Monday, January 17, 2011

Rest, Relaxation, and Rejuvenation in the Desert

We're back from a fabulous 3-day weekend on the north shore of the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea sits at 224 feet below sea level - meaning it's blisteringly hot during the summer, but during the winter it's one of my favorite places.  We left Friday afternoon, and took the drive east on I-10 to the 86S, and where it crosses over the 111, we got off and went south on the 111 about 9 miles to the Headquarters Campground.  This is a state recreation area - but the full hookup sites here are only $30 - and since Don's now a real senior citizen, we paid $28 for each night.  The 15 sites sit in a row at the upper end of a huge parking lot - which never has more than 2-3 cars parked in it, usually none - with a breathtaking view of the Salton Sea and the Santa Rosa Mountains to the west.   There's a well-used train track that runs along the highway behind us, and the trains pass dozens of times each day, both north- and south-bound. Don and I have differing opinions about it. I like it - the rumbling, rumbling, rumbling as it approaches, the horn that sounds as it approaches a nearby crossing - but Don says it bothers him.  He's said that he'll put up with it for my sake. 

There are several other state campgrounds along the north and east shore of the Salton Sea, but they don't have hookups.  Mecca Beach Campground has a dump station, though.  Corvina Beach and Salt Creek Campgrounds are laid out in a long line along the beach, and you pull in to your site parallel to the road. Mecca Beach is a loop. If I were camping without hookups I'd pick the two along the beach.

Don went fishing after we got set up - the Salton Sea is crammed full of tilapia, corvina, sargo, and croaker - but none of them were biting. Dinner Friday night was simple - grilled cheese and soup - and we then went outside to enjoy the sunset.

Friday night's sunset. The structures along the water's edge are picnic cabanas.

Saturday morning's sunrise.

Saturday morning we were up before the sun, since we wanted to see the sunrise.  Not only did we see that, but we were treated to the sounds of thousands of birds - seagulls, doves, egrets, and many many more that I can't name. (Sometimes I regret not getting into birding, but I've had many other passions in my life and just can't add another one at this stage!)  We sat for an hour, enjoying our coffee and the view of the sea.

After a breakfast of waffles and sausage, we decided to take a hike.  The camp host had given us a little sheet of things to do in the area, and one of them was a hike into Painted Canyon in the Mecca Hills Wilderness.  I had no idea either existed. We drove back up the 111 to Mecca, then took Box Canyon Road east out of Mecca to the turnoff for Painted Canyon Road.  That road was only graded this past week - many parts of it had washed out after the winter storms.  This area has some twisted and turned rocks and hills due to its location along the southern end of the San Andreas Fault. 

The Mecca Hills

Our road was going to end up in the far left of the picture, between the very low light hills and the higher dark hills.
When we got into the canyon, we hit a very sandy patch in the road - the truck bogged down, and Don was worried we were going to get stuck. Our truck is light in the rear and is not 4WD, so getting stuck in the sand was a strong possibility. He backed up onto a solid piece of ground to the side of the road, and we decided to hike from there.   We noticed several places set aside for 14-day camping, but saw only some young men with their tents. This would make a great boondocking spot if you could get past the sandy portion of the road.

Some of the rock layers that are standing on end in this part of the canyon.

The view back west, down the canyon. The tallest peak to the right is Santa Rosa Peak. It's at the center of its own wilderness.

Looking east up Painted Canyon as we began our hike.

The canyon begins to narrow.

As we hiked up the canyon, we were passed by about 4 Jeeps, trucks, and cars. About 2 miles in, we arrived at the parking area for Painted Canyon. There were already 5-6 vehicles there.  From this point, according to a sign at the entrance to this part of the canyon, you're in the Mecca Hills Wilderness.

A pair of hikers heads into the narrows.


Yours truly!

As we continued towards the narrower part of the canyon, I developed a pretty painful tug in my right groin, and we were forced to turn around since we knew we had a pretty good hike back to the truck.  (That groin pull is still pretty tender - I have to lift my thigh with my hand if I want to raise my leg.  That's what I get for being out of shape!)

