Category Archives: Scenic Roads

Coachella Valley & Joshua Tree National Park, California ~ October 29 – November 1, 2014

Always looking to take advantage of good deals on accommodations, we were lured into Coachella Valley by an email received a month prior. The promotional offer was from a lavish golf resort in the town of Rancho Mirage:  four nights in a luxury villa at an on-budget rate if we listened to their one-hour sales pitch.

Westin Mission Hills Pool
Source: Westin Mission Hills Resort

Situated between the desert havens of Palm Springs and Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage was not on our bucket list, but Joshua Tree National Park was and lies 40 miles away. No brainer!

For the first time since Seattle (almost two months back), we had a kitchen.

Cooking dinner followed by lively conversations with other guests in the hot tub became our nightly routine.

Dinner, Rancho Mirage

Our stay in Rancho Mirage was an extravagant gift that we appreciated fully…

Trey played a round of golf while I spent the afternoon at the spa.

Gary Player Signature Course, Rancho Mirage CA
Gary Player Signature Course – Source: Westin Mission Hills

We basked fully in luxury’s lap while we could.

Mt. San Jacinto

The two excursions we made outside of the resort was to drive through old school celebrities’ neighborhoods north of downtown Palm Springs, and to travel up the side of San Jacinto Mountain via the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. (Trey also spent an evening at a local casino, but doesn’t want to talk about it.)

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

The rotating tram travels 2.5 miles up the mountain, dropping you off at the edge of a massive wilderness.

View of Coachella Valley from Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
View from Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

The views across the valley to the Little San Bernardino Mountains are stunning.

View from atop Palm Springs Aerial Tramway 1
View from atop Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Along with restaurants, a gift shop and other amenities, the top offers access to loads of hiking trails. We hiked only about a mile down from the mountain station because it was late in the afternoon (tram ticket prices are lower), quite chilly, and the climb back up was steep. Yet, we ventured far enough to sense the wild vastness ahead. We hoped to see wildlife, but I think the cold and late hour kept them away.

Tram Map

If we had planned better, we would have gotten an early start and hiked to San Jacinto Peak, which is a 5.5 mile one-way trail that connects up with the Pacific Coast Trail. But alas, darkness was approaching so we dangled back down Mt. San Jacinto and drove to Rancho Mirage where we spent the remaining evening plotting our course for the next two weeks.

Rancho Miraco Lizard
Lizard Outside Our Villa

Joshua Tree National Park

We were heading eastward toward Texas, to our home. Joshua Tree was on the way, so we waited until we were leaving California to visit it.

Joshua Tree Nat'l Park, CA 3

Best I can tell, the park’s 794,000 acres encompass five mountain ranges (Coxcomb, Eagle, Cottonwood, Hexie, & Little San Bernardino) and two deserts (Mojave & Colorado).

We entered from the south off Interstate 10 and through the Cottonwood Mountains.

Pinto Basin, Joshua Tree NP
Pinto Basin, Joshua Tree Nat’l Park

A ranger at the Cottonwood Visitor Center helped us to strategically plan our time. He suggested continuing our drive north through the heart of the park and hiking the Barker Dam Loop Trail.

Joshua Tree Nat'l Park, CA 2

The drive alone is a great way to experience the joshua trees… they’re everywhere!

Cholla Cactus, Joshua Tree NP
Cholla Cactus, Joshua Tree Nat;l Park

Scattered among them are mojave yuccas and cholla cacti.

The Joshua Tree cactus gets its branches through a unique process. It grows straight upwards until it blooms…. no blossoms, no branches. Once it blooms and the blossoms die and fall off, a new branch will leaf out from residual scar and grows until it blooms and restarts the process.

Joshua Tree Nat'l Park, CA
Mature Joshua Tree, Joshua Tree NP CA

On the drive to Barker Dam, there are several places to pull over and enjoy the scenery.

Skull Rock, Joshua Tree NP
Skull Rock, Joshua Tree National Park

We particularly enjoyed the Cholla Cactus Garden…

Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree NP
Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree Nat’l Park

and the “jumbo rocks” along Park Boulevard.

Joshua Tree Nat'l Park, CA 4

The Barker Dam loop is perfect if you’re crunched for time.

Trey, Joshua Tree Nat'l Park
Trey on the Barker Dam Loop Trail

It’s just over a mile long, and wends through giant rock formations on a pathway lined with impressive and playful joshua trees.

