March 25-26     Arizona-Senora Desert Museum

A big change today: Dave got up before sunrise and went back up the Desert View Trail. I did not! I stayed in bed and read my Barbara Kingsolver novel “Flight Behavior”. It’s a wonderful story. When he got back, we packed everything up and headed for Tucson.

After 23 miles directly north, it was an almost straight line for 120 miles through the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation. We went through two Border Patrol checkpoints where they looked us over and waved us on. We also passed several Border Patrol vehicles just parked alongside the highway, waiting. It felt ominous to me. We were headed for the Gilbert Ray Campground, south of Saguaro National Park (west). The Garmin’s directions to the campground were quite clear until it told us to turn left on a non-existent road. The first left we could make got us into Saguaro National Park and the Garmin lured us down a road that didn’t have the campground. We stopped at the Visitor Center and got directions that were a good 6 miles away on a totally different road. We finally got into the campground and a nice one it is, at $20 per night with electricity.

Monday’s agenda was the Arizona-Senora Desert Museum. The weather was perfect – not too warm, not chilly. This place is very complicated – you really have to follow the map carefully. There is always something under construction.

As soon as we got in, we went to the raptor demonstration. We were up higher than the main body of people. They flew a Western Screech Owl, a Gray Hawk, a Crested Caracara and 4 Harris’s hawks. For one reason or another, they cannot be released in the wild. It was really fun to watch them. A young Harris hawk was “…learning how to act with the other birds.” It also was being taught to fly more; sometimes it just decided to land and walk for a while. The callers/handlers are never sure what the birds will do. They are not tethered at all and fly quite a distance from one caller to another. Of course, they get rewarded with “…commercially raised mice” while the handler does a 360 so everyone can get their shots.

The Desert Museum is fun for kids. You can become a hawk or develop bat ears.

After a little wandering around, we had a wonderful lunch at the Ocotillo Restaurant. I had a salad that contained pickled onion slices, died pink with whatever they were brined in. We sat in front of a huge artwork called “Gaia Genesis” by Evelyn Rosenberg. To create it “An arrangement of sculpted and natural objects was covered with sheets of metal and a layer of plastic high-explosive. The explosive was detonated and the metal took the exact form of the original objects. It is spectacular!

After lunch, we went into the Hummingbird exhibit, where about a dozen birds flit around. Some would flash red like a neon sign when they caught the light a certain way. But not all were flitting – one was sitting in the tiniest nest, lined with soft white something. The info person in there said that they left good nest-lining materials around the enclosure because the birds couldn’t go outside to gather them.

The Aviary also held a few beautiful birds, a Cardinal and a fearless duck I later discovered was a Black-bellied Whistling Duck. He didn’t whistle for us.

A Roadrunner had his own enclosure with enough room to jog back and forth.

The large rattlesnake was stretched out right by the window. He started to slide up the glass and then started licking it! Strange! A small boy came up, entranced by the rattlesnake, and told us he had a corn snake at home. Not sure what that looks like.

We wandered around a while longer, past the coyote and javalena areas, but we getting tired and still had to drive 10 miles from camp to the nearest shopping center. We’re all loaded up with groceries for the next leg of our trip.

March 27   Saguaro National Park – West Tucson Mountain District

There was a little lounging around this morning. Then it was off to the western side of Saguaro National Park. That meant going about 8 miles north, very convenient. Today was supposed to be a little cooler, with a high of 68 degrees, and that felt about right. As always, the were more and more clouds as the day progressed.

We had no heavy-duty agenda to cover. Stopping at the short, paved Discovery Trail, we discovered a dead Saguaro that had all kinds of interesting parts to photograph. Later on the trail, we met a couple from Alberta (their license plate was “Rig Rat”) and we traded stories about where we liked to go.

We continued on to the dirt Bajada Loop Drive. Nothing spectacular, but nice. When we reached the first trailhead pullout, there were so many cars we had to squeeze into a space the size of a San Francisco parking space. It was a short little walk to a nice lookout point and back.

We continued on the 8-mile road and every trailhead parking area was jammed with cars. There was one fairly large parking area to see some petroglyphs but there was not one single space that the Rav would fit into.

Though I’m not a devoted shopper, the Visitor Center was worth a try and we came out with a Saguaro Christmas ornament for us and a couple of gifts for others. We watched the 15-minute slide presentation about Saguaro National Park and really liked the viewpoint expressed. The narration was by the local Tohono O’odham Indians who respect Saguaro Cacti as they do people. At the end, the slide screen rose up and the curtains behind it pulled aside to reveal the living desert. It was dramatic and moving.

Dave went back to the Discovery Trail late in the afternoon, but I stayed home and watched the news. We haven’t been able to do much of that during this trip.


March 17     Eagle Mine and the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm

We had a leisurely morning. Forgetting it was St. Patrick’s Day, both Dave and I wore orange shirts, a no-no to some people. (Green is for Catholic and orange is for Protestant, per Siri.) We drove about 25 miles to the deserted town of Desert Center, looking for a vantage point to photograph the huge solar farm out in the Mojave Desert. There were few likely-looking hills from which to see the thousands of solar panels. The defunct Eagle Mine is a little west of the farm but when we drove up there, the two roads into the tiny town had cyclone fences closing them to traffic.

Dave climbed a berm made from mine tailings but it didn’t provide a good view. We turned up another road that led to shining Colorado River pipelines. Just as we saw the sign that said “Private Road”, a truck marked “Seguridad” pulled up to us and regretfully (not really) informed us all the water district roads were closed to the public.

Thwarted, we turned back onto Kaiser Road. We stopped at a little housing development that was long-abandoned. What looked to be a row of tiny houses turned out to be a row of garages. Their contents varied from a tv set to mining equipment.

