We spent a few days in mid January camped in the mountains at about 5,500’ and just 7 miles from the Mexican border. Parker Lake is, of course, a result of a dam. It is isolated and beautiful. The local camp store has well stocked shelves and an interesting and talkative owner.
Eve fished for a whole day and managed to catch a few trout for our dinner. I walked around the lake while she fished. The 5 mile hike offers a variety of views and terrain.
The campground is used by bird hunters this time of year.
We spent a day in Tucson before heading back to Joshua Tree and a 2 week stay at a house we’ve rented for the past decade. I had expected to spend the night on the BLM land around Quartzite, AZ but as we approached it became clear there would be no space there for us. The annual Gem Trading rendezvous was taking place and the entire country was packed.
We stayed again at Cottonwood campground and hiked an old jeep trail in toward the mountains before heading to the north end of the park and our house, the Think Tank.
The Think Tank borders the north end of the park. A 1.5 mile walk along Quail Wash puts you in what the locals refer to as the Serengeti, we call it the Great Plain. It is a long walk from the road or usual trails. We’ve only seen one other set of hikers in this area over the past 10 years we’ve been renting this place.
The house is completely off grid with a large solar array, including panels that track the sun from morning to evening. It’s small and comfortable.
We’ve seen bobcats and coyotes at the tank in the back garden, this year it was the latter that came for water, and to eyeball the rabbits and quail.
Our hikes this season were almost exclusively in the Quail Wash portion of the park. We followed Big Foot Trail to the base of the canyon that leads to Covington Flats, and then explored the broad canyons that spur off of the Joshua Tree plains, or Serengeti.
The washes that fall over the northeast end of the plain are small oasis with sufficient moisture to allow a dense growth of trees and shrubs. We had snow two nights while we were there, adding to the scant amount of desert precipitation that falls.
We also walked over the mountain pass to Samualson’s Rocks. Samuelson and his wife lived in this part of the park as cow hands in the early 30s. The rocks refer to his chiseled musings about life and death that are still very visible around his old claim.
He had hoped to homestead the area, but as a Swedish citizen was not able to keep the land he had “proved up”. He did have a mining claim which he sold before moving to L.A. where he killed two men at a dance hall. The histories say he had a young and attractive wife. After the murders he fled to the Pacific Northwest where he worked until his death as a result of a logging accident.
We retraced a hike we had done a few years ago up the wash and into Smith’s Water Canyon. There are a large number of cottonwoods up this canyon and, given enough time and rope, a route to Covington Flats.
The Cowboy Hot Tub was fired up a few days in a row. It’s a great way to relax in the evening.
Anza Borrego and the Salton Sea
We left Joshua Tree for Borrego Springs and some time with friends who have a house there. For years we have heard the phrase, “Borrego Midnight” referring to the 9:00 pm shut down of pretty much everything and everyone in the little desert town. We’ve used it to advocate for, or defend that hour as bed-time on kayaking or backpacking trips. Over the past few months we’ve sometimes found it a challenge to reach Borrego Midnight before setting up the bed in the van.
Anza Borrego Park is large, the campground is nice, though offering little shelter, and the hiking trails lead out of the parking lot.
We hiked with friends for a few days, first up the Canyon to the Palm Grove then a longer trail which gave us a great view of the desert. Later, Eve and I borrowed some fat tire bikes and did a long loop around the area. It has a different terrain and feel than Joshua Tree, and seems as though it would be a good place to spend more time.
The mountains around the park were not going to get us a good early morning look at the lunar eclipse, so we drove to the east side of the Salton Sea and camped there for the night.
The Salton Sea is a very strange place. It was created by accident in the early 20th C, as a result of an engineering mishap which allowed the Colorado River to pour over a dike and into the area, which is below sea level. It is slowly dying as seemingly are most of communities surrounding its waters.
The morning of the eclipse was clear and we were sipped tea while we watched the moon
We left the Salton Sea and headed north east toward the Mojave, stopping at the Amboy Crater along the way. The crater is impressive. It looms large over a scattering of lava left by the eruption, which occurred about 80,000 years ago.
Just beyond the crater is Roy’s Amboy Cafe and Motel. A classic Route 66 compound.
We passed the guy who wants to take his home-made rocket into space, and stopped in the hopes that his scheduled flight would take place. However, that day saw the second failed attempt. Since then he did mange to propel himself across the scrub desert using the steam powered rocket sponsored by the Flat Earth Society.
The Mojave Preserve is complex place with varied plants and terrain. We had come through on our way south last fall and wanted to spend a few more days exploring the region. This time we stayed at the campground near Hole in the Wall. A lot of petroglyphs are in the desert just for looking. We were told to explore around rock outcrops and washes to find them.
There are a lot of good trails leading out of there including the eponymous route that requires the use of two set of steel rings to ascend back out of the canyon.
The walk around Barber Peak provided a variety of landforms and plants. Volcanic tuff peaks out from underneath the newer darker stones like sheets from under a duvet at the trailhead northeast of the campground.
The southwest portion of the walk included a large area of abundant barrel cactus plants.
