubbub just down the road.

The Arizona desert may be one of the warmest places in the USA during January but it can still be cold, especially at night. Dry air means temps drop rapidly after sunset. And by morning, low 40s or even 30s are common. But we’re bundled up inside the little camper, not bothered that the inside of the fridge, the inside air temp, and the outside temp are all about the same. We prefer to not run the furnace after we’re in our sleeping bags - less noise, less drain on battery, and unnecessary with good sleeping bags - but come morning heat from any source is greatly appreciated.

Which brings up another little problem I’ve found this trip. When the ambient air outside and inside the camper is about the same as the setting on the refrigerator, the refrigerator doesn’t run much… or, at all. I mean… it’s set for same temp we're at so why would it run? While that’s not a problem for items in the fridge compartment, my few meager ice cubes (used to chill down my Dr. Daniels Amber Restorative) in the freezer get a little soft and runny at times.

And one more issue becoming evident is that our 100 watt solar panel can’t keep up with our meager power demands. The fridge pulls 4 or 5 amps (while running) and the furnace blower pulls even more. During a typical January day and night we could, between just those two items, use somewhere around 40 or 60 amp/hours. The solar panel might replace half that during a sunny January Arizona day… but after two days, we’re sucking pond-water in the battery department. Unless we drive some distance (truck’s alternator does recharge the battery too), we’re finding two days is about it. We’re discussing a solution to this issue and will have more info in a future post. Hmmm… more solar? a generator? a Mr. Fusion unit?


First thing on the agenda today was a visit to the famous and very mysterious TD Intaglio. Not known by many folks, we stumbled on it during a walk in the desert 4 or 5 years ago. Every couple years we make the pilgrimage out to it… to pay our respects and hum chants to the gods. Not sure who, why, or what, or how old it really is. We’ve sensed a distinct aura of some far greater power that surrounds the area -- like it knows we’re coming. Very mysterious indeed.

With the help of my trusty hiking GPS, we found it once again. As photos show, it’s holding up rather well I’d say. There is a link on our “links” page to an aerial view where it’s visible if you look closely.

Next up was a not-so-quick transit of Quartzsite, (the traffic is ugly during show week) then up and onto busy I-10 toward CA. Destination: Joshua Tree NP, a couple hours to the west. We’ve been to Joshua Tree with the bushouse a few years ago, but wanted to camp in a couple of their more interesting “big-rig-inappropriate” campgrounds. The drive was uneventful, albeit a long one. We chose to take CA-177 up around the east side of the park and CA-62 across the top to Twenty Nine Palms. After a little orientation at the visitor center we headed for Indian Cove CG. It was now getting on toward late afternoon. Time to get settled for the night. Look closely at the photo. Our camper is down there, among the rocks, somewhere.

Indian Cove CG at Joshua Tree NP

Tuesday, Jan 20 Joshua Tree NP.

We’re ready for a hike today. The recommended walk to 49 Palms Oasis seemed to fit the bill as it was close, rated moderately strenuous, and 3 or 4 miles r/t. Joshua Tree is in a geologically active area. The shaking ground is moving, settling, cracking, and uplifting all the time. At a number of places around the park all this activity has created steady flows of open water that provide the right conditions for palms to grow. A classic oasis. The walk back to this one involved hiking over a ridge and down the other side to the oasis. A very agreeable way to spend a winter morning.

I’m usually surprised by the number of people visiting National Parks. Let’s see, it’s a Tuesday, a little on the cold side, and some of the campgrounds are full. We did find a site at White Tank CG and snagged it immediately. This campground has a 25’ camper/vehicle restriction… so it fit us to a “T”. Another quiet night among the rocks.

Jan 28, 2015

Trek Rally and Quartzsite Show

Friday, Jan 16, 2015 Quartzsite AZ

Joy and happiness! It felt good to be back on the road again. We left North Ranch this morning and made the 90 minute drive to Quartzsite in about an hour and a half. Two objectives here… first, to spend a little time with friends Doug and Kay, and second, to attend the big Quartzsite RV show.

Winding through the Plomosa Mountains and down into the LaPosa Plain we saw a desert landscape covered with RVs, like mold growing on a slab of old cheese. We’ve been to Q before but not at show time. I don’t know… maybe twice as many (Dar thinks 10 times more) RVs as we’ve seen during previous visits. Hard to tell. But it was a lot.

We knew D & K were in the Dome Rock area so we zipped right through Q on I-10 and exited at Dome Rock Road several miles west of town. It’s possible to take the paved road back toward town but that’d be too easy, wouldn’t it. Instead, we took one of the many two-track trails that ran more or less through the middle of thousands of boondocked RVs while we searched for a group, a rally, of Safari Trek motorhomes. D & K have a Trek and they’re here for the rally. We did eventually find them but it took a phone call to get it done.

Once we found out we weren’t intruding (things in Q are pretty laid-back, few rules and even fewer expectations), we set up camp behind Doug and Kay’s motorhome. The Trek folks are a pretty cool bunch. Treks, like many Safari Coaches from the 90’s and early 00’s, had wildlife and landscape murals hand painted on the upper rear exterior wall panel. No two are alike. Most are painted by a father/son team with the last name Dame. Most include small hidden figures or animals… pictures within the picture. A lot of folks get a kick out of finding and identifying them.

