Except for the enormous Algadones Dunes we passed through, not far from Yuma, on the California side, the drive to La Quinta, just south of Palm Springs, is not all that spectacular. Granted, it was pretty hazy.
Photo: We entered California from Arizona at Yuma. Later we criss-crossed the border at the Tri-State area near Big River. Finally we entered again from Nevada, driving west into Death Valley.
At El Centro we headed north on Highway 86, past the vast Salton Sea.
The Salton Sea sits below sea level, directly on top of the San Andreas Fault, and is slowly disappearing. It’s the place where, during the 1960’s and 70’s, many people were lured to build waterfront homes that now sit high and dry, the lakeshore a half-mile, or more, away. The day we drove by it sat like a flat, dull mirror on the floor of the Coachella Valley, with little better to reflect than an equally dull sky.
As we approached the Palm Springs area, the shapes and colours of the Santa Rosa Mountains were a welcome contrast.
The cities of La Quinta, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Cathedral City and Palm Springs are all situated inside the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. All have meticulously maintained, flowered boulevards that separate passersby from gated communities. The speed limit on all the roads is fifty or fifty-five miles an hour because the enormous gated complexes require few driveways. The snow-capped mountains provide sharp contrast to the palms and flowers in the valley bottom.
Photo: One of the entrances to the wealthy gated communities around La Quinta. Many others are equally grand.
At this time of year RV sites in the area are expensive and hard to come by. Luckily for us we found Cahuilla Lake Civic Park where, using our Passport America, we paid just $11 a night. The first night there, because the lake side of the park was full, we were situated in the equestrian section, away from the lake. We never encountered any horse people though. Instead, we sat around the fire with two citified couples; one from Pitt Meadows, the other from Prince George. A radiant moon shining on alabaster rocks and sand created a brilliant nighttime atmosphere.
Photo: The equestrian campsite at Cahuilla Lake.
Photo: Another shot of the campsite at Cahuilla Lake.
Photo: The lakeside campsite where we moved to the next day.
On Tuesday morning we got to move to the lake side of the park and then we took a tour of downtown La Quinta. After an unmemorable lunch at Red Robin, we went to spend the night with Robyn and Dale – the same couple that we visited at Key West. They’re renting a high-end house in one of those huge gated communities. It has three bedrooms, four baths and a separate casita, where we stayed. The house also has a huge gourmet kitchen, fourteen foot ceilings, is richly decorated and is situated on the PGA endorsed Legends West golf course.
When we got there, Dale was out playing championship level Bridge so Janice, Robyn and I hung around the pool and compared stories. She had very recently attended our friend Charlie’s service in Vancouver so we had a lot to talk about.
Photo: The eighty-five degree saline pool at Robyn and Dales’ rental.
Photo: The PGA sanctioned Legends West golf course outside Robyn and Dale’s back door.
When Dale got home Janice made some Guacamole to accompany cocktails on the deck. Later, Dale cooked ribs while Janice made a mixed greens, blue cheese, pecan and red onion salad. Dale quick-fired some asparagus on the BBQ and I popped some red wine.
After dinner Dale and I were enjoying some of his excellent Scotch while the girls tucked into a nice bottle of white wine. Dale is extremely sharp and is obviously a very astute business man. He was having none of any mention though of Zeitgeist, Jekyll Island, the lie that is the Federal Reserve, or anything else that suggested the government wasn’t in full control. He believes there is still a Gold Standard and sees any of the stuff I brought up as pure nonsense. We had to agree to disagree.
Still, the visit was great. Thanks Dale and Robyn for the hospitality and the cool digs.
On Wednesday morning we walked the three-and-a-half miles around Cahuilla Lake, where we’re camped, and then drove north through La Quinta, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Cathedral City and Palm Springs. We stopped for a late lunch at a Thai restaurant in Banning on the way back. There are thousands of windmills around Banning, and for good reason.
In the evening Janice and I sat around the campfire trying to plan where to go next.
On Thursday we took a drive through the Santa Jacinta and Santa Rosa Mountains, stopping at a lookout at the San Bernardino Forest for lunch, where we walked the Cahuilla Indian Interpretive Trail. We turned back at the town of Hemet.
It was sunny and hot but, even with the constant wind that blew all day, it was thick with smog, probably a result of Los Angeles being located just ninety miles to the west. I never took any pictures all day because they would have been too hazy. It’s supposed to rain a little tomorrow so, hopefully, it will clear some of the smog. I should have taken some pictures of the snow capped mountains the first day, when it was clear – something of a rarity here I suspect.
Later, as Janice was preparing dinner by the fire, a gentle old Greyhound dog wandered into our campsite. Her owner, who turned out to be Rebecca, a thirty-seven-year-old real estate agent from Seattle, showed up a minute later.
