California Days

Has it really been two weeks since I last posted? Joshua Tree seems like a distant memory, but I’ll try to recreate the high spots of that, and our travels since.

Our hideway site in Joshua Tree was perfect. We love being tucked in among the rocks in such an unusual landscape. We called this our King Kong Kampsite.20180319_110540728641496.jpg Everywhere you look, there are people scrambling up and around these crazy boulders. They have a stubbly granite surface which is very grippy, which makes it easy for one to feel like Hillary on Everest. Well, we didn’t actually get very high off the ground, but it feels high. Green Valley pals Deb and Tony joined us for a day of scrambling around in the sun.



20180313_133824-1311166515.jpgThere’s a vast difference in the scenery between the east and west side of Joshua Tree. We decided to wander over to the west end for a hike, and couldn’t have been more amazed at the difference in scenery. No granite boulders, but Joshua Trees everywhere (go figure!) There was so much greenery! 20180314_122021788052877.jpgThe Panorama Loop hike was our destination, and we were undeterred by the Ranger’s warning that the forecasted 50mph wind gusts could be a problem on the exposed mountainside. Ha! I thought. The first blast that hit me in the face made me want to drop on all fours for safety. But the views were incredible.20180314_1229371045669474.jpg Snowy peaks were visible across the Cochella Valley.20180314_1356151829682667.jpg20180314_155832808471924.jpg Descending back to the Trailhead, we passed what must be the granddaddy of all Joshua Trees.20180319_1106242085002328.jpg Next time we visit the Park, we may camp on this end to make further exploration a bit easier.

We spent two nights cold rainy nights in the Oak Grove Campground in the Cleveland National Forest. The weather dampened our spirits a bit, but the 40 or so Boy Scouts there for the weekend seemed to have a great time. As they were packing up to leave, I could only imagine how exhausted the leaders must have been. Organized chaos.

On the way to our next stop, we passed by an incredible sculpture place. Who could pass by this spot without stopping to see these treaures? 20180318_092523505329847.jpg20180318_092452833497834.jpgThere was a full-sized stage coach, complete with passengers AND four horses that was jaw-dropping. I bought a $10 ladybug for my garden in exchange for the time we spent viewing these amazing artworks. I’m ashamed to admi that I lost the card with the name and location of this fabulous sculptor. But, you will recognize it if you pass by, for sure.

Get us to the beach! We were craving some warm sunshine, and figured that our next stop at San Clemente State Beach would be just the ticket. While we did get the sunshine (for the most part), the warmth eluded us. But, it was perfect for beach walks. Watch out for sharks! From a rocky outcropping about 150 yards off shore, we could hear seals barking, although we could only see them with our binoculars.



20180321_121542-11481871097.jpgI probably never would have heard of San Clemente if it weren’t for the fact that Nixon’s Western White House was located here. Seems crazy that I can walk on the beach and see it, but here’s the view of it from the beach. 20180319_133041-1618857943.jpgOld photos in the visitor center show that, during Nixon’s years, it was the only house along the bluff to the south of the State Park. Now it’s jammed with houses of all shapes and colors. Surfers still reign here – there’s a nice beach-y vibe to this area that we like a lot.20180319_124006222710642.jpg20180319_113023219599090.jpgHow is it possible that it’s been weeks since we actually have ridden our bikes? We decided to visit San Juan Capistrano, and utilizing the miles of bike paths seemed to be the best way to go. The wide packed-sand multi-use trail along the beach is a blast on a bike.20180320_1131191542769736.jpg It’s busy with walkers, gawkers, surfers, and moms with strollers. This photo makes that statement look like a lie, but we did find a non-congested stretch or two. Along the way were a few great viewpoints.20180320_1159561934629678.jpgThe busy highway also has its own separate two-lane bike path and pedestrian walkway.20180320_15210954269708.jpg Many of these California communities have made it easy to stay fit – there is a genuine vitality here that we just don’t see elsewhere.

The Mission at San Juan Capistrano is the summer home of cliff swallow, which migrate each spring to SJC from Goya, Argentina – a 6000 trip. March 19 is the ‘official’ return date. We were there on the 20th, and there was nary a swallow in sight. Hope they made it back in time for the official parade and Festival scheduled for the 23rd.

