The Veteran’s Memorial at Sunrise Rock in Mojave National Preserve
Lava Tubes in the Mojave National Desert
Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System from a distance in the Mojave Desert
Mojave National Preserve
A Joshua Tree in the Mojave National Preserve
Red Rock Canyon State Park, Cantil CA
Red Rock Canyon State Park, Cantil CA
Saddle Mountain, Tonopah, AZ
Red Rock Canyon State Park, Cantil, CA
Our campsite at Saddle Mountain in Tonopah, AZ
On our travels sometimes we needed a place to stop for just one night to break up a long drive in between destinations. Some of these stops have ended up being in really fantastic scenic locations and we had a hard time saying goodbye in the morning. Here’s a few of our favorite one night stands:
Mojave National Preserve- We camped for a night at free spot called Sunrise Rock in the Mojave Desert. A beautiful spot behind a big rock with a giant white cross Veterans Memorial. Near our campsite there were huge lava tubes we climbed on and took our big binoculars to scan the area for wildlife. I only saw some desert rabbits but the sunset was amazing and it was very peaceful. On our way into Mojave we passed a huge solar project out in the desert, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. Really neat to see how scientists and engineers try to harvest the desert sunlight into usable energy. It was an excellent stopover on our way to Death Valley from the Grand Canyon.
Red Rock Canyon State Park, Kern CA- Our climb out of Death Valley took a lot longer than we expected and as the sun was setting we were still almost five hours from our previously picked out destination for the evening. We saw the sign for Red Rock Canyon and made the decision to stop for the evening since it had been a really long day. We pulled in and found a brand new campground surrounded with scenery reminiscent of the Flintstones. There were hardly any other campers there so we picked an easy pull through site and got out the camera to get some shots of the interesting rock formations and the gorgeous sunset. After a really rough day on the road it felt like an oasis in the desert just for us right when we needed it most. A piece of road trip magic bestowed on us from the travel gods.
Saddle Mountain, Tonopah AZ- We needed a one night stopover in between Joshua Tree National Park and Sedona, AZ. If we are stopping for just a night I still try to find something interesting to do in the area if we have time. I started looking at Campendium.com for a boondocking spot and came across Saddle Mountain. It had five star reviews and was right on our path to Sedona. What really caught my eye in the reviews was that the El Dorado Hot Springs were just a few minutes from the campground. A hot soak sounded awesome and they had private soaking spots for $15 per person for an hour. I called and made a reservation for a private soak for two at sunset and we headed to Saddle Mountain. The site was great! It was free, and we were the only campers there. Also, there were tons of huge Saguaro Cacti everywhere! We walked around the area taking pictures of the huge cacti and then went to the El Dorado for an awesome soak. The El Dorado Hot Springs had a rustic 70’s vibe with chickens, cats, and peacocks running around. The soaking tubs were separated by old fences and the tubs had amazing hot spring water flowing into them. They also had an outdoor shower for people to use when they were done soaking, which we took full advantage of since we had been using the camper shower a lot recently. It was a very rustic outdoor shower with just a string and occupied sign to keep people from walking in on you and only the open air above. The stars were out and they had lots of twinkle lights in the trees and the whole experience just made my soul happy.
The true magic of the road really came to life in the unexpected places we happened across on the way. They always showed us we were on the right path and let us know we needed to keep going, there is always more to see, explore and experience.
Joshua Tree National park
Joshua Tree National Park
A view from the top of Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree National Park
A view from the top of Joshua Tree National Park
The Salton Sea
Cholla Cacti in Joshua Tree National Park
The International Banana Museum
International Banana Museum
Back to the desert again. But this desert has some really interesting trees. Joshua Tree National Park is where two different styles of desert meet, the Mojave and the Colorado. After splurging on our beachfront spot on the coast we needed to find a free boondocking spot for our Joshua Tree Adventure. We took to Campendium.com and were not disappointed. We camped for free at Joshua Tree South on BLM land located right outside the southern entrance to the park. There were lots of campsite with fire rings and the spots were fairly spaced out. It was only a mile off the interstate but you couldn’t hear the traffic. A really neat thing about the spot was that you could see the headlights of the interstate traffic all night but it was far away and kind of mesmerizing watching the lights in the darkness of the desert. Some camping nights are more memorable then others and we had a really great one here. There was one evening we were hanging out watching the stars and gazing at the interstate traffic in the distance. We couldn’t see our neighbors because it was so dark out but the people to the left of us were playing exactly our favorite kinds of music at their campsite and on the right of us was a group of Chinese college age kids playing games and laughing in the dark. It was a really good vibe all around. Lots of different people hanging in the desert in the middle of nowhere enjoying their evening. Just a moment of pure happiness, which is what it’s all about.
We spent two days exploring Joshua Tree National Park. This desert landscape was very different than Death Valley. There were tons of huge geological rock formations to climb on and a lot of really cool hiking trails. We hiked at Skull Rock, a trail named for the giant rock that resembles a skull at the beginning of the trail. We also hiked up to the top of Ryan Mountain for stunning 360 degree views of the park. A challenging hike but totally worth it for the views! My favorite thing we saw were the Cholla Cacti they were short, stout, bush like cacti with shades of yellow and green needles. They looked almost fluffy but Ryan can tell you, don’t be fooled, they are very pointy! We also saw lots of Joshua Trees of course. They are really neat trees and grow pretty large. I was surprised how much vegetation and wildlife were in the park. When we were leaving the park one evening Ryan had to swerve around something in the road, it looked like a hand scurrying across the road. It was a giant tarantula! Supposedly they are the gentle giants of the spider world but I was happy to view it from inside the truck.
