Crane Prairie Reservoir Cascade Lakes

Crane Prairie Reservoir Cascade Lakes
Crane Prairie Reservoir Cascade Lakes

Saturday, February 8, 2020

02-03-2020 to 02-08-2020 Desert Days

                 Unedited phone shot from a moving vehicle on HWY 58 for you, Erin.

Following our usual route from Orange Grove RV Park to Desert Hot Springs was uneventful.  The California foothills at the southern edge of the Sierra Nevada range were greening up, but as yet the flowers hadn’t appeared.  We have traveled this route over Highway 58 often enough that it ceases to hold any surprises for us, and I spent some of the time talking on the phone with some family and friends.  Mo drove and I didn’t even notice the long steep hills with slow trucks that are sometimes an issue on this popular route.

We purchased fuel south of Barstow at the Pilot on I-15, for 3.17 per gallon, and then continued back north to the Highway 247 exit that is our favorite approach to Desert Hot Springs.  Google Girl has no clue about this route, choosing instead to send people down the busy interstate into an even busier connection with I-10 and then east toward Palm Springs.  Yuk.

Our route is much more lovely, with wide open desert most of the way, and only a few steep hills as it approaches Yucca Valley.  One more big long hill can be a bit intimidating, from the Morongo Valley down to the left turn signal at Indian Canyon Road.  Indian Canyon is the main route through Palm Springs, but here in the northern edge of the Coachella Valley it is a long straight track across the desert, with views of Desert Hot Springs to the east and the big windmills of Palm Springs to the west.

Today the windmills were turning furiously, and we knew to expect high winds as we settled into our campsite at Catalina Spa and RV Resort.  After so many years returning to this favorite little winter spot, it is always a bit nerve wracking in the beginning as we approach.  Will it be the same?  How much has changed since last year?  Will they still keep the pools open all night?  That is always the biggest question, but thank goodness there was only one year where the powers that be decided that the pools had to close between 10PM and 6AM.  I am a rare person that loves swimming in the dark rather than being blinded by the sun while I am swimming. 

Without a hitch, we settled into site 90 in what is called the Lower Park.  We get what we feel is the luxury of the lower park because we only need 30amp.  The Upper Park is where big rigs that require 50 amp service must park.  The lower park still feels just a little bit funky, something we love, in spite of new work being done on the park, and all the building and remodeling going on. 

Site 90 is directly across from the dog park, where I can check out what dogs are there before taking Mattie over for some doggie play time.  Again, we are just steps away from the pool and spa, and have made good use of the location for our early morning, pre-sunrise swims.

I have written about our times at Catalina so many times that there isn’t much new to say.  We spend our days enjoying the sun, both inside the rig while catching up on computer business, and outside when we take Mattie for her walks.  Sometimes we will walk in the open desert area north of the park where Mattie can run off-leash.

desert sand verbena is just beginning to bloom

In the past we have hiked many fun trails in the Coachella Valley, some of which are dog friendly, and others not.  This year, our main entertainment of hiking has been reduced considerably due to this “thing”.  I have no clue how to talk about the thing, except to say that it makes my legs completely unreliable.  I can stumble easily, and the muscles of my thighs feel as though I have weights attached to them.  So far, it has been determined to be some kind of myopathy of the muscles, a myositis in the family of muscular dystrophies, but not hereditary. It can take months and even years to get a full diagnosis, and I am currently waiting for scheduling for diagnosis and treatment at Oregon Health Services Institute in Portland, Oregon.  There are not enough neuromuscular specialists  to handle these complex and rare diseases, so the waiting period for my next round of diagnostic tests is a long time.  Electromyography tests are scheduled for July.

I am coming to terms with it, grateful for the nearly 75 years I had to hike and work and be strong and active.  I am trying to adjust to the loss of my identity in this process, and remember that I am still me as I lose my ability to get out there and see the world on my own two feet.

Having explained more about this than I have on the blog until now, I want to brag about our walk yesterday.  There is a new trail in the Northern Coachella Valley, just dedicated last year, that is just a mile south of the park.  It is even dog friendly.  With the warm morning sunshine and no wind to contend with, we took off hiking around 11AM.  The Kim Nichol Trail is a 5.5 mile loop, however we planned to walk only as far as I knew I could manage and then turn around.

Only a few creosote shrubs were beginning to bloom

It was a lovely hike, and choosing to stay in the wash rather than climbing the steep hills was perfect.  We had a bit of shade to protect us from the hot desert sun and Mattie had a great time.  After an hour in the pool at dawn I felt pretty good about managing a 2.5 mile hike on the trail. I use two walking sticks now to keep upright properly and avoid steep stuff and steps.  Ah well, at least I can still walk!

Other important activities while in the Coachella Valley include visiting quilt shops, Quilter’s Faire and Monica’s Quilt and Bead Shop, and eating.  We went to the quilt shops our second day here, and I had an amazing time finding fabrics for the next big quilt I am making for one of my daughters.  Quilt fabric is crazy that way, with colors and styles coming and going faster than you can keep up.  I bought the original fabrics a couple of years ago, and now they are already out of date and I  am having a terrible time finding others to coordinate for the big queen sized quilt. 

Quilters know, if you love it, buy enough of it NOW, because otherwise it will disappear.  I found fabrics for Deb’s quilt and then some others that I have no idea what I will make with them.  I bought 2 yards each of the new fabrics, hoping that I have something to coordinate in that closet full of quilting fabrics at home.  No matter, I can just look at them and be happy.

The eating part of visiting the valley has been somewhat traditional for us as well.  We often make it down to Sherman’s Deli for their famous sandwiches, and spend Thursday evenings at the street fair in Palm Springs accompanied by a great Mexican meal.  Somehow neither of us wanted to repeat those experiences, no matter how great they were.  As we ate dinner in the MoHo on the evening that we would have been dining in Palm Springs, Mo asked, “Why in the world would be eat in restaurants when we have such great food at home?”

