Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Sue and Mo at Harris Beach
Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Friday, February 3, 2023

01-19 through 01-24 2023 Quartzsite Part 2 and Homeward Bound

Continued from the previous post

After our evening get-together, Gaelyn let us know that she had planned adventures for the following day.  Mo and I also had plans for an outing that didn’t particularly interest Gaelyn.  Before we left for this trip, Mo's brother Dan told us about an interesting place in the southern portion of the Kofa mountains.  The Castle Dome Mining Museum is somewhat of a tourist trap, but it was a delightful trap and we enjoyed visiting. I have linked to this particularly well-written blog about the museum because anything I might write about the area would involve unacceptable degrees of plagiarism.

The history of mining gold and silver in that part of the Kofa mountains is fascinating.  When the refuge was established the old buildings were to be destroyed.  Instead, Allen and Stephanie Armstrong asked for permission to salvage what they could from the surrounding mines. The history and complexity of this mining area and the creation of the partially real and partially fake ghost town are too detailed for my writing skills, hence the link I included in the first paragraph.

The last eight miles of the road to the museum are well-maintained gravel

We enjoyed the open desert of the Kofa NWR adjacent to the US Proving Grounds.  The road was gravel but well maintained and even with the chilly wind the sun was almost warm.  I found a few flowers in bloom and the views of the Kofas are always inspiring.  The geology in this area is incredibly complex, with volcanic flows, vents, dikes, and granitic intrusions covered by varied layers of metamorphosed sediments.  No wonder it was a hotbed for mining.

The townsite itself was actually quite charming.

There were artistic arrangements of varied pieces of junk made to look beautiful.  A favorite for both of us was the purple glass, which due to the manganese content of glass prior to 1930, turns purple over many years of sun exposure.

I especially loved the hotel

The hotel was moved from its previous location a few miles from the current townsite. I still don't understand how they managed to reassemble these buildings so well. 

The church was delightful, with a working church bell and stained glass windows

The church and the mercantile were still in their original positions in the town, but the rest of the buildings were gathered from several miles around the area to create the little town rebuilt over three original mines.

A delightful addition to the site was a special room dedicated to people who had served in the military.  Veterans from all over the country had signed the walls, and on a table was a book and a note saying there was no more room on the walls for signatures.  Instead, they asked that veterans sign the special book placed on the table.  Mo added her signature and branch of the military and date of retirement.

I neglected to get a photo of the young woman volunteering at the entry desk.  She and her sister were in their twenties, choosing to live in their trailer and travel the country while working remotely.  They volunteered in exchange for their space and utility rent at the townsite.  Her work was in extensive GIS evaluations of landscapes and her sister worked in some version of tech out of the Bay Area.  They were both well-educated and from the East Coast.  It reminded me that many young people choose to live life differently than what we thought was required.  Get educated, get a good job, work for a long time to earn a retirement, and hopefully get to eventually enjoy retirement.  She told us they had no interest in settling down, owning a home, or working full-time.  I think they are a good example of the concept “no one wants to work anymore”.  They were working, but with very different values from what we were taught was acceptable.

It was a lovely day and after spending a few hours at the site, we were hungry.  Lucky for us, here in the middle of nowhere, there was a solar and wind-powered food truck offering some great food.  We shared a delicious burger and really good fries.  Somehow I neglected to photograph the food truck, the great people cooking there, and all the interesting infrastructure that provided heat, light, and water to this location far off the grid.

It was a beautiful day and a great way to spend some time doing something different that we haven't done before.  By the time we got back to Quartzsite, it was late in the day.  I visited a bit with Gaelyn and her kitty Sierra before settling back into the cozy warm MoHo for another cold desert night.

We woke to clear cold skies once again on our last day in the southern deserts.  The route home would be a familiar one.  Instead of stopping in Desert Hot Springs, we decided to drive all the way to Orange Grove RV Park on the eastern perimeter of Bakersfield. 

