Roaring River State Park

Cassville, Missouri – June, 2016 Jim and I enjoyed a week living in the city, getting caught up on annual appointments, and visiting our kids. Then we were ready for some fresh air and fresh fish. So we headed to one of our favorite Missouri state parks, Roaring River. I mentioned it briefly last summer. But it has so much to offer it deserves its own post.

We have visited this park at least once a year for about 20 years. I clearly remember tent camping near this very spot when our baby was about 4. We have visited in a succession of campers since then; from our first 1970 Coleman popup, to our Trailmanor, and finally graduating to 5th wheels. We have so very many wonderful memories here!

I was really looking forward to hiking all my favorite trails again. There are 7 trails totaling just over 10 miles. You can also add a lot of mileage to the hikes by walking to the trailheads instead of driving.

The most interesting trail in the park is Devil’s Kitchen. It is a mile and a half with quite a bit of elevation gain. The payoff is beautiful bluffs along much of the trail followed by the highlight. Devil’s Kitchen is a half-hazard looking pile of rocks that form a cavern.

Supposedly the cavern hid guerilla soldiers during the civil war.

My favorite part of the Fire Tower Trail is the less than 1 mile section between the end of campground C and where the trail crosses the highway. The path leads you between the river and a very scenic series of bluffs.

The shortest hike in the park is Deer Leap. It is 100 steps leading to an overlook with a view of the hatchery and the spring pond.

The pond is where they keep the big momma trout they use to stock the remainder of the stream.

Spring water gushes out of the ground under this cliff and there is often some runoff from above creating a waterfall.

It’s fun to watch the fish in the stream even if you have no interest in catching and/or eating them. The water is so clear there are many great fish photo ops.

Trout is our favorite freshwater fish to eat so thankfully Jim did have some luck and caught enough for two plentiful meals. Here is day one’s catch.

You probably see some sad, dying fish. I see trout almandine!

It was super hot during our visit but thankfully there are plenty of places to keep cool around here. In the middle of the park is a popular swimming hole that is very family friendly and has enough water coming in and out to keep it fresh when the water is reasonably high.

Later in the summer this water can become a bit stagnant. Then people tend to gravitate to the camp swimming pool, which can be a lifesaver if you have kids in tow.

Some parts of the trout stream are designated multi-use and wading and swimming there can be fun. Our favorite swimming spot is a short drive past campground C. It is the first right after the Fire Tower Trailhead on the left. There is a memorial gravesite for the Russell’s, the original homesteaders, who wisely located their home next to a perfect little swimming hole. The water is usually about waste deep and has its own scenic bluff and waterfall.

We have visited this spot many times and never ran into another soul. I’m sure someone had swum their before our arrival one day because the generally clear water was mucked up. But it was still refreshing.

The campground here is extremely well maintained. Our spacious, electric only site averaged $24 per night including the reservation fee. The park has lots of cabins and a lovely lodge so it is a great place to meet family and friends that want to enjoy the great outdoors with you but aren’t thrilled about camping.

The Chatooga

Long Creek, SC – May, 2016 The Chatooga River is in the very northwest corner of South Carolina. In fact, the river is the state line between SC and Georgia for a good ways. It is in the foothills of the southern Appalachian Mountains and is considered South Carolina’s high country. The hilly landscape was a welcome change after a couple months circling the relatively flat areas around our property which they call the lowcountry.

This river drops dramatically and has many class 3 and 4 falls. We really wanted to kayak it but decided to wait until our next visit as the water could be better if it was a little higher. We also agreed we would probably do it in rented kayaks. The reason we came to this conclusion is twofold. Their inflatable kayaks are perfect for these falls and they are lighter to carry. Most of the put ins and take outs on this river are a quarter mile walk. There is no way we are hauling our heavy plastic kayaks a quarter mile.

Instead we visited all the access points we could reach. The river is most accessible where Highway 76 goes over it. Here the quarter mile path to the river is paved. There is a short spur where you can view a beautiful class 4 falls called Bull Sluice.

If we do float section 3 someday this will be the only class 4 we will face and it is right before the takeout. Apparently you can port around it on the other side of the river if you are not up to it. That’s probably what I would do, although if their boats handle the class 3’s upriver as well as they claim maybe I’ll have enough confidence to tackle this one when the time comes.

