Friday, January 22, 2021

Travel Memories: The Desert

November 04

We say farewell to Refugio State Beach and its wonderful campground and head farther south towards Los Angeles. Highway 101 follows the beaches for miles until we have to take off towards San Bernadino.

The freeways around L.A are 4 to 5 lanes in every direction and lots of big trucks are coming up from behind all the time. Finally after several hours on L.A. Highways we reach Victorville at Interstate 15. We have ordered a couple of solar panels here which we plan to install while being on a campground. Victorville, a town in the desert is all spread out and the traffic here is terrible. Our campground, the KOA, lies directly besides the Interstate and accordingly the noise is deafening. Definitely not a place to spend your vacations on. However we have desert temperatures, and during the day it gets up to 30 C.

November 05

The morning starts out busy as we have to get downtown to purchase some groceries and accessories for mounting the solar panels. The shopping takes more than a couple of hours, because we can't find a food mart. First after lunch I can start on my work with the solar panels. Unfortunately, some parts are missing and I have to improvise to get it all done. Now I need another day to finish up the installation.

November 06

Another day working at Victorville. While I am buzzing about, Bea washes the outside of our rig.

November 07

Aah, what a relief to leave this noisy place behind.
We travel through the High Desert landscape. Lots of Yuccas on both sides of the Highway 247 as it leads through Yucca Valley. As Highway 247 leads downward and enters Riverside County we cross a huge area filled up with wind mills.
                          Bell Mountain at Hwy 247
                         Wind Park at Palm Springs

Palm Springs lies just a bit off to the south of Interstate 10, which we leave at Coachello. Highway 86 gets us farther south and for the first time we see Palm Tree Nurseries along the road.

Our destination for the day is Mecca Beach at the Salton Sea. From the village of Mecca, Highway 111 runs along the east side of the Salton Sea, while Highway 86 continues south on the west side of the lake. Mecca Beach lies on the east side and is just one of 5 local campgrounds belonging to the California State Recreation Area. The first campground we see is the local Headquarters. A very friendly lady Ranger offers us a job as camp hosts for as long as the season goes. We receive an application but decide to look around before we accept her offer.

After settling in for the night at the headquarters campground we drive down Hwy 111 until we reach the little village of Niland. Of the 5 State Recreational Campgrounds, only Mecca Beach and the Headquarters can be recommended for a longer stay. These sites are very well maintained and offer a few hook-ups, a day-use area and shaded tables. They are spacious enough to accommodate big rigs too.

Headquarters campground has a very nice little marina and a service building surrounded by beautiful palm trees. However, the marina area doesn't seem to be used.

The Salton Sea is only 100 years old as it was created when the Colorado River went on a rampage in 1905. Having created a dam of sediments against the California Gulf, the mighty river found an outlet to the north, filling a low basin between two mountain ranges. It created the Salton Sea. However the basin is so low that there was no further outlet for the water. When reaching the height of the sediment barrier towards the Gulf,  the Colorado again found back into its previous bed and washed out into the Gulf again leaving the Salton Sea to its own. Evaporation was leading to an increase of salinity, and while no water outlet was possible, an increasing amount of salt remained in the lake. The water is of a reddish color and does not appear to attract many visitors these days.

November 08

While we seriously considered the Rangers offer to be camp hosts at Mecca Beach, during the night our sleep is disturbed several times from the nearby running railroad. These goods trains are running by constantly, and the deafening sound of their train whistles yell through the night. Also the traffic on Hwy 111 is very disturbing for a peace loving camper.
             Beautiful to look at but loud during the night.....

