Enjoying Borrego Springs

Borrego Springs, CA

Earlier this week we made the short (85 miles) trip from Desert Hot Springs to the little town of Borrego Springs, located in the center of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  There were no sites available in the state park campground so we  were “forced” to take a site in The Springs At Borrego RV and Golf Resort.   This is a beautiful park that has nice level, concrete pull-through sites with attractive landscaping between well-spaced sites.

Site 303 with Dave and Sue parked next to us

When we called for our reservation they only had sites available for the first half of our stay.  We put our name on a waiting list when we arrived and two days later they called to say they had a few cancellations and had a site for each of us.  The only negative was that we would have to move to another site on Wednesday, but we didn’t mind as long as we could stay in the park.

The view to the west

The day after our arrival we headed out to hike up the Palm Canyon Trail.  We parked at the state park visitor center and hiked the paved trail a bit over a half mile to the Palm Canyon Campground, then another half mile west to the trailhead.

The paved trail between the visitor center and the Palm Canyon Campground

This hike is probably the most popular one in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park as it is easy to access, provides a bit of a challenge, and is only about a mile and a half to a nice little oasis of California Palm Trees.  If you want a bit more of a challenge you can keep going up the canyon past the oasis on a less used trail that becomes much more difficult.  We’ve done this on previous hikes here.

Scanning for Big Horn Sheep

We’ve hiked this trail before and have seen a number of Big Horn Sheep up on the steep sides of the canyon.  But on this trip we had no luck!

The Palm Oasis in the background

The view back down the canyon from the oasis

Looking west to the Anza-Borrego Desert

The Springs at Borrego RV Park is surrounded by a beautiful nine hole golf course.  Dave and John have taken advantage of this and have played a number of rounds during our stay.  For most of those rounds Pam (caddying) and Sue (in a golf cart) joined them.

Looking at the motorhomes (ours is the dark one, Dave and Sue have the white one) from the first fairway

The views along the course are fantastic

The desert just east of Borrego Springs is one of the most popular dry camping (no hook-ups) areas in the country.  Each winter numerous RVs are parked in an area near Clark Dry Lake for various lengths of time.  We have parked there for a couple of days during each of our previous visits to the area.  But rumors have circulated that the state park has purchased the area and banned camping, but no one clearly described the situation.  So soon after our arrival we drove out to check out the new regulations.   Camping is now limited to spots along Rockhouse Road and Rte. 22.  The photo below shows a motorhome parked as far as allowable off of Rte. 22 about a mile east of Rockhouse Road.  In past years you could park as far into the desert as you wanted.

The photo below is taken from Rte. 22 near the photo above.  It used to be an access road used by many RVs to get out into the desert north toward Clark Dry Lake.  You can see a sign placed in the middle of that access that says motor vehicles are not permitted beyond that point.  The Pegleg area is still open for camping but, as you can imagine, it was very overcrowded last time we drove by it.

One of our favorite things to do here is to drive out to Font’s Point to watch the sunset.  Font’s Point is a high, rocky point east of Borrego Springs with fantastic views of the Borrego Badlands to the south and Borrego Springs to the west.  You need a four-wheel drive vehicle to get there as it is a four mile drive off the main highway on a narrow road of soft sand.  One evening Dave and Sue joined us when we drove out late in the afternoon to watch the sun set.

Lenticular clouds on the drive to Font’s Point

Font’s Point looking east

The Borrego Badlands to the south

It looks like San Diego is on fire to the west

Sue captures the sunset

A strong wind creates a sand cloud in Borrego Springs

We will be here in Borrego Springs until at least the beginning of next week.  With great weather, a nice golf course, and some great hiking why would we leave?

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Last Week in the Palm Springs Area

Desert Hot Springs, CA

Our stay here in the Cochella Valley has gone by rapidly.  We’ve kept very busy with a variety of activities including, surprise, some hiking.  One of these hikes was on the Skyline Trail.  The west side of Palm Springs butts right up against the base of the San Jacinto Mountains.  The Skyline Trail begins right at the base of the mountains behind the Palm Springs Art Museum and heads steeply upward.