Dave found a pretty good spot from which to photograph the solar farm and we headed back to the rig. But I wanted to stop at Chiriaco Summit, where Ken Chiriaco runs the Chiriaco Coffee Shop. Having missed seeing the good-looking pie display, I settled for a tuna melt on rye and we listened to four college girls have an extended conversation about the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. It’s also the kind of coffee shop where they provide entertainment at each table – book samples with titles like “How to Understand Women” and “How to Answer Stupid Questions”. I discovered it was St. Patrick’s Day when everyone in the café was in green, except us, who were both wearing orange shirts. We passed the General Patton Museum on the way out of Chiriaco and saw a yard full of tanks, one pink, but declined to stop.

March 18-20   Cibola NWR and strange side trips

Sunday was a travel and chore day. It was only 75 miles from our BLM site to Ehrenberg, AZ, across the Colorado from Blythe, CA. I did a major provision at the Blythe Albertson’s and then I had to find a way to accommodate all the food that required refrigeration. The rest got shoved into the “pantry”.

We found the pleasant River Breeze RV Park but the office isn’t open at all on Sunday. So we paid for 1 night and will have to pay for a second night tomorrow. So they weren’t there to give us a cable box. And if they are not in the office early tomorrow, we won’t see them till late morning or early afternoon. It’s a little irritating. But the Colorado River is flowing by the end of the road, the little laundry is clean and the weather is very pleasant here.

On Monday morning, we went south to Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, very close to the Colorado River. On the way down, we stopped at the fields backed up by palms.

We were the only visitors. The lady who worked at the Visitor Center seemed happy to see us. The largest groups of birds had departed, she said. The primo months are January and February for Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese, and other larger birds. But we drove around and saw ducks, coots and sparrows on the lake. The sparrows were darting around wildly, eating insects on the fly, I’m guessing.

We continued and got to the Burrowing Owl condos. Stick a bent pipe into the ground and apparently you have created a desirable nesting site for a Burrowing Owl. The one we saw was chewing on a bare corn cob. He didn’t like the looks of us and flew to next condo down the road with his friend/mate. When we went down there, the two flew back. We left them in peace and continued the tour.

After we had exhausted the pleasures of Cibola, we went to find the Genesis Solar Energy Project at 11995 Wiley’s Well Road, Blythe, CA. Easy-peasy, right? The Garmin didn’t have that particular address. Google maps said go north off I-10. I suggested an alternative route to get to Wiley’s Well Road but it devolved into a dirt trail for 4-wheel drive vehicles.

Back on I-10, we could see nothing that looked like a solar farm. So we got off the Interstate, went about 200 feet and came to the gate that prevented us from entering the area. We drove over to the south side of Wiley’s Well Road and discovered Chuckwalla State Prison. What was so neat was that the long entrance to prison was enclosed by two long, long rows of very tall palm trees. Upon closer inspection, each tree was in a little bowl into which water constantly dripped. I kept waiting for someone to drive out and scare us away but they didn’t. So we gave up and went back to hang out by the Colorado River.

We prepared for another long stay in remote Organ Pipe National Monument and took off on Tuesday. It was a fairly painless 225-mile drive along I-10 and AZ-85. As we headed south, we began to see a lot of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) vehicles. Organ Pipe is less than 5 miles from the Mexican border. We had to slow way down at one point about 15 miles north of the border but they weren’t interested in people driving south, only people driving north. I think we will be carefully checked when we head north to go to Tucson.

We reached Organ Pipe around 3:15 and easily found a space. Ah, $8 per night for us seniors. I checked out available hikes at the Visitor Center and we decided we better hike early in the day; temps are expected to hit 80-88 in the next few days. Hike early, shower, sit on our butts; that’s the plan for the next few days. The guy two spaces away was practicing his harmonica. I was wondering what song it was and finally realized it was “Happy Birthday”. Luckily for us, he went away to sing it to someone else.

We ate dinner outside, watching as the light went orange, pink, purple and dark. Later, the fingernail moon went down and more stars came out. It’s so nice to be here.

March 21    Victoria Mine Hike

We rose early on Wednesday and walked over to where the Victoria Mine Trail begins. It was already warm and got warmer but there was a nice little breeze every now and then and a couple of benches to rest on. It’s a 4.5-mile out-and-back trail with little altitude change. The area is chock full of Saguaro, Cholla and Buckhorn Cacti as well as Ocotillo and Palo Verde. The only thing missing: wildflowers. There are virtually none, due, I guess, to dry conditions this year.

The mine site was like many we see: the remains of an old homestead and well-protected mine entrances. This one contained a few signs that said bats nest in these mines so please don’t disturb them. We didn’t.

We had noticed a plane leaving contrails that went back and forth. It was very unusual and we couldn’t figure out why a pilot would be doing it. An unsolved mystery.

We slogged home, relaxed in our still-fairly-cool rig, ate lunch and showered. Dave opened the hood of the Lazy Daze to let in light and deter pack rats and mice from nesting in the engine block. That sounds like a joke but it isn’t. After all that activity, we relaxed the afternoon away.

Later in the evening, we went out to look at the stars again but the moon is setting later each night and so the stars aren’t as visible. It’s still so great to lie on the picnic bench and stare up at the sky.

March 22  Desert View Trail and Ajo Mountain Drive

We rose early and watched the sun rise into a thick, pale gray cloud. Oh well, even light and a somewhat cooler temperature. The walk is only 1.2 miles but ascends a little knoll that gives a nice(?) view of Lukeville and the border. One hill seems to have a fence on it but we’re not sure if that’s what it is.

After a while, the sun came out and the light improved. The plant life was pretty much the same as yesterday except for one Ocotillo that had leafed out.