The Mission is a gorgeous place. Parts of the original church were destroyed only six years after completion by the earthquake of 1812. The alter from the back wall was saved, and appears in one of the photos below. It’s spectacular.20180320_1305382000215669.jpg20180320_1304271336934057.jpgPortions of the original structure still stand. I had to laugh at the two girls taking glamour shots of themselves in front of  the old section. 20180320_130637-1819951110.jpgPeople and selfies – it’s out of control! The Mission seems to do a brisk tourist business – it’s beautifully restored, and worth the few dollars it takes to visit.



No bicycle outing would be complete without a brewery visit. Docent Brewing, an IPA temple, fit the bill perfectly! We had fabulous brews and sandwiches. One of the best brewpubs we’ve ever visited – and we’ve been to many!20180320_14085012269542.jpgWe just bummed around the rest of our five San Clemente days. Sometimes it’s nice just to be lazy. There weren’t many campers in our area of the campground – most of the showers and bathrooms seemed to be locked. A few of the others seem to be inhabited by the regular gathering of homeless folks to live in the Park during the day. Most would leave for places unknown for the night, returning faithfully at 7am the next day when the Park reopened. But a few locked themselves into the individual bathroom stalls for the night. While we weren’t ‘inconvenienced’ by this, it did make me a bit uncomfortable. The worst part of it were the ones who smoked – nothing worse than using a stinky, smoke-filled bathroom. I can’t believe the Rangers aren’t aware – there must be a tacit agreement to overlook this inhabitation. As you can probably tell, I’m kind of conflicted about how I feel about this. It was creepy knowing that people were sleeping in the bathrooms all night long, although I have a lot of sympathy for their plight.

One new thing we did see here were these food recycling bins, which look exactly like the regular green recycling bins at many facilities.20180321_094049-1754401314.jpg Seems weird to just dump food scraps – apparently we weren’t the only ones who weren’t used to this, as these green bins had more cans, plastic bottles, and cardboard boxes than food scraps in them. Ironically, there weren’t any recycling bins in the Park anywhere that we could find, which just magnified the confusion.

We couldn’t have moved on to a more different location – from sea level to 5500 feet at Mt San Jacinto State Park, a gem of a campground in the San Bernadino Mountains, near the town of Idyllwild.20180323_164800387251762.jpg It’s cold up here, in spite of the brilliant sunshine. Although nearly deserted when we arrived, it filled up yesterday with hikers from the Pacific Crest Trail, which crosses a few miles from here. This perhaps is one of the nicest, most pristine campgrounds we’ve visited – the bathrooms are spotless, and there’s not a speck of litter anywhere. It’s definitely someplace we will return.

We hiked up the Devil’s Slide yesterday, enjoying panoramic views from many places on the trail. 20180324_1212331506636580.jpg20180324_131908411954111.jpgFabulous hike – about five miles roundtrip, with 1700′ of elevation. There are many places where the effects of the constant wind were evident. Tree trunks have been twisted by the constant forces of wind and sun. They are swirled like a barber pole.20180324_113502703562467.jpg We were above the snowline when we reached about 7300′, and with a brisk wind and temps in the 30s, the snow sure wasn’t melting any, even with all that sunshine. This was the first time we have hiked anywhere where a Backcountry Wilderness Pass was required. There’s no fee for the permit – I think it’s more of a counting device.

We wanted to find a hike where we could take Jezzy along – our 94 year old pup (human years, according to our DNA report) has slowed down significantly in the past year. About four miles is her limit, and we try to keep it to an easy stroll. The Iyllwild Nature Center seemed like the perfect place to do that. What a gorgeous county park, complete with its own campground. We would definitely consider it next trip. We found these gigantic pinecones – that’s John’s iphone alongside for size comparison.20180325_135947996377917.jpgJezzy also located a mortar rock, used by native peoples hundreds of years ago to grind grains, or in this case probably acorns, for food. With the accumulated water from the recent rains, the depressions really stood out.20180324_1633042030260130.jpgThis is our last night in California. We cross the State Line tomorrow back into Arizona, and begin our slow trek back to Michigan. As always, we have the feeling that much has been left unseen and undone. Pretty sure a return trip is in our future.


