Sawtooth Canyon & Yosemite

Sawtooth Canyon BLM
Nights: 3
Hikes: 1

After our truncated stay in Death Valley we needed to find somewhere to hang out before heading toward Sacramento to get new tires on the Airstream. Between us and that other valley lay the Sierra Nevada mountains and everywhere we looked still had a chance of snow, so we opted to head south before heading north. With several BLMs to choose from near Barstow CA, we picked Sawtooth Canyon because someone compared it to the rocks of Joshua Tree. Plus it was only one mile down a dirt road and the other BLM was four.


We drove in to find a beautiful campground surrounded by the dark, jagged rocky hills that give this campground it’s name. We saw several spots where climbers were honing their skills, and even though this is BLM, there were designated sites with tables and fire pits, many already occupied. We nestled the Airstream against the rocks.


There was even a dinosaur playground!

With Chuck nursing a sore knee (an old injury aggravated by twisting his ankle), I climbed to the top of the rocky hill behind our trailer on my own.


The next day I made my way up one of the higher hills to see the views.

View back toward the campground. Our trailer is by the white patch in the middle.
Not sure why someone piled these rocks like this.

I was disappointed to find that on the other side was a valley much like the one we had come through, but excited by all the wildflowers and budding cacti I found hiding among the rocks.

Our last night a Subaru and small trailer splashed with graphics pulled up next to us. They were Subaru/Leave No Trace traveling trainers ( and spend nearly 250 days a year on the road camping. They were in town to lead training at the local BLM office and for local students. We got to chat a little and swap favorite camping spots. Cool that these campers are spreading the word about treading lightly on our beautiful lands.

Park of the Sierra Escapees Co-op
Nights: 3
Highlight: Yosemite, our tenth national park!

Along highway 99 in southern CA there are not many good spots to camp. We didn’t want to venture too far toward the mountains because the weather was predicted to get cold. We finally settled on another Escapees park in the foothills, figuring we could crank up the heat if necessary. As a bonus it was just an hour outside Yosemite.

Leaving Sawtooth we headed west and near the town of Mojave we saw lots of commercial airplanes. Surely there couldn’t be a busy airport here in the middle of nowhere. Googling it later, we found out it was an airplane graveyard where they store old planes for parts because of the dry desert air. We also started to see wind turbines. As we climbed through the pass there were hundreds of them in various designs, big and small. Then we hit the other side of the pass we started to see rolling green hills scattered with oak trees and lichen covered boulders. Definitely a change of scenery from where we’d been. These were the rolling hills I remember from my youth in California.

Going over the pass on highway 58 was not bad (yay, no snow!), but heading up highway 99 we found the going tough. The road is crumbling, the onramps are short so we were nearly squashed between semis, and the towns are sketchy. By the time we arrived we were worn out.

Love that redbud tree in bloom behind us!

This park was very different from the other Escapees parks we’ve visited. The sites are spread among hills with mature trees giving it a bit more of a campground feel. We could see signs of spring everywhere with daffodils, iris, and wildflowers in bloom. Our spot was at the top of a hill with views of the green valley to one side and the distant casino to the other. We pulled in just as it started to rain, then hail, then the sun came out. Yep, it’s spring.

The next day was slated to be sunny so even though we would have liked a day to rest we decided to take advantage of the sunshine and visit Yosemite on Thursday and do laundry on rainy Friday.


Driving on highway 41 we curved back and forth climbing up and down hills. I tried not to look at the drop off as we saw signs for 4000, then 5000 then 6000 feet. Funny, less than a week ago we had been sweltering in Death Valley and now we were staring at snow on the side of the road. I was glad we hadn’t left too early or there would have been ice on the road. Chuck was glad we weren’t towing the trailer. In spite of all this, it was a great way to approach Yosemite. We came through the famous tunnel to a spectacular view of the valley that took our breath away.


It looked almost unreal, the sun bringing everything into sharp focus: El Capitan, Half Dome and several waterfalls gushing with spring rain. It was amazing!



El Capitan

We took a short walk to the viewpoint for Bridal Veil falls. You could feel the spray coming off like rain even from a distance and we decided not to get any wetter.

