Winter Journey – Belle to Suburban – February 2017

Friday February 24th – It is 27 degrees and a bitter cold wind – kind of limits outdoor photos, but we are leaving this morning, anyway.

Leaving our campsite at Belle Campground, Joshua Tree NP

We head on south through Joshua Tree NP, warm inside Blazer, noticing how green the desert is.

Once on I-10, I have cell service and catch up on texts, emails, and calls with my cell.

Rock formations along I-10 in Arizona

We take the Buckeye exit before Phoenix and drive on out to the Buckeye BLM Recreation Area. We find a nice spot not far from where we were last time we were here.

Overnight at Buckeye BLM Recreation Area
A walk in the desert before sunset

The temperature is mild enough that I play cello outside a bit, go for a walk at sunset, and then edit for my authors in the evening. Clifford does his usual evening stuff, but less with the radios than usual, since he is not taking time to set up antennas.

Saturday February 25th – We pack up and head out first thing this morning, stopping in Gila Bend for gas. On the outskirts of Tucson, we stop at Cracker Barrel for lunch – what a nice break from driving! West of Tucson, we travel to the Synder Hill BLM dispersed camping area. The spot where we parked in January is available, but there are several noisy generators nearby, so we go in search of a different spot and find one that is much better – level and a couple of mesquite trees beside a wash.

A couple of mesquite trees for shade

We have a little shade, a nice front yard, and a view of Synder Hill. Although Synder Hill is not my favorite camping area, our spot is a fine place for the time being. We get set up inside and out, including antennas, then sit out in our lawn chairs to enjoy the warmth of the late afternoon sunlight.

Sunday February 26th – I enjoy a campfire this morning as I sit outside and write in my journal.

Morning campfire at Synder Hill

Our friend Dan comes and we have lots of projects that he helps with, especially as he brings a ladder so we can get up and do some work on the roof. We go to the town of Three Point about 12 miles away for lunch at the Three Point Cafe. Tiny town, but it has an Ace Hardware, a gas station, and a small market where I buy local honey. Back at camp, it is too breezy to play cello outside and even though we thought we were charging batteries while we were gone, a fuse is blown, and nothing is charged. My laptop dies while I am editing photos. I am trying to “go with the flow,” but this lack of battery is frustrating. I am so far behind with posts, I wonder if I will ever get caught up. Arrangements are made to meet the Suburban and its owner, Marty, tomorrow.

Monday February 27th – Dan comes here and then we all go to meet Suburban and Marty. Clifford drives Suburban; Marty drives Blazer. Then the men share what is known about the vehicles. In the end, an agreement is reached with Blazer being part of a trade. Plans are made to meet at the DMV tomorrow to give us time to clean Blazer out and go to the bank.

I learn that my daughter Katie, who owns the house in Idaho where we live in the upstairs apartment when not traveling, has moved her family to the house, opting for a more simple lifestyle. It will be fun to have them as our downstairs neighbors when we get back to Idaho.

Tuesday February 28th – We get up early and clean out Blazer, which takes some work, as we carry much of our stuff in the back, not to mention ham radio gear, backup camera, and such stuff that has to be dismantled to be removed. A 12-volt vacuum cleaner and a good wipe-down makes Blazer look pretty good. We meet Marty at the DMV: all the formalities and exchange of money and titles takes place. The Suburban is ours!

Suburban and Clifford at Synder Hill

Back at camp, we load everything from Blazer back into Suburban and are pleased with how much room we have. A sprinkle of rain creates a rainbow – a good sign.

A rainbow – a good sign
I love seeing a rainbow

It is too windy for cello, but we go for a drive at sunset to try out the “new” vehicle, which will be so much safer for us and more comfortable, also.

Going for a drive in Suburban at sunset

Winter Journey – Joshua Tree Belle – February 2017

Last sunrise at BLM north of Joshua Tree

Wednesday February 22nd – We pack up this morning, as we are heading back to Joshua Tree NP; driving south through the park it is the shortest route to get us back to Tucson. Looking at the calendar and the atlas, we make travel plans so as to camp in the park and have a day for exploration. We find out at the entrance gate that finding a spot could be an issue, as several campgrounds are small with a 16’ limit. Luckily, the first campground on our route is Belle with an available campsite even though the sign says FULL. We pull into the spot,

Campsite at Belle Campground in Joshua Tree NP

but before we set up, we walk around the campground. Many of the sites are quite close together, so we are more than happy with our lucky find.

