Saturday, April 28, 2018

Into the SoCal Desert

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On the last day of the Boondocking Rally we bid farewell to most of our friends, old and new, and made our way back to La Paz Valley Campground with Bill and Kelly. Bill is now doing solar installs for RV Solar Solutions and he had an install following the rally. We stayed for four days just chilling until he was finished, then we headed off for a Southern California adventure!

Since we had all signed up to attend the RV-Dreams Reunion Rally in Pahrump, Nevada, (I know, right? Two rallies in a row!) we had about ten days to wander around. For us it was an opportunity to introduce Bill and Kelly to one of our most favorite places - Borrego Springs, CA. They were game for whatever, so we planned a few epic day trips to show them just a bit of what there is to see and do in this area and then they would know why we love it so much. We were very excited!

As Bill finished up his install at La Paz, Steven and I set off for Rockhouse Trail, one of our favorite boondocking places in Borrego. We scouted spots for our stay and before long, Bill and Kelly arrived and joined us. We had a perfect campsite with views all around us. You cannot beat Rockhouse Trail for boondocking! In fact, this is the first place we actually spent significant time after we got our solar, so we really earned our boondocking chops in this very spot!

But it's special to us for so many more reasons, not the least of which is that there is so much to do in the area!

RV Dreams Rally
Bill and Kelly arrive at Rockhouse Trail on a spectacular afternoon!

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Our fabulous site along Rockhouse Trail.

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Dramatic sunset as seen from our campsite in Borrego Springs.

On our first day we headed over the hills to Temecula to hit up the farmer's market and stroll through the cute Old Town area. We also met our daughter Tara, who drove from her home in San Diego, for a proper St. Paddy's Day lunch.

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On the way to Temecula. A rainbow on St. Patrick’s Day!!

The Temecula Farmers Market is small but mighty. A couple of years ago I bought a pineapple plant - I named her Pinelope -- and I really loved her. Sadly, she didn't last long and I have been on the hunt for a new one ever since. Twice I've been back to the farmer's market in Temecula in hopes of a replacement. Alas, no such luck. The plant guy seems to have disappeared! In spite of that, we found plenty of other great stuff to buy, which we did before we settled in for a yummy lunch at E.A.T. in Old Town.

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Good food and good company in Temecula.

The next day we stayed close to home. The scenery around Rockhouse Trail is just spectacular and we wanted to make sure we took the time to just chill and enjoy our surroundings. We took a hike into the nearby hills to find the stone snake, (not to be confused with the metal serpent, which we also visited) There is no marked path to the snake, but visiting it on your first stay at here is a rite of passage. You can actually see the snake on Google Earth, so in case you never find your way to the Borrego Springs area, here are the coordinates:  3.300654, -116.293109. 

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It’s a little bit of a challenge to get to the Snake but always worth the effort.

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Toadie and the Serpent.

After our hike we headed into town for lunch at Jillbertos. Also a must-do in Borrego, Jullberto's has fabulous Mexican dishes at very reasonable prices. We love eating there! We spent the rest of the day just tooling around town and then relaxing outside with happy hour and a little campfire in a can. :)

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No fancy plates at Jillberto’s but the food is great!

In anticipation of a longish day away from camp, we packed a lunch on Day 3 and headed out for a tour around the Salton Sea. The sea itself is fascinating, having had some success as a resort area in the 1950s. Today, most of the settlements have been abandoned, mostly due to the increasing salinity and pollution of the lake over the years from agricultural runoff.

Massive algae blooms deprived the fish of oxygen and they died by the tens of thousands. Algae blooms, rotting fish and pollutants cause a horrible stench and of course no trip to the Salton Sea is complete without experiencing the smell and the crunch of bones under your feet! 

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Our route along the Salton Sea.

Our first stop of the day was in Westmoreland for a fabulous Medjool date shake! I didn't have one, but the others all agreed it was the best they ever had. Rich and creamy, loaded with dates for which the Palm Springs and surrounding areas are famous!

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Bill gives the thumbs up for Medjool’s date shake.

