Friday, November 20, 2015

Yuma, AZ to Boulevard, CA to San Diego

As we made our way back to our former hometown San Diego for the holidays, we spent a few nights in Yuma, AZ...for the second time this year. The lure of inexpensive dental work in Los Algodones, Baja California means we'll stopover in Yuma every time we pass through the area.

This was our fourth time getting our teeth cleaned in Los Algodones and the third dentist we have tried. We learned about Dr. Maria Fonseca from some Canadian friends who have been going to her for many years and have had a variety of dental issues addressed by her. The previous dentists we visited were not bad, but Dr. Fonseca was excellent and will get our repeat business.

Dr. Fonseca has a small practice with top notch modern equipment; it's just her and an assistant and the doctor does the cleaning herself. Hans' teeth generally need more extensive work than mine and she spent an hour cleaning his teeth, by far the most thorough cleaning we've had in Mexico. I also felt my cleaning was as good as any cleaning I'd gotten previously in the US...and it only cost $30 each!

We intend to return to Dr. Fonseca next March for our next cleaning and Hans may have some old crowns and fillings replaced as well. We'll be sure to update our experience here. Dr. Maria Fonseca gets our vote for excellent dental care in Los Algodones!

Happy Hans with super clean teeth!

Our stay in Yuma was brief but we had fun catching up with our friends Cliff and Sharon who spend the winter here, over pickleball and an excellent dinner. Then we moved on into California to a planned meet up with my parents in Boulevard at The Oaks at Sacred Rocks.

My parents camp with their church RV group on a regular basis at various parks around San Diego County. The November outing happened to coincide nicely with our entry into California. Though I failed to take any photos of the campground or the group meals, we had a very nice time during our three night stay at this beautiful and peaceful RV park.

We did, of course, manage to get in a couple of hikes. McCain Valley is a swatch of BLM land encompassing almost 40,000 acres of chaparral and granitic boulder covered hills in eastern San Diego County. There are two primitive campgrounds along this decent dirt road and a small area for OHV riding.

We drove a small segment of McCain Valley Rd and took the spur out to Sacatone Overlook. The spur road is pretty rough, high clearance only, so we drove about a mile then hiked the remaining mile to the fantastic view into Carrizo Gorge.

Carrizo Gorge from Sacatone Overlook.
The Salton Sea is visible in the far distance.

Center right in the previous photo is a segment of the San Diego and Arizona Railway, aka "The Impossible Railroad"
due to the logistical challenges involved in building it. 

A couple of derailed cars are visible on the far right.

McCain Valley Rd goes through some wonderful granitic boulder strewn hillsides,
we'll definitely spend more time exploring this area in the future.

Morena Butte has long been one of our favorite hikes in San Diego County and staying in Boulevard put us within 20 miles of the trail head at Lake Morena. Though Lake Morena has suffered mightily from the drought, it did have a little more water in it compared to when we hiked here last December with John and Pam.

We were pleased to discover that Lake Morena County Park campground has upgraded their electric sites to 50 amp and added sewer to some sites. This park is peaceful and beautiful despite the low lake level.

Lake Morena campground had more turkeys walking through it than campers!

Within the first half mile of the trail head we got a lake view and a view of our destination.
Morena Butte is the granite topped mountain on the left.

Horny toad!

View of the lake from the Butte.
The campground sits along the top right edge of the dry lake bed so it is no longer near the water.

Martin, Estella and Chelsea joined us on the hike!

There's lots of fun rock scrambling at the top...sometimes straight up!
Chelsea seems to be half mountain goat!

A little rain lately has perked up the yuccas.

Yesterday we arrived at Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve where we'll settle in for a month as part of our annual 2+ month stay in San Diego. It feels good to slow down for a while...blogging included, as we spend time with family and old friends and RVing friends who pass through town.

It will be interesting to see what El Nino has in store for us over the next few months!

We'll likely see a lot of these beautiful creatures during our stay at Santee Lakes.

And birds, lots of  birds!

Friday, November 13, 2015

White Tank Mountain Regional Park

To break up the drive from Cottonwood to Yuma we spent a few nights at a new-to-us Phoenix area regional park: White Tank Mountain Regional Park. This park sits on the far western edge of Phoenix, well away from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis...It's 6 or 7 miles to the nearest grocery store...perfect!

The biggest draw for us was the 25 miles of shared use trails and 10 miles of mountain biking on a competitive track, all in the beautiful Sonoran desert.. We did a great 9 mile loop hike one day using the Ford Canyon and Willow Canyon trails, walked a 5 mile loop on the lowland/easy trails and biked the competitive track on our last day.

Sunrise our first morning.
Cool and a little cloudy, perfect for a long hike into the nearby hills.

As we hiked up Ford Canyon we began to understand why it's called White Tank Mountain...white granite boulders line the canyon bottoms creating tanks to hold rain water long after a storm.
See little Hans on the left?