We did see an interesting bird that looked like it was either sipping nectar or prying seeds from an Ocotillo flower. It had a yellow head, tan body and black and white stripes on it’s wings and tail. Sibley’s Bird Guide identified it as a Gila Woodpecker. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one before.

In mid-afternoon, we went on the 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive. As we started, three vans stating they were GOAL High School passed us. We dawdled along, not seeing anything too exciting. The Ajo Mountains were jaggedy and interesting-looking. We saw the arch in Arch Canyon, but it was too hot to take the hike.

When we got to another trailhead, the students from the GOAL vans were in a big circle doing something mysterious. We moved along and the sun finally came out for a while, lighting the landscape more interestingly. Still haven’t seen any flora we haven’t already seen.

March 23     Senita Basin Trail

Up early again to drive to the southern area of Organ Pipe. Boy, is it southern – right on the Mexican border. There were 3 Border Patrol vehicles on the 5 miles of highway to the turnoff. After we turned onto the dirt road to Senita Basin, we got a clearer view of the heavy-duty border Wall that undulated over a hilly area.

Then, a couple of miles later, a Border Patrol officer had intercepted a woman with 2 children. By this time, the Wall had morphed into miles of a rusty metal pipe held up by rusty metal poles. There was a highway in Mexico with lots of traffic about 20 yards from this fence. Interesting.

We continued on to the trailhead and took off. It was a little cooler and breezier than yesterday, so not bad. We crossed paths with a couple from Parker, Alaska and traded good locations to visit. They recommended the Estes Canyon/Bull Pasture trails in the Ajo Mountains so we will return there to hike tomorrow. They also mentioned that reservations at Chiricahua National Monument in southeastern Arizona were almost totally unavailable. Since we were planning to go there, later we got online and made reservations earlier than we wanted but it was 2 days in a row so we could go on a hike at least. Luckily, our itinerary is totally flexible this trip.

We were looking for the Senita Cacti, rare except to this particular area. The description was, “Although it resembles the organ pipe cactus, it has fewer accordian pleats on its ascending arms. Grey bristles on its stem tips give it a shaggy, bearded appearance.” We weren’t seeing anything like that on the trail. However, when we were back in the car, we found some.

It’s been warm enough to eat dinner outside every night. Tonight we were treated to a lovely sunset.

March 24     Estes Canyon and Bull Pasture

So Saturday, we woke up early and drove back to the Ajo Mountain Road. At one point, two deer dashed across the road in front of the car. I was surprised. Where do they get water? What do they forage on? We haven’t seen any deer or sheep scat on the hikes we’ve taken. I guess the mountains provide enough for them.

Based on the recommendation of a couple we met on yesterday’s hike, we were going on a 3.6-mile hike that rose 1,076 feet into the Ajos. We hit the trail about the same time (8 a.m.) as a trail crew. They took the direct trail up to their work area. We meandered along the Estes Canyon Trail that stayed level for the first mile. The light, as usual, was muted by the high clouds but we did get some nice shots.

The trail began to switchback but it was gradual and not grueling. Very pleasant. We bumped into the work crew right after the turnoff to the Bull Pasture Trail. The ascent immediately became much steeper and rockier. The crew called out “hikers” and ceased working while we picked our way past them. Three men and three women were manually levering boulders into place to make the trail more manageable for hikers. I asked about their schedule. They are working out of Tucson and will work for six weeks at Organ Pipe. They work 8 days and then get 6 days off. I asked how they are accommodated and they said they are camping in the group campsite at Organ Pipe. That’s not too bad because they bathrooms have showers and a bit of a cooking area. Needless to say, they are all pretty young.

We continued on up. It really wasn’t too bad although there was a lot of loose rock so you have to careful where you put your feet. The plant life had changed with the altitude; that was a pleasure. We actually saw one mallow plant. Yay!

More Joshua Tree

March 13 Lost Horse Mine Trail

I was planning on a 4.2-mile hike but we ended up doing a 6.2-miler. We hadn’t done this trail before and not seeing the trail marker at the other end of the parking lot, headed out on the longer loop trail. It was a sunny, pleasant day, perfect for hiking. The first 2 or 3 miles were flat, but I had fun, photographing dead Joshua Trees and other dried flora. There’s not much new growth that we’ve seen thus far.

The trail began to climb into the hills and we came upon the remains of a small homestead near a filled-in mine entrance. All that remained of the house was a tall, tilting rock chimney and a rusty bedstand.

We continued to circle around the mountain and were rewarded with some nice views as well as a circle around the sun. Risking macular degeneration and/or blindness (not so bright, I guess), I took a few shots of the sun.

After that the trail began to ascend in an acute fashion. It was steep! Dave said it felt like the highest resistance on the elliptical at the gym. We finally reached the trail summit and saw the Lost Horse Mine. It was behind a fence so we didn’t bother taking the side trail to go up there.

I found the final 2 miles quite a slog. Most of my pop poops out after 4 miles or so. But it mostly was downhill so I managed. We returned to camp and lounged in our site, sipping a tot of Glenlivit and chomping down apple slices and Jarlsburg cheese.

March 14    Split Rock Trail and a few windy drives

We rose early again on Wednesday and drove the short distance to the Split Rock Trail, one of our favorite trails in the park. Split Rock is a huge boulder that is – wait for it – split! After the obligatory shot, we took off, wearing mittens and sweaters. It was windy but not too chilly.

Early morning sun set the cacti needles on fire, so they were fun to shoot.

I guess our hike coincided with the departures of jets from Vegas, L.A., San Diego and Phoenix because the sky was crisscrossed with contrails. So not having any flowers to photograph, I did landscape with contrails.