I needed some oranges!  Three years ago, when we last planned to camp there, the nightly fee of more than $50 was daunting.  After our cross-country trip, where we had to pay more than 100 bucks for some RV parks, it seemed completely reasonable.  Besides, when I called for our reservation we were told that, yes, the trees are full of ripe oranges for picking.  Did I mention that roadside oranges in the Coachella Valley were going for $30 per bag?  I can subtract that cost from our camping fee. 

We were on the road by 8, knowing that with nearly 400 miles to go to Orange Grove RV Park, there wasn't time to dally about if we wanted to arrive before dark.  Even in Southern California dark comes early in January.  The drive was uneventful, brightened along the way by the snowy peaks of Mt San Jacinto and Mt San Gorgonio, covered in snow at their general elevation of more than 12,000 feet.

We rolled into the familiar driveway at the park, happy to be once again settled into a place with full hookups and level sites. While Mo finished setting up the utilities, I walked the dog and scoped out the best oranges.  Hot homemade soup from the freezer was once again our dinner of choice.  I do love having soup when we are on the road and the weather is cold.  And yes, it was cold in Bakersfield as well.  The repeating refrain for this trip is cold, cold, or at least chilly. 

The next morning we set out again with 350 miles to our destination in Lodi.  The skies were clear and gorgeous, and the winds were strong all along the corridor of I-5 from Lost Hills toward Lodi.  My arms got a bit sore holding onto the steering wheel and when we stopped for fuel in Patterson at only $3.65 per gallon the wind almost knocked me over.  Back on the interstate the wind just got worse, and added to the wind, we were in a section of I-5 that had potholes up to 4 inches deep.  I had to duck and dodge the holes, swerving like a drunk person. I hoped I wouldn't get stopped by the Highway Patrol for impaired driving.  I did look it up later and discovered that a state policeman can actually give you a ticket for swerving to avoid a pothole.

We did stop long enough to take a photo of the California Aqueduct, with a controversial history vital to the development of California agriculture in the Central Valley.

We reached the familiar park before dark and took Mattie for a walk.  She wasn't happy about the wind either and was anxious to get back inside the rig.  Even though it was windy, it wasn't anything compared to the winds we endured on our way south.  Thirty-five MPH winds are tolerable if not pleasant. What we didn’t know until we were home and could see the MoHo in its entirety was that the air conditioner shroud blew off in the intense winds.  We heard a noise, had no clue what it was, and kept on driving.

The next morning dawned crystal clear, without a sign of the usual valley fog. Thank you, Wind.  In addition, the winds were light with just a gentle breeze.  It was a perfect day to do exactly what we planned to do.  In between our 350 to 400-mile days we gave ourselves a break in Lodi.  It was a day to lay low and do almost nothing and enjoy the last of our California days.

We saw a large sign for an olive tasting and winery just down the road from the park.  With only 3/4 of a mile to get there, it was an easy outing for our morning.  The Calivines winery and Calivirgin olive groves are a fairly new operation developed by a family that has lived in Lodi for five generations.

The video screen in the photo above was running a loop of fascinating images of the harvesting and milling process for the olives.  The perfectly rectangular olive trees are harvested by a machine that keeps them in shape, unlike the ancient olive trees we have seen in Europe.

Perfectly manicured olive grove about ten years old, harvested by machine

The tasting room was warm and spotless, with a lovely young woman offering the story of the family, the history of the olive trees nearby, and the concept of olives and grapes being a shared enterprise.  I succumbed to some delightful basil olive oil, and a beautifully crafted 18-year-old pear balsamic.  We tried a glass of their lovely Old Vine Zin, a bit young, but oh so smooth.  The bottle was $35 bucks so we decided to wait and spend our money on a favorite wine we found when visiting Lodi last winter.

After that simple little outing, we relaxed at home with our own lunch before continuing the theme of relaxation at the Klinker Brick Winery for a tasting.  This little winery is so delightful, with an easygoing vibe and not the least bit of pretension.  They make some truly lovely Old Vine Zinfandel wines.

This year a favorite that we purchased last year was on sale and Mo and I decided that the half case of Marissa Estate Zinfandel that we bought would last another year if we drank only one bottle every two months.  Sitting in the sunshine at one of the patio tables was the first time I remember being warm on this trip (except in the cozy MoHo of course) since our day at the zoo in Palm Desert.