So in the morning we go on south along the Salton Sea and via the town of Niland. We try to spot the famous camper paradise Slab City, but fail to discover the turn-off. We are now within the Imperial Valley, an agricultural area so flat and monotonous that we ask ourselves where there still might be an untouched rest of the desert to camp in. All fields are irrigated with water led off the Colorado River.
Via El Centro, we go to Holtville on State Road 115. Where the 115 meets with Interstate 8 we start looking for the Hot Springs Long Term Visitor Area. At the intersections north side we go on a little road parallel to Hwy 8, and through her binoculars Bea soon spots a couple of RV's on a desert-like area north of that road. We drive down the entry and meet the camp host who gives out some good advice and a set of rules and basic information. The cost of using the so called LTVA's (Long Term Visitor Area) is 140 Dollars ($180 today) and entitles to a 7 months use of all LTVA's governed by he BLM (Bureau of Land Management) Then we are on our own and find a nice spot behind a few Tamarisk bushes. We haven't fully established ourselves, when a neighboring couple comes over from their RV, presenting themselves as Sharon and Louis from Alberta
            Our set-up at the Holtville Hot Springs LTVA

The temperatures in the sun are reaching beyond 30C. and that feels pretty unusual for us, coming from the north. In the evening we can sit in shorts and T-shirts only still feeling warm. As we go to sleep temperatures are past the 20 C mark.

November 09

Our first full day at the Hot Springs LTVA. The day is overcast and I try to solve a charging problem with our solar panels. Even when clouds are covering the sun, the temperatures never go under 25 C. during the day. In fact it is pleasant sitting outside. We explore the camp area and do a few walks with the dogs. The LTVA is about 2 miles long and has a gravel roadway through its middle. RV's are parked on both sides, though the area is not filled up yet. Most RV's have solar panels tilted against the south. I have a look at the Hot Springs where a shower is rigged up. The water has about 40 C or 102 F. Besides one can swim in a pond surrounded by nice palm trees.
                              The pond at the Hot Springs
                                   The Hot Shower
                                       And the Pool

November 10

Today the sun breaks out early, and by 8am we are enjoying breakfast in a nice breeze and under the shade of our awning. After breakfast I walk over to Helmer, a Canadian from British Columbia who apparently has a lot of knowledge about Solar Panels. He comes over with a set of tools and it doesn't take him long to find the mistake. During the morning hours the temperature is rising to 30 C and after lunch we hide in the shade on the other side of the rig.

Terri, another neighbor, originating from Oregon, comes over to have a chat. And later we meet Bill and Mertie our neighbors to the north. All the people are older than us and we feel like young chickens. Bill comes over before supper and invites us over to the camp fire. So, after finishing supper we take our chairs and go. There we meet Bob and Linda, who came down from Prince Albert in Saskatchewan. Bob is a retired teacher and has a real sense of humour. We talk about our various travels we have done and it is here we also learn that snakes can be a real hazard in this area, especially in the dark when we use to walk our dogs. A flashlight is therefore recommended for nightly walks.

The gathering is over at 8.30pm when Bob looks at his watch and finds out that it is time to go to bed. Bob and Linda are living on Central Standard Time and that means that their watch shows 2 hours later than the local clocks.

November 11

The Albertan couple, Louis and Sharon, invite us to follow them to Calexico, border town to Mexico, for doing our laundry, getting propane. diesel and water. So we learn where to go for all these needs. Louis also leads me across one of the flea markets in Calexico. This is a real Mexican market, but it appears to be quite dirty and does not appeal to me.

November 12

With Louis and Terri I go to El Centro for picking Pecan nuts at a little farm. It appears to be a family orchard and under the shady trees we quickly fill our bags with wonderful nuts. We have to pay 3 Dollars only for a whole grocery bag. Afterwards Louis drives to a construction site for picking up firewood. The afternoon gets so hot that I decide to jump into the palm tree surrounded natural pond by the hot springs. In the evening we are invited to join Bill and Mertie at their campfire. This seems to be the way our days here at the LTVA are going to pass along, a very pleasing way as I find.

