Making Connections ~ San Diego, CA

The beauty of being a full-time RVer is the ability to balance a healthy dose of solitude with lots of social gatherings.  Winter seems to be best for the latter, as many of us are stationary for longer stretches, giving ample time to catch up with those taking a respite from the road.  There are a handful of states where many RVers go to escape winter’s frigid nature:  California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida most notable.  So it should have come as no surprise that several couples we knew, via blog or previously met on the road, flocked to San Diego to bask in the sun and let the cool ocean breezes wash over them.

Being just a short distance away from the big city, we have been fortunate to visit several friends the past few weeks who were grooving to San Diego’s vibe.  I have spent many a summer vacation in San Diego so I was content to just spend time catching up with old friends and reveling in their exploits.

Balboa Park

After a few days of exploring Anza Borrego State Park with Eric and Laurel (Raven and Chickadee) in late February, we weren’t expecting to see them again so soon, but their travels took them to the North Park neighborhood of San Diego so we got together and wandered cultural Balboa Park with them.  If you have not been, this park is 1,200 acres of stunning architecture, graceful gardens, interesting museums, and a great artist colony.  Lunch on the patio at Prado was quite tasty and, as you can see below, Eric got his money’s worth.

We extended our visit into the evening over a yummy salad created  by Laurel from what we had scored at the farmers’ market earlier that day. What a lovely couple and how lucky we are to be seeing them again later this summer.

Tasty little flight

The infamous Nina and Paul (Wheelingit) also breezed into San Diego, landing at the popular Mission Bay RV Resort.  For those who follow Nina’s blog, and who doesn’t, they were on a mission to taste test their way through as many San Diego breweries as they could. So, where else would be meet them for lunch than a craft beer establishment, Stone Brewery at Liberty Station.  Although we did not have much time to catch up, as they had family in town, it was wonderful to see them again.  Mission Bay is where our paths first crossed three years ago and it is always a delight to see them again.

Terry, me, Paul, Nina & sweet pooch Polly

I’m sure we can all agree that Nina’s blog posts have enriched our lives and given us adventures we may not have anticipated.

Next up was Jim and Barb (Bounding the Borders), a charming couple we were introduced to last winter in Cedar Key, Florida, two whom we felt comfortable with from the moment we met.  They came to Jojoba Hills for a week this winter, after spending time at Mission Bay, giving us ample time to share good food, drink, and great conversation.  I can’t tell you how pleased we were to reconnect with them, and knowing we are planning to meet up again later this year puts a smile on my face.

I have found there is a sense of serendipity to this lifestyle.  We learned over a homemade meal that Jim and Barb had met the very couple we were planning to join for lunch later that week.  So the four of us wheeled our way back to San Diego to meet Hector and Brenda (Island Girl Walkabout) for lunch at the Blue Water Seafood Market and Grill, a knock-your-socks-off place to go for fish tacos.  We had lunched here with Hector and Brenda once already this winter but everyone seemed to need a taco fix so back to Blue Water.  With any luck we may see the Island Girl dwellers later this year as well.

The breeze off the ocean seemed just right for a stopover at Torrey Pines Gliderport, and by the looks of the skies, everyone with a passion for the sport thought so too.

When we began this nomadic adventure, I dreamt of all the magnificent vistas that awaited us.  What I have discovered is that this journey is made much more satisfying by the extraordinary people connections we’ve made along the way, those on the road, those whom we have met only through blogs, and those at our Jojoba Hills’ winter base.

