A week in Baja California is not enough. And even a week’s adventures are hard to condense into a few blog posts. But alas, with a new year, it’s time to close the book on 2021 and make way for new adventures.
Of course, one of the things for which Baja is famous is racing. I couldn’t resist this VW bug shell propped up on some giant tires, a tribute to Baja racing. I captured this image with a Sony RX100, my preferred camera for travel when I don’t want to set up a tripod.
And food and local color are also worthy of note. Stopping in roadside cafes, interacting with the local people and eating delicious home-cooked food is a treat.
We spent two nights at Bahia San Luis Gonzaga. One evening I put my drone in the air to capture some images of our campsite. Here’s one of my favorite drone photos. Close to dusk I flew the drone out over the water and captured this image of our campers on the beach and the mountains in the background. Gonzaga was also our first opportunity to put our boats in the water.
Here’s a photo of Joann on the water with the stark, rugged desert and the calm water reflecting brilliant blue sky and clouds. This was captured with an Olympus TG-5, my preferred camera when I want a waterproof camera on the water. I also captured some footage with a GoPro while paddling. My previous post covered our paddling experiences.
And then there’s the legendary Coco’s Corner. This is located on Highway 5 where we turned off for Bahia San Luis Gonzaga. It now bears a sign Nuevo Coco’s Corner, having been relocated when the new highway went in. Coco invites all visitors to sign his guest book. While this is basically a shack in the middle of nowhere, it draws thousands of adventure seekers from around the globe. It’s all about getting your name in Coco’s book. I invite you to view more photos online. Photos of Coco’s Corner are in the gallery Part 2. Gonzaga. After signing Coco’s book, I had to photograph this truck cab nearby with a dead Christmas tree sticking out of the top. Something about this is uniquely Baja.
The landscape and plant life offer some truly dramatic photo opportunities. The Boojum Trees (called Cirios in Spanish) or Doctor Seuss Trees are otherworldly, and we had some sunsets and sunrises that were stunning. That’s when I pulled out the Nikon D850 and tripod. A few of these images are available as fine art photographs in my art store, store.treve.com.
On December 1, we hit the road for a two-week trip to Baja California, returning home on December 15. A whirlwind tour with many stories to tell and photos to share. Rather than write one long blog post covering the entire trip, I’m writing several posts to cover various aspects of the trip. We’ll start with this YouTube video. Joann recreated the trip in Google Earth with slides for each stop along our trip. We’ve animated the map and video so take a moment to follow along.
After getting a late start we decided to scrap our original plan which would have taken us to Red Rock Canyon State Park. So where to spend the night? I have several apps on my phone I use for trip planning. I fired up The Dyrt and started looking at options. It seemed like whatever itinerary I dialed in, The Almond Tree Oasis was the suggested stop. There are not many options for boondocking, let alone camping on the route to Southern California. The Almond Tree Oasis suited our needs. In the morning we fired up the Dutch Oven and cooked up some Mushroom and Brie Breakfast Strata, one of our favorite breakfasts.
Joann preparing Breakfast Strata, aerial view of our camp at Joshua Tree Ranch LA.
The second night we camped near Lancaster at Joshua Tree Ranch Los Angeles, going from an RV camp with full services to boondocking in a lovely grove of Joshua Trees with no services whatsoever. We were happy to pay for the right to camp in this spot, having again relied on The Dyrt to find a site.
Then it was on to Ocotillo Wells SVRA where we joined up with 134 other Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers for their annual rally.
Treve explaining his lift system for popping up the top of the camper with kayaks on top, touring fellow camper’s rigs, Bob explaining radio operation.
It’s always fun to see how people have tricked out their rigs. Following the rally, we continued south to join Bob Wohlers and his Off-Road Safety Academy for a tour of Baja. We had 11 rigs in the caravan. Bob gave us all radios to use for the duration of the tour and with his guidance we managed to cross the border, negotiate our way through Mexicali and along the narrow highways and dirt roads of Baja. We spent one night at Pete’s Camp, two nights at Bahia San Luis Gonzaga, and two nights at Bahia de Los Angeles which was the southernmost point of the trip.
Camp at Gonzaga Bay, Cowpatty Cafe, rainbow at Playa La Gringa at Bahia de Los Angeles.
