Joshua Tree

The trip to Baja was very rewarding and we came back to California tired but happy. After the nearly 1600 mile drive in 9 days, however, we were looking forward to some downtime. Saying goodbye to Anne and Mark, we made the short trip to Joshua Tree National Park. Although named for the Joshua Trees that inhabit the area, we always think “rocks” when we think of Joshua Tree.

Joshua Tress

Joshua Tress


Rocks

Rocks


We had both visited here before, but this time we stayed for nine days, taking in as much of the park as we could in that amount of time. Since it was Spring Break month, we knew it might be busy and sure enough the first two campgrounds we entered, Hidden Valley and Ryan, were full. We drove on to Jumbo Rocks and found a spot that wasn’t too close to other campers. There was a large “Earth Roamer” camper near us and when we spoke to the owner, we realized that we had visited with him in Baja at the El Pabellon campground. On our first morning here, we hiked Skull Rock Trail in perfect weather.
Skull Rock Trail

Skull Rock Trail


Skull Rock

Skull Rock


Along the trail

Along the trail


We put the awning out and for three days there was no wind to speak of! Perhaps the awning wind curse has been broken. The next morning we started out on a rock-climbing trail and then headed off trail into the rocks – after marking our camp spot on the hand-held GPS. Although most of the 85-million-year-old monzogranitic rock here is a sandy color, there are occasional piles of a darker, nearly black rock. These are mere youngsters next to the 1.7-billion-year-old gneiss which some of the surrounding mountains are made up of.
Jumbo Rocks Camp

Jumbo Rocks Camp


Varied rocks

Varied rocks


Next morning we drove the Queen Valley Road in search of large Joshua Trees. We had heard that there was a particularly large one here – nearly 40 feet tall. We did not find a 40-foot tree but we did see some pretty large ones. We were delighted to discover that the Joshua Trees were blooming. The trees were given their name by early Mormon settlers who named them after biblical Joshua since they envisioned the trees having arms raised in supplication.
Queen Valley Joshua Tree ... one of the biggest in the park

Queen Valley Joshua Tree … one of the biggest in the park


Queen Valley View

Queen Valley View


Joshua Bloom

Joshua Bloom


We drove on into the town of Joshua Tree for a shower – great showers if you are ever here and in need! They are right across the street from the park Visitor’s Center. Maggie then coerced Larry into a 16-mile drive out of our way to get a Sonic Coke. She had been deprived for some time. We then caught up on some business, bought a few groceries, and headed back to camp.
Bath house in town of Joshua Tree

Bath house in town of Joshua Tree


Saturday morning we drove Big Horn Pass Road to Queen Valley Road and back over to the Hidden Valley Trail which we hiked. The climbers were out in force for the weekend and we watched many of them going up and down the rock faces. There are over 8,000 climbing routes in Joshua Tree and the climbers make quite an impact here. As we were leaving we watched a young man “free climbing” one of the rock faces. The rock surfaces here in the park consist of very hard rock crystals that can very quickly abrade skin surfaces. The climber had no gloves – only his chalk bag to use on his hands. Ouch!
Climber

Climber


Climber

Climber


Free Climber .. no shirt, no helmet, no rope, no fear

Free Climber .. no shirt, no helmet, no rope, no fear


We then drove Geology Tour Road, an 18-mile drive that is advertised to be partially 4WD, although there wasn’t anything there that a fairly high-clearance vehicle couldn’t manage. We had lunch near some particularly nice metamorphic rock. There are occasional different colored intrusions here, known as dikes, that form when magma moves up through seams in existing rocks.
Geology Tour Road

Geology Tour Road


Lunch and Geology

Lunch and Geology


We then drove on up Keys View Road with a view of the surrounding mountains and the San Andreas fault. The Spring Break crowd kept us up later than usual so on Sunday morning we moved on to the White Tank Campground, a very small 15-space camp in the rocks where RVs can’t go. We stayed here four more nights and hiked around the area, including a geology nature trail.
White Tank Camp

White Tank Camp


Arch Rock

Arch Rock


Reading by firelight

Reading by firelight


Sunday we drove into Yucca Valley to use McDonald’s wifi to work on the Baja blog and pictures. We got back to camp after dark. Monday was shower day again so we went in to the Joshua Tree bath house and then on to Starbucks in Yucca Valley to finish and publish the blog. On the way back to camp we hiked an area called “Hall of Horrors” which is an area of boulders with several climbers’ trails.
Mag checking out Hall of Horrors

Mag checking out Hall of Horrors


Raven

Raven


More JT's and rock

More JT’s and rock


Tuesday gave us the first strong winds since we arrived a week ago. We took it easy, baked some biscuits and ate them with agave nectar – yum! We hiked a short distance around camp, read books, and looked at maps–planning our next stop on the Five and Dime Tour…

At the end of our stay, the Yucca – a relative of the Joshua Tree – began to bloom.