We also walked a two-track to Gold Valley Mine then over a saddle to a couple of dry wells that appeared on our older topo map. Large rock piles, similar to those in Joshua Tree were in this part of the Preserve.
Selling the Sprinter became a reality at this campground as we decided we really need a truck with 4WD to travel the Mojave Trail. The Sprinter has taken us to many places, but I wouldn’t expect it to make that route.
It is kind of neat to see the sprinter for sale post, then read about what lead to the decision later. Hope you guys keep up the awesome travels, and may be we'll cross paths someday, as the lady and I are nearing our goal!
To the Coast
We left the Mojave for the coast, with a few stops in between. First to the Trail of the Giants in the Sequia National Forest. The trail was shown to be closed on a sign as we drove out of Kernville, CA where we had spent the night in an “RV Resort” along the river. We were one of two rigs in the lot, and at $55 a night it isn’t surprising. The nearby Forest Service campgrounds were closed and we had driven almost 500 miles.
The closed sign was wrong and the Sequias are giants. Eve looks like a doll against one of the trees with an opening.
We spent a couple of nights on the west side of the Sierras in Corps of Engineers campgrounds. The campground at Eastman Lake was worth the drive. Again, very few people and lots of hiking trails.
Then we went to the coast after a night in Sacramento visiting a friend. A stop along the Trinity River gave us a short drive to the beach at Gold Bluffs. We saw an eagle carrying a skunk as we left that morning and decided it was a good omen. That’s the nice thing about auguries, unless there is a Druid around, one can decide what they mean on your own.
Gold Bluffs in January is wonderful. We had a great campsite on the beach and across from the wifi tower at the bathrooms. The beach walking is easy, and the trails in the forest are plentiful.
We hiked 7 miles each day along the well used and solidly built trails through the Redwoods.
Roosevelt Elk were everywhere, even at the bathhouse.
Heading north into Oregon brought colder temperatures and rain. Four nights at two coast campgrounds — Humbug Mt and Cape Lookout — slowed us down enough to realize we would be arriving in Port Townsend ahead of schedule.
After a night in Astoria, where 3 years before we had stayed on our way from Austin with the van, we moved into Washington State and Cape Disappointment. Washington State will be our home for the foreseeable future, and this was a good way to move into the state. Our first day was warm and sunny, on the second it snowed.
We arrived at our house in Port Townsend late February and stayed there through mid April.
The Cabin on the Road was passed on to new owners, who had flown in from Georgia for the sale. It has been a great three years with the van and we look forward to what comes next.
But first, we wanted to get to know Vancouver Island, and so made arrangement for a 6 week stay mid island in the small community of Bowser.
Our last few months of the three year road trip were spent in the small coastal community of Bowser, British Columbia. My father was born in Nova Scotia, Eve’s great-grandfather was a Mountie and her grandfather born in Saskatchewan. We would like to move to Canada but since we don’t have someone chasing us across the border, or any desire to start a business in the country, we have little chance of passing through the emigration hoops.
We rented a house close to the Salish Sea thinking that a long stay would help us acclimate to the Northwest while her parents pack up for their move out of our house and into one of their own.
Bowser is north of Nanaimo and south of Courtney. The trees were bare when we arrived and the fiddle heads hadn’t begun to unfurl. The snow was low on the mountains. We used the heat a lot the first couple of weeks. That all changed in late April with the coming of a hard and fast spring. Maple leaves seemed to grow in front of our eyes. The ground softened on the trails and Trillium flowers appeared along the forest paths.
Late rising black bears slogged slowly along the Big Qualacum River turning over rocks and logs looking for food. We chased a couple of the away on a few hikes. And the birds began to sing.
We were fortunate to find extensive and varied hiking trails nearby in the Nile Creek and Big Qualacum River drainage systems.
The owners of the house lived on the beach below us. They cleared some space for our kayaks and we launched from there to explore Denman and Hornby Islands. The Chrome Island Lighthouse has keepers living on the site. We also paddled north into Mud Bay. Seas were generally calm and currents not too bad. The tides took some getting used to and, given the rocky beach where we launched, often made the decision between hiking and kayaking an easy one.
Our days were easy. A long breakfast then either a 5-7 mile hike or a 3-5 hour paddling trip followed by a hot shower and some good coffee on the deck. We tried a couple of the local restaurants and found one were the drive. Most of the time I cooked and was happy to have fresh vegetable and excellent meat and seafood available from the local store.
We arrived back in Port Townsend the first week of June. Eve’s parents had bought a house near by and we were ready to help them move out of our house and into theirs.
It has been a remarkable trip, and one we couldn’t have done without Eve’s parents help by house sitting for us these past few years.
Now that we are settled, we have bought a truck. It’s a 2013 GMC Sierra with off road package and extra payload. And soon it will carry the new Cabin on the Road, which will be a Capri Retreat Camper.
A few pictures of our new Cabin on the Road. We're heading to Montana soon to have in installed. I enjoyed working with Capri Campers during the build. Communication was easy and thorough. I received photographs each day of the build, culminating with the ones shown here. The Retreat is their 6.5' model with their heater, sink and 10 gallon tank. We kept accessories to a minimun, so it weighs just around 1300 lbs dry.
