We are now two years into what we’d like to believe is our new holiday tradition: Christmas in the desert. We are also apparently unintentionally working on the tradition of booking Joshua Tree and not going. Last year it was a government shut down, this year it was several feet of snow. Obviously we’ll book next year, just to see what new thing it is that keeps us from going. Maybe start a betting pool.
Travel from Castaic Lake was not bad at all, but we did arrive just after sunset. We were prepared for backing stress, only to arrive at a pull through site. Sweet! It’s also sweet to have full hookups. In fact, this campground goes on my list of all time favorites. There is just enough civilization, cell service, nearby restaurants and markets, but also access to lots of trails and enough of a wilderness feel for this camper. The town of Borrego Springs is called an “intentionally dark sky” city, which I’m guessing means they limit the nighttime light sources and probably use special street lighting. If the weather hadn’t been so overcast while we were there, I’m betting the stars would be amazing. What glimpses we got were nice anyway.
Our first day there kept us indoory in Dory because of rain. That was fine though because Richard had to work and I had one last report to get done. I really have taken to heart all of the kind and sage advice regarding work stress. In particular, the commitment to self care in the form of mindful walking has become a priority and I’ve been doing it at night consistently. I only had to buy one more jacket and a Premium subscription to Spotify and now I’m good. On this trip, Richard has been doing night walking with me and it’s kind of an exciting new hobby. Especially when you’re in a place you’ve never been, and all you have to go by is your headlamps, it’s downright exhilarating. Then when you go back to walk those same trails in the daytime, it’s cool to see how different everything looks. As an example, the visitor center is really well designed and built to blend in with the landscape. They did such a good job, it was actually hard to tell it was there at all when we saw it at night.
We did some incredible daytime hikes, the most impressive being the Palm Canyon Trail. This one is a gentle valley climb up to an honest to goodness desert oasis. At the top, you find yourself looking at a dense grove of Fan Palm Trees situated along a little river, complete with mini waterfalls. We may have gotten a rare treat with all the water, but it’s clear that this spot gets the runoff from all the surrounding mountains and the grove is proof enough that there’s enough to sustain it. It’s a legit paradise spot and I highly recommend that trail.
On our way back down, I was just thinking how cool it would be to see a bighorn sheep, moments before I turned a corner and practically ran into a herd of four. We stood there gawking for a long time, watching them chill and graze on cacti. Papa sheep watched over his little herd, making sure the humans kept their distance and didn’t try any funny business. We tried to help by pointing and waving to approaching hikers so they’d know what was ahead.
That afternoon, we drove out to see the Slot Canyon. There’s a well groomed dirt road that leads to the trailhead. Once there, you descend quickly into a narrow passage that gets tighter as you go. It is like a mini Badlands experience. The walls of the canyon are smooth and worn away in beautiful swirling patterns, carved over the years by water and wind. The cool part is about a mile and a half. Ultimately, the canyon opens up and you can take a surface trail back. As it was windy and cold up above, we turned around and just went back up through the canyon back to the car. I also highly recommend that trail.
Richard did one of his crazy bike rides up and over a mountain range along Montezuma Valley Road to Ranchita, then on San Filipe Road to Highway 78, and finally up and over Yaqui Pass Road. I can attest that it’s a beautiful drive. The wind was wicked cold and blowing hard in his face up the first big climb. The nice thing about having your wife SAG you is that you can bail for a little while and then get back on the road. I think he only missed a couple miles of the last climb, and once we got over that, it was much less windy. His descent back into Borrego Springs was a race against rain clouds, but he won. Along the way in Yaqui Pass, we checked out the primitive campground. There was not much cell service out there, but nice bathrooms. The sites were also kind of small, but a 17′ Alto seemed like it would fit.
The other smaller hikes we did were up to a panoramic lookout and another called the “Little Surprise Canyon” trail. Both are short and scenic and give you a great taste of the beautiful geology in the area.
We got out for dinner one night at Los Jilbertos Taco Shop and that was fun. Otherwise, we were doing Blue Apron recreations. We shopped at the Center Market and found it to be both well stocked and sophisticated enough in its selections to carry baby Bok Choy. For Christmas Eve dinner, we were super fancy and cooked pre-made, frozen Chicken Cordon Bleu in the Omnia, paired with a store bought salad in a bag. We felt pretty darn swanky, I can tell you. And for Christmas morning, we treated ourselves to some Trader Joe’s chocolate Croissants. Mmmm.
At the end of our planned stay, we had some planning to do. The weather had turned from iffy to dangerous up north and our approach to Joshua Tree was not looking all that safe. In addition to snow and rain, they were reporting road closures due to flash flooding all along the roads we would have taken. At the end of the day, it did not seem worth it to risk travel and instead, we booked another night in the Anza Borrego campground. So we spent the day watching the rain from inside. In the morning, the mountain tops all around us were dusted with snow, just like powdered sugar on a giant bundt cake. We probably would have been fine in Joshua Tree, but we have no regrets pulling the plug and shifting gears. And once it was safe to travel, we simply headed out a day early to get to our next destination: Buckskin Mountain and an Altoistes Altogather.
Richard rode out of the campground and we played leap frog all the way to the end of the park. I noticed a gazillion boondocking RVs spread around and most of them had some kind of off road vehicle or ATV with them. That seems to be the thing to do out there. In my next post, I’ll discuss the wisdom, or lack thereof, of trying to pull a trailer into a gas station when fifty thousand ATVing RV people are also there. Fun times.
We did love this campground a lot and are planning to come back this way on our return trip. It clearly gets crazy when the super bloom happens, but this was a fantastic time to explore the park. Thumbs way up!
Total miles from Castaic Lake: 237.8, 16.8 mpg, 5 hours 4 min. Site 33, full hookups, great cell service and solar. Pull throughs in the hookup loop. Good dump. Nice visitor center and super friendly volunteers.