Yuca bloom in early stages

Yuca bloom in early stages


Yucca in Bloom

Yucca in Bloom

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

Photo Gallery Link: Click Here

Happy trails … Maggie & Larry

Baja and Ballenas

Our trip to Baja exceeded all expectations. We enjoyed nine days of beach camping, kayaking, fishing, and the highlight of the trip – close encounters with gray whales. We should also mention lots of driving – 1599 miles of it! The trip was organized by our friends Anne and Mark in Oceanside, CA, and included a total of 10 Vanagons and 19 people. Although we knew a few of the participants, most were new to us and we thoroughly enjoyed their company. They came from Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona, Virginia, and of course, Oklahoma.

Border crossing

Border crossing


We all met on Saturday morning, March 2nd, and crossed the border at Tijuana. We got to Ensenada around lunch time and stopped for a tour of the fish market and ate at a small cafe there.
To the fish market

To the fish market


Fish market

Fish market


Lunch

Lunch


Then we stopped at the Ensenada Wal Mart Supercenter (we had hoped to escape this after leaving the U.S.).
Ensenada Wally World

Ensenada Wally World


We then proceeded on into the mountains and the drive was beautiful if not nail-biting since there are no shoulders on many of the narrow mountain roads. We stopped for a break just before reaching our campsite for the night.
Buses by the beach

Buses by the beach


Stretching our legs

Stretching our legs


Our first overnight stop was at a beach camp on the Pacific coast of Baja – a place called El Pabellon, just south of San Quintin. After a long day of driving, it was nice to get out and walk a bit and enjoy the sea air. Two-year-old Meret was especially glad to escape her car seat!
Whale Bones

Whale Bones


Beach

Beach


Joel & Meret

Joel & Meret


We all carried walkie talkies to facilitate communication and keep us together.
The gas stop shown in the photo below is nothing like the majority of our gas stops.
Generally it was 10 Buses jockeying for 3 or 4 pumps with the attendants (who have to operate the pumps) being a bit overwhelmed .. more like a Chinese fire drill.

Note: Public restrooms in Mexico seldom provide toilet paper. Be prepared!

Gas 'em up

Gas ’em up


Towns and gas stations can be few and far between, but some enterprising individuals have solved that problem.
Got gas?

Got gas?


The next morning we left for Bahia de Los Angeles (aka L.A. Bay), a lovely bay on the Sea of Cortez side of Baja. This was another mountainous drive with lots of changes in both desert vegetation and geology. There are cacti here that we had not seen during any of our previous desert travels. One unusual cactus in this area is the Cirios – a tall and graceful but hardy plant that can grow to more than 20 feet tall.
Cirios Cactus

Cirios Cactus


Desertscape

Desertscape


Desertscape 2

Desertscape 2


Bahia de Los Angeles was a great spot. After a few miles of washboard, we camped right on the beach at Punta la Gringa. The kayaks came down and the fishing rods came out and while some people kayaked and/or fished, others engaged in beach-combing and hiking.
Bahia de Los Angeles

Bahia de Los Angeles


Elephant trees on road to Camp 2

Elephant trees on road to Camp 2


Daryl & Rennie make a new friend

Daryl & Rennie make a new friend


Shells at low tide

Shells at low tide


Chill-O-Rama

Chill-O-Rama


Dana and Mark caught some bass and barracuda that were grilled and eaten. Dolphins cavorted in the bay and shore birds foraged in the shallows.
Mark

Mark


Dana

Dana


Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret


Yellow-Footed Gull

Yellow-Footed Gull


Mark & Joel

Mark & Joel


We made one mistake here at LA Bay, and those of you who have been reading our blog will recognize it as soon as I say “we put the awning out”. The wind began to pick up in the evening but we decided to leave the awning out in the hope it would die down. The wind picked up – it howled and rocked the van all night until we finally got out at 4 a.m. and put the darn thing back down again.