Our favorite spot on the river was Woodall Shoals. It was an easy drive on back roads from our campground. The path down to the river was not paved and in fact was a little confusing until you learned your way around. But the reward for the short walk was outstanding. When you reach the bottom you have to scramble over these cool rocks to get to an awesome swimming spot just above them.

Or you could hang out on the left end of them in the shallows and watch the entertainment.

We enjoyed Woodall Shoals so much we went there to swim and watch people run the rapid every afternoon of our stay.

This area is known for its many, many waterfalls. There are road signs everywhere that say such and such falls this way or that. The only problem is they don’t tell you how far you might be driving to reach them or what kind of trail you might have to navigate to see them. After some research we discovered quite a few require a strenuous hike of several miles. We visited Issaqueenna Falls because we read you can easily see it from an overlook after a short walk. We discovered that foliage has grown up there and completely blocks the view of the falls. The best view we managed was this behind the falls view of is first drop.

Its frustrating knowing there is a gorgeous 100 foot fall right in front of you and you can’t see it. At the same park though is a very cool tunnel that was well worth the visit. I love the tree roots in this pic.

Stumphouse Tunnel is 1600 feet deep. It was dug pre civil war as a train tunnel. The mountain proved too hard and when the railroad ran out of money they gave up on the project. You can apparently walk in about halfway before a gate stops further progress. But if you want to do that bring your rubber boots.

An easy waterfall to visit is Chau Ram.

It is the centerpiece of a county park.

One morning we headed over the state line to Georgia to explore the Tallulah Gorge State Park. It is a beautiful place that is worth a visit if you are in the area. We made about a two mile hike that included over 600 stairs. Here is the path down and the bridge that crossed the gorge.

When you get there the views aren’t really that spectacular. Here is the view straight down from the bridge.

We enjoyed the walk but the best views are from the easily accessible viewpoints near the visitor center. Like this one of L’Eau d’Or, French for “water of gold.”

It wasn’t easy finding a campground in this area. We finally found one that wasn’t on any of our camping apps. The Chatooga River Resort and Campground has some hotel rooms, a large tent camping area, and 8 RV sites with water and electric but no dump station for $38 per night.

We got site 5 which is the only one that was available all 4 nights we were there. It was extremely unlevel and we ended up using all our leveling blocks, a 6×6 we keep in the truck, and some landscaping blocks someone left in the site and we still weren’t as level as we would have liked. We would go back as long as we could get site 6 or 8 next time.

The campground was a short drive from a winery and a distillery. The Chatooga Belle Farm had a neat store and was a popular lunch spot by the looks of the crowd. They charge $5 for wine tastings so I didn’t bother since their price for bottled wine was twice what I would have considered paying.

The farm’s distillery had their grand opening while we were there. I don’t know if they will always be that generous with their free samples or if it was just a grand opening thing. But they gave you about 5 shots at the bar and then had little shots of mixed drinks made with their moonshine as well.

Jim owns a still with one of his buddies so he enjoyed getting to look at their equipment and talk to them about their process. They had a big deck off the back and a bluegrass band was playing both Friday and Saturday afternoon.

We really loved this area and only saw a small fraction of what we wanted to. We added it to the growing list of places we hope to spend a month or possibly a whole season in some day.

Georgia

Macon to High Falls State Park, GA – March, 2016 We planned a visit to Georgia’s High Falls State Park with two objectives. Most importantly, we wanted to see our eldest daughter who lives in Atlanta. And if we happened to make it to Macon’s Cherry Blossom Festival, well, that would be cool too. High Falls SP is smack dab between Atlanta and Macon.

We arrived on a Thursday and were immediately blown away by the falls. I expected there to be some falls we would need to hike some distance to. No, the falls are right next to the state park’s office and straddled by the road. They begin with the spillway from a dam that creates an adorable little lake.

But they continue for some ways. Here is the view downriver from the other side of the bridge.

We hoped to attend the Cherry Blossom Festival’s parade on Saturday afternoon but the weather forecast was looking dismal so we decided to visit Macon on Friday, even though there were no festival events that day. We hoped to see a city in bloom. We found a lovely little city with many beautiful churches.

It also had amazing old homes.

Not many people can get away with a cannon for a yard ornament but they pull it off because a cannonball actually went through the house during the civil war.

We did find a city in bloom.

