Saturday, November 22, 2014

Transitioning from the Desert to the Foothills

We've had a peaceful three nights at Lake Skinner Recreation Area, a county park located on the Southern edge of Riverside County, a good transition zone from our previous stop in the desert before we head into our former home town, San Diego, for the next 2.5 months.

When we started this blog back in April 2010 we kept it private for a couple of years, not wanting our employers to know we were considering pulling the plug on the working world. But the hike we did on our first day here reminded me that it was the location of my very first blog post!

Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Preserve has miles of trails meandering through the rolling foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains. Open grasslands are dotted with massive Engelmann oaks, riparian creek beds and even vernal pools after a wet winter. We've seen coyotes, snakes and deer here, and it's incredibly green and gorgeous in the spring (check out that first post for all the green!). Well worth a stop if you are in the Temecula/Murrieta area.

We were enchanted by the swoopy clouds ushering in a mild front
that ended up dropping a few sprinkles on this very parched area over night.

Campround Review

Lake Skinner, actually a reservoir, was a peaceful place to stay for a few nights. If you want to check out the Temecula Wine Country the park is right on the North edge of the wine trail. The park is surrounded by beautiful coastal sage and boulder strewn hills, but you can only appreciate them from afar as they are protected and provide habitat for lots of wildlife, important in this area that has experienced a population explosion in the past 25+ years.

The lake is open to fishing and boating, though with the current low water level only one of the boat ramps is open. Swimming is not allowed in the reservoir. There are lots of family focused activities here: a large playground, splash pad, boat rentals, concert stage. There are a couple of large festivals held here each year, including the Temecula Balloon and Wine Festival.

This park can get crazy busy on weekends, especially in the summer. When we called just a couple of days prior to arrival to get a site for three nights (including a Friday night) we were told we got the last perimeter site in Loop C (reviewers say Loop C is the calmest place to be during peak times). Turns out the park was not even half full during our entire stay and we never had next door neighbors.

Roads are paved and sites are dirt with a picnic table and fire pit. The sites are fairly close together and the perimeter sites are generally much better than those in the middle rows. This was a very peaceful place to stay at this time of year, though the park will be FULL for Thanksgiving weekend. The only sounds at night were coyotes and owls. We had a decent Verizon signal that became full signal when boosted.

Site 308 in C Loop is backed by a wide grassy area.
Though site 307 is close, in the foreground, we never had a neighbor during our stay.

Lake Skinner is quite low but still provides pretty reflections and an excellent bird habitat.

There's a cormorant rookery in the eucalyptus trees, at sundown they all took flight,
as well as a large flock of Great Egrets, a few are visible bottom right.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Desert Days: Wrapping Up a Month in Desert Hot Springs

Boy, have we experienced a month full of variety! Plenty of social time, music, architecture and art, learned a new sport and, of course, lots of hiking. Even though we arrived in the desert a bit early and it was hotter than normal for this time of year, we only had to deal with about two weeks worth of low 90's and high 80's. The best part about arriving early in the season: there were plenty of sites available to choose from and the low number of people in the pools at our RV park.

Here's a look at what we did during our final week in Desert Hot Springs:

First, there was a 6 mile hike at Whitewater Preserve, former site of a fish hatchery. The Whitewater River was flowing, small at this time of year of course, but a welcome sight in the dry canyon. Bear and Big Horn Sheep had been spotted here in September, though we did not happen to see any on this day. We just hiked a few miles up the Pacific Crest Trail before turning around and picking our way down the river bed on our return. One of the nicest things about this Preserve is the lovely picnic area at the trailhead.

The picnic area sits alongside the old fish hatchery ponds...which have some large trout in them.

The Whitewater River is currently tiny in its vast flood plain.
The Pacific Crest Trail skirts the edge of the flood plain, then crosses the river and makes its way into a side canyon.

We also returned to Joshua Tree National Park and hiked the same trail we'd hiked a few weeks earlier, just in reverse.

Gotta love hiking among big old piled up rocks!

One of the most fun things we've done in the past week is learn to play Pickleball with Sharon and Cliff when they stayed at Sky Valley Resort just down the road from us. It's a fast paced cross between tennis, badminton and ping pong, and pretty easy to learn. We played together several times and I can officially say I am hooked on this game! We just may seek out RV parks with pickleball courts in the future.

Hans and Lisa with Pickleball "Pros" Sharon and Cliff.
Lots of good times shared with these two, we look forward to hooking up again next year...somewhere!

