Waiting out Winter in the California Desert

From Borrego Springs we made the relatively short drive to Indio, at the southern end of California’s Coachella Valley. The drive along S22, the Borrego Salton Seaway, was remarkably scenic, reminiscent of Badlands National Park on a much smaller scale. Unfortunately the last five miles or so of the road are in such poor condition we found ourselves driving Rover at 10-15 MPH.

While we used much of our time in Indio to catch up on chores (shopping, cleaning, laundry, etc.) we did get out for one nice hike. A bit north of Palm Springs is Whitewater Canyon Preserve, which includes the dog-friendly Whitewater Canyon Loop Trail. It’s a 4.1 mile loop with a fairly steep 1,000 foot climb about 1/4 of the way through where the trail joins the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).


Mike and Opie about halfway up the steep climb.

Even in February it was extremely hot during the day. Fortunately we got an early start and missed the worst heat of the day. Although the area’s name, Whitewater Canyon, gave us hope that Opie could cool off in some water after the hot hike, we were tricked! When we started the hike, the “river” near the trailhead was just a shallow stream with no whitewater (wrong season, plus long-term drought). We got Opie wet to start the hike, but by the time we returned at the end of the hike and really needed to wet him down, the stream was bone dry! Opie had to settle for having some bottled water poured over his head to cool him off.


Kathie and Opie at the peak of the trail

Another short drive put us in Yucaipa CA, close to San Bernardino. We stayed in a beautiful county park nestled right in the suburbs. When we made our reservations there were only two sites left to choose from, but when we got there we found that our site was one of the best in the park (in our opinion)! It was spacious, with neighbors not too close, and was farther from the highway, making it nice and quiet:


Rover and Red parked in Yucaipa Regional Park

During the week the campground was mostly deserted, but during the weekend it was completely full with local families out for BBQs, volleyball, and fishing. We walked through the entire campground and only saw one license plate (besides ours) that wasn’t from California! While we usually prefer peace and quiet, we enjoyed the friendly energy the crowds brought to the campground. One afternoon while we were walking Opie past some RVs having a BBQ, the cook saw us, grabbed some of his beef brisket right of the grill, and ran over to feed us! And yes, it was delicious!


Taking at break at the top of the Zanja Peak trail.

The campground had a nice dog-friendly hiking trail that started right inside the park, so we had to give it a try. But first we headed into San Bernardino to the REI to buy Opie his own backpack. Usually on hikes we have to carry lots of extra water for Opie to drink, and we decided it’s about time he carried his own water. The backpack was recommended to us by Christie and Brian of Spot the Scotts and during our test hike it worked great. We think the orange color also looks great on him… functional and fashionable!


Opie looking back at the long climb we just made

The trail is a 5.5 mile there-and-back hike from the regional park to Zanja Peak, with a 1,200 foot climb. It was a fun and scenic hike, though almost all of the trail was in full sun and it got hot rather quickly. Unfortunately the air quality in the San Bernardino valley was pretty terrible… it was hazy and smoggy the whole time we were there, obscuring the distant city views. Fortunately for Opie, Yucaipa Park has several very large fishing and swimming lakes, and after the hike he jumped right in and swam for a bit, enjoying the water like a true Labrador Retriever.

Opie always enjoys a swim after a long hike

Opie always enjoys a swim after a long hike

Yet another short drive took us to the northern side of Joshua Tree National Park. Here we had another chance to open up our solar panels and do some free boondocking on BLM land. Unfortunately a pending rainstorm chased us out after only a few days. Since the Joshua Tree BLM area is on a dry lake bed, when it rains the entire area turns to mud… not someplace you want to be in a 24,000-pound motorhome. I was also feeling under the weather, so we kept our sightseeing simple and skipped the strenuous hikes.


Exploring Joshua Tree National Park

Not knowing anything about the park before we arrived, we assume the main attraction was the tree the park was named after (photo, top of page). The trees (actually a type of Yucca) are unique to the Mojave desert and only grow in a few small ranges with the right climate conditions. There are forests of Joshua Trees inside the park, but we quickly discovered that the real star of the park is the unique rock formations! Everywhere we looked we saw what looked like vertical stacks of boulders with horizontal or diagonal stripes through them. Be sure to read the rock formation link above to get a little background on how these were formed over the last hundred million years.


We saw quite a few rock climbers at Joshua Tree

During our visit we saw several areas where climbers with ropes carefully make their way up the tall rocks. Since we had to leave earlier than planned, we decided to find a full hookup campground where we could do some much-needed laundry and where I could relax in comfort while getting over my cold. A search found very little between Joshua Tree and Lake Havasu (our next boondocking location), but we came across a discounted three-night stay at Pirate Cove campground at Moabi Regional Park, with full hookups right on the Colorado River. Our campsite was so unique I had to get the drone out to get some aerial photos. What do you think… is this a good place to spend a few days recovering from a cold?

Pirate Cove at Moabi Regional Park

Pirate Cove at Moabi Regional Park

Michael Fischer

After a high-tech career spanning software development and systems administration to leading hundreds of engineers across cities and continents, I'm now slowing things down a bit. Traveling full-time in an RV with my awesome wife Kathie and our two big dogs Max and Opie, I'm now pursuing smaller personal software projects while seeing North America up close.

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  1. Pingback: Life Rebooted – 2016 Year In Review

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