Unfortunately, the Yoshina cherry trees that the city is famous for were not yet in bloom. We were told it would likely be another week or two before they were. Next time we are in the vicinity in late March or Early April we will check that they are in bloom and then spend a few days exploring Macon at its pinkest.

We had a wonderful weekend at the state park and lured our daughter and her boyfriend out to camp on Sunday with the promise of a large breakfast over the fire and plenty of fresh air and hiking.

Near the campground is an old mill that was converted to an old power station. Now it’s just a cool, abandoned building.

We drove up to the dam then walked down the other side of the river, opposite the campground. They have great trails along the river with lots of great spots to enjoy the falls that just keep going and going.

Then you can return through the woods for a little variation. Check out this very crooked tree.

We decided we could do with a little more walking to work off that big breakfast so we drove 9 miles to Indian Springs State Park. It has some great buildings built by the CCC, Civilian Conservation Corp, in the 30’s. This is the back of what is now the museum. I love the rock used.

The spring is under a dome inside this springhouse.

We thought we might walk around the lake but instead found this.

Apparently they drained the lake to repair the dam’s valve; glad we didn’t choose to camp here. The park does have a nice little falls near the entrance.

Indian Springs was an OK place to kill an hour and worth seeing but High Falls definitely stole the show. There is a private and free nature center with trails and animal exhibits between the two state parks called Dauset Trails. We didn’t have time to visit this trip but it got rave reviews and we’ll definitely check it out next time we are in the area.

High Falls has two campgrounds, one near the lake and the one we stayed in near the river. It was $32 per day for a water and electric site. It was a well-cared for campground with the friendliest campground hosts. They welcomed us the first day and they delivered the firewood we bought to our site and refused to even let us help them unload it. We will definitely return.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Ajo, AZ – January, 2016 Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was the last item on my list of must see places in Arizona for this go around. I wanted to see it primarily because my father said my late mother had loved it there. It isn’t really on the way to anywhere and I was tempted to save it for another visit. I am so glad we did not as we enjoyed the area immensely. We decided to spend two nights and one full day exploring there.

We started the day visiting the town of Ajo. I wasn’t expecting much of the town so I was pleasantly surprised. It was a rather large mining town until the mine shut down in the 1980’s. What remains is a town of around 1,800 people and some rather impressive buildings. This was their school during the town’s heyday. It has since been renovated to house artists.

They also have a town plaza, some pretty churches, and lots of cute homes. The town has an obvious artistic bent. We spent a pleasant couple of hours walking the town and then driving a scenic loop around it. It was a lovely drive, but all the drives in the area are scenic. We just love the craggily mountains here.

After a morning exploring Ajo we returned home for lunch and then made the 25 mile drive south to Organ Pipe. The afternoon was a perfect 75 degrees and sunny.

We checked out the visitor center first then made a short drive to the head of the Desert View Trail. We wanted to stretch our legs and this trail was a nice 1 and a quarter miles up and over a hill. It had some nice views and the largest concentration of Organ Pipe Cacti we saw all day.

After our walk we didn’t mind getting back in the truck again. This is a very large park so the choice was primarily which scenic drive did we want to make. Since it was already 1 pm we chose the 21 mile Ajo Mountain Scenic Loop. It was a good choice. The views were spectacular, especially during the trip in.

We stopped about halfway at the Arch Canyon viewpoint.

We decided to take the Arch Canyon Trail which was said to have good views of the arch and was supposed to be 1.2 miles out and back. It turns out the best views of the arch were from the trailhead and at 0.6 miles when you’d expect to be at the end of the trail it was really just the beginning of a climb up the rocks that appeared to promise a good view of the back of the arch but never delivered.

You could see a tantalizing small part of the arch and it seemed certain that if you climbed higher the view would appear. Just a little farther we told ourselves, as soon as we get to the other side of this boulder it will materialize. We climbed another half mile and the view never improved. We finally turned around. It is a great hike, and even a fun climb, as long as you don’t expect anything more.

It was a long and rewarding day. This area could easily keep us entertained for a week or more when we return some day.

We boondocked outside Why, Arizona, at Gunsight Wash BLM area which I found on freecamping.net. It is free with a 14 day stay limit. We pulled in on a Monday afternoon and saw around two dozen rigs while we were there. They were fairly spread out. We found a place pretty far in with a lot of space between us and our nearest neighbors.