It was with relief that we moved to the cool, clear air of Payson AZ from the yellowish smog of the Picacho Peak area. Being at a much higher elevation (about 6000′), it seemed obvious that we should spend our time exploring the many hikes in the area. So, we did.

Our base for four nights was the Houston Mesa Campground in the Tonto National Forest. Other than the Camp Host, we were the only campers in this 100 site campground. What a change from the packed Picacho Peak State Park! This campground is a gem.

Day One: The first hike we selected was a bust. Called the Monument View hike, we hoped for something with sweeping vistas of the Mogollon (Muggy On) Plateau. Nope. What we got was a walk through a hard-packed ravine where trail motorbikes must often race around. 20180305_1221191162682630.jpgIt was quite a disappointment. The best thing was this huge boulder alongside the road. It was impressive, just sitting there all by itself.20180305_133210117398971.jpgThe rest of the hike? Meh…

Day Two: It seemed like a good idea to take a hike with a bit of elevation involved, since our legs had finally recovered from hiking at Picacho. So, the Military Sinkhole Trail seemed like an obvious choice.20180306_1248171357081767.jpg We started at the bottom, and hiked a rocky trail up and up. 20180306_1206231361577040.jpgThe number of downed trees in the forest was amazing – I understand now how all this brush can fuel a forest fire – some of these trees had obviously been down for years, if not decades.20180307_124845119157993.jpg Thick carpets of pine needles and leaves made the path soft underfoot. When we finally arrived at the top, we were puzzled as to where the sinkhole actually was. John consulted Google, and we located it across the street from our scenic lunch spot. 20180306_121912369153406.jpg20180306_1218501013557682.jpgSadly, the sinkhole itself wasn’t photogenic in the least – there really was nothing there to see. But, what a gorgeous hike.

Day Three: The most popular hike in the Payson area is the Horton Spring Trail, according to Why not? This was totally different than the other two, as it followed Horton Creek up to its source. For four miles we followed along the rushing, cool creek – past small waterfalls and rocky outcroppings in the creek. 20180307_1148421088939701.jpg20180307_122622357031273.jpgAt one point, we passed two large wooden teepees. This photo doesn’t do them justice – somebody had to work hard to erect them – the logs in the big one were huge! I’m hoping it was a Scout project of some type – I really wanted to wade across the creek to examine them more closely, but there just wasn’t a spot where I felt I could cross without likely falling and filling up my boots!20180312_121604922202610.jpg Horton Spring is at the end of the hike – the water pours out of a rock from an artisan spring. Amazing. Most of my photos were a bust, so just take my word for it that it’s a gorgeous area, and a cool walk in the woods was the perfect activity for the day.

We were really sad to leave the Payson area after four nights. There’s a lot to explore here, and the cool air was much to our liking. But, we had a return date at Lost Dutchman State Park for a few nights. We took in a Cubs spring-training baseball game (Cubs beat the LA Angels 6-1). In case I don’t get to see the Detroit Tigers this year, this may have to satisfy my baseball game watching urge. We had pretty mediocre seats, but it was still fun.

Lost Dutchman has a trail that has intrigued us since the first time we saw it. It reaches from the campground up to the Flatiron – a peak at about nearly 3000′ above. 20180308_14364265722636.jpgIn a distance of about 3 miles, that’s a lot of elevation! It truly was the hardest hike I’ve ever done – the Trail was crowded with adventurers on a Saturday morning. There were even some paragliders out early on that Saturday morning. You can barely see one of them in this photo.20180310_084531-1144373445.jpg The crowds made things easier and harder at the same time. It was beneficial to have others around to point out the best handhold or route up an uncertain path, but it also led to a few logjams where we had to wait for our turn to haul ourselves up a particularly rough area. It took us exactly three hours to get to the top, and my legs were like jelly! Wow – what views! But, I never want to hike that one again. Once and done!20180310_0957441415430516.jpg20180310_1231401012063050.jpg20180310_112648-1939817177.jpg20180310_1133121389221668.jpgNow we’re holed up at Indian Cove Campground in Joshua Tree National Park. It would be tough to find a more beautiful campsite.20180311_155250-12087199245.jpg20180312_094446-11588087552.jpg We’ve got five days to explore the area – revisit a few of our favorite spots, and find a few hidden gems.