We heard about this trail from Paul and Marsha (Where’s Weaver), who did this hike during a visit to the area a couple of years ago.  While not real long (less than a mile to the top) the radical elevation change makes this hike a challenge.

There are many small trails breaking off from the main one, making it tricky to stay on the correct path.  The main trail is marked with dots of white paint, but we apparently missed a dot as for a while the trail went almost straight up.

But we soon found the main path and continued our trek to the top, where we enjoyed great views of Palm Springs below us and the other cities of the Cochella Valley in the distance.  There are a number of picnic tables at the top where you can enjoy lunch while resting from the climb.   From that point you can continue up the trail far into the mountains or turn south on to the North Lyken Trail.  Hans and Lisa (Metamorphosis Road) also did this hike and returned to town on that trail.  We followed their directions and took the North Lyken Trail, which is a bit under two miles long, back down to Palm Springs on Ramon Road.  Then it was a bit under a mile walk through a neighborhood back to the art museum where we began.

The area around the Cochella Valley provides an ideal place to grow dates so there are a large number of date farms in the area.  One day we joined Dave and Sue for a visit to one of the oldest date farms in the area, Shields Date Garden.

Floyd and Bess Shields began farming dates on this location in 1924.  To help promote the exotic, difficult-to-grow fruit, Shields presented lectures to his customers on the cultivation of the date.  The lectures proved to be a popular draw, leading Shields to incorporate a slide show and recorded soundtrack into a multimedia presentation designed to run on a continuous basis.  Shields’ fifteen-minute presentation, Romance and Sex Life of the Date, modified only slightly over the years, is still shown today in a small theater at Shields.

Last week Paul and Nina (Wheeling It) arrived in the park along with Paul’s father Armando and his wife, Ana.  We’ve enjoyed a number of happy hours with them and a great Friday night meal together at a El Mirasol, a nice Mexican restaurant in Palm Springs.

Earlier this week we joined Nina, Armando, Dave, and Sue on a hike in Whitewater Canyon, on the west end of the Cochella Valley.  The land is part of a nature preserve owned by a conservation organization and allows dogs on the trail, so Nina brought their dog, Polly, and Dave and Sue were able to bring Lewis.

The dogs enjoyed themselves, especially when taken off their leashes, running through the desert and frolicking in the narrow creek that runs through the preserve.  In the dictionary next to the definition of joy they should put a picture of Lewis on a trail.  He obviously enjoyed the hike more than anyone in the group and wore himself out running ahead of us then back again.  We understand that he enjoyed a quiet nap upon returning back to the motorhome (as did one of his owners!).

Lewis and Polly

The group hiked a ways up the canyon and back again.  About half way back Nina pointed out a side trail that is part of the Pacific Crest Trail (the PCT goes from Mexico to Canada) going up a series of switchbacks on to a mesa with a nice view of the canyon.  So while the rest of the group continued back along the creek with the dogs, the two of us took the PCT up to the top of the mesa and turned on to the Canyon View Loop Trail.

On our last day in the area Dave and Sue invited us to join them for a visit to the famous McCormick’s Palm Springs Exotic Car Auction.

McCormick’s have been holding car auctions in Palm Springs since 1985 and the sale this weekend is one of their main events.  We spent a few hours roaming around the lots filled with hundreds of cars of all makes, models, and years that will be sold during the auction.

1958 Oldsmobile Holiday Coupe

1957 Buick Special

1966 Austin-Healey 3000

For three days cars are continually driven into the auction tent and be put up for bid.

Television monitors hung along the sides of the tent allow those in the back to get a good view of each car.

Many people who want to sell a car privately take advantage of the auction to park on the adjacent streets and put a For Sale sign in the window.  As we left the auction we passed this little classic on one of those streets.