There are supposedly two roads into the area but really there are a hundred paths in and around the small shrubs that cover the area and it is impossible to tell which is the main one. We broke the handle on our dump tank while maneuvering through one tight spot. It’s not too bad just a little confusing but if you have a large motorhome, or a new rig you don’t want to scratch, I’d recommend staying near the entrance.

We awoke to a cacophony of coyotes each morning. And they continued to serenade us throughout our morning coffee. Other than that the area was incredibly quiet and had the most amazing sunsets!

The BIG Tent, Flea Markets, & Gold

Quartzite, AZ – January, 2016 We have read about Quartzite for years so there was no question we were going to be there our first January out west. For anyone unfamiliar with Quartzite it is a small town in the desert that isn’t much more than a pitstop on the interstate during the summer. The surrounding desert offers tons of free and cheap boondocking so in the winter it is a haven for full-timers and snowbirds.

Every January for 9 days an RV show takes place there. There is a huge tent with exhibitors set up in and around it. During this time the number of visitors really spikes and there are thousands of RV’s parked in the desert in every direction. Here is a pic taken from above our campsite. If you zoom in you will see tons of white specs, each a camper, and the spot where they get really dense is near town. This is one of the less popular sides of town and the hills hide some of the more packed camping areas. Take my word for it, there are a lot of us.

Since Quartzite is not a very photogenic place I am going to throw in random pictures of the only cute things that were in abundance, puppy dogs.

We arrived the Thursday before the show started which also happened to be my 46th birthday. After we set up we drove in to town to have a look around and we stopped by one of the many flea markets to stretch our legs. This particular one happened to be primarily devoted to rock enthusiasts (not the music, the mineral kind). Quartzite also hosts a huge rock and gem show earlier in the month.

I had been fighting a cold ever since the last day of our cruise so there weren’t going to be any wild celebrations for this birthday but I did request takeout pizza for dinner. Jim and I stopped by Silly Al’s Pizza and had a couple beers while we waited for them to make our pizza. Given the size of their crowd we were surprised when our pizza was ready in less than 2 beers. We took it home and had a fabulous dinner.

Friday we headed to town after lunch to check out another huge flea market. This one was near the big tent so it had a lot of RV related items among the standard t-shirt, jewelry, and knickknacks for sale. I managed to spend a whole $1.50.

Saturday, the day of the big show, finally arrived. We got there at 9 just as the show opened which was good because we navigated the tent pretty well to start with but by the time we left a couple hours later it was getting crowded and hard to move. I have to admit that as hard as we tried to keep our expectations low, we did end up slightly disappointed by the show.

We had put off buying the few RV related items we did want until after the show thinking we might find them there so we wouldn’t have to order them. We did not. Jim was hoping to see a solar dealer that has had a booth there before and held seminars but they didn’t participate this year. He didn’t find what he wanted for the price he wanted to pay at any of the other dealers or the stores in town that offer solar.

In the days when I was collecting things and had a house to decorate, I would have loved their flea markets. We visited the ones on Main Street away from the big tent on Sunday and they had some really great old stuff, signs, and the like. But we aren’t allowing ourselves to buy anything that is not absolutely necessary. We are still culling through all the stuff we haul around and thought we couldn’t live without and donating more stuff every month or so.

The Quartzite gathering is as much about getting together with other RVers as it is about the show and flea markets. There are many groups that meet there in the desert; families, clubs, and friends.  They host get togethers all week long and I’m sure we could have joined a party or two but I didn’t feel like being very social with my cold.

We did love our free campsite at Dome Rock. We found a great spot and didn’t have any close neighbors. There are four wheel roads and ATV trails into the surrounding hills that could have kept us busy hiking for a week. We hiked up and around the nearest hill and found a mine shaft. It was a pretty solid looking tunnel that went straight in to the hill about 80 feet. Jim had brought a flashlight and insisted on checking it out.

There were also people panning for gold around us. One afternoon there was a group of men near our camp with metal detectors. They were running shovelfuls of dirt through a dry sleuth. Jim engaged them in a conversation and it turned out one of them was a well-known expert in the field of metal detecting and gold mining. He generously offered Jim some tips about his own equipment and some information on the process they were using to mine for gold in the wash.

Jim got his metal detector out and enjoyed a few hours of detecting and digging in a nearby wash. No gold yet!