After we get set up, I walk out through the Joshua trees to the hills, which are giant boulder piles.

Joshua tree forest
Joshua tree with blossoms coming on
Rock hills at Belle Campground


I find a nifty little arch, so go back to our campsite to get Clifford so he can see it, also.

A nifty arch in the rocks

After looking at the arch, we walk to another rock hill and find a vantage point from which to watch the setting sun.

Sunset coming soon
Clifford finds a vantage point to watch the sunset
The setting of the sun at Joshua Tree NP

Because of the wind, we go inside once we get back to camp and do our usual evening things, grateful for the opportunity to be here.

Thursday February 23rd – Super windy and cold, but beautiful blue sky this morning.

Joshua tree blossoms

Today was meant to be our exploration day, but it is so cold and windy that we don’t leave until early afternoon. We plan to just drive around, but not do any hiking. However, when we get to the Skull Rock turnout, the sun has warmed the air enough that we do go for a hike.

Hiking near Skull Rock
Hiking near Skull Rock in Joshua Tree NP

Then we drive through Jumbo Rocks Campground, as it is the largest campground in the northern part of the park. The landscape is interesting, but the campsites are small and really really close together – designed for friendly people camping in tents, I guess.

At Hidden Valley, we find a pretty spot in the picnic area, but it is so windy that we end up sitting in the car to eat.

Picnic at Hidden Valley – look how bundled up Clifford is

Then on to the trailhead and do the mile hike in Hidden Valley, which is a nearly-hidden lush desert valley where cattle rustlers used to hide their stolen cattle.

Hidden Valley hike in Joshua Tree NP
Rock formations in Hidden Valley

The tall hills that surround this valley are big piles of boulders, for the most part, and we can see where a creek sometimes runs through the valley bottom. We are protected from the wind here and warmed by the sun. What a great hike!

Hiking in Hidden Valley with Clifford – notice the small figure in the center of the photo
Hidden Valley formations and vegetation
Hidden Valley formations and vegetation
Hidden Valley formations and vegetation
Hidden Valley formations and vegetation
Hidden Valley formations and vegetation
Blue sky at Hidden Valley

Back at camp we have dinner and do our usual evening activities.

Joshua tree at the campsite at end of day
Prickly pear near the end of day

Even though we are leaving in the morning, there isn’t really much to pack up this evening, as it was such a short stay. It is so pretty and unique here, I would love to stay longer, but Tucson is waiting.

Winter Journey – Last Days at Joshua Tree NP – February 2017

Sunday, February 12th – I am up before sunrise again today, which I enjoy, as a stroll in the desert in the quiet of the morning is a great way to start the day.

Sunrise in the desert
Playing around with capturing sunrise

Today Clifford rewires the solar panel so it can be either on or off the controller. At one point, he thinks he has fried the controller, but luckily a fuse prevented damage. Whew! Next project is hooking up the new backup camera to the back end of Terry (our camper) and installing the monitor in the Blazer. I help with both of these projects, which takes up a large chunk of the day. Later we journey down to Bajada, as Clifford has a business call and I walk about taking photos, as usual, and send a few more texts.

Too windy for cello today – darn.

In the evening, I write the blog to go with the photos edited last night, so I will be ready for the next internet outing.

Monday, February 13th – I walk about the desert for my quiet morning time, trying to capture starbursts… and sometimes they work.

Starburst with yucca and creosote bush
Starburst with yucca
Starburst with cholla

Back at camp, I sit outside to write in my journal until the wind drives me in. I do a lot of editing today, since being outside isn’t so fun with the wind. Clifford is focused on his radio gear, getting things to work as they should and making contacts all over the world. In the evening we go down to Bajada to take care of business. Clifford needs to stay current on emails regarding his non-profit and he has another business call; I post a blog, take care of my emails, and do a quick check of FB.

By time we get back to camp, it is too late fix a real dinner. Clifford heats up a can of soup; I have a smoothie, followed by yogurt and fruit for both of us – our usual bedtime snack.

