RV Trip 3.17 Salton Sea SP – Desert Hot Springs – Salton City – Pioneertown – Joshua Tree NP – Box Canyon – March 4 – March 16, 2018

This blog will cover a larger time window than normal as we crossed into California in order to connect up with Sharon’s brother Brian who came to visit from Winnipeg (so it’s long and with lots of photos). When we left Yuma we went to a Date farming area just across the border in Bard California. We went to Imperial Date Gardens and bought some fresh Medjool dates, some deserts, and of course a famous Date shake which we split. Some fun facts about Dates:

  • The date is one of the oldest cultured tree crops dating back more than 5,000 years ago.
  • Medjool dates are the gourmet variety and for many years were savored only be the elite.
  • Medjool dates originate from Morocco and were introduced into the US in 1927.
  • 24 offshoots of the original date shoots were planted in the Bard Valley in 1944.
  • Isabel Nunez purchased his first date farm in 1972 and then acquired Imperial Date Gardens a few years later.
  • The business now employees 200 people and has a retail shop and a mail order business.
  • Dates are an extremely labour intensive crop with pollination needing to be done by hand, constant trimming of the branches and the date stalks, and by putting bags around the bunches to protect from rain and bugs before the fruit is handpicked, lastly they are sorted and either packed or left to ripen in the sun before final grading.
  • The Medjool date is the largest and meatiest date and each one only contains 49 calories per date.

Once we finished our date shopping we drove along Interstate 8 which went right through the Cactus Obregon Dunes which were massive. We turned and took some backroads in order to get to the north side of the Salton Sea and the State Recreation Area Mecca Beach Campground where we were able to get a no services site along the water’s edge for two nights.

The Salton Sea is called the accidental lake. It formed millions of years ago when the salt water of the Gulf of California was dammed by silt deposits. Over the years the sea dried up leaving a salt flat. In 1905 the Colorado River flooded and breached a dam flooding the salt flat and creating the Salton Sea. In the 1950 it was an extremely popular area to relax on the beach, cool off and enjoy water sports. At one time the park had room to launch 15 boats at a time! Today it’s a totally different story.

  • The Salton Sea is California’s largest lake at 367 square miles.
  • There is a single boat launch at the SP but the end of the channel was full of silt so no boats can go on the sea.
  • The Salton Sea continues to shrink at a rate of 5 feet/year, causing the salinity level to increase.
  • Barnacles were introduced into the Sea in the 1940’s by accident, since they have no predators the population exploded and today the beach is completely covered with Barnacle shells. You really need to wear shoes on this beach!!
  • The sea has over 2 million Tilapia fish, however for a few reasons including rising salt levels the fish are dying off, hence there are a lot of dead fish on the shore. The birds like it but we have to admit when the wind blows the wrong way it can be a bit smelly camping!

The next day we rode our MTB on the Ironwood Nature Trail to the visitor centre (4 kms return) where we watched a video and learned about the area. The Congressman Sonny Bono wanted his legacy to be saving the Salton Sea and had taken several steps towards establishing a program to help before he died. When we returned to the RV we took the opportunity to relax and get some use out of our lawn chairs. Luckily the wind was blowing in the right direction so we weren’t smelling the beach J.

The next day we stopped at the Oasis Date Gardens to try some more dates and have another date shake before driving to Desert Hot Springs to meet up with Wayne, Arlene and Debbie. Later that night we picked Brian up at the Palm Springs airport.

We were able to park the RV in front of Wayne and Arlene’s house and it was cool to see the snow on top of San Jacinto Mountain when we came out the next morning. Wayne took us for a drive around the area and we saw the tram base station, the shopping/restaurant area of Palm Springs, Trader Joe’s, Shields Date shop, Costco, the Indian Wells Tennis area where a major tournament was underway, and finished off with Indio Hills Palm Oasis. At Shields we had our best Date Shake so far and watched a movie called the Romance & Sex Life of the Date where we learned all about how they hand pollinate the trees. The Indio Hills Palm Oasis would have been great to explore but it was closing up 10 minutes after we got there so we just had a quick look.

The next day we decided we would go to the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area (off road) and rent an ATV on the Friday morning so we decided on Thursday to drive around the Salton Sea with Brian and camp in Salton City so we were ready to go ATV’ing in the morning. On the way we stopped at the International Banana Museum near Mecca but unfortunately it was closed so we split! We stopped at Mecca Beach Campground to show Brian the beach and proceeded on Balmy Beach which was a really popular resort town in the 50’s along the Salton Sea but now was like a broken down ghost town. At the Fountain of Youth Spa we checked to see if Sharon’s parents friend Johnnie Walker (yes his real name) was there but he wasn’t this year.

Next we stopped at the famous Salvation Mountain tourist attraction near Niland. A man named Leonard Knight created the mountain with adobe poured over a hillside and about 100,000 gallons of paint. The mountain is covered with biblical passages and has a yellow brick road path to get to the top. Beside the mountain was a housing structure created with dead trees, tires, hail bales, and again lots of paint. What a totally unique place to visit in the middle of nowhere!