In the Shadow of the Moosedog

There are probably lots (or at least a handful) of readers of this blog who aren’t camping enthusiasts. You’re the folks who read this stuff and wonder, “When is she ever going to shut up about the perfect campsite, blah, blah, blah…” If you see yourself in this statement, take a few extra moments to stare at this photo. 20160121_124408This was our perfect campsite in Joshua Tree National Park. No neighbors for hundreds of yards in any direction. Absolute silence at night. Huge star-filled sky. It was amazing. Such a great place to spend five days. (And, yes, I did scramble up those boulders to capture this photo.)

Joshua Tree seemed to be a great place for a hike, so after getting settled in on Day 1, we dragged out our bikes and coasted downhill to the Boy Scout Trail Trailhead. Truly, from our campsite, we could nearly have glided the entire three or four miles to the Trailhead. This did not bode well at all for the return trip. But…

We’ve been on more exciting hikes. The first couple of miles was a soul-sucking trek through pure flat sandy desert. A few desolate creosote bushes lined the path. No Joshua Trees, no wildlife. Nothing. It was hard to stay awake while plodding forward. Finally, we climbed up, over, and into a narrow canyon, where things became a bit more interesting.20160119_142906 20160119_121534At that point, John decided to turn back. He’s been battling a cold since Christmas, and the dry air combined with his hacking cough was making his hike pretty miserable. We split up, agreeing that I would continue on for as long as I pleased, then pedal down to the Ranger Station at the entrance to fill up our two gallon containers with water. I will say now that it was Stupid of me to agree to that. Joshua Tree is unique in our experience in that there is no water available at ALL inside the park, with the exception of one other campground. No concessions, no bathrooms with running water, no pumps in the campgrounds. Requires a bit of planning….

I hiked for 5-1/2 miles before turning around – far enough to get through the canyon, 20160119_123310wind up and around to the plateau, where there at least are a few Joshua Trees.20160119_12552820160119_124902 These are such curious plants – spiky and very, very stiff to the touch. 20160120_134221They can live for 200-300 years. They grow about 3 inches a year for the first ten years, then level off at about 1-1/2 inches a year for the rest of their lives. Like the saguaro cactus, it may take them years to branch a limb off the main trunk. They grow only in the Mojave Desert and the surrounding area.

For Day 2, we decided to drive into the main portion of the Park, and explore a few areas with short hikes. First up was the Lost Horse Mine, the most productive of the many gold mines within JTNP. Over a period of about 70 years, this mine produced approximately 9000 ounces of gold. More interesting to me was the trail that led up to the Mine.20160120_124106 It passed through an area that had burned in the 1990s (the Ranger I quizzed didn’t know the exact year of the fire, but it’s about 20 years ago. Give or take a few.) As far as we could see, there were only charred Joshua tree stumps punctuated by a few creosote bushes and an occasional short Joshua tree.20160120_125234 It’s amazing to realize how slowly things grow in the desert.

Keys View was our second stop for the day, where we had a great view of the San Andreas Fault from nearly 5200 feet. If The Big One would have happened at that moment, we would have been safely on the side still attached to the continental US. The fault runs right through the middle of the photo, where the color changes from brown to yellow.20160120_113951For our last big stop of the day, we elected to climb Ryan Mountain, a steep ascent with spectacular views from the top. 20160120_150423We really huffed and puffed – my legs were screaming from the prior day’s hike, and John’s lung power hadn’t improved overnight either. But, the view from the top was worth the effort – an eerie landscape of rock piles that appear to have been extruded by a crazed architect.

Our last full day in camp was a lazy one. We wandered around, making a list of all the other campsites we would reserve on another trip (yes, we keep track of stuff like this). Joshua Tree NP is full of rock climbers, and we watched several attack the rock towers, with varying degrees of skill and certainty. There are lots of descriptive names for the rock formations, and we tried our damndest to identify them. For example, our camp was directly in front of Moosedog Tower.20160120_165849_LLS Can you see that? What the heck does that mean?