Apparently Rebecca and her husband share different interests. She was RVing on her own. Interesting, especially for someone her age, who looks more like a librarian than an outdoors person. She explained that she was searching for some kind of new start in her life. Since the real estate market has pretty well tanked in Seattle she figured it was an opportune time to make a change.
After weighing a few options, much to the dismay of all her family and friends, she bought herself a used truck and trailer and then hit the road for a month. Granted, traveling alone would make things quite a bit more difficult. It would be much harder to navigate, to back up and especially to hook up because the driver needs to back up to an exact spot in order for the hitch to couple – this could easily be a minor accident waiting to happen. On the other hand, the dangers that her friends and family most fear are most likely unfounded.
We invited her to share our dinner and then sat around the campfire until midnight. She plans to continue on to Arizona so we had lots of tips for her.
Photo: Rebecca and her dog, Cassie, that she rescued about seven years ago from a race track near Portland.
On Friday we explored Joshua Tree National Monument. We approached the park from the south end and, after twenty or so miles, we thought we must have been missing something – it looked to us like a repeat of miles more of scrubby desert.
Where the Mojave Desert starts though, everything changes. Massive granite boulders weigh on the landscape. The shapes created by their juxtaposition are limited only to your vision and imagination. The full moon is slated for tomorrow, Saturday. Apparently it’s going to be the largest in the sky since 1994 and it’s supposed be about thirty per cent brighter than normal. It won’t be this big or bright again until 2029. White Tank, pictured below, would be such a cool place to see it.
Photo: Janice gloats after pushing around one of the boulders at White Tank Campsite.
Photo: By happenstance we saw this rock climber at Joshua Tree.
At about the same time as we came upon the boulders, we saw our first Joshua tree. The trees, which are actually part of the Lily family, cover the desert in a (by our standards) sparse but uniform forest. The trees and the boulders form a very strange and unique landscape. We’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Photo: A Joshua tree.
On Saturday we biked around Palm Desert and then visited some of the high-end art galleries, where we saw many very intriguing pieces.
Photo: Another of the entrances to one of the gated communities in Palm Desert.
Rebecca, (the Seattle realtor) dropped over to invite us to dinner but Janice already had some Thai food on the go. Rebecca joined us instead. We lit a fire and another couple from Oregon joined us to watch the huge moon come over the horizon. Skies were clear so everything was brilliantly luminous.
Sunday morning was cloudy so we decided to head east again. Our destination was Big River, California, directly across the Colorado River from Parker, Arizona. We drove east on the I-10 for an hour to Desert Center, which is nothing more than an abandoned gas station and a café. Despite the greasy spoon appearance of the café we decided to try it for lunch. Inside, everyone was seated at the large coffee shop style bar, so we took the last two seats at the end. We split a Rueben sandwich and a cheeseburger on rye. They were really good.
Photo: The abandoned gas station at Desert Center.
Travelling another hour north along Route 177 and east on 62, we arrived at the Del Rio RV Resort in Big River, on the Colorado River. As soon as we started setting up Janice said she could hear a leak in one of the trailer tires. I couldn’t hear it at all and told her she was imagining things.
Photo: The Colorado River, in front of our campsite. That’s Arizona on the left, California on the right.
It was laundry day so we set it to spinning while we went for a walk. I checked the tire when we got back. It looked to be fine.
Photo: Our neighbours’ grape lights at Del Rio RV Resort.
In the morning the tire was flat. We called AAA and it was removed and the spare put on, all within a half hour. Nice.
Photo: The AAA guy removing the wheel.
We dropped the tire off at a tire store in Parker and then drove up the 95 to have a look at Buckskin Mountain State Park, to see if they might have an RV site for us. We knew it was a beautiful spot, with lots of good hiking trails, because we’d been there many years ago. They told us we’d have to check tomorrow morning as the reservations are booked months in advance, but that they do keep a few spots for drop-ins like us. Along the way we visited another county park that operates the same way, so we’ll see tomorrow which one we end up at.
We went for lunch at The Crossroads Café in Parker, which was packed. It was somehow typical of what you’d expect to find in a small American, western, town. Helpings were generous.
Back at the park we went for a long walk. We had been woken up early in the morning by a bunch of different bird calls. I guess they liked the rain that had fallen in the night because they were really making a racket. There’s also a great horned owl that lives in one of the trees right beside the river at this park but, while we’ve heard him, we haven’t been able to spot him through the thick foliage.
The rain had also driven the haze away. The air was finally clear!
Photo: The noisiest of the bunch were the Yellow Headed Blackbirds.
At this point we moved across the river to Arizona, which is chronicled in the Arizona blog.
After spending time in Arizona, it was Monday morning when we drove to the Desert View RV Resort at Needles, California, just an hour-and-a-half up the road from Parker, Arizona. The park is actually situated on Route 66. You know you’re getting old when things from your youth are now called historic – as in Route 66.
