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Old 04-17-2021, 09:32 AM   #1
Senior Member
Join Date: Nov 2014
Location: Parker, CO
Posts: 404
2021 OR Coast trip, err, CA Natl Park trip, err F it letís go to the Socal Desert!

DISCLAIMER: This is a long post!!

This trip started out as an Oregon Coast trip for our 12-year oldís spring break week. I started a thread here to get some trip planning ideas for what to check out in OR. However, after starting the thread and talking with my parents (who recently bought a Ford Transit AWD and spent 2 months with us while we started outfitting it for camping), it started looking like OR was going to get .5Ē-1Ē of rain a day, for the entire week. We decided we would look elsewhere and put the OR trip on hold for another time. Next up, California National Parks. Or so we thought. We started the trip plan with Death Valley, then scooting north through Sequoia, then on to Yosemite. We were hoping to then cross Yosemite Valley over to Mono Lake. Then we realized that the roads across Yosemite are basically all covered in snow this time of year. We then focused the trip a bit further south, having never been to the desert. After having planned a trip to OR, and a trip to Yosemite, I was somewhat over the trip planning at this point, so I was a little lackluster on the desert planning. I knew we would hit Joshua Tree, Anza Borrego, and since my seafood loving wife was still a little disappointed that the trip had changed from the Oregon coast to the desert, we planned on some time on the CA coast as well(found our way to Carlsbad ultimately). With trip planning out of the way, it was now time for the start of any good trip, van prep. I installed a new rear bumper, got new brakes on all four corners, a bunch of new fluids, new seat upholstery. Pics and info can be found here.

All packed and ready to go!

Day 1: Colorado to Utah
Miles Traveled: 639.12
Total Moving time: 10:35:08
Total Time: 11:53:57
SMBís seen on the road: 0

The week of our departure, we got news that the front range of CO was supposed to get 5 FEET of snow, according to some weather models. I was sure we were not going to get that much snow, but just to be safe we decided to head out on Thursday afternoon. Like most trips, we got a later than planned start as I had to work right up until the last minute. We got on the road about 4pm or so. Our destination was a dirt road just outside of St. George, UT that I had camped at when I first drove our current SMB home from San Diego just off HWY 15. My wife does not like driving at night, so she led off the trip. Unfortunately, she also does not love driving the van during heavy traffic up and down the windy mountain roads, so after Vail she was pretty stressed, and I took over. Once we were in Utah, we hit snow on a couple of the higher elevation spots, nothing too bad, but I had picked up brand new wipers that werenít working worth a damn, so we stopped, and I picked up another set of brand-new wipers and they werenít working either! Ultimately, I got the wipers sorted and we continued to our camp site. We pulled into the spot around 3:30am and crashed quickly.

Utah Snowy road Video

Day 2: Utah to Joshua Tree
Miles Traveled: 471.15
Total Moving Time: 8:23:34
Total Time: 9:03:26
SMBís seen on the road: 0

We awoke to a few inches of snow all around us and big, fat, wet, flakes falling. We got on the road just before 8am and headed for Joshua Tree. The plan for the day was to drive down to Vegas, then head over to the Hoover dam, then on to JTNP. Before Vegas and Hoover though, I was very excited to drive the Virgin River Gorge through AZ so my family could see it. I have been talking about that little stretch of AZ since 2015 when I drove through there for the first time, and they were finally going to be able to see it. It was a hit, even though the top of the gorge was covered in fog, it was still just as impressive. Last time I was there it was the end of May and things were quite brown, this time it was very lush looking. Driving through the steep gorge walls is quite cool, in my opinion. On to Vegas!! We opted to stay on I-15 through Vegas instead of getting off and driving the strip due to time constraints. I really didnít want to be rushed at Hoover dam. When we arrived at the dam, we passed through the inspection station, the security went through our van and were very pleasant. One thing to note, before our trip, I installed a new-to-me bumper that didnít have working swing arms, but we decided to use it anyway due to the additional storage it offered. Well wouldnít you know it, the security asked us to open up the back. I informed them that wasnít going to happen, and they were cool with it, they really just wanted to check out what was in our totes and roof box anyway. After a quick inspection we were on our way. We parked at the Mike OíCallaghan - Pat Tillman bridge for some photos of the dam from that side, then headed across the dam to the AZ side for the outdoor RV parking. We walked down to the dam, looked over the wall, and checked out the spillway. (which has only been used twice! Once to test its operation, and once in í83 during a flood year.)