Tuesday February 14th – It is cloudy and calm this morning as I do my desert walk and this morning I go all the way to the arroyo at the base of the rock hills, and there I find a patch of ocotillo in bloom. What a treat that is! Wish I had explored here sooner, as this is quite a lovely place.

Ocotillo in bloom

Back at camp, Clifford sees the Valentine card I left for him, and he makes breakfast for both of us. We sit outside to eat and I write in my journal, until the wind, which has now come up, drives us inside. I spend much of the afternoon editing and then hike in the afternoon, in spite of the wind. My plan was to hike toward Cottonwood Springs and where the trail crosses the arroyo, head back up the arroyo to where I found the ocotillo patch this morning. When I get to the arroyo crossing, I am not sure which branch to take to get me to the right ravine. I’m not worried about getting lost, but I am concerned about missing my way and not getting to the ocotillo patch before shadows overtake them. I try going along a ridge-top instead, until I come to a narrow spot that would be foolhardy to try since I don’t have my hiking sticks with me. Instead, I backtrack and then cut across to where I know where I am. After taking a few photos and making a short cell video, I go back at camp and talk Clifford in going to the arroyo with me to see the ocotillo in bloom. We also explore a few places along the arroyo where springs must have been, as there are willows and other non-desert plants tucked in here and there.

Clifford goes to the Ocotillo patch with me
Ocotillo fully leaved out with blossoms
Clifford takes a photo of me and the ocotillo




We explore the arroyo
Saying good-bye to the desert

Back at camp, I organize the Blazer and begin packing up what I can, as tomorrow is moving day. I would stay longer if we could; the desert here has been quite a delight to me.

Winter Journey – Beautiful Cloud Day at Joshua Tree NP – February 2017

Saturday February 11th – I am up in time for a pretty sunrise and find great delight in walking about catching silhouettes of yucca and creosote bushes with the sunrise colors as the backdrop.

Most wide-angle view of desert at sunrise
Most close-up view to draw attention of silhouettes against the colorful backdrop of sunrise

Behind me to the west, as the sunrise fades, the moon is just setting.

Sunrise begins to fade…
while the moon sets in the west

I sit outside and write in my journal until Clifford is up. Then we drive down the road to the Bajada Nature Trail to check email before heading to the nearby village of Chiriaco for a late lunch, part of the extended birthday celebration. Clifford buys me a pretty pair of earrings and a pint of local honey, which was very sweet! Sometime, either coming or going, I post another blog and get a couple of texts sent off.

Great cumulus clouds have built up during the day

Cumulus clouds form in the afternoon
Interesting cloud formations form
More cumulus clouds over the hills to the east

and by evening, the sunrise is especially spectacular.

The light begins to change, bringing a warmth to the hillside
Last moments of sunset causes the hill to glow orange and the clouds to take on more reflected color
And finally, the deepest color in the clouds before darkness descends .

After sunset as the evening coolness comes on, I make a campfire, which I haven’t done often on this journey because of the wind. After the fire dies down, we go inside for dinner – a cup of soup – since we had a big late lunch. Into the later evening, I edit photos, losing track of time and going to bed at midnight, which is way late for me.

It was a very pretty day with good fun activities.

Winter Journey – Joshua Tree & Cottonwood Springs Again – February 2017

Monday February 6th is cloudy and windy, so it is an inside day and I get book work done, papers put away, bills paid, more postcards written, and cards written to donors to CI. In the afternoon I walk about through both loops of the campground to stretch my legs and get some good fresh air. In the late afternoon, in spite of the wind, I take a few photos; can’t resist the backlight behind the chollas.

Cloudy windy day at Joshua Tree NP
Afternoon light behind the chollas
Colorado Desert view


I start reviewing an edited chapter of Ang’s book, but run out of laptop battery and have to skip several other projects that require the laptop. Sure wish we had a way to keep my laptop running even on the cloudy days.