By the time we left for our last leg toward home the next morning, we both felt reasonably relaxed and ready for another direct run on Interstate 5.  The winds weren't terribly bad and the skies were gorgeous.

Lake Shasta with Mt Shasta in the distance after the recent rains

We were thrilled to see that Lake Shasta was responding to the torrential rains of the last few weeks and the lake level was just 50 feet below normal. The familiar sight of Mt Shasta rising to the north is always a marker for us as we approach home.  Even though Shasta is still a couple of hours from Grants Pass, it is a familiar beacon marking our return.

Love to see Shasta on the skyline since it means we are close to home

As I write, the coldest temperatures of winter here in Grants Pass are moderating as another rainstorm approaches.  There won't be any more lows in the 20s, at least not in the foreseeable future.  Snow can show up on the valley floor at any time between November and April, but there is a difference in the light.  The sun is at last a bit higher in the sky and there is a sense of change coming.  By March it will be truly spring.  

Just a little preview, we plan to travel to the Portland area for ten days or so to visit some of the places where Mo grew up.  I will cruise on Viking on the Rhine River with my daughter Deborah in April.  In May, Mo and I will travel with her brothers to visit family in Colorado, traveling through Moab Utah along the way.  Then in early July, Mo and I will embark on a much-awaited cruise to the United Kingdom, including Ireland, Scotland, and England. 

In the meantime, we have plenty to do to keep us busy right here at home.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

01-18 and 01-19-2023 Anza Borrego and Quartzsite part 1

I have tried for a week to mentally slip back into the delight of desert days.  There is much to share from the final days of our southern sojourn, but the words elude me.

Mattie knows how to stay warm here at home

Here in Grants Pass, it is cold.  For the last few mornings, the temps have been in the low 20sF and all the little plants that love our mild winters are wondering what happened.  There is no snow here in the Rogue Valley to insulate the plants from the cold, and they are withering.  The leaves of the rhododendrons along the bedroom windows are curled into tight rolls and I am praying they get through this part of winter without too much damage.

The feeling that stays with me about our trip this year is cold.  The sunshine was wonderful, but no matter where you go, there you are, and winters are cold in almost every corner of the US, including Arizona, Florida, and Southern Texas.  Hard to escape winter cold in a motorhome, unless one is willing to drive south into Mexico which doesn't tempt us one bit.

After our week in Desert Hot Springs, we decided to extend our desert days by traveling to Anza Borrego State Park and then on to Quartzsite.  Both destinations had the added pleasure of meeting up with friends.  Kathie Maxwell is a camp host at the Anza Borrego State Park, and Gaelyn Olmstead planned to be in Quartzsite at the same time we planned to visit.  Both women are friends from our many mutual years of blogging and writing personal notes to each other and following each other along on Facebook.  It is always a treat to put a real voice, a real conversation to those friendships.

We left Catalina Spa mid-morning thinking we had plenty of time to get to Anzo Borrego in the early afternoon. Mo had been monitoring a leak in our water pump system that allowed city water to fill the water tank instead of bypassing it to the rig plumbing system.  Blair Station RV is just down the road on our route east on Dillon Road and we stopped in to ask about a solution to the problem.  That shop is a secret weapon for RV'rs visiting this part of the desert.  Stocked with just about anything you can imagine for an RV and with a helpful owner and staff, it was a treat to get some help right away for the problem.  Within an hour or so we had a valve installed on the system that we could close when on city water, solving the leakage problem. 

I am the navigator and told Mo that our exit off I-10 toward the Salton Sea was 147.  Then I started looking at maps and emails and such while I had a good signal.  Distracted, I looked up at the wrong moment. Both of us had missed the proper exit but didn't know it.  Mo asked again what our exit was and the map said exit 162.  Something wasn't right and when I figured it out it was too late.  There wasn't another exit for us until 162 and by the time we turned around and returned to Highway 86 toward Anza Borrego, we had added an extra 30 miles to our trip.  Dumb.  Rule Number One.  The Navigator does NOT get distracted by emails and Facebook while navigating.

