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  1. #1

    Default California Deserts & Anza NHT - Spring 2015

    Before leaving Tucson for our Spring Trip up through the California Deserts and returning following the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail (Anza NHT) we visited a few of the of the NHT sites south of Tucson.

    In 1775 Juan Bautista de Anza brought a large group of civilians from Sonora, Mexico through Arizona, across the desert into California to colonize San Francisco. Today there is an auto tour route that closely follows the route they took. Along with numerous historic sites to explore the National Park Service coordinates with sites along the tour route and provides a unique passport stamp at over 30 locations. So before we headed north we took a day trip to visit several of the sites to collect the passport stamps.

    Las Lagunas de Anza - Nogales, AZ

    Tumacacori National Historical Park - Tumacacori, AZ

    Historic Hacienda de la Canoa Ranch - Green Valley, AZ

  2. #2

    Default Arizona section of Anza NHT - Day 1

    Monday, March 16, 2015
    Start: Tucson, AZ
    Finish: W of Gila Bend, AZ

    Today was the first day of our month- ong trip which I summarized in the previous posting in this thread. Living in Tucson puts us along the Juan Bautista de Anza NHT with several sites to the south. So we didn't have to backtrack today we visited the sites to the south of us last week.

    Our first stop today was Picacho Peak State Park, a great camping and hiking park. This park has a passport stamp for the Anza NHT, first one north of Tucson. Too warm today to hike. We hiked here about a month ago and enjoyed the dense green ground cover brought by a series of winter rains. The spring wildflowers are popping and Picacho was mentioned in the Tucson paper as a highlight. It was pretty today, but not as dense with wildflowers as we saw along the Pinal Pioneer Parkway, AZ 79, which parallels I-10 to the east. We drove along there this past Friday and enjoyed an abundance of wildflowers.

    Picacho Peak - from Visitor Center

    Just north of Picacho we exited I-10 and followed AZ 87 to Coolidge and the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. On a previous visit I had picked up the Junior Ranger booklet and began working on the activities during that visit. A number of the activities could be completed off-site which I had completed at home. Today I finalized a few observations and received my completed certificate and an attractive wooden, enhanced Junior Ranger badge. This site is also part of the Anza NHT. The expedition travelled in the area and turned west here, following the Gila River to the Colorado River.

    Casa Grande Ruins - near Coolidge, AZ

    For those interested I write a blog titled "Junior Ranger - Senior Friendly". Since retiring two years ago I have completed quite a few Junior and Senior Ranger programs, mainly at the National Park Service sites. It has been a fun way to explore the parks, even the simple programs have taught me something new. The park staff are very welcoming of seniors completing the Junior Ranger programs. Currently less than twenty sites have Senior Ranger programs, but more are being added.

    From Coolidge we turned west and picked up I-8 at Casa Grande. A quick stop at Freeman Road exit to replace a damaged letterbox, planted by my husband several years ago. This is part of the Sonoran Desert National Monument, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a very undeveloped area. There is no visitor center, just a few trailheads and beautiful Sonoran desert views.

    Letterboxing is an activity we enjoy while traveling. A short description is a treasure hunt using clues from Internet sites which may use a compass. It is not geocaching which is dependent on GPS coordinates. In a letterbox you will find a hand-carved stamp and a logbook, you record the box stamp in your logbook and leave an image of your signature stamp in the box logbook. You will find them along interstates, urban settings, small towns, trails and all around the world. It began in England, at Dartmoor National Park, over 100 years ago.

    A quick stop in Gila Bend at the city offices for two more Anza NHT stamps, for the Sonoran Desert NM and the city, itself. Back on I-8 to Painted Rock Road, Exit 108. About ten miles north of the interstate is an great BLM site; Painted Rock campground and Petroglyph site. It has 60 basic sites; picnic table, no water and fire ring with 2 pit toilets. During the winter season there is a campground host. A part of the campground is a mound of rocks covered with petroglyphs, some dating back to 7500 BCE. A short walk around the mound reveals numerous petroglyphs of several periods. In addition three trails came through this area; Anza NHT, Butterfield Stage Line and the Mormon Battalion. Outside of the campground I planted a new letterbox honoring the Anza NHT here at the Petroglyph Site. Camping fee is $8, full fee.
    Finished the day with our standard Happy Hour - Gin 'n Tonic, salsa & chips and pistachios.