By no means were we ready to leave this spectacular park on Friday. We’re already looking forward to our next visit, but doubt that it can possibly compare to the grand time we had this past week.






Dry? California?

Let me first start by stating that I know the photos in this post are weak. For whatever reason, the Ansel Adams God of Outdoor Photography turned his back on me. But, they’re all I have, so just try to conjure up the feeling I’m trying to impart.

We rolled into Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, hoping to snag a campsite for three nights. Nope. The busy ML King three-day weekend meant that we could get a spot for Friday night only. Okay.20160115_151045 But, there was no way we were going to leave without at least a brief exploratory hike in the morning before our departure. The Palm Canyon Hike promised a grove of palm trees in an oasis. We set off, through the hardscrabble desert, doubting every moment that the promised oasis would show itself.

But all of the sudden – there it was! 20160116_092719We could first see a green cloud of palm tree tops in the distance. As we got closer, the sound of running water! Lush green vegetation springing up alongside the trail.20160116_091917 It was outlandish and ridiculous.20160116_092202 You’ll have to believe me, because the photos don’t capture the amazement of this spot. It was cool and dim, compared to the harsh light of the desert.20160116_09362320160116_093802 The floor beneath the tree canopy was smooth. Ahhhh, so this is what an oasis is all about! It truly was unbelievable, made even better by the fact that we were the only ones there. OUR oasis.

What could make this hike better? John needed a boot adjustment about halfway back, and I took a good look around while we were stopped . Big horned sheep peering down at us from the ridge!! Can it get any better? One big one who stared us down for a long time, and a smaller one who flitted in and out of view. 20160116_10065720160116_100605We stayed there for quite a long time. You’d think I could have gotten a decent photo, but the distance was a bit overwhelming for my camera.

We finally got on the road, and traveled through some remarkable territory.20160116_115729 It seems that most of the huge Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is available for any type of two or four-wheeled motorized activity. Dozens (maybe hundreds) of dust-raising, noisy vehicles screaming alongside the road kick up dust storms that make breathing and driving miserable. Encampments of RVs, each with trailers full of ORVs are everywhere. If you love motorized sports, this is the place for you. Honestly, I can see how this might be fun. But…..what a mess. The land is a huge scar from geologic episodes, erosion, and (most recently) motorsports. We were happy to move on.

Lake Cahuilla Regional Park, near La Quinta was our home for the next two nights. For $15/night, we occupied a lakeside site in a huge gravel parking lot, with our own picnic table and firepit.20160116_134640 The Lake is actually part of the regional irrigation system, and is a cement pond, with pumps and irrigation ditches leading away from it. What appears to be a swimming area flanks one side, and families fishing for carp ring the rest of the area. Sounds odd, but it really was a nice spot to camp. Our enjoyment was marred by the fact that our nearest neighbors, who were camping in a Dodge Caravan which had seen its best days years ago, ran their tin-can generator for hours every day. Ringing the Lake was a 7′ chain link fence, separating us from the fabulous Jack Nicklaus private golf course next door. While walking Jezzy, we could peer through the fence at the gorgeous emerald fairways, lined with bunkers and ponds. It was quite a contrast from the view on our own side of the fence.

If you are a fan of the game of golf, La Quinta is Mecca. There are signature courses by Greg Norman, Nicklaus, Palmer, Tom Weiskopf, in addition to the PGA West and TPC Stadium Courses. Everything revolves around golf.20160117_120320 20160117_113727But, as I cycled around on a brilliantly sunny afternoon, all I was able to see were cement walls. All the communities, and all the golf courses are walled off. Bah! I did see these date palms, loaded with dates.20160117_115325In the Village of La Quinta, there was a Sunday Farmer’s Market, and a lively street scene. Lots of bikes at the coffee shop and tap room. Got an idea for how John and I can support ourselves in the coming years – a mobile bike repair truck (John), complete with coffee and/or a beer tap on the side (Judy). 20160117_122958Tomorrow we move on to Joshua Tree National Park for five days. Monday is a free day at all the National Parks, one of 16 this year to celebrate their 100 year anniversary. It will probably be a circus for one day, but what a great way to say Happy Birthday.