The next day was lovely and involved more of the same activities with the addition of a campfire in the evening and shared brownies and cookies. Off to bed early for we had to get up and head far south the next day to the whale watching area.

Mark & Maggie

Mark & Maggie


Joel & Meret

Joel & Meret


Jason

Jason


Wednesday began with a beautiful sunrise and calm winds to get us on the road.
Sunrise

Sunrise


Did I mention the facilities at Punta la Gringa? Or the lack thereof? Here ya go:
Facilities

Facilities


We were all anxious to get to the whales and this involved a long day on the road south to Guerrero Negro (the border between Baja Alta and Baja Sur) and beyond to San Ignacio. We stopped for gas in a spot in the road called Jesus Maria where there is a great little tamale stand. Picked up some fresh hot tamales and we were back on the road again. We noticed several elevated platforms that had been built along the road for Osprey nesting, and many were occupied.
Osprey nest

Osprey nest


We passed through several military checkpoints and finally the border checkpoint. Military checkpoints – and there are several – were somewhat entertaining in that most of us don’t speak Spanish, and most of them don’t speak any English. At one stop, a soldier was particularly interested in Dan’s flashlight, resulting in Dan’s relinquishing it to him. When we passed through that same checkpoint later on our return trip, one of the soldiers was using a flashlight and Dan got on the walkie talkie to lament “That’s my flashlight!”. When one of the soldiers wanted to inspect our van, he asked Larry to open the upholstered box on the floor of the bus. When Larry obligingly popped open the top of the porta-potty, the guy jumped back quickly and motioned us on. Note – if you need to move through a checkpoint quickly you might want to utilize a porta-potty in a similar manner.
Military checkpoint

Military checkpoint


We continued on to San Ignacio. Coming into the town, there is a sudden transition from desert to oasis. The little village, nestled in a wide valley, is filled with palm trees and has lots of surface water.
Coming into San Ignacio

Coming into San Ignacio


Coming into San Ignacio

Coming into San Ignacio


We parked at the town square which was shady and cool and picturesque. The old mission at the town center was built by Spanish friars and was begun in 1760.
San Ignacio

San Ignacio


San Ignacio Mission

San Ignacio Mission


We were all itching to get to the whale-watching camp, so after a short stroll around the plaza, we headed on out to Kuyima. After about 10 miles of pavement, the road turned to washboard for another 16 miles or so, resulting in a flat tire for Daryl and Rennie.
Road to Kuyima

Road to Kuyima


Salt Flats

Salt Flats


Causeway across salt flats

Causeway across salt flats


After a long day of driving, and battling the dirt road, we finally made it to Kuyima on Laguna San Ignacio. The recovery required a couple of margaritas each, followed by a shower of sorts (bucket and cup with hot solar sea water). This was followed by a nice dinner in the restaurant and then to bed without delay.
Kuyima Camp

Kuyima Camp


Kuyima

Kuyima


Although we did not deploy the awning, we listened to the winds batter the bus and the waves crash against the shore all night long. As dawn arrived, we awoke to continued high winds and choppy seas. We thought sure the boat trip would be cancelled, but it was postponed for only an hour until the crew decided to drive us over to a spot closer to the whales to launch the boats, where the winds shouldn’t be as severe. We set out with some trepidation but were anxious to get close and possibly touch a whale!
Kuyima whale boats

Kuyima whale boats


Boarding the boats

Boarding the boats


Laguna San Ignacio is a protected area and the location of several eco-tourism facilities. Kuyima is one of these and is involved in tourism that is designed to preserve the habitat of the gray whales and other residents of the Lagoon’s ecosystem. Whales are protected by law and fishing is not allowed.

We used three boats, with five or six of us to a boat. Seventeen of us went out and Amy stayed behind with 2-year-old Meret. She would go the next trip. It was a great day and we spent about two hours out in the boat. We saw many whales and came within about 15 feet of some, but not close enough to touch. The other two boats had better luck and all got to “pet” a whale. There were several pairs of mothers with calves.

Thar she blows!

Thar she blows!


