After traveling as far as Kingman to spend the night in at Fort Beale RV Park, we knew it was time to make some decisions about our route back to Oregon. There are many options, some of which are much better a bit later in the season.
This time of year, Highway 395 can be completely unpredictable, and while it is our favorite route back home most of the time, the weather apps weren’t cooperating with our choice. It appeared that the southern portion of the route would be OK, but then we would have to backtrack over Donner Pass and I-80 to Sacramento and then back north on the 5. All our back routes over the northern part of the Sierra’s either were closed, or had bad weather predicted.
We looked at each other, the maps and the forecasts, and decided it was best to bite the bullet and make the traditional run home. Back to Bakersfield, up the 99 or the 5 to Sacramento, then continue north over Mt Shasta and the Siskiyous toward home. The boring long fast 700 mile run crossing the state of California in its least appealing version.
Still, we had some options even with that scenario. Did we want to continue west and north toward Bullhead City? Go all the way south to the 10 back to Quartzsite? Maybe continue south and west on the 15? Camping at what I had initially thought would be our night destination was just a bit too short. It was less than 75 miles to the Hole in the Wall campground, a favorite spot in the Mojave Preserve. At this stage of our homeward run, neither of us could quite accept a day that short. After a bit of a tussle between what we wanted and what would work, we finally decided that we would continue on I-15 as far as the Kelso turnoff at the southern end of the Mojave Preserve, and then travel north across the preserve to see if a boondock site presented itself.
The Mojave Desert Preserve is a treasure of wild desert landscapes, including the Kelso Dunes, where there is a nice area for boondocking near the end of the rough dirt and gravel road at the trail head. We drove to Kelso, unhooked the baby car for the exploration, left the MoHo in the parking lot and headed back south toward the Kelso Dunes road.
In spite of assurances from Gaelyn that it really wasn’t that rough, after a mile or two we made the joint decision that the MoHo wouldn’t be bumping along on all those washboards. It was gorgeous out there, and not too many tourists, even on this nice Friday mid day. We laughed at each other because we knew that with my limited hiking abilities, climbing the dunes might not be something we could do. However, another member of our family is crazy about sand, especially dunes, and we both agreed that we were braving the washboard road for one person only. Mattie.
The sun was warm and the winds were slight making our time walking on the lower dune trail delightful. Mattie got her fill of running in circles and we found some interesting plants to photograph. There were a few people camped, one couple with a trailer parked under a shady tree and camp chairs out in the sun, enjoying the gorgeous day with their books.
Not for us. We wanted to continue on our westward journey toward Baker, open to the possibility that we might find someplace to boondock that wasn’t too far off on a rough road and yet not terribly close to the Interstate. We found a couple of promising roads, but it was getting late in the day and neither of us felt like unhooking to check them out so we continued toward Baker.
Just in time, maybe half a mile before the intersection with the Interstate, we found a nice big pull-out, conveniently located at the Mojave Preserve entrance sign. The breeze blew the sounds in the opposite direction, and if we avoided looking due west, we could convince ourselves we were in the middle of nowhere. It was great to settle into the desert for one last night, knowing that the rest of our travels would be through the “gut” of California.
One of the things I like most about boondocking in the desert is the ability to leave all the window coverings wide open to watch the night. The stars were magnificent, but the string of lights in both directions along I-15 was fascinating as well. Amazing how many people are traveling between Las Vegas and Los Angeles on a Friday night.
The next morning we took our time getting ready to roll, enjoying the last little bit of desert time before our run home. Our next planned stop was in Bakersfield, and for the first time in many years, we decided to skip Orange Grove RV Park. With a rig that didn’t need washing, and no oranges to pick, the $50. price tag was just too steep for a one night stopover.
With a bit of searching, I found the Shady Haven RV Resort, just a few more miles west of Orange Grove RV. The park was interesting to say the least. On the website, and again when I phoned for a reservation for that night, the ban against smokers was emphasized. No Smoking Allowed anywhere in the park, even in your own rig! It advertised as a Wellness Resort.
When we signed in, we could see that there was a large section of what was at one time mostly permanent residents, and a newer section for overnighters. There were many newly planted palm trees, a very tall, very protective looking steel fence with concertina wire on the top, and electronic gates.
When I signed in and paid the very reasonable $33. fee, the young kid at the register referred to “our park”, and told me the story of his company buying the park and having to evict more than 50 percent of the residents for refusing to adhere to the no smoking rule. It seems that he works for the company who bought the park, some independent owners who actually “flip” businesses in the same way that some people flip houses. I wish them well. We would probably stay there again. To compensate for the lack of oranges, I simply stopped at the California Fruit Depot nearby and bought a ten pound bag of perfectly sweet juicy oranges for 8 bucks. I made my last glass of orange juice this morning, and these are no doubt the last oranges I will try until next year when we once again travel south. I can’t bear a supermarket orange.
Sometimes you meet the nicest people in random RV parks. Parked next to us was a lovely couple from New Hampshire, and the woman Liz just had to come over and meet Mattie. Mattie knows a dog person when she finds one and they made instant friends. In the morning, she came over once again to say bye to Mattie and brought some traditional Mexican wedding cookies. Nice people!
It was a Sunday morning, and we had to make the decision about which route to travel north through central California. The mileage between Bakersfield and Sacramento are the same, whether you drive I-5 or Highway 99. One never knows how the pavement will be on either route, but this time we decided to go with 99. Both of us remember pavement that blew out our tires on I-5, but there is no way of knowing which one would have been the better route.
We also diverged from our usual routine of traveling from Bakersfield to Lodi and staying at Flag City. Neither of us wanted to pay for a park for our last night out and decided that instead we would boondock at the Pilot station in Dunnigan. For who knows what reason, our day on the road seemed incredibly long, and we were both exhausted when we pulled in to Dunnigan. Mo took one look at the very ratty RV’s in the Pilot parking lot and said, nope, not gonna do it! Instead we drove a block north and settled in to the Happy Times RV Park for another simple $35. Better to pay for a safe night than have to worry about whatever was around us at the station.
The next day Monday was my turn to drive, and I must say I have never enjoyed I-5 north of Sacramento quite as much as I did on this gorgeous sunny day. The air was clear enough that I could see the mountains on both sides of the valley. Snow on the Sierras to the east and snow on the Trinities to the west sparkled against a backdrop of miles and miles of pink almonds coming into bloom. When Mt Shasta appeared to the north, brilliantly covered in deep white snow, we knew we were almost home.
It was a tremendously satisfying trip, with a chance to experience many different habitats and landscapes in just three weeks out. We had the ocean, the coast, the desert, the mountains, the big city of Phoenix, more desert, red rocks in Sedona, more desert in Mojave Preserve, and yes…the long boring gut of California through the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys. We also had a chance to meet old and new friends and visit with family along the way.
No matter how beautiful the world we travel, there is nothing quite as beautiful as returning to our home. We were unloaded within an hour, with piles of laundry ready to tackle in the next couple of days. The weather was nice enough that we managed to get both the MoHo and the Tracker washed, and in the next few days I will work on the inside of the rig getting it ready for our next outing in March.
Our welcome home included lots of fresh green grass and I celebrated by mowing the front lawn and Mo mowed the pasture. Ahh spring is coming. There are buds on the daffodils and the daphne has started blooming.