Campground Review
We spent a month at Sam's Family Spa because the monthly rate was MUCH better than the daily or weekly rate ($540/month, plus electric). You choose your site from any that are available, then go settle up with the office. Arriving in mid October there were lots of sites to choose from. Even now, as we leave a week before Thanksgiving, there are plenty of available sites. We chose site 168, a corner, pie-shaped site, that gave us shade all day on our patio and plenty of room for Rosie to roam on her leash. The only drawback to this site was some traffic noise from the nearby intersection of Dillon and Bennett Roads.

Sam's is rustic. Sites are sandy dirt with a cement pad and picnic table, most are fairly close together. There is a large, inexpensive laundry on site. Half of the property is RV sites, half is mobile homes.

The real draw here are the pools. The pool complex is lush and lovely, with a lagoon full of fish and birds. Four mineral fed hot pools of increasing heat, NO chlorine, emptied each night. Plus two cooler pools with just a touch of chlorine, you don't even notice it.  The mineral pool water is recycled into the lagoon and landscaping. Locals told us this pool system has the least chlorine of all the spas in the area. There are also steam rooms and a sauna.

Any time we stay at a park for a month we like to have good walking/hiking from the RV park. From Sam's you can walk into the desert right across the street or from the end of Bennett Road. Just beyond a few houses it's pretty much open desert, go as far as you want as long as you avoid obvious private property. That said, the desert here is not nearly as pretty as the Sonoran desert, for example.

Thanks to our friends Cliff and Sharon, we got to tour two other nearby parks: Caliente Springs and Sky Valley. These are sister parks that share amenities. They have nice pool complexes and other amenities such as a small golf course and pickleball courts. Both of these parks are more expensive than Sam's, but do offer more amenities. We just might try Sky Valley next time we're in the's got pickleball! These two resorts participate in Passport America so you can get a really good rate for a shorter stay.

Site 168 is a large pie-shaped site with terrific shade.
If you feed the fish and birds at the lagoon you just might get to see a heron catch a fish!
This guy caught a very large fish and actually swallowed the whole thing!

Here's our last desert sunset for a while. Tomorrow we continue on South; next stop: Lake Skinner County Park.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Desert Days,Week Three

Three weeks into our month in Desert Hot Springs and we've kept pretty busy. We've gotten together a second time with Zsuzsa and Tom, future fulltimers, and had a fabulous home cooked Hungarian meal. We've also met up with Sharon and Cliff, Canadian snow birds we've had the pleasure of seeing each year since we started fulltiming and met them on the road.

And, of course, we've been hiking. One day we took the short drive over to Mission Creek Preserve. We hiked the 7 mile out and back to the Pacific Crest Trail junction. The first 1.5 miles is on a dirt road, then you hit the actual trail, a good, sometimes sandy, single track up a canyon. The big surprise on this hike was Mission Creek actually had water in it!

Surprise! There's water in Mission Creek!
This was a brief section along the trail...the rest was dry, dry, dry!

We've also done a couple of hikes right from the RV. Flag Mountain was a five mile round trip with substantial elevation gain, you'll want to do this exposed hike on a cooler day. Nina provides directions here. There are some steep, loose rock sections on this hike.
See those two little, tiny people heading up the Flag Mountain Trail?

Great views from Flag Mountain!

We also returned to Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve and did the seven mile loop: Herman's Hike. This hike should be done on a cooler day due to exposure and elevation gain. We enjoyed long desert views, a trek across dry, barren ridge tops, a lovely palm oasis, and the surprise of a creek flowing across the desert.

Heading up hill on the Herman's Hike Loop at 1,000 Palms Preserve.

After miles of dry desert, Willis Palms Oasis comes into view on the hillside just below us.

Willis Palms is an oasis on a hillside!
It last burnt in 2010, but palm trees are able to bounce back from fire due to their composition.

Hard shelled mushroom in the desert.

Surprise creek flowing out of 1,000 Palms Preserve.

Last Sunday we celebrated Equality along with thousands of other folks at the Greater Palm Springs Pride Festival. The parade happened to fall on the second Sunday of the month so we also enjoyed free entry to the Palm Springs Art Museum. And, topped the day off with a free concert by the Psychedelic Furs, taking us back to the early 1980's and the early days of New Wave Punk Rock.

2nd Sundays are free at the Palm Springs Art Museum.

Psychedelic Furs rocked!