I toast all who have enriched our lives and look forward to meeting many more of you as we renew our wandering ways in a couple of weeks.  I am eagerly counting down the days. :)

Desolate, Dramatic Anza Borrego Desert State Park, CA

I find the desert intoxicating in the spring, like experiencing a fine wine for the first time.  If you have ever done a wine tasting away from the crowds, your entire focus is on the depth of colors, the aroma of flowers, leaves, herbs and spices, the tastes you experience as you roll that first sip around your tongue.  A good wine seems to dance in your mouth.  I believe the desert in spring in many ways is synonymous to this.  There is a harmonious balance amidst the complexity of all the desert sights and smells.  It speaks to us on a cellular level, engaging all of our senses.  On a cool, clear morning, standing at a trailhead not often traversed, looking out over the vastness of an open desert or a winding canyon, the colors and textures dance before your eyes and if you take a deep breath, the sweet smell of sage, acacia, and palo verde beckon you to move deeper into the wilderness. Hover near a creosote bush and you will remember why you love the smell of rain in the desert.

Recently we returned to Anza Borrego Desert State Park to spend five days with the Jojoba Hills hiking club.  You could spend five weeks here and not experience everything this park has to offer.  Covering 600,000 acres, with 500 miles of dirt roads and 110 miles of hiking trails (many only available with high-clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicles), this park draws you back time and again.  It even has a Sky Trail, which has been described in the Pilots Getaway magazine, and 50 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail meander in and out of the park.

We had been here a few weeks back when the desert was just beginning to awaken from its winter slumber and although the wildflowers were lovely, they were not yet at their peak.  This visit they were beyond their peak in many areas we visited, thanks to the hot desert winds and this big fella.

Soon to be a lovely moth.  Photo credit Doris Potter at www.dbase.com

Soon to be a lovely moth. Photo credit Doris Potter at http://www.dbase.com

Like an army on the move, he and tens of thousands of his best buddies have chomped through entire fields of wildflowers these past few weeks, leaving barren desert in their wake.  These colorful but rather creepy (at least to me) caterpillars are the white-lined sphinx moth, aka hummingbird moth, who lay their eggs on the leaves of young plants.  When the eggs hatch, the larvae burrow underground, where they pupate and emerge as moths and the cycle continues.

While the desert wildflowers were vanishing the cacti decided to step up and create beautiful splashes of color across the landscape.  Here are just a few of the lovelies that we found while hiking:

Each day was filled with hiking and gatherings at the end of the day to share our adventures with the rest of the group.  Some of the hikes that we tackled during our stay were:

L-R, Cj, Art, Nancy, Frank, Terry & Margee on the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail

L-R, Cj, Art, Nancy, Frank, Terry & Margee on the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail

Borrego Palm Canyon Trail

Nancy heading into the mud cave, flashlight at the ready.

Nancy heading into the mud cave, flashlight at the ready.

Mud Caves at Arroyo Tapiado

Margee and Terry in the slots

Margee and Terry in the slots

Big Mud Cave, now a slot canyon after part of the roof collapsed.

Big Mud Cave, now a slot canyon after part of the roof collapsed.

Big Mud Cave (now a slot canyon) at Arroyo Tapiado

The gang ready to head into Glorietta Canyon, where we found many of our flowering cacti.

The gang ready to head into Glorietta Canyon, where we found many of our flowering cacti.

Glorietta Canyon

Frank getting cozy with a barrel cactus while the teddy bear cholla close in.

Frank getting cozy with a barrel cactus while the teddy bear cholla close in.

Cactus Loop Nature Trail

The Slot at West Butte was enjoyed by the rest of the group while I headed back to Jojoba Hills to attend an art journaling workshop.  Someone (who will remain nameless) was responsible for photos but forgot the camera.  Hmmm, wonder who that could be? ;)

Anza Borrego is a hiker’s paradise and a photographer’s dream.  The topography can change at a moment’s notice, from soaring mountains, to barren desert, claustrophobic slot canyons, rippling badlands, to fields of wildflowers and brilliant blooming cacti.  For those who love the desert there can be few better.  I can think of no other place an hour away from our winter base to better spend time with our Jojoba friends.

