Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Imperial National Wildlife Refuge…

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Imperial Natl Wildlife Refuge 001As our time winds down here in Yuma one trip we wanted to make before we left was to the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge for a desert hike. Imperial National Wildlife Refuge has over 15,000 acres designated as wilderness as it protects wildlife habitat along 30 miles of the lower Colorado River on the Arizona California border.

To get there from Yuma it is about a 30 minute drive north. The first thing we noticed outside Yuma was the extensive agriculture in this area. Irrigation has allowed Yuma to become the largest lettuce producer in the USA during the winter months growing nearly 90 percent of all Imperial Natl Wildlife Refuge 002leafy vegetable crops in the USA during this time.

A little further north we see the Yuma Proving Grounds. This is where a wide variety of weapon systems and munitions are tested. We saw flares in the sky and large planes doing touch and go’s on the runway while driving through the are. It is mostly unfenced however, just a short way off the road about every 1/10 mile or so are signs warning you of unexploded munitions in the area. Yikes! Plenty enough warning for us not to hike in this area.

As we got closer to the refuge we saw a sign for Lake Martinez so we took a little detour to discover what appears to be a place Imperial Natl Wildlife Refuge 003where many RV’ers overwinter. The lake is surrounded by the Imperial Wildlife Refuge and is fronted by waterfront homes, cottages and RV spaces. On the Colorado River it also makes this area  a prime destination for bird watchers. As we neared the docks we saw a Blue Heron out and about doing a little shopping… Lake Martinez looks like a great little escape for those who really don’t like to see a lot of people as it is out in the middle of nowhere but seems to have a lot of desirable features.

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Imperial Natl Wildlife Refuge 007Leaving Lake Martinez we found the signs heading to Imperial National Wildlife Refuge. We pulled into the parking lot for the Visitor’s Center only to find it closed this Monday morning. Finding a nearby trailhead we headed out into the desert along a very well laid out desert trail. A nice and easy hike traversing many desert washes as we hiked along the trail.

The habitat is your typical desert scrub but seems to be a mixture of species I have seen before in both the Mojave and Chihuahua Deserts. Creosote bushes and Palo Imperial Natl Wildlife Refuge 012Verdes dominate the uplands while Salt Cedar is prevalent in the wetter lowlands. We even spotted a nice Phainopepla perched atop a bush looking for a snack (photo above). After we finished our hike we stopped back by the CRV and picked up our lunch and enjoyed a nice picnic outside the Visitor’s Center at a covered picnic area overlooking the wetlands below.

Imperial Natl Wildlife Refuge 013It appeared as we were the only ones at the refuge so since we had it all to ourselves,after lunch we drove down a dirt round and took a stroll out on Mesquite Overlook. What a fantastic view of a pond and wetland with a wonderful desert mountain backdrop. We even spied a female Mule Deer hiding out in the shade of some desert shrubbery.

We had a great day of hiking at the refuge and especially enjoyed that we had Imperial Natl Wildlife Refuge 016the entire place to ourselves. We highly recommend this spot for some hiking if that is your cup of tea. Tomorrow we head to Mesa, AZ near Phoenix as Sharon has an appointment at the Mayo Clinic. We will stay at least two days to a week depending on what we decide after the appointment. After that we will stay in Deming and then Las Cruces more than likely…

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Yuma, Arizona…

Yuma, AZ 002Yuma, AZ 001We left the fascinating Salton Sea area and made the 140 mile drive southeast to Yuma, Arizona. The drive was uneventful other than the long line at the border patrol check station and the scenic sand dunes just outside of Yuma. We came to Yuma where we booked 6 nights at the Yuma Palms RV Resort.  We came in on their October Special rate of only $19.95 per night. Now this place is actually a resort as opposed to some places we've stayed at that call themselves a "resort"! Included in this rate are your standard amenities such as full hookups but there is also really good free Wi-Fi and great cable including several ESPN channels always great during college football season). But that isn't all as we also have access to the best pool and hot-tub facilities we have encountered during our travels so far.Palms Resort - Yuma 006

In addition the resort boasts Tennis Courts, Shuffleboard Courts, an outstanding Fitness Center brand new,laundry facilities (with the added option of and adjacent outside area with lines available for hanging clothes to dry), a huge Billiards Room with 10 full sized tables, two heated swimming pools, two spas, specialty rooms for pottery (with a kiln), jewelry making,crafts and games. They even have a Putting Green and during the winter months offer Las Vegas-stylePalms Resort - Yuma 007Palms Resort - Yuma 003

entertainment. Now this is a park that is really geared to trying to attract you toward buying a lot upon which a casita or winter home could be built.. At this time many of the corner lots have been sold and have some attractive houses or casitas built on them.  Until they sell all the lots this is an excellent choice of parks for wintering in the Yuma area.

