Travels With Mimi



March 13, 2023
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We really had planned on going to Scotland and the Hebrides this spring, but once the realities of 15 hour flight wearing a Covid mask among other problems hit, we changed our minds. As the coast was out due to booked camping spots and the sierra's and northern states were out due to rain and snow, we headed for the deserts again. Not only would it be drier, but if lucky, we would be there during the peak of wildflower season, and if really lucky perhaps even a super-bloom.

Well - it was kind of hit and miss.
San Benito Historical Park. One of the many interesting exhibits there.


One of the largest galls we've ever seen on an oak. 


Day 1. Our ultimate destination was the southern California deserts and some trails and areas we had missed on previous trips. Determined not to have marathon driving days this time, our first stop was the Pinnacles, about three hours south of us. On a lark we stopped at the San Benito Historical Park just below Tres Pinos. We didn't expect much other than a lunch spot and leg stretcher. But we were pleasantly surprised at this quaint stop housing a rustic collection of farm equipment, old buildings, a small museum and a nice large picnic area. Since we had hiked most of Pinnacles trails and many were closed, some sadly to vandalism, we headed North East out of the campground towards the Butterfield Ranch. Unfortunately a semi wild very possessive horse disputed our right to pass HIS grazing area so we reluctantly turned around and bushwhacked our way back to the campground.



Bushwacking in Pinnacles Park.:



I'm sure the owners of these oil rigs think they're beautiful.

Day 2. In view of the horrendously bad weather predicted Tuesday, and much of our next destination having dirt roads with low lying camping spots, we opted for the Red Rock Canyon instead as it was further inland and south plus better protected. Hwy 25 to King City was beautiful and green but had lots of erosion along it's banks. Fortunately most of it was minor and kept under control. The highway to Bakersfield wasn't worth mentioning but the fields were blooming as were the oil fields derricks as we got close. Ms. Garmin (as we refer to our GPS) does a great job for the most part, but she has some failings. Mostly not being up on the latest closures and interrupting us during an important conversation instead of waiting for a lull. Luckily I'm not above asking for directions and a local gave us a quick alternate route when Cal Trans closed one of the major on-ramps due to construction. Near the top of the Tehachapies we got a bit of a shock seeing derailed train cars on the side of the freeway as if it just happened. It was only weeks later we found it had happened two months ago and was still in the process of being cleaned up. Red Rock had several open campsites left and somehow we got one designated for handicapped but just now available to all being complete with level concrete pad, cover and barbecue pits. Other campers looked at us a little askance as we hopped and jumped around our campsite setting up. After that we had an amazing hike around the grounds even though the weather was a little iffy.



Part of the cliffs surrounding the Red Rock Canyon campground.


This Joshua Tree bloom was almost a foot high!
A view of the RR Campground from the cliffs.


Day 3. Our last day of driving had now put us in a closer position to our next destinations, the Antelope Wildflower Preserves and then Saddleback Park about 15 miles west of it. After another morning hike around our park we headed to Antelope via a lot of small detours over rough roads and through sporadic rain. When we finally got there they had erected a gate and now charged $10 for parking on what would have been a soggy hike through a wet field with very few flowers. Instead we parked by the side of the road for free which had more flowers and ate lunch. As we were early for Saddlback we took a very nice little mile trail out of the visitors center and then settled into our campground. After dressing up for a hike two dogs befriended us which I thought was nice until they refused to leave our side the whole way. We later found they were 'homeless' from a caring lady who fed them occasionally.


The San Gabriel Mountains looking south from Saddleback Park.


Day 4. After a leisurely breakfast and plenty of coffee we had built up enough courage to tackle the L.A. freeway system. Our destination was the California Botanical Garden in Rancho Cucamonga. What an amazing place! There must have been over 100 acres of manicured desert plants in some creative lush settings surrounded by wandering paths. We spent several fascinating hours there. On to Tom's place, Mimi's brother. While the botanical gardens were a desert paradise, Tom's place was a tropical jungle complete with bananas, avocados, citrus fruits etc. from which we made us an amazing meal.


