Desert Visits 3

We visited with Anne and Mark in Oceanside, CA, and once again found ourselves the recipients of good friendship and generous hospitality. It seems everyone we visit cooks up some great meals. We enjoyed their company and Lar and Mark tried putting the kayak on top of Roadhaus to make sure it will fit next to the rocket box when we head to Baja. Looks like it’s a go. Maggie and Anne made trips to the Farmers Market, Sprouts, and Trader Joe’s. Our hosts also took us on a couple of trips to the beach and out to eat at a nice Japanese restaurant. Having been thoroughly spoiled, we left for Anza-Borrego on Sunday morning, February 17th.

Carlsbad Beach

Carlsbad Beach


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Anza-Borrego Desert State Park encompasses a vast area of approximately 600,000 acres. It is the largest desert park in North America. We covered as much as we could in the 9 days we were there, but will gladly return in order to explore even more. We arrived on Sunday morning and found the camp spot that Anne and Mark had described to us – on top of a hill overlooking the desert and with a view of mountains all around. We were delighted to discover the Ocotillo were in bloom even though it is mid-February.
Ocotillo

Ocotillo


Bow Willow Area Camp

Bow Willow Area Camp


It was a beautiful day and we set up camp and put the awning up. Within 30 minutes, the winds began to blow and got steadily more intense. We were forced to take the awning down, close up the bus and hunker down as 30-40 mph winds buffeted us for the rest of the day and during the night.

The next day gave us a temporary reprieve from the winds and we hiked a trail from nearby Mountain Palm Springs campground to three different areas where remnant populations of California Fan Palms still exist. Unlike the ones at Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, these are accessible and we stopped in the shade of the palms for rest and a snack after a hike up the boulder-strewn wash.

Mtn Palm Springs Trail

Mtn Palm Springs Trail


Mtn Palm Springs - North Canyon

Mtn Palm Springs – North Canyon


With high winds again in the forecast, we reluctantly left our scenic view on the hill and found a sheltered spot in a grove of Tamarisk trees just to the east. Lar grilled some burgers and we had our one and only campfire in an abandoned wheelbarrow someone had left at the campsite for that purpose. Fires are not allowed on the ground within the park. The winds soon began to howl again and continued for the next couple of days. It rained that night and on Tuesday morning we awoke to snow on the the surrounding mountains. We opted to stay in the bus (and in our pajamas) and work on photos and writing since the wind was so strong you could not stand up in it when out in the open.
Camp 2 near Bow Willow

Camp 2 near Bow Willow


Storm

Storm


After another night of wind, Wednesday morning dawned clear and sunny. We packed up and moved on, driving up Carrizo Wash to try to get views of the badlands. The road was closed and we made our way down another 4WD road back to the highway. We took the easy way up the paved road to the Carrizo Badlands overlook and debated the wisdom of trying to drive through Canyon Sin Nombre. We opted to save that for another time considering road conditions and the need to keep Roadhaus in tip-top shape for the Baja trip.
Carrizo Wash

Carrizo Wash


Carrizo Badlands

Carrizo Badlands


In search of fuel and ice, we drove over to Borrego Springs where we treated ourselves to a taco at Jilberto’s and ended up staying at the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground in order to take advantage of the showers. Note to self: A cold windy morning might not be the best time to take a shower in a place that heats water with solar. Dang!

Thursday morning we spent a little time at the Borrego Springs library, utilizing their wifi in order to post a blog and check e-mail. We then set off for Coyote Canyon north of town, driving up some rough roads and ending up coming back down to Desert Gardens where we hiked a bit and then boondocked again for the night. These remote sites are so quiet that the silence itself is like a presence. The only disruptions – welcome ones – are the coyote fests that often occur near the bus.