Although not for sale, the little Trabant is a relic of the communist era of eastern Europe.  Due to its outdated and inefficient two-stroke engine (which produced poor fuel economy compared to its low power output and thick, smoky exhaust), and production shortages, the Trabant was regarded with derisive affection as a symbol of the extinct former East Germany and of the fall of the Eastern Bloc. This is because in former West Germany, many East Germans streamed into West Berlin and West Germany in their Trabants after the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  It was produced for nearly 30 years with almost no significant changes; 3,096,099 Trabants were produced in total.

Well, that wraps up our stay in the Cochella Valley of southern California.  Next up is a visit to the little town of Borrego Springs in the center of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

More on that later . . .

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The Palm Springs Air Museum

Desert Hot Springs, CA

Palm Springs is the home of one of the top air museums in the world (CNN ranked it #14). Dave has a strong interest in aviation and was especially anxious to visit the museum so we were pleased to join him and Sue for a visit.  Since it was Veterans Day and there was no admission fee for veterans, one of the group was able to enter for free!

An old army “deuce and a half” (two and a half ton weight capacity) was parked in front of the entrance.  We found out later that it was there to participate in a local parade in Palm Springs later in the day.

The museum has three display areas.  Two are inside large hangers and the other is outside the building.  All the propeller planes in the museum’s collection are maintained in flying condition.  Each is taken to the maintenance area on a prescribed schedule where all the fluids are changed and engines are fired up for a period of time.  It is too expensive to fly each plane so only a few are ever taken up in the air.

Dauntless Dive Bomber (left) and Hellcat Fighter (right)

B-25 Mitchell Bomber

B-17 Flying Fortress

The aircraft pictured below is the newest addition to the museum collection.  It is an electronic warfare aircraft retired from service in June.  The plane was flown from the aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush and parked where you see it.  They drained the remainder of the fuel out of it to use in another plane.  There are no plans to fly this plane again as it is just too expensive.  A docent told us it costs $6,000 an hour to fly the Prowler!

EA-6B Prowler

Avenger Torpedo Bomber

PBY-5A Catalina

MiG-21 (Soviet Union)

Front section of a C-119 Flying Boxcar

Controls of the C-119 Flying Boxcar

During our visit we were honored to observe part of a memorial service honoring Brigadier General Fritz Payne who died in August at the age of 104.  A career Marine, Payne retired in 1958 with the rank of brigadier general.  But it was two weeks at Guadalcanal in the Pacific Theater during the early years of WWII where he built his lifelong reputation.  During that time he shot down a total of six enemy planes during extensive air combat with the Japanese.  At the time of his death Payne was the oldest living ace of WWII.

The first part of the service was held inside the hanger, but the second part was held outside in front of an F4F Wildcat similar to the aircraft he flew during the war.  The ceremony included a 21-gun salute from a Marine Honor Guard and the playing of Taps by a young Marine.

Part of the service included a fly-over by two WWII planes owned by the museum.

That was followed by a moving fly-over by four Marine helicopters.

As the helicopters flew over us they completed the Missing Man Formation, an aerial salute in memory of a fallen pilot.

One helicopter breaks off to the left in the Missing Man Fly-by

Even though we had not heard the story of Gen. Payne we found the ceremony quite moving, especially when the helicopter broke away in the Missing Man Formation.  The ceremony was a great surprise addition to our visit to this impressive museum.

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North View, Maze Loop, and Window Trail Hike in Joshua Tree NP

Desert Hot Springs, CA

On Monday we headed back north into Joshua Tree NP to do a hike recommended to us by Hans and Lisa (Metamorphosis Road).  The trailhead is 1.7 miles from the west entrance to the park at a small parking area on the north side of Palm Blvd.

Three trails branch off from this trailhead.  We followed the loop hiked by Hans and Lisa combining the North View, Maze Loop, and Window Trails for a hike of a bit over seven miles.  The trails went up and down as they weaved through neat rock formations

We’ve been told this is a Phainopepla

Some of the formations looked like walls built by ancient civilizations.

Most of the trail meandered through the rocks on a hard surface . . .