A barren yet dramatic landscape

A barren yet dramatic landscape

Wildflowers, Desert Vistas, & New Friends ~ Anza Borrego Desert State Park, CA

The desert is waking from her deep winter slumber, the time of year when Mother Nature playfully splashes every color in her palette across the barren landscape. Winter is not quite ready to relinquish her hold, as cold winds and rain still find their way down the mountains, scuttling across the desert floor of Anza Borrego State Park.  But spring is gaining ground and the colors, textures and smells of the desert are wonderful!

We would find it shameful if we did not experience Anza’s wildflowers, given we are just an hour away from California’s largest state park.  Actually they are just now beginning to burst open from their underground rest, so the next few weeks should prove to be quite spectacular.

Just a few of the wildflowers making their colorful debut:

We had only a few days to spend so we wasted no time in setting up camp near Coyote Mountain, at Clark’s Dry Lake, one of the more popular boondocking spots in Anza Borrego.  We ventured down Rockhouse Road until we found a spot away from everyone else, with nothing to break the silence except the howling wind and coyotes late at night.  Once settled we headed over to the trailhead for our first hike.

Hellhole Canyon

Anza Borrego is known as one of the hottest and driest deserts in the U.S., so it might be surprising to learn that there is a place where palm trees, sycamores, and cottonwoods flourish.   And if you are persistent, don’t mind a bit of boulder-hopping and bushwhacking, and listen intently, you might stumble upon the tiny cascading waterfall known as Maidenhair Falls, for the lush ferns and moss lining the canyon wall. Welcome to Hellhole Canyon, a 5-mile trail out-and-back that keeps you on your toes as you try to determine which way the trail went, as it has a tendency to disappear within the vegetation-choked canyon floor.

Beyond the tantalizing images of the desert awash with color, we were looking forward to our visit with the birders Raven and Chickadeebetter known as Eric and Laurel. One of the perks of following other RV bloggers is finding out who is circling in the area. These two little birdies were not only circling but they had landed and we feel grateful to have spent two fun-filled days with them and their Ashland friends.  And, of course, another hike was on the agenda, this time an afternoon trek into Palm Canyon in search of the bighorn sheep.

Palm Canyon

Palm Canyon was once the most beautiful and lushest of the 25 palm canyons within Anza Borrego but a freak summer thunderstorm in 2004 brought a 20-foot wall of water rushing down the canyon, carrying with it hundreds of uprooted fan palm trees. These displaced palms, carried along by a massive mudflow, hit the state park campground, causing considerable damage and what some have dubbed a “thousand-year flash flood”.  This 3-mile out-and-back trail is still quite lovely, despite what she has endured.  We did not find the elusive bighorn sheep on our hike but when we returned to camp the Ashland crowd who stayed behind had seen them on the ridge above the campground…bummer for the hikers!

Although our time at Anza Borrego was short, our days and nights were packed with interesting conversation, lovely hikes, great food and drink, and entertainment.  It seems this Ashland bunch are very talented.  We can’t thank them enough for including us in their intimate group.  We had a blast and look forward to meeting up with them again later this summer. :)

Not Your Ordinary “Chip” ~ Mt. Woodson, Poway, CA

Recently our hiking club decided to tackle the Mt. Woodson trail, a hike that I suggested they add to their list.  This is a hike I had hoped to do with a blogger friend, but divergent schedules and car troubles resulted in a missed opportunity.  Soon after said friend boarded a plane and jet-set off to faraway lands.  I am dedicating this short post to that zany guy who is the talented author of The Sophomore Slump blog. Rommel, I carried you along in spirit up the trail. :)

Mt. Woodson has two approaches to the summit, the western approach a 5.5 mile loop with a 1500 foot elevation gain and the eastern approach, somewhat more aggressive at 6.8 miles and 2300 feet up the mountain.  Our hiking group chose the western approach but I must admit the eastern approach, which has its beginnings at Lake Poway, seems it might have the more diverse views along the way.  However, either approach has huge boulders strewn across the mountainside, making for an interesting hike.