A whale of a tail

A whale of a tail


they were here a minute ago

they were here a minute ago


Gray whale

Gray whale


We took the long rough boat trip back to camp and the tide had gone out in our absence, leaving us to walk about 100 yards or so from the boat to land through calf-deep water and onto sand flats. We were quite worn out from the trip and after lunch took showers and naps.
Returning at low tide

Returning at low tide


Dana

Dana


Low tide

Low tide


Up early the next morning and the winds continued to blow. Anne, Faye, and Harold wanted to go out again to see the whales while most everyone else was taking a short trip to Mulege further south. Maggie decided to stay and go out to the whales again in the hope of getting closer contact. Larry went with Mark and the rest of the crew who never quite made it to Mulege due to Jason and Jen’s van having a flat tire on the washboard road and Mark and Dana’s having engine issues.

So the four of us who were left got a boat all to ourselves and took a rough ride out to the whale area. No sooner did our guide cut the engines, than a mother and calf came up to the boat and stuck their noses up out of the water for us to touch them. They repeated this several times, with the mother coming up out of the water and looking at us. What an odd experience with these great creatures. The mother pushed the baby towards the boat and we got to touch both of the whales. At one point the mother, who was much larger than our boat, went under us and bumped the boat, causing it to tip about 30 degrees sideways. Exciting! After this encounter they followed us for awhile and later came up to us again. This truly made the experience complete and unforgettable.

Momma Gray

Momma Gray


Faye & Anne

Faye & Anne


Hal

Hal


Maggie

Maggie


Spy-hopping baby whale

Spy-hopping baby whale


After a quick shower, Anne and I headed back into San Ignacio via the awful dirt road. Hal and Faye followed us and we met up with Daryl and Rennie in the San Ignacio square. We were soon joined by the rest of the bunch and headed north again. Larry reported that due to the issues with two buses, they had only driven as far as Santa Rosalia for lunch but had experienced some mountain roads that were even more “exciting” than the ones we had already traversed.
Santa Rosalia panaderia

Santa Rosalia panaderia


Santa Rosalia

Santa Rosalia


Bad Teddy

Bad Teddy


Santa Rosalia

Santa Rosalia


Santa Rosalia Thing

Santa Rosalia Thing


Santa Rosalia harbor

Santa Rosalia harbor


It was getting late so we drove north past the border again and had to stop for inspections at the military checkpoint. After we passed the checkpoint, Mark noticed that the road we had planned to take to camp on the beach was blocked by the military there and we had to make other plans. We drove on – now in the dark – and eventually stopped at a large dirt pullout where a house and restaurant were located along the highway. We all backed into the large parking area after checking with the landowner and camped there for the night. The burros and trucks finally quieted down and we did get some sleep.
Highway camp

Highway camp


The next morning, two buses in the group decided to go on toward the border while the rest of us decided to go back to LA Bay for one night, then one night in El Pabellon before coming home. It poured rain on us a good part of the way to LA Bay and then, as we approached the coast, the sun came out and it turned out to be a beautiful day.
Buses over the rainbow

Buses over the rainbow


Instead of taking the washboard road back out to La Gringa, we opted for a campground off the paved road closer to town, “Daggett’s Beach Camp”. We each had a spot with palapa overlooking the beach. Dana and I took a kayak and some fishing rods out into the windy bay and discovered it was quite rocky and kept snagging our lines. Dana did catch one fish only to find out it was a puffer fish which had to go back in. When we returned to shore Larry informed us that a pod of dolphins had been cavorting right behind us, but we were oblivious due to fishing and fighting the strong winds.
Daggett's Beach Camp

Daggett’s Beach Camp


Dana & Maggie unaware of companions

Dana & Maggie unaware of companions


As the sun went down, we built a fire and Anne made a pot of soup big enough to serve the whole group. We sat around the fire and visited, inviting another couple who were camping near us to join in. The couple, Jack and Samar, were Merchant Marines who work four months on and four months off. Earlier in the day they had been flying a large kite that appeared to be able to lift Sam right off her feet. They asked if anyone wanted to try it out and Larry volunteered but found it to be much harder than it looked. Dan had a similar experience but Joel got the hang of it fairly quickly.
Samar & Jack

Samar & Jack


The next morning was a bit more leisurely since we only had a 5 hour drive to get to El Pabellon that day. We again passed through some beautiful terrain.
Baja Agave in bloom

Baja Agave in bloom


Road to El Pabellon

Road to El Pabellon


We noticed on the drive back that the Pacific side had experienced a lot of rain. It was cool and windy on the beach at El Pabellon and we again built a campfire and everyone contributed resources to make a big pasta dinner. It was our last night out together and we were reluctant to head off to bed but another early start awaited.
El Pabellon camp

El Pabellon camp


Sunday morning we packed up the bus – and everything outside was wet, sandy, and salty. We spent all day driving back through Ensenada and up to the border at Tecate. The drive to Tecate was nice as it went through wine country and more of the bouldery terrain. The border itself, however, was a less-than-pleasant 2 and 3/4 hour wait. We made it back to Oceanside at 7 p.m., tired but happy to have been included in this unforgettable experience.
Wine country on road to Tecate

Wine country on road to Tecate


Road to Tecate

Road to Tecate


In line at Tecate border crossing

In line at Tecate border crossing

Many, many thanks to Anne and Mark for making this incredible trip possible!

