Our Trip through California: Coachella Valley and Joshua Tree


We left Phoenix on February 28th for our final trip along I-10. Except for a little snow after we got off the road in Tucson, we felt good about the decision to set out from Pensacola on February 1st fairly confident that we could escape any serious reminders that it was the dead of winter. There had been some nights with winter temperatures that required the heater, but that just created good sleeping.

We entered California at Blythe and made our way through the Mojave Desert until we reached the Coachella Valley. Our progress was somewhat hampered by the rules of the California highways in the area. Trucks, RVs, or any vehicle with more than two axles, are not allowed to exceed fifty miles per hour. For the most part most of the drivers followed the rule of the road which put us behind a truck at that pace for many miles. I certainly don’t speed when I am pulling the fifth wheel but I do like to at least get it up to sixty-five or so on most roads.

As we traveled further and further through the desert. I began to notice small, brownish insects flying at the vehicle like a brown snowstorm. They were not mosquitoes.  We had that experience last year driving near the Everglades and Alligator Alley in Florida. These were bigger and when the occasionally hit the windshield it was a yellowish, gooey mess.  We later found out they were Monarch butterflies that were exploding in the area drawn by the “bloom”. During our entire stay in the area cleaning the windshield and front of the vehicle each time we returned to the RV site was a necessity.

I had chosen the best possible RV park based on the principles mentioned in previous posts; proximity to the main focus of the stop, reasonability of price, and a clean site with decent amenities. I chose Oasis Palms RV Park because it was reasonably close to the southern entrance to Joshua Tree National Park and it had good reviews. It was also a major plus that it was a Passport America participant which meant we paid half price for the site as PA members.

The park is located in Thermal, California.  The only thing I really knew about the area was that it was the best choice near Joshua Tree. When we got off of I-10 we seemed to be in the middle of a combination of small industry and many farms. We did not see much on the twenty mile down Route 86 to the park. Little did we know that we were in an area with all kinds of possible experiences.

Thermal is just north of the Salton Sea which is a saline or salt lake and one of the largest lakes in California. It sits at the southern end of the Coachella Valley. The Coachella Music Festival, which we missed by a couple of weeks (not really sorry), is hardly the only thing going on in the valley. There are several big towns in the area including Indio, La Quinta, Rancho Mirage and Palm Springs. We thought we were in an isolated area but it turns out we were in one of the most diverse areas so far.

The first order of business was to settle into the park. Oasis palms was not really a high-level resort but it had plenty going for it and the price of twenty dollars a day was just right. The site was big enough with a stretch of lawn on the left side which gave us some room. What I did not notice until later in the day was that there was a large, grassy area across the road to our left that had a small golf flag sticking out of the ground. Upon closer examination it was an old pitching and putting area. There were three “holes” in the center. Near the holes the artificial turf was overgrown and a little bunched up. No matter. It was great for practicing wedge shots up to fifty-sixty feet. I took advantage of it every day.

The park also had a good-sized pool and a hot tub. After a long day on the road a good soak felt good. The game room had a pool table and a dart board. I found myself there for both a couple of times during our stay. The park also had lemon trees throughout and guests were encouraged to pick lemons as they wished. We definitely took advantage during our stay.

One interesting feature of the park was the morning “buzz” that we experienced by military jets doing maneuvers in the area. The first morning that I experienced the “buzz” literally pulled me out my lawn chair. I was relaxing and enjoying the morning sunshine when I was shaken out of my chair as a jet, possibly an F-15 or F-16, roared past at about 1,000 feet right over our heads followed by a partner that took a hard left bank over are site quickly flying over to the nearby mountains, and with a hard bank right, hugged the mountains for several miles. We found out that the Blue Angels, who we had missed in Pensacola, actually did winter training in the area. It could have been them. Blue Angels or not it was a good way to start the day.

The main focus of the stop was Joshua Tree National Park. Of all the national parks reports in the media seemed to indicate that Joshua Tree suffered the most during the government shutdown. Reports were that while the park was left unsupervised those with an apparent lack of good judgement had driven off the road though the desert landscape, left trash and human excrement about and even tried to cut down trees. It is hard to imagine what sensible person with half a brain would do such things. Nevertheless, they are out there.

We entered the park through the southern entrance. Although I have senior pass that allows free entrance, and cost is not a major factor for us, we could not believe that we could drive through the entrance and all the way up about ten miles to the visitor center and not be stopped anywhere looking for our pass or an entry fee. We had a similar experience at Saguaro in Tucson. Apparently, the National Park Service must be missing a considerable amount of money that they could likely use.

Although the surroundings in the park were beautiful, there seemed to be a scarcity of actual Joshua trees. We located some small, young ones, but not very many healthy mature examples. We did enjoy the variety of flora and the combination of that flora with the rock formations in the park. We were also able to enjoy the beginnings of some color that was just beginning to bloom during our visit.