While waiting for the laundry we decided that it was hot enough for us to go for a dip in the unheated and very chilly pool at the park.
By the way, gas in California is a dollar more than it is in Arizona!
On Tuesday morning we took a drive to Oatman, Arizona, about a half hour from our park at Needles, along Route 66. Oatman is an old gold mine/western town where gunfights are still staged at high noon and wild burros roam the streets.
From Oatman, Arizona, we took a dirt road for ten miles over to Bullhead City, Nevada, on the Colorado River. We had been talking to my sister, Lisa, about meeting her and her family at her place in Tulum, on the Mayan Riviera in Mexico, so we stopped into Walmart where there was supposed to be a travel agency. It turned out the travel agency had moved two years ago.
Some of our neighbours at the RV Park in Needles, from Minnesota, invited us over for happy hour. Half a dozen men were separated from an equal number of women when we got there, so Janice joined the girls while I sat with the boys. It didn’t take but a minute to conclude that these were true blue collar kind of RVers, with politics to match. Mostly, they were blaming all of their ills on immigrants.
When the talk turned to Algadones and dental work, one guy said. “Ya, they don’t’ speak any English down there either. They all speak Oriental, Spanish or Black, and I don’t understand any of those.”
I gave Janice the ‘Let’s go’ signal.
Wednesday we opened the door at 8:00am to eighty degree weather. It’s forecast to hit one hundred degrees by Friday. We’re thinking of heading towards the Grand Canyon, where the elevation should provide a little cooler weather.
At this point in time we made a trip to the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff and Sedona, returning to the Avi Casino in Nevada. The Arizona events are chronicled under the Arizona blog.
On Thursday we drove an hour to Death Valley, which was full of surprises for us. We had no idea it was so beautiful. As our friend Lynda would say, “Yowsers.” The valley floor itself is not much to look at, it just looks like the bottom of an old sea bed. It’s easy to see though why mirages in the desert were so real to people because, in some spots, you’d swear you’re looking at water when in fact all you’re seeing is more salt and sand.
Is anybody old enough to remember the TV show Death Valley Days, with the twenty-mule teams? Those teams were hauling the Borax crystals that Chinese labourers dug out of the valley floor. Some people still use the stuff for cleaning.
Photo: Badwater, the lowest point in North America, at 282 feet below sea level. No, that’s not water.
Photo: The Furnace Creek Inn at Death Valley where we went for lunch. The Borax Company built the inn in the late 1920′s. It’s truly an oasis in the desert but rooms start at over $300 per night and our lunch; a small Provolone pizza for Janice, a soft appetizer for me, (I still have a very sore tooth) with two small scoops of ice cream and two coffees was $50.00. Fuel in the park can be as much as $6 per gallon.
Photo: The park road just before the turnoff to the Artist Drive. Furnace Creek would be just over the hill.
Photo: Tim at the Artist’s Palette, along the Artist Drive loop. The colours are produced by different ores and minerals.
Photo: The Golden Canyon Trail, between the Artist Drive Loop and Furnace Creek.
Photo: The Golden Canyon trail is just a four kilometer round trip but takes you through an incredible number of weird and wonderful rock formations, kind of like layers of candy.
Photo: Zabriskie Point. What a magical place.
Zabriskie Point, the movie, was directed by Michelangelo Antonioni in the 1970′s and was a big disappointment at the box office. He also directed the movie Blow-up. I was only twenty-four or twenty-five at the time I saw Zabriskie Point on the big screen and, while I don’t remember that much detail about the movie, I know it had a big impression on me as a young adult.
Photo: Another view from the Zabriskie Point lookout.
Photo: Tim and Janice pose at the Zabriskie Point lookout. It was so windy there that Janice had to hold on to me for fear of being blown away.
Photo: The literature we had with us didn’t say if the white compound was part sand, part Borax, or what, but I sunk into it up to my ankles when I walked on it. This was on our way out of the park.
At this point we spent another few days in Nevada and then took a trip to Tulum, Mexico before heading back to California.
It was sunny and hot as we left Nevada on Tuesday, April 19. We took 178, south, through Shashone, California, and then hooked up with Interstate 15, east to Barstow. There we continued west on scenic Highway 58 to Mojave, in all, a five hour drive.
We pulled in to the Sierra Hills RV Park in Mojave about 3:00 o’clock. Returning from a long walk, we met a couple from Ontario who’d just come from Yosemite National Park. We had taken Yosemite off of our radar because reports had it that there was still a lot of snow in the park. The Ontarions debunked that for us by reporting that there are a few snow patches in the shade but, otherwise it’s beautiful, with all the waterfalls at near to full volume. They reported that the afternoons can even be balmy.
Tomorrow, we’ll drive north, destination Yosemite – chronicled in the California, North blog.