Train Museum

Menifee, CA January, 2016 We chose a Thousand Trails campground an hour outside LA to stay at before and after our cruise to Mexico and to leave our fifth wheel during our 7 day absence. We made a 14 day reservation at Wilderness Lakes RV Resort. They let us stay in an electric only site the whole time without having to move to storage and it only cost us $3 per day.

We really liked this campground. There are canals running through it and they attract a lot of really interesting birds. Not so many that you have to watch where you step but enough that it makes every outing rather interesting wondering what strange fowl you might run across. It was also a bit out of town so you could strike out in any direction and have a pleasant walk along a country road.

The park had good amenities; putt putt, basketball and pickleball courts, game rooms. It was too cold for us to visit their pool or hot tub but stronger souls were using them. We did make use of their very nice pool hall. They also have a dynamite fitness room which we took advantage of a few times (trying to get ahead of all those calories we knew were waiting for us on the cruise).

We managed to fritter away 5 whole days here before we left with little to show for it. We did a lot of walking, we packed, and we shopped a little. The most interesting thing we did was visit the Orange Empire Railway Museum 11 miles north of our campground in Perris.

Jim is a railroad nut so when I read about this museum that was nearby and, better yet, FREE, it was a must see. It turned out to be a very good decision.

The museum consists of many barns full of machinery on 90 acres. It was rather deserted when we arrived on a Friday morning. We stepped into the gift shop and were informed that a docent had just started a tour and if we walked out to the back barns we might catch up with it. We did and we were led by a very informative tour guide for the next hour. We shared the tour with two families, each with small children, which made the morning even more entertaining.

We visited 5 of the barns. They have an amazing collection of both trains and streetcars. Many are fabulously original and others have been painstakingly restored.

Here is an electric locomotive that hauled freight in southern California until electrified freight service was converted to diesel in 1965.

This 1881 steam locomotive was part of a collection owned by Ward Kimball, a Disney animator. He named it Emma Nevada after a famous opera star from the late 1800s.

This is the inside of a mail car. All the work of a post office took place right inside the car as it made its rounds.

Here is a streetcar I believe operated in Santa Monica.

And my favorite, one of the last streetcar designs before most cities were converted to other types of public transit.

The docent had to unlock each barn for us so a self-guided tour seemed to be out of the question. I got the impression that on the weekends the barns are unlocked and you can wander at your own pace. They also offer train and trolley rides on the weekends and pull out a different one of several trains each time. They charge $12 per adult to ride these trains all day. I understand they generally operate 2 streetcars on a half mile loop and one train on a standard gauge 1.5 mile loop.

It made for a very interesting day and we would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting the area.

American Girl Mine Boondocking

Ogilby, CA – December 2015 We spent the week at a great boondock location that was conveniently located for our brief visit to Mexico I wrote about last. Ogilby is a town that is no more. It was at the intersection of Ogilby Road and some railroad tracks. All that is left now is some graves and a foundation, a school perhaps. It is 6 miles north of I-8, 13 miles from the Algodones border crossing, and 17 miles from Yuma.

There are lots of boondocking options in the area but we chose to make the second right after the railroad tracks onto American Girl Mine Road and preferred it to the other places we saw that week. It was free to stay with a limit of 14 days. There is a fenced area with a water truck a short ways down and we turned left just after it and then went across a large dip. We found a great spot where a previous inhabitant had practiced some rock art.

The area wasn’t crowded at all. There were about a dozen or so rigs there that week and plenty of space for us to spread out. The road is well maintained and was graded or watered almost every day we were there. Even though the American Girl Mine appears to be active we only saw 2 mine trucks on the road during our stay. The wind blew all week from the north and I was grateful we had chosen to park north of the road as it looked like the campers on the south side of the road had to deal with a lot of dust every time a vehicle went by.

We arrived during a dust storm and were not looking forward to getting engulfed in sand while setting up. Thankfully when we got to our turnoff the nearby mountains blocked the wind. It was even pleasant enough to take a walk after lunch while the wide open spaces to the south were still getting slammed by winds the rest of the day.

There was so much to see and explore here. Many of the hills are actually piles of tailings, leftovers from the mining operations. There was also some abandoned equipment around. This was what was left of a chute used to load ore into trucks at some point.