Tom's place.

Day 5. On our fifth day we headed for Anza Borrego with a few set backs. Unfortunately we didn't have enough fuel for that large remote desert area as diesel stations were nearly non existent. Plus the two sights I had listed weren't worth the stop. I think on one of them our steps somehow hit and got jammed and wouldn't extend which was a pain but wouldn't cancel our trip. By early afternoon we made it to our dispersed Blair campground. It was nice and the price was right - free. We we took an interesting hike around the level grounds and then over one of the low passes which had more vegetation before settling in. After carefully considering distances and fuel reserves, we decided not to risk going further south but made plans to head back up north closer to Borrego Springs as the town had a lot of attractions as well as diesel fuel.


Day 6. On getting out of the camper in the morning I got ready to jump down but noticed a strange site - our stairs had decided to come out again... and they worked flawlessly the rest of the trip! The ride to Borrego Springs, a quaint little desert community with lots of museums & small gardens among other eclectic sights, was scenic as it winds though pristine desert plains and boulder strewn passes. We briefly toured the flea market they have on the park like round - about after fueling up and then toured one of the local gardens and art museum before heading to the South Fork Palm Wash Slot Canyon about 10 miles away. This was a popular hike and we were lucky to find a level spot. We quickly changed and headed down a long road into the wash. It took another mile to reach the canyon but it was fascinating! Steep sandstone walls and narrow winding passages dumping into wider spots of sand with wildflowers lining the edges. They said this was only one of many but we didn't have the time or endurance for more. After changing we had just enough time to head right for our dispersed campground at the southern end of Joshua Tree N.P. While not remarkable, it was clean, relatively quiet, somewhat scenic and again, free.  
South Fork Palm Wash Slot Canyon



One of the many 'stairs'
 on the world class Mastodon Peak trail.

Day 7. On Sunday we headed into Joshua Tree for some hikes after stopping at the Visitors Center. It was less than a mile to the amazing Mastodon Peak trail, a three mile hike that covers lush desert flora set among unique geologic rock formations with trails winding among them often cut right into stone, and has an old abandoned mine to boot. We took a few short trails after that before heading to our RV park a mile north of 29 Palms. We normally eschew RV parks, but unless we want to hold it for two weeks we need to dump somewhere. Plus it gives us a chance to really clean up with unlimited water and power. To our surprise the park was nicer than expected being very serene and well cared for while overlooking a vast desert plain.


Camp Hosts at the 20 Palms RV Park do it right with their trailers.


No, this isn't the 'Painted Desert', but some vandals think otherwise. A view of the Mojave basin on the left.


Amboy. Probably much as it appeared in the 60's.


Scaling Amboy Crater. Mostly climbed because it's there.


Day 8. I heard a loud boom and felt the camper shake while in the shower. To this day I'm not sure what happened as I could find no damage or anything wrong. My best guess is a large bird hit one of our two big windows.
Onto 'downtown' 29 Palms for some groceries and fuel. Prices were good and the town was mostly clean. I think they are attempting to clean it up to attract more tourists as it seems to have a manicured 'funky' feel. We had a hike planned on the way to Amboy, but it was hard to find and the area was scenically challenged. The old town of Amboy on Route 66 is a kick having been arrested in the 60's. They appear to be renovating their old hotel  which must have been a Mecca for travelers during it's time. On to the Amboy Crater a few miles down the road. We hitched up our packs and headed off to the crater a little over a mile away. It's a three mile hike round trip hike to the top of the crater through barren volcanic desert landscaping interspersed with sand but little vegetation. Still we enjoyed this unique austere hike to the top. The overflow parking lot we were in wasn't marked as a campground except in some obscure BLM documents, but we had about a half dozen campers here and it felt like a friendly little  community. We talked with one interesting couple until it got too dark to see each other.


There is a trail completely around the top, but parts of it have a knife edge.