Still, it is nice to take a break now and then, and we decided that a nice breakfast out would be a treat and a change of pace.  I researched some breakfast restaurants in the valley and settled on a little place called Cups Cafe.

On Thursday, we planned to drive south to Anza Borrego to get some quality desert time and to visit an old/new friend.  The little cafe in Palm Desert was on our route and we looked forward to an interesting breakfast.  I think I was in the mood for something with lots of gravy, but this charming little place had only béarnaise sauce on the menu.  I ordered an interesting omelet, with brie, apples, mushrooms, onions, and cilantro. 

Sounded fun at the time, but even with the side of béarnaise, it was a bit weird.  The potatoes were good, and Mo’s regular breakfast with eggs and chorizo sausage was excellent.  Nice little extra for both of us was the perfectly balanced mimosas, just the right ratio of champagne and orange juice. The service was also excellent.

Notched Leaf Phaecelia or Sagebud

On our way by 9, we continued south along Highway 11 intercepting Highway 86 along the western edge of the Salton Sea toward Borrego Springs. That early in the morning, the skies were beautifully clear, but we could see the pall of smoggy air creeping north from the Imperial Valley.

No matter, heading west toward the state park on the western edge of the valley, we stopped for photos of the Salton Sea in the distance and the wild no man’s land of canyons and gullies that draw 4 wheelers like flies to honey.

Our new/old friend at Anza Borrego State Park is Kathie Overman Maxwell, a delightful lady that has been around awhile, both on my blog and on facebook.  Although we hadn’t met in the past, Kathie and I know many of the same people; some we have both met in person including Nina Fussing, and others that Kathie knows in person but I only know through the blog and facebook.  Hi, Lynda!

Kathie is working as a camp host, but was able to get a bit of time off for our visit and made arrangements with her supervisor to allow us to enter the campground without a fee and to park at her site.  Over a glass of something truly sparkly and delicious, we visited in the lovely sunshine. 

It is always a treat to meet someone in the flesh that you have only known through blogging, and the conversations are so satisfying.  Somehow you know enough about each other ahead of time that nothing feels contrived or awkward.  Thank you, Kathie, for your time and hospitality!

Sadly, Palm Canyon at Anza Borrego is closed due to a recent fire that destroyed the beautiful native palms that were the high point of a canyon hike.  We haven’t hiked that canyon in the past because we had Abby with us the last time we were here, and dogs are not allowed due to the stress they can create for the native animals, even with their scent. 

We stopped for a short visit at the wonderfully informative visitor center, and Mo stayed in the car with Mattie so I could check it out a bit.  Having been there before, I wasn’t too terribly disappointed when I found the place completely overrun by a busload of school kids. So nice that they can have day trips like this, but so nice that I could back out slowly and skip whatever I thought I needed at the center!

One score I made before I left was a map and directions to the Slot Canyon.  I have read about other bloggers visiting this canyon, and knowing I might not be able to manage the hike, I wanted to at least see where the trailhead was located for a maybe visit in the future.  Optimism reigns!

I so love the open desert, and this particular piece of desert was thick with ocotillo plants just ready to burst into bloom.  Most of them were thick with green leaves from the recent rains, but only a very few had an actual blossom. 

Ocotillo bloom

The views in all directions from the upland area near the canyon are gorgeous, wide open spaces without a sign of telephone poles or fences.  My kind of desert. We explored the trailhead, and watched people down in the canyon below, tracking their ascent as they returned to the parking area.  The trail is only a bit over a mile, and if Mattie hadn’t been with us I might have managed it. 

In all honesty, it didn’t look that great to me.  The ranger said in places it was narrow enough that a backpack would be too wide to fit.  Still, in my preconceived notions of slot canyons, colored by years traveling in Southern Utah, they need to have smooth walls.  This particular canyon is created in the highly erodible sandstones and mudstones of the Anza Borrego badlands, not a sign of anything even remotely approaching my beloved slickrock.

It seems that the biggest draw of Anza Borrego for me is the wide open space and the flowers.  We were just a bit early for the flowers, but there was plenty of wide open desert space to fill my heart with delight. 

As we drove north and then west back toward Desert Hot Springs, the clear skies were dimmed by a low smog bank approaching from the west, mixing with the Imperial Valley pollution coming up from the south.  It was as defined as a fogbank on the ocean, but more brown.  By the time we got back to the rig at Catalina, it seemed to be still a bit distant from us to the west, and the skies were still blue in Desert Hot Springs.

On this, our sixth day in the park, the skies are blue, the air is warm, the winds are gone.  The only little difference I have noticed  is that the stars are quite a bit dimmer than I remember in the past, perhaps from the smog layer that is blocking some of the light.

However, we did have a particularly magical moment in the pool on Thursday morning when we suddenly saw 13 bright lights flying over us as we swam.  The lights looked at first like airplanes flying in formation, but there was no sound, and they were so perfectly spaced that it seemed impossible they were planes.  A bit of research yielded some rather incredible information about the StarzX satellites that are being launched at lower altitudes than regular satellites in groups of 60.  Elon Musk is setting up a system of satellites that will eventually provide broadband internet access to people in every corner of the world.  As Sherry said, not a particularly nice thing for our night skies.  Astronomers are a bit disturbed about the satellites as well, worrying about their interference with their observations and photographs of the night sky.

In spite of the controversy, it was still rather amazing to see the bright train of perfectly spaced satellites moving slowly overhead as we did our backstroke laps in the pool .  Might not have even seen them otherwise.