Further down the same road we saw Slab City which used to be a military base but all that is left is the concrete slabs and now people have moved in and live on and around the slabs. At the very end of the road was East Jesus Road and some rather unique art pieces. It was free to go in but they asked for donations. When we entered one of the artists said to us “If you touch something and you break it then the artist didn’t do a good enough job making it”;-) It was fascinating to see how they had repurposed all sorts of items. I’ll let the photos tell the story!

After East Jesus we had a short stop at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge and then on to the campground in Salton City where we had a spectacular sunset.

The following morning Brian, Sharon and I met their 2nd cousin Wayne at Steve’s ATV rental so we could go through our paperwork and safety briefing and then head out into the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area. Both Brian and I signed up to drive and he had driven ATV’s before but I had not. They suggested a roughly 50 KM circuit for us to drive in the park so we would get back within our 4 hour rental window. However we were able to drive faster so likely did somewhere between 65 and 70 KMS. The 4 seater ATV had really good power even with the 4 of us in it and we were really glad it was covered with the intense sun in the desert. The park had an amazing variety of terrain to drive on and quite interesting areas to see. We went to the Pumpkin Patch, Shell Reef, the Gas Domes, and the Artesian Well. Some of our photos are a little fuzzy as it was hard to take them as we were bouncing around. We all had an absolute blast ATV’ing in this park and for sure would do this again if we were back in this area! We were so glad Brian had done all the research on this park before he came down. After the ride we returned to Desert Hot Springs and had a fantastic dinner with Arlene and Debbie.

The following day turned out to be a rainy one (which is rare in Desert Hot Springs) so we cancelled our plans to go up the Palm Springs Tramway. Instead we did some grocery shopping, got diesel in the RV and filled our water so we would be ready for our 3 day adventure in Joshua Tree NP. That evening we had a phenomenal dinner at the Mission Lakes Country Club. We were all blown away by how good the Seafood soup starter was and the Carrot cake for desert was to die for! We even got serenaded by a guitarist/singer while we had dinner.

Our first stop on the way to Joshua was a place called Pioneertown. This town was built in 1946 to replicate an 1880’s town and used in 200 Western movies. We wandered around the town and checked out the shops as they were opening up and then had a HUGE Smoked Beef Brisket Sandwich lunch at Pappy and Harriet’s Palace.

Our plan for Joshua Tree NP was to camp at Blackrock Campground in the north western corner the first night, at Jumbo Rocks in the middle of the park for the second night, and then in Cottonwood Springs for the third night. Luckily someone had told us that they had opened up online booking for Jumbo and Cottonwood this year so we were able to reserve all 3 nights in advance. The campgrounds don’t have any service hookups but we had filled our fresh water so that was no problem. We were a little worried what the night time temperatures would be as it is higher elevation but we didn’t need to use the furnace any of the nights. We stopped in at the Joshua Tree Visitor Centre first in order to look at the displays and to ask the ranger for recommendations on hikes we could do in the park.

The park is famous because of the Joshua Trees that grow in the Mojave Desert in the western half of the park but the Colorado Desert subsection of the Sonoran Desert in the Eastern half of the park was equally spectacular. Some people have heard of Joshua Tree from the name of the U2 album that came out in 1987 (sold over 25 million copies) but the actual tree on the album is in Death Valley. The park is also very well known in the rock climbing community due to the granite rocks throughout the park.

After the visitor centre we checked in at Blackrock Campground and our site was great with Joshua Trees all around it. We decided to do our first hike with Brian and chose a portion of the West Side Loop Trail and then the Hi-View Nature Trail. The nature trail had numbered stops but apparently the information sheet hasn’t been updated since 1987. The total hike was about 4 KMS with an elevation gain of about 400’ so it was a good starter for Brian. We saw lots of Joshua Trees, cool granite rocks with large molten rock veins, and also some various colours of lichens. That night we had amazing clear skies with amazing stars.

The next day was a really full one. We entered through the West Entrance Station and were really surprised to see how many cars were lined up to get in for a Monday. The granite rock topography was amazing to see with all the Joshua Trees! We pulled over at a few display boards and then were lucky to get a parking place for our first hike which was at Hidden Valley (1.6 KMS). The valley was surrounded by rocks and a cattle rustler had blown a small section open so he could bring his cattle into the valley to graze on the grasses. We could see climbers going up lots of the rock faces.

Our next stop was across the main road to hike to Barker Dam but we weren’t so lucky for parking. They had parking places big enough for RV’s but they didn’t have them labelled as such, so cars had filled all the RV spots. We did find a place about 1 KM up the road, so we were still able to do this trail. The total was about 3.3 KMS counting the parking connection. We saw some Pictographs and the Barker Dam reservoir that the cattle ranchers had built in the 1800’s and then made taller in 1950 to contain the water. The reflections on the reservoir were really cool.

