After the December to Remember month-long road trip from Wisconsin to California, it took Jon and I all of a week to get that itchy feet need to travel feeling back. We had been toying with the idea of spending New Years Eve on a beach somewhere or out in the desert, rather than at a traditional party with nice clothing and champagne. We settled on a brief tour of the California deserts, and of course the champagne came with.
After a quick trip to visit family in San Diego, we crossed the coastal foothills and dropped into Anza Borrego State Park, a favorite of mine after a trip with a club in college. It was almost comical how we simultaneously breathed a huge sigh of relief upon seeing vast expanses of arid land replacing the crush of urbanization that the Southern California coast supports. We rolled into town and straight to the Visitors Center to get advice on where we could camp for the night. We were pointed in the direction of a free primitive campground off the highway, which was an unpaved wash of a road. Sunshine, our rig at the time, made it out the road and into a site, where it promptly began raining as we prepared dinner in the fading light. Just our luck that the California desert, which rarely receives rain, would open up the skies overhead to welcome our arrival – not the last time this would happen either.
The next day was New Years Eve, and we took off to hike to Maidenhair Falls, a trail that wound its way up a canyon, with palm groves dotting the route. The “falls” would have more appropriately been named Maidenhair Trickle this time of year, but the hike was gorgeous nonetheless. We rang in 2013 with a bottle of champagne and an early bedtime.
The next day, we had a lazy morning, making breakfast burritos out of some delicious squash and swiss chard, leftover from the pasta dish we made the night before. It wasn’t until later in the day that we finally headed off to the Salton Sea, finding a campsite on the shoreline – which looked better than it smelled. We stopped into a local mini-mart to get some beer and paper towels, and met a bit of the local flavor – a skinny older lady, brown and wrinkled as a prune from the sun, chain smoking cigarettes, and packing heat. She told us stories of her daughter’s hangover from the New Years festivities as she rang us up. After a chilly night cooking our dinner of bulgur tacos, we hopped into the back of Sunshine and watched a few episodes of Eureka on my cell phone – an indulgence we enjoy from time to time when cell service is present.
We decided to make a detour from our desert adventures to take a ride up the Palm Springs Arial Tramway to Mount San Jacinto. It’s a real trip to go from the desert floor to the snowy mountain peak, and we crunched along the Desert View Trail, which provided us with great views of the desert floor below. That afternoon, we took off for Joshua Tree National Park. Our first night was spent in Black Rock Campground, where we fumbled quite comically with our first attempt at making homemade spring rolls. Though our technique needed some work, they were absolutely delicious, and we dubbed the entire dinner a success, despite our fingers freezing during the post-meal dish washing process.
We eventually made our way to the Indian Cove Campground and onto the infamous rocks. Our campsite was conveniently located near some good top-roping sites, which meant I could flail around on the rocks for a bit, and could belay Jon while he climbed as well. Jon disappeared to set up the top-rope and in doing so discovered that the climbers next to us also called Moab, Utah their seasonal home. Two of the group were employees of Outward Bound, and we spend most of the day swapping stories, and sharing the various routes we had roped up. For my part, I was just relieved to have other people on hand to belay for Jon, so he was able to climb far more than if I had been the only one – still working on the upper body strength needed to belay him multiple times.
From Joshua Tree, we headed onward to Mojave National Preserve, which in my opinion was the most under-appreciated, and beautiful of the bunch. We stopped in at the Visitors Center, and were given a bounty of options for campsites and hikes from the ebullient volunteer there. Sometimes, the volunteers in parks impart more enthusiasm than the rangers! We headed off to a gorgeous campsite we had all to ourselves, and made a delicious hot, brothy, vegetable soup to warm our insides on that brisk evening.
We hiked the Barber Peak Loop trail, which would have been absolutely divine, had the wind not been roaring so strongly that I needed to shove kleenex in my ears to keep them from ringing. It was still a beautiful hike even so; we enjoyed a sheltered picnic lunch, and explored the Hole in the Wall region, which was a veritable geologic Doctor Seuss landscape.
As we left there intending to go on to the next campsite, Jon suddenly said we should just go back to Long Beach – completely out of the blue. We weren’t looking forward to yet another cold night of meal prep unsheltered, and the wind had totally worn us out. At the time, we both felt a little let down, even as we felt relief. Later, we would discover just how serendipitous this decision was, as Sunny and our little Skamper fell into our lives. All considered, a great first introduction to the deserts of California for Jon, and a joy for me to revisit the desert I grew up with after a spring and fall in Utah.