Alta Loma to Joshua Tree NP, CA
Thursday, October 19, 2006 … 135 Camper Miles – Total 10,581
Clear & sunny, mid 80s, lighter winds
We said our goodbyes and saw Mary Ellen and John off to work. Happily, retirement is on the near horizon for them. They are looking forward to it!
We showered, grocery shopped and repacked car and camper and were on the road by late morning. We took I-10 east, marveling at field after field of windmills north east of Palm Springs and headed for Joshua Tree NP. We entered via the north entrance at the Oasis Visitor Center in the town of Twenty-Nine Palms and camped at Jumbo Rocks campground.
This park has two fairly distinct areas. The western half, where we were, is high desert; it’s part of the Mojave Desert. It is slightly higher and more moist than the eastern half. The vegetation is dominated by the park’s namesake plant, the Joshua tree. The curious landscape is desert sandy with periodic outcroppings of huge, rounded granite boulders. The eastern half of the park transitions to warmer, drier, low desert, a part of the Colorado Desert. Here, the landscape is dominated by creosote bushes. There are five palm oases in the park, places that attract wildlife and where early settlers made their homes.
Our campground was nestled among an area of rocks. The campground was lovely but, being desert, there was no water available in the campground. You have to get it at the visitor centers and, even there, the hose valve is operated like a vending machine where a quarter buys about 30 seconds of flowing water. The skies are exceptionally clear here and there is little light pollution. During the evenings, people flocked to the hills to watch the night skies. It was common to see elaborate telescopes set up in people’s campsites.
The park is also a magnet for rock climbers and there are climbers everywhere. The climbs are modest, in terms of height, but interesting in their variety. Also, the rock faces are numerous and easy to get to.
We set up camp and took a short driving tour. Then, Sandy took a walk around the campground while Bill leaned back in his chair to read. For dinner, we prepared Italian sausage with onions and peppers accompanied by a side of green beans.
Joshua Tree NP
Friday, October 20, 2006 … 0 Camper Miles – Total 10,581
Clear as a bell, light breeze, high 70s
We started out by exploring the western part of the park. We walked the Barker Dam, named for the small dam that was built for watering cattle and for gold mining operations. It was built around the turn of the century and expanded twice. The Hidden Valley Trail explored a beautiful, rock-ringed valley that was used as a natural barrier for grazing cattle herds of “mixed brand”. (Yup, the area was used by genuine cattle rustlers!)
We took a ranger-lead toured of the Keys Ranch. Ranger Dave is quite a student of the area and its history. He gave a great tour. Bill Keys and his wife raised five children here, becoming the first settlers to succeed at living in the area. They were very much on their own. Bill was a miner, rancher and entrepreneur. This was, and still is, way out on in the boonies and survival was quite a challenge. The family mined for gold, loaned money and equipment to other folks who wanted to mine for gold, then took over their claims when they failed and rented out the claims for others who wanted to try their luck. They also set up gold ore processing machinery to recover gold from other miners’ ore. They raised cattle and farmed to feed themselves and the cattle. The family prospered and Bill lived on the ranch into the late 1960s, two months shy of his 90th birthday. We actually met his son, Willis, who was temporarily acting as ranch caretaker while he and his wife were there to act as Grand Marshalls of the next day’s Pioneer Days parade in nearby Twenty Nine Palms.
After the tour, we drove the gravel roads of Queen Valley and then drove the Geology Tour Road. That road, all sand and 18 miles long, explores the various geological features of the park, winding into the low desert area. The road was narrow and rough with deep sand in some areas. Sandy’s car was pretty dirty by the time we finished the day. This Lexus had gone where few Lexus have gone before!
Joshua Tree NP to Marana, AZ
Saturday, October 21, 2006 … 407 Camper Miles – Total 10,988
Bright sunshine, 70 deg by 9:30, hit 90 later, pleasant evening
This was to be a driving day. Our next stop was to be Saguaro NP near Tucson. The drive began with a straight shot for 100 miles on CA-62 through low desert and mountains. The sky was hazy and the land appeared barren. Services are far between and there is so little traffic that we saw only seven cars in 15 miles.
Crossing the Colorado River into Arizona, we immediately began seeing the saguaro (pronounced like tomorrow) cactus, symbol of the American southwest. It’s also North America’s largest cactus and the plant our next stop is named after. Although there was plenty of low desert along the drive, we eventually got into an area that grew sorghum and cotton. This is very dry country where most bridges cross named dry washes and even the major rivers are dry.
There are no campgrounds in Saguaro NP and there weren’t any private campgrounds in the area that made sense for us to use for the night. So, we decided that we’d finally try camping at a Camp Wally location. (Camp Wally is what RVers call a Wal Mart parking lot.) Wal Mart has a policy to allow people to camp for free in most of their locations’ lots. The nearest Wal Mart to Saguaro NP was in Marana, AZ, so that’s where we stopped. There were about six other campers set up and it was pretty nice, considering: Wal Mart is open 24/7. You can use their bathrooms. The parking lot is lit. And they have roving security guards. Finally, you can get your shopping done at the same time!
We did some shopping, had dinner at the local Cracker Barrel and retired to the camper. We found that Camp Wally can have its downsides, too, including kids squealing tires on nearby streets, noise from the interstate adjacent to the store location and the noise from what must be the busiest railroad line in the country just the other side of the interstate.
Marana to Deming, NM
Sunday, October 22, 2006 … 265 Camper Miles – Total 11,253
Bright sunshine, hot, hit 90
We pulled the camper to the Saguaro NP Visitor Center the next day and left it in the parking lot while we toured. We walked several of the park’s trails and were delighted with the place. This is the richest, most diverse desert we’ve seen on our trip.
We admired the huge variety of cacti we found there and were amazed at how big the monster saguaros can get. They are said to reach heights of 40 feet, though the tallest we saw was probably only 30 feet. Also cool were the bones of saguaros that had died. The fleshy part of the cactus falls off and the skeleton that remains eventually is bleached white by the desert sun.
Leaving the park, we avoided the city of Tucson and stopped at Mission Saint Xavier in the process. This Spanish mission is very old but still an active church. It is quite picturesque both inside and out. We’d hoped to find some jewelry in shops outside the mission but were disappointed in the selection.
We then continued our drive across AZ via I-10. The drive was fast but boring. The real complaint, though, was that the road surface was in poor shape with rough paving and some annoying pot holes. It was getting late so we called ahead to a campground to make sure we could stay there. We finally stopped at 81 Palms Senior RV Resort and were assigned a nice site. Full hookups, very clean, wonderful community building, indoor pool and spa and exceptional ceramic tile showers and all for $23. This “senior” stuff ain’t all bad!
After showers Sandy made us a chef salad and we ate it in the community building.