Winter Sunshine

Winter Sunshine
Winter Sunshine in the Desert

Thursday, February 15, 2024

02-15-2024 Home Again Home Again

Sunset on the Kofa Mountains is a nice memory 

Sitting at my desk at the moment listening to the rain on the windows.  It has been raining for a few days now, so very much needed and yet it can still get a bit tiresome.  I am grateful for the time Mo and I had in mostly warm sunshine in the southern deserts this winter.  It is all about the timing.  This year we were lucky as we crossed the passes on I-5 toward home.  There was snow all around us, but nothing on the roads and the skies over Southern Oregon were a gorgeous blue last Thursday when we returned. We even had a couple of sunny days to enjoy before the rain started.

Coming home was especially sweet since daughter Deborah decided that she would stay with us until the weekend before she packed up her "stuff" to take back home after spending most of her time at Sunset House while we were gone.  It was wonderful coming home to a warm, clean, and cozy house, without a single worry about anything that may have gone wrong while we were traveling. 

Once we arrived home, Mo and I unloaded the MoHo in record time, and by the time Deborah got home from work I had some hot soup ready for supper for the three of us to share.  I am so glad that Deb is willing to housesit for us.

Our boondock site near Palm Canyon Road in Kofa NWR

Last week, after four days in Tucson, we traveled west on Interstate 8 toward Yuma and then north on Highway 95 between Yuma and Quartzsite to spend a couple of quiet nights in the wonderful desert landscape in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.  Mo and I have visited Kofa in the past, but have never attempted to boondock there.  This time, however, we had some help from our friend Gaelyn, who has a special spot near Palm Canyon Road.  Gaelyn agreed to wait for us at the intersection of Highway 95 and Palm Canyon Road and then lead us to a perfect site with a nice fire ring, an unobstructed view of the Kofa Mountains, and plenty of level places to park our rigs.


Gaelyn parked a respectable distance away from us, but not so far that we couldn't enjoy morning coffee and conversation, and evening visits by the campfire.  Mo loves to build campfires, and she purchased some firewood at the base in Tucson just in case we could have one.  Sure enough, on BLM land just on the edge of the refuge, campfires are allowed in existing fire rings.


Our days were relaxed and the warm air was perfect for afternoon naps, some reading, and a little card playing before we cooked supper and then enjoyed the fire with Gaelyn.  We shared dinners before the campfire. Gaelyn prepared dinner the first night and I made dinner the second night. The nights were perfect as well, getting down to the mid-40s for comfy sleeping.



It was great talking with Gaelyn in person, with time to hear the stories of her recent life changes since her truck and camper burned last fall.  Despite the awful loss from the fire, the outcome has been rather positive, and she has made a great group of new friends and has a nice upgraded rig to make her life a bit easier than it has been.  


Leaving Kofa and driving north through Quartzsite toward Parker, we traveled west toward Needles and Barstow on I-40.  It was a long day from Arizona across the desert to Tehachapi, but we had reservations at the small park we found last winter.  

The rain across the desert was heavy throughout most of the day, but the roads were in good shape and we didn't have any problems despite the dire warnings coming to our phones.

We slept well in the quiet park, and the sound of the rain on the roof throughout the night was soothing.  The worst of the Atmospheric River passed through California on Sunday and Monday, and by Tuesday, when we crossed the pass on Highway 58 the clouds lifted and we could see all the way across the Great Valley of the San Joaquin River. 


It isn't often we are treated to clean, clear skies on this part of our drive through California and this time the skies were spectacular.


We pulled into Flag City RV Park in Lodi just after 3 in the afternoon, and to our surprise, the park was emptier than we had ever seen it.  Only a couple more rigs showed up by evening.  


It might have been the severe storm weather that kept people off the road, or possibly there aren't as many people as there used to be. 


We enjoyed a chicken parmesan supper at home in our own cozy space.  No need to go out when I still have some great stuff in the freezer.  I planned fairly well this time around for our month on the road and we returned home with just enough food left in the fridge and freezer.  

We planned two nights in Lodi, with a full day to take our time enjoying one of our favorite locations to buy wine.  We both love good Old Vine Zinfandel and Lodi, California, is the best place in the country for old vines and great wine.  


Once again we visited our favorite little winery, an unpretentious place called Klinker Brick.  We first discovered this winery three years ago and now whenever we pass through Lodi we try to purchase a few bottles of something good from them.  Even on a rainy day, the winery was pleasant.  I think possibly this particular winery might be a local gathering spot since everyone seemed to be chatting and to know each other.  