And both approaches are steep climbing, but if you keep your focus on the reason you chose this hike, the journey becomes less arduous (mind over matter, yes?).  And the reason most choose this hike is to get their photo taken on the cantilevered flake of rock near the top known as Potato Chip Rock.  Many a hiker has stood in a long line to have their picture taken on the Chip, some testing fate with handstands, jumps, and yoga poses near the edge.  For me the bigger challenge was climbing the boulder to get to Potato Chip Rock.

If you decide you gotta have that photo of yourself doing stunts on a rock seemingly suspended in mid-air, plan a visit during the week, unless standing in line for an hour is your thing.  Your reward once down the mountain should be lunch at The Yellow Deli imho. ;)

Desert Sanctuary ~ Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, AZ

This past weekend we made a quick trip to Yuma where we met up with our new travel buddy, an Arctic Fox truck camper. After much research we decided upon this mode of travel as we begin our tentative plans to tour Alaska next year. We are also planning to take this little guy out when we hit the road in a couple of months just to see how living in it will feel for several months. This should be interesting. ;) Actually, it does have one slide-out so it is roomier than one might think. Put some solar on top and we are good to go!

Our cute little Fox!

Our cute little Fox!

Cibola National Wildlife Refuge was on my radar after reading the great post Nina had written on this desert sanctuary so we headed that way once our business in Yuma was complete.  With BLM land right across from the visitor center, it was the perfect place to enjoy our first night in the cozy confines of our little Fox.

Canada and snow geese still grace the ponds.

White pelicans, one of my favorites!

Cibola’s 16,600 acres sit in the lower Colorado River floodplain, a green swath of land tucked into the desert between Arizona and California.  This greenbelt is a major flyway for migrating birds, and many songbirds’ diets rely on the insects that are attracted to the flowering honey mesquite trees in the area.  Thanks to an arrangement with some of the local farmers, harvested corn fields draw many species of birds and other wildlife as well…plant them and they will come. :)  The sandhill crane population, mid-December through mid-January, can often number 2,000 birds.  They were rather elusive during our visit and reduced in number, off in a field not accessible to the public. We were content to be voyeurs and gaze from a distance, listening to their unusual vocal callings, since we had a close encounter with these beauties last winter near Fort Pierce, FL.

An adorable burrowing owl kept his eye on my every move.

A field full of yellow-headed blackbirds, a new sighting for me.

A field full of yellow-headed blackbirds, a new sighting for me.

It was fortuitous that this little adventure came together when it did, as we had wanted to meet up with fellow RVers and bloggers Rick and JoAnne, volunteers at Cibola through the end of February.  They were just as lovely as we had been told by others, and we enjoyed some snacks and a nice bottle of wine while getting to know them better.  The added bonus was meeting Joe and Murlene, also volunteers, who led us into the refuge as they found us sitting alongside the road planning our route.  Joe very kindly took us on a private tour, pointing out many of the local waterfowl and other wildlife that make this their winter home.  I learned through Nina’s post of Cibola and talking with Joe that he has an extensive background as a photographer, one that he refers to as a hobby but looks to rival most professionals imho.  Check out his website here and see for yourself the beauty he so artfully captures in nature.

The waterfowl are dwindling as they begin to feel the call of cooler climes but there is still much to seduce your senses.  Summer here in the desert can be harsh, when temps can soar to 120° F.  Soon the ponds will be quieted, where there was a cacophony of sounds just weeks ago, with standing-room only.

Cibola Cabin, home to Carl Bishop, until the river overflowed its banks.

Cibola Cabin, home to Carl Bishop, until the river overflowed its banks.

When you tire of all the colorful wildlife, just down the road from the ponds is the historic Cibola Cabin and Hart Mine.  You might just find a few wild burros foraging in the desert if you are lucky.

Peak time for visiting is mid-December through mid-January but we still found this little desert oasis delightful.  If you find yourself wandering in the desert between Blythe and Yuma, consider a visit to Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, a sparkling little desert gem. :)

Last rays against a desert mountain backdrop.