For the return trip we crossed the peninsula, driving up the Pacific side with overnight stops at Quinta Cristina near El Rosario and Punta Banda. Once back on the US side of the border we headed for Agua Caliente County Park, which I had located using another favorite app, iOverlander.
On the beach with our kayaks on the Sea of Cortez, sunset over Bahia de Los Angeles, camp at Quinta Cristina.
At this point in the trip we were looking for water and electricity, having depleted our water supply and suffering from a dead battery in the camper. With a dying battery we were without refrigeration and heat. We’ll be upgrading our camper soon, moving to Lithium (LiFePO4) batteries. We’ll also be replacing the shocks and adding airbags to the rear suspension to help balance the load. The camper is a big load for the Tacoma. Over the course of the 15 days we logged 2268 miles. You can find more photos from the trip online. I’ll be adding to these galleries as I work through the photos in the coming weeks.
So here it is late November and I’ve finally made it through the photos from our Eastern Sierra fall color trip. On September 27, having spent several days with family in Big Pine, it was time to go hunt for fall color. We left Big Pine in the morning, and that night we camped at the Bishop Creek Campground. We were lucky to have some relatively clear air since smoke from wildfires had been plaguing us off and on at lower elevations. Bishop Creek is always a good prospect for fall color.
Here we are with our Four Wheel Pop-up Camper rig parked for the night in a very pretty aspen grove. In the morning we drove up to North Lake and did a short hike to a location I had scouted for a view overlooking the lake. Then it was off to Rock Creek. We made a quick stop at Mosquito Flat trailhead. We did a short hike and, while it was a lovely hike, I was not inspired to take many photos. We moved on to Sagehen Summit Road. Here the aspen were a little past prime but with plenty of photo opportunities.
I found a grove of aspen with a panoply of colors from green to yellow to black. This is my favorite image from this trip and it’s available in my art store. With the sun about to set, we drove the short distance to Mono Lake where we set up camp in the dispersed camping area near Mono Mills.
The next morning we were off to Virginia Lakes, where we did a three mile hike to Frog Lakes. Most of the aspen here were past prime, but we did find fall color in the willows.
From Virginia Lakes we took the Dunderberg Meadows Road, pulling off in mid-afternoon to set up camp. Here I put the drone in the air, you can see the image looking west over the trees. We found some lovely aspen groves along the Dunderberg Meadow Road and made a note to include this drive on future trips. Before heading back to the pavement we took a detour to explore Green Creek and discovered some very nice camping opportunities. Then it was back to the the pavement on US 395 and up and over Sonora Pass for the drive home. We’ve made many stops near Sonora Pass on previous trips, and on this trip we did not stop for photos. You can view more photos from the trip here.
The Mojave Desert is a huge swath of land in the Southwest corner of the United States, much of it located in California. It occupies close to 48,000 square miles and is noted for the Joshua Trees that grow only in this desert. The Mojave Road runs across part of the Mojave Desert and through the Mojave National Preserve, a unit of the National Park System. The road was originally a trail for Native Americans stringing together a series of watering holes and providing a route for trade between desert and coastal dwellers. Later it became a route for Spanish missionaries, explorers, and settlers from the 18th to 19th centuries. Today it’s an iconic four-wheel drive road. We spent four days driving the road with a caravan of Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers.
For part of the tour, I had a GoPro camera on the dashboard of our truck. Here’s four days of touring condensed into 10 minutes. Make sure to watch the water crossing at 8:52.
Our tour started at 7:30 a.m. on October 8 in the parking lot of the Avi Resort in Bullhead City. There we met our tour guide, Bob Wohler of the Off-Road Safety Academy. Bob gave us a briefing and provided a radio for each truck to use for communication while touring.
Once we were off the pavement, we stopped to air down our tires. I’ve driven off-road periodically for over 20 years and this was the biggest eye-opener on the trip for me. Less air in the tires gives a much smoother ride. As Bob would say, sympathy for the passengers, sympathy for the equipment, and sympathy for the environment. Our tour passed a number of interest points, the first being Fort Piute. Then it was on to our campsite for the night at School Bus Camp, noted for an abandoned school bus that marked the location until a few years ago when it was removed.