Fancy charcuterie isn't necessarily a big thing in Lodi, unlike our Applegate Valley wineries.  We were offered packaged cheese and crackers, but it was sufficient for our lunch.  After enjoying Klinker Brick for a time we decided to try another winery in the area that was recommended to us.


Harney Lane Vineyards had a gorgeous tasting room, and the gardens would have been very inviting if it weren't for the rain.  


We were happy to have a roaring fire, with real wood, not gas, and ordered a flight of red to share to try their wines.  The winery was lovely, the sommelier was knowledgeable and helpful, and the ambiance was delightful.  The wine, however, wasn't to our tastes and we didn't buy any.  I guess it is back to Klinker Brink when we return to Lodi.  We do love their wine.

Some of the zinfandel vines in Lodi are more than 120 years old

We left Lodi by 8:30 the next morning, driving north on 5 through Sacramento and then fueling in Dunnigan at the Pilot, where we usually get the best gas price, this time at $3.19 per gallon.  Dunnigan is a good place to fuel for us because a tank will then get us all the way home to Grants Pass where we no longer have to pay inflated California fuel prices.  I will say that prices this year were a bit higher than in Oregon, but nothing like it has been in past years when we have traveled in California.

Starting down the last pass on I-5 just an hour south of home

As I said when I first started writing, it was wonderful to be home, wonderful to know that Deborah would be sharing the evening with us, happy to listen to our stories.  

It is good to be home, to have the rain keeping us indoors, with time to relax and recuperate a bit before we start the spring cleanup outside.  


We both had to laugh a bit because Mattie gets a bit disturbed when we get back home after traveling.  She looks around and seems a little bit lost.  All is well by the next morning, and with her routine snuggle time, she is happy as can be.  I am also happy to have my comfy recliner and my warm slippers and a dog in my lap.




Sunday, February 4, 2024

02-04-2024 Wide Open Spaces on Our Way to Tucson and Time With Friends

Camping on Ogilby Road

Our time at Catalina Spa in Desert Hot Springs always feels like desert time.  Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, and the entire Coachella Valley are in the desert.  Our morning walks include fields of desert plants like creosote, brittlebush, desert verbena, and an occasional jumping cholla. 


But it takes getting out in the more remote desert landscapes to begin to fully feel the magic of what the desert is really all about.  As we drove south on a Monday morning along the Salton Sea, I looked westward toward Anza Borrego.  Anza Borrego is a magnificent State Park, with thousands of acres of wild and sometimes desolate desert landscape, punctuated by rough, craggy, faulted, and folded desert mountains.  On this trip south, we simply passed by along the western perimeter of the park on our way to a place that for us is the epitome of the perfect desert boondock.

Many years ago, when blogging was still a "thing", many of our fellow bloggers often wrote about boondocking on Ogilby Road.  Nina Fussing (read her review here) seemed to love the area more than anyone, and I would read about her adventures there with Paul and the paws back in the days when they were still traveling in the United States. 


Once again, as we traveled south, I wanted at least one night on Ogilby Road.  We traveled south and east on the back road through the Imperial Dunes that blogger George Yates wrote about and suggested as an alternative to Interstate 8.  This time there was no construction to slow us down and it seemed we crossed the dunes quickly.


Even though we have stayed there a couple of times, it wasn't in Mo's memory banks and it wasn't until we pulled into our empty space in the desert that she understood why I was so attached to staying here. In the past, we parked a few miles closer to the Mexican border where the phones were terribly confused much of the time because they kept trying to say we were in Mexico.  

This time we pulled into an open area on the west side of the road that was completely empty of other campers and found a wide open, perfectly level spot, and parked the rig just in time for supper and a quiet sunset.


The quiet emptiness of the place is mesmerizing, with long shadows reaching for hundreds of feet on the smooth surface of desert pavement created by constant blowing winds. We got lucky, and this time there was no wind during the evening, throughout the night, or the next morning as we departed for the eastern journey along Interstate 8 toward Tucson.

We took our time leaving the quietness of the desert morning.  At first, when we parked and opened the door for Mattie the prior evening after settling in, she seemed completely confused and a bit intimidated by the wide-open spaces in front of her.  By morning she was fine, and wandered the desert freely, looking for the perfect spot to do her morning business.


Within a few short miles, we intercepted Interstate 8 toward Phoenix and Tucson and were delighted with the butter-smooth pavement throughout most of the miles until we reached the convergence of I-8 with the much busier and less smooth I-10 into Tucson.


Completely serviced "rest stops" were few and far between but we did find a couple of "parking areas" with a shade shelter, picnic tables, and garbage containers.  Still don't understand why there is so much garbage all around the area with the giant containers so conveniently located.


