We had left Patagonia for Phoenix for just a few days to take advantage of large city amenities. We shopped a bit, had dinner (at a first class Indian restaurant right next to the RV Park…awesome food and ambiance!), Emily flew back and forth to Denver for a dental check up, I went for a bike ride with a friend in the largest city park in the world (Phoenix South Mountain Park), we went to a brand new REI, I had the trailer tire replaced, and we handled a few small projects on “the house”.
After Phoenix, we made a snap decision: head to Prescott to avoid heat and to follow a different route in the direction of Joshua Tree, our next planned destination. When we arrived, we drove right through downtown and found our way into Prescott National Forest, where we planned to camp the next week or two. Once into the forest we found ourselves on a dirt fire road. At which point it seemed we were near the top of the mountain, there was a forest service road to the left, a fire road to the right, and the fire road we ascended continued straight. So far we hadn’t seen any of the fifteen designated, or “dispersed” campsites on this road as indicated on the internet. I made a decision to keep going straight. Well, the road started going back down the mountain, and immediately thereafter was a sign indicating “Primitive Road”. Ok, what does that mean? We were about to find out.
In this case, primitive meant a dirt and gravel road, fairly steep, lots of switchbacks, six stream crossings, and approximately sixteen miles before we found pavement again. We saw no dipersed camping sites and nowhere to turn a trailer around before it was too late. Thanks to four wheel drive low and a reasonable amount of off-roading experience, we made it down in one piece. The trailer suffered no damage, in fact the toilet seat remained in the up position the whole route! Emily was white knuckled the whole time and far from zen. I was cool, calm, and centered. Kitty, well lets just say she was mostly “head bangin”, but otherwise great!
Back on the pavement in “Skull Valley” on the other side of the national park, we now had to drive all the way around to Prescott to enter from another road. This time we found the dispersed camping right away, but we also found the forest road to be really, really rough. We looked at the first seven spots and decided to go back to the second one.
It seemed to have the best of all worlds for us. As it turned out, this location was nearly perfect, and despite our sissy concerns about being up at an altitude of 6000′ and thus being cold, they were unfounded. The site was only a quarter mile off of the paved road and the only site of the seven that was somewhat removed from the forest service road, giving us some degree of separation from the park traffic. Additionally, it was the only spot with reasonably good solar exposure. Otherwise, we were surrounded by gorgeous towering pines, cool rock formations, beautiful blue sky every day, and even a trickling stream 100′ feet from us. What’s even better, the temperatures were perfect, ranging from mid to high forties at night to mid-seventies during the day. We loved this spot, but this time we were limited to a seven day max stay in “the basin”. Even so, since we rarely found anyone joining us as neighbors at the adjacent campsites, we milked our stay for another three days.
Emily had never been to Prescott, but I had been there once with a friend for an annual organized bike ride called “The Whiskey”. This had been eight or ten years ago, and I recall not really being wowed by it. In particular, I didn’t think the ride was well planned and the trails were mediocre. Now, only 100′ from one of the trails, I decided to give Prescott’s biking another chance. My opinion was instantly flipped 180 degrees, and I found myself on the bike more than usual and for extended periods. The trails were excellent and incredibly abundant. I could have stayed there for a month and not ridden all of them. What’s even better is that it seems no one knows this place is good, so the trails are less-traveled and peaceful. The weather also being perfect helped, too! This place is one I would now consider a bike destination, and high on the list, too! Emily and I also found the rock formations to be excellent for light bouldering and the trees easy to climb. What fun!
Kitty loved it in the forest. She spent most of her days outside nestled amongst rocks, or hanging out with us when we were around. It took Emily some time to lose fear about her being outside by herself, but I didn’t have the sense there was anything to worry about in this location. It was somewhat heavenly really. Specifically, the birds were everywhere, so we heard. They were typically small and hard to see, but their sounds made this spot more delightful. I also saw some deer one morning, but I never had a sense that we should worry about predators up there. The only thing that affected our zen-like state was the occasional youth barreling down the fire road in a truck or four-wheeler or parking a campsite over to go smoke pot amongst the rock formations.
After running errands, getting some brake work done, some window shopping, lunch, and some townie biking, we had mixed feelings on the town itself. It was a mix of old mountain town and newer Phoenix escapees, but nothing really extreme on either end. Energetically it seemed somewhat flat. It didn’t feel like home to us, not a place we felt we’d ever want to live full time, but definitely a place to visit again. On the way out of town, we stopped at the city’s municipal RV dump station. When we arrived, a bus was in front of us, dumping their day’s “duty”. Problem was, much of it was going on the ground rather than into the drain. They left a mess and high-tailed it out of there, even leaving the water hose running full on into the drain. Since I was wearing sandals, I had to tiptoe carefully to avoid getting my toes in the filth. Due to the dump station’s design, it was impossible to keep our drain hose out of the filth, but that’s often to be expected. As they say, s#!t happens. In order to properly clean up our hose and my sandals, I had to get our hose out of the side compartment, and as I did the nozzle fell right into the filth. This caused me to release some nefarious words to the heavens and get into a funk way too early in the day! In reality, and as typical, it was no big deal and easily remedied. This was by far not my best “dump job” yet, but it certainly was no catastrophe.
