Monday, February 27, 2012

Brilliant Mohave and Apache Colors

With Anza-Borrego still being dry as a bone with no wildflowers, we headed back across the Mohave desert towards Arizona.  I had recalled Al from The Bayfield Bunch stopping at the Desert Lily Sanctuary a couple weeks ago and seeing some amazing flowers, so I decided to make a quick detour off of I-10 just east of Joshua Tree National Park.

For the first 5 or 6 miles, it appeared to look like typical dry desert.  But then suddenly, there they were—wildflowers!  A literally carpet of color for as far as the eye could see!
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The white flowers are called Dune Evening Primrose and the purple ones are Desert Sand Verbena.  They thrive here (and what seems to be “only” here) in the loose sand of the Mohave desert during Spring.  Photographer’s paradise!
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Mom and Millie waited patiently as I crawled around in the sand with my SLR, tripod, and assortment of neutral density filters.
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We then resumed our dull highway travels along I-10 and spent the night boondocking at Quartzsite at the convenient Dome Rock Mountain BLM area.  It was so strange driving through town the next day seeing the big RV Show tent gone, all the lots at the big RV dealers empty, and most of the desert land again unoccupied from the hoards of thousands that camp there each January.

After filling up with gas, we made our way through Phoenix and over to Lost Dutchman State Park on the Apache Trail east of town.  Even though I had just camped there a few weeks ago, my mom really wanted to see the Apache Trail, so I lucked out and was able to reserve a campsite for the night.

We quickly headed out in the late afternoon to drive the Apache Trail a bit so she could see some of the harrowing cliffside single-lane roads I drove the View on last year (this year, smartly, I drove the Tracker!).  

Even in the few short weeks since I’d been there, there were many more flowers beginning to bloom—lots of desert lupine:
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It was a terrific way to end our short, jam-packed vacation.  After watching the sun set over Phoenix, we settled into the View for the night and prepare to return back to Tucson the next day.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Back to the Desert (Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

I love the RV park in downtown Long Beach, but oh do I ever HATE getting or leaving there!  Strange how all the expressways of Chicago don’t seem to bother me that much, but LA’s freeways seem to make me insane!
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But finally after a few hours, we had broken free of the freeways and come to my favorite drive along Montezuma Valley Road (County Road S22) down into Borrego Springs and the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  From the West, you drive many miles through rolling hills of ranch and farm lands, when suddenly, the land drops off and gives way to the broad desert with the large Salton Sea off in the distance.  It’s quite a visual treat, and fun little hairpin turns make it an exciting drive down into the valley as well.
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We made it to the place I had been dreaming of boondocking ever since seeing it last year—Clark Dry Lake Bed just off of Peg Leg Road about 5 miles east of Borrego Springs.  We were lucky to have warm weather, calm winds, and quiet neighbors while there!
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After her first night of peaceful desert boondocking, I took my mom for a nearby off-road drive to Font’s Point.  We drove 4 miles down the sandy and bone-rattling washboard trail and came to a turnaround that had a few walking paths up a hill.  Not wanting to have driven all this way for nothing, we figured we might as well get out and walk up the path to see what was there.

Just like the surprise the night before of the land suddenly dropping on Montezuma Valley Road, we were surprised to find an amazing expanse of badlands beneath us.  What a way to start the day!

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After returning to the RV to drop Mom and Millie off, I drove down south to drive some other off-road trails in the Blair Valley area.

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I had hoped to find some wildflowers starting to bloom, but the desert was still pretty dry and colorless other than a few Yucca and Agave.  This big old tree was interesting, though.  Note the shoes hanging from the branches!  Perhaps good luck to return from a hike safely?  Or someone who took a wrong turn and ended up this tree?!!

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Maybe it’s just a way of saying “I’ll be back”, which is certainly the way I feel about this very special park.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Couple of Days on the Coast

Even though we only had a couple of days, my mom and I decided that we still wanted to visit both San Diego and Los Angeles and not leave one of them out.  So, we left Yuma and headed due West on I-8 to San Diego.

It’s always a thrill to come over the last set of mountains and be bombarded with sensory overload after days of minimal, quiet desert scenery.  In past trips, I had driven directly from Chicago, so the time in the desert was minimal.  This year, being in Arizona for 6 weeks before hitting the West Coast really made made that last hop over the mountains quite a change—water! (the ocean), lush green grass and trees! Oh my God, look at the smog and all those cars!!!  Well, I didn’t say all the sensations were pleasant, did I?!!!

I decided to try a Passport America RV park just 5 miles from downtown San Diego, Mission Bay RV Resort.  It had some hot and cold reviews online and I wasn’t quite sure what it’d be like, but it actually was quite a nice facility within a large, beautiful city park that encompasses much of Mission Bay.  Besides a great location, their PA rate was only $25 a night for full hook-ups—can’t beat that!

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After getting parked, we headed to Old Town for a late lunch at a colorful, festive outdoor Mexican restaurant,

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and these were the size of their “skinny” Margaritas!

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After lunch, Mom shopped a bit and we then took a quick drive through Balboa Park.  Saw some Navy recruits out for an afternoon jog

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and drove past the wonderful museum architecture.  I really wish we could have spent more time to fully explore the park, the zoo, and all of these museums—they looked fabulous!
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We decided to go over to Coronado Island just as the sun was setting—amazing views from the tall bridge over the harbor!

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The Coronado Hotel was as lovely as ever,

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but tonight we had one thing and one thing only in mind….ice cream!  We first were lured to the glowing blue neon of Mootime with its lifesized statues of Elvis and a cow out in front of the store.
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Mootime had some tempting flavors and large heaping scoops, but another shop around the corner seemed a bit more tantalizing—a gelato shop!

