Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sonoran Desert Immersion Around Ajo, AZ

From El Centro we moved on to Yuma for a few nights where we took care of dental cleanings and I got an inexpensive yet excellent haircut in Los Algodones. We also enjoyed a day with friends Cliff and Sharon who winter in Yuma, and had the truck and fifth wheel washed and waxed. Wouldn't you know it, the day after the cleaning we had to drive to our next destination in the rain.

We spent five nights in Ajo, AZ, a place we'd never visited before. Shadow Ridge RV Park made a good home base to explore from. We drove the nearby Ajo Scenic Loop, a well graded 10 mile dirt road with lots of boondocking sites and many secondary dirt roads that are good for hiking and biking. Here's a few shots from a couple of hikes we did off the Scenic Loop.

Love the saguaro growing up in the middle of the organ pipe cactus.

Bushwacking to locomotive rock.

Found a new crest forming on an organ pipe cactus while bushwacking.

Windmill for the Valentine Well.

We visited Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument one day, it's about 35 miles south of Ajo. We drove the 21 mile Ajo Mountain Scenic Loop with stops to hike Arch Canyon and the Estes Canyon/Bull Pasture Loop. It was a beautiful week day with very few people on the road or the trails.

Crested saguaro sighting while stopped at an overlook!

Searching for these unique mutations is one of the highlights of visiting the Sonoran desert for me!

Hans stands next to a giant organ pipe cactus with a unique crested arm in the center...

Crested organ pipe cactus arms.


From the Arch Canyon trailhead you can see the arches.

The main Arch Canyon trail takes you about .6 mile into the canyon with fabulous rock formations all around.

Continuing beyond the main trail, the trail up to the arches becomes very steep, see me on the side of the mountain?
We only continued another half mile before turning back...
we knew we had another hike further down the road and this trail was getting ridiculous!

Our big hike of the day was the 4.1 mile Estes Canyon and Bull Pasture Loop (including Bull Pasture Spur). We decided to go clockwise and unknowingly lost the trail as we walked up the wash. Fortunately when the real trail crossed our path we realized our mistake and got ourselves back on track. Leaving the wash, the trail climbs steeply up the side of the canyon, then more steeply up to Bull Pasture which was once used for grazing cattle, and now offers exceptional views for many miles around.

Petroglyphs seen along Estes Canyon wash...and I don't even know if this was along the real trail!

Plenty of impressive saguaro specimens.

Taking a pause to catch our breath as we climb to Bull Pasture we could look back down on the canyon we'd followed.

Wonderful overlook of the head of Estes Canyon.



Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge is another good place to explore near Ajo. We stopped by the visitor center in Ajo to pick up the required permits and drove a few miles out Charlie Bell Rd. hoping to see some of the endangered Sonoran Desert Pronghorns. Though we weren't successful on that front we did enjoy complete solitude on a walk through the desert.

Red tailed hawk.

Small crested arm forming near the top of this saguaro.

No pronghorn to be found, just a few mule deer that had been resting peacefully in a wash until we came along.

Ajo was a thriving copper mining town until 1985 and today is trying to build a reputation as an artsy stopover on the way to or from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument or Puerto Penasco Mexico. It's a pretty sleepy place with three RV parks, good boondocking nearby and a nicely spruced up central plaza with a lot of empty storefronts. We had a good dinner on Valentines Day at 100 Estrella Cafe, an excellent burger and flat bread pizza.

Artists Alley has some interesting offerings.



Shadow Ridge RV Park was an inexpensive, clean park. Though the sites are rather tight, the staff is friendly, the laundry was clean and low cost, and they have a very nice little trail through a wash where javelina like to roam each day. We had good Verizon signal here, though it did slow down during peak times. The park was full most nights, understandable when it's only $24/night for full hookups.

It was good to see Steve and MonaLiza for happy hour upon their return from Mexico.

When we walked the trail we got to visit with these characters.
The brown one likes both carrots and turnips, the white one isn't fond of turnip!

We were thrilled to see several javelina one evening along the trail.
Later, Hans was sitting outside the RV, heard footsteps nearby and turned to see a javelina just a few feet away
walking right through the RV park!



Next up: Tucson





Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Veggies and Birds Galore in El Centro, CA

We first heard about the University of California farm tours a couple of years ago from John and Pam, it immediately went on my list of must-do's whenever we could plan a time to stop in El Centro, CA.

Most of the year the tours are for children, but for a couple of months in the winter Farm Smart holds tours several days a week that are geared towards adults. For $25 you learn all about how the Colorado River was diverted to the Imperial Valley in the early 1900's and current farming practices in the area, You are toured around the property to learn how the University does research on farming practices for the future, plus you get lunch and a chance to pick all you can carry of the current crops in season.

If you love vegetables and have an interest in how crops are produced in the Imperial Valley this is a fun way to spend a day...here's a peak at our day:


The first time we've seen burrowing owls!

They watched the trolleys pass by...so cute!

Me, siphoning water from a canal into a ditch.
Some farms still use this method, apparently the pros can start the water running with one swoop!

Hans picked a scary looking purple carrot!

It was super windy as we filled our big orange produce bags.

Our haul...we may have gotten a little carried away!
Fortunately we'll meet up with some friends at our next stop so we can share the wealth!