They had no problem finding a place to install the 50qt. ARB fridge, even suggesting a hinged countertop to make access easier. While we could have put the Fridge under a bench with a folding top, that would have meant finding a new home for the porta-poti, which was a must for Eve. I wouldn't be surprised to see Capri shuffle their interior options to better accommodate an ARB in the near future.
We drove 750 miles to Bozeman, MT in order to pick up our new Truck Camper. The installation was fairly simple, though the odd angle of the GMC Sierra’s bed toward the tailgate required the installer to place some blocks on the bottom of the camper in order so to raise it above the offending bump. That means we have a place for our tarp poles under the camper.
Our first night with the new Cabin on the Road was spent at a BLM campground near Norris, MT on the Madison River. It’s a nice campground, and was less than half occupied the week before Labor Day.
The camper is very comfortable. The space seems larger than the dimensions would have you believe. Not having a table has opened up the sitting area and galley. The always made bed, out of the way over the cab, expands the visual space, even if it is a bit of a tight squeeze when the forward sleeper needs to get out of bed to pee in the middle of the night, which she does a couple of times each camp. The cabinet space is more than adequate. The ARB fridge is fantastic - it seldom turn on and when it does, takes little time or energy to push down the temperature.
The truck handled the weight — we are just at GVWR — exceptionally well. The Timbrens and sway bar provided all the support we needed on all kinds of roads and when maneuvering two tracks and exiting parking lots. The Sprinter would stumble out of curbed driveways until we added a sway bar. The 5.3l engine and Allison Transmission pushed us over the Continental Divide, Lolo Pass, Washington and Rainy Passes with no difficulty. We kept up to speed (65mph) in 5th, then 4th on the steeper grades. The cruise control and tow/haul breaking made for a comfortable ride on the down hill sides. I’ve never owned a truck before and those that I drove in the past were not as sophisticated as the GMC Sierra.
We spent a Wednesday night ( Nudie Night to our great fortune) at Lolo Hot Springs on the Idaho side of the Bitterroot Mts. Route 12, which connects Misso
ula with Lewiston, is a motorcyclist dream with over 100 miles of twists and turns. The next few nights were spent near the natural hot springs of Weir and Jerry Johnson. There are multiple pools at both places, and we found the ones farthest away from the road to be the most welcoming. The historical Ranger's Station along Rt 12 is worth a visit.
We have friends who live in Orofino and stopped there for the Labor Day weekend. Our two night stay extended to three with a punctured tire as we were leaving on Labor Day. The local Les Schwab was closed for the holiday. I’ve not been to a Les Schwab before and was very impressed with them. They don’t sell Goodyear tires, so were not able to buy a new one to replace the tire that had punctured — it turned out to be a catastrophic failure caused by a large sharp rock. The manager asked one of the employees to check the pile of tires out back for a Wrangler and within minutes we were back on the road with a matching Goodyear tire with what appeared to be just a few thousand miles more use than the others on the truck. The spare is a serviceable tire, but sits on a 17” rim and while the size of the tire brought it to the same level as the rest, I didn’t want to have to deal with that!
We weren’t charged for the tire, just the mounting and balancing.
From Orofino we headed north to Sun Meadow near Couer d’ Alene for a night, then across Washington to Lake Diablo in the northern Cascades. The fires were smoking up the mountains and we decided to head home rather than suck in any more fumes.
The Olympic Peninsula has a lot of interesting spots to explore. We’ve had two camping trips with the new Cabin on the Road since returning with it in early September on the opposite sides of the peninsula.
First was at the Staircase Campground within the Olympic National Park. The campground is along the Skokomish river before it is impounded by Lake Cushman, and 16 miles from Hood Canal. There are some good trails for short walks near the campground, and it also is a major route into the extensive trail system within the Forest and Park.
It rained hard while we were there. I had put a tarp on the back of the camper to provide some shelter. The eye bolts installed by Capri made setting the tarp pretty easy. We kept a few windows open a crack to reduce condensation and it seemed to work well.
We also tried the catalytic heater for the first time, which cranked out enough warmth in just a few minutes to take the chill off the wet evening.
A week later we met friends from Juneau on the Pacific side of the Peninsula in La Push. The Quileute people have a Campground for R.V.s on the beach near the mouth of the river and next to the school. Our friends had camped here a few years ago and wanted to repeat the experience. It’s a ”resort” campground, with an ocean and beach partially redeeming the flat and open space of the drive-through camp sites.
Our Truck camper seemed like a bit out of place among the larger trailers and class A vehicles.
Still, there was a beach and we had not seen our friends for a long time. It was good.
It blew hard for about 24 hours, and the wind brought a significant amount of rain. Our friends have been with us on most of our long sea-kayaking trips in Southeast Alaska, and we have spent many days weathered in under tarps and near a fire. We agreed that the truck campers are a significant improvement over a tarp for comfort.
The Capri took the wind well and kept us dry and the heater kept us warm. We won’t be adding a dining table to the camper, instead using this small folding one which has met our needs for more than three years on the road.
A visit to hot springs in Central Oregon is next on the shake-down tour, beginning October.