Next stop was Keys View and this time we got lucky again for a great parking place. The .5 KM loop gave us unbelievably spectacular views of the whole valley and all the surrounding mountains. We were looking across at San Jacinto which was 10,831’ (with snow on top) and were shocked to read that we were only half the height in Joshua Tree. We could also see the San Andreas Fault and Mt. San Gorgonio further in the distance which was 11,500’ and really covered with snow. We could also see the Salton Sea the other direction. After being at Keys View we didn’t feel so bad about missing the Tram up the mountain in Palm Springs.

Once at our Jumbo Rocks campsite (which was gorgeous tucked in the rocks) we decided to do the Skull Rock, Discovery, and Split Rock trails for a total of 8 KMS. The Skull Rock and Elephant Rock formations were unbelievably busy with people as you could park by the main road and see them. We much preferred the hike from the campground and in turn the Discovery and Spilt Rock trails as there were very few people doing those hikes. I’ve put captions on the photos so you will know the names of the formations but most of them are fairly obvious. By the time we finished the hikes we had completed about 13.5 KMS for the day and although fairly easy hikes we were still tired. We enjoyed some happy hour drinks, BBQ’ed sausages for dinner and Brian crashed on his single bed in the RV;-)

For our last day in Joshua Tree we were driving from Jumbo Rocks to Cottonwood Spring and along the way we crossed from the Mojave Desert into the Colorado Desert. Just after crossing over we were surprised to see a Sun Dog in the sky. We stopped at the Cholla (pronounced Choy-ya) Cactus Garden for a short .5 KM walk and we were blown away by how many Cholla Cacti were in this area. We’ve seen lots of them in other areas but nowhere near this quantity. It was also funny to see that they had a specific first aid box in case one of the Cholla’s jumped on to someone (it contained needle nose pliers to remove the thorns);-)

We stopped to see the Ocotillo Patch exhibit and proceeded down the long descent to Cottonwood Springs campground. Luckily when we arrived there the people in our site had already left so we were able to setup, have lunch and head off on our longest and most difficult hike in Joshua Tree. We planned to do the Lost Palms Oasis hike which was listed as a challenging 11.6 KM hike but on the way back we added the Mastodon Loop which wasn’t on our map. From the campground we went down the wash and we saw Cottonwood Spring with its large Fan Palms and we also saw mortar in a rock that the Cahuilla Indians used to grind up seeds to make flour.

Most people were finishing the hike as we started out but the weather wasn’t too hot and we had a nice breeze blowing so the hiking was manageable. It was mainly uphill on the way out (you returned on the same trail) and as we got closer it got more difficult as we had to descend and ascend several washes that got progressively deeper. The final descent was several hundred feet down to the actual Fan Palm Oasis area and it contained the largest collection of the Palms anywhere in Joshua Tree NP. We were really glad we had brought our hiking poles on this trail as the sandy granite base was tricky on the slopes. The views and rock formations along the way were spectacular and it was a real treat to drop down in to the Fan Palm Oasis as they were so massive. We had a good long break on the sand before starting the return journey. This trail had a couple of mile markers so at least on the return we could gauge how much was left. When we reached the Mastodon Peak Loop we decided to take that back to the campground and we were super glad we did as that section had rock formations, the old Mastodon Mine, and a really nice wash area to walk through to get back to the campground. The total for this hike was likely 13 KMS and it took us about 5.5 hours. We again had a celebratory happy hour after an amazing hiking day! Brian later said that this hike was Sharon’s revenge for all the times he was mean to her as a kid;-)

As we headed out of Joshua Tree the following day we stopped at the visitor centre to check out their displays and then drove further downhill to exit the park. One last stop at the Bajada Nature trail for a short walk and then we drove over the I-10 onto Box Canyon Road. This area is where the San Andreas Fault is located and the cliffs on either side of the road reminded us of the terrain near Drumheller Alberta. There was another road we wanted to go on called Painted Canyon road but when we turned onto the gravel the sign said for 4WD vehicles only so we decided we better not risk it. Apparently there is a nice hike at the end that circles back through ladder canyon where you climb ladders to reach different areas but we’ll have to save this for another trip. We found a great Mexican restaurant for lunch in Mecca called Garibaldi’s. As we returned to Wayne and Arlene’s in Desert Hot Springs we had extremely high winds and a dust storm around Coachella which made it difficult to drive the RV.

The following morning we got up at 5:30 so we could take Brian to the airport for his return flight to Winnipeg. Later that day Wayne gave me a golf cart ride around the Mission Lakes Country Club and I’ve included some beautiful photos of the course. While I’ve been catching up on the blog Sharon was enjoying the pool. We had a fantastic trip with Brian and Wayne, Arlene and Debbie were phenomenal hosts for our stay. Certainly lots of things to see and do in the Desert Hot Springs area of California and it’s a beautiful location with the desert in the valley and the snow-capped mountains all around!


  • Too bad you never got to go up the Palm Springs Tramway as it is a fantastic view from the top, however you certainly made up for it by seeing lots of other great sites. As for the Date Shakes, I could never get enough of them when travelling through that area.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Okay, that was just too much fun and I’m drooling for a date shake!!

    I don’t know if it’s my computer or if it was just a time lag to download your photos in the post after Joshua Tree NP. Couldn’t see them! )-:


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