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Old 03-29-2009, 07:04 AM   #1
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Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Sunday, March 29th
We returned yesterday from two weeks of camping in the Mojave and Colorado deserts of California and Nevada, only to find a spring blizzard hitting the Northern Rockies, what fun! This was our fifth trip to the Mojave desert (the third in the Sporty) but the the first to visit areas other than Death Valley National Park.

First, just the facts, then the details (with photos).

Desert Parks Tour Trip Report
March 14-28th, 2009
Ed in Montana, Rosemary in Montana and MT Rover the Sportsmobile

TRIP FIRSTS
Longest trip in the Sporty yet, more than three thousand miles.
Longest time camped in Sporty without hitting a motel: 13 nights
Most wildflowers seen

TRIP STATS
Miles traveled: 3,129.5 Helena, MT to Borrego Springs CA and back.
Diesel burned: 205.03 gallons
MPG Average: 15.26 mpg
Best 17.68 mpg southbound on I-15 in Montana
Worst 12.25 mpg northbound on US95 in western Nevada with a nasty headwind.
Most expensive fuel: $2.79/gallon Baker, CA
Least expensive fuel: $1.90/gallon Dillon, MT

SITINGS
Other Sportsmobiles Seen: 5
Number of tours of our Sportsmobile given: lost count!
Number of UNICAT MAN truck campers seen: 1
http://www.unicatamericas.com/photos_ex70.html
Number of imported 4WD Sprinters seen: 1
Number of 4WD Popup Truck Campers seen: 3
http://www.fourwheelcampers.com/

CAMPING
Best Backcountry Campsite: Cima Dome near Teutonia Peak in eastern Mojave National Preserve
Best developed Campsite: Mesquite Springs in northern Death Valley NP
Best camp dinner: Beef fajitas marinated in fresh orange juice (from oranges picked in Borrego Springs) with roasted green chiles, Cottonwood Camp, Joshua Tree National Park.
Best beer of the trip: Pacifico served over ice with lime for lunch after hiking Borrego Palm Canyon in 90 degree heat, at Pabilitoís in Borrego Springs, CA.


Number of units of the National Park system visited: 6
Zion National Park
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Joshua Tree National Park
Mojave National Preserve
Death Valley National Park
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Number of State Parks Camped in: 2
Valley of Fire State Park, NV
Anza Borrego State Park, CA

Number of native California Fan Palm Oasis visited: 5
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washingtonia_filifera


WEATHER
Number of haboobs survived: 2
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haboob
Hottest day: 95 degrees F in Anza Borego State Park
Coldest temp: 17 degrees F in Ely NV.

MISCELLANEOUS
Worst Interstate hellhole visited: Baker, California
Nicest small towns I would go back to: Borrego Springs and Shoshone, California

Number of Species of identified Wildflowers seen: 40 plus
Number of Species of unidentified Wildflowers seen: 3
Number of species of Desert Pupfish seen: 1
Number of Nights Coyotes heard yowling: 2
Number of galaxies, including the Milky Way, observed: 3 (thanks Philrod!)

Most desolate stretch of country seen on trip: Craters of the Moon Idaho.
Second most desolate stretch of country seen on trip: Monster sandstorm at Dumont Dunes, California.

Number of photos taken: 800
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Old 03-29-2009, 09:38 AM   #2
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Day One

The key to a good desert trip in March is one big mileage day, and today is it, a 750-mile run south on I-15 to Cedar City Utah on the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau. Iím not much for huge mileage days anymore. I canít stand to drive at night with deer, elk and drunks on the road here in Montana. And the Sporty doesnít cruise as fast as my old Toyota Tundra; more like 65 mph rather than 75 mph.

Last year, the first big mileage day was disrupted by heavy wet snow on the road in eastern Idaho, and the crazed rush hour traffic in Salt Lake City, resulting in falling short of Cedar City. But that was better than the year before, where we postponed launch for two days because of I-15 being closed by snow in southern Utah.

Extreme cold weather (-15 degrees F) on the days prior to launch this year prevented final loading of the Sporty until launch day, so we struggle with cold hands to put can goods, electronics and some water aboard at 6AM when it is only 20 degrees.

