San Ignacio, an oasis in the desert

After driving a couple of hours in the desert, San Ignacio was a pleasing sight. It is literally an oasis in the desert, surrounded by thousands of date palm trees. Date palms as is the dates that you can eat. They were all over the ground. The little black ducks that lived in the river at Los Petates RV campground enjoyed them as well. The campground has no hook ups and costs 120-150 pesos a night, or $6-8 dollars, depending on the size of your RV.  Speaking of RV size, in the Church’s book it says “big rigs ok” but realistically there are only a couple of spaces that would be ok for big rigs…and requires good maneuvering skills to get in and out.  We were able to get cell service here. They have hot showers but they aren’t reliable.

One thing you have to do if you come here is go to the mission. It is a gorgeous old Catholic church build in the 1700’s. I believe it was the first mission built by the Spaniards in Baja California. It is free and open to the public. The sound still resonates in the large arches of the church. I could hear the priests of the past giving animated sermons in their efforts to convert the Indians.

In Moon’s Baja book, we read about a hike that takes you to a great observation point of the town. The trailhead can be tricky to find. It starts behind Casa Leree, just off the main plaza. You walk up a dirt road and veer to the right. After pacing around for about 5 min trying to find the trailhead a lady in an orange robe pointed us in the right direction. If you follow the trail lined by painted white rocks it will take you to other nice overlooks of the palm filled valley of San Ignacio.

As far as food goes, there isn’t much of a market so I recommend bringing enough food to cook. You can get cheap eats at a couple of food stands along the main plaza. We ate at the Rice and Beans RV park one night to use their internet and do some business. The owner is friendly and speaks very good English. The RV campground here has all the amenities but it’s simply not as charming as Los Petates.

We stayed two nights in this quaint town most definitely worth visiting. Our next stop is the lovely Bahia Conception on the Sea of Cortez.

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Our first time to the Sea of Cortez near Bahia de los Angeles

Between San Quintin and Bahia de los Angeles we stopped halfway in Catavina for the night so we didn’t have to drive six hours in one day. This section of the drive has been the most scenic. It starts off along the Pacific ocean lined with large sand dunes. Then it progresses into the mountains and desert. We saw so many different cacti, some of which I’m sure inspired some of Dr. Seuss’s illustrations. Catavina is just a truck stop basically but there is a campground called Santa Ynez that is tucked away from the highway. It costs $120 pesos a night or about $6 dollars. Remember you should always pay in pesos because another couple that was there said they paid in dollars and it was $10.

After Catavina, highway 1 starts to smooth out. Up to this point it has been very hectic trying to avoid potholes. Most sections of the highway have been narrow with no shoulder, so if another car is coming and there is a pot hole you just have to hit it and pray you didn’t burst your tire.

Bahia de los Angeles, a little bay of the Sea of Cortez is very picturesque. The land coming into it is desert, then there’s the beach, the bay and the mountainous barrier islands in the background. We chose to stay at Daggetts campground which is right on the beach. No hookups at all but there are hot showers, the hottest shower I’ve had in a long time in fact. It costs 100 pesos per person per night which for us is about $10 a night.

While we were here the north winds were very strong all day everyday, it wasn’t until the day we left did the winds die down. I recommend checking the weather before coming to try and ensure it isn’t windy. Due to the winds we were unable to go in the kayaking or fishing which was a bummer. But one day while we were walking down the beach, we met a local man named Glenn who told us where to collect clams here. Glenn then gave us some of his homemade smoked fish and told us he would meet us the following day for clammin’. We continued our walk down the beach to a lighthouse which Tim climbed and then into town for some tacos. We loved the tacos from
Taquería de la Carretera. When she decides to open, the tacos and her homemade salsas are so delicious we ate there twice. No only are they fresh, but they are cheap at only a dollar a piece. There is a convenience store attached to the taqueria where if you buy something you can get the wifi code.

Bahia de los Angeles is a hidden gem and the locals are so friendly and willing to help you find fun stuff to do. In fact while we were clamming, another couple approached us and offered to take us fishing! Since we had already been there three nights, we declined. We are trying to make our way to La Paz in time for Carnaval. Next stop we are going back to the Pacific coast, south of Guerrero Negro along the lagoon for some whale watching!