Tuesday February 7th is a very windy day and overcast. Clifford has business calls this morning, so we head to Bajada first thing. My laptop was not able to be charged, but I take care of a couple of emails and do a little research with the tablet regarding places to camp. After Clifford’s calls, we go to the little town of Chiriaco for brunch. There is a little post office in the antique store next to the cafe where I mail my cards and postcards, then browse in the antique store. While Clifford goes to the Patton Museum (interesting that there is a good big museum in such a small town), I sit in the car and write in my journal. I tried sitting at a picnic table, but it was way too windy.

Back at camp, I do more editing, as my laptop charged a little while we were gone. Clifford does Clifford stuff. It was a good day to spend taking care of business that might otherwise stay on a back burner.

Wednesday February 8th is a town day and we head to Indio for errands, including the laundromat and the post office to pick up the new backup camera. I take care of some texts and emails from my phone as we drive back to camp, since there is good cell coverage along the interstate. Back at camp, we both take a nap, which I seldom do, but got up in time to take photos at sunset.

Sunset in the desert

Later we both sit out, enjoying the mildness of the evening.

Thursday February 9th I make a campfire this morning and have some quiet time sitting out writing in the journal. After breakfast, I do editing for both authors so as to keep both books moving along. Not too windy, so take the cello out and play for awhile, still feeling rusty and noticing a soreness in my right shoulder that makes bowing feel less than graceful. Ah well. Ride my bike around the campground loop – I mean, since Clifford bought this nice little bike for me, I should ride it once it awhile.

In the afternoon I want to hike to Cottonwood Springs, now that we know where it really is. Clifford is working with his biochemical analyzer and doesn’t want to go, so I go by myself, making a big deal about it with the right clothes, the right shoes, carrying water and snacks (even though it is only a half mile away), a hat so I don’t burn my face, hiking sticks, and 2-meter ham radio. And cameras, of course, and cell phone for cell pics to send to family on the spot. It is a nice outing and the photos are better today with partial blue sky rather than the blah overcast of the previous trip here.

Cottonwood Springs
The cottonwood trees and fan palm trees at Cottonwood Springs

After dinner, I reorganize my clothes, which have become a jumble and finish putting away the clean clothes from yesterday’s trip to the laundromat. Clifford has already gone to bed by time I finish up. Wow, the days go by so fast!

Winter Journey – Cottonwood Springs & Cholla Garden – February 2017

Saturday February 4th is a beautiful blue sky day. We make a trip to the Bajada Nature Trail this morning to get cell coverage, as I need to download a document that I will be editing for a new author. I send a couple of completed chapters off to the other authors.

Desert in bloom at Bajada Nature Trail
Palo Verde on a beautiful blue sky day at Bajada Nature Trail

Back at camp, I play cello outside, first time in quite awhile. I feel a bit rusty, but am glad for a day warm and calm enough to do it.

Cottonwood Springs Cello

While Clifford works with his radios and then does some experiments with his portable biochemical analyzer, I write a few postcards and a couple of Valentine cards and do a first pass on the document.

Clifford works with his biochemical analyzer

In the later afternoon, we hike to the rock hills to the east of us. It was fun, but I should have brought my hiking sticks, as hiking up into the boulder-strewn mountain was a bit challenging in spots.

Hiking to the rocks
Clifford leads the way
Great nature colors today.

Here we are in the rocks, right near the crest.

We hike down a different way and come across what appears to be a stone fence. Wonder if that can possibly be a natural formation, but if it is man-made, how old is it?

Could it be natural?

As the sun sets, I walk about the desert, taking a few photos of this remarkable place.

Light through the needles of a pencil cholla
Late afternoon light on teddybear cholla
Last light of the day casts a golden look to the landscape

Sunday February 5th is overcast and breezy. I complete the edits for the new author and write a blog/photos about our camping at Buckeye Recreation Area, and then we head down to Bajada Nature Trail so I can email the document and post the blog. Becka calls, so I chat with her and walk the trail while Clifford takes care of his email and a call or two. On our way back to camp, we stop briefly at the Visitors’ Center for more post cards and then drive out to the Cottonwood Springs trailhead parking lot. This oasis is much more impressive than the spot we hiked to from our campsite. Massive fan palms grow here and an even taller cottonwoods are nestled in and protected by the great palms.

