Bill and Kit’s 2018 Excellent Adventure, Journal #7

“This Year Marks Our 10th Winter RV Trip”

In life, it’s not where you go, it’s who you travel with.
Charles Schulz

Friday, February 2, 2018: Up, broke camp and departed NAWS, China Lake, California under partly sunny skies, and temperatures in the upper 60-degrees. Today, in order to head south, Kit and I decided to meander on a number of local backroads.

Nearing the noon hour, we came upon the junction of Highway 247 and Old Woman Springs Road, and decided it was time for a break. Spotting a very large dirt lot, I pulled the rig in and intended to climb into the camper for a roadside lunch. However, as soon as the truck doors opened we were engulfed by this incredible smell of barbeque coming from the nearby Café 247.

So, that quick…our plans changed! Walking in we learned that this quirky roadside dive is a regional favorite of off-road vehicle enthusiasts from the California coast as they head toward the desert playground of Yucca Valley.

It appears that it’s a tradition to leave one of your license plates to festoon the café walls…an activity we did not participate in.

The meat is smoked then grilled outside by two local characters…one of which did not want his picture taken…the aroma wafting off the grill is their main marketing tool. Worked on us!

According to Butch the grill master, the cafés specialty is the Baby Back Ribs.

But I chose the Tri-tip instead.

Which was the most succulent and flavorful beef I’ve ever tasted! What a gem of a place, and in the middle of nowhere…another chance encounter due to our primary method of serendipity travel!

With full bellies, we once again headed south and by 1600 hours were entering the outskirts of Palm Desert, California.

This is our first time in this area, and we quickly discovered a verdant and manicured oasis in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. Replete with resorts, golf courses and world class entertainment venues, the region is inhabited by mainly retired folks from Coastal California…two of which were some friends from our old San Diego neighborhood.

Alan and Linda have resided in Palm Desert for the past few years and love the area. Alan was my brother Don’s best friend in high school, and upon graduating in 1967, they decided to join the Army under the buddy program. However, as luck would have it, Alan couldn’t leave for basic training as scheduled so followed Don by a few weeks. This mismatch in timing resulted in Don being assigned to Anchorage, Alaska…and Alan being sent to Vietnam. As a result of Alan’s combat experience, he is battling medical issues to this day, but has a great attitude and loving support from Linda.

We had intended to stay in an RV Park near their home, but the least expensive facility in this rather exclusive region was $95.00 a night…yikkers! So, a bit of research brought us to the town of La Quinta a short distance to the south and a pleasant county park, Lake Cahuilla Recreation Area.

Where we settled into a nice camp spot for three days.

Oh, and the cost…$35.00 per night!

Surrounded by the stark beauty of the Santa Rosa Mountains, Lake Cahuilla (pronounced Kah-wee-ah) is a favorite recreation area in the Coachella Valley and we felt much more at home in this environment then the fancy RV resort style establishments.

A nice cocktail, a quick meal, and a walk about the park, brought the day to a close.

 

Saturday, February 3 through Tuesday, February 6, 2018-La Quinta, California: Okay, the astute reader might have picked up on the fact that the dates we stayed equal more the three…yep, found so much to do we extended an additional two days. And who would blame us, with beautiful weather and sights like this out our camper window each morning!

This experience underlines why we hate to make advance reservations, or even commit to plans to be somewhere at a specific date. We far prefer to make decisions such as where to stay, how long to stay, and what to do while in an area, real time. In fact, we hadn’t even planned to head into this area until two days ago!

The primary reason for visiting this region was to spend time with Alan and Linda…who we hadn’t seen since they moved here from El Cajon, California a few years back. Deciding to meetup for dinner, they recommended a brewhouse named Babe’s.

In addition to their in-house microbrewery, Babe’s is rumored to serve the finest barbeque in the region.

Since yesterday’s Tri Tip was so incredible, I decided to see if lightning strikes twice, and ordered it again…this time with a helping of Baby Back Ribs, alongside an incredible baked sweet potato topped with a honey pecan glaze.

Well, I only had one complaint. As much as I wanted to, I could not finish the whole thing, so half went back to the camper for another meal. Everyone else’s meal was equally incredible…as was the company and conversation! Alan and I reminisced about growing up in 1960’s San Diego while the women let us ramble on and entertained themselves with their own conversation. It was a great evening! In fact, so great, that we decided to meet up the following morning for a late breakfast at The Broken Yoke.

Where the good food and conversation continued from where we left off. Oh, and please excuse the screen grab from their website…I was too busy eating and visiting to snap a photo of my incredible Golden State Benedict!

After saying our goodbyes, Kit and I meandered back to our campsite by way of downtown La Quinta.