Would these be called cactus hips???

There was some fun scrambling as we continued up the canyon 

It had rained in the last week so we saw dozens of full tanks in the canyon.

The competitive track has some pretty easy trails, though we did not do the Technical Loop.
White Tank Mountain Regional Park has 40 water/electric sites. Roads are paved and sites are gravel. Each site has a picnic table and fire pit. Some sites are somewhat slanted and privacy is varied. We always use Google Maps along with the campground map to choose our site and site #31 was excellent. Good privacy with only one neighbor a good distance away on our docking station side.

There is one restroom/shower building for the 40 campsites, and only one shower for men and one for women in that building, fortunately the campground was not even a quarter full. We had okay Verizon signal, it was kind of slow midday. The dump station had two stations and looked pretty new. In fact the water and electric utilities at each site looked pretty new.

This is a nice place to stay in the Phoenix area, comparable to many of the other Regional Parks. We'd stay here again if the West side of Phoenix made sense in our travels.

Lovely site 31.
About 10 feet beyond the rock border is a small wash, great for watching small wildlife.

The huntress in her element.

Gilded Flicker.

Such a lovely site as the evening shadows slowly overtake us.

Cactus Wren.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sharing Sedona Area with San Diego Friends

We were able to entice our good friends from San Diego, Martin and Estella (and their puppy Chelsea), to join us in one of our favorite places: Sedona. They stayed at cute Sky Ranch Lodge up on Airport Mesa, with amazing views out over Sedona and easy access to the Airport Mesa Loop trail.

With freezing rain showers predicted we got a little hiking in between storms (sort of). Hans and I have visited Sedona several times, even spending a month in this area in 2014 so we've found dozens of fabulous hikes, but this time I found something new: the Amitabha Stupa.

A stupa is considered to be the living presence of the Buddha and one of the oldest forms of sacred architecture on earth. It's a peaceful place of reflection nestled in Sedona's red rock beauty.

Walking loops around the stupa in mindful meditation.

Estella and Martin.

Sedona love!

Our hike up Doe Mountain included a rain storm that gave us some amazing cloud and sun interaction over the surrounding landscape.

As various storm cells passed through the region shafts of sun would break through and light up the rocks.

The storms finally moved on and we had a glorious day to hike from Sedona's Broken Arrow trailhead.

Strolling Submarine Rock.

Sedona reflections.

Chelsea hitches a ride from Estella.

We had the most wonderful thin crust pizza at The Anvil Pizzeria in Cottonwood on their dog friendly patio. They use high quality ingredients and house made mozzarella, good local beers on tap too!

We moved down to Dead Horse Ranch State Park for a few days and another San Diego friend, Kathryn, joined us for a hike on the park grounds. Tavasci Marsh trail was easily accessible from our campsite and provided great views of Tuzigoot National Monument as well.

Tuzigoot National Monument from Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

It was neat walking through the almost leafless mesquite forest in the Verde River flood plain
with a carpet of brilliant green grass thanks to recent rains.

Our last Sedona hike for this stay was the Soldiers Pass/Brin's Mesa Loop, which we've previously hiked in 2014. I love this loop, especially adding the half mile spur trail to the top of Brin's Mesa where you get fantastic Sedona views from a neat red rock vantage point.

We were extra fortunate on this day to see a pack of javelina at the top of Soldiers Pass. We suspect someone is feeding them because they were not afraid of us at all and a couple were even walking slowly towards us as if expecting treats! That was a little scary!

A few of the Seven Sacred Pools along the Soldiers Pass segment.

This handsome devil watched us for some time before moving off the trail.

Mama and young.

If you take the Brin's Mesa spur trail to the top of the mesa you get fantastic views of red rock spires...

...from atop a dramatic rock pile!

I believe Mt Wilson is rising behind me.

Last but not least a trip to the Sedona/Verde Valley area would not be complete without a weekend visit to Jerome and a stop in the Spirit Room for some live music.

Kaleidoscoped photo of us from the awesome Nellie Bly kaleidoscope store in Jerome!

Campground Review

Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, AZ is an excellent location for exploring the Verde Valley, Sedona and Jerome. Roads and sites are paved, each site has a picnic table and fire pit with water/electric hookups. There are restrooms and showers in each camping loop. We had good 4G Verizon without needing to boost the signal.

We loved having a trail right from our site and there are many miles of trails throughout the state park. They may not be the glamorous red rock trails of Sedona but whenever we wanted those it was just a 20 minute drive away. We'll definitely return to this state park.

Excellent site #61 in the Red-Tail Hawk Loop,

View of Cottonwood and the Mingus Mountains from our site.

Looking down on the Red-Tail Hawk Loop.

That's it for the Verde Valley for this year...we LOVE this area and we WILL be back!