Looking down on Cottonwood Springs
On the trail below Cottonwood Springs
Massive fan palms protect new growth
Path to the palms – notice little Clifford at the base

We hike a ways beyond on the trail that goes to Mastodon Peak, but decide not to hike all the way to Mastodon Peak today. Instead, we go back out to Pinto Basin Road and drive north through the park until we arrive at the Cholla Garden – acres and acres of cholla growing to the exclusion of almost every other plant.

Cholla Garden – acres and acres of virtually nothing but cholla
Teddybear up close. They look fuzzy, but they pack a mean bite.

The conditions of soil and moisture and temperature are perfect for them here. It is really quite an interesting sight. It would be more dramatic at sunrise or sunset, but sometimes you have to take what you get!

We are back in time for one photo of a pastel sunset.

Pastel sunset from the campsite

Winter Journey – Joshua Tree National Park – February 2017

Wednesday, February 1st, is moving day. We are leaving La Paz, the BLM camping area a little south of Quartzsite, Arizona, and heading to Joshua Tree National Park in southern California. It takes us 2½ hours from the time we get up until we are ready to roll, including showers, a light breakfast, tea, packing, and hitching up. I remember the days with the pop-up when it would take three to four hours just for the packing and getting ready to hitch up. So much easier now!

We arrive at the Cottonwood Springs Visitors’ Center and campground near the southern entrance to the park in the early afternoon and find a spot on the outside of loop B. The sites are quite close together and it takes some wrangling to get Terry off the road and into place. She sits literally on the edge of the pavement on the side facing the picnic table and only a foot or two off the road on the other side. I am a bit dismayed at being so close to the road. However, there are water spigots, clean restrooms, and dumpsters at this campground – and we have a great clear view of the desert and the rocky hills beyond.

Our view of the desert with the hills in the background
Teddybear cholla backlit with setting sunlight

We pay our camping fee for the week and make the short trip to the Visitors’ Center for brochures, maps, and postcards. Back at camp, we sit outside enjoying the scenic view.

Clifford and Carol at Cottonwood Campground in Joshua Tree NP
Clifford studying at Cottonwood Campground

Thursday is a town day and we are headed to Indio to get set up for general delivery at the post office and to run errands. The smog and the jet trails are horrendous in this valley, almost a white-out. The great mountain beyond can scarcely be seen. I am so glad when all the errands are done and we are back at our campsite.

In the afternoon we hike to Cottonwood Springs, as there is a trail that leaves from our campground. At a wide wash, we head north toward a group of very tall tees we could see as we were walking along. The tall trees are eucalyptus, the cottonwood trees are old and dead, and there is one enormous fan palm tree.

Fan palm tree

Sitting at the base of a giant fan palm tree

The trail doesn’t seem well-defined, which seems surprising, since this is supposed to be a popular attraction. Later, looking at the postcards, the postcard of Cottonwood Springs doesn’t seem to match and we decide we somehow had veered from the trail and ended up somewhere else, which means we still get to look forward to Cottonwood Springs.

Friday morning Clifford woke up at 5:00 a.m., and since he is still on Mountain Daylight time, that means it is really 3:00 a.m. here. He is talkative, considering moving north in a week since the air quality is bad in this part of the state. I am unable to go back to sleep, so get up and make tea for us and write in my journal. After a couple hours, we go back to bed and get in a couple more hours of sleep.

There is no cell service here and my laptop needs charging, so I explore the desert, take photos, and write in my journal.

Exploring the desert at Joshua Tree NP

In the afternoon we head to the Bajada Nature Trail at the southern boundary of the park, as we can get cell service there.  While Clifford is on a business call, I walk the nature trail, chatting with daughter Becka on the phone and taking photos of desert plants.

Ironwood tree at Bajada Nature Trail
Ocotillo with leaves and getting ready to bloom – not an every-day occurrence in the desert

Before we head back to camp, Clifford and I walk the nature trail together; interesting how different the light is now.

Sidelight on a snag at Bajada Nature Trail

Back at camp, while Clifford naps, I do some editing since my laptop charged while we were gone. We sit outside at dusk, enjoying the desert ambiance. After dinner, he works with his ham radios and I continue editing until time for me to get ready for bed. Even though we are close to the road, this is a quiet place and we are happy to be here.

Camped at Joshua Tree National Park