It was now time to head to JTNP. We got back on the road and headed for Barstow. Once in Barstow we stopped at a Mexican restaurant named Lolasís Kitchen and picked up some of the largest burritos we had ever seen!! We then headed over to the Barstow Station for a bathroom break and sunglasses. The Barstow Station was an interesting little indoor market type place with a few fast-food spots, and a few small souvenir stores. It opened in 1975 alongside the McDonalds that is still there, and the dining are of the McDonalds are converted train cars.

We left Barstow and headed to JTNP, well technically my plan was to hit the BLM land just north of the park near the Oasis Visitors center. As we neared the park, we again encountered snow, well more like sleet, but still, not what I pictured for the desert!! Since the plan was to be moving from one spot to the next most days we didnít pack much for food other than on the road snacks, so we had to hit a grocery store once we got into town and picked up some provisions for the next 2 days. Similar to the first night, we arrived under darkness and had to drive the sandy road out into the desert in darkness, and since I donít have those nice Vantage Optics headlights(yet!!) my crappy Econoline Hi-Beams had to suffice. Luckily, the road was rather well packed down and so travel along it was easy. We didnít go too far down the road, found something that looked like it would work and called it a night.

Day 3: Joshua Tree National Park
Miles Traveled: 64
Total Moving Time: 2:42:23
Total Time: 3:19:35
SMBís seen on the road: 0

It is always fun to find a spot in the darkness and wake up to this!

Day 3 started with a quick breakfast of croissants and blueberry muffins. The plan was to meet my parents around 11am at the visitorís center. We had some time to kill and my wife loves her some thrift shopping, so we headed into the downtown area of 29 Palms and hit up some shops. First up was a antique/thrift shop where she picked up a ridiculously heavy belt buckle for a friend of ours. We then headed to a neat little record shop called White Label Vinyl where I grabbed a Karl Scruggs banjo record, and my wife snagged this outrageous jacket.

It was just about 11 so we headed to the visitorís center, punched our NP passport, picked up a NP sticker and patch, and headed out to the parking lot just as my parents were pulling in, perfect timing. After the pleasantries, we headed into the park and drove to the Desert Queen Mine trailhead. My plan was to head to the mine then continue on to the Boulder House that I had read about. The hike was a doable hike for everyone, with plenty of interesting scenery along the way. We even saw a small patch of snow sitting in the shade. At this point there really has been too much snow on my desert trip! We made it all the way to the Boulder House which was a cool sight! It was the remains of a dwelling built under a large boulder. Next, we headed to Keys View to catch the sunset.

Keys View Sunset TimeLapse

It being a Saturday, the place was mobbed. We parked way down the road back from the actual point and found a side path that took us up high to observe the sunset, but also avoid the crowds. After watching the sunset at Keys View we headed back to the BLM area north of the park to setup camp and dinner. We ate hot Italian sausage and steamed broccoli and cauliflower.

Pic of camp in BLM just north of JTNP

Pic of what we dubbed "Butt Crack Rock" on the hike to Boulder House

Day 4: Joshua Tree to Anza Borrego
Miles Traveled: 144.58
Total Moving Time: 3:39:26
Total Time: 5:25:57
SMBís seen on the road: 1

With the exception of breakfast and dinner, day 4 was kind of a bust. We woke up outside of JTNP, had a big egg breakfast, got all washed up and clean in the warm desert sun, then set out for Anza Borrego. The trip was supposed to only be a couple of hours and a somewhat easy drive so my wife gladly took the wheel!