From our boondocking spot we also checked out a couple other nearby places. We stopped in at the International Banana Museum and checked out their insane collection of everything banana related. And I mean EVERYTHING banana. There were posters, figurines, candy, liquor, stuffed animals, ash trays, and basically anything in the world that is flavored banana or has a banana on it. They also served banana flavored treats so we sat at a banana themed table and had a banana split and a peanut butter, chocolate, banana shake. An interesting road side stop in the desert. After the banana museum we checked out the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea is located directly on the San Andreas Fault Line, and has a higher salinity than the Pacific Ocean but less than The Great Salt Lake according to Wikipedia. The salinity here is increasing and fish are dying at rapid rates not being able to survive in the changing environment. From a distance the lake looked beautiful, but after parking and walking towards the lake the smell of dead fish was overwhelming. It didn’t take long to see the smell was coming from piles of dead and decaying fish lying along the banks. It’s an interesting reminder of how our landscapes and ecosystems can change quickly. I recommend looking it up, there’s a lot more interesting information about this lake in the middle of a desert than I have room for here.
Joshua Tree was our last California spot, it was time to head further east. Our next location had been on my list for a while. It was time to say good bye to the desert and hello to the red rocks of Arizona
Pismo Beach, CA
Pismo Beach, CA
The Monarch Conservatory at Pismo Beach, CA
A sunny day at Pismo Beach, CA
A sandy walk through a fragrent forest to Pismo Beach, CA
A cloudy day at Pismo Beach, CA
After a week in the desert I needed to smell the ocean breezes so we hit the road and headed for coastal California! After doing some research we settled on Pismo Beach in San Luis Obispo County in Central California. We stayed at Oceano Campground, one of our priciest stays at $42 a night but still a pretty reasonable campsite fee for being on the beach in California. Thanks to the recent boondocking we’ve been doing we could afford to splurge a little here for location. It wasn’t the most spacious campground but it was super clean and had decent pay showers. Of course what we were there for was the beach anyway and it was just a short walk through a scenic, fragrant forest to get there. We ran into a huge fox several times on our walk to the beach. The other campers we met were really nice and everyone (including us) had decorations up for Halloween. We even enjoyed some Halloween candy from a friendly neighbor.
Pismo Beach allows vehicles to drive on it, which I thought would bother me but we quickly got used to the slow traffic and sunk into beach bum mode. We spent our days laying on the beach napping in the sun and walking down the beach looking for shells and sand dollars. It was a popular spot for horseback riding and surfing. On our first day we noticed spouts of water way out in the water and after some investigating with the binoculars we were super excited to see it was whales! I think they were Gray Whales migrating south. We spent a good chunk of time being entertained by the whales and watching them smack their huge tails against the water. It was so neat!
We also spent a morning at the Monarch Butterfly Conservatory. It was located a short walk up the beach from our camp. Every year the Monarch Butterflies migrate to the conservatory from the Rocky Mountains to spend the winter. They arrive in late October and we were fortunate enough to be there as they were starting to arrive. Walking through the conservatory the trees are covered with Monarchs, so many in fact that we thought we were looking at clusters of leaves on the trees but it turns out they were clusters of butterflies! The staff at the conservatory were super nice and extremely knowledgeable about the Monarchs. They set up spotting scopes so people could look up into the trees to see the huge clusters of butterflies. Touring the conservatory was free and a must do if you are in the area.
I also have to give a shout out to the folks at Trans-King Transmissions in Arroyo Grande, close to Pismo Beach. A big part of having an enjoyable road trip is making sure that your rig is well maintained. After 3 months on the road it was time to get the transmission serviced and the oil changed. They got us right in, had reasonable prices, offered to drive us somewhere so we wouldn’t have to waste our day in their waiting room. When we were picking up the truck the office manager inquired about what we like to do. When he found out we like to hike, he immediately pulled up a map of his favorite hike and printed out directions to the trailhead. Talk about service!
Our evenings in Pismo Beach were consumed by the World Series. Being on the West Coast the games started right around sunset so we watched the sunset on the beach and then scurried to our camper to watch the game every night. I’m sure our neighbors were wondering what we were doing in there every night, but I think the Illinois license plates and the cheering and groaning gave it away. We are Cardinals fans but it was still super exciting to see the Cubs in the World Series. We actually decided to extend our stay at the beach for two extra days so we could finish watching the series. We were pretty sure we wouldn’t pick up any TV channels at our next location. It was worth it, that was some good baseball and of course who could pass up a few more days of being beach bums?
Well with the World Series completed and our camper full of sand, it was time to truck on down the road again. Time to start working our way home to Illinois for the holidays. No reason to sweep out the sand though because the desert was calling again. Next stop, Joshua Tree National Park!