On the way back, I was drawn to this area of greenery - and discovered a seep (small spring) at the base of the canyon wall.

We made it back to the campground in time for the two football games - and since I really wasn't interested in the first one, I decided to go in search of the closest geocache I could find. This one was called Bob Uker Seats.  It was located at the Mecca Beach Campground, in the rear of the outdoor amphitheater.  It was hidden under a bush.

The general area of the cache.

The cache is back in those bushes!

After locating the cache and submitting my "find" report, I came back to the trailer and watched the football games with Don.  Dinner was a treat - steak, dilled new potatoes, and peas. 

Sunday morning again found us enjoying the sunrise with our coffee, and Don pointed out how the sun was hitting "our" mountains.  We live up in the ones in the picture below - and believe me, we were glad to be leaving that snow behind for the weekend!

Sunday morning's sun hits the San Bernardino Mountains

Breakfast was biscuits and gravy - I had to use up the other half of the package of Jimmy Dean. Since the football game was coming on earlier than the day before, I told Don he didn't have to go with me on the morning's exploration. I had heard about the mud pots and mud volcanoes, and had go find them.

First, I went south on the 111 about 26 miles to the Wister Waterfowl Managment Area - turned right and headed towards the Salton Sea. I saw the small "Mud Pots" sign, and followed the road to where it ended.

"Boiling mud? Actually, it's carbon dioxide gas rising from below the water table. Mud pots are vent points and they tend to occur along the earthquake faults which run through this valley. Look for them along this field between here and the Salton Sea."

View from the parking area.  Two large and one small hole.

This one, which was quiet while I was there, showed signs of recent activity.

This one appeared to have been dormant for a while.
So, I was a bit disappointed that the mud pots weren't bubbling. I'd seen a couple videos of them on YouTube, and was hoping to see them in action.  Oh well.

From there I headed south in search of the Mud Volcanoes. I found them - but you can't get close to them since they're surrounded by a deep canal and then a field of mud. 

Here's a very well-done video of the Mud Volcanoes:

The Mud Volcanoes
I made it back in time to watch most of the football games with Don - way to go, Jets! - and then we enjoyed some barbecued chicken and yet another gorgeous sunset.

The colors darken in the eastern sky

I was able to capture the moon in this one

I can't get enough!

Love the red glows in the western sky

Last one.  
This morning we enjoyed our last sunrise, then a breakfast of corned beef hash and eggs.  We were packed up and on the road by 9, and made it home in time for lunch.  There's still snow on the ground here, but it was 55˚, so it continues to melt.  Inside the house it was 48˚ - the heater ran for a long time to warm it up, and now Don has a nice fire going. Back to work tomorrow!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The consequences of driving too fast

What's missing from this picture is what Don and I saw yesterday - the pickup truck upside down in front of the sign.  I talked about this in my previous post; we saw the accident and are surprised we didn't see anything in the paper today about it. The driver took the turn at the bottom of the canyon too quickly; over-compensated when he started going off on the right side of the road, veered left across the far lane and flipped twice, coming to rest upside down up against the sign.

This is one of the results of having Highway 330 closed - lots of drivers who are unfamiliar with Highway 38.  

I refuse to complain...

...about the traffic on Highway 38.  Normally my commute is pretty quiet; the most traffic we see is on Friday afternoons and Sunday afternoons as people are coming up and down from a weekend in the mountains. But during the massive winter storms we had around Christmas, an enormous section of Highway 330 collapsed.  The engineers predict the road will be closed at least one year, possibly two.

This means there are now only two routes up to and down (well, three if you count the "back" way from Lucerne Valley) from Big Bear. You either have to take the 18 at Running Springs across to Crestline and down Waterman Canyon, or the 38 over Onyx Summit, through Barton Flats and Angelus Oaks, and down past Forest Falls (where I live) and Mountain Home Village.

I still have my same 20-minute drive. So I won't complain about the traffic.