We couldn’t get enough of this communities beautifully landscaped streets which border gated communities, such as the famed PGA West…a paradise for golfers. Eventually we found ourselves in Old Town La Quinta…which is an unusual name for a community that is only 35 years in existence, but it does have the look and feel of old Spanish architecture.

Primarily a shopping and dining area, Old Town La Quinta seemed the perfect place to grab a snack and some adult beverages.

Before returning to the campground for another stroll along the lakeside.

OK, full disclosure…that last sentence served to sneak in another photo of the hills surrounding the still waters of beautiful Lake Cahuilla.

One reason we elected to extend our stay in this area, was to take the 45-minute drive northwest and ride the popular Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the largest rotating aerial tramway in the world.

Located just to the west of the resort community of Palm Springs, with an elevation of 479 feet, one must negotiate a rather steep, winding road to the tram’s base station which sits at an elevation of 2,643 feet.

Where a small museum and very informative film explains the genesis and construction of this engineering marvel.

The exhilarating ride lasts 12 ½ minutes while accelerating up North America’s steepest mountain face.

The two, one going upbound as the second descends, 18-foot diameter tram-cars rotate twice during the trip, so every passenger can enjoy a spectacular view in all directions.

Above Image Captured From The Internet.

The total distance traveled by cable is 12,708 feet which is suspended by five towers, the tallest being 227 feet.

The total elevation gains of 8,307 feet from the valley floor treats passengers to five distinct life zones starting at the Sonoran Desert and ending at the alpine forest of the San Jacinto Mountains, where the temperatures are a good 35 degrees cooler.

Arriving at the mountain base station, we discovered the headquarters for the San Jacinto State Park.

Where many alpine trails and nature walks can be accessed…including a summit trail to the 10,804-foot peak of the parks namesake mountain.

At this altitude of 8,516 feet above sea level the air is noticeably thinner, and the terrain is starkly different from the valley below. There is a refreshing sense of cool, clean air with the pungent aroma of pine trees…very similar to the feeling I get in the mountains back home in Maine.

Trees abound everywhere at this altitude…the following closeup photo of bark is from an unidentified random tree.

Can’t tell you much about it, other than I thought the texture provided interesting geometry.

A short distance from the tram station lies a rather large alpine meadow where various species of wildlife bed down for the evening.

And a bit of snow remains on the north facing slopes from the last weather event of a few months ago.

The most popular pathway, and the one I explored, is the Desert View Trail where folks can catch a glimpse of the lesser mountain ranges in the valley far below.

Returning to the Mountain Station, Kit and I made our way to a nice dining room with terraced seating that provides incredible tableside views.

Where we enjoyed a pre-dinner beverage while enjoying the vista.

Kit mentions often that I take 90 percent of the photos on these trip, so I rarely appear in the pages of the journal…so she kindly snapped this one of me.

Personally, I think she is far more photogenic!

Soon it was time to queue up for the ride back down to the Base Station…which was as thrilling as the ride up!

While descending, the setting sun provided a dramatic backdrop to the sheer walls of Chino Canyon.

What an exhilarating ride, and highly recommended…one of the very few ways for us mere mortals to explore an alpine wilderness in this part of the Southwest!

The final day at Lake Cahuilla Recreation Area was down time spent relaxing and getting ready for the road. Since it was a day o’ leisure, I took the time to whip up some of my infamous avocado and egg on flatbread with salsa, cheddar cheese, and sour cream, concoctions.

Yep, that thing is a triple threat…breakfast, lunch, and dinner!

While Kit got caught up on her reading, I took my bike for a ride around the park and down some interesting dirt roads.

Lake Cahuilla is a manmade irrigation impoundment, fishing pond, and recreation facility that came to fruition in the early 1970’s. However, it is named after a vast prehistoric sea of 2,588,000 years ago that covered over 2,200 square miles of this area…hence all the shells imbedded in the hillsides.

While poking about I also came upon the lakes inlet which is fed from the famed All American Irrigation Canal and a bit further, the outlet known as The Coachella Canal, which provides irrigation to thousands of acres of farmland in the valley.

A nice afternoon bike ride but time to return to camp where I did some reading and noticed from an online RV Forum that the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) had just released production figures for calendar year 2017…504,599 new RV units! That’s a huge jump from years past, no wonder it’s getting harder to travel about willy-nilly and expect a spot to camp at the spur of the moment!?!? With that disturbing thought, I decided to just sit, contemplate life, and stare across the lake as the afternoon turned into dusk.

Yep, yet another nonapologetic photo of the amazing sights over the lake.

Catch you later!

Kit’s Bit’s: We had quite a nice time in this area! The highlight for me was visiting with Alan & Linda. Always good to get together with them. The weather was as perfect as can be and there were endless places to explore. I was quite surprised at how green the area is. There are lots of mature trees and beautiful bushes and flowers in the area. Of course, being near the PGA West Headquarters, most of the communities are “Gated” so we couldn’t drive through them. There are many shopping opportunities and restaurants in this area. It’s a beautiful place to retire for folks from SoCal, where they can still make it “home” occasionally without having to fly.