Our next stop was the Sonny Bono Salton Sea Wildlife Refuge. I am trying to find something positive to say about this place, but we managed to visit in the offseason when there was no wildlife needing refuge. So we walked a long way in the hot sun to see nothing. Well, we had a great view of the Salton Sea, so there's that. But we all quickly agreed to move on to our next destination, The Slabs.

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Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge.

"Slabs" refer to the remnants of an old military installation long abandoned located about four miles outside of Niland, CA. It has become, at least in the cooler months of the year, a community of snowbirds, squatters, artists and others looking to live off the grid. Maybe there are a few lost souls. And then there are folks like us, who come here to gawk. I personally wouldn't come here to spend any time camping, but it's a fabulous place for a day trip.

Borrego Springs - Rockhouse Trail
Slab City – The Last Free Place.

As you approach the Slabs, there on the right is Salvation Mountain. At 150 feet wide by 50 feet tall, it's really more of a painted mound. It's built from hay bales, adobe, window putty, and paint. Lots and lots of paint. Until recently, visitors were encouraged to donate paint and add a slap or two onto the mountain if they so desired, but lately that has become discouraged. I can say that from the time we first visited here in the fall of 2015 until now, the color of the mountain has changed significantly. So there's still some serious paintin' going on!

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Borrego Springs - Rockhouse Trail
Salvation Mountain has to be experienced. It’s hard to capture it in photographs.

Kelly, Bill and I managed to crawl to the top and back down, via the painted yellow steps, which for non-climbers seemed kind of daring! Steven stayed at the bottom to take pictures, most of which he is not allowed to share. Behind every great photographer is a wife with veto powers. :)

From Salvation Mountain we wound our way further into the Slabs to a section called East Jesus. An artistic community run exclusively on solar power, residents here attempt to reuse and recycle all manner of trash and discarded detritus. Everything from old cars to doll parts are put to good use here.

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Borrego Springs - Rockhouse Trail
East Jesus. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

In 2015 Steven was given a behind-the-scenes tour of the residential section of East Jesus and was shown the massive solar and battery array, which is substantial enough to run multiple air conditioners in the hot months. There was also a human skull, apparently. I didn't see all this, I stayed in the running car in case we needed to make a quick getaway. Actually, I just kept it running to I could stay cool. :)

The Slabs is not everyone's cup of tea, but I think it's worth visiting even if it makes you (me) slightly uncomfortable. It was just as interesting on our second trip here as it was the first time!

By this time we were starving so we made a beeline north along the shore to the Salton Sea Recreation Area to eat our picnic lunch. It was a perfect lunch spot to nosh as we gazed out on the seemingly beautiful blue waters of the Salton Sea. Oh, how deceiving!

A few more miles north and we turned into the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club. Sounds so inviting, right? The "beach" is covered in dead and decayed fish carcasses, bones bleached white and brittle by the unrelenting sun. And the smell!! Dead fish and polluted waters permeate the air to the point that it's impossible to linger. So back to the car we went, and finished off our day with happy hour back at camp!

Borrego Springs - Rockhouse Trail

Borrego Springs - Rockhouse Trail
North Shore Beach. Thank your lucky stars this is not a scratch and sniff photograph.

As you can see, this was an all-day affair, and it's one of my favorite day trips. We did nearly 180 miles in seven hours and took in a good portion of all there is to see and experience around the Salton Sea. It's an amazing place!

On our last day in Borrego Springs we decided to keep it low key, so we traveled to the little mountain town of Julian. Surrounded by apple orchards, Julian is famous for its apple pies and is also a stop for those hardy folks hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Apple pie is good trail magic, right? Signs in store windows made it clear hikers were welcome in Julian.

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Who can resist pie in Julian? Not Kelly!

Since my birthday was spent in Quartzsite, an area not known for it's shopping options, Steven spied and surreptitiously purchased a cute little ceramic chicken for me in Julian. Until last year, we have always traveled with a chicken, but decided to leave it with my Mom last year. So now we have a new one! YAY!

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Our newest pet.