So many of the rock formations have faces.

One of the “big” sites on the trail is Tulip Rock.

Interesting rock erosion.


As we neared the end of the 2.5-mile trail, we were seeing more and more people. We were the only car in the parking lot when we arrived. When we returned, the lot was full. We went back to camp to clean up and wait for better afternoon light to go out again.

The Geology Auto Tour didn’t sound that interesting and it wasn’t. We drove 9 miles down a washboard dirt road and stopped at a few rock piles that had possibilities. Watching the other people on the road, it appears to primarily be used to walk dogs. Many (all?) of the hiking trails in Joshua Tree don’t allow dogs. That was pretty much it for Wednesday.

March 15    Cholla and Cottonwood Springs

We were going to go on a morning walk to Skull Rock but we woke to raindrops. And not just a spatter but a good rain. Of course, any evidence of it was mostly gone an hour later. But we stayed in bed and read and watched the light change on the land.

We broke camp around 11 a.m. and headed downhill to Cottonwood Campground at the southern end of Joshua Tree. The main stop during the 40-mile drive was the Cholla Cactus Garden. It’s a pretty large collection of Cholla Cacti, a mean little sticker whose needles give off a godly halo in the sunshine. Beware, they are evil and their barbs are very painful to remove. Photographing them means you are always conscious that they and the little orbs they drop to propagate could be closer than you think.

We checked in to our site at Cottonwood and took a short walk to Cottonwood Springs. It seems very constrained compared to what I remember. There is only one path and it doesn’t get near the actual springs. But the palms are always fun to photograph, so we lingered a few minutes and headed back to camp.

March 16     A Delay at Cottonwood

We did a nice hike that left about 40 feet from our campsite. The Mastodon Peak Trail sounds difficult but it was quite nice. Except for the striking blue Desert Bells strewn throughout the wash, there was nothing in the way of wildflowers but nice rocks and a few mine ruins.

We also got a view of Salton Sea at the high point of the trail. It was not brilliantly shining in the sun but it was out there.

We got back to camp at 10 a.m. and prepared for takeoff. Went to the dump and dumped. That’s where Dave discovered that one of the inside duallies was pretty flat. Not good. So we went to the Cottonwood Visitor Center and they let Dave use their phone to call the insurance company. Once again, Progressive came through and said there would be someone out by 3 p.m. to check out the tire. So we at lunch, read, did puzzles and snoozed a little. He showed up right around 2:30, discovered the puncture, patched it and we were on our way around 3:30. Nice.

Our plan had been to find a space in the BLM land around I-10 and drive to the town of Desert Center to check out the local solar farm and the ghost town of Eagle Mountain. But it was a little late for that so we found a site and settled in for the night.





March 11, 2018   A few more Windmills

We got up early (although we had moved the clocks forward on Saturday night. I hate the two time changes each year; they always occur on our trips) and trekked out to the windmills once again. The atmosphere was much clearer after rain and dark skies made a dramatic background.

We tried to find good perspectives to get some closeups of the blades but dead ends, electrical wires and fences limited our options.

And then a train was traveling across our view.

I finally got a relatively unimpeded image.

Joshua Tree – Skull Rock Trail

We came back and prepared for 4 days without dumps or water. All the campgrounds in the central area of Joshua Tree don’t have water. So we filled up all our jerry cans, canteens and water bottles as well as the water tank. It was only 56 miles from Desert Hot Springs to the Jumbo Rocks campground but we were amazed once we entered Joshua Tree. Every parking spot or pulloff had cars. The place was swarming, probably because of Easter Spring Break. (It seems like schools vary when they have Easter Break so there are always people flocking the park.) We arrived a little after noon and found our campsite, a tight squeeze for our rig and Rav. The campground, with 119 sites, was completely full and people and cars were piling in.

After investigating our surrounding environs, we relaxed and enjoyed some reading and a short nap. Then we went for a 2-mile hike on the Skull Rock Trail that starts right across from our campsite. The trails wind through many interesting rock formations. Skull Rock was teeming with tourists and we had seen it before so we kept on walking. There were lots of clouds but several short bursts of sunshine were nice.

We came across a couple having wedding pictures taken among the rocks.

Because of Daylight Savings Time, the light lasted later. We got back from our walk around 6 p.m. and I reheated some very good spaghetti sauce and we had a Tobin James Silver Reserve Zinfandel. Oh yeah! A good start to our first real night out in a National Park.

March 12   Barker Dam, Ryan’s Ranch, Keys Viewpoint

I had to laugh this morning. When we’re not going to have water for a few days, I try to use the campground facilities when they’re close by. As I was about to enter, a woman about my age popped out, gave me a big smile and said “We’re in luck! Someone left a roll of soft toilet paper in there.” That’s always a small bonus because the black tank in our rig requires single-layer toilet paper and that’s what most camp bathrooms use also. Ah, appreciating the small pleasures of life. (Thinking of you, Betty)

We got a bit of a late start to go on the short Barker Dam Trail, reaching the trailhead around 9:30 a.m. It was beautiful weather, but the best light was diminishing quickly. Half of the trail was closed for maintenance so we went the other way. There has been little rain this winter so there were few fresh wildflowers but there were lots of attractive dried flowers. I got some nice Joshua Tree shots.

We met a couple around our age who had their tripods and they had just finished a photographic workshop. They were so enthusiastic. The woman said it was wonderful to find an interest they both enjoyed. It helped us remember the incredible joy of being out photographing when we first started.

It was a short walk to Barker Lake. We were shocked at how low the water level was. But there was still enough water to provide some good reflections and a couple of ducks to provide amusement.

On the way back to camp, we drove Bighorn Pass Road and saw some healthy-looking Joshua Trees.