By the time we rolled into the Anzo Borrego State Park, it was 4:30 and darkness was coming quickly.  When we arrived at our site, it was in the non-hookup area of the park, and I was sure we had paid for hookups.  Mo waited in the rig while I drove a mile or so back to the pay station.  The mix-up was eventually cleared up and we were put into another site in the campground with hookups.  The main reason we decided to come to Anza Borrego instead of boondocking in the vicinity of Joshua Tree was that we really didn't want to dry camp with weather below freezing and soils saturated by all the recent rains.  I wasn't happy that the original site at the park that we had booked mistakenly was a dry camp. The website is a bit difficult to navigate, so keep that in mind when attempting to book a site at the park.

Camp Host Kathie had invited us for a campfire at 4:30 and I was stressing about being late when I got a text from her asking if we could change it to the following day.  Perfect.  We finally settled into our site, beautifully quiet with a view out the front window toward the open desert.

View from our campsite at Anza Borrego this year

Mo and I have visited Anza Borrego a few times in the past, but have never had the delight of actually camping there.  Many years ago, the desert around the park boundary was often filled with travel rigs of all kinds, and people boondocked in the shadow of Coyote Peak on the many dirt roads. The landscape was littered with campfire rings.  It was a fun place to boondock back then.  Our friends Laurie and Odel even built an oven out there and one year Mo and I managed to find it, still standing.  I am not sure if it is still out there.  You can read about it here.

That is Laurie Brown walking toward Mo and Abby to meet us in Anza Borrego in 2011

Currently the BLM has put a limit on boondocking in many of the areas in that part of the desert. We did see boondockers on a few side roads, with signs that stated camping was allowed.  Very different from the old days of randomly driving off into the desert to hopefully find a spot that wasn't completely surrounded by other rigs so close you could hear their toilets flush.

The Salton Sea just west of Anza Borrego State Park

Anza Borrego State Park is a magnificent piece of the California desert.  What struck me again as we drove the highway from the Salton Sea to the park was the vast space and the emptiness.  Unlike our little spot of the Coachella Valley at Desert Hot Springs, the landscape is clean and unlittered.  Traffic is minimal, and we had the road to ourselves all the way to the tiny community of Borrego Springs.  With 585,930 acres that include one-fifth of San Diego County, it is the largest state park in California.

There are huge expanses of nothing at Anza Borrego

The park shares the join between the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert and is rich with wildlife.  Many plant and animal species are unique to this part of California.  It is a place for hiking, with many trails to explore, and a place for 4-wheeling when the conditions allow it.  Mo and I have done both when visiting this part of California.

The great bowl of the surrounding desert is surrounded by mountains, with the Vallecito Mountains to the south and the highest Santa Rosa Mountains to the north which are in the wilderness area, without paved roads. Water is noticeably absent in the park, except for the canyon oases including the pools near the famous palms in Borrego Canyon.  Sadly the palms burned a few years ago, a fire caused by a careless boy scout.  They are recuperating, but the grove is still off-limits to hikers to protect the trees.

Exploring Coyote Canyon in Anza Borrego in 2011

Mo and I explored the park a few years ago, but that trip was late enough in the season that the wildflowers for which the park is famous were in full bloom. This year we were just a few weeks too early for the flowers.  I found a few daturas with buds ready to open, and some tiny popcorn flowers near our campsite.  I would imagine with the winter rains this year that this part of California will experience another super bloom in a few weeks. 

I woke the next morning to frost on the car and a gorgeous sunrise.  Our plans for the day were simple.  Long hikes were out of the question but I did think I could do a mile or two for part of the Borrego Palms hike.  I also wanted to see the visitor center and figure out where we could take Mattie for a walk.  Dogs are only allowed on roads in Anza Borrego in order to protect wildlife. The smell of dogs can be disturbing to the wild bighorn sheep even if they never see them.

I took a quick drive into town to attempt to buy a few needed groceries.  There were two small groceries, and I finally found a head of lettuce in the second one.  Kathie told us that she returns to Indio for grocery shopping.  I then drove up to the visitor center and explored a bit before returning home to spend some time with Mo deciding how we would spend our day.