We visited The Living Desert in Palm Desert on Veterans Day, where Hans got in for half price in thanks for his military service many years ago. This is a very well done zoo and gardens, half dedicated to Africa, and half to North America. Many of the animal enclosures were large and natural looking, giving the animals a decent home even though they are in captivity. The gardens were beautiful representations of various deserts near and far.

It's a long way down for a drink!

Don't you just want to reach out and pet him?  ;-)

This badger was all feisty, running around like our cat does when she has a wild explosion of energy!

I loved this tree from Madagascar.

There are even a few miles of desert hiking trails at The Living Desert.

We love gila monsters!

Another week of hot pool soaking and desert hiking ahead of us before we move on South.. We're enjoying the cooler temps, a few clouds, and some winds brought in by the deep freeze hitting a big chunk of the country...made a nice sunset last night:

Monday, November 3, 2014

Desert Days, Week Two: Modernism and Massage

Beginning in the 1930's the Coachella Valley, and Palm Springs in particular, became a popular place for Hollywood's elite to get away from it all. Since then, pockets of the Valley became resort destinations and golf courses, high end and unique hotels and restaurants abound, shopping and spas and casinos vie for the tourist dollar.

We do enjoy certain aspects of a resort area, but rarely will we spend the dollars required to fully immerse ourselves in the culture. One thing we enjoy is a good massage. I've discovered that a resort area as expansive as the Coachella Valley will also have at least one massage school, and some massage schools will offer student massage clinics at greatly reduced prices.

Now, a massage school is not your typical massage experience. You may not get to choose the gender of your therapist, Swedish Massage may be the only style offered, the setting may be a large, darkened room with several massage tables separated by curtains and soft music in the background. In this type of setting it's nice if all participants are quiet and respectful of the others in the room.

One day this past week we treated ourselves to 1.5 hour massages for $40/each at Somatherapy Institute. The conditions described above were what we experienced, though we were asked what gender therapist we preferred upon arrival. Our therapists had been practicing massage for about a year and we each felt we got a good solid massage for the time and money spent. We were even offered a return visit for $35 for 1.5 hours if we paid for the future visit that day. I'd happily repeat this experience the next time I visit the area.

We actually dressed up and went out for Halloween this year, unusual for us! The Tonga Hut in Palm Springs had a surf band, The Dynotones, playing and Hans cannot resist a surf band!

The weather cooled down dramatically this past weekend allowing us to do some hiking in comfort right from our RV park, Sam's Family Spa. The RV park is bordered on the East by Bennett Rd and you can walk about a mile South on Bennett to where the road ends at open desert, then walk for miles as long as you avoid any private property.

Walk over the small hills at the end of Bennett Road and find the hidden canyon!

From the hills off of Bennett Rd we watched cloud shadows flow across the Little San Bernardino Mountains.
Sam's Family Spa is in the treed valley at bottom right.

Looking West towards the cloud covered San Jacinto Mountains.

Taking advantage of the cooler temps we finally hit the trail in Palm Springs as well. The trails here tend to be steep, exposed treks among the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains with views into the Coachella Valley below. We hiked a short loop that included a steep climb up the Museum Trail, a long gentle descent on the North Lykken Trail, and the final leg through city streets back to our truck.

Looking North East from the Museum Trail, green Palm Springs gives way to
dry sandy valley studded with windmills, bordered by the San Bernardino Mountains.

Slabs of rock on the San Jacinto Mountains catch the sun as we traverse the North Lykken Trail.

Palm Springs is renowned for its mid-century modern architecture so we've spent some time driving and biking around town to check out the clean, spare lines of this style of architecture.

A Krisel butterfly-roof house in the Vista Las Palmas neighborhood.

A Dubois Swiss-Miss A-frame house in Vista Las Palmas.

Fascinating home on a hillside in The Mesa neighborhood.

We stumbled upon this Futuristic Sculpture Garden in the Movie Colony neighborhood.
Four estate-sized lots are covered with Kenny Irwin Jr's amazing robotic sculptures.

We've really enjoyed watching the wildlife at our RV parks lagoon. You can purchase small bags of food to feed the ducks, swan, tilapia and koi in the lagoon, and be entertained by the great egrets and black crowned night herons that like to fish the boiling cauldron of fish we stir up with the food pellets.

This black swan is a crack up...he begs for food with a funny little croak!

This one pair of ducks have puff balls on their heads!

Great egret getting slapped in the face by a fish!

Parent and child observe the lagoon from the safety of the waterfall.