Saturday Jan 17:
Did the Quartzsite RV show today. This was the first day of the show and we were able to keep our excitement in check until almost mid-afternoon, when we trudged on over. Traffic was horrid. Besides the official big tent venue, there are vendors of almost anything imaginable set up for business all around town, giving it the appearance and feel of a huge flea market. It’s also a zoo. We’re certainly NOT attracted to crowds and congestion but wanted to be here once for the experience.

We traveled through the big tent at my usual “trade show pace”.. which means pretty fast. Only stopped at a few booths to talk and most of what I saw didn’t interest me in the least. The four of us came late so we could quickly do the tent and stay for a BBQ dinner provided by Redlands Truck and RV of Redlands CA. Seem like a nice bunch and they served up a darn good meal, considering the number of people (maybe 400 or more??) and the very cool temps. It helped that a couple drinks were included with the meal. And all at no charge.

Oh, alright… there are some positive aspects to the whole experience. And to do it with friends made it even better.

Sunday Jan 18:
After our very enjoyable almost two days with Doug and Kay, we bid adieu, and left to see if it’s possible to find solitude in the desert during the big RV show. Drove through Q., stopped at McDonalds for a quick lunch and trash drop-off, and inched our way through town to Hwy 95 north. At Plomosa Road we hung a right and ogled all the RV’s along the road… far more than we’d ever seen in our previous visits during more quiet and sedate times. Our boondock “home” in Q is usually along Plomosa Road. But during show time, it too is packed both with individual campers as well as many groups, whose makeshift signs, balloons, banners all give it a carnival atmosphere. To be fair, when I say it’s “packed”, I mean it’s packed for Quartzsite. It would still be easy to find a place to set up camp with a reasonable space between you and your nearest neighbor. But instead of 800 yards during quieter times, it might be 80 yards. Everything’s relative.

There were spots to be had that were semi-private but we didn’t jump at anything and kept driving toward Bouse. Over the Plomosa Mountains and down the other side, we took a chance on an area of BLM land near Bouse and, after a little effort, found what might be the best Camp Solitude of them all. Set up camp and soaked up the sun the rest of the day.

Our ability to get into this spot is one of the reasons’ we’re in a smaller rig. The trail off the main road is about a half mile long and traverses several washes… some of which were very deep and steep on both sides. There’s no way we could have gotten the bushouse back here… even if I’d been foolish enough to try. And that goes for almost any trailer too. The inflection in the trail… the short steep down followed by a short steep uphill portion… would have had any but the shortest and highest trailers scraping dirt and hanging wheels. As it was, we plowed a bit of a furrow with our rear receiver hitch step. Not a place for big rigs and I”m sure that’s why there were none back there. It was positively peaceful and reeking of solitude. Loved it.

Jan 14, 2015

A Family Affair

Jan 14...  Congress, AZ
I’ve had a little trouble getting back in the swing of posting to this journal after our nearly week long family festival down at Casa de Cher in Sun City West. It does seem writing is a habit as much as an exercise in creativity, at least for me. I also believe it’s important to take a break once in a while, to “give it a breather”, lest one slips into repetition, minutia, and boredom. Anything one does day after day, every day, can become predictable, dull, and tedious. For example, even travel, the raison d’etre of our life right now, if done day after day, every day, causes the most hardened nomad to yearn for a rest, a break, a time to change things up, relax, and gain some new perspective.

OK, enough of that.

Our family affair turned out to be a memorable and enjoyable time. Thanks mostly to the planning and organizing talents of Dar and her sister Cher, the 9 attendees, 6 of whom traveled by air to get here, had a good time. No brawls, fist fights, or unnecessary roughness at all. In fact, there were acts of kindness, expressions of love and heavy-liking, and even a few moist eyes… which could have originated with deep emotions… or could’ve been from desert air dryness.

The motivation for this get together was a 90th birthday party for the patriarch of the family. Dozens of family members and friends were furtively asked to write about “remember when…” moments that involved the guest of honor… which were even better when they were embarrassing or humorous. And most of them were both embarrassing and humorous. These were included in the many birthday cards and letters he received. We think some, perhaps most, of the stories were actually true. During the course of his big day, these were read aloud for the benefit of the entire group. It appears he enjoyed the attention and thoughts, but claimed many of the originators had faulty memories. The collected works will be assembled in a scrapbook that the honoree can use for his leisurely enjoyment… and to retaliate in due time if he chooses. It was an enjoyable few days.

A rumination about the day: a person doesn’t realize how many people you touch during the course of your life. For most of us, it’s really quite remarkable.

Now that the guests are all gone, Casa de Cher is cleaned up, furniture back to it’s normal position, and the neighbors are able to sleep normally again, Dar and I are itching to go exploring.

And that will happen very soon. Stay tuned.

Jan 2, 2015

Wintery Start to 2015

Jan 1, 2015  Congress, AZ
The snow you see on the attached images actually fell here New Years Eve, but the cold air lingers a few more days into the new year. I'm writing this post the morning of the 2nd and the low temp last night was 24f degrees.

On the positive side, it's kinda cool to see snow on cacti. White capped prickly pear, dusted saguaro arms, and ice encrusted ocotillo are things you don't see or experience often.

We're in Congress for a few days before the big 90th birthday celebration for Dar's Dad happens next week. There's more family flying in, more details to finalize, and more preparations to make.

could be a subdivision in Minnesota... but it's not.

Beyond Branson; Pondering Future Travel

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