Later in the afternoon, we drove to Ryan’s Homestead Trail. The trailhead used to leave out of Ryan’s Campground, but I guess the campground has gotten so busy they moved it to the main road. The number of cars and people are overwhelming, especially in the afternoon. The trail goes to the remains of an adobe home and a few nearby sites. It wasn’t terribly exciting this time around but it was a nice walk.

After that, we drove up to Keys Point to check out the view. This place is always tough to photograph because the smog from Indio and Interstate 10 fouls the air. It wasn’t too bad today.

I tried a new recipe for dinner. Sear chicken fillets seasoned with salt, pepper and chili powder, then sear half avocados, then saute red onion rings, jalapeno peppers and mix in green onions, lime juice, soy sauce. Put the onion mix in a baking pan and nestle the chicken and avocados into it. Bake 7 minutes at 450 and make a thin drizzle out of sour cream and a little water. It was really good.





On the Road!

March 5-8, 2018

After making our farewells to various family and friends, we brought the Lazy Daze up to the house and began the loading process. It’s not too bad when stretched over 3 days. I work off an oft-updated list that works pretty well. But there’s always new stuff for adding and gone stuff to be removed. Additionally, we walk through the house, looking at everything with an eye of what is needed for the road. Right before we were ready to depart, I remembered to bring our hiking hats. They were on the list but I had missed them.

We left at the usual time, 10 a.m., heading for Merced to visit our friends, Jeff and Betty. Betty is seriously ill but rallied enough for a short visit. They revealed one of their well-hidden secrets: a stash of Ghirardelli candy in a discrete drawer in one of their tables. Jeff showed us his work in process: a bocce ball court. Perfect for those warm days and balmy Merced nights.

After our visit, we rolled south for 60 additional miles to Fresno. Dave wanted to see an exhibit in the Fresno Museum of Art but it wasn’t open until Thursday and we were not willing to wait two more days to see it. Onward to Bakersfield, where we supplied up before hitting the great nowhere.

We always stay at the Desert Palms RV Park in Bakersfield. It’s funny: It’s not in a great part of town; freight trains run day and night right next to us; an overpass has constant traffic noise. Yet surrounded by adobe-colored walls and lots of palm trees, I always experience a sense of peace here. Plus, it’s convenient to CA-58, the highway that goes over the Tehachapi Mountains and leads to the desert. Dave arose early today and went off to photograph the Kern River Oil Field. It’s an amazing site/sight. Miles of oil derricks pumping away.

We made a command decision to not drive all the way to Joshua Tree National Park on Wednesday and drove 120 miles to the Shady Lane RV Camp in Barstow. We didn’t need the shade – it was cloudy, but it’s a nice, old-fashioned, family-run place. We were right next to a busy road but you can’t win ‘em all.

Thursday was a long day. We drove the pleasant 100 miles through the Mojave to Joshua Tree National Park and got there around 11 a.m. The entrance station told us that all the reserved campgrounds were full but try the 4 first-come, first-served campgrounds. We did, dead ending at one and having to disconnect the RV and Rav to turn around. They were all full. So Plan B was put into play. As soon as we got out of the park and got a good connection, we made reservations for Sunday through Wednesday. Then we worked on getting reservations near Palm Springs for Thursday through Saturday. We were rejected by a few places because there’s a huge tennis tournament going on this week. Dave got the final site left at Caliente Springs RV Resort in Desert Hot Springs (at $58 per night). So we drove the 35 miles there, settled in and had a nice happy hour in the balmy afternoon.

March 9-10   Palm Springs 

The high on Friday was supposed to be 82 degrees. So when we went out to scope out the windmills at 7:30 a.m., we wore shorts. Dave is including the windmills in his Into the Anthropocene project, so we made coffee, shoveled down some cereal, and headed out. The amount of smog hanging in the valley is amazing but smog is another effect of human activity.

The San Jacinto Mountains provide an interesting background to the windmills and one thick cloud obscured the top. When you get of the car to photograph, there is a dull, low roar of the wind in blades. Wind City.

We went up a hill to get some perspective and gazed east in the morning light. In that direction, the air quality is pretty awful.

There were some solar farms in the middle of the windmills, glistening in the sunlight. All this clean energy doesn’t help here, not with I-10 rolling along on the south side the area.

It was getting quite warm by the time we returned home. We downloaded our pix and started processing them, reveling in air-conditioned comfort. We bought a new laptop which means we each have one now. I have the old, slow, crochety one while Dave has the young, fast, limber one. (It’s only fair, since he has the business to run.) It is so nice to not have to share one though we’ll have to see how long the old one lasts.

I checked out the large library in the RV park but didn’t find any books I had to have. It’s Christian section was as large as it’s Romance section, but both are eclipsed by the Mystery section. There was a woman working on a jigsaw puzzle in there (many RV parks maintain a ragged collection of puzzles for rainy days) and we discussed the fine points of solving a difficult puzzle. I might have helped her, but the room wasn’t air conditioned and it was too warm.

We went to visit a college friend, Dick Matgen and his husband, George, who live in a beautiful home in Palm Springs with 2 young Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and a 19-year-old cat that declined to meet us. But Andy and Me-Too seemed happy to meet us, tails wagging away. The heat declined in the late afternoon and we enjoyed their back yard, catching up before going to a Vietnamese Fusion restaurant for dinner. Later, driving back to the RV resort, we again passed the windmills, blinking with hundreds of red lights like a very large home decorated for the holidays.

Saturday was cloudy with a few light showers. We were thinking about taking the Palm Springs Tram up to Mt. San Jacinto State Park. Then we looked at the Tram Cam which showed snow on the ground and a temperature of 37 degrees. That changed our mind. So Saturday became chore day – grocery shopping, laundry and updating the blogs. I did spot a visitor to one of the resort ponds.