Even on this weekday in early spring the park was busy and we were glad we did not wait until summertime to visit. Parking lots were already full so I can’t imagine trying to find parking then. Visiting Yosemite Village we walked through the visitor center, the Ansel Adams gallery, the old post office, and the museum. Everywhere you turned there were spectacular views of the cliffs and waterfalls.

Upper Yosemite Falls
Love all that mist!
Half Dome
Yosemite Falls

Taking a different route out of the park we found highway 140 covered by a slide. It looked like it had been there a while as they had installed some pretty serious one lane bridges to detour around it. With the length restrictions for the detour our trailer would have been too long so I guess we lucked out that I hadn’t been able to find a campground in the park.

I’d love to make a return trip to Yosemite when we can take a hike and view more of the wonderful sights, perhaps during fall when the leaves on the trees would color the hills although a spring visit will be hard to beat with the gushing waterfalls and magenta red bud trees popping against the green hills.

I got to put our 10th sticker on the map!

Surviving Death Valley

Pahrump NV
Pair-a-Dice SKP Co-op
Nights: 2
Laundry Loads: 6

After our week in Joshua Tree we intended to hit a grocery store before heading to Mojave. Unfortunately we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere and the only place we found on the way was a Dollar Tree. Luckily we had enough to get by, but after Mojave we desperately needed supplies and a laundromat before heading into Death Valley. Reading campground reviews (thank you someone mentioned Pahrump NV was the closest grocery store to the park. It was along our route and even better we found it had an Escapees park. After our great experience at the Escapees park in Yuma we decided 2 nights there would be perfect for re-stocking.

Pair-a-Dice is another Escapees co-op park, meaning it’s sites are individually owned. Even though this park is quite a bit bigger than Yuma none of it’s nearly 200 spots were open so we ended up dry camping. This suited us just fine, especially since it was free the first night and only $7 the next (plus we paid $7 to dump). The dry camp was at the entrance to the property so it was a little busy with folks coming and going, but we had a nice view of the hills.

You never escape laundry!

Arriving in the early afternoon we decided to get laundry out of the way. I’ve come to love doing laundry at SKP parks (well as much as one can enjoy doing laundry). For one it’s cheap ($1 to wash and 50 cents to dry), but also it’s more relaxed than a laundromat. At Yuma we always went back to our trailer to wait out the cycles, but here we opted to hang out in the huge clubhouse. I explored their craft room. Chuck found homemade peanut butter cookies for a quarter and used the wi-fi. The folks here were friendly, but we got a less vibrant vibe at this park than we did in Yuma.

The next day we hit town to pick up some things at Home Depot (yep they have things even a home on wheels needs), grab lunch (Mom’s Diner was disappointing), hit the Albertson’s (not very great produce, so opt for Smith’s if you’re in the area) and fuel up the truck. Now we were ready for the desolation of Death Valley, or so we thought.

An April Fools ad for Death Valley from the early 1900s.

Death Valley
Texas Spring Campground
Nights: 3 (we planned to stay 4 but it was too hot!)
High Temperature: 98 at the visitor’s center in Furnace Valley, 105 on the car readout

Hot. Beautiful. Dry. Beautiful. Dusty. Beautiful. Windy. Beautiful. Hot. Hot. Hot!

Even during the mild season, the heat rules the day here. By the end of March hiking is no longer recommended. With it being mid-March and 10-15 degrees above normal, we got a good taste of the hottest place on Earth—it once hit 134 degrees here. It’s not just the heat that gets you, but the extremely dry air that sucks all moisture away, leaving you dehydrated.


I couldn’t drink enough water to keep up, my feet puffing up like marshmallows. During summer they say you lose 2 gallons of water just sitting in the shade. It felt like we had returned to Badlands NP in August. Only here there was no grass or trees, only a few bushes in some of the washes.