Our plan for the day was a simple one, coast down the mountains and across the valley about 130 miles to the RV Mecca, Quartzite, Arizona. We planned to boondock for one night before heading another 150 miles to TwentyNine Palms, CA, just south of Joshua Tree National Park, for our next destination. And, it was no problem at all today. The drive down the two-lane mountain roads from Prescott into the valley was gorgeous. What made it better was the fact that no one, and I mean no one was on the road. No one tailgating us, we were just cruising the way we intended to travel! Keep the distance short, and the drives as scenic as possible. Love it! The worst of it was a cross-wind in the valley that made me just a bit nervous. Otherwise, a great trip.
We arrived in Quartzite to find a literal ghost town. The warmer temps had apparently long ago sent all the other RV’ers northbound…except us. On Plomosa Road, with unending fields of open boondock land for RV’s, we saw only one RV. We pulled into a big open sandy field, set up, and camped for the night. Winds were still blowing pretty solid, but the sunset was beautiful. Kitty poked around a little bit, but we were all tired, so sleep came early.
While Emily attempted to ditch some of our recycling, I made some adjustments to the hitch and got everything ready to go. Wow, we are going to be in California today! Emily gets back, we hitch up, and we’re on our way. It was a beautiful day for driving. Very little wind, clear skies, and hot, but a great day for travel. It took nothing to get to Parker. We easily crossed the border and went unscathed through the inspection station. Over the bridge, and yay, we’re in California! We cruised for another hour or so looking for a place to get Emily behind the wheel for her first time in a long time towing a trailer, and the first time towing our home!
She did great, because it wasn’t long, and we were on the border of Twentynine Palms in “Wonder Valley”. My friend and one of our followers, John, has a cabin belonging to his family. It was built when the federal government was still homesteading out there. According to John, 10′ x 12′ structures had to be built to secure a homestead. This cabin had at one time been just that. Since then, when his family took ownership, it was updated and added onto. It’s still not a big place, maybe 600 square feet or so, but with the bathroom in the pump house, it’s close to what we had on Meade St in Denver. What was even better was the fact that the spot behind the house and next to the pump house was a somewhat sheltered area set up for an RV/travel trailer. He had a 50amp receptacle and three individual 20amp receptacles along the back side of the house for easy connection. He also had a hose bib for water connection right there, as well. This was to be our home for the next two weeks!
The next day, John came over from Glendora, a suburb of LA, and spent the night there. We had a cook out, some locals came by, and we enjoyed some time on the patio. We drove the truck up on top of the hills to the west of us for a better view and had lunch at Twentynine Palms Air Force Base, where John’s friend Mike works. Since the training grounds were just north of the cabin, we often heard and saw the sounds and sights of military training operations at the base while staying there. We saw dust clouds and tracer fire, but mostly the constant drone of shelling made it feel like odd thunderstorms on bright sunny days.
Even though John couldn’t stay long, we were lucky enough to have another friend “stop by” for a four-day visit. This is my (now “our”) German friend Joshua who Emily mentioned in an earlier post. Joshua just happened to be in the US in Portland and was traveling for a month, so he hitchhiked, railed, and bussed his way down to Palm Springs where I picked him up. Joshua and I met at a meditation class almost exactly five years ago in Twentynine Palms. So odd that we would meet again in the same place we first met. This was truly synchronistic. It was so great to see him again. He hadn’t visibly changed a bit, and I was so excited to see him again after so many years…and after what felt to me like another lifetime living in Denver. When I had met him before, it was only days before I was leaving California moving to Colorado. How odd now to be in a similar transition.
Well Emily instantly fell for Joshua, too, and we all got on very well. We had some good times sharing food and stories on the patio in the evenings. It was very hot while he was there (around 100 each day), and his intended trip(s) into Joshua Tree Park were waylaid by the sun, heat, and high winds, but even more so by the lack of water available within the park. Thursday I woke him up at 5:00 and we headed to the park for a “sunrise service”. We found the few minutes right as the sun crested the mountains to the east to be quite surreal in the park. The color and reflections of the light off of the scenery was truly magical. We climbed around some of the unique rock formations for a couple of hours, then found a nice shaded cliff overlooking the desert floor to rest, enjoy the cool breeze between adjacent rock walls, and to meditate for a bit.
When we had met five years prior at the meditation center, Josh traveled back with me to Orange County to visit Laguna Beach. Prior to heading back, though, we spent a night at Joshua Tree camping amongst the rocks. Josh now recalled the time when he chased a coyote and was howling along with him five years ago, because as we pulled into the park, the first animal he saw was a coyote, and the last thing we noticed on our hike out was coyote scat on the trail. Maybe the coyote is his power animal and is communicating with him? Who knows for sure, but he liked it. We had a great time in the park, but had to leave by 11, as it was heating up and I had my call with Suzanne at noon. The next day, Josh hugged Emily as we loaded his stuff for an earlier than planned departure back to the bus station in Palm Springs. The heat was too much for him and I believe he needed to be experiencing the culture in America rather than hiding from the sun in a cabin in the desert, so off to San Diego. We had enough time to stop for a quick coffee and chat, then a big hug for a bittersweet so long. For now.