I had planned on sitting shotgun and starting to recap the first few daysí events on my laptop for this trip report. Unfortunately, as we pulled off the dirt road back onto pavement, I went to give my neck a quick pop and pain shot down my neck and left shoulder, ruh roh! I have done this many times in the past and it basically leaves me with a sore stiff neck for a few days after, as I type this on Thursday my neck is still rather stiff. I told my wife to continue on as there wasnít much that could be done at that point, bummed that I couldnít start on the trip report, I sat shotgun and just basically tried to be as still as possible. Within half an hour we stopped so I could get out and stretch but it didnít help much. My wife too the chance to walk around the Joshua Tree Mercado and found several really cool books including an old book about Anza Borrego, score!! Back on the road we headed west on route 62 until jump on HWY 10 which took us south through Indio and past the Salton Sea. The Salton sea has an interesting and unfortunate story. We learned that for 2 years the entire contents of the CO river simply ended in the Salton Sea which basically is how it was formed. Now, unfortunately, it is somewhat neglected and is shrinking rapidly, and has left the surrounding areas with very poor air quality due to all the dust it sends into the air. We turned west on S22(Borrego Salton Sea Way) and drove across the northern section of the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area. My son and I were in awe of all the space for OHVís. While we have plenty of OHV areas in CO, I am not sure we have anything like Ocotillo in CO! As we came into Borrego Springs, it was starting to get late and I really didnít want to arrive in yet another camp after dark. Due to the dayís earlier neck related delays, we only quickly drove through Galleta Meadows. We stopped at the Mirage Gas Station for some fuel and as luck would have it, water. There was a combo air/vacuum/water machine at the gas station. Not trusting the source as potable, considering the station attendant asked if I needed the water for my radiator, I used it to fill our water Jerry Can and bathing/cleaning purposes. Also, if you ever need fuel in a hurry this is your stop. I have literally never seen a pump fill so quickly, the numbers were actually almost blurry they were scrolling so fast on the pump! There was also a cool old VW van at the station as well. It was down in Borrego Springs where we saw our only SMB of the trip. We were just coming through Christmas Circle and going the other direction was a White Ford SMB with PH top. If this was you let me know! Still a bit confused about the camping situation in Anza, and not being in a condition to read the new book we got, we headed for Culp Valley Primitive Campground. It was rather warm down in the Borrego Springs Valley so we figured a higher elevation camp would keep things cool. I had watched a bunch of YouTube an read many accounts of dispersed camping basically anywhere in the park, but it was late and I thought for sure on a Sunday we wouldnít have an issue finding a camp spot. Well, I was wrong, the place was packed. We drove around and I had all but given up when my folks found a tight spot with just enough space for 2 vans. Not what I had pictured for camping in Anza Borrego, but the sun would be down soon so it would do. The site actually had a neat little cove area that we setup our table and chairs for dinner. I placed some tarps around the cove to limit the exposure to the increasing wind and it actually created a secret garden type feel for dinner. We setup a couple of lanterns and it worked out very well. Dinner was grilled steak, brussell sprouts w/bacon, corn, and grilled, buttered sourdough bread, delicious!

Day 5
Miles Traveled: 29.35
Total Moving Time: 1:04:21
Total Time: 1:15:03
SMBís seen on the road: 0