It was after 4 when we pulled into the main gate at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.  Although as a traveling companion to Mo, who is retired military, I am allowed on base as her guest, I must have a special pass to enter.  The visitor center issued the pass, and after a short wait, we were on our way to the eastern edge of the base where the Family Camp is located.  It was a bit confusing at first because I thought it was Apache Flats (which is farther south at Fort Huachuca) then remembered it was Agave Flats, and was more confused when we found the office for the Boneyard Vista RV Park. The name of the park had been changed. In the end, it all worked out and we found a perfectly level spot on the newly graveled surface in the overflow dry camp portion of the park.  There was a waiting list posted on the office door for anyone wanting to get a full hookup site.


We didn't mind dry camping.  The dump and potable water station are very close by, with excellent restrooms and showers and the best laundry we have found anywhere.  Almost immediately after settling in we loaded up our three weeks' worth of laundry and headed for the laundry room.  As I remembered, the machines were all in good working order, the cost was a buck to wash and a buck to dry, and the doors were never locked.  We had plenty of time to finish and fold the laundry before we went to bed that night.

We originally planned to travel east to visit Janna and Mike east of Sierra Vista for a couple of days but Janna had warned us of an impending snowstorm.  We canceled our visit to them for another time and extended our planned stay at the base for an additional day.

Gayle, Mo, and Wes in their Tucson kitchen

With the adjustment in plans, we had plenty of time to spend two full days with our friends Wes and Gayle James and still have an entire day to simply relax, regroup, and prepare for the long journey back west and north toward home in Oregon.

Wes and Galye have been good friends since we were neighbors in Rocky Point, Oregon, where Mo and I lived for many years and Wes and Gayle lived until they moved permanently to Tucson.


It is always a treat to spend time with them, and we both look forward to the amazing meals that Gayle prepares for us.  Gayle loves to entertain, and ever since we have known her we have marveled at her meal-specific dishware, her yummy and interesting meals, and always some amazing dessert to top it off.


We arrived at their home by 10 am and enjoyed snacks and conversation in the shade of the lovely ramada that was new to us and walked around Wes's beautiful gardens of desert plants.  

It was after 1 by the time we got in their comfy car and traveled south to the touristy town of Tubac.


We have visited Tubac twice before, the first time when we were in Tucson in 2011, visiting Mo's friend Joan, and then again in 2018 during a Tucson visit with Wes and Gayle.  Mo and I had a specific reason for visiting Tubac, where there is a plethora of artsy outdoor art mostly from Mexico.  Mo and I purchased two outdoor pieces for our newly built home in 2018 and Mo discovered a spot that needed one additional piece.  We were pretty sure we would find something in Tubac.

Sure enough, at the first shop we visited, we found a beautiful sun and moon sculpture that was exactly the right size for the spot where Mo envisioned it.  Photos will come after we get back home and it is up on the outside wall.

I also found a truly lovely piece of original art which will be photographed and shared once it is in place back at home.


We returned from Tubac in time to relax a bit before dinner.  This time our meal was perfectly prepared lamb chops, which I discovered that I liked after all, fresh asparagus, and roasted potatoes with a delightful poached pear with ice cream for dessert.

It was after 8 when we left their home to return to the base.  Tucson is a 'dark sky city' and it took a bit of getting used to as we attempted to travel the highways and byways back to the base in the dark.

The next day we waited until afternoon to visit and on our way south along Highway 19 saw a large white edifice in the distance that looked like some kind of church.  It was the brilliant white towers of the San Xavier Mission that we saw.  Once at Wes and Gayle's, when we mentioned the place, they were delighted to take us there for a visit.  


Just a few miles north of their home, the mission is historically significant with a fascinating history.  We read on the website that animals were always welcome in the mission so were delighted that Mattie could participate in the outing and not have to wait in a car.  Wes offered to keep her company if there was any part of the mission that she couldn't visit.


As we entered the courtyard, there was a young playful female pup that wanted to play.  We thought she belonged to the couple ahead of us but discovered she was simply a stray dog that was hanging around greeting guests.


The mission was fascinating, but even more so as we entered the chapel.  The incredibly complex painted wooden carvings rivaled anything we had seen in any mission previously

San Xavier Del Bac Mission was founded as a Catholic Mission by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692. Construction of the church began in 1783 and it was completed in 1797. The oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church's interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings.


Constructed of low-fire clay brick, stone, and lime mortar, the entire structure is roofed with masonry vaults, making it unique among Spanish Colonial buildings within the U.S. borders.  The architect, Ignacio Gaona, is credited with building another church in Sonora, Mexico.