012 Egret0534CalienteSprings

November 8-10, 2017        

Leg 1

We were up and at ‘em at 4:30 a.m. It had been a long time since we needed an alarm clock wakening. Neither of us slept very well – it was going to be a long, complex day.

SuperShuttle arrived at 5:30. We were the first to be picked up. Would we head directly to the airport? Of course not. The van headed up into the foothills of San Bruno Mountains. It felt surreal and peaceful, driving through the dark, empty streets of the Bay Area. We gradually made our way south, picking up additional travelers. We passed a sign welcoming us to the city of Colma. The very first thing I saw after that was a long succession of cemeteries. Colma was founded as a necropolis, a city of about 1.5 million dead. San Francisco outlawed burial of the dead in 1900 and eventually evicted all the cemeteries in the city. So Colma has a lot of green space.

Leg 2

We reached SFO around 6:15. Our flight was at 8, so we had lots of time for coffee and for me, a large Apple Fritter. Sunrise was dramatic, with lots of clouds. Enough clouds, I guess, to make Southwest Airlines cancel 3 flights that were supposed to depart an hour later than we were to fly off. Lucky break for us.

Note: The images are a mix of Dave and my iPhones and my Nikon Coolpix. They were mostly taken behind windows on moving vehicles, i.e. not so great.


The flight was only 45 minutes, so the lack of leg space and the miniscule time period I could go to the bathroom weren’t too bothersome. The plane flew south over California. We were over land instead of sea, and I got to play my personal game of trying to guess where we were flying over. Pinnacles National Park? Kings Canyon National Park? Carrizo Plains? The one constant was a thin line of blue running north/south: the California Aqueduct. It moves a tremendous amount of water from Northern and Central Sierra Nevada Mountains to Southern California. I sipped from my plastic water bottle as I peered past Dave’s shoulder.


Leg 3

We arrived at LAX on time, took off our sweaters, retrieved our luggage and broke into a gentle sweat as we waited for the FlyAway bus in the sunshine. It took us about 45 minutes to reach Union Station in Los Angeles, a huge facility that hosts hordes of trains and buses. We were here to rent a car. We could only return a car here if we rented it from here and we would board a train here tomorrow.


Mural at Union Station

Leg 4

Oh boy, we got to drive in Los Angeles! It was only 35 miles to Pomona and our little Yaris made a good job of it. We felt a little insecure without our Garmin to guide us through the snake nest of highways that cover greater Los Angeles. I used Google Maps to get us to our destination – the Sheraton Fairplex Hotel in Pomona. Traffic was fairly light at 1 p.m. so we got there fairly quickly. There was a small complication. Google seemed to think we were cattle headed into the fairgrounds, but human intervention helped us locate the hotel. We checked in, had a late lunch and relaxed for a while, relishing the air-conditioned suite that the university had provided for us.


The University of La Verne

The reason for the trip? Gary Colby, the Photography Department Chair at the University of La Verne in La Verne, California, saw Dave’s work and really liked his Life on Wheels: The New American Nomads project. He invited Dave to exhibit at

the Irene Carlson Gallery of Photography, on the University campus. Part of their mission statement: “We choose photographers whose work causes us to think about the effects of our craft on our culture. By these presentations the University of La Verne invites students, faculty, staff, and community members to become inspired by photographs and informed by the peculiar way of knowing realized by adventurous photographers.”

Dave was excited to display a large body of his work on the project. We were still on an RV road trip when the exhibit opened, so Gary arranged a reception for Dave on November 8.

The University of La Verne was founded in 1891 by members of the Church of the Brethren who had moved west. Both the college and the surrounding agricultural community were renamed La Verne in 1917. I didn’t see all of the campus but was impressed by the area I saw. Having attended the University of San Francisco, an urban, compressed campus in the center of the city, I was impressed by the expansive, green, sunny campus. Gary told me a little about the University’s history while Dave and Kevin Bowman, the Photography Department Manger, were stowing the Yaris.

The exhibition was nicely mounted in the Irene Carlson Gallery of Photography. People started to filter in, most of them photography students. Dave got many questions about how he started out in photography, why he chose to photograph RV full-timers as well as questions about some of the individuals pictured. It was interesting to meet some young photographers who are learning to use equipment other than smart phones. The department maintains a darkroom and film and alternative photographic processes are explored.


Things wound down at 7:30 and Gary, Kevin and Art Suwansang, A Senior Adjunct Professor in the Photography Department, took us to dinner in old downtown La Verne. We walked only two or three blocks to reach downtown, an advantage when a town develops around the university. While cool enough to put on a sweater, it was a distinct pleasure to walk after a long day of traveling.


Kevin, Dave, Art, Gary

We bade farewell and collapsed back in the hotel. After an hour of the National Geographic Channel showing a feature involving the enormous flood that created the Scablands (love the name!) in Washington state, we slept well.

Leg 5

We rose at 6 a.m. That gave us 4 hours to shower, pack up and drive the 35 miles back to Union Station, turn in the car and board the train. The drive, west on the 10 (everyone in SoCal seems to preface highway names with “the”) was, as we expected slow. Not excruciatingly slow, but 20-mile-an-hour slow for a good portion of it. I was using Google Maps on Dave’s iPhone and by the time we got off I-10 his phone battery was low. We had to stop for gas and the street to return the car was not the main entrance to Union Station where Google was trying to direct us. All in all, it took us 2.5 hours to reach Union Station and return the car. We were both limp after the tension of driving in unfamiliar territory.