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Bryce Canyon National Park + Kodachrome and Escalante State Parks

It was a pretty long  (and desolate, but beautiful) drive from Moab. I actually set a new record, there is a sign on I-70 that there are no services for 110 miles. My previous record was coming through eastern Wyoming ten years ago with my buddy Justin Mercer where there was a 70 mile stretch on I-80 without services. Luckily it was the usual divided highway that everyone knows as an interstate, there were places in Wyoming and Kansas on that previous trip where the interstate went to a two lane highway(I haven’t see that on this trip at all)! It was quite a mountainous drive on I-70 and I hope to come back and do some boondocking in that area. It seems like you might really be able to get away from other people 😉

Anyways since it was late we missed going to the BLM visitors center in Cannonville. Luckily we had picked out an area in the Days End Directory. You just continue south past the BLM visitors center on main street for ~2.5 miles and then turn onto a good gravel road called Yellow Creek. However when we got there you could see where a number of pullouts had been but they were not usable anymore. A little further down the road we were able to find a spot but I’m still not 100% sure that it wasn’t private land. We were in for a great sunset though(check out the pictures).

The next day we went to the BLM visitors center because you need a free permit to camp in that particular area. When we got there the ranger(BLM people are called rangers too, right?) informed us that it may rain and that the road can get real sloppy if it does and we could be stuck till it dries back out. That didn’t sound good so we went in search of another spot, this time scouting without the trailer since we’d already dropped it. We ended up choosing a spot off of FR117 a few miles outside of Bryce Canyon, there were a number of good spots for any size rig along here. If we were to do it again I would have went a bit further up and taken the second left, there was a sweet spot about 0.25 mile up that road, also suitable for any size rig. As a plus this area was not in that red clay and would be just fine to drive on if we got rain(We didn’t).

Once we got situated we decided to go ahead on to Bryce Canyon National Park. For whatever reason Victoria wasn’t expecting it to be as spectacular as the previous National Parks. However it ended up being her favorite. The views from the rim are simply spectacular and the hiking is very easy. The trails down into the canyon are moderately difficult but you feel like you’re on another planet hiking among the Hoodoos. Victoria said she felt like a goldfish in a fish tank, lol. An interesting fact about Bryce Canyon is that it’s not actually a canyon, it’s a series of giant natural amphitheaters along the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Either way, it sure is unique.

The next day we went to Kodachrome Basin State Park. They have 10 or 15 miles of fairly easy hiking with both spectacular views and geology (as usual for around here). Lucky for Marilyn since it was a state park she was allowed on the trails so she could get some exercise after sitting around all day after we were at the National Park. There are 67 large “Sand Pipes” plus a short slot canyon. The slot canyon made a fantastic place to eat lunch. It was roasting outside but in the canyon not only was it shaded but it was also damp and cool. An interesting fact about Kodachrome Basin State Park is that after it was named the state changed it to  Chimney Rock State Park because they were worried about Kodak suing them. However a few years later they were able to change it back after Kodak gave them permission to use the name of their famous film. The name was fitting because the colors here were just amazing, the red and white of the rock, the green of the plants, and the blue of the sky all combined into a shocking display of color.

The last park we visited was Escalante State Park. It was about an hour drive from where we were camped but Victoria had been dying to see a petrified forest since we set out from Jacksonville. The hike was fairly short and easy but there was plenty of petrified wood to see. Make sure you do the second loop, it’s steeper but it also has the majority of the petrified wood. The variety of colors contained in the petrified wood is amazing. It was quite hot out while we were hiking and it was great to be able to jump into the lake afterwards. They had an interesting display in the visitors center filled with letters and pieces of petrified rock that they had taken and then sent back because it brought them bad luck. It apparently did it’s job and kept Victoria, a rockhound, from trying to take any home, lol.

