Most Excellent Desert Christmas
I honestly can’t remember a better xmas. But I can’t remember last week either. My love for Borrego Springs only increases with each visit. This one was just wonderful.
Lovely Box Canyon Road
Beginning with arrival, we took a leisurely path back through Joshua Tree and downhill past the Cottonwood campground on the south side. We used the dump there, which was great, and used it as a stopping location so Richard could start a ride. While there, we checked out the campsites, deciding it would make for a nice stay of a day or two. There is no cell service and no way to climb to a high point to get a signal, so it would feel cut off. Nice sometimes for short stints. There are some hiking trails out of the campground and there were lots of sites that would easily fit Dory, and with full solar. No hookups otherwise. From the campground, Richard rode through Box Canyon and I met him just before Mecca.
Palm Trees make the best holiday backgrounds
Arriving at the site, we were thrilled to be able to take off all of our winter clothes, such as they are. For us Californians, putting on sweaters and heavy pants constitutes “gearing up.” For Richard, the sign of extreme winter conditions is that he puts on pants. It never came to that this whole trip, but we both basked in the 70º sunshine and grilling weather.
Ed from E-bike Borrego with a campsite delivery of fun
Before we left home, Richard somehow arranged with a local bicycle rental place to deliver a pair of E-bikes right to the campground. Keep in mind, we arrived on Christmas Eve, but there was Ed with his trailer and two big fancy, fat tire sand bikes. Since we had hookups, there was no worry charging them overnight. We tested them out by riding down to the market in Borrego Springs. Wow. It turns out I absolutely love E-bikes. We’ve thought a lot about whether it would be worth it to buy one for me, but it always comes down to traveling logistics. How would we charge it, since we mostly don’t have hookups? Where would we carry it, since it’s not good to have these things outside? The answer seems to be to just rent them at the destination. No worries, no hassles, all the fun. And man, they are FUN.
If you say to come look you up, we will not give up until we have tracked you down.
On Christmas Day, we had lots of missions to accomplish. Our first was to say hello to the couple we had met a year and a half earlier outside of Santa Fe. They had an A frame trailer and said they owned two restaurants in Borrego Springs. We said we would look them up next time we visited and we meant to follow through on that. The two places they own and manage are the Red Ocotillo and Coyote Steakhouse at the Palms at Indian Head Resort. We tried both places and left a note before running into them on our way out. Later they invited us over for drinks and dinner at the Red Ocotillo. They are the absolute nicest people!
All of them. We must find ALL OF THEM.
We spent the whole rest of the day pursuing our primary mission: find all of the metal desert sculptures. If you’re not familiar with the area, there are about 130 full size metal sculptures scattered over a three square mile area around Borrego Springs, in the north, and in the south, a few miles outside of town. The project was commissioned by Dennis Avery, of the Avery Labels empire. He wanted the land he owned to be enjoyed by others, so he hired construction worker, turned artist, Ricardo Braceda, to populate the landscape with creatures both real and imagined. Some of the figures come from drawings made by his then 7 year old daughter that he was able to bring to life. Some are fanciful renditions of animals that have been found through fossils in the area. And some are themed around the local history and culture. Armed with a color coded map, we spent the entire day biking through sand and streets, trying to locate every single one. Apologies for posting every single picture, but this became a thing for us. We were thwarted in being able to find the Saguaro, and we really really looked. I even tried to look up whether it had been stolen or something, but we had to let that one go. Still, we ticked off all the rest and clocked 32 miles on the bikes. Some of the dinosaur statues are quite far out on sandy roads, but we were not going to come back from this and have someone say, “Did you see the T-Rex?” So yes, we got photographic evidence of every single statue (except the Saguaro). When we returned the E-bikes to Ed later, the first thing he asked was, “Did you find the Velociraptor eggs?” … “Eggs?” “Oh, there’s a hidden nest that one of the Velociraptors is guarding! It’s a really cool find!” ….. dammit. I guess we will just have to go back.
Picture two rocks here.
We had so much fun doing that, we decided to do another E-bike adventure the next day. There is a spot at a lookout point called “Font’s Point” that was used in the movie, “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once.” It is a four mile unpaved and sandy road from the main road out of town. The thing is, the starting point of that trailhead is also about twelve miles from the campground. We both agreed that it would be a lot to ride out and back both ways, plus do the four miles of sand out and back. So Richard gave it a shot and asked Ed if he would pick us up or drop us off down there. I never thought that would work, but I am slowly learning to let Richard ask his crazy questions. Sure enough, for a small flat fee, Ed was happy to trailer us and the bikes down to the trailhead. From there, we just had to traverse the sand and get back to the campground if we could. Or call if we got stuck. This is an amazing bike rental experience and I highly recommend you all look him up when you are out there.