There are numerous points of interest along the road, including a tin can into which you can drop a penny for good luck, the Mojave Mailbox where you can sign your name and leave a comment, and a collection of gnomes and frogs. You just have to see it to believe it. The terrain ranges from sandy flats to rocky road to a dry soda lakebed, traveling through some magnificent Joshua Tree forests along the way. The road has worn down at several points so that you are driving in a canyon so narrow that the vegetation is brushing against the sides of your vehicle.
Once across the soda lake you arrive at a pile of rocks. Bob had instructed us to pick up a rock earlier in the trip, and this is where the rocks are deposited—at Travelers Monument. There is actually a monument buried under this pile of rocks. If you scramble to the top of the pile you can read the plaque. We were sworn to secrecy regarding the words so you’ll just have to plan a visit to read it yourself.
A highlight of the trip was the lava tube, and also the water crossing at the end. We ended up driving the last section of the road from east to west because we helped some travelers who got their vehicle stuck in the sand. Time was an issue, so we took a detour to Afton Canyon Campground for our last night. The next morning two rigs decided to cross the Mojave River with Bob’s coaching.
More photos are available here, and I’ve made a few select images available as fine art prints in my art store.
We logged 180 miles on the tour, some of it on side trips off the Mojave Road. Elevation ranged from 500 feet at the start of the tour to 5,700 feet at the high point.
As we turned the calendar to July, it was time to leave our temporary post in Big Pine and head for home. We decided to make the trip a two-day drive with an overnight near Ebbetts Pass on State Route 4. This is one of the lesser-used passes crossing the Sierra. It’s a steep, winding, narrow road with one lane for a good portion of the time. Suitable for our rig, we figured that with throngs of people heading to the mountains for the Fourth of July weekend, it was a likely route on which to still find camping. And since we were driving midweek on a Thursday, we figured we’d have the jump on the campers coming up for the weekend.
Our route crossed two passes: Monitor Pass at 8,314 feet on State Route 89, and Ebbetts Pass at 8,736 feet on State Route 4. Just before cresting Monitor Pass, we stopped to admire the view. I was intrigued with the clouds and grasses on the high plateau.
Once over the passes we had plans to check out Hermit Valley for camping, but when we got there we decided to move on. Not far down the road we saw a sign for Pacific Valley Campground that looked promising. We found plenty of camping available along a lovely mountain stream.
In the morning we decided to explore the trail leading up Pacific Creek. Our dog Carson was happy to be off-leash once we were out of camp, and happy to cavort in the creek’s cool water. We manged to hike about six miles up the creek and back, and returned to camp lamenting the fact that we couldn’t stay longer. We had a commitment for a family Fourth of July get-together.
We broke camp and headed down the mountain passing Mosquito Lakes and Alpine Lake, which were quite busy. There was absolutely no parking available along the road. Every conceivable spot had a car parked with many more cruising looking for parking.
Despite the weekend crush of visitors, we were inspired by our overnight at Pacific Valley. We’ll be returning to explore more of the Stanislaus National Forest.
On June 7 we hopped in the truck for the drive from our house in Albany, California, to Big Pine. Our route crossed the Sierra Nevada Mountains at Sonora Pass, Highway 108, a windy two-lane road. As we approached the pass, we found ourselves in clouds with light snow flurries, an uncommon occurrence for June. Once we arrived in Big Pine, we set up “camp” in the driveway using our Four Wheel Pop-Up Camper as our bedroom for our visit.
I spent the better part of 10 days in Big Pine. During our stay we made a few outings – a picnic lunch in the Inyo Mountains, and a picnic dinner on Big Pine Creek at an elevation of 8000 feet to escape the heat of the Owens Valley.
Other adventures included morning walks in the desert and paddle boarding on nearby Klondike Lake. On June 16, it was time for me to head home to tend to business; I left Joann to continue playing grandma, providing childcare while our son and daughter-in-law worked. On the trip home I made a quick overnight stop at a favorite dispersed camping spot near Mono Lake, which afforded the opportunity to practice social distancing in a quiet spot off the beaten track. On June 27 I’ll be heading back to Big Pine for the next installment of grandparenting. Stay tuned.
January 12, 2020. As I write this we’re nine days into an 11 day road trip, making a circuit through Joshua Tree, Mojave and Death Valley. It seems like the theme for this trip is desert, dogs and Dutch ovens. We like to travel with our dog Carson, and winter camping seems to be conducive to Dutch Oven cooking. After sunset I can put the camera away, start the coals for the Dutch Oven, and build a campfire.