Day 9.Today wasn't a great day. It started out well with a really great hike near the top of the Providence Mountain area of the Mojave. It had one of the heaviest concentrations of desert vegetation we've seen in a while along an easy path set next to giant jumbled house size sandstone boulders. But when we got to our next sight, the Kelso Dunes, we realized it was a 6 mile round trip on dirt to some sand dunes Mimi wasn't fond of, so we skipped that one. Our next drive was to an old historic Chinese Cemetery, but it was now blocked off as access crossed railroad property. Next was the town of Kelso, an interesting old railroad station and tourist center - which was also closed due to reconstruction. With that we gave up and headed to our campground and some hikes in the northern part of the Mojave Desert. Well when we got to our Cima road turn off, the road was blocked off due to erosion and would be for months. At this point we headed miles out of our way to try to get to it from the other side and found that too had been blocked off! After that we pulled over and had lunch, the first good thing to happen to us since breakfast. Weighing all our options and considering the horrible winds mixed with rain, we opted to spend the time driving to Rainbow Canyon. It would get us closer to home and to a nice campground as out door activities were limited anyway. The next several hours on Hwy 15 that runs between L.A. and Los Vegas were nerve racking. Not only the fierce winds, but heavy traffic and huge trucks passing close by made for a white knuckle ride. Once we almost got blown into the next lane. Luckily I had a death grip on the wheel. For the first time ever I was glad to see Barstow as we could get off the freeway. After another 10 or so miles, with the last 3 being on dirt, we got to our campground. The skies were so gloomy and the winds still so fierce, we just stayed inside the rest of the evening.  
The amazingly lush desert scenery of the Special A trail.



The Mojave under siege.


Day 10. Mimi didn't want to go home right away, especially from here as it would have been an endurance run. Luckily I had another campsite figured which was part way home just north of Fresno. With the winds gone and the sun having come out, Rainbow Canyon looked rather inviting this morning. But we opted not to take a hike due to worry about the two muddy spots in the road which were probably worse now after more rain during the night. Luckily they weren't as bad as we imagined but I did feel a slip once.

It was another long grind over the Tehachapies but luckily getting through Bakersfield was a breeze from this direction. Then another long grind up 99. The main highlight was seeing diesel at almost $3 per gallon at one place, perhaps a Casino. To my surprise parts of Fresno were very upscale with lots of nice houses in pastoral settings. When we got out in the country and near Millerton we were astounded. It looked like Scotland or Ireland in spring. Lush rolling hills with small winding country roads and old quaint farms. Millerton had a half dozen campgrounds with all but the last one closed. It was set overlooking the reservoir and we found a nice prime spot overlooking it. While beautiful and scenic it had one problem, ground squirrels. They were there by the hundreds. After one lady said they attack camper wiring I stopped up dozens of the holes in the vicinity and part of me felt like standing guard until sunset when they hopefully retired for the evening. Instead we went for a nice little walk around the campground as the sun was getting low over the water.
Part of the Millerton North Shore trail.


Day 11. On this our last day we parked at a very small spot on the side of the road at an awkward angle so we could take the Buzzards Roost Trail I had read about. I imagine in summer it would be a nice hike but on this spring day after some rains it was stunning with the tall green grasses, wildflowers and views of the lake. It was about 3 hours home, and aside from some crazy drivers in traffic (as usual) and Ms. Garmin trying to show us the scenic route, we had no problems and arrived home about 1 or so. As usual we seem frantic about unpacking and in an hour we were done. But we always find something the next day we forgot. It was a great trip over all... not counting that one day.



What amazed me this time was that even out in the boondocks, miles from any town, we were often able to get some cell service and as a result go online via the cell hotspot & laptop.

We also didn't realize how nice many dispersed (Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management 'BLM's)campgrounds were until we used more of them. Plus there are no reservations, no crowds and they are mostly free or have a very small charge.

For those camping on the fly, we discovered some indispensable apps: Gasbuddy for finding cheap gas (& for us diesel), and the three camping apps of Campendium, The Dyrt, and Campsites Free.
Each have their own merits.