These five days in Borrego Springs are some of my favorite since we've been traveling. It's great to return to places we love, but especially so when we can share it with others who also come to love it, too.

NEXT UP: Friends in Indio, Palm Springs and yet another 911 call.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

RV-Dreams Boondocking Rally

RV Dreams Rally

We had an easy drive from Phoenix to Quartzsite on a beautiful sunny day. Even the traffic on I-10 was light and breezy as we rolled through town. Our destination was La Paz Valley Campground located a few miles south of Quartzsite.

The busy season in Quartzsite had long passed, but we were going there to attend the 2018 RV-Dreams Boondocking Rally. Though we know a ton of RV-Dreamers, we've never actually attended one of their rallies so we figured this would be a good one for us.

We booked five days at La Paz because we wanted full hookups in order to catch up on laundry and other chores before heading out into the desert. Our friends Bill & Jodee were at another park in town, but they came to visit and together we took a trip to the infamous Desert Bar just outside Parker, AZ. This place is quite a trip and lucky for us we went as passengers in Bill & Jodee's Jeep. It's a long, rough and dusty trip out to the middle of nowhere to arrive at the hoppin' Desert Bar. Run strictly off of solar, there's live music, alcoholic beverages and a ton of great food options. It's a commitment to visit this place, but definitely worth it!

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Our campsite at La Paz. With full hookups we prepared for our upcoming boondocking week.

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Rock and Roll at the Desert Bar.

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The Desert Bar was packed when we got there!

The following day Bill & Kelly arrived at La Paz and for the next few days we all prepared to boondock in the desert for a week.

On the first day of the rally, we had a whopping 16 miles to drive from La Paz Valley RV Park to the site of the RV-Dreams Boondocking Rally. They were expecting 40 rigs, so we wanted to get there early enough to get a good spot, but we also wanted to prepare by finishing up our laundry, emptying our holding tanks and taking on fresh water.

Overall, one week of boondocking isn't too much of a challenge for us, in that we don't really have to employ all the usual conservation tricks. Scoopy has good-sized fresh water and holding tanks, so we're fairly self-sufficient for a while. It's when we know we'll be out for 12-14 days that we really buckle down and conserve.

Around 10:15 a.m. we headed to the rally in a convoy, with new friends Pat & Bridget in the lead, Bill & Kelly in the middle and us bringing up the rear. We found the location easily and just parked up, one, two, three! As more rigs arrived later in the day, there were fewer prime spots to be had, so we were lucky to get here at the perfect time. Scoopy is kind of front and center to all the activities, the most important of which is the food tables. :)

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The caravan on the way to the Boondocking Rally!

We watched as more rigs arrived and began forming a giant oval. Most of the motorhomes are across from us, but we parked with the 5th wheels. We wanted to be parked next to Bill & Kelly, but we also didn't want the evening sun beating in our front windshield.

As people arrived and got set up, some began working around our little camp in the desert. Rocks were gathered and three huge fire pits were made. We didn't really do anything and later I wondered if this was like Survivor, where Steven and I might be voted off the desert island because we are lazy. But we just laid low and hoped we'd be allowed to stay. So far, so good!

Howard and Linda provided a dinner of hamburgers and hotdogs, as well as cake for desert. As dinner was being prepared by volunteers, folks gathered around the fire pits in anticipation of full stomachs and a roaring fire to close out the first day of the rally. I was exhausted. Even though I was wearing sunscreen, I felt a little charred. I think it might have been the wind, but in any case, I fell into my bed and slept like a baby!

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It didn’t take long for the circle to start forming around the firepit!

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I’m sure this cute cake didn’t last long although we didn’t partake.

Triip to Desert Bar, AZ - March 3 2018
Linda and Kelly flipping burgers for our first gathering.

RV Dreams Rally
Every night the circle got bigger and bigger around the campfire. Gorgeous sunsets too!