Up Ogilby road a few miles is the Tumco ghost town which we visited twice. The first time we went late in the afternoon and walked the 1.5 mile loop trail barely making it back to the truck before dark. There are numbered markers on the trail but they were out of brochures so we could only guess what they meant. But most were obvious; graves, a well, the remains of a building.

The next time we went earlier in the day and headed in to the hills past the town to explore. We found this mine shaft all blocked up for our safety. Darn!

And lots of cool old mine equipment.

Tumco was a pretty big operation at one point.

Just past the spot where we camped American Girl Mine Road goes to the right and if you take the left fork you are on a road designated number 710. We took this road a couple miles past the fork until it got too rough for our truck to continue and there we discovered a huge abandoned pit mine.

Jim did some research and we believe it was the Obregon mine and town. We didn’t find any relics of the town or the mining operation here but it was fun to walk to the bottom of the mine. It was less than a mile to the bottom but I swear it was 3 miles out. Even though we were there at noon the sun was so far in the southern sky that the light never did reach the bottom of the pit so it was tough to get a good picture.

We stopped and explored several areas along the road on our way back from the pit mine. There are many holes in the sides of the hills and you can’t help but wonder if they are mine shafts. Most aren’t. One such indentation we went to look at turned out to be nothing but on our way back to the truck we stumbled upon the only open mine shaft we found all week.

We poked our heads in and noticed it was very warm inside and there was a faint odor. Jim ventured in about 10 feet, far enough to poke his head around a corner to try and see the end. He had only his cell phone flashlight and could see about 20 feet with no end in sight. He heard some noises (animals, ghosts, his imagination?!) and finally hustled back to the entrance, none too soon for my liking.

We also discovered this awesome rock along the same road.

Jim is very interested in rock hounding and metal detecting and this is the perfect area for both. He has a very nice metal detector he is still getting used to so he got it out during our stay and practiced with it. Mostly he found pop tops and old cans. We also picked up small rocks we found on our jaunts and tried to identify them on the internet. We could easily spend a month in this spot next time we are in the area just poking around every corner of these hills, looking in every hole, and inspecting rocks.

Sunny San Diego

San Diego, CA – December 2015 We have thoroughly enjoyed spending 8 days in San Diego. Our youngest daughter flew out and spent the week with us. We celebrated both Thanksgiving and Christmas during her stay. Thankschristmas anyone? We promised her if she got herself here we would show her a good time so we visited places she wanted to see and we probably wouldn’t have gone to otherwise.

Jim and I checked out the waterfront in downtown San Diego while waiting for her to arrive Monday. We finally picked her up at the airport at 5pm and took her back to the bay for an awesome seafood dinner at Anthony’s within 30 minutes of deboarding.

The next day we started off slow to let her recoup from her long travel day which started the night before her flight with a drive to the airport and included a delay of several hours due to mechanical issues and having to eventually switch planes. We headed to Imperial Beach after lunch for a stroll in the surf.

Then we made our way up the Silver Strand to Coronado and across the bridge where we did some bargain hunting in the thrift stores in downtown San Diego.

The next day we visited the Museum of Making Music. It is 30 miles north of San Diego in Carlsbad and is well worth the drive. Besides showing you the history of musical instruments and letting you hear a lot of different music, it is a very hands on experience where you can try out a dozen or so instruments. Most instruments have head phones so no one can hear how really bad you are. Here I am channeling my inner Hendrix.

It was seriously a blast trying all the instruments and by the end I was convinced I wanted drum lessons and acoustical guitar lessons. My daughter advised me to buy an Xbox game that simulated those experiences. Not bad advice! I highly recommend the museum. It was a steal at $8 pp.

After a quick lunch we all headed to Balboa Park to check out the Museum of Man. Balboa Park is an awesome 1,200 acre park in the middle of San Diego that contains many museums and the San Diego Zoo (which at $40 pp we had no intention of visiting). The Museum of Man recently opened their California Tower to tours and I was excited to see it. Jim and our daughter weren’t overly excited about climbing 8 flights of stairs at the end of a long day so they chose to see the Instruments of Torture exhibit while I did the tower tour.

They enjoyed the exhibit but I think I got the better end of the deal. The tower tour wasn’t really strenuous and best of all it had a lot of great info about the history of the museum, the tower, and the park that wasn’t included elsewhere.