We stayed at Sunbeam Lake RV Resort just West of El Centro. This large park is perched on the edge of a man made lake and mostly caters to seasonal visitors from Canada and other cold climates in the Northern US.

We had a perfectly fine gravel site with a concrete patio and picnic table and plenty of room for our truck. Roads are paved. Park wifi was slow but it worked. Verizon signal was excellent. The park is far enough off Interstate 8 that you can barely hear it. Hans played pickleball with a friendly group of people each morning and we both enjoyed the 9 hole disc golf course at the attached county park.

A pleasant surprise at this location was the many birds we saw on our evening walk. Sunbeam Lake is split into two sections, one abuts the RV Park and County Park, the second runs from the edge of the RV park to Interstate 8. Thousands of egrets and hundreds of cormorants and northern shovelers would come to roost in the salt cedar trees along the second lake each evening at sundown!

Salt cedar covered in egrets!
The cormorants liked the tops of the trees and the bare stumps sticking out of the water.

Looking down the lake you can see each tree on the right covered in white egrets.



Golden field adjacent to the lake.



Next stop Yuma, AZ for dental and pickleball!



Saturday, February 4, 2017

Farewell San Diego, desert here we come!

Wow! That three month break from blogging was just what I needed! The past year has had its challenges, both personally and nationally, and the timing of our stay in San Diego for the past two and a half months was perfect for me to back off the blog and just enjoy our annual stay in our former home town.

We spent our usual one month at Santee Lakes, a couple of weeks parked on Hans brother's driveway, and a month at Mission Bay. I spent lots of time working on projects with my dad at his house and Hans played a lot of pickleball, interspersed with quality time with friends and family.

We've now moved on to Sweetwater Summit Regional Park for a couple of nights and tomorrow we head out of San Diego County and commence our 2017 travels. We're excited to be back on the road and look forward to hitting some old favorites and some new locales in the coming months.

Here's a few images from January which included a lot of beach time...the last beach time we'll have for many months.

Hans' band, The Sand Devils, played a back yard party in January.

We had a fantastic tidepooling experience during a super minus tide in January.
This lobster was one of many exciting finds that day.

We even ran into my niece and her two kids at the tidepools!

Low tide at Sunset Cliffs.

A walk on Moonlight Beach with Hans' mom and stepdad.

I loved feeling empowered by participating in the San Diego Women's March on January 21st with a group of friends and about 40,000 other folks who needed to channel their frustrations with the new administration into action.

Big waves churned up massive sea foam one day at Pacific Beach.

Sunset glow on Pacific Beach.

Pacific Beach Pier.

Now on to the desert! And we'll see if I can get back into blogging mode...


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Joshua Tree's Willow Hole Trail

The last time we visited Joshua Tree National Park we were staying in Desert Hot Springs so it was a 40 mile one way drive to visit the park. This time we're staying at Twenty Nine Palms RV Resort and the national parks east entrance is just a few miles away.

One thing we've figured out about Joshua Tree NP is that very few of the interesting features in the park are actually on the park map. For example the fabulous hike we did in 2014, known as the Maze Loop, is not on the park map. The trail is signed but the only way to know about it is to do your research before you arrive.

The Willow Hole trail came up during the research phase this time so we headed out early one morning to beat the heat and potential crowds. This trail is accessed from the Park Blvd. Boy Scout Trailhead, then veers right into the Wonderland of Rocks and ultimately ends about 3.3 miles in at a grove of willows.

We arrived to an empty parking lot and a kiosk with the Willow Hole trail clearly marked...even though it is not on the official park map. We also found the trail to be well marked the entire way. I guess Joshua Tree NP wants people to explore in depth on their own, or perhaps they don't map everything in order to keep foot traffic light on the trails.

Though this hike was about seven miles out and back, it was pretty flat with very little rock scrambling, so an easy hike overall.

We crossed a broad, flat plain dotted with Joshua trees, some of them were huge!

A couple of miles into the hike we approach the Wonderland of Rocks. 

There was water in the bottom of this depression and the dark line on the rock indicates high water line.
We had to scramble over the rocks in front of Hans, this was the most difficult part of the trail...and really wasn't all that hard.

Once in the Wonderland of Rocks the trail continues through a wash with fantastic boulders everywhere.


There were even flowers scattered through this portion of the hike....in November!

Lots of birds in this lush canyon.

At about 3.3 miles the wash widened and grew even more lush and we came around a corner to find a large stand of willows.

Beyond the willows we crested a small rise and were greeted with a view of a small valley and the mountains beyond.
See tiny Hans in the center?

More willow among the rocks. There were small pockets of standing water in the lowest spots.
We saw signs of bighorn sheep...but no actual live sheep!

Back through the willow forest.


Instead of retracing the same path, we scrambled through a side wash,
ultimately finding a peaceful place to stop for lunch and a little siesta.


On the way back to the parking area we did see a few people, including these two rock climbers.
See them in red and white?



It turns out week day mornings are the perfect time to hike in Joshua Tree National Park, we had the trail to ourselves until the very end. Weekends are a different story...as we found out a couple of days later. Fortunately an early start gets you a parking spot and some solitude on the trail!