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Bill and Kit’s 2018 Excellent Adventure, Journal #6

“This Year Marks Our 10th Winter RV Trip”

If I leave here tomorrow, will you still remember me?
For I must be traveling on, there’s many places I’ve got to see!
Ronald Wayne Van Zant

Wednesday, January 24, 2018: Woke at Boulder Creek RV Park in Lone Pine, California to partly sunny skies and temperatures in the low 50’s. Today, Kit and I head south, but first we call brother Dan to wish him a 54th birthday…how did you get so darn old, so darn fast?

Climbing into the truck for the day’s drive, I spotted our traveling mascot, Mr. Bill.

Who has been a constant companion on these adventures for the past ten years. Our older readers will recognize Mr. Bill from the early days of Saturday Night Live. However, Mr. Bill also played a significant role in our retirement roast and even appeared in a few videos that showed the occasional ineptitude of his namesake.

Sad to leave as we had a very nice time in this area, but time to head down elevation to more warmer climes.

Kit and I have vowed to return to this region a bit closer to spring so we can further explore more of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and, also further north to Lake Tahoe.

On the road at 1110 hours and headed south on US Highway 395.

This will be a very short travel day, plan is to pull into the military campground near Ridgecrest, California and hunker down for a few days. You see, both Kit and I came down with a wicked case of the Bogaydus and need to recuperate.

By 1320 hours we pulled off the highway and made our way to the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station and set up camp in their nice new RV park.

Only three years old, and sparsely populated, we had our pick of RV sites.

A sunny, warm and relaxing place to get over our “couple’s colds”! Hope it doesn’t take too long!

 

Thursday, January 25 through Thursday, February 1, 2018: Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake, California. Yep, eight days…we originally signed up for three and then extended day by day until we both felt well enough to travel. Kit and I initially thought we may have had a touch of the flu, even though we both had received flu shots. However, it became apparent we were battling colds and the Dayquil/Nyquil regimen got us through! It’s no fun traveling while sick, and even worse is trying to stay clear of folks, so you don’t infect them…so we basically spent the down time getting caught up on some correspondence, enjoying daily walks, drinking tons of water and lying low for the most part.

Neither Kit nor I had ever been to this area, so once beginning to feel better, we decided to poke around a bit…first stop was the local museum.

Where we learned about the history of the area, and the development of the town. Amongst the artifacts of early desert living, there was a number of paintings from the towns favorite daughter, Sylvia Winslow…including the following, my personal favorite.

Alongside the painting was a framed poem she had composed to accompany her donation to the museum.

Some of the museums more interesting features were located outside and included a really neat Labyrinth.

This pathway was constructed of local stone as an Eagle Scout project and is the typical native style circuitous route that leads to a center alter. Along the way are signs indicating the sun and moon positions relative to the seasons. It was somewhat mesmerizing and fun, but took a bit of walking to follow the path.

The town of Ridgecrest is a pretty typical military town of 27,626 folks located in the Indian Wells Valley of south central California. Prior to the establishment of the base, the area was populated by less than 100 folks and was known as Crumville, named after the family that farmed the area.

The name was changed to Ridgecrest when a super-secret base, Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake, was developed during WWII to research, design, develop, build and test munitions for aircraft.

At 1,100,000 acres which by the way is bigger than the state of Rhode Island, NAWS China Lake is the largest single tract of land owned by the US Navy. Less than 5% of the area is developed, and most of that is the air field and support buildings…which is a base within a base. We could gain access to the base, where the administrative facilities are located as well as the commissary, exchange, military and civilian schools, family housing and of course, the RV Park. However, trying to venture out from this area into the furthest regions of the base one is confronted by these barriers.

And the patrolling of the fence line by armed guards amplified the point. As in many military installations, China Lake has an on base museum…So one day, I walked over to find out what made this Navy base so unusual.

Housed in the former Officers Club, the museum profiled many of the top-secret weapons projects that are now public. Supported by scientist and engineers from California Institute of Technology (CalTech), the base has seven times more civilian personal than military, and some of the former reside on base in housing alongside their military counterparts. During WWII, when the military was trying to develop guided missiles to affix onto aircraft of the day, a military/academic/industrial partnership was initially formed. One of their first products was the MK 57 BAT.

Named after the nocturnal animal that uses echo ranging to locate its prey, this anti- ship missile featured the very earliest application of Radar to detect a target. The electronics bay looked similar to the insides of an early television set.

