Saturday, April 28, 2018

Into the SoCal Desert


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!

Our fabulous site along Rockhouse Trail.

Borrego Springs - Rockhouse Trail
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.

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.

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! 

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!

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.



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!

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.


  1. You certainly managed to stay busy during your short stay in the BS. Last time I went to see the Great Snake of Clark Lake there were quite a few other art works there (including my SD Padres logo), but your pictures look like us wannabe art work is again scattered rocks.

    1. There are still a few extra pieces are rock art up with the snake, like a crab and a flower. There is also an RV trailer, but it's kind of falling apart. I don't recall there being a Padres logo, but I'm not sure I'd recognize it even if it was there. :) It's a great place, isn't it?

  2. I just loved following along and closing my eyes to remember the great time we had with you guys! Thanks for sharing one of your fav spots - now we have a new fav place on our list!

    1. We sure covered a lot in the short time we were there. So glad you and Bill were able to come along!

  3. Ahhhhh yes, Borrego Springs. Also one of our all time favorite spots as well. And Jilbetos too, our favorite eating place. Next time in Borrego you might enjoy driving up to Warner Springs and finding the great stone eagle.

    Also what's left of Marshall South's homestead on Ghost Mountain out in the Blair Valley.

    Looks like you folks are getting lots of traveling in. The more you can see and do while younger the more cherished memories you will have when your older. Once younger, now older, it is the latter we are now experiencing and in my opinion the 'younger part' is far better than the older part...........

    1. I've read all your blog entries on Borrego Springs! I was hoping we'd see you out there this year, but we came there late and you left earlier than usual. It really draws you there, head and heart.

  4. Great part of the U.S. I stayed the winter of 2016 - 2017 at Potrero County Park and would do day trips in those areas. I will be back there this coming winter thanks for the memories.

    1. The first time we visited we were staying at Santee Lakes near San Diego. It was October yet still blistering hot. So hot, in fact, the campground could not keep up with the electrical needs and our EMS flatly refused to allow any into our rig. So we'd take off for Borrego Springs, the Salton Sea, the Slabs, Palm Springs, etc., any day trip that would keep us in the air conditioned car for hours! We just loved it and learned a lot about the area. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Borrego Springs is high on our list, Linda and Steven. We had to scoot past it in 2017, but we will explore it in the future, for sure.

    1. I hope you plan some decent time there, it is chock-a-block with fun stuff!

  6. As I read your post I could not help but think how great it is to meet people that you really connect with and it is apparent that Bill and Kelly are two of those people with you guys. Think of all things you have done together since meeting just a few short years ago!. That is one of the awesome things about this lifestyle.

    Slab City certainly looks interesting. We have both good and bad things about it but think we would stop by and see it if we are ever in the area.

    1. We still marvel that we met Bill & Kelly in person two days before we were to travel together to Alaska! Plans like that don't always work out, but in our case they did and we are so glad! The lifestyle is a very social one, for sure!

  7. We agree it's a wonderful place!! With the Jeep there's unlimited places to go and see, but you made the rounds we really enjoy too. I can't believe we haven't found the rock snake yet, so we must return :-)))) Love the stacked "pearls of wisdom" at East Jesus! How did we miss that??

    1. I think it's great to leave a place with something undone. That gives you reason to return. That stone snake is lookin' for you! :)