There is one glitch. Iím still confused with the failure of the Hella Tire Pressure Management System to give real accurate pressures at cold temps, but Iím relying on my manual pressure gauges to reflect the actual tire pressures. Later in the trip at warmer temps, the Hella TPMS seems to work better, and I discover that the vehicle icon on the screen has inverted, showing back tires on top and front tires on the bottom, adding to the initial confusion.

Still, launch day goes well, and we clear the Salt lake metroplex by 4PM. Unlike previous years there is no heavy traffic today between Las Vegas and Salt Lake and the early evening cruising down to Cedar City goes well. Two years ago, a major NASCAR event in Vegas let go on the afternoon of launch day, clogging I-15 with bumper to bumper traffic in the northbound lanes, all of whose headlights blinded traffic in the southbound lanes.

Thereís one SMB siting, a white van with racing strips northbound on Monida Pass on I-15. After 14 hours in the SMB we collapse at the Holiday Inn Express in Cedar City.
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Old 03-29-2009, 09:40 AM   #3
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Can't wait for the photos!
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Old 03-29-2009, 09:45 AM   #4
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

They're almost ready!
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Old 03-29-2009, 11:00 AM   #5
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Day Two -Morning

A short mileage day today down I-15 to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. For the first time since early November, I prepare by not putting on wool socks. But being a pessimist, I donít put on shorts just yet.

One of the goals of this trip (aside from warming up above 15 friggin degrees below zero) is to stop at places that we have always passed by before. So shortly after breakfast we pull into the Kolb Canyons section of Zion National Park.



Within a minute we have a request for our first Sportsmobile tour from a guy that pulls into to the visitor center. ďIíve always wanted a camping van like this,Ē he exclaims. His wife, obviously not as impressed says that they had to follow us off of the interstate just to get a closer look. Great, now we have Sportsmobile stalkers.

A short, steep five-mile long dead-end road leads up into the Kolob Canyon section of the park, leading to trailheads and viewpoints. Note, you wouldnít want to do this with ice or snow on the road, some of the stretches would be too exciting, perhaps fatally.

Morning is the wrong time for good photos on this road. The late afternoon would be perfect, but it doesnít look like there is anywhere close to camp. Still, itís a spectacular landscape of huge cliffs and slot canyons.






Going south past Cedar City I-15 drops off the first step of the Colorado plateau to the suburban sprawl of St. George and further still down the second step through the Virgin River Gorge. We stop for lunch at the BLM Cedar Pocket campground along the river, for our first taste of actual warm weather. Now itís time for shorts and t-shirts.



Iíve always wanted to explore this area a bit more on the far west end of the Arizona strip, and Iíve heard thereís backcountry road camping on the dirt road to the north adjacent to the Paiute Wilderness Area. Being a geographer and interested in history, Iíve searched for books on the building of the Interstate Highways through spectacular places like the Virgin Gorge, but have yet to find anything good. Some of these engineering feats building these highways rank as the countryís greatest achievements in civil engineering, surpassing the building of the transcontinental railroads. Too bad they are not as well documented and hailed.

Itís downhill to the Valley of Fire State park for tonightís camp.
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Old 03-29-2009, 11:52 AM   #6
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Day Two ĖAfternoon

We leave I-15 (for the last time on this trip) at the Overton exit, and head south to Valley of Fire State Park, Nevadaís largest. Two miles short of the park boundary, we pass a sun scorched flat open space filled with boondocking RVs, not a good sign. We had planned to get here on a Sunday night (like tonight) and avoid the crowds but maybe not. Sure enough the park entrance station says all campgrounds are full, but we will check them out anyway, before boondocking.

We pull into the larger campground Atlatl just past noon as they take down the campground full sign, and find an attractive site right off the bat.




From studying the maps on Google Earth and other places, Iíve heard that the second smaller campground, Arch Rock is more dispersed and more private, so I set out on foot to check it out without moving the van. Hiking over a small pass in the red rocks, I can look back at our campsite, but thereís no sign of the other campground.





There are some wildflowers blooming, including this type of Indian Paintbrush:





Over two miles and an hour or so later, I return roasted and thirsty having finally found Arch Rock campground, not at all where I thought it would be. Once again, always carry a map and water when setting out on a quest in the desert! I guess this campsite will have to do.