Leg 6

We had enough time to get an Egg-a-muffin and coffee from Starbucks and headed to Track 10-B to catch the Amtrak Coast Starlight. It was almost right on time and we stowed the luggage and found our seats. And ohhhhhhh, the leg space. Enough to stand up and turn sideways. A footrest came down from the seat in front and I had to stretch a little to reach it. The seat reclined fairly well and a leg rest could be popped up. We beamed at each other. No more driving for the rest of the trip.


Waiting for the train

The ride to Santa Barbara was only 2.5 hours and it was a pleasure. The train heads west through suburban terrain for the first 90 minutes. We reached the coast when we got to Ventura. It was fun to try to identify the campgrounds we had stayed at over the years. The views were wonderful. We congratulated ourselves for requesting seats on the left, the ocean side of the car.


The lounge car in front of ours had seats facing the large windows. I thought the seating was reserved but the car is open to all. We ensconced ourselves in there for an hour or so, sipping our drinks, still winding down from the morning. Nice!

Leg 7

We reached Santa Barbara around 12:45 and detrained in the pretty little Amtrak Station. We had to walk to our hotel, the Hotel Indigo. It took, oh, about 3 minutes. We had stayed there several years before and noticed how close it was to the train station.

Hotel Indigo may not be for everyone, but it has its own Euro-style vibe. The rooms are small. Our king bed had about 1 to 3 feet of space from it to the wall. There is a small desk and a short, open closet with 2 drawers. We discovered the terry cloth robes in the drawer too late to enjoy them. A phone and small coffee pot took up most of the available surface space. Since we were there for one night, we didn’t unpack the suitcases which meant we had to maneuver around or over them to move around the room. It was cluttered.

The bath is nicely done but is also small. The frosted glass bathroom door lays flat against one wall with the sink. The shower has a glass door that also flattens against the wall, next to the toilet. To shower, you pull the glass wall open next to the toilet and pull over a shower curtain that is at a 90-degree angle to the glass wall. Inevitably, all the water does not stay in the shower area.

I believe the idea is that you won’t be spending a lot of time in your room except to sleep and shower. The hotel makes up for the small room space by creating several public areas. There are two upstairs outdoor patios that guests can use. There’s a library with loads of art books and comfy chairs. The lobby also has indoor-outdoor seating. Santa Barbara’s mild climate is ideal for this setup.

Cocktail hour arrived and we went to the restaurant next to the hotel for drinks and a couple of small plates. We sat in the patio and watched people go by while listening in to what appeared to be a first date at the table next to ours. We walked a few blocks to Stearn’s Pier. Later on, we walked up State Street a quarter-mile or so and had dinner at a Spanish restaurant, Cadiz. The night was mild and the walk back was pleasant.


View from Stearn’s Pier, Santa Barbara


On Friday morning, Dave had arranged a meeting with his friend, Christa Dix, the founder and director of wall space. Christa’s mission is to help promote photographers and photography. He discussed his new project, Into the Anthropocene, with her as several families and lots of kids enjoyed a Veteran’s Day breakfast around us.

After that, knowing we had a long day of sitting on the train, we took a long walk up State Street. Having seen the snack shop on the train, we bought sandwiches at a little lunch place to take on the train.

Leg 8

After checking out, we pulled our suitcases across the railroad tracks to the station. Dave had noticed that one of the wheels on his beat-up suitcase had lost a pin and was falling off. He rigged it and hoped it would make it home. Carrying a suitcase up the hill to our house was not something he wanted to do.

There was a group of about 25 young teenagers sitting in a huge circle at the train station. We fervently hoped they would not be in our car. They were not. We asked for seats on the coast side and received them. We stowed the bags and ascended to the coach seats. They were perfect. We settled in for the 8.5-hour ride.

There were lots of clouds but the sun kept breaking out. The views were wonderful. We saw another campground we stayed at. We saw lots of surfers. We read our books. We ate our lunch. We watched people come and go on the train. We relaxed. Eventually, the train headed inland but we were going past ranches, farms and occasional small towns. We mostly weren’t traveling near Highway 1 or 101.


After hours of sitting, dinner reservations took us to the dining car at 5:30 to sit somewhere different. Cloth tablecloths and napkins added a touch of class but the menu wasn’t too exciting. Steak for Dave, chicken for me. Woodbridge was the only choice for wine. Adequate. Couples were expected to share tables so we met a couple coming from San Diego and heading to Oakland to visit their daughter. It was a pleasant meal.


Back at our seats, we amused ourselves for another 3 hours. I could faintly smell smoke in our car. After a while a warning came over the loudspeaker, saying the train personnel knew someone was smoking in the bathroom and when (not if) they found them, they would be put off the train. I had my suspicions about one person but they were still on the train when we arrived at Jack London Square in Oakland.

Leg 9

It felt quite romantic leaving the train. It had rained and the station platform was wet. We found the bus to San Francisco and sat in the front seats. The train was departing as the bus pulled out of the station. We saw two people running for the train but they weren’t going to catch it. At the train stops, there are clear warnings of how long people have to “stretch their legs”. Those two had taken too long.

It took the bus about two minutes to get on the Bay Bridge. The huge windshield allowed me to get some pictures of our beautiful city as we crossed the bridge.


Leg 10

We retrieved our bags and started rolling our way to BART, about 4 blocks. The transit angels were looking after us and we caught a train immediately. We were at the Glen Park BART station in fifteen minutes.

Leg 11

As we came up the stairs to the street, the wheel fell off Dave’s suitcase. He wasn’t going to carry it up the long hill to our house, so I sat down with the luggage and he went home to get the car. As I waited, I was watching a woman yelling at her prospective Uber driver on the phone. He apparently was claiming he was waiting at the Glen Park Station. Where was she? “I can’t see you” she kept saying. I couldn’t see him either. No fun at 11 p.m.