    Passport Stamps
    Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail - including last week's stamps
    - Las Lagunas de Anza
    Tumacacori NHP
    Tubac Presido, AZ
    Hacienda de la Canoa
    Presidio de Tucson
    Saguaro NP
    Picacho Peak SP
    Casa Grande
    Sonoran Desert National Monument
    Gila Bend, AZ

    Casa Grande Ruins NM - Coolidge, AZ

    1 - maintenance
    1 - planted

    Wildlife Sightings
    Red-tailed Hawk
    Mourning Dove
    Rock Pigeon
    Great-tailed Grackle
    Turkey Vulture
    Great Egret

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    Memories of home! Or, what was home to me a long time ago (Casa Grande area).

    For anyone else -- please be careful in the desert between Casa Grande and Gila Bend, particularly the areas around Freeman Rd and Vekol Rd. In recent years, these areas have been attracting persons that have come across our borders illegally. Most are okay, but a few have tried to spoil it for others by hassling folks who pull off on those exits and stop (usually to get something from their cooler, use a bush because no rest area is handy, etc). This has been news covered in the Phoenix papers.


  4. #4


    For anyone else -- please be careful in the desert between Casa Grande and Gila Bend, particularly the areas around Freeman Rd and Vekol Rd. Donna
    Daylight hours recommended. Usually see Border Patrol out and about - saw no one today at 2 PM.
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 03-16-2015 at 09:44 PM.

  5. #5

    Default Anza NHT - Arizona into S. California, Day 2

    Tuesday, March 17, 2015
    Start: Painted Rock Petroglyph Site & Campground (BLM)
    Finish: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs, CA

    Monday evening sunset

    Very quiet night in camp, and perfect sleeping weather. Left camp at 9 AM returning back to I-8. At the intersection of Painted Rock Rd. and I-8 is a very large solar field, Solana Generating Station. Besides claiming to be the largest of their type, it appeared that ground was being prepared to double the size.

    Along I-8 my husband had several letterboxes to plant. Often as we drive along we remark "that would be a good place to put a letterbox". Sometimes it may be a couple of years before it actually happens, as in this case. One box was to identify the broad- ranging volcanic fields all along I-8 and another at Spot Road. We found 2 boxes along the way into Yuma, one inside a library ( placed with permission).

    Flowers are sparse along this section of highway, however I did see the first of Ocotillo blooms, Palo Verde trees in full bloom and Staghorn cholla blossoms.

    In Yuma we got the last of the Anza NHT in Arizona at the Yuma Quartermaster's Depot, part of Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area.The area along the river in Yuma has been developed nicely over the years with several linear parks along the Colorado River. Downtown Yuma retains its historic charm. We celebrated St. Patrick's Day with a corned beef and cabbage plate at Prison Hill Brewery on Main Street. It only opened in 2014, their beer and food has been excellent each time we have visited. We were not disappointed today. As we left the brewery after 1 PM a trio was setting up for live music into the evening. Before leaving town we planted another letterbox along the river.

    Prison Hill Brewery beer board

    Yuma & Colorado River

    After a supply stop in El Centro we continued west on I-8 to Ocotillo. From there we headed north into Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The ocotillo plants were dense with leaves and blossoms - very pretty. A variety of other flowers were seen on; Staghorn cholla, prickly pear and yuccas. The wind was picking up and stayed strong even after sunset. The temperature had cooled which made it much more comfortable.

    Passport stamps
    Juan Bautista de Anza NHT
    -Yuma Crossing NHA

    Found - 2
    Planted - 3

    Wildlife Sightings
    Rock Squirrel
    California Quail
    Greater Roadrunner
    Common Raven
    Turkey Vulture
    House Sparrow
    Say's Phoebe

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada



    I like the creative photo array displaying the flowers -- very nice!


  7. #7

    Default California Deserts - Anza-Borrego Desert SP, Day 3

    Wednesday, March 18, 2015
    Start & Finish: Borrego Springs, CA

    Began the day with an early morning walk up to the Visitor Center, a nice variety of flowers along the way. An extended morning in camp for breakfast and birdwatching.

    Morning walk flowers

    Morning light

    First stop of the day was at the Visitor Center in the park to get the Anza NHT stamp. From there we headed back south to Box Canyon, along S2 to hike and explore. This was a trail/road established by the Mormon Battalion. Look beyond the sign to see a portion of the historic road.

    Back towards Borrego Springs we drove along the Blair Valley Road a 1/2 mile to the Butterfield Trail Monument. Beyond the monument the trail climbed up to a beautiful overlook.