On day two, at 10:00 a.m. there was a great turnout for the seminar "Tank Management". It's always a hot topic because we're all looking for that one little tidbit that we haven't heard before that's gonna be a game-changer in our boondocking lives. There was lots of poop talk, we all have stories and ideas and methods to share. For us, the black and grey water holding tanks are not really a limiting factor while boondocking. The first thing that happens is we run out of fresh water. A couple of years ago when we stayed out in the SoCal desert , we managed to stretch our fresh water to 15 days. That was just a challenge we put on ourselves, there were plenty of places we could go to dump and take on fresh water, which we eventually did. It was fun for us to see how far we could push our systems, and ourselves, but in general we don't really need or want to go too long in the wilds. If we're planning to return to the same spot, we usually leave Toadie Hopper in charge of security.

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The seminars were informal and educational, even to the more experienced boondockers.

The Boondocking Rally is really for those who want to learn how to do it and what equipment is necessary, or preferable, in order to do it successfully. As it turned out, though, at least half of the attendees were newbies and the other half were experienced boondockers. It was fun to share ideas and methods of things that work for us. Howard and Linda offered personal one-on-one time for those who needed assistance learning their systems, as well as gaining advice on what equipment they might need moving forward if boondocking is in their future.

Aside from that, it was a week of social gatherings. Plans were made for a couple of potlucks and a breakfast during the week, so Kelly, Jodee and I made a run to the Walmart in Parker.  Later in the afternoon Linda Payne did a T-Shirt braiding class and I finally got a braided T-Shirt. I used a T-shirt I bought on the east coast specifically for this purpose. It became pretty clear to me that I would only have the one, because I will never remember how to do it on my own, plus I needed help finishing the only one I did. Jodee had to make the last final stitches so it would hold together. I haven't worn it yet, but I will one of these days. If it falls apart at the stiches, she doesn't want to hear about it. I don't blame her.

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T-shirt braiding. Could it be in Linda’s future?? (No.)

We have never attended a big rally potluck and it didn't take long for Steven and me to realize we were woefully under prepared. Not with regard to food, we had enough to feed an army. I mean with regard to feeding ourselves. We had to bring our own plates and eating utensils and all we had were flimsy salad-sized paper plates. Rookies! Others, who had obviously been to many potlucks before, came prepared with sturdy trays and chairs with tables attached. Huh. I still have a lot to learn after all these years.

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Harry and Vicky show us how it’s done with their sturdy trays!

One morning started with Breakfast for 80. There were several stations set up for sausage, eggs and pancakes. There were a lot of happy campers. For the first potluck we offered up a Greek salad, and for the second we made up about four dozen smoked brisket sliders with spicy jalepeno coleslaw. Doesn't that sound fab? They were pretty yummy, but labor-intensive. Again, I've got a lot to learn about potlucks!

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A breakfast feast for 80!

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The sliders took a lot of preparation but were a big hit at the potluck!

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Potlucks are taken very seriously at these rallies!

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Steven frollicks on Scoopy’s roof while Bill gets down to some serious solar installation.

There were a couple of field trips on offer, one to a gold mine and another to the Desert Bar. Since we had already been there, Steven and I, along with Kelly, Bill and Jodee opted for a day trip to Mexico. Arrriba! The first thing we did was find tacos and margaritas. Wow, they were so good! Then we roamed the streets looking for drugs and tequila. I managed to find some Ibuprophen, blood pressure medication and a Z-Pac, and Steven found a bottle of tequila. Since it was getting close to my birthday, he also bought me a fabulous Prada handbag. We call it "Frada", since it's fake, but I love it anyway. All-in-all, we had a fabulous day across the border!

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Steven went  with the group to visit the Gold Eye Mine. As an aside, who knew potties make great flower pots??

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Mexico was a blast! Alcohol, drugs, knockoffs, oh my!!

Steven, of course, was busy taking photographs and shooting video during our week in Quartzsite. You can take a look at a little movie he put together of the event here: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6gqbhl

We had a wonderful week at the rally. It was fun to see folks we knew and wonderful to meet others. It was a great group, and while we didn't learn much about boondocking, we certainly learned that we need to up our game with regard to rally potlucks! We're working on that!

NEXT UP:  More boondocking in SoCal