Death Valley is a land of huge barren mountains and rocky hills surrounding a salt crusted valley. The astounding part is the variety in the rocky terrain. There are golden mounds of badlands hills, craggy dark lava peaks, angled layers erupted to the sky in palettes of orange, white and gold and white sculpted valleys splashed with red, yellow, green or chocolate. Sometimes all these are right next to each other or layered together. Most of the hills exhibit layers pointed at a 45 degree angle toward the sky showing the huge uplift that has taken place over the years. As those mountains tip one side up the other side goes down creating a valley that sits below sea level.





With only 2 inches of rain a year, the salt and everything else around here bakes into a crust. I think I know how it feels. It was so hot all of our energy was sucked away. A sign in the visitor’s center said walking after 10am was not recommended so we only ventured out in the morning. The rest of the day was spent listlessly sweltering in the heat, guzzling iced drinks, and perhaps an ice cream bar from the nearby Furnace Creek Store.

Thank goodness we brought some shade!
Our campground view

With our campground little more than a rocky parking lot it wasn’t much of a respite from the harsh weather. We even broke down and turned on the glorious AC one afternoon for an hour thanks to our awesome solar/lithium setup. At least once the sun went down it started to cool a little.

Golden Canyon cliffs

Even with the energy sucking heat, we managed to see quite a bit of the park. We took what our National Park Guidebook correctly billed as the best 1 mile trail in the park, Golden Canyon, opting to add the spur to Red Cathedral. As we headed into the canyon, even in the morning, it was warming up fast so I tried to stick to the shade provided by the canyon walls. Following the dry wash, the cliffs were an amazing mix of colors and shapes. After taking one wrong turn, we found the spur to Red Cathedral and squeezing between rocks climbed up to a little room at the base of the red spire hills.



A faint, loose path led up the ridge and I scrambled up to see the view. As we ate lunch Chuck commented that I’m more adventurous now and I wouldn’t have scrambled up there when we set out. I think perhaps he’s right.


One evening we took the drive to Dante’s Peak which gives a nearly 360 degree view of the park and a respite from the heat. I felt almost chilly looking from 5400 feet down to the sea level valley below. The rocky mountains in the distance seemed almost unreal. It was definitely worth the steep drive.

From Dante’s Peak it looks like water below but it’s the salt flats.
At last, a cool breeze!

Also worth it is Artist’s Drive, which was reopened after extensive roadway repairs following flooding the day we were here. Curving in and out of the sometimes narrow hills, the surprising rocks formations full of color are amazing.

One of the many stunning views along Artist’s Drive.

At Badwater, the lowest point in the park you can walk on the salt crystals. At first it was so packed that it seems like finely polished cement, albeit bumpy. Then it got a bit soft and grainy where there was more moisture just underground. In fact in places visitor’s had dug shallow holes which were filled with muddy water. Further out, where not as many people ventured, there were sharp crystals crunching underfoot, the sun blinding as it reflected off all the white, and hot wind whipping at our hats.

Later visiting the 20 mule team Borax mine, I wondered how the workers survived harvesting the salt in these conditions and then processing it to remove the borax. Luckily they shut down in summer because borax doesn’t crystallize at temps over 120 so they couldn’t refine it.


Sadly, Scotty’s Castle is closed after major flood damage so we’ll have to save that for a return visit once we’ve forgotten how unbearable the heat was. We also missed the small museum at Furnace Creek and a visit to the Stovepipe Wells area. But on our third day the winds picked up and as we sat sweltering in the heat watching tents being flattened and trash and dust flying across the campground, we decided it was time for us to leave this desolate place!

A beautiful reward for enduring a hot day.

Joshua Tree Rocks!

Joshua Tree South BLM
Nights: 7
Hikes: 1

While the Joshua trees are cool, it the rocks that make this park special. In some places they look like they’ve pushed straight up through the ground to rise above the surrounding desert.  In other places it appears some giant has been stacking them like blocks, but in actuality it’s erosion that’s done the work over thousands of years.


We opted to stay at the Joshua Tree South BLM*. With the other areas of the park at higher elevations, we knew they would be cooler at night in early March. Plus this spot is convenient since it’s immediately outside the southern entrance and not far off the freeway. After first heading 8 miles into the park to dump tanks and fill our fresh water at the Cottonwood Spring campground, we were set to enjoy another free boondocking spot.