Palms Resort - Yuma 002The town of Yuma itself is a bit underwhelming for a town of nearly 100,000 residents but it still has a comfortable feel to it nonetheless. There are several Indian casinos nearby and several wildlife refuges as well. And with Algodones Mexico close by where there are nearly as many dentists as residents, you can cross the border and get your teeth fixed or get new glasses.  Also available are inexpensive pharmaceuticals and the ability to pick up a few liters of your favorite agave based beverages.

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We had a first hand experience of one of the highest rated Mexican restaurants in the area when we chose to go to it for Sharon’s birthday. Before going to the restaurant we also tried one of the reader’s choice award spots for happy hours at Brewers Restaurant & Sports Bar. They had their flagship beer on tap, the Brewers Amber Ale, for the happy hour price of $2.50 so after a few nicely crafted pints we made our way over to a little mom and pop place called Mi Rancho Restaurant. Prices were a bit higher than I thought it would be but since we normally split a meal, but we found it to be actually inexpensive considering their portions are huge. After a few Mexican beverages, some excellent salsa and chips along with Palms Resort - Yuma 004some fabulous green chili, we gave both of these places two thumbs up.

We heard a lot of things about Yuma, mostly negative, but it looks like a place we could stay entertained for at least a month but only if we stayed at this park and definitely not much longer than one month. Since we are here for six days we will just kick back and enjoy the resort along with some great Mexican food.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Salvation Mountain near Slab City, CA…

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Salton Sea CA 068_thumb[3]As I mentioned in the last blog there was one town I was seeking out in particular just outside of Niland, California. The “town” is known as Slab City. Slab City began in the 1940’s as a military training facility and like most settlements in the area it too was abandoned and the only thing left behind were the concrete slabs of the former buildings.

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Salton Sea CA 039_thumb[4]Hollywood discovered Slab City during the filming of Into the Wild, directed by Sean Penn. It is described as a “free RV oasis located in the desert” but it is anything but an oasis. Free; yes, Oasis; no! There is trash everywhere, but there is a movement Slab City Organization clean up Slab City. To do so is going to be a major undertaking and sadly a continuous effort as well. If done it may become more like a winter oasis in the future.

There were many RV’ers settled in at Slab City who appeared to fulltime Salton Sea CA 040_thumb[2]primarily due to poverty. It is said many live here as they can easily afford to do so on their small government checks or tiny pensions. Why? Because you can boondock here for free… just pick a spot and it is yours. No water, no electricity, no nothing… sand, rocks and scrub desert. Yet, it is still a very popular place for many transient wintering RV’ers and there are services nearby making it easier to stay for Salton Sea CA 043_thumb[2]extended periods in this part of the desert.

But the main reason we came to Slab City was because there was one very interesting inhabitant here. A fellow named Leonard Knight, now living in a convalescent home, who had a vision and what he created with his vision is very impressive to say the least. Salvation Mountain is “Leonard's tribute to God and his gift to the world with its simple yet powerful message: "God Is Love."” If you are anywhere near this part of the state this is indeed a must see place,

Even if you are not spiritual, simply the enormity of his undertaking will astonish you. You can only imagine what incredible Salton Sea CA 052_thumb[2]devotion it took for this man to pour his entire life into such an endeavor… The end result is called Salvation Mountain! It has even been designated a National Folk Art Site, by The Folk Art Society of America. See it, feel it, experience it… you won’t be sorry… but hurry as in a recent LA Times article (Feb 2012) it was stated… “Knight has been gone about six months. Already Salvation Mountain is showing signs of aging: Paint is fading, cracking and peeling" Hopefully someone will pick up where Knight left off or at least maintain it.

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NOTE: We are now settled some 140 mile southeast in Yuma, Arizona for the next six days and today we will celebrate Sharon’s birthday somewhere nearby…

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Salton Sea in California…

Salton Sea CA 031imageOne of the quirky places that has always been on my “must go see!” list was the Salton Sea. I am not sure why but everything I ever read about it just somehow attracted me to it. Funny, while we were in San Diego all we heard about was that Southern California awoke one morning to a foul odor that wouldn’t go away. Air quality investigators finally concluded that the rotten-egg aroma that stretched across Southern California had come from the Salton Sea. So why go see it? Because that made it even more quirky… I just had to go!