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The scoops were smaller, but oh so good!   We thought about revisiting the Irish Pub that my mom had been to during her last visit to San Diego a few years ago, but decided to savor the lingering tastes of gelato on the drive home instead.

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The next day, we headed up the coast to Long Beach to stay at Golden Shore RV Park located right downtown on the harbor.  I had stayed there last year and since it was the closest RV park to where we’d be meeting friends for lunch, it just made sense to stay there again.  Nothing had changed there since my last post…we even were assigned to the same site! 

We met my mom’s oldest friend (from grade school!) and her husband for a terrific seafood lunch on the other side of the harbor at Ports of Call in San Pedro.  Lots of laughs and great conversation.  Nina is a retired professional writer and has a great blog that she updates nearly every day, Word of Mouth.  We sure hope to see Nina and Richie again if they make it to Chicago this summer!

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After lunch, we watched a few ships come and go from the huge Long Beach harbor, and then brought Nina and Richie back to the RV park to meet Millie and tour Mom’s traveling wheels. 

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The harbor is massive, with thousands of 40’ containers stacked up high on dozens of docks awaiting ships or trucks to transport their goods.  No doubt that George Carlin’s famous comedy routine about Americans’ obsession with consuming and storing ever-increasing amounts of “Stuff” may have been inspired from these very docks!

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Cool Oasis on the Hot Drive to Yuma

Before my mom arrived, we agreed that we both wanted to spend a few days in Southern California during her visit.  The weather looked ideal out there in the coming days, so we quickly put an itinerary together to head out there.

We didn’t leave Tucson until midday and it was already starting to get warm.  By the time we were driving west on I-8, the temps were hovering around 80 degrees.  After a few hours of driving into the afternoon sun, I was ready for a pit stop, but exits seemed to be far and few between in this stretch of the desert.

But then I saw it.

The exit pointing to Dateland!
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I vaguely remembered my friend Evelyn mentioning getting some great date shakes in Dateland a few weeks ago, and that certainly seemed to fit the bill on this hot afternoon, so we stopped.

At first, I wasn’t expecting much—just a typical-looking gas station mini mart with fast-food sandwich shop, but there did seem to be quite a few cars stopped, so something must be good!
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We ventured inside and waited for our date shakes to be made:
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OH MY GOD!  They were delicious!!!  Thanks for the tip Evelyn!!!  Of course, once we started sipping those shakes as we were browsing around the store, we just HAD to buy a few bags of dates.  Decided to go with the “Traditional Medjool” dates, the best and most juicy ones, and they have been terrific tasty treats these past few weeks!

I took Millie for a stroll over to the see the dates growing in the palm grove behind the store.  This lush green shady grove is a stark contrast to the arid, barren desert that surrounds it.

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I doubt I’ll ever be able to drive this stretch of I-8 again without stopping at Exit 67 for a date shake!

Once we finally made our way back onto the highway, it was a short drive over to Yuma.  Since Evelyn’s suggestion for the dates had been so spot-on, I decided to copy her suggested free overnight parking spot and cheap, tasty buffet at the Quechen Casino.  I had never tried RV parking at a casino before and was pleasantly surprised to find one last nice level spot still left in the large gravel lot filled with about 100 RVs.

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The $12.99 buffet was every bit as good as Evelyn had described, and being on the West side of Yuma (in California), it was a convenient spot to continue our travels westward in the morning.  Even Millie was pleased!

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My only regret was not having enough time to mosey a couple miles south to cross the border into Algadonnes, Mexico—land of abundant dentists, opticians, drugstores….and hoards of gringo Seniors buying it all up!  There’s always next year!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Trip to Tombstone & Bisbee

My mom arrived to visit for a few weeks and escape the snow and cold of Chicago.  For our first weekend trip, I suggested Tombstone and Bisbee.  I had briefly visited these towns last winter and really wanted to explore them more this year.

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After checking into our RV park in Tombstone, we drove down to Bisbee for some shopping and dinner. Unfortunately, we had gotten a rather late start and there were no dinner reservations left for the place we really wanted to try so we ended up at The Bisbee Grille which actually turned out to be a pretty nice place in it’s own right!  We discovered a great new wine, a red blend called Primal Roots, that was outstanding.  Can’t wait to find it again somewhere:

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Also enjoyed a great appetizer of mushrooms sautéed in garlic with a light covering of cheese, and some excellent seafood pasta entrées.

The next day, strong winds kept us home at the RV most of the time,  but we finally got motivated enough to go explore the town of Tombstone for a few hours in the afternoon.  The downtown strip certainly feels more authentic than Boot Hill in Dodge City did, but it was certainly a tourist trap to be sure. 

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At least in Tombstone, though, the hawkers were all fittingly dressed in their old west attire and tried to look as authentic as possible.

There were cowboys headed towards the O.K. Corral--

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The Sheriff keeping the peace:
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A tambourine man providing entertainment:
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A bar room hussie coming back to work (toting a decidedly unauthentic bag of snack chips!)
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And teams of horses pulling stagecoaches (full of 21st century tourists, of course!)

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Mom wanted to see the World’s Largest Rose Bush, and even after learning there was a $5 fee to see it, she still went in.  Of course, after coming out she said it was likely only worth about $2.   So, when we rounded the corner to the famous Bird Cage Theatre and learned they wanted a full $10 each to see it, we decided to pass.
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We checked out the Outlaws Social Club instead!
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And finished across the street laughing at these:
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