Little is known about the people who decorated the interior.  The artwork was most likely created by artists from Queretaro in New Spain (now Mexico). The sculpture was created in guild workshops and carried by donkey through the Pimeria Alta to its destination at the mission.  Craftsmen created gessoed clothing once the sculpture was in place.


Inside the church, in the glass case in the west transept, is what appears to be a mummy of some kind.  It is not a mummy as some locals believe but a statue of the crucified Christ, originally located at Tumacacori Mission.  When that mission was abandoned in 1849 due to Apache raiding, the people moved to San Xavier, bringing their saints with them.  Along the way, the statue of Christ lost its legs.  By the 1890's it was displayed in the west transept as the entombed Christ. Later, around the time of World War I, the statue was redefined as a reclining St. Francis Xavier and placed in a glass case where it remains today, an object of considerable devotion.


After our lovely afternoon exploring the mission, we returned to Wes and Gayle's beautiful home to relax a bit before Gayle presented us with another delightful supper.  This time we were treated to Korean Bulgogi Beef served with rice and a delicious Asian slaw and sliced cucumbers and radishes.  I must say, Gayle really knows how to put a meal together.


Dessert was an incredibly yummy bread pudding with a bourbon sauce that was literally the topping on the cake.  Yum!!

Gayles wine poached pear!

We had a perfectly lovely and relaxing time visiting our friends in Tucson and look forward to their visit to Grants Pass in August when Gayle requested a visit to the great wineries in our local Applegate Valley.

The trip back home to the base was much easier this time since we had some practice from last night and this afternoon getting back and forth to their place.  We settled into a quiet time at home, sleeping to the sounds of a beautiful rain on the roof of the MoHo, which thankfully waited until we were back home to begin.

We spent our last day at the base quietly at home, except for a quick trip to the commissary for provisions, the Express for fuel, and preparing for our departure back west on Saturday morning.

Friday, February 2, 2024

01-29-2024 Two Weeks at Catalina Spa in Desert Hot Springs

Sunrises and sunsets at Catalina Spa are almost always gorgeous

At the moment, I am watching huge gray and white clouds racing across the sky above Tucson, Arizona.  The air is cool, in the mid-fifties, and the heavy rain that kept us company last night and for part of this day has eased.  We are giving ourselves the delight of an extra day, a down day to regroup before we begin the long trek west and north toward home.

Catalina Spa has great pickleball courts, too bad we don't play

For the first time since we have been visiting Catalina Spa, we scheduled two full weeks at the resort.  Looking back in time we used to stay just a couple of nights, then 4 or 5 nights, and in the last few years we have spent a full week immersed in the desert sunlight, or rain, or wind, whatever is offered.  This year we decided on two full weeks, thinking that we would have plenty of time to do the things we like to do when we are in the area in addition to a bit of downtime.

Desert visitors usually know to give the jumping cholla plenty of room

As it turned out, we had lots of precious downtime and still managed to skip some of the things we often do.  I wrote last week about our day visiting Joshua Tree, something always high on the list. I did manage a day visiting the one remaining quilt shop in the Coachella Valley.  A few years ago there was a list of 4 really good shops to visit, but now there is only one left.  With a visit to that shop and a quick drop-in to Trader Joe's, it didn't take up much of our day.  Quilters will laugh when I say I only bought a single yard of fabric.  In the past, my budget for this quilt shop could run in the hundreds.


In past years we would often hunt for interesting hiking trails to explore, but this time spending our mornings and evenings walking a mile or so with Mattie in the desert was perfect for us.  The open desert area just north of our spot in the park is a great place for dog walking and getting a bit of exercise in the open air.  


Mattie loves it, especially when she can run off-leash.  We have to keep an eye out for other off-leash dogs making sure they are friendly but most often the dogs do well together and play chase until they get bored.  The dog park area in the park is tiny and has a dirt surface that isn't much fun.


We went swimming almost every single day we were there, most often beginning in the early hours of the morning before the sun rose.  I love swimming at that time of day because it is quiet most of the time, and I can actually swim without having a lot of conversation interfering with my swim time.  


After our swims and showers, we would go home to breakfast, a bit of news, and our morning desert walks with Mattie.  Sometimes I skipped the walk, but still managed to get in at least once per day.  It felt great.

Mt San Gorgornio, more than 11,000 feet high, northwest of Desert Hot Springs

We thought perhaps we might hike Big Morongo Preserve during our visit. Instead, one day when our friends from Nevada City California, Nickie and Jimmy, who were camped just a few spots away from us went, we learned that it was hard to access thanks to some huge puddles on the entry road.  So we skipped that adventure saving it for another year.