Although our time was limited, we gained an appreciation for, and were inspired by, the plant-life, mountains, and deserts that make up Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree Nat'l Park, CA
Joshua Tree Nat’l Park

Next stop…  Tucson, Arizona

Joshua Tree Nat'l Park, CA
Leaving Joshua Tree National Park

More pics…

Barker Loop Trail, Joshua Tree NP 1
Barker Loop Trail, Joshua Tree Nat’l Park
Barker Loop Trail, Joshua Tree NP 2
Old Water Tank Along the Barker Dam Trail

Montezuma Castle National Monument & Sonoran Desert, Arizona ~ October 24 – 25, 2014

Leaving Tusayan before breakfast, we headed southeast toward Flagstaff. The Escape Mobile had traveled 5,037 miles since leaving Seattle, so it was time for her fourth servicing.

Route 66, Flagstaff, AZ
Route 66, Flagstaff, Arizona

Flagstaff was on the way to Phoenix, where we’d planned to spend the night, and it had a dealership that honored our maintenance purchase agreement. While waiting on our vehicle, we enjoyed a traditional breakfast at the Grand Canyon Café on Historic Route 66 in the quaint heart of Flagstaff.

Grand Canyon Cafe, Flagstaff AZ

Stepping into the café we’d entered a time warp… booths with mint-green Formica tabletops and individual jukeboxes, and a soda bar that spanned the length of the café. The owner told us they’d been continuously open  for nearly 75 years. Sadly, the Grand Canyon Café has since permanently closed.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle National Monument, AZ
Montezuma Castle National Monument, AZ

Fifty-six miles down Interstate 17 we stopped at Montezuma Castle National Monument, the former hillside condo-like dwelling of the ancient Southern Sinagua people. The Sinagua were farmers and hunter-gatherers that thrived in the Verde Valley from the 1100’s through the 1300’s.

Montezuma Castle National Monument, AZ 2

For unknown reasons, in the early 1400’s they abandoned their homes and the Verde Valley.

Montezuma Castle National Monument, AZ 3
Pathway to Montezuma Castle

The visitor center is just off the interstate and the walk to the cliffside remnants is short and quick. Music of flutist Harry Seavey, who was on site, filled the air and added an authentic and surreal feel to our experience.

Harry Seavey

 

 

“There is a message in our hearts, a truth we all know. We feel it as we walk in a forest or sit in the desert. It is the message in the cry of a hawk and in the voice of a flute. It is our connection to life; the message that we are one with Spirit.”
~ Harry Seavey

 

 

Factoid: The monument bears the name “Montezuma” because it was originally mistaken to be built by Spanish Explorers.

Montezuma Castle National Monument 2

Regrets:  For some reason we felt pressed for time and did not venture the 23 miles to Tuzigoot National Monument, another Sinagua village located atop a ridge 40 minutes northwest of Montezuma Castle.

Map

Nor did we detour from I-17 onto Hwy 89A to visit nearby Sedona, a funky, spirited community that I would have loved, I’m sure.

Sonoran Desert

As we navigated around Phoenix’s maze of highways to a hotel near Arizona State University, the sun still shone from fairly high. We entertained ourselves by strolling the campus and chowing down on some chain Chinese food before vegging in front of the television for the night.

The most interesting part of the remaining 355-mile drive to our next destination, San Diego, was the shortcut to Interstate-8.

AZ Hwy 238 to San Diego

Arizona Hwy 238 cuts across the Sonoran Desert between Maricopa and Gila Bend. It was originally built to serve a hazardous waste facility that I don’t think was ever built. It appeared to solely serve as a desolate cut-thru that provides a genuine desert experience.

Sonoran Desert From Hwy 238 AZ
Sonoran Desert From Hwy 238, Southwest of Phoenix

Saguaro cacti tower just off the roadway, which resembles concrete waves flowing through a sea of white sand.

Sonoran Desert From Hwy 238 AZ 3

Blowing sand was accumulating across the road’s lower points, and it seemed like the desert was determined to conquer the road.

Interstate to San Diego
Interstate 8 to San Diego

 

After an initial hotel snafu in San Diego, we settled into a Four Points Sheraton using points and began planning the next two day’s adventures.

More Pics…

Sonoran Desert From Hwy 238 AZ 2
Sonoran Desert from Hwy 238, Arizona
Arizona Sky
Arizona Sky