We even used the Dutch Oven to thaw out Carson’s water dish after it had frozen solid one morning; that after we had fired up the oven to reheat some quiche from a previous breakfast. Our journey started on Saturday, January 4, with a drive to Red Rock Canyon State Park. Camp fees seemed a little steep there, but the location is worth it. Dogs need to be on leash, which is the rule for many of the places we visited. There is BLM land nearby where dispersed camping is available for free. We paid $23 for the night at Red Rock and that included a $2 senior discount. In the evening we fired up the Dutch Oven to cook cod with lemon and capers. Joann cooked a risotto dish to go along with it. A gourmet meal.
The next morning we were in no rush to hit the road so we fired up the oven again and cooked a mushroom and brie breakfast strada. Absolutely scrumptious, with enough left over to feed us for another breakfast and more.
From Red Rock we drove to Joshua Tree National Park. When we got to Hidden Valley Campground we were discouraged to see a “Campground Full” sign at the entrance, but we decided to take a look anyway and found one open site. We spent two nights and I took the opportunity to wander around for two mornings and one evening looking for early morning and evening landscape photography opportunities. Hidden Valley has interesting rock outcroppings as well as some nice stands of Joshua trees. As a popular spot for rock climbers, camping spaces are scarce. I’ll post more about the landscape photography in another post. It’s hard enough to condense eight days of travel into one blog post.
While wandering through Joshua Tree we managed to do the short nature walk at Hidden Valley. We alternated walking the trail while the other walked the dog around the parking and picnic areas. We also explored some of the other campgrounds and noted that there was plenty of camping available at Jumbo Rocks and Belle. We also drove down to the Cholla Garden which is an amazingly dense stand of cholla cactus.
On January 7 we drove to the Mojave National Preserve where we decided to camp at Kelso Dunes. This is a primitive campground with no running water or facilities except for a few fire rings. There was one other camper about a quarter mile from us. We took a hike up the sand dunes letting Carson wander off-leash, returning to camp just as the sky was going dark following a blazing sunset. With a near-full moon rising to the east we had light to find our way as darkness approached.
From Mojave we drove to Death Valley where we spent one night camped at the Oasis in Furnace Creek. Our motivation was to find hot showers and do some laundry. We camped at Fiddler’s Camp, an RV camp behind the gas station. $24 with showers and pool access included. We also took advantage of the food facilities and ate dinner and breakfast in the luxury of the Furnace Creek Ranch.
Furnace Creek is a good spot to spend a night or two if you want to see some of the more popular attractions of the park. We were intent on seeing some of the less popular locations. In the morning we drove the short distance to Twenty Mule Team Canyon which the park literature suggested was a good spot to walk a dog. We drove in the canyon a short distance, parked the truck and took a two mile walk with Carson on-leash. Dogs are not permitted on the trails in the park, but they are permitted on roads; this is a lightly used dirt road, perfect for walking the dog.
After walking the dog we topped off the fuel tank, anticipating a good 200 miles or so of driving before we could expect another gas station. From Furnace Creek we drove to Mesquite Springs Campground where we spent a very windy night. We were happy to be in the camper rather than a tent. With the propane heater going we were cozy even with a chilly wind blowing outside.
The next morning we drove to the Racetrack Playa with a stop for lunch at Teakettle Junction. The Racetrack is a perfectly flat playa. Near the southern end of the playa there are some truly bizarre trails left by rocks. When conditions are right a thin film of water freezes and thaws in such a way that fierce winds move the rocks leaving trails. Some of these trails go for hundreds of feet. It’s a truly mind bending experience to imagine how these rocks can move. We arrived at about 3 in the afternoon and found good lighting, using the glint of the sun on the playa to photograph the rock trails.
Getting to the Racetrack Playa is a bit of a chore. It’s a dirt road marked as a 4×4 road, and a two hour drive to cover the 27 mile distance over washboard and gravel.
From the playa we drove the short distance to Homestake campground, another primitive campground with no facilities. We had the campground to ourselves. Here we fired up the Dutch Oven to cook Eggplant Parmesan and we ate dinner by the campfire while we watched the full moon rise over the mountains to the east. With nobody else in sight we let Carson have free run of the campground.
