March 13 – April 23
We rolled out of Arizona early morning on a Saturday in Mid-March. The previous night was spent in a noisy casino parking lot. Not because we love casinos (or sleeping in parking lots) but because it put us in the perfect position to zip across the street to the Safeway as early as possible for a large grocery stock-up. Once the cupboards and fridge were filled with as much as they could hold – and them some – we crossed into California and drove north and then west through the dusty desert.
A few uneventful hours later, we exited off I-40 and found ourselves traveling a familiar two-lane road into the Mojave National Preserve. As we headed deeper into the MNP I watched as the digital display in the truck showed the outside temperature drop at an alarming pace. By the time we reached our intended boondocking spot, it was 10 degrees colder than when we exited the interstate.
The boondocking spot was already full so we drove another 10 minutes up the road to the Hole-in-the-Wall campground where it was 8-degrees colder! As we did a slow roll through the campground I couldn’t help but laugh at the groups of campers bundled up in coats and hats trying to enjoy lunch outside while the 45-degree weather had other ideas. Spring in the desert is a wild and wacky thing. You never know what you might get.
Altogether we spent three weeks in the Mojave Preserve. It snowed on us the first week, was windy and spitting rain for part of the second, and blazing hot by the end of the third. Despite those wild swings keeping us on our toes (and sometimes in the trailer for days), we do love boondocking in the Mojave Preserve.
After hiding from the wind and cold the first night at a just-okay spot, we were able to snag the very same coveted boondocking spot where we stayed during our last visit in 2016. It’s a site suitable only for a single RV accessed by a narrow dirt road with views in all directions and a blazing fast Verizon signal. What more could you want?
We stayed the week in this spot. Days were filled with work, while afternoons were spent following the many cattle paths around the neighborhood and hiking the trails over by the Hole-in-the-wall Campground.
At the end of the week, friends came from Palm Springs to join us for a few nights of tent camping. After a pleasant afternoon and evening spent around the fire, the wind kicked up and they only made it through half of the first night before their tent collapsed and forced them into the car until morning. Yeah, wild spring winds and tent camping do not mix. Also, hats off to anyone who tent camps in the desert at any time of the year. It’s not the most hospitable environment for sleeping in a nylon shell.
At the end of the week, we used the dump station at the campground before heading back to I-40, traveling west for 20 miles, and then back into the Preserve on Kelbaker Road.
The Mojave National Preserve is huge. I’m talking 1.4 million acres huge with only a smattering of roads connecting the vast and remote landscape. Getting from one area to another can take hours and with no gas stations or stores nearby, spending a few weeks here requires planning and a careful allocation of resources.
Despite its remoteness, the fact that the MNP is sandwiched between two major highways, I-40 and I-15, means that the cell service is surprisingly good, at least on the outer edges where you can pick up a signal from the towers that service the roads. Since these towers are primarily used by people driving past in their cars, they don’t get that overloaded lag time we often find in towns and cities. Which is all to say that while we love boondocking here for the scenery and hiking, we also really, really love that we can spend three weeks in such a remote area while working, zooming, and streaming TV.
There are a handful of boondocking areas off Kelbaker Rd that are close enough to I-40 to get a good cell signal. After a night spent in a roadside pull-off when our intended spot was already taken, we moved over to Hidden Hill Road.
It was a lovely spot surrounded by Yuccas and offering up a sweeping view of the rugged Granite Mountains. There were a few other camping spots down the road past us, but none big enough for a trailer of our size. For that reason, during our two-week stay, we only saw a handful of vehicles pass.
We visited this area of the MNP very briefly back in 2013. One of the things I remember from that visit is the Kelso Dunes and how much fun we had climbing and sliding down them. I mean…what’s not to love about a giant pile of sand rising up from the desert floor?
We tried our best to visit on a day when the wind was at less than tropical storm level, but those were far a few between and we ended up climbing to the top of the dunes with sand swirling around us.
It was all fine until we got to the top where the wind was blowing off the sides of the dunes straight into our faces. I started the hike with a fresh layer of sunscreen and ended it covered with a layer of sand!
The weather warmed during the last half of our stay and we enjoyed a fun and challenging hike to the top of Silver Mountain. The trail followed an old mining road through a tree-filled canyon before climbing to the top via a winding route.
At the end of our MNP stay, we packed it up and drove south into civilization. After a record 91 days in a row of boondocking, we were headed to an RV park! The destination was Palm Springs where our planned two-week stay turned into three while we dealt with boring life things like getting new tires for the truck and Covid vaccinations for ourselves.
We like Palm Springs, and we like it even more now that our friends Robin & Jeremy (the same amazing people who invited us to stay with them last summer in Colorado) have a condo there. During our stay, we went over to their place for not one, but two Sunday Fundays involving pool time, homemade pizza, and a really cute dog named Dylan. We also enjoyed some outdoor dining around town and had them over one evening for dinner at our RV park. If there’s one good thing that came out of this crappy Covid business, it’s how much time we got to spend with these friends over the past year.
I wasn’t sure how the whole RV park living was going to be after spending so much time boondocking with no neighbors. But we ended up really liking the park and enjoying the break from tank management and extreme water-saving practices.
We initially picked the Cathedral Palms RV Park for its convenient location and the fact that they had sites available. When making the online reservation I closely studied the Google satellite view and did my best to match it up to their park map before choosing a site. Anyone else do this? While the satellite view doesn’t always give an accurate or up-to-date representation, it usually provides enough info to pick the best site for us. In this case, I knew we wanted a site on the edge of the park to avoid the dreaded back-to-back site configuration and noticed that some, but not all, had hedges between them. I chose one with hedges in hopes that they would provide privacy. It worked! Our site was surrounded on three sides by tall oleander shrubs that provided privacy, a bit of shade in the morning, and pretty flowers.
In contrast to the mostly winter-like weather in the Mojave (except for the last few days when it got into the 80s) it was hot in Palm Springs. Delightfully hot I should add. Temps topped out in the 90s during the day and dipped into the low 60s at night. With plenty of power to run the AC, we enjoyed the cool morning and evenings with a few hours of artificially cool air in the middle of the day.
Three weeks in Palms Springs flew by, and two days after our second Covid vaccination, we packed it up and headed north. Way north. We left Palm Springs on Friday morning and by Saturday night we were roughly 750 miles north sleeping in another casino parking in the tiny town of Loleta, CA. Goodbye desert, hello northern California!