Utah is an amazing state with an amazing variety of scenic landscapes. No where else has such a concentration of National Parks, 5 all within an hour or two of each other. On top of that most of the land around the National Parks is also public land providing an amazing array of places to hike and camp. We’ll be back here for sure!

 

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Arches and Canyonlands, Utah

On your way south to Moab on highway 191 you can find LOTS of boondocking spots on Willow Springs Road (left turn if heading south). At the beginning the sites are more rocky but if you go down only ¼ a mile the sites are more level. This road is popular for ATV’s and campers in general so don’t expect to be all desolate in the desert here. Also, the gentle hum of cars on the highway can be heard, but the scenery offsets that I believe. In some sites you can have a 360 degree view of the surrounding canyons and sandstone rock formations that change colors throughout the day. Among the usual warm colors of the rocks you can also see tints of green and blue in the layers. It is absoultely beautiful. We are able to get Verizon and AT&T voice/data service here. There is so much to do but on the first day we had to do our bimonthly laundry trip, pick up mail, and work on this lovely blog of course. The visitor center in Moab has decent free wifi.

We visited Arches National Park on our first day of exploring. After passing the visitor center, it feels as if you are entering the ruins of an ancient civilization. Vertical walls of red sandstone jut up like pieces of demolished buildings. Like all the other popular national parks (Yellowstone, Grand Canyon) there are lots of people, all sizes, ages and ethnicity. Even on the longer, more strenuous hikes we couldn’t escape the crowds. The first hike we did takes you to the base of the Delicate Arch, you have probably seen a picture of this arch as it is an iconic symbol of Utah, and National Parks in general. It was a hot and steep 3 mile hike. I was surprised to see so many people, young and old, that roughed the trail instead of settling on one of the easier and shorter viewpoint hikes. To get to the base of arch you have to walk around a caving sandstone hole. It is at a slant so I imagine it can be dangerous after a good rain. I will never forget the moment of standing under that arch. We also hiked to Devil’s Garden where there are a lot of other arches. Another famous one is the Landscape arch. It is a long, slender stretch of an arch at 306 feet. People are no longer allowed to stand under this arch as it is slowly starting to erode, go see it while you can!

It took about 45 min to drive from our camping spot to get to Canyonlands National Park. We hiked Murphy’s Trail. A portion of the trail was very strenuous as it descends 1400 feet within one mile. There is a drop off on one side of the trail as you descend the vertical cliff. The entire trail in and out is 10.8 miles. After descending the cliff, you walk through semi-desert terrain which eventually gives you a great view of white rimmed canyons.

On Saturday we took Marilyn on a short hike since she was cooped up in the RV the past two days. It’s called the Negro Bill Trail and it takes you along a stream to a large natural bridge. When we reached the natural bridge, we got to watch some rock climbers repelling down the wall. Tim and I took advantage of the water and went swimming in a deep part of the stream. I laid on one of the large boulders and let the cool water wash down my hair and body.

Our last day here we went kayaking in our inflatable kayak on a calm section of the Colorado River. We put in at mile marker ten on the way to Potash dock off road 278 and took out at Potash dock. This equaled a 11.5 mile trip. We attempted to arrange for a shuttle but it was damn near impossible. One company I talked to (Porcupine) wanted $100 for a 15 mile shuttle (sans gear by the way – he said they don’t shuttle gear…wtf??) So we said eff it, just going to ride the bikes back to the truck like usual. After kayaking we attempted to ride the bikes but then Tim’s pedal fell off. We didn’t have tools so I asked a group of people from South Dakota if they could give us a ride back to our truck and they kindly obliged. What a great world we live in.

Before we left, we showered and dump and loaded at Slickrock Campground ($5 per shower and $5 to dump and load). The showers ran out of hot water pretty quick…so I would go somewhere else next time. Also, the dump station is at a lean, those of you who understand this process will get that this is not a good thing.