Threatening clouds

Threatening clouds


Friday was a beautiful, sunny day that encouraged us to check out Coachwhip Canyon which had been recommended by one of the docents at the Anza-Borrego Visitor’s Center. We drove up canyon as far as we could and then set out hiking. The wash was clogged with rocks and boulders of all colors and sizes. The variety of types of rock in this area is amazing and Maggie found several she wanted to add to her collection. Lar refused to put them in his backpack and reminded her that collecting is not allowed in the park – so she took pictures of them instead.
Coachwhip canyon

Coachwhip canyon


Coachwhip canyon

Coachwhip canyon


After the hike, we decided to camp in a more open area, so began exploring some back roads near the Borrego badlands. The “bad” in badlands should be a clue, but sometimes one overlooks the obvious. After backtracking from the first dead end, we encountered a junction with “Truckhaven Trail”, described as a “rough 4WD road”. We made an ascent up a steep section and found an isolated spot on top with a view of part of the Salton Sea on one side and badlands on the other.
Truckhaven Trail Camp

Truckhaven Trail Camp


Saturday morning, after a quiet and peaceful night and a breakfast on our patio overlooking the badlands, a couple of dirt bikes went by. In a bit, 3 or 4 more raced by. By the time we had packed up and started on up the trail, a few dozen had made their way past us and it soon became apparent that some kind of rally was going on. Just up the road, a deep wash was encountered and the trail down appeared somewhat sketchy but doable (but Maggie walked down just for the “exercise”). After driving a good ways down the wash, with the dirt bikes all going in our direction as well, we encountered a nasty uphill section and a bottleneck caused by some inexperienced bikers stalling out on the way up. So we opted to backtrack. This put us going in the opposite direction of the dirt bikes and there was still that one narrow, rocky uphill to do. So Maggie walked to the top, hugging the bank to avoid the dirt bikes, and acted as lookout to prevent any bikes from tearing around the corner and encountering Roadhaus coming up. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide! After letting a few more bikers descend, she waved Lar on up and had to stop two groups of bikers at the corner until Roadhaus cleared the top. Mag had planned to video Lar’s ascent but was too busy directing traffic and only got video of the bikers! The bikers gave a cheer as Lar cleared the top of the incline and one was heard to remark “it’s a Volkswagen!”.
Bikes

Bikes


Once back on the pavement, we decided to drive on over to Salton City and have a closeup view of the Salton Sea. Although the sea looks quite pretty from a distance, our visit was short as the acrid smell of the sea burned our eyes and noses. Not a place we would want to spend any time. We drove on, via Ocotillo, and decided to camp at Tamarisk Grove campground which had very hot showers. No happy medium, but the heat is definitely preferred over cold.
Salton Sea

Salton Sea


Sunday morning we went back into Borrego Springs where we stopped to utilize the wifi at the library and get gas. Larry stayed at the library and Mag went to get gas. She pulled into a little 2-pump station and got out. Immediately, a couple came over and started talking about their Vanagon and asking about Roadhaus. Then the guy at the next pump came over and said he used to have one as well. While this very typical scenario was occurring, one of the guys noticed that the pump didn’t shut off at the other truck and several gallons of fuel had spilled out and covered the driveway. Mag opted to get gas later.

Back at the library, yet another fellow came over to us in the parking lot to talk Vanagons, and a Vanagon we had seen the previous day pulled up next to us. It was Don, another WetWesties member from Washington State. It’s a small world and everyone has a Vanagon story!

On the way out of town we stopped to take pictures of some of the metal sculptures that can be found all around the city. The artist, Ricardo Breceda, has approximately 130 of these in different locations around town. We will post pictures and story on our next blog.

Sky Art

Sky Art


We left Borrego Springs and drove back over to the west side of the park in order to access some trails to places of interest. We made our way in to Blair Valley on Sunday afternoon as many weekenders seemed to be leaving the area. We drove up to the Mortero trail and hiked in. Morteros are bedrock mortars and they were in an area where a Kumeyaay village once existed. Desert vegetation varies among different areas of the park and here we noticed a distinct increase in both yucca and agave which would have been important food sources to native people.
Mortero

Mortero


We drove further up the dirt road to the Pictographs trail with just enough time to camp for the night and enjoy the full moon rising. We had the place to ourselves among the boulders that dominate the landscape.