. . . but many times it went along a sandy wash

Some of the rocks above us looked like animals or objects.

Grizzly Bear?

Rubber Ducky ?

A hand held fan?

Dog head on a platter ?

About half way around the loop we could see “The Window” ahead of us.

The Window Trail goes around the other side of The Window, but the view of it from that side is not that impressive.

As we hiked the last third of the loop we thought for sure that we spotted a Big Horn Sheep sitting high on the rocks.  But a zoom photo revealed it to just be a rock.

Thanks Hans and Lisa for pointing out this hike to us.  It is long enough and has enough elevation gain and loss to give the legs a good workout and has enough great scenery to keep the mind engaged!

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The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to Mt. San Jacinto State Park

Desert Hot Springs, CA

From our site here in Desert Hot Springs we can see the edge of San Jacinto State Park, which has a number of hiking trails.  While the park is only about sixteen miles away, it is a bit difficult to get there.  The first fifteen miles are no problem, as you can drive on beautiful, flat roads.  But the last half mile goes six thousand feet up North America’s sheerest mountain face.  Even a Jeep can’t drive that!

So to get to the top we parked at the base of the mountain and boarded the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for a twelve minute ride almost straight up.  The ride begins in the Sonoran Desert and ends in an alpine forest.

The road into the canyon

Pay your $5 parking fee at the entrance

The unprecedented use of helicopters in the construction of four of the aerial tram’s five towers helped the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway earn a reputation as one of the greatest engineering feats ever accomplished.

The floor of the 18 foot diameter aerial tram cars rotates constantly, making two complete revolutions throughout the duration of the journey so that passengers can see in all directions without moving.  With a maximum capacity of 80 passengers it is the largest of the three rotating aerial trams in the world.

The tram rises rather rapidly and the operator announces the approach of each of the five towers because the car sways a bit as it crosses each one, giving an amusement ride feeling to the passengers.

The car is a bit crowded and we had to stand toward the middle away from the window, limiting the view as we went up.  But there is an observation deck at the top that has a fantastic view that makes up for any views blocked on the ride up.

Looking south toward Palm Springs

The view north toward Desert Hot Springs

Looking down toward the base of the tram

A zoom of the base of the tram

The temperature at the parking area was a warm seventy degrees.  When we arrived at the top it was a crisp thirty-seven!

This is never a good sign!

The large building at the top contains two restaurants, one of which features fine dining, a gift shop, and meeting rooms.  But we were not there for the “fine dining,” we were there to hike one of the trails.  So after checking out the views we exited the building and walked a quarter of a mile down a paved, winding path that leads to a small ranger station.

The twisting path to the ranger station

The small ranger station

A hike of any distance requires a permit, so we stopped at the ranger station to complete one.  There is no fee for a permit but you leave one copy at the ranger station before you begin, then you drop off a second copy when you return so the rangers know you made it back.

We chose the Round Valley Loop Trail, a nice four and half mile loop through the pine forest.  The hike includes fairly level trails, short climbs, and is considered moderately strenuous.

The trailhead

There was a light dusting of snow on most of the trail which added to the beauty of our surroundings.

For someone not acclimated to the cold it was a bit “chilly” unless we were in sunlight.  Even with light gloves our hands were cold!

Pine cones up here are super-sized

Once we completed the hike we had to climb that quarter mile back up the paved path to the tram center.  But the elevation gain and the warm sun helped us recover from the cold of the pine forest.

Even if you don’t want to do any hiking we would recommend taking the tram ride to the top.  Ticket prices are a bit steep (that’s a tram pun!) at almost $25 each, but the experience is unforgettable.

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On to the Coachella Valley and Joshua Tree Nat. Park

Desert Hot Springs, CA

On Tuesday we pulled out of Boulder Creek RV Park in Lone Pine just ahead of Dave and Sue (Beluga’s Excellent Adventure) and headed south on US-395.  As we headed down the road the clouds to the west formed the most unusual “white blanket” on the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

After a pleasant, uneventful trip of about 250 miles we entered the land of the windmills, also known as the Coachella Valley.

