The Columbia River from Reeder Beach on Sauvie Island

The Columbia River from Reeder Beach on Sauvie Island
The Columbia River from Reeder Beach on Sauvie Island

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.


  1. I really like your Anza-Borrego photos. They are so sharp and clear, Lighting is perfect and the color is bang on. I remember from years ago you always had great photos. Good stuff, keep it up.

    1. I loved so much that you read the blog and made a comment. You know, Al, I thought of you two so often as we were in Anza Borrego. Remembered all your posts about Coyote Mountain as we looked at it over the Blair Valley. Remembered especially how much you two loved boondocking in and around Anza Borrego. Like you, I can no longer do some things that I loved, but do have great memories, don't we. And the blogs help us remember.

  2. I miss boondocking at AB, but not the coldest night at 19 degrees. More new sculptures and meeting Kathie could change that. I've changed so many of those chintzy plastic check valves. ☹️ I'll remember that about your navigating skills. Great visit though maybe take-out next time. But then we would miss the people watching. Just posted my video from there.

    1. Most of the time I have really GOOD navigating skills, Gaelyn. Hopefully we won't have to change valves very often.

  3. You called it -- the desert was cold this year. We've camped in the Palm Canyon C/G and enjoyed it. Never did boondock there. Next year, I think we'll spend a week at AB if we can get a site. I liked your pic of the sand verbena -- bet the whole area is alive with color right about now. Nice to hookup with friends -- we should know!

    1. Hard to explain why I had to rework this blog post several times, even after posting it. A couple of readers got the dreaded "does not exist" while I was reworking it. Thank goodness Mo helped me get things in order. It was all over the place. Too much to quickly and too hard to catch it all for sure. You do a great job of that, but you are a lot better about posting during the fact rather than after. I should take your example. But there wasn't any time !!

  4. We never made it to the Anza Borrego area in our travels. And we never experienced Silly Al's in Quartzsite and judging from your experience that might be a good thing! It's been so cold in southeast AZ--our friend Linda who has lived here for close to 30 years said this is the coldest winter she can remember.

    1. I think you two would enjoy Anza Borrego. It is a much different experience than many other desert locations that we have traveled. Hope you get there someday, but I would agree Silly Al's isn't anything you need to experience.


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