Monday morning was quite cool – in the 30s – as we set out after coffee to walk the Pictographs trail. Although the sign described it as a “20 minute walk” to the pictographs, we found that to be a significant underestimate. We spent more than an hour and a half walking among the boulders and enjoying the birds, butterflies, hawks and other sights and sounds of early morning in the desert. We were alone on the trail and finally reached the huge boulder containing the pictographs painted in red.

Pictograph

Pictograph


Back to the bus for breakfast and discussion about the day’s plans. Lar wanted to hike up Ghost Mountain to visit Yaquitepec, the site of one family’s experiment in living off the land. Mag isn’t too keen on heights, but agreed to go. We drove to the trailhead and started up the steep, rocky switchback trail. The sign said “1 mile”, but the mile wasn’t an easy one! It took 40 minutes to reach the top and begin exploring the abandoned home site. We will post the story and pictures on our next blog. We spent an hour or more at the site and were alone there. About half-way back down the switchbacks, we encountered a man coming up the trail. As we approached, he greeted us with “I know Bev, too!”. Yes, another of Bev’s many fans and a chance meeting in the desert. His name was Terry, from New Hampshire, and he had seen our bumper sticker and told us of how he had met Bev.
Yaquitepec

Yaquitepec


The hike done, we calculated 4-1/2 hours total of hiking for the day, so off we went to find a camp spot, throw out the camp chairs, and open a cold Corona. We parked up on an alluvial fan overlooking two valleys and settled in for the night.

Tuesday dawned cold but sunny with the promise of warm to come. We took a bushwhack hike across the desert and up a small wash. Alongside the wash was a roughly 12-15 foot diameter area of ashy-colored soil surrounded by the usual reddish-brown soil. Surrounded as it was by agave in all directions, we surmised that it was likely an agave roasting pit. Above this area were two spots that had been cleared of surface rock and which were ideally located as vantage points with views of valleys in both directions.

We put the awning out, set up the camp chairs, and waited for the winds to start. We took the awning down again and let the winds blow. Some things are so predictable! On that note, I predict we will return some day to explore more of this great desert park. There is so much to learn – so much history, geology, flora and fauna and more – and so little time.

Last Camp

Last Camp

For more photos of this part of the trip, click the link below;

Photo Gallery Link: Click Here

Desert Visits 2

After another stop in Tucson, our next destination was Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on the Mexican border in Arizona. The Border Patrol presence is considerable in this area, as evidenced by numerous checkpoints and isolated sightings of Border Patrol in vehicles, on horseback, and in the air.

Border Patrol

Border Patrol

We drove down to the border one morning to replenish our ice supply at a small border town officially known as “Lukeville”, but still retaining its identity as “Gringo Pass”. The phenomenally expensive border fence was encountered here and in several other places on our travels – your tax dollars at work.

Border Fence

Border Fence


On the Border

On the Border


Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a great place to visit and explore the Sonoran Desert – in winter. The Organ Pipe Cacti have a limited range and are plentiful in this ecological niche.
Organ Pipe Cactus

Organ Pipe Cactus


The park contains many other Sonoran cacti, including Saguaro, Ocotillo, Prickly Pear, Barrel cactus, Cholla, and a variety of other desert plants. It is amazing that so many critters make use of these cacti, considering their prickly nature. The mis-named “Teddy Bear Cholla”, for example, is actually not so cuddly.
Teddy Bear Cholla

Teddy Bear Cholla


Saguaro

Saguaro


Desert Landscape

Desert Landscape


We went on three different hikes during our stay and enjoyed perfect late January weather. The sunrises and sunsets were spectacular as usual. So predictable were they, in fact, that a night without a gorgeous sunset somehow seemed disappointing. Spoiled, we are.
Sunset

Sunset


___

We next returned to the area between Yuma and Quartzsite, to the KOFA National Wildlife Refuge. The desert plants are similar here with the exception of Organ Pipe Cacti. The Refuge is known for its population of Big Horn Sheep (varying between 450-800) and its remnant population of California Fan Palms, the only palm tree native to Arizona. It’s a bit of a rough half-mile trail to get to a vantage point to view the palms, situated as they are in narrow crevices in the rock high above the canyon floor.