Just north of Palm Springs we turned east for about ten miles to our destination, Sam’s Family Hot Water Spa Resort.  We pulled into the parking area and waited for Dave and Sue to arrive.  This park lets you pick out your site before you register and, since Dave and Sue have stayed here before, they had an area that they preferred.  They pulled in just a few minutes later and, after experiencing some difficulty getting level, we were soon set up in adjacent sites.

As the name says, this park has a series of pools that are partially enclosed and naturally heated by hot mineral water pumped from three underground wells constantly flowing through the pools.

Beautiful mountain views in all directions

The following day the wind howled all day long so we just spent some time visiting grocery stores in the area to re-stocking the refrigerator.  The food supply was getting a bit low after two weeks in the little town of Lone Pine.

The wind finally died down on Thursday so we drove north to the west entrance to Joshua National Park.  After a stop at the visitor center to get some maps, we headed into the park for a couple of short hikes.  The park is over 3,000 feet higher in elevation compared to Desert Hot Springs so it was a bit chilly as we entered the park.

Joshua Trees fill the desert

We parked in the Barker Dam Parking Area where two short trails begin.  The first trail we hiked was the Barker Dam Loop, a hike of just under a mile and a half.  The trail is pretty flat, well-maintained, and scenic, making it one of the most popular hikes in the park.  Even though it was the middle of the week in early November there were quite a few people on the trail.

On the Barker Dam Trail

Winding through the rocks

The Barker Dam, also known as the Big Horn Dam, was constructed by early cattlemen in 1900.  It was raised in 1949 by rancher William F. Keys.  Although up to ten feet deep and quite extensive in winter, the reservoir dries up almost entirely in summer, replaced by a field of green grass.  The high water mark is evident by a dark ring all around the surrounding rocks.

The water tank behind the dam

Top of the Barker Dam

The lowest nine feet of the dam, the original portion, was constructed of concrete surfaced with stone on the downstream side.  The height of the dam was raised an additional six feet with concrete in 1949-1950.  An inscription at top reads: “Big Horn Dam Built by Willis Keys, W.F. Keyes, Phyllis M. Keys, 1949-1950.”

The dam from downstream

Water trough for cattle near the dam

The park calls this an interpretive trail and there are numerous information displays describing the plants and animals native to the area.

A marked turnoff visits a rock covered in vivid petroglyphs next to a nice arch.  The drawings had their colors enhanced by a film crew working on an old Hollywood movie, which explains why they look too colorful to be real.

Beautiful desert just beyond the petroglyphs

The second trail that begins in this parking area is the Wall Street Mill Trail.  This flat, deep sand trail is a little over a mile one way and ends at the remains of a small stamp mill.  The trail is a bit difficult to follow as there are no signs beyond the trailhead and numerous small trails branch off from the main trail, but if you keep going to the north and keep an eye to the west you will find the mill.

Just a short distance from the trailhead we came to a “Y” in the trail.  As the great Yankee catcher Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road take it.”  That’s what we did!  We took the left trail as we could see the ruins of a building just a short distance away.  There are no signs describing the ruins but a little research later revealed it to be what’s left of what was known as the Wonderland Ranch.

We stopped at the visitor center on our way out of the park and inquired about the ruins.  The ranger called it the pink house and said that it had various uses over the years, the last being the site of a health food store in the 1960s.  Business must have been a bit slow, as this area is very remote.

A young tourist checks out one of the old cars sitting in the desert

We left the ruins following a trail north through the desert and soon came to the ruins of the Wall Street Stamp Mill.  During the early years of the 20th century this area was scattered with miners on the hunt for gold and silver.  When ore was mined, it was sent to a mill to be crushed and have the precious metal extracted.  During the Depression the area experienced a second gold rush.  As miners arrived, long-time rancher-miner Bill Keys recognized the need for a gold processing mill.  In 1930 he bought the Wall Street Mill site, which had an existing well.  Keys gathered the stamp mill and other machinery from area mine and mill sites to assemble his mill.  For a fee he processed ore for small-mine operations.