“Woo hoo!” … but also, “ow ow ow ow!”
I will say, however, that four miles of sometimes deep sand, and other times washboard surface, is a lot, even on a fat tire E-bike. I didn’t really get the hang of how to feather the motor by using the brakes until the last stretch. These bikes have a huge kick to them, which makes them super powerful and awfully fun, but also nerve wracking when you’re not sure where that front tire is going to track in a sand pit. But maybe the best thing about them is that you can throttle the motor and not pedal for a long, long way to get you back to town. We think we did find a spot that looked like the same view from where the mother/daughter rocks looked out over the badlands. It’s a pretty cool and other worldly landscape out there. It definitely passes for a lifeless universe, though one can make out the main drag of Borrego Springs, even in the movie stills, if you look hard enough.
We got in a hike up to the Palm Canyon Oasis, which was badly burned by a young arsonist in January 2020. It was a deep blow, as that grove is one of the quintessential images of the area, but thankfully, the trees have mostly recovered. Visitors can no longer walk on the floor of the grove, but you can see it well from viewpoints nearby. You can see the fire damage on the trunks of the trees, but it is comforting to see how the fronds were able to regrow as if nothing happened. We also spied a small herd of Big Horn Sheep way up on the rocky cliffs above the trail. They are extremely well camouflaged, until they appear in silhouette on a ridge line.
I highly recommend meeting people who own restaurants.
That night we had drinks with our friends and went over together to the Red Ocotillo. We had an absolute blast and enjoyed dinner with them and their friends. Now we want to find ways to meet up with them on future road trips. It amazes me how many wonderful connections can be made when you put yourself out there. And speaking of that, we officially decided to jump in on Safari Condo’s 25th Anniversary “Grand Rassemblement,” which will be held in the summer of 2023. We had been in the “nope” category. It is so far to travel, and it would be such a stressful slog to get back in time for the start of school. The thing is, my district just now posted the academic calendar for the next school year, and it looks like we could get a whole extra week to get back. So, in the spirit of joining up with good people as often as life permits, and being open to grand adventures, no matter how daunting, we will be taking a “Once in a lifetime trip” to Quebec, for the third time.
The Box Canyon
With a whole extra day to stay in Borrego Springs, we got in a SAGed bike ride through a very windy Yaqui Pass and then hit the Box Canyon Trail again. The whole area was gusty, except down in the canyon, and we were watching the weather closely for travel conditions. The trail had changed since the last time we were there, clearly as a result of a small rock fall. It is still passable, but there is one scramble now. We got all the way to the “parking area” on the lower end of the canyon and saw a Jeep really struggle to get back up the steep and dusty “road” to the top. Note to selves to never take that road. I didn’t even want to try walking up it, so we just turned around and hiked back up through the slot canyon.
E-biking to the Center Market. I earned an ice cream.
In addition to eating out at the Red Ocotillo, we also tried Carmelita’s Mexican Grill. That was delicious and had very fast service. We shopped at the Center Market and were able to find everything we needed to stay stocked up. We grilled once, and made Chicken Cordon Bleu on the Omnia for Christmas. We filled up gas and propane in Mecca, on the way into town, and got to live it up with full hookups the whole time. It was a five day stay for us and we just loved it.
Christmas Circle, looking less festive than our trailer
As I said, I think this was the best Christmas ever. Or the best I can remember. Good thing I blog or I’d never remember a thing. Next time we visit, we hope that our critiques of the lame decorations on Christmas Circle will be rectified. Our friends know the mayor, so we figure there’s a good chance someone will give the central junction in town the proper treatment for our next visit. I mean, come on. It’s name is “Christmas Circle.” You gotta have more than a half lit fake tree! To our Borrego Springs friends, we say thank you from the bottoms of our hearts. What kind and generous hosts you are. We certainly lucked out meeting you in that campground and it would be so fun to hitch up together again some day!
Now that is one Merry Christmas!
Total miles from Jumbo Rocks: 116.4, 19.0 mpg (got as high as 47.4 mpg on the downhill), 4 hours 40 min with stops. Site 48 full hookups. Excellent cell service. Great solar but didn’t need it. Dump at site was good, but good dump station for non sewer sites. 48 is at the end of the row, so nice and quiet. View of garbage dumpster.