February 2. Our adventures today took us through the Diablo Mountains on the Ajo Mountain Drive in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. This is a scenic drive that takes you on a loop around the mountains, going up a canyon and around the rugged crags. If you have limited time in the park this is one of those must-do items. The drive is 21 miles on a one way dirt road. It’s a graded road and easily negotiable in a car although there are some very winding sections and the drive is restricted to vehicles under 25 feet in length. We used the guide book we picked up at the visitor center and we stopped at the designated locations to read about the natural history of the Sonora Desert. The guide suggests allowing two hours for the drive. We spent a good four hours, stopping to take photos and to hike. This is a spectacular drive, passing through stands of Saguaro and Organ pipe cactus and up into the rugged and mountainous terrain. The canyons with slightly higher elevation and it capture a bit more rain then the lower elevations which results in lush desert vegetation. At the top of the loop you can take a two mile round trip hike up Arch Canyon. We took turns, one of us hiking while the other kept our dog Carson company. Once again, dogs are not permitted on the trails. A number of wildflowers were in bloom including poppies. You can see additional photos of the drive here.
January 31. We are camped at Arroyo Salado Campground on the eastern edge of Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Arroyo Salado is a primitive camp. Pit toilets and that’s about it. No water although we’re well provisioned with our camper. Our campsite, while in the middle of the badlands of the Anza Borrego Desert, is a garden of wildflowers. It’s unusual to see so many wildflowers this early in the year and given the rains of mid-January the expectation is for a spectacular display in March and April. I had been following the DesertUSA wildflower report and came here hoping to find desert lilies. Some years ago when we were living in San Diego we would come out to the desert with hopes of finding desert lilies. They can be elusive, and the blooms depend on rain. I find the lilies to be quite striking, sending up stalks of white lily flowers that just seem out of place in the desert. This year the lilies are everywhere. Hundreds of plants in bloom and hundreds of new buds popping up.
We were up at 6:30 before sunrise. The sky was showing some signs of sunrise color and having gone to bed early it was easy to get up, although even with the mild weather it’s a challenge to climb out of a warm cozy sleeping bag. Temperature was about 54 F when we got up. At 9:30 it’s 60. You can see more photos of Arroyo Salado here. Once we had finished our wildflower explorations it was time to hit the road for Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a 300 mile drive.
January 28 marked our first day in Anza Borrego Desert State Park, having arrived the previous evening. We thought it would be fun to take a drive up Sheep Canyon. I had been following the wildflower reports and it looked like we might find Ocotillo in bloom in the canyon. We were thinking it would be a short drive and we would be back in camp for lunch. The park maps shows the road as a “Primitive Road,” and the road was in good shape for the most part. A few miles in we stopped at Desert Garden where the ocotillo were putting on a display. The Ocotillo, Fouquieria splendens, is large shrub with long spiny stems. Like most desert plants it is uniquely adapted to heat and drought. In the heat of the summer it looks like a bunch of dead thorny sticks. Following a rain, if there is sufficient moisture it will sprout leaves., sometimes the leaves will appear within 48 hours of rain. It will then drop it’s leaves when conditions warrant conservation of water. The flowers look like flames bursting from the tips of the stems. I was happy to discover that a number of ocotillo were in bloom. Usually they bloom later in the year.
As far as Desert Garden the road is smooth and easy to manage. A few miles further we stopped to scout a stream crossing. We had some question about whether we could manage the crossing. We were informed by a woman that seemed to know the route quite well that we should have no problem with this stream crossing, as well as two additional crossings. She also told us that there was a section of road that required a good clearance and bit of rock-climbing. So undaunted we continued on. When we got to the rocky section we put the truck in four-wheel low and crawled up the rocks and continued on to the end of the road in Sheep Canyon. There we found a primitive camp with pit toilets. We had half a mind to simply pop up the camper and spend the night. It was a lovely spot with a trail heading further up the canyon into a palm grove. Dogs are not permitted on most of the trails in Anza Borrego, and since we had our dog Carson, and we had already paid for camping in the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, we ate lunch took a walk around the bottom of the canyon and headed back down the canyon. It was late afternoon when we returned to our campsite. Like so many adventures, there’s just so much to see along the journey. You can see more photos of Sheep Canyon here.
Here’s a clip from the dashcam showing some clips we captured on the drive back down the canyon.