The Wall Street Mill

When the gold was removed from the ore, it went back to either the miner, a smelter in Mojave, or to the U.S. Mint in San Francisco.  Keys ran the mill on an as-needed basis, last using it in 1966.

One of a couple old cars sitting near the mine

An old wind mill sits along the trail near the mine

Both of these trails have little or no gain in elevation but go through some scenic areas.  They also present some of the history of the area and make for a nice place to experience Joshua Tree NP.

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Hiking the Kearsarge Pass Trail

Lone Pine, CA

When we came to Lone Pine we planned a one week stay.  But we found so much to do and see that we have been here for just over two weeks.  We would enjoy staying a bit longer but the weather is beginning to change and the temperature is beginning to drop, so it is time to head south for warmer climates.  But before we go we had one more hike on our radar.

Beginning at Onion Valley Trailhead, the Kearsarge Pass Trail travels through the John Muir Wilderness.  The trail climbs through forest and alpine tundra and past several lakes, on its way to 11,760 foot Kearsarge Pass.  Beyond the pass, the trail enters Kings Canyon National Park, where it joins the John Muir Trail.  The trail is eight miles long, but we planned a hike of two and a half miles to Gilbert Lake at an elevation of 10,417 feet.

Onion Valley Road heading into the Sierras

Lichen growth colors the mountains along the Onion Valley Road

To get to the trailhead we drove north from Lone Pine to the little town of Independence.  In the center of town we turned west on Market Street, which soon turns into Onion Valley Road.  The road twists and turns for thirteen miles as it gains elevation from 3,700 feet in town to 9,200 feet at the parking area for the trail.

The parking area in Onion Valley

The pass was named after the nearby  Kearsarge mine, which was named by its owners after the Union ship USS Kearsarge, a ship that destroyed the Confederate CSS Alabama during the Civil War. The Alabama Hills were named after the Confederate ship and the mine was named in reaction.

The Kearsarge Trailhead

It was cold and very windy at the trailhead so we anticipated even colder temperatures as we gained elevation on the trail.  We could see snow blowing around the tip of nearby University Peak (13,589′).

Snow on University Peak

The Kearsarge Pass Trail is a well-maintained trail that goes up on a series of long switchbacks.

As we gained elevation the views we had of the mountains surrounding us were impressive.

A tree needs to be rugged to survive in these conditions

Temperatures overnight were well below freezing in this area, so we saw a bit of ice along the creek near the trail and in one spot a puddle had frozen solid along the path.  We think this ice will stay here until late spring.

A patch of ice on the trail

Ice along Independence Creek

At one point the trail went right through a large field of crushed rock.  It appeared the mountain to our north had suffered a rock slide some time far in the past.

Looking west through the rock field

Looking east, the green patch in the distance is the town of Independence

The slide area

Along the way we passed Little Pot Hole Lake

Soon we came to the beautiful Gilbert Lake, our destination.

Gilbert Lake

Lunch with a view

We had just set the clocks back an hour the night before so the sun was going down pretty early.  Since we were on the east side of the mountains, it wasn’t very long before we were hiking in the shadows.  With the wind still quite strong and being at a high elevation, the temperature began to drop and a couple of hikers became a bit chilled!

Hiking down through the cold

We returned to the Jeep where the temperature read 48 degrees and quickly warmed up as we headed for home.  It was 75 down in Independence with no wind.  Driving back down the mountain we could see the road winding around below us.

We haven’t seen much wildlife in our trip down the east side of the Sierras, so we were happy to see two sentinels keeping an eye on us as we drove back into the Owens Valley.

Well, that wraps up our tour down US-395 along the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  It has been a month since we left Nevada and began this journey and we have enjoyed every minute.  While there are still places we would like to explore here, it’s time to head to warmer locations.  Next up is a stay in Desert Hot Springs in the Coachella Valley of southern California.

More on that later . . .

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