Remote California Fan Palms

Remote California Fan Palms


Closeup of Fan Palms

Closeup of Fan Palms


We camped for five days in a remote area and hiked every day. The weather remained cooperative, but the wildlife continued to be elusive. We saw and heard coyote, but other critters were only in evidence by numerous tracks in the sand. After hearing a local story of a black jaguar (no, not the automobile) that had been collared and released again in the area, and reading park information concerning the mountain lion population, we were much more reluctant to exit the bus after dark.
Kofa Campsite

Kofa Campsite


Test

As night creeps upon us, the shadows take on strange shapes!


Our last day in the area found us in Quartzsite looking for showers and a laundry. We found both in a building that also contained a restaurant. Shower, throw your laundry in, and have lunch. The next morning we set out for Oceanside, California.

For more photos of this part of the trip, click the link below;

Photo Gallery Link: Click Here

Desert Visits 1

Before leaving Tucson the end of January, we took a hike in Saguaro National Park west of the city. The tree-sized cacti that give the park its name can grow to as much as 60-feet tall.

Saguaro

Saguaro

Birds build their nests both in and on the saguaro, and they have been a source of food and shelter for both animals and Native Americans. The Tohono O’Odham used the cactus skeletons to build structures.

Bird Nesting in Saguaro

Bird Nesting in Saguaro

There are laws that protect the saguaro, and harming them is illegal by Arizona State law. That old story you may have heard about some guys who were out shooting at the saguaro, resulting in the death of one man when the damaged saguaro fell on him, are true. This case of tragic yet poetic justice happened in 1982. Check here:
go to Snopes.com and type in “Cactus Courageous”. (This is for you, Karl!)

After hiking about a mile up a wash and over 3 or 4 natural dams, we found the petroglyphs we had been looking for. It would be hard to spot these unless you are searching for them as they are high up on the canyon walls and pecked into the stone.

Natural Dam

Natural Dam


Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs

Later, after our trip to Whitewater Draw (see previous blog), we made a short overnight visit to Chiricahua National Monument in the southeast part of Arizona. We have both visited here on previous occasions and came back to do a hike through the hoodoos on top of the mountain.

As we drove into the park, we noticed snow on the sides of the road. Climbing another 2000 feet up to the top, where the hikes are located at approximately 7,000 ft. elevation, we experienced an increase in the piles of snow along the road. Although the roads had been cleared, the trails still exhibited ice and snow in many places. We took only a short but lovely hike before spending the night in the campground.

Who Do Hoodoos?

Who Do Hoodoos?

Hoodoo II

Hoodoo II

On our way to Sierra Vista to watch the Super Bowl, we passed through touristy Tombstone and stopped only long enough to photograph gunslingers and make peanut butter sandwiches.

Faux Gunslinger

Faux Gunslinger

Stagecoach

Stagecoach

For more photos of this part of the trip, click the link below;

Photo Gallery Link: Click Here

Visitations

After Buses by the Bridge, we found ourselves in Quartzsite, Arizona, the apparent wintertime Mecca for snowbirds from all northern climes.
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Lar had been here previously, but for Mags it was an eye-opener. Folks camping in RVs as far as the eye can see – north, south, east, and west as well as in the middle of town.

RV's, RV's, RV's, RV's

RV’s, RV’s, RV’s, RV’s


It is also home to an enormous flea market with nearly any type of merchandise you can think of
Hides

Hides


Beads

Beads


Whatca-Call-It's

Whatcha-Callit


Bus Bus

Bus Bus


Dino Bones

Dino Bones


Tie-Dye

Tie-Dye


Its main function, as far as we were concerned, was to provide a large dose of sensory overload.

After walking through a small part of the flea market, We opted to drive 10 miles south and camp in the middle of the desert rather than in the midst of thousands of RVs stirring up the desert dust.