Salton Sea CA 033We drove a whopping 40 miles southeast and are staying at the Oasis Palms RV Resort, a fairly nice Passport America park on the northwestern edge of the the Salton Sea. The park has a pool and a hot tub along with the fact that we are in an old orchard and allowed to pick anything inside the park. The bounty included lots of lemons, a grapefruit and several pounds of fresh dates and all for only $18.50 per night. Hard to beat that!

Salton Sea CA 036However, the main reason to be here was for us to go to the Salton Sea. The Sea at its deepest points is only about 50 feet but it is a 360-square-mile body of highly saline water. Our plan was to circumnavigate the lake and to do so required a 115 mile drive… so be it! The lake is said to be shrinking and slowly receding into the desert as more water is evaporating from the sea than what is now flowing into it from agricultural runoff. This “sea” was actually created in 1905 when the Colorado River jumped its banks during a particularly rainy season and filled an ancient salt sink some 35 miles long, 15 miles wide and 227 feet below sea level.

The landscape is your typical southwestern scrub desert with rugged dry mountains around the northern half of the lake. The southern half is surrounded by agricultural lands where water from the aqueducts has created an artificially Salton Sea CA 001green oasis. Most notable about the Salton Sea are it’s residents. Many towns sprung up around the lake in the hope that this might be the next Palm Springs or even better. However, what was apparently unaccounted for was the explosion in fishes such as tilapia in the lake that now result in massive die offs when there are algae blooms (undoubted due to agricultural fertilizer runoff). The algae blooms, deplete the lake of oxygen in places, many fish die and this pattern now continues annually.

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The result is a nasty and putrid fishy smell that permeates the water. Just get a bit down wind or near its edge and you will be quickly reminded of the recent die off. Fish carcasses line the waters edge and instead of sand there are the older boney fragmented remains of past die offs. Very eerie indeed…

Salton Sea CA 003Yet towns such as Desert Shores, Salton Sea Beach, Salton, Ferrum, Durmid and Bertram began in the 1950's  because it was believed that this would become a big resort area and that many people would be moving to this beautiful area. Years later after many fish die offs it became evident it was not going to happen.  Therefore what remains is many of these towns are in shambles with numerous dilapidated buildings. There are hundreds of people hanging on to life in these towns but I suspect that many of them are laborers in the agricultural fields nearby. However, there is one town I was seeking out in particular just outside of Niland, California, known as Slab City and I will cover it is its own worthy blog…

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Salton Sea CA 029Salton lake is a birder’s paradise especially during migration season which we are now in. As a result there were large flocks of birds all over the lake. Most notable were the large concentrations of White Pelicans and Black Necked Stilts. It was a blast walking along the edges of the Salton Sea and checking out the birds. We really enjoyed the beauty of the landscape in this area but can't say we could ever really enjoy the smell…

Monday, October 22, 2012

Palm Springs and future plans…


As the sun set on our stay in the San Diego area it was very hard to leave as the imageweather there is always absolutely perfect.  There also is just so many things that we love to do available in that area. Another reason leaving Mission Bay RV Park was done with a bit of sadness was the fact we made some great new friends in the park. However the downside in San Diego is that it is a very expensive place to stay very long and to keep our budget happy we felt it was time to move on.  However we definitely will return to San Diego imagesomeday. If we had the monetary means to do so this would likely be a great place for our RV exit strategy to take place.

So begins our slow crawl back east. First on the list of stops is Desert Hot Springs as we found a fantastic promotion for four nights for $45 at Catalina Spa and RV Resort that we took advantage of. The catch was we had to listen to a one hour sales pitch on RPI memberships. We took this offer since we were thinking of staying in this area for a month.  The online reviews imageregarding the parks we could afford were all over the place so we thought staying at this place would afford us the opportunity to drive around and check out all the other parks to see if we wanted to stay longer at one of them.

Well we visited several parks all over the Palm Springs area and concluded that this just not a place we wanted to stay for a month.  Not only did none of the parks have any WOW factor, we realized there just isn't that much to do around here. However, that didn’t mean we couldn’t enjoy our stay while we were here, or could it? The wind in this area is relentless!!! I had read that the wind doesn’t blow on the south side of Interstate 10 and blew hard north of it. They were spot on… as there is a 10,000 foot mountain near Palm Springs that blocks the wind. The rest of the area north of the highway is seriously windy and littered with large wind mills generating tons of electricity.