For many more photos of this part of the trip and the people involved, click the link below;

Photo Gallery Link: Click Here

Anza Borrego – Sky Art and Yaquitepec

Sky Art

During our stay at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, we drove into Borrego Springs one day and on our approach to the town encountered many large metal sculptures of animals. On a later drive to the north of town we encountered more larger-than-life creatures.
Sky Art - 11
Curious, we investigated the origin of these works of art and discovered that artist Ricardo Breceda had created the 130 sculptures he calls “Sky Art” located in the vicinity. The pieces were commissioned by Dennis Avery, philanthropist and heir to the Avery family fortune (Avery labels). Mr. Avery purchased 3,000 acres of non-contiguous land around Borrego Springs for conservation. He named the different areas “Galleta Meadows” and encouraged the public to visit or camp on these privately owned lands.
P1070189
Sky Art - 04
The artist is the subject of a 2011 book entitled “Ricardo Breceda: Accidental Artist” by Diana Lindsay. Originally from Durango, Mexico, he first tried metal sculpture in an effort to please his then seven-year-old daughter who had seen Jurassic Park and was captivated by dinosaurs. He later went on to create all kinds of creatures, many based on fossilized remains found within the Anza-Borrego Desert, including mammoth, raptor, sloth, camel, saber-tooth cat, horse, etc.
Sky Art - 10
Later works include those with human themes, such as migrant farm workers, and Jeep enthusiasts. He seems not to be slowing down at all and many of his works are currently for sale on his website: ricardoabreceda.com
P1060975
One of his most recent works is a 350-foot-long mythological dragon which appears to cross the road north of Borrego Springs. This unusual creature has a rattlesnake tail!
P1060993
___________

Yaquitepec – Yaqui is the name of a native people from Sonora, Mexico, and Tepec means “mountain” or “hill”.

As noted in our previous blog, we hiked up Ghost Mountain to visit this site. In 1932 Marshal South and his wife Tanya came here to try and live off the land and built a home at the top of the mountain. The hike up to the top is a mile-long switchback trail covered with rock and one can only imagine the difficulty involved in the family’s hauling building materials and supplies on their backs up to the home.

Trail Up and Up and Up

Trail Up and Up and Up


View on top - can you find the bus

View on top – can you find the bus


The family had three children during their stay on the mountain and their experiment in living off the land lasted until Tanya bailed after 14 years. What persuaded her to stay longer than a few days is a mystery — she destroyed the memoir she later wrote. Marshal began writing monthly chronicles of their experiences for Desert Magazine and Tanya included her poems. This would be the 30’s equivalent of reality television. As with reality television, however, much of what Marshal wrote was fiction, according to Tanya who later remarked, “Marshal has glorified our existence on the mountaintop in his articles in the Desert Magazine. He was a superb fiction writer.”
Terrain at the top

Terrain at the top


The family grew vegetables and gathered native plants. Their back-to-nature lifestyle included nudity. Tanya, however, insisted on putting on a dress whenever company was expected. The 600 sq. ft. house they built included several water-collection features as the site they chose was far from any water source. At the time we visited, the remains of their frame and adobe house was rapidly deteriorating from the elements.
House

House


Doorway

Doorway


Water Collection

Water Collection


For more on the experiences of this eccentric back-to-nature family, see yet another book by Diana Lindsay called “Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles”. Diana and her husband Lowell also wrote an interesting and extremely helpful guide to visiting and exploring Anza-Borrego. We used this book extensively during our visit: “Anza-Borrego Desert Region: A Guide to State Park and Adjacent Areas of the Western Colorado Desert”.

We will be incommunicado until the 10th of March when we return from Baja – no phones, no computers. So look for our report upon our return. Adios!

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

Photo Gallery Link: Click Here