We spent our first full day driving through Joshua Tree to get oriented. This is another huge park like Big Bend and Glacier, with vastly different areas. In the south you have the Colorado Desert, like we found in Anza-Borrego, but as you go north you climb into the Mojave Desert where you find the Joshua trees and giant boulders that are favored by climbers. As we drove from the south looking out at the red mountains similar to those of Anza and seeing the same ocotillo, cholla and creosote bushes I was thinking maybe I’ve had enough of the desert.

Cholla forest – some taller than me!

Then as we moved into the Mojave section of the park near White Tank huge boulders were suddenly rising out of the ground and joshua trees began to appear. Wait, this is a whole different desert!

We stopped for lunch among the boulders at Live Oak picnic area and it was tempting to climb them, but as Chuck’s ankle was still healing we opted to stay on the ground.




The park was busy on this Friday and the campgrounds were full. We drove through Jumbo Rocks, right in the heart of the park, to see if we wanted to move up there after the weekend but found the spots crammed together amongst the boulders. Even though there were some sites for larger trailers and motorhomes, they were basically parking spots along the side of the road, making for a very narrow path through the campground. We decided this tight, chaotic campground was not a place we wanted to risk bringing the Airstream. Rocks (and passing vehicles) leave big dents!


Stopping at Hall of Horrors, we saw someone attempting to walk a tightrope strung high between two rocky hills. It was obviously pretty tricky as he kept falling off and having to pull himself back up. Thank goodness he had a safety harness! Sorry, I didn’t get a photo.

Joshua Tree bloom

Deciding to make a loop out of the drive we exited the park in the quirky town of Joshua Tree, where we stopped at the small visitor center. Then we headed east along highway 62 to Twentynine Palms, stopping for a snack, before heading back back into the park. We were both getting tired so skipped the visitor center there. Kinda strange that this park has two visitor centers that are not actually in the park, but it looked like most folks stayed in this northern region to visit the park. The drive ended up being a very long loop, but we felt like we got a good view of the park.


Saturday turned into chore day. We headed into Indio to do laundry and grocery shop. Our first stop though was the #4 restaurant in the US on Yelp, TKB Bakery & Deli. Funny that here in the middle of nowhere is a sandwich shop with so many reviews. I was excited they had gluten free bread so I could enjoy a turkey club and picked up a couple of gluten free muffins and cookies to enjoy later. With the very personable owner keeping things lively I could see why this place is so popular.

After seeing the park on our drive, I knew I wanted to spend time among the giant boulders. So we headed for the Split Rock Trail, a 2.5 mile loop that shouldn’t be too hard on Chuck’s healing ankle. It was a great hike among the rocks, each turn giving a different scene of amazing boulders.  We even saw a pair of climbers on one of the rock faces.

Afterwards we drove up to Keys View touted as a great vista, only to be disappointed that it was mostly a view back into the valley where Indio and Palm Springs are located and not a view into the park. Our last stop was the short trail to Arch Rock, a hidden gem in the White Tank Campground.


Since it was a long drive to the heart of the park from where we camped and Chuck’s ankle still needed rest, we decided not to do any more hiking, which is fine because it leaves us something to look forward to if we ever return. I think next time I’ll try to get a reservation at one of the northern campgrounds that has trails and rock views right in the campground.

We visited the General Patton museum just a few miles up the freeway at Chiriaco Summit and found out this whole area (a  350 x 250 mile stretch of CA, NV and AZ) was used as a military training ground in the early 1940s. Patton figured it was perfect to prepare troops for the desert conditions in North Africa. Over 1,000,000 service men and women trained here. I couldn’t believe they limited them to one canteen of water per day. How they did not all die of heat stroke is a mystery.

It was the 30th anniversary of the U2 album that made Joshua Tree famous so of course we had to listen to it while we were here. Turns out the famous cover photo was not taken in the park but near Mojave Desert Preserve. That’s ok. It turns out I’m not sick of this desert so that’s our next destination.


Maybe we’ll see even more wildflowers there. They were just starting to pop out here.