I had big plans for day 5, despite the sore neck. Originally, I had hoped to get to do The Slot hike in Anza. The previous night had been very windy and the morning was no better at Culp. We decided to break camp and get back down into Borrego Springs to regroup and restock our food supplies. We stopped at the Centre Market. While my wife made up some breakfast in the back of the parking lot, I repacked some things as we were in a bit of a rushing breaking down camp up at Culp. We had a good breakfast of egg burritos in the parking lot, loaded up the van and were on our way towards The Slot. My father at this point decided it was time to create his own Red Peters lyric and kept singing ďHowís your SlotÖ.Canyon Hike, Howís your SlotÖ.Canyon HikeĒ to the delight of my 12 year old who cracked up every time Grandpa sang and mom shook her head. We made a quick stop at the Visitorís center for some pamphlets and info then were back on the road. At this point we had confirmed that we could in fact camp anywhere in the park within one vehicle length(per the written rules) of the roads. When we reached the turn off for the dirt road that leads to The Slot, I consulted the map and could see that the road continued past the trail head and over to Hawk Canyon. We drove up to the trailhead, but instead of heading out on the hike, we decided to go find a camp spot while it was still early in the day and exploring would be easier. We headed towards Hawk Canyon and having zero sand driving experience and not having OBA I was concerned with getting stuck the entire time since I didnít have my tires aired down. Well, the sign said soft sand ahead so I decided to get out and check it out first before getting stuck. Unfortunately, I didnít take into account how windy it was outside and upon opening the driverís side door, the wind pulled the door away from me quite quickly. Needless to say, I have a new project on my hands, replacing the door hinges, ugh. The sand was loose but not what I would call soft, the van motored on down the road just fine, setting at ease my fears of sinking and getting stuck. We made the turn for Hawks Canyon and drove to the end of the road. The road ended in a loop and it was in that loop that I found the crowned jewel of the trip. The canyon was a bit of a box canyon with high sheer walls to the left of us and a steep ascent to a ridge line to our right. Tucked along the cliff walls was a beautiful camp spot. It was covered in shade at midday, tucked out of the wind and just beautiful! The TH for The Slot hike had been relatively crowded so we decided to just hang out at the camp site for the rest of the day and since it was so close to the TH we would just hike The Slot the next morning early when no one was around. We spent the rest of the afternoon setting up camp, making the decision to stay for 2 nights in Hawk Canyon, and just generally enjoying the calm outdoor setting. Dinner that night was grilled pork chops, pressure cooked red potatoes, and sautťed green beans.

Day 6
Miles Traveled: 4.1
Total Moving Time: 16:50
Total Time: 17:31
SMBís seen on the road: 0

Waking up on day 6 we made the group decision to postpone breakfast and get on the trail so that we could enjoy the slot canyon in relative solitude. What a good plan. Arriving at the TH there was one other vehicle there, looked like grandpa taking his granddaughter out for a fun adventure, very cool. So I am a bit claustrophobic, but also enjoy pushing boundaries when I can so while I have always fantasized about the idea of crawling through slot canyons in Utah, I was always unsure if I could push myself to do it. This slot canyon seemed like a perfect test bed. It is only a Ĺ mile long so I figured if I couldnít do this, then I can put Utah to bed. On the other hand, if it was fun, then maybe slot canyon exploring in Utah could stay in the bucket. Needless to say, it was an awesome experience! What a cool little hike. There were only a few relatively tight spots, the rest was pretty mellow. We had the canyon to ourselves which also made it more enjoyable. Once through the slot canyon, we decided to take the steep trail back up to the road instead of walking through the long wash back to the road. Back to camp we went for some breakfast. I made egg sandwiches and since it was later in the morning my wife also whipped up a salad for us. My son was eager to do more exploring around the campsite and was determined to get to the top of the sheer cliff overlooking our camp so we started bushwhacking around the nearby hills. Ultimately, we found a trail that took us up to the top of the cliff, took some pics of mom and grandma below at the camp and then discovered that there was a trail that tracked all the way back to the The Slot TH, so we took the relatively short ridge hike and took in the views, one of which was a great view all the way back to the Salton Sea. The view was pretty spectacular. The ridgeline dipped and either side perfectly framed the Sea off in the distance. After all that hiking, we go to test out our new Nemo Helio shower and I am rather impressed and happy with the purchase. We donít typically take full showers when camping, in order to conserve water, but the Nemo really worked out well, we used water from the Jerry Can and let it sit out in the sun and warm the water. We all got to clean up after the hike and were fresh and ready for a good meal. Dinner was chicken quesadillas and tacos, freshly made Pico de Gallo and fresh made guacamole. Since the dayís sky had been so clear, I figured that tonight would be our best chance at taking some night sky photos. I am no photographer, although I do enjoy taking pictures and wish I had more time to practice the art. My son has recently taken an interest in photography and so we all stayed up until 10pm or so and started taking pictures. None of them came out all that great, but mostly because I just donít know what I am doing and at this point in time donít have time to make photography a priority. I will save that for a retirement skill to learn, along with welding, and Android app programming, and all the other things I would like to learn! One day, but for now, simply being out there with my dad and my son making the attempt was all I needed to fill my soul. My wife and my mom were sitting in the camp chairs while we toiled away looking up at the sky, it was a pretty special night for sure.