We met up after 40 minutes and toured the rest of the exhibits in the museum. The exhibits were fun and admission was reasonable. The museum admission was $12.50, they saw the museum and the torture exhibit for $20, I saw the museum and the tower for $22.50, or you could see all three for $25.

Her last full day with us we spent more time in Balboa Park and visited the San Diego Museum of Art ($12 pp). The building it is housed in is amazing. We enjoyed our visit and definitely got our money’s worth.

During our visit to San Diego we stayed at the very convenient Chula Vista RV Resort just south of San Diego. The weekly rate was a splurge at $420 but it was a beautiful resort and we enjoyed the super warm pool and the hot tub almost every day.

While we were there the resort hosted a Christmas decorating contest. Many RVs decorated their spaces for Christmas and on Saturday night they announced the winner following a particularly amazing chocolate extravaganza where they served pretty much everything you could think of covered in chocolate.

We just loved our visit to San Diego and look forward to visiting again in the near future!

The Fountain of Youth

Niland, CA – December, 2015 We searched for the Fountain of Youth and finally found it! A couple we visited with at a rest area in Colorado in May told us about an awesome campground in Southern California called The Fountain of Youth that we simply must visit when we got to the area. I tried to look it up but you can imagine the kind of results I got when I googled any variation of “fountain of youth.” Finally, while perusing campground options near the Salton Sea I stumbled upon it.

It is called The Fountain of Youth Spa RV Resort. It has a hot spring that supplies mineral water to one hot tub they call the Lobster Pot. They also have two large heated pools and three more hot tubs. It’s located in the middle of nowhere between The Salton Sea and The Chocolate Mountains. I know it sounds like as big a fairy tale as the famous but elusive fountain of youth.

They have sites with no hookups for $20/night so we planned to boondock a couple nights as the weather was perfect for it. I checked their website one last time to see if they offered any other discounts. I was ecstatic when I saw they were offering full hookup sites (normally $40) for only $10 per night to all first time guests through the end of December. We booked 7 nights.

We had an absolutely awesome time. I loved that their pools opened at 6am. There’s nothing better than enjoying your morning coffee in a warm pool or hot tub. We started most of our days there. We took on the task of hand polishing the RV’s exterior that week so we worked on that until lunch each day. It was good exercise.

After lunch we would take a walk around the resort or into the desert. The resort had just about every activity you could want; tennis/pickle ball courts, a dozen pool tables, bocce ball. We practiced our rusty horseshoe skills, clowned around in the ping pong room, and enjoyed the shuffleboard tables while we were there.

We only left the resort once to take a drive and see the sights. The nearby Salton Sea has a very interesting history. It was created by accident when the Colorado River overflowed an irrigation canal’s banks in 1905. The water flowed into the Salton Sink, a desert basin 278 feet below sea level, for 2 years before they finally got it contained. It created this shallow lake 35 miles across.

At first, it was a boon to the area. They stocked it with fish and communities and resorts grew up around it. But as the years went by with no fresh water flowing into the sea it became an environmental nightmare with massive fish die offs each summer.

We had read plenty of great camping reviews extolling the beautiful views and lack of crowds. We had also read some complaining of flies and stench. We were interested to see it for ourselves.

We stopped at a deserted beach and it looked pleasant enough. So we walked down to the beach and took the above picture. When we got about 30 feet from the water it started to smell. We finally noticed that the beach was scattered with fish skeletons.

We stopped at a couple other places to check out future boondocking options and experienced the same thing. The views were nice, we didn’t notice any flies in December, but the nearer you got to the water the more you noticed the smell. We decided we liked our camp several miles from the shore and didn’t care to kayak or fish in the Salton Sea.

Slab City was also nearby. We were looking forward to visiting “the last free place on earth” as they like to call it. It is a squatter’s paradise located on the remains of an abandoned marine base. It has been embraced by artists and individualists who have created a community of sorts which boasts a library, a skate park, and a nightclub among other things. Most inhabitants are transients or snowbirds but apparently there are about 150 year round residents that brave the summer heat that can reach 120 degrees.

My first impression was that for a group of people that extol personal freedom they sure build a lot of fences. I guess fences make good neighbors and you would have a lot of them if you chose to stay here. I was impressed with some of the ingenious shelters, especially those made of pallets. Mostly we were disgusted by how much trash was laying around. We decided we would pass on camping there.