Our week trip here was AWESOME! There is so much to do here – hiking, kayaking, white water rafting, mountain climbing, mountain biking, canyoneering, and ATV trails. I can’t wait to see more of this Painted Desert. Next stop, home of the hoo-de-hoooooossss, Bryce Canyon. 🙂

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BIG BEND

Big Bend National Park, Texas

After passing through the entry gate at Persimmon Gap, I felt as though I was driving through a National Geographic magazine. Picture purple, yellow and white wildflowers lining a long paved road, a desert landscape with various cacti in bloom and hazy, bronze mountains on the horizon. Such a beautiful setting in a harsh, unforgiving land.

With our 31 foot fifth wheel and 4 pound Chihuahua, our choices for camping were limited. Our only option was to stay in the Rio Grande Village campground. Regular camping is only $14 a night and with our America the Beautiful Pass admission was free (normally $20). All the sites are spacious, some are in direct sun, some have all shade. We chose a spot with a little of both since we needed our solar panels to get some sun. There are public restrooms but no showers. If you want to shower you can pay for one at the village store, $1.50/3 minutes. There are sites available with electric and water hookups but they were all taken. These sites are more costly at $33 a night and packed tightly together in a parking lot. There is another campground in the Chisos basin but you can’t go there with a trailer greater than 24 feet. For those without RV’s and not into “roughing it”, there is a lodge at the Chisos basin. There are a ton of sites for back country primitive camping as well which would have been awesome, but unfortunately we couldn’t do it since National Parks don’t allow dogs outside of the developed campgrounds. There are a couple gas/diesel stations throughout park, so no need to worry about running out of fuel if you want to see the entire 880,000 acres of the park.

The first day we planned to kayak the Rio Grande through the Santa Elena canyon. The renowned canyon is one of the highlights of the park and visited by many. The ranger suggested we put in at the Santa Elena boat ramp and kayak up river to the canyon and float back. I’m starting to see a trend here in Texas. Do Texans never kayak or simply not understand the logistics? It was our second suggestion to “just paddle upriver and float.” If the water is too low you simply cannot do it! Nevertheless, we didn’t give up like at South Llano, we were too determined to see and kayak through the canyon We had to portage the kayak at least 7 times. It was hard work but it was worth it in the end. Our point of view from the kayak was spectacular. The Rio Grande River, from what we saw, is very calm, narrow and shallow. Tim and I joked that it should be renamed the Rio Grande Creek. In the canyon, the only sounds are from little songbirds chirping and flying to and from their nests on either side the towering canyon. With the help of the current, only two portages were required on the way back.

The second day, we hiked to Emory Peak, the highest peak in the park at 7,825 feet. A 10.6 mile hike round trip from the basin with a 2,000 feet elevation gain. It was our first day hike in the desert. We each carried 3 liters of water and lunch. We passed a few hikers that were hiking to their primitive camp, carrying with them gallons of water for dry camping. Water is scare here so you have to carry a gallon a day for primitive camping. Nearly every plant has thorns, so you have to always be careful about brushing up against something. Reaching the peak was anti-climatic. I was expecting a plateau with a 360 degree view of the park. Yet after a 30 yard scramble to the peak, there was no where to comfortably hang out and have lunch. On our descent we saw a deer, which Tim thought was a donkey at first because they are more grayish toned here than brown. We also saw a small flock of Western Scrub Jays. We finished in only five hours. What’s the best way to end the day after a strenuous hike? A soak in a natural hot spring! FDR believed them to be healing. I agree, or perhaps it was the extra strong white Russian I had prepared for myself….it was pretty amazing. The experience was special for us since it was both of our first times in a HOT spring. The temperature stays at 105 degrees Fahrenheit, unlike the cooler Springs in Florida that stay at 72 degrees year round.

South Llano was awesome, but Big Bend definitely surpassed my expectations. I purposely did not use the internet to get a sneak peek of Big Bend because I wanted the first time I saw it to be through my own eyes. I literally couldn’t stop taking pictures because I saw beauty every where I looked. The mountains change color throughout that day. We were told by many locals that we were lucky. Because of the extra rain the area had received earlier in the year, the wildflowers and cacti were thriving more than usual. All in all, our stay at Big Bend was truly an unforgettable experience.

Five Star Scale Rating
Scenery – *****
Campground – ***
Campsite – ***
Recreation – *****

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