As I stood and scrutinized this section of the missile, I was struck by how familiar the components were. Back in 1965, while stationed in Key West, Florida, I attended a military technical school that taught us how to operate, troubleshoot, and repair similar looking electronic equipment. Vacuum tube-based systems were very finicky and prone to malfunction due to heat and vibration…hard to believe this early version of a guided missile was durable enough to successfully make it to its target.

Other weapons that were developed or tested at this sprawling base included the Sidewinder.

With a tailfin apparatus called a Rolleron.

This freewheeling, simple and inexpensive device, kept the missile from excessively rolling while in flight.

Also, some surface strike weapons were flight tested here, such as the Tomahawk Cruise Missile.

And anti-air missiles like the SM-2.

This Standard Missile, a surface to air weapon, is used extensively by the Aegis Weapons System onboard Navy warships built at Bath Iron Works in Maine.

In addition to ordnance, the base also develops and tests, unmanned aircraft…such as the X-47A shown below.

Which is the first large scale UAV (drone) to take off and land on an aircraft carrier.

And ejection seat development, refinement and testing are accomplished here as well.

Even though the base airfield is many miles away and off limits to everyone but authorized personnel, one can still see military aircraft in the skies above. The primary Navy aircraft assigned to the base for R & D work is the F/A-18 Hornet.

This decommissioned example of the Hornet, festooned with missiles tested here, sits in front of command headquarters.

The vast base also protects thousands of acres of archaeological sites, including the highest concentration of Petroglyphs in the hemisphere…some of which have been documented as older than 16,000 years! In addition, due to the restricted access, there are thousands of clay pot chards, tools, and spear points, lying undisturbed where early native peoples had left them.

Since the region is a seismically active area (think Andres Fault), the base hosts an experimental geothermal electric generating plant that can supply enough power for over 378,000 households!

Currently, it is not feasible to produce at that level, but does provide clean unlimited power to the base complex.

With this extra time sitting in one place, Kit and I decided to enjoy some more common activities. Our daughter Kim had highly recommended a new movie playing in the theaters, so one afternoon we headed a short distance into town and enjoyed, “The Greatest Showman”.

This film, staring Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron, is loosely based on the life of circus pioneer, PT Barnum, and is a must see if you enjoy high energy and uplifting stories!

Then there was the inevitable Wal*mart session of retail therapy. I declined to participate and spent time fueling up the truck and making a quick stop at Home Depot…a much more time worthy endeavor. Arriving back in the WM parking lot, I waited for Kit to emerge, then we made our way back to the camper. After putting away her purchases, and while I sat at the table hammering out some of this journal, this object was ceremoniously placed in front of me.

Suddenly I was immersed in a cold chill, as my mind raced trying to figure what this rather ghastly looking object might be…other than the obvious. Needless to say, I’m a bit concerned, and have been on my best behavior ever since.

Near the end of our stay, which by the way coincided with the two of us feeling much better, we traveled about an hour south and visited the historic town of Randsburg, California.

Formerly a ghost town, which has more recently been discovered by counter-culture folks, the town is now billed as a “Living Ghost Town”…which sounds like one of those Ox Morons to me.

Randsburg has been partially repopulated, and some of the old storefronts have been repurposed into retail establishment which cater to the tourist trade.

Other structures are the way they were when shuttered long ago.

Including the Opera House.

And an establishment called a Floozy House.

Note the weirdo taking a photograph through the window!

Then to offset all the debauchery, there is a church which appears to be hold services on a regular basis.

Even though, as you can see, the outside walls must be supported by sturdy poles.

Our visit coincided with a weekday so most everything was closed, and there were very few towns people about.

Remnants of the mill that once sustained the community can be found west of Randsburg, and a short distance up a dirt road.

When operational, the ore was extracted from the earth and carted to a “Stamp Mill”.

Which contain hammers, operated by a crankshaft device, to pulverize the stone.

Then the desired minerals were extracted and shipped off to market.

I like to poke around old ghost towns and have enjoyed many over the years. Even though this one is partially inhabited, we really enjoyed the visit.

Back at the campsite, we turned in early to be alert for the Super-Blue-Blood-Moon event at 0530 in the morning…which was interesting to see from this clear sky desert location, but my weenie camera doesn’t really do it justice.

However, looking through the binoculars, it was an amazing site!

 

Kit’s Bit’s: Well, this hasn’t been the most exciting place to be, especially for nine days and being sick. Fortunately, we were able to take a few days to rest some before we continued our journey. For me, the big issue was the Laundry Center. Brand new, nice and clean, there were 4 washers and 8 dryers. However, only one washer worked properly! And, due to Govt. Rules & Regs, the local Maintenance man was not allowed to fix the 3 other washers! It had to wait for someone from DC, I suppose! With all the campers vying for the one washer, it was quite a feat to get through a weeks’ worth of laundry, especially being down with a bad cold. Enough said!