Day 7
Miles Traveled: 363.48
Total Moving Time: 7:03:45
Total Time: 7:17:09
SMBís seen on the road: 0

Day 7 saw the start of the migration towards the coast. We set our sights on Carlsbad and away we went. We decided to take route 78 all the way to the coast. Again, we skipped breakfast and hit the road early. My mom found a coffee placed named ďRegulars WantedĒ in Julian so we set that as our first stopping point for coffee and breakfast. Wow, what a different in landscapes! As we left the dry desert, and climbed in elevation towards Julian the landscape changed into a lush green rather dense forested area. Large, green trees, lush grass, thick green underbrush, all became the norm. It was quite a beautiful drive. We pulled up to Regulars Wanted and went in to get some food and drink. I opted for hot apple cider, as I am not a coffee drinker, and my son got a blueberry muffin. Coffee was the ticket for everyone else. It was a very nice little homestyle kitchen and coffee shop, right up my alley. We continued toward the coast and my wife and I marveled and mused about how nice I might be to retire in such a beautiful area. (we do that a LOT on our road trips!) We could tell we were near the coast when the road started becoming crowded. Once in Carlsbad we found a spot to park the vans under some shade and the first order of business for my wife was seafood. We found a spot with an ocean view and plunked ourselves down for some Ceviche, Ahi, crab cakes, and oysters on the half shell. I also got some clam chowder and a burger, no judging, I was hungry! After lunch my wife wasnít feeling all that great so she retired to the van for a nap while the rest of us checked out a few shops, and then walked the beach. We are not much of a beach family in general, preferring the mountains but I still can enjoy a good beach walk while the sun is starting to set. The plan had been that we would hang at the coast till evening then say our goodbyes to my folks and part ways, them heading north towards Sacramento and us heading east towards Vegas. We hit the highway and slabbed it until we hit the Flying J in Primm, NV around 11pm and crashed in the parking lot with all the big rigs.

Day 8
Miles Traveled:
Total Moving Time:
Total Time:
SMBís seen on the road: 0

We woke up around 7am or so and hit the road, my wife found a nursery just outside of Vegas with citrus trees and she was eager to pick one up and see if it would grow for us back in CO. The prices were so much cheaper than back home she is now contemplating future annual trips with a trailer to satisfy her plant collection needs!! We continued on towards home with a stop in St. George for some wood fired pizza at Rigattiís. The rest is history, just a slab ride back home to CO where we pulled up around 11pm to find 3í of snow still piled high in our driveway. I had to walk around back and start up the tractor to clear a path for the van to get up the driveway. Till next time happy advantures!!

New Van: 2000 Ford E350 SMB RB42
Old Van(sold): 1995 Dodge B3500 SMB RB33
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Old 04-17-2021, 09:40 AM   #2
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Join Date: Nov 2014
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Posts: 404
Some additional Drone shots:


New Van: 2000 Ford E350 SMB RB42
Old Van(sold): 1995 Dodge B3500 SMB RB33
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Old 04-17-2021, 09:52 AM   #3
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Join Date: Nov 2014
Location: Parker, CO
Posts: 404
One last drone video of the Awesome Anza Camp

Anza Borrego Campsite
New Van: 2000 Ford E350 SMB RB42
Old Van(sold): 1995 Dodge B3500 SMB RB33
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Old 04-17-2021, 12:57 PM   #4
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Join Date: Sep 2015
Location: San Francisco, CA
Posts: 284
Nice trip report and photos.

I was in Death Valley a couple of weeks ago and had the door of my E-350 ripped out of my hands in the wind a couple of times. Result was bent hinges or door frame and damage to front quarter panel. Was lucky to be even able to open/close the door sufficiently to continue the trip. Getting fixed today, fingers crossed.
2012 E350 RB XLT Wagon, Agile 4x4, SMB penthouse
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Old 04-17-2021, 02:18 PM   #5
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Location: Annapolis, Maryland
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Well done - what a fun family vacation. Don't believe we've ever taken a trip that we didn't change our plans a couple times (the appeal of these rigs!), and its amazing how it (almost) always turns out to be great decision...satisfies that urge for a real adventure (opposed to fulfilling pre-planned itineraries).
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