Images from Joshua Tree 

We would later learn that if you wanted to experience the best concentration of Joshua trees entering the park through the north entrance is a better bet. On our trip from the area to our next stop at Death Valley we passed the north entrance and Joshua trees were plentiful throughout the area and for many miles north.

The next day we decided to travel north and find a store to stock the cupboards. There was a Whole “Paycheck”, but it was further than we were willing to travel. We found a store called Sprouts, which was a Whole Foods type, that served our needs. This is when we became aware that just twenty miles north we had several large and heavily populated towns that offered whatever we wanted or needed. These areas were heavily populated with many of the inhabitants clearly being seasonal snowbirds like ourselves. There were several very nice gated-communities in the towns of Indio and LaQuinta as well a couple of casinos and every retailer you can imagine.

During our stay we also went north to check out the Palm Springs area and a local art show. Although Palm Springs has historically been the home of many stars like Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Liberace, and their heritage are readily apparent through many street names, it appears that Palm Springs could use a little rejuvenation. Neighboring town, Rancho Mirage, seems like it is more affluent and in better shape. I am sure there is enough wealth in both communities but parts of Palm Springs could use a face-lift. People in the area are probably very popular with that concept.

When stopping in an area there are several sources for what is available and what should be seen and done. The best source is always the people in the area or who have experienced the area several times. When we pulled in the first day, we soon had neighbors who knew the area very well. They were from Northern California and had just come from spending the winter in Baja.

They were a wealth of information about the area. The best tip they gave us was to point us in the direction of Borrego Springs, which is a small town about forty-five minutes southwest of Thermal. They turned us on to the town itself and the famous Sky sculptures. Throughout the desert north and south of the town there are many metal sculptures designed and created over a number of years by a local artist, Ricardo Breceda

As the local story has it, Ricardo’s daughter at some point asked her father to create a dinosaur sculpture for her. The sculpture sat in front of Ricardo’s local studio and store. Local landowner, Dennis Avery, heir to the Avery-Dennison label fortune, was enamored of the sculpture and decided to donate land and commission Breceda to create what he coined “Sky Art”.  There are several acres of land put aside where residents and visitors can park and walk through the desert enjoying Breceda’s creations. People come from all over California and the world to visit the town and see the sculptures.

A Few of the Sky Art Sculptures 

The added bonus of visiting Borrego Springs was driving through Anza-Borrego State Park to get there. The state park, and the area around Borrego Springs, is also a favorite destination for the spring “bloom” in the desert. It is a time in late February and early March when the wildflowers in the desert explode and give the desert terrain a variety of colors. Recently, there was news of an overwhelming number of people invading the desert in Lake Elsinore, which is about ninety minutes northwest of Borrego. There were so many people and cars that the authorities had to shut down the roads and restrict access. People similar to those who desecrated Joshua Tree were walking through the flowers and laying in them to take selfie’s.

The drive through the state park and its canyons was a great way to spend a couple of hours. And we were introduced to a whole group of RVers who are also off-road enthusiasts. On a day before we drove through the park, we were coming back from Palm Springs and we noticed an unusual number of RVs on the road leaving the area. It was a virtual parade of motor homes, trailers and fifth-wheels and all of them were towing off-road vehicles. When we pulled into get fuel, I asked the guy at the next pump who was obviously one of the caravan. He told me about the weekend rally that they all had attended. When we drove through Borrego State Park the next day there were still many parties still out on the desert floor in the RVs riding their ATVs. It is the one thing that I would want to try at some point. It looks like a great deal of fun.

 Images of Anza-Borrego State Park

When we arrived in the area, we noticed several acres of palm trees neatly arranged in rows. We were not sure why or what the product might be. Eileen found a pamphlet about a near-by date farm where you could not only purchase dates but order some date-inspired foods. We decided to check it out.

I will freely admit that dates were not one of my favorites. That could probably be explained by my history with dates. My only exposure to dates as a kid was at Christmas. My family would slice the dates open, stuff them with a little peanut butter and roll them in granulated sugar. Normally peanut butter and sugar are two of my favorite things. Just not in this combination. Every Christmas I would look at them and decide that maybe I had misjudged them. One bite and I was once again disgusted.

The farm and store were about eight miles from the park. When we got there, we put two and two together and realized the purpose of all those palms. They were date palms. The store was interesting. There was a tasting table where you could sample several varieties of dates. Truthfully, I thought a date was date. Little did I know that there many versions of dates. Eileen and I had a date shake and purchased some dates and date products.


A variety of Date Snacks 

We left the area with excitement for our next stops but a bit of apprehension as we were entering the turn in our trip and a stretch during which we were traveling a bit north and off the major highways and on secondary highways, many of which would travel through higher elevations and more isolated areas. We knew this would be the most adventurous portion of the trip west.

Categories: Campground Reviews, Daily Trip Journal, Our Culture, RV Lifestyle, UncategorizedTags: , , , ,

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