During one of our jaunts to check out rv parks, Sharon spied a small deli and imagegrocery store advertising the best date milkshakes in the desert.  She just had to try one so we pulled over to get one.  I waited outside while Sharon ordered our shake.  While the young lady was making her shake, the owner happened in from the kitchen area asking where she was from and how she heard about his store. Sharon told him an RV friend told her she had to try a date shake when in Desert Hot Springs. He told her she had come to the right place as he is the only one who uses fresh dates rather than dried and uses ice cream rather than ice milk.  He explained that otherwise the shakes are just too icky sweet.  Next he proudly showed her a framed Sunset Magazine article confirming his was the best date shake in the State of California!  What a lucky sighting it was.  As for the date shake, I am glad we tried it since it was interesting and good, but not sure I'd order another....

Iimagen order to avoid the gusty wind the next day we took a tour of downtown Palm Springs only to discover a huge biker rally was happening in town. We parked (free parking in town) to explore the town and to stroll through the biker rally festival. Near the middle of town was a 26 foot tall statue of Marilyn Monroe. Read an interesting story on how it got here if you click the link above. Of course we had to stop and take a photo while I checked out the artful scenery… Upon returning to our park we went to the Spring-fed pool and hot tub at the lower clubhouse.  Sharon had never had the experience of enjoying the warm spring water and was excited to see if she could feel any therapeutic benefit.  On the wall by the hot tub it was explained our pool was fed by the onsite 130 degree F well. Interestingly their well is free of the foul smelling imagesulfides normally associated with hot spring water.  They were quick to mention also that the presence of sulfides are of no therapeutic benefit.  The warm relaxing water has been another highlight of the trip here.

Palm Spring is a pretty neat little town and just walking along the sidewalks you can read the names of stars that are etched on tiles embedded in the concrete to see who made an impact in this area. Besides Marilyn there was Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and many other notables immortalized in the their own way The vistas are also very striking in every direction with the palm imagetree-lined streets contrasting the large surrounding mountains and blue skies. Heading homeward back across I-10 we hit the 30+ mile per hour winds again.  We enjoy driving with windows down whereupon at one point we were hit with a huge gust of wind and got completely sandblasted.  So then and there we decided we were going to move on. Where to? Well we think we would like to spend the winter in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. We don’t know where yet and have lots of park reviews to read before we know where we will stay but at least we now have some winter plans…

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala…

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La Jolla 101With the days waning on our stay here in San Diego we had only a few things left we want to do. One choice was to visit the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala. The mission is the first of the 21 missions in California and called the Mother of the Missions. It was founded on July 16, 1769 by Junipero Serra and today it is an active Catholic Parish in San Diego.

La Jolla 092When first founded it was in Kumeyaay Indian territory and there is a cross beside the mission marking the place a beloved priest was killed in an Indian attack Shortly thereafter it was in the midst of Spaniards. On July 16, 1769, Father Serra established Mission San Diego and the California mission system began on this site overlooking the bay. The mission remained at this site for only five years and it was then moved six miles east where it was pillaged by the Indians and burned to the ground.

“Father Serra returned to Mission San Diego de Alcala to oversee the rebuilding of the mission. Fearing that there would be another raid, the padres rebuilt the mission according to the specifications of an army fort.“ It was abandoned for several years and in 1892 it became an American Indian children's' school. By 1931 it was rebuilt to mimic the1813 church.As time moved forward todays church is the fifth church on this historic site.

La Jolla 087La Jolla 096Walking around the grounds one gets a very real ethereal feeling… not sure if it was the historical significance of this mission or the fact that we are lucky enough to live a small part of our lives here in San Diego and we are suddenly realizing that it is nearly time to start the trek eastward. Nevertheless it was again a perfect weather day and the grounds offered beautiful architecture and landscaping making for a great day.  An unexpected additional treat was that the grounds were visited by a Cooper’s Hawk who landed in a tree along the stairway up to the mission allowing us to observe him from close range. Thankfully he paused long enough for us to snap several nice photos.

La Jolla 099From here we were struggling with moving east towards Yuma or moving a bit northeast and spend some time in the Palm Springs area. I guess life is pretty rough when that has become one of the hardest decisions we have to make… After lots of pondering we decided to go to the Palm Springs area. We couldn’t decide on exactly where to stay as the reviews are all over the place on parks in this area. But we found a promotion for four nights for $45 that we will take advantage of. We will have to listen to a one hour sales pitch but then we will be able to look at all the other parks and see if we want to stay longer at one of them.