The brilliant red rocks that make this park famous are very similar to the formations in southeast Utah.





Other formations have a bizarre lavender color, like something we have never seen before.





Still other parts of the state park resemble the country around Ayers Rock in central Australia.





The campground rapidly fills up again on a Sunday night, and I grill a couple of marinated ribeye steaks for our first dinner outside since early October of last year. Winter in Montana has been way, way too long.

The neighboring motorcycle/truck campers ask for the obligatory SMB tour, and stay up drinking the hard stuff until 2AM. Another reason to choose the more dispersed campground in the future. Still, a good first night out for the 2009 camping season.

After a gorgeous sunrise, itís back on the road toward Joshua Tree National Park and points south.


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Mohawk Royalex Solo 14 foot canoe (light white-water)
Mad River Kevlar Explorer 17 foot canoe (flat water)
Dagger Royalex Legend 16 foot canoe (white-water)
Maravia New Wave 13.5 foot raft (fishing and white-water)
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Old 03-29-2009, 11:54 AM   #7
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

A note on the photos. They are all taken by the budding photographer, Mrs. Ed in Montana, with her trusty Canon 50D DSLR. I'm just the Photoshop guy for most of these pics.
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Old 03-29-2009, 04:03 PM   #8
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Day Three

Valley of Fire State Park to Joshua Tree National Park. We get an early start to drive the north shore road west along Lake Mead to Hoover Dam, and then to points south.



Sure enough as soon as we enter the National Recreation Area the paved road deteriorates, prompting me to rant about the poor state of our national parks. For decades both republicans and most democrats have pushed park tourism but have done little to maintain park infrastructure. Crappy roads, malfunctioning (or non-existent) sewage treatment plants and obsolete campgrounds have been the norm since the 1960s, when President Johnson pushed the last big park infrastructure initiative, MISSION 66. Our countryís national parks show some of the best of America, and shouldnít be relegated to worse than third world status. End of mini-rant.

As if reading my mind, we soon hit a flagman slowing traffic for road improvements for a few places on the north shore road. Iím glad to see that we can spend a few taxpayer bucks on something other than Wall Street bailouts.

Driving on we reach the first of two springs; Blue Point and Rogers Springs. Both have small native fan palm oasis, with a handful of the giant monocots distributed up and down the small riparian zones.



Half-way along the north shore road we travel through the Black Mountains, between two units of the Pinto Valley Wilderness. Itís interesting dry, rugged country with a small campground back north in the Echo Hills that we donít have time to check out. The bright red rocks of Valley of Fire make a brief reappearance along the road.





Stopping at a rest stop to check out the increasing wildflower blooms, we run into an interesting vehicle. The owner, a European, says that it is a Mercedes Benz 4WD Sprinter that he has had shipped over for a long vacation in the states.



Iím not sure now whether it really was 4WD, but thatís what he said. The Sprinter folks head east and we head west toward Hoover Dam.



We take a stop at the Lake Mead NRA visitor center to check out the native plants and refresh our memories with their names. From season to season, I can barely remember Montana wildflowers, not to speak of southwestern ones.



Talking to the grounds keeper at the visitor center proves entertaining. This afternoon heís picking up broken cholla branches with a shovel so not to entice tourists to pick them up with their hands (they look like spiky tennis balls). He says once a week or so, a kid will pick one up, start to cry and then try to pull it off with their other hand. ďPretty soon the EMTs are here, sedating the kid and his parents and taking him away to the emergency roomĒ he drawls. He goes on to say that heís from a town in central Minnesota. ďMust be near Lake WoebegoneĒ I reply, referring to Garrison Keillorís partly mythical hometown. ďOh that place doesnít exist!Ē he insists.

After a brief attempt to brave the traffic on a Monday afternoon, we bail from driving over to the Hoover Dam visitor center to see the massive new bridge construction and head south to Searchlight, Nevada, Senate Majority leader Harry Reidís hometown. What a zoo. It takes the better part of an hour to fight the crowd of RVs and big rigs refueling at a truck stop.