On Wednesday, I heard on the radio as I was driving home that a head-on collision had closed the 38 just past the turnoff for Forest Falls. Whew!  I was going to be able to make it home, but hundreds and hundreds of people were forced to park on the side of the road and wait until everything was cleared so they could continue.  When I got up to my turnoff, I saw all the people waiting - and yes, there were hundreds of them.

Judy and John, who write RV Life on Wheels, had spent their day visiting Big Bear, and were attempting to go back to Desert Hot Springs via the 38. They got all the way to within 2 miles of Forest Falls - and were forced to turn around, go all the way back to Big Bear, and then back to Running Springs and the route down the 18.  A HUGE detour.

But people are driving too fast on the 38.  At the bottom of the canyon there's a turn in the road that isn't (in my opinion) banked very well - so it's easy to get caught off guard and have to stand on the brakes. Yesterday Don and I witnessed a pickup truck take that turn too quickly, and he rolled his truck several times - coming to rest upside down against the National Forest sign. (I'll try to take  a picture of that sign today and add it to this post). He destroyed that sign - but apparently he's okay - we didn't see anything in the paper about it and I can't find anything on the 'net.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Another item checked off the list

Don and I turned in our passport applications today. We used to have passports - I've had several since I was three; Don got his first one at the age of five. But since he retired 20 years ago from the Air Force, we no longer used the ones we had and they expired.

Now that the rules have changed regarding travel to Canada and Mexico we decided we'd better get them taken care of so we can cross the border.

Kenny's leaving for New Mexico and his new assignment at Holloman Air Force Base. He already has an apartment in Alamogordo and will be picking up the keys Friday afternoon. We've lent him a sleeping bag and pad to use until his furniture arrives from Japan (if it's not already there). It'll be strange to have him within cell phone range - we've gone so many years without being able to call him since he was in Kyrgyzstan, Diego Garcia, Korea, and Japan.  Now I  can just text him for a quick hello.  I'll try not to be a pest.

Theresa hosted a farewell barbecue for him last night - her roommate got carne asada, and they had a Mexican feast. She's having lunch with him today before he hits the road. She's so proud to have him for a brother.

91 more work days.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Brand New and Exciting Year Has Come!

This is the year I retire. This is the year Don and I will finally make it to the Canadian Rockies, and probably Alaska. This is the year we don't have to hurry back from our summer trip in order to be at work for the first day of school.  We have big plans, including short trips during some 3-day weekends, a medium trip over our 2-week spring break, and then our big trip north. 

Today we are sloths. There's so much good football on, and later some hockey, so we're just enjoying the sports. (I tell Don all the time he's lucky to have found a woman who's a sports fanatic.)  I made Paradise Potatoes and Eggs for breakfast, heavy on the mushrooms for me to cut a few of the carbs.  For lunch, we had Zannie's Black-Eyed Pea Dip with tortilla chips, therefore getting our "good luck" black-eyed peas for New Year's Day. It was a really good way to use black-eyed peas - and Don and Kenny gobbled it up.

My Texas Tech Red Raider won the Cotton Bowl - though they gave me a scare with some defensive breakdowns and some great Northwestern offensive plays during the second half. Way to go, Tech!  Now we're getting ready to watch the Rose Bowl, and I think we're both going to root for TCU. I'd like to see them finish unbeaten and get the respect they deserve. Then tonight we'll start with the outdoor hockey game in Pittsburgh, and switch over to the Kings-Sharks at 6.

I might sit down at my sewing machine for a bit, but I might not. Who knows?  It's my next-to-last day of winter break, and I'm in no rush to get anything done.  I could get used to this!

I'm glad 2010 is over. It had too much stress in it job-wise, due to the horrendous state of the California budget and all the cuts made to public education. I've had more phone calls and emails from teachers with stress-related issues than ever before, and it just doesn't look like it's going to get any better.

For a GREAT metaphor, consider this.  During this morning's Tournament of Rose Parade, the float that won the trophy for "Best Presentation of Life in California" broke down and had to be towed. Talk about irony.

But now I have 93 work days left.  But who's counting?!