We also never had the inclination to pay the big bucks and take a day to wander the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.  It was a long drive across the valley, and our relaxation time felt much too good to give it up for all that driving in traffic.  


We did drive to Cathedral City one day during our first week in the park for a movie at the Mary Pickford It's D Place Theater.  We do love that theater with the big recliners and beer or wine and pizza that didn't cost much more than Pepsi and popcorn.  We saw the new version of The Color Purple which was a bit surprising, based more on the Broadway Play version than the book or the older movie.

Nickie and Jimmy arrived during the second week we were at the park and we had some good times with them.  They are staying for an entire month, with a bit of a break at Anza Borrego.  We also thought we might go to Anza Borrego and visit our friend Kathie who is a camp host there.  Sadly, it rained on her day off when we planned to go, so we skipped that little extra adventure as well.  Next year.

In case you might be thinking that our time at Cat Spa sounds a bit boring, I have to assure you that it was absolutely wonderful.  The days slipped by filled with sunshine, good food, good conversation when we were in the mood for it, and surprisingly, a bit of music.


On Friday afternoons a few musicians, including Shannon, wife to our early morning swim companion Mike, put on a wonderful music jam with whatever musicians wanted to participate.  Shannon is the one who basically "herds the cats" as Mike put it, making sure all the musicians are playing in the same key and are in the same place in the music.  They played songs that appealed to most of the guests, with music from the 70's and 80's high on the list with some country and blues thrown in for good measure.


We enjoyed those afternoons thoroughly. Shannon has a great voice, and we especially loved the cool guy on the keyboard who surprised us with his riffs every now and then.

We camp in what is called "the lower park" and our lower park game room had 3 nice tables and a large selection of excellent puzzles.  We tried a couple and managed to finish one before our visit was over.  It takes a bit of adjustment to work on a puzzle, walk away for a time, and come back to someone else working on the same puzzle, but it was still fun.

On the afternoon we planned to hike Morongo with Jimmy and Nickie, I was still tired from our trip to Joshua Tree the previous day (post here) and begged off the hike for that day.  Instead, we met them at 4 in the afternoon in Desert Hot Springs for a reasonably well-reviewed Mexican restaurant for supper. Casa Blanca has four locations in the Coachella Valley.  

Having dined in the past at three different Mexican restaurants in Palm Springs we thought a new place might be fun.  I don't remember the food, which was basic Mexican, but what I remember most is the noise.  Even at a table on the outside edge of the restaurant, the music was so loud and intrusive that none of us would ever return to this particular restaurant.

On another sunny day, the four of us crossed the Valley to Palm Springs for some time walking the streets, enjoying the shops, and finding a delicious meal.  Before we went, I searched for the best salad in the area and in addition to a few very high-end places, came up with Tommy Bahamas.  


We found a place to sit early for outside dining during the lunch hour. By the time we finished our meal, there was a long line of people waiting to be seated. I couldn't have picked a better spot for a great salad.  Mo and Nickie had some kind of yummy salad with roast chicken, Jimmy had sweet little sliders, but my chopped salad with blackened shrimp was the best salad I can remember eating.

The day was warm and sunny and as we walked the streets we were delighted to find "Forever Marilyn" once again gracing the city.  Mo and I first saw the sculpture when we were in Palm Springs in 2013, but not long after that the statue was relocated to several cities around the country. 


Finally, in 2021, it was announced that Forever Marilyn would return to Palm Springs permanently thanks to the efforts of the non-profit organization PS Resorts.  A dedication ceremony took place on June 30, 2021, marking the statue's triumphant return to the city that had embraced her so warmly nearly a decade in the past.


Another delightful find just one street west of the main drag of shops in Palm Springs was the location of the historic former Desert Inn.  I linked to the history of the beautiful old inn rather than attempting to retype it in some kind of original fashion.  We loved the grounds, the green lawns, the recently planted California Fan Palms, and the waterfall.  


Returning home in the afternoon, we were all delighted at the lovely simplicity of the day, the beautiful food, and the fun shops on Indian Canyon Road in downtown Palm Springs.

Winter flowers in planters on the main street of downtown Palm Springs

On our last morning as we returned from the pool, a nice woman approached Mo and I and Mattie and said, "I know you."  I said "Really?"  "Yes," she said, "You are Sue and Mo and this is Mattie.  I read your blog".

It has been a long time since we have been recognized on the road from our blog so it was a nice little treat.  She said she had read the blog for years but never commented.  Especially in this day and age, when blogs are less and less popular, it was fun to discover that these words and photos that I put out into the ether are actually read and enjoyed by people I never know.  Thanks, Suzanne, for making our day.