Making our escape, itís back on US95 to Needles, California. Starting just north of Needles and running all the way south to near Palm Springs, the spring wildflowers are out in force with the roadsides lined with yellow brittlebrush and other blooms. Unfortunately, thereís next to no place to pull over and stop, so no pictures of this amazing bloom. This area must have gotten more than itís fair share of moisture this winter.

As we approach Joshua Tree National Park from the northeast, a UNICAT MAN truck camper passes us headed east. Itís one of those smaller models of those luxury European off road campers that make Sportsmobiles look like cheap toys. Later, at home I look up a UNICAT price list, and the smaller models sell for around $350 to $400K, just what you need for tooling around the Sahara or other wild parts of Africa or Asia.

Late in the day, we make a brief stop at the BLMís Desert Lily Sanctuary north of Desert Center on I-10. We wander around in the heat for 20 minutes before giving up and getting back on the road. Within a hundred yards of hitting the highway, I spot two blooming lilies on the west side of the road, with no place to pull over of course.

The expeditionís photographer is getting hot and crabby, so I divert from going to Corn Springs campground in the Chuckwalla Mountains, and head uphill to Cottonwood Campground in eastern Joshua Tree. The south access road to the park is lined with best wildflowers in park we will later learn, but the photos are put off to tomorrow as we grab a campsite at 5:30PM, and cool off in the chilly air here at 3,000 feet.
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Old 03-29-2009, 05:56 PM   #9
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Day Four - Morning
Joshua Tree NP, Coachella Valley Preserve and down to Anza Borrego SP

Itís a short driving day, so we pause to search the bajada south of Cottonwood Campground for wildflowers. Thereís a good stand of the diminutive Chia, which this close up makes look much larger.



The most showy plant is the brilliant red Chuparosa.



Here and there are good blooms of Desert Dandelion and the occasional Octotillo (not shown).



We descend the rest of way from 3,100 feet in Joshua Tree down to almost sea level on I-10 at Thousand Palms to vist the Coachella Valley Fringe Toed Lizard Preserve, a place I had visited ten years ago while attending a mapping conference in Palm Springs. The preserve consists of a series of native Fan Palm groves along the Sand Andreas Fault in the Indio Hills, with sand dunes to the south. The visitor center is a small shack made of palm logs, something I had not seen outside of Florida.



Itís getting hot, near 90 degrees F, but we still opt for a short hike to the McCallum Palm Grove, after popping the top on Sporty to keep it as cool as possible. The trail leads to the north through open desert with a good bloom of wildflowers, most of which are waving too much for good photos in the mid-day wind.





Under a bush is a Fringe Toed Lizard, named for their snowshoe like rear feet which they use to float over the sands.



After a roasting mile of hiking in the open, we reach the pond in the center of the McCallum Grove.



The expedition photographer has exceeded her standard operating temperature, and has to rest in the shade before starting the hike back.



The desert wind stops for a moment, giving me a chance for a good reflection photo in the pond.



Itís too hot to try the other trails in the preserve, so we leave to resupply at the nearest grocery store a Stater Brothers. Iím not impressed with the high prices and the lack of selection in some areas, compared to our Montana Thriftway and Safeway stores. Aftere hitting another Stater Brothers in Twenty Nine palms, Iím completely puzzled as to why a Montana grocery store, far from most food suppliers would be better. Maybe both stores were just odd ones.

Back on the road for the short drive down south to Anza Borrego State Park.
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Mohawk Royalex Solo 14 foot canoe (light white-water)
Mad River Kevlar Explorer 17 foot canoe (flat water)
Dagger Royalex Legend 16 foot canoe (white-water)
Maravia New Wave 13.5 foot raft (fishing and white-water)
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Old 03-29-2009, 05:58 PM   #10
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Re: Desert Parks Tour Trip Report

Time for a break in trip blogging and go out and shovel more snow, or I won't be able to get out of the driveway and go to work in the morning. No wait... why am I doing this?
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Mohawk Royalex Solo 14 foot canoe (light white-water)
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Dagger Royalex Legend 16 foot canoe (white-water)
Maravia New Wave 13.5 foot raft (fishing and white-water)
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