November 13

As usual, I am up at 6.15 to walk the dogs over the camp. It is just before sunrise and the air is cool, but far from cold. Before I am back, the sun is out and throws warming rays upon us. I prepare the coffee and make a pancake breakfast and strong coffee. Then I sit under the awning and relax. Doing some writing, my thoughts go to the Canadian winter back home. It seems totally unreal sitting in the desert on November 13, enjoying temperatures we rarely have during a short summer in Alberta. Bea's still sleeping and also the neighbors seem to be still in bed. An occasional car on the Highway disturbs the quietness. Otherwise the desert is breathing tranquility.

An hour before noon we decide to drive to the town of Niland and find Slab City and the famous Salvation Mountain. Slab City, is an abandoned Naval base, and has been used by campers since the eighties as a free campground. Most of the rig owners come to spend a cheap winter here but some of the more crappy rigs and squatters are here permanently year-round. There is no fee to pay, no rules and regulations apply. It is a no-man's land, even so it is still a government owned property.

In Niland we drive the four miles down Main street before we reach the first sight of parked rigs.

Then we catch the first glimpse of something big multicolored to our right. Salvation Mountain!

Famous Salvation Mountain

The camera goes already before we come to a stop in front of what at first glance appears as a copy of Disney Land. Then we are greeted by a sign saying "God never fails". and SALVATION MOUNTAIN.

Being hardly out of the truck, I notice a man sitting a distance far off in the middle of the foreyard of Salvation Mountain. He waves at us inviting us to come down to him. With the dogs in tow we approach him at the center of the plaza. When he comes up to us shaking our hands and welcoming us to visit SALVATION MOUNTAIN, I notice his sparkling eyes radiating pure friendliness and an eager interest to show us around which he does promptly. He was sitting in the shade under the canopy attached to an old truck which is painted as colorful as the entire mountain appears to be. Several old trailers and trucks, all painted with great fantasy, are parked in the area.

We learn that he's been working on this mountain for more than 20 years using the unbelievable quantity of 100,000 gal. of paint. His message, God loves you, goes us deep to heart when we see his humble appearance. Btw. his name is Leonard Knight. (update: Leonard died a couple of years ago in a Niland nursing home)

On our way back home we see the sign to a State Waterfowl preservation area. We drive down the entry to it, curious of what we might find. Soon enough we see a lake directly besides a cattle feed lot of probably several thousand cows. We see cormorants and ducks on the lake. It would be a little paradise indeed if it wouldn't be for the pollution sifting through the ground from the feed lot and right into the lake. The water is pure green of algae and in a ditch aside between the lake and the feed lot, stands a dirty brownish soup. It appears strange that a preservation area can co-exist with a cattle operation of such a big scale.

Before getting back to camp, we pick up a box of ice cream which we cool in the air stream of the Air Condition. The temperature is again beyond 30C. (90 F) and we creep up in the shade of our rig. When evening rolls around we are invited to the Martins campfire. The Martins had used the day for driving to the Mexican border doing some shopping. Now Terri offers us Mexican Vanilla Tequila.

November 14

Gosh, it is the 14th. and we have been on the road for one month already. And still this way of living has it's newness, though we've found a couple of routines. Sitting under the canopy, I again allow my thoughts to wander of. The period of dawn is so short down here and the temperature goes up rapidly. Fortunately it cools down a lot during the evening so that sleeping is not a problem.

Today I work with updating the website. However in the afternoon when the thermometer shows 45 C (117F) in the sun, I become motivated for a swim in the pond. Even though our trailer remains cool until noon, it goes up to 34 C inside in the early afternoon, making my sitting by the laptop impossible.

Coffee and ice cream in the shade comforts us. Our solar panels produce lots of energy for the evenings. At 4.30pm the sun starts going down and at 5.00pm it is pitch dark.


  1. Great trip,hopefully when life gets back to normal you'll be able to once again roam the country.

  2. Things have changed around Nilan and Holtsville. Bigger roads more noise but sitting out in the LTVA is just as relaxing.
    Hoping to return there someday.
    Be Safe and Enjoy!

    It's about time.


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