After leaving Josh at the bus station, I headed over to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. If you don’t know about it, it’s quite amazing. The tram climbs nearly 6000 vertical feet to a ridge overlooking Palm Springs. Each car holds up to 80 passengers and the floor rotates the entire ride so you can see from every angle. The tramway is a feat of engineering for sure, and the views of the sheer cliff walls as you ascend are remarkable. This was my third trip up the tram and I’m still awestruck by it. Once at the top you have many options including my favorite…hiking. You can also watch movies about the tram or the forest, get drunk at the bar, eat a casual meal or a more expensive one. In the winter, they offer cross country ski and snowshoe rentals. The hikes range from a couple of miles to way too many miles. Most like to hike to the top of Mt San Jacinto, which I’ve don’t once. It’s an 11 mile out and back hike to the second highest peak in Southern California. On a clear day, you can see for 80 miles around. I can’t remember if you can see the ocean or not, but it seems likely. For the hiking crazed, you can hike from the Palm Springs Valley Floor to the peak on the “Cactus To Clouds” hike. A shorter and “easier” hike can be done from Idyllwild, an awesome little mountain town on the western slope. This day, I just hiked around the desert view trails to avoid having to buy a permit and because I had other things to do. I don’t recommend this during the busy season, as there are way too many people hiking (walking really) on the desert view trails. If you want peace, I recommend ponying up for the permit and going into the wilderness.
This zen experience I had up on the mountain was followed directly by my trip to the laundromat, which as we’ve come to find are never lacking entertainment. This time I found a couple of wanna be gang bangers rolling up on their department store bicycles. I’m not sure if they were homeless or not, but they were quite odd. They were very angry about this extremely skinny, and I’m reaching here on this assumption, meth addict who was also in the laundromat. I’m not sure if this individual with whom they were angry was male or female, so I’ll just go with he. He was hollering obscenities and/or essentially shouting at someone most of the time I was there, though no one else was present. He was wearing a very homely flowery full-length dress and large sunglasses. I would say he looked like an even skinnier Mick Jagger, with a raspy voice. He was also slamming things around and folding clothes “with rage”, if you can try to imagine that.
As I typically do at the laundromat, I went outside to get some fresh/sane air. This is where I found the gang bangers. They were angry at Mr Jagger for something, and the one guy says that Mick had just stripped down to nothing and changed clothes. I glanced inside and sure enough Mick was now wearing a sharp white dress shirt and black pants. Thank god for my choice to be outside! After discuss the uncertainty of sexual orientation of this person, the gang bangers moved to another seating area (thank god) to discuss some other (I can only assume) deep topics. It seemed as though they wanted to fight someone, so I just kept my snickers to myself. Mick bagged up his clothes and was off trotting through the shopping plaza still hollering at someone. I saw him again fifteen minutes later on my way to get food at the other end of the plaza, still shouting out loud. I naturally avoided eye contact and prayed for my clothes to dry quickly. I kinda wished a snapped a photo of Mick in the sun dress to share…
After getting groceries and Kitty’s primo cat food, I was back in TwentyNine Palms. Emily and I had our own plans to get into Joshua Tree one day, as well as some projects to complete on the cabin and on the trailer. I also wanted to enjoy Joshua Tree again by bicycle, not the easiest way to enjoy this place, but the views are so great. For date night, my choice had been pedicures for us, and we really enjoyed those. I especially needed one, with my feet being so dry all the time and exposed, there was much work to be done! We also had a fire one night in the fire pit, as for once we finally had a day mostly without wind. This was only the second fire we’ve had since embarking on this adventure! One morning I got around to replacing shingles on the cabin roof that some typical high winds had peeled off some time ago. Emily and I also very successfully and quite easily replaced the fabric on our awning. It was much easier than expected, even with Emily being less than rugged that day. My new sense of calm kept my frustrations from taking over, and was supporting Emily with regular breaks. On our day-trip to Joshua Tree, Emily had limited time due to her scheduled clients in the afternoon. So, we managed some hiking and bouldering followed by a picnic lunch amongst the rocks. She took the truck back and left me with my bike for a ride in the park before heading back down to the cabin.
All in all, we really loved hanging out at the cabin. We got to experience crazy swings in weather from cold and cloudy to very hot and windy. We both really love the desert, and appreciate the hot days for the perfect evenings they bring with them. Being out on the open desert allowed the winds to be quite standard and strong, but it also offered incredible views of the mountains in the distance. The cabin has a beachy feel, John even has an old surfboard out at the street demarcating the driveway entrance. The bathroom and shower in the pump house was cool, too, and the rustic feel was relaxing. We very much look forward to staying here again sometime!
See you soon…