After living the life of luxury traveling with Sue’s sister Laura and her husband Jeff for ten days it was time to get back into budget camping mode. We were planning on heading into Mexico in early December with my cousin James who was meeting us in Palm Springs. For the next three weeks we had to kill time but didn’t really have a plan so we decided to head to Palm Springs and play it by ear. On our way to Palm Springs we headed through Huntington Beach. We were planning on camping but it was $60 a night for a parking lot spot so we decided to head inland.
We took the scenic route to Palm Springs along Highway 74 through the town of Hemet and over the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. Palm Springs is at the north end of the Coachella Valley which includes, in order from north to south, the cities of Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells and Indio among others. The Palm Springs area is home to more than 100 golf courses and is a major winter vacation spot for millions of people. When we arrived the first thing we did was looked for a place to stay. The Walmart in Palm Springs doesn’t allow overnight parking but they told us the Walmart in Palm Desert did so we headed there instead.
We spent the next couple of days getting supplies and hanging out in Palm Springs. I did some riding in the mountains east of Cathedral City. The trails there are known as the Goat Trails and there is some sweet singletrack back in there. I biked and hike-a-biked up to the top of Murray Hill which is 2000 feet above Cathedral City and the trailhead. From Murray Hill its downhill in all directions. The trails consist of hard packed desert earth with a few loose sandy sections to keep you alert. There is also lots of cactus to watch out for which I managed to avoid for the most part except for one flat.
After a few days in Palm Desert we decided to go to Joshua Tree National Park. The south entrance to the park is only 30 miles east of Palm Desert. When we reached the park entrance we noticed a few people were boon docking along a service road just outside the park’s south boundary. We decided we would camp here for the night. It was a great spot with awesome views of the valley. We were surrounded by desert life and almost completely alone. At night the stars were incredible. The only negative was the wind picked up one evening and I had to get out of the bus at one in the morning to roll the awning up before it blew away.
After spending a few days exploring Joshua Tree we drove back to Palm Desert. I had some work to do and needed internet access. We spent the week in and around Palm Desert exploring the area and killing time.
The next place we decided to check out was Slab City, an old army base near the town of Niland California that is now used by squatters and passing travelers as a huge makeshift campground. Slab City is home to Salvation Mountain, a mound of earth transformed by Leonard Knight, a full time resident of Slab City, into a monument honouring God and with a simple message for everyone who passes by - God Is Love. Knight made an appearance in the movie Into the Wild (the story about Christopher McCandless’ travels) and when we got there we had a chance to talk with him about his artwork and the movie.
That night we found a spot in Slab City to park the bus for the night. While making dinner I accidentally spilled my drink onto my laptop which was running at the time. That was the last time it ever booted up. With no laptop to keep me busy we decided to check out the local talent. Slab City has a makeshift stage setup with sound equipment run by generators and that night they were having a share-your-talent night. It was interesting to say the least. The seating was made up of old car seats, couches and benches and some old stadium seating.
The next day we had to head back to Palm Desert to go laptop shopping. After visiting all the local shops we settled on a laptop from Costco. I was able to get the files from my old laptop (my crafty IT skills put to good use yet again) and we were back in business.
Before heading into Mexico we wanted to rent a storage unit to store some of our stuff that we knew we weren’t going to need while in the Baja. We found a place in Palm Desert and spent a day cleaning out the bus and organizing our junk.
We planned to meet my cousin Jim at the home of his friends Beth and George. They have a ranch in Alberta and spend most winters at their place in Cathedral City near Palm Springs. The day before my cousin arrived in Palm Springs we discovered that the bus was leaking coolant. Beth and George were very generous and let us use their driveway to fix the leak. While staying with them we went to check out the Pam Springs Christmas parade which takes place at night with all the floats decorated in lights. That evening we joined Beth and George at a friends place for an after parade potluck party where we had our first ever tamales. We ended up staying at Beth and George for a total of four days while we waited for the parts to arrive. The morning they arrived we installed them and packed our things to hit the road for Mexico.
With the bus fixed and everything loaded up we hit the road for San Diego. Jim ordered a part for his BMW motorcycle from the San Diego BMW dealership and we were going to have it installed there before heading into Mexico. It took an extra day but they finally had installed. We stayed in the city of Chula Vista that evening where we got ready to cross the border the next morning.