As we pulled out Thursday morning, I spotted a desert tortoise on the side of the road. A rare sighting and a fine ending to our time here!

*BLM stands for Bureau of Land Management. They manage public land for various uses including grazing, camping, and off-roading. While areas can vary a lot you’ll usually find no amenities like tables, water or restrooms so it’s great that we travel with our own. 🙂 If you are set up to be off-grid and can navigate some dirt roads they are often great places to camp.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Nights: 9
Hikes: 4
Bikes: 1
Bug Bites: 0 (got to love bug-free winter time)
Injuries: 1 😦

We were starting to feel the itch and knew it was time to leave Yuma but still wanted nice weather. I had seen pictures of metal sculptures on Instagram that piqued my interest about Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and there seemed to be plenty of boondocking and good weather so off we went not knowing much else about the area.

We found a spot at the edge of the huge gravel boondocking area.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is rare in that even though they have a developed campground they allow dispersed camping anywhere in the park with a few rules. We chose the Rockhouse Road area, a former BLM site that is now part of the park. There were lots of others there too, but plenty of space for everyone. With trash, recycling, and water available at the visitor’s center on the outskirts of town we were set.

Thanks to recent rains there was more green than we expected for a desert.

After a month of full hook-ups we wondered if it would be hard to switch back to the boondocking lifestyle. We really don’t live much differently one way or the other, but when dry camping monitoring resources (power, water, wastewater) is key.  We monitor the weather to gauge our solar power input and enact water saving measures to make our fresh water last longer and keep our grey water tank from filling up too fast. Yes, that means back to navy showers and putting a pitcher under the faucet while waiting for the water to get hot and, where possible, dumping dish water in the bushes. It was good to find that we had no trouble sliding into water saving mode and with all the sunshine we were making way more power that we were using. Lasting 9 days was pretty easy, especially since we got to enjoy a beautiful area free of charge.

The evening view from out our door.

We found plenty to do right at our site when we weren’t enjoying the views. A fellow camper told us about the rock art hidden in the hills above the campground. (If you look west to the hills, the rock art is behind the one with the big gash running down it.) Heading that way we saw trails going up either side so we made a loop out of it. From the top we enjoyed a nice view of the campground and saw even more trails to follow further but headed back down.

We rode our bikes down the road, struggling through the sandy spots to Clark Dry Lake. It was covered in cracked mud from the recent rains and although it looked like there was water in the distance, Chuck rode out to confirm it was just a mirage. Heading back was a bit harder as we had to come uphill through the soft spots and fight the wind, but it made for a good workout. During our stay we saw many jeep excursions heading out the road, but never explored further into the canyon ourselves. Something to save for next time.

Clark Dry Lake
Found art in the campground

We did visit all 100+ metal sculptures in the area (get a map at the park visitor’s center or Chamber of Commerce). They were the idea of Dennis Avery, who funded the project and placed the giant rusty artwork on his land, Galleta Meadows, north and south of town. The artist, Ricardo Breceda, sculpted the creatures, many of them prehistoric beings who would have roamed this area, over several years beginning in 2008. His artistry is amazing.

We even had a little fun posing with some of the sculptures.

The state park has a nice visitor’s center on the edge of town with displays about the history, geology, and wildlife in the area. We walked the nature trail that identifies some of the plants and a paved trail to the campground that has a scaled representation of the solar system with the visitor’s center as the sun.


Another day we came back to do the Palm Canyon hike, one of the most popular of the parks many trails. You can pay $10 to park at the trailhead in the campground or park for free at the visitor’s center and walk a little over a mile to start the hike. Thus our 3.5 mile hike turned into 6 miles. We weren’t too impressed with the palm canyon (the one at KOFA was hard to beat) but there were some good views, especially on the way down via the alternate route.


Our enjoyment was interrupted though when Chuck badly twisted his ankle climbing over a large boulder. He had to grit his teeth and limp the last 2 miles and spent the next 2 days implementing R.I.C.E. That ended our hiking in the area although I took a couple of hikes exploring the hills in the campground on my own.

View from the top of the hill I hiked up.
View looking down from the hills toward the campground.