This is the view from the roof of the Anza Borrego State Park Visitor Center

We left Mattie at home so we could explore the visitor center together and I could exchange the tee shirt I bought earlier.  I was surprised that this was a highlight of our day with the displays, the gardens, and the vistas of Blair Valley and the surrounding mountains. We also watched a well-done movie in the visitor center theater.  There are several titles airing at different times and the one we saw was about the geology of the park.

The roof of the partially undergroundVisitor Center is barely visible in the sloping landscape

After our visit, we returned home for some lunch and received a text from Kathie asking if we could have the campfire earlier because the weather was so unseasonably cold. Early in the day, we had planned to go for a short hike.  Instead, I decided that relaxing in the warm sunshine in the MoHo was more satisfying than trying to hike a rough trail in the chilly weather. 

Kathie on the left and Nancy on the right

Campfire time at Kathie's campsite was delightful, with some shared snacks and conversations with her visiting niece, Marina, and another camp host, Nancy.  Nancy was planning a second Camino Pilgrimage, and the stories of her first 500-mile walk were fascinating.  We are all online friends with Nina Fussing, who recently completed her Camino Pilgrimage.  I love reading about this experience, knowing full well it is something I will never do in this lifetime.

It was great seeing Kathie again and lovely meeting Nancy. I hope we maintain an online friendship in the future.

Early morning at our site 22 in Anza Borrego State Park, a host site that is not reservable

After another cold and incredibly clear night, we woke once more to frost on the car.  We had an easy day of travel planned, choosing the southern route to Quartzsite that goes through the town of Brawley.  Traveling south through the park we once again passed the area in the desert that is filled with iron sculptures of animals created by Ricardo Breseda

There are now more than 130 sculptures throughout the valley, and they just seem to appear out of nowhere, adding to the excitement.  In the past, we have visited most of them, but on this sunny morning, we were happy to stop by the side of the road to enjoy the wild horses and the elephants.

Purple sand verbena along the highway through the Glamis Dunes

Continuing south toward Brawley, we turned east toward the Imperial Dunes and the Glamis Dunes.  Construction along the way gave us an opportunity to slow down enough on the narrow road to get some photos of the gorgeous purple sand verbena in full bloom at the base of the dunes. We were hoping to find a place to park so Mattie could do her favorite thing, racing around in the sand dunes.  There were no places to pull off near the dunes.

We stopped at an open rest space with a marker for the Old Colorado Trail.  It was windy, but warm enough that I soaked up the sunshine and felt just a little bit warm.  Mo and I did a lot of driving to try to get warm on this trip and there are just a few warm moments that stand out in my memory of our time in the desert this year.

Arriving in Quartzsite in the afternoon, we drove slowly through the side road that bisects the famous Tyson Wells area filled with tents and vendors getting ready for the big Tent Show that would begin on Saturday. We continued south on Highway 95 toward the free camping zone at the Roadrunner BLM area about 6 miles south of town. 

Gaelyn’s readers will recognize her camper viewed through our front window

Gaelyn was waiting for us at the entrance road and we meandered just a bit toward a big flat open area where both our rigs would fit without being too close together.  Mo and I were surprised at how few campers were there, but Gaelyn said that after we left a couple of days later things began to fill up with rigs all around her camper, much too close for comfort.

Prior to arriving, we had decided to go to Silly Al's for pizza

We entertained ourselves by taking selfies while waiting in line

The wait in line was more than an hour, the parking situation was crazy weird, and once inside the noise was deafening.  The four of us shared a nearly unintelligible conversation while waiting another hour for our pizza.  I think the conversation was great, but I am not sure. 

Pizza just might be Mo’s favorite thing.

The people-watching was definitely entertaining, but it is an experience we won't repeat. No matter how iconic and popular Silly Al's is for people in Quartzsite, we won't try it again. Gaelyn and I both agreed that next time our visit will be somewhere quiet, maybe a nice campfire in a remote boondock.

Next up: Visiting the Castle Dome Mine in the Kofa NWR and traveling home.