Dave showed up and we finally made it home. Unloaded the toothbrushes and left the rest for tomorrow. Toasted a successful trip with a tot of Glenlivit Scotch and slept in our own bed.


The train trip was comfortable and fun. Breaking it into two days improved things a lot. Arriving at our destination at a reasonable hour helped a lot. I haven’t heard good reports of doing a cross-country trip on Amtrak but the Coast Starlight was very nice. I recommend it. Be sure to bring your own entertainment and your own food. Be aware that WiFi on the train costs.

P.S. The one-way train trip for 2 seniors (62 or older), broken into 2 days was $185. A good value, I think.


October 9   Lee Vining Canyon and Yosemite

Another down day after a very cold night. It got down to 26 outside but we only were at 41 inside at 7:30 a.m. It took the heater a very long time to get up to 68 degrees. Dave helped heat up the kitchen area by turning on the oven and opening its door. After a very late breakfast, we drove off to check out Lee Vining Canyon, with Lee Vining Creek and lots of aspens. I found it totally uninspiring. Sometimes, nothing works.

We continued up CA-120 Tioga Pass, one of the most impressive roads I’ve ever seen. It goes UP! Then you coast along a few miles at the top and reach the Yosemite entrance. It’s all pretty wonderful up there, with meadows, rivers and forest. However, when we got out of the forest, a fairly heavy haze lay over the valley, something we’ve never seen before. All the facilities at Tuolumne Meadows have closed for the season, but there were loads of people at several of the pulloffs.

We went to one of our favorite places at the west side of Tuolumne and stopped for coffee and cookies. Though it was hazy, it is still a wonderful, huge space to ponder. A young Asian couple pulled in next to us. The girl got out with her iphone on a selfie stick and took a few pictures of herself. Then the guy got out and was soon filming them looking out at the meadows. Then he took some pictures of her standing in front of the meadow. Then it looked like they were going to take a little walk, but no. They walked about 15 feet, looked down at something, came back to their car and drove off. I don’t think either one of them looked at the scenery with their actual eyes for more than a minute. After posting their images to Facebook or Instagram, do they ever look at their pictures again?

We drove back and had another chilly night.

October 10         Walker Lake

We’ve been getting off to some later starts because it’s so cold in the morning. We arrived at the Walker Lake Trailhead around 10 a.m. We knew what we were in for: a 500-foot descent to the lake and a 500-foot ascent return.

It was another cloudless, beautiful day. It has been so cloudless in Eastern California, I’ve been missing the lenticular clouds that usually create spectacular sunsets. Walker Lake is a nice-sized lake that usually has good vari-colored foliage in October. As you go down the trail, you have little breaks among the trees as you look down at the green lake. One good aspect of the hike is that there is no road on other side of the lake, so no vehicles. And we yet to see a boat on the lake. Aside from a generator hum created by the lodge at one end of the lake, it is very quiet here.

Once we got down to lake level, we followed a haphazard trail along the lake edge. The lake level was higher than when we were last here and it changed some of the reflection opportunities. I made reflection images anyway.

I don’t believe there is a trail all the way around the lake and if there was, it would have several marshy areas. We walked to one end of the lake, came back and walked to the creek at the other end of the lake. As in a 2013 trip, we saw a large flotilla of coots on the lake. We also saw one duck following the coots around. Did that make it an ugly cootling?

As before, there were Kamloops Rainbow Trout migrating up the small Walker Creek. (Do they import trout from Canada?)

We marched back up the trail in record time and hastened home. We took the LD to Lee Vining, filled the propane tank and dumped. Then it was back to camp, shower and go to the Whoa Nellie Deli for dinner. We found out that their wonderful 5-layer chocolate cake comes from Pennsylvania. Do the Amish make it? Our next trip may involve Pennsylvania.

October 11   June Lake Loop

We took it easy on our last full day of camping. A car trip around June Lake Loop was our final local destination. The lakes in the loop were much fuller than the last time we saw them. The aspens ranged from green to gone. The wind was not cold but it was pretty strong. I love it when the aspens shake. We snuck into a closed campground to see if it still had birdhouses strewn throughout the trees. The birdhouses weren’t there but a small herd of deer were. Why do they close a campground when it’s at its prettiest?

We drove, parked, meandered and drove some more. There was a fair amount of traffic but nothing like last weekend. It was fun, but neither of us was particularly inspired. That leads to silliness and we always have time for being silly.

We paid a final visit to Test Station Road, overlooking Mono Lake. The clouds had proliferated and the light was soft and changeable.

We also checked out Moraine Campground, a little higher up Lee Vining Canyon, but the creek and the trees weren’t exciting. So that was it. We repaired to our RV to begin cleaning it up.

October 12-13     Going Home

We were in no rush on Thursday. We had decided to stay at Moccasin Campground by Don Pedro Reservoir. We got to cross the upper part of Yosemite; often CA-120 isn’t open this late in the year but it was a beautiful day, except for all the smoke. Once in Yosemite, we stopped by the Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River to see if there was ice. As suspected, there was.

We continued on to Olmstead Point. The view of Half Dome was impaired by smoke.

We continued out of Yosemite and down Priest Grade to Don Pedro Reservoir. We had never stayed at Moccasin Point before and enjoyed it immensely. There were about 3 other people camping nowhere near us. It was quiet and warm. We pulled out the chairs, chips and Limoncello that we had been carrying since Jeff and Betty Denno so kindly gave it to us. (Thanks again!)

Friday the 13th worked out well for us. We drove 130 miles to San Francisco and didn’t experience even a slowdown until we got on the Bay Bridge. However, the smoke was terrible. We could barely see San Francisco from Oakland. A sad ending to a great trip.