Desert Camp

Desert Camp


From there we drove on to Phoenix to visit Lar’s daughter Carrie and her family. We enjoyed the visit with Carrie and husband Mike and managed to take in two of the boys’ basketball games. The Phoenix Suns recruiter should be visiting soon! Carrie and Mike graciously fed us and gave us the use of the laundry facilities which we were greatly in need of.
Brandon with the ball

Brandon with the ball


Clayton with the ball

Clayton with the ball


We then traveled on to Tucson to visit several good friends. We stayed a couple of days with John and Bergit, enjoying our visit by the fireplace during two days of rain. We were treated to good food and Bergit’s lovely artwork. You can see her art here: www.bergitrockmore.com Roadhaus was entrusted to John and he and his crew worked their usual magic (see previous blog post).
John & Bergit

John & Bergit


We had a short visit with friends Scott and Jan who treated us to a nice steak dinner and conversation. It was agreed during this visit that we would try to come back and housesit with the dogs and horses in a few weeks so that Scott and Jan can have a weekend escape.
House Sitter

House Sitter


We then went on to visit Hobie at his little casita near Saguaro National Monument west of Tucson. Hobie has a home in Washington state, but returns to the desert every winter for 5 months or so. The casita is “just right” and fits him to a “T”. Hobie has created two labyrinths in his yard – a traditional one and a Tohono O’Odham labyrinth, with the “man in the maze”.
Hobie

The Man in the Maze


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Thanks everyone! Now it’s time to ramble again…

The Five and Dime Tour

five-and-dime
Going on the road and adapting to a significantly reduced income is a challenge. Being used to impulse buying, eating out frequently, and spending money without having to make difficult choices means that we have a lot to learn in the way of developing self-discipline.

Travel can be expensive. When on the road, you can count on certain expenses draining your resources – gasoline, campground fees, groceries / restaurants. Oh yes – and repairs (it is a Vanagon after all).

In order to minimize these expenses, we are learning to:

1) Drive less – staying in one place for longer periods of time in order to minimize gasoline expense.

2) Dry camp – camping in free areas such as on BLM land. These usually have no amenities and require preparation.

Desert Camp

Desert Camp


3) Prepare food rather than eating out. Cook healthier and more cost effective meals.
Bus Pasta

Bus Pasta


4) On those occasions when we do eat out – be sure to utilize senior discounts which are available in most places. Split a meal and have water with it.

5) Don’t break down – LOL, just kidding, it’s a Vanagon. If you DO break down, however, and you’re anywhere near Tucson, go see our good friend John and his amazing crew at European Auto Tech.

European Auto Tech

European Auto Tech


We are learning from friends, people who have “been there, done that”. One good friend and a companion traveled around the country for several months and only ate in restaurants six times. We are gradually adapting but have a long way to go.

Any and all tips and suggestions are welcome.

Whitewater Draw

After leaving Tucson, we arrived at Whitewater Draw just before sunset last evening, dry camping in one of a handful of designated spots. We are here after listening to Bev rave about the place on more than one occasion.

Whitewater Draw, in southeastern Arizona, is an overwintering spot for many waterfowl, most notably thousands of Sandhill Cranes. According to the Arizona Fish and Game website, there are more than 20,000 cranes in attendance, although they wouldn’t hold still long enough for us to verify that with an accurate count. There are also ducks, geese, egrets, herons, and other water-seeking birds present.

During the night we were serenaded by cranes, ducks, owls, and coyotes. The cranes take off very early in the morning to spend the day foraging in surrounding fields. They come back late in the day to stand in the shallow water, thereby avoiding predators. In order to see them in the water, one has to arise early. After the obligatory cup of Sumatra, we set out at 0645 this morning, at a frosty 27 degrees fahrenheit. The water is a short walk from the camping area.

There were only a couple of other hardy souls present when we arrived at the viewing area, and they were in possession of some huge camera lenses that made ours look like toy pocket cameras. Sometimes size does matter. Never mind, though, we are happy with the photographs we were able to take and had a difficult time editing all the photos down to the few you see at the link below. We hope you enjoy! Here’s one to tease you:

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

For more photos of this part of the trip, click the link below;

Photo Gallery Link: Click here