We did enjoy visiting Salvation Mountain, a monument built at the entrance to slab city.

Artist Leonard Knight lived there and built it over the course of many years. He covered a hill in a mixture of adobe and straw and then painted murals and religious sayings on it. He kept adding on until 2011 when it was necessary for him to go to a long term care facility at the age of 80 where he later died. Thankfully a group of people have started a nonprofit and are working to preserve his work.

Palm Springs

Palm Springs, CA – November 2015 Before we knew it we had spent a whole week in this area and hadn’t visited any of the spots we wanted to see. We had browsed new 5th wheels for two days, then we worked on our camper for a few days, and then the weather was outstanding so we had to hang out at the pool a couple days. We realized we better get our rears in gear or we were going to miss the Palm Springs experience altogether.

We decided to ride the Palm Springs Ariel Tramway which took us about 6000 feet from the desert floor to the Mt. San Jacinto State Park in around 20 minutes.

We spent about an hour wandering around at the top experiencing each of the view points from the mountain visitor station.

But the best views were during the ride up and down. On the way up the car was pretty packed but on the trip back there were only about 10 of us so you could move around and experience the views better.

Now a few downsides in case you are considering this yourself. The ticket price was a bit steep at $25 pp. I found the trip up rather terrifying but kept my mind off it on the way down by snapping about a hundred bad photos. We experienced a mild case of altitude sickness, mostly shortness of breath and heartburn. We had hoped to hike at the top but decided to enjoy the views then go back down and find a good hike. Finally, the views at the top are really just OK. The best views are during the ride. IF I considered doing this again I would go just before sunset so I could experience the mountains in the daylight, the sunset from the top, and views of city lights below.

A few miles from our campground was the Coachella Valley Preserve. It was a very convenient place to get a couple miles of hiking in so we visited it twice during our stay. The San Andreas Fault runs directly through it and disrupts the water table creating this oasis in the desert.

We planned to drive up in to the San Jacinto Mountains to the community of Idyllwild one morning. It’s just over 5000 feet in elevation so we expected a dusting of snow and some cooler temps. The views of the mountains on the drive up were outstanding. We were just a few miles away from the town when we came upon a line of cars stopped just before a curve. Turns out there was ice on the road and several cars were unable to move. One car had slid in to the oncoming lane. Others had tried to pass and gotten nowhere but in the way. Thankfully not a single collision had occurred but the road was blocked. We waited around about 20 minutes and they didn’t seem to be any closer to resolving the mess so we turned around and headed back down.

We had passed this idyllic lake on the way up so we stopped to check it out on the way back. Many of the trees around the lake were carved with names and figures as the tree in this picture is. I’m sure as a nature lover I am supposed to be appalled but it was quite charming.

The walk was freezing cold but we had brought our warmest layers. We enjoyed a beautiful walk and appreciated the warmer temperatures back in camp even more after that.

We ended up saving the one thing I most wanted to do in this area for our very last day. I had visited Joshua Tree National Park with my family when I was about 12 and it had made an impression so I couldn’t wait to share it with Jim. It was an hour’s drive from camp. The main attraction in this park is rocks, BIG rocks. There are amazing piles of large, very climbable boulders. We stopped at Jumbo Rock, which is actually a campground, and walked a while and climbed some of them. The texture of the rocks makes it easy to get a good grip and they are piled in such a way that it is generally possible to find a negotiable path to the top.

The drive through the park was fun and every parking lot had another great pile of rocks to view, explore, and possibly conquer.

Unfortunately I had not even consulted the weather report for the area and never imagined that there was actually a 4,000 foot rise in elevation from camp to there. It was already one of the chillier days we had experienced in the area and after arriving we realized it was going to do good to break 40 degrees in the park that day. So we didn’t do as much hiking as I’d hoped but agreed we would come back and camp here one day and scramble around the rocks to our hearts’ content.

We really enjoyed our stay at Palm Springs Thousand Trails RV Resort. It is actually about 15 miles from Palm Springs but was fairly convenient. The campground is very picturesque with rows and rows of huge palm trees and it has a great pool and hot tub. We were there over Thanksgiving so we signed up for their potluck dinner. I took a couple of cream pies and we had an incredible meal. We are still using up the 30 days of free camping we got when we joined Thousand Trails so we can justify our $545 annual fee. We have used 24 days to date.