Wildflowers were just starting to bloom here and there. We saw desert lily, lupine, jojoba, and others. In another week or two they said the bloom, and the crowds, would be phenomenal. In fact after we left someone sent us a post about the “superbloom” happening this year.


The state park completely surrounds the charming little town of Borrego Springs. Visiting the Friday morning farmer’s market we scored fresh strawberries, baby kale, oranges, lettuce and pea pods, even though some of the vendors were already packing up at noon (the market goes until 1pm). We also heard that the grapefruit at Seely’s Ranch are great, but didn’t head out that way. I wandered for nearly an hour in a great shop, Borrego Outfitters. In addition to a good selection of outdoor and casual clothing and shoes, they had gifts, wine, kitchen items, kids crafts, hats, hiking gear and so much more. On the advice of another camper we found a small grocery store, Desert Panty, that was much more reasonable than the bigger Central Market. Sadly, we never got a chance to check out the Red Ocotillo restaurant that was recommended by two different people.


With so much more to explore in California’s biggest state park and some favorites to return to, I’m sure we’ll be back again!

KOFA and Quartzite


After our relaxing time in sunny Yuma we travelled about an hour north to Quartzite. Every year thousands of RVers converge on this spot in January for the big RV show and many spend their entire winters here because of the cheap camping. In the Long Term Visitor Areas you can stake your spot in the desert for only $140 all season. They even have a dump station, water and trash. We opted for a more remote area with no services but lots of beauty about 15 miles south of town. The KOFA National Wildlife Refuge has camping for 14 days free of charge. Even though we only ended up staying 3 nights you can see we got lots of scenic photos. By the way, KOFA stands for King of Arizona and was the name of a mining operation.


We arrived on Thursday to scope out a spot. Heading in the gravel road we were worried we wouldn’t be able to turn around if we went too far so we picked a big level spot still a ways from the mountains. After unhitching we decided to drive up the road and found an even better spot with amazing views of the rock cliffs. We put out some chairs to claim it, drove a couple of miles back, hitched up again, and towed the trailer to the base of the mountain. It took quite a bit of maneuvering to get our trailer level while facing the right direction for the solar panels, but once we got it all set we enjoyed the stunning views.




You’ll notice from the photos that KOFA wasn’t as sunny as Yuma. While it made for great photos, it made for chilly camping. We spent the whole day Friday inside as the wind and rain whipped around us. We were glad our trailer is aerodynamic because some of the gusts were quite strong.


We even had a few rainbows.

We took advantage of the nice weather on Saturday to visit the RV show. We had been looking forward to this show since we left Seattle. I don’t know what we were expecting, perhaps something like the RV show back home only bigger, but boy were we disappointed. The “Big Tent” as they call the main area of the show was filled with vendors like those you find at the fair selling mops and pans and such, and not a lot of RV specific products. In fact we found nothing we were looking for on our list and only bought a Mac Attack BBQ pork sandwich (it had mac and cheese on it) and we didn’t even manage to take any photos. We walked through some of the swap meet area in town but soon grew bored of tent after tent of the same stuff. After less than 2 hours in Quartzite, we were done. We opted not to check out the small town (perhaps another time when the show isn’t on).

Insider tip: If you ever visit the show you can park for free during the day at the LTVA just south of the show. It’s much better than the crazy show parking where people circle endlessly and we saw 3 different vehicles stuck in the sand, plus it’s just as close.

Instead, we headed back to KOFA to take advantage of the sunny afternoon by hiking the Palm Canyon trail. It wasn’t too hard to get to the spot where you could see the palm trees, but we decided to scramble up the side of the mountain to get closer.

The way up.


These crazy palm tress grow here naturally. The microclimate on this hillside supports the only grove of native palms in Arizona.

That’s the trail back down.
Making my way carefully.
View from half way down.

Looking ahead the forecast called for more cloudy, cold weather. While we can use our propane to heat up the place, it’s just not as comfy when it’s really cold and with the clouds our solar power was dwindling. It was a pretty easy decision to head back to Yuma for more winter sunshine. Amazing what a difference 50 miles can make!