    After lunch we hiked into Plum Canyon, the flowers were gorgeous! Today was what I was hoping it would be - flowers galore!

    Afternoon flowers

    Later we explored a northern portion of the park, up Coyote Canyon. We the drove out S22 up Montezuma Pass Rd to hide a letterbox. During the day we found 2 letterboxes, neither had been found in 5 years!

    Passport Stamps
    Juan Bautista de Anza NHT- Anza-Borrego Desert SP, CA

    Wildlife sightings
    Side-splotched Lizard

    Calliope Hummingbird
    White-winged Dove
    Mourning Dove
    White-crowned Sparrow
    House Finch
    Cactus Wren
    Common Raven
    Greater Roadrunner
    American Kestrel
    Western Kingbird

  8. #8

    Default California Desert #2 - Joshua Tree National Park, Day 4

    Thursday, March 19, 2015

    Start: Borrego Springs, CA
    Finish: Black Rock Canyon Campground, Joshua Tree NP, Yucca Valley, CA

    We left Anza-Borrego Desert State Park after breakfast in town. The Anza expedition in 1776 made four camps within the park on their way to San Francisco. Here is where we left the Anza NHT until later in the trip, we'll pick up at the northern end on our return south.

    Morning walk flowers

    For the next week we'll be enjoying the California Deserts. As we left Borrego Springs we drove through citrus groves that were fragrant with blossoms. As we reached the northeast section of the park we were driving through very scenic and colorful badlands. We drove out on S22 heading east towards the Salton Sea, then turned north on CA86, then east on CA195 at Mecca to cross I-10 and enter Joshua Tree National Park. The drive along CA 125 is also called Box Canyon Road, the geologic features of the mainly sandstone made for an interesting drive. The road was excellent and very scenic.

    Mecca Hills Wilderness- Box Canyon Rd/CA125

    We entered Johsua Tree National Park, the second California desert on out itinerary. The weather was much more comfortable than we had expected, the high was predicted to be in the mid-70s. After stopping at the Cottonwood visitor center at the south end of the park to get the park brochures and passport stamp we continued north. We stopped at White Tank campground to walk the Arch Rock Geology nature trail, 1/2 mile loop. The trail takes you through a jumble of rocks to view the natural arch.

    Arch Rock

    Our next stop was the Oasis visitor center outside of Twentynine Palms and another unique passport stamp, plus our picnic lunch. Once at the northern edge of the park we drove west to the far end to Black Rock Canyon campground, our camping spot for the next two nights. As we entered the park only 2 campgrounds had any space available. We had made reservations, mainly because of a Friday night stay.

    Joshua trees

    We were in camp early enough to catch up on some other computer work and reading for the late afternoon. Pretty clouds and strong enough breeze at times to make pants and long-sleeved shirts comfortable.

    Passport Stamps
    Joshua Tree National Park
    - Cottonwood, CA
    Twentynine Palms, CA
    Joshua Tree, CA
    Black Rock Nature Center

    Wildlife Sightings
    Scrub Jay
    Gambel's Quail
    White-winged Dove
    Mourning Dove
    Red-tailed Hawk
    Common Raven
    Cactus Wren

  9. #9

    Default Joshua Tree NP - 2nd day, Day 5

    Friday, March 20, 2015

    Start & Finish : Black rock Canyon Campground, Yucca Valley, CA

    Pretty simple day, after breakfast we hiked from 10:30 until 3 at a preserve just outside Joshua Tree NP. The weather was perfect! Reached mid 70s by 3, a light breeze and mostly clear.

    View of San Gorgonio Peak - looking west

    Went into Joshua Tree for a local microbrew from Coachella Valley Brewerry and a quesadilla at a favorite restaurant, Crossroads Cafe. I have had breakfast and lunch there and never been disappointed, always tasty.


    Afterwards we did a short drive into the park to enjoy the early evening light. The picture below - look on the right side, below the 3 big boulders and just above the trees. That is where the people are sitting.

    People in the cave

    Afternoon view

    When we returned to camp we found a lot more people, Friday night near LA.

    Wildlife Sightings

    Spiny Lizard
    Rock Squirrel
    Antelope Ground Squirrel
    Cottontail rabbit

    Say's Phoebe
    Common Raven
    Cactus Wren
    Rock Pigeon
    Mourning Dove
    House Sparrow
    House Finch

  10. #10

    Default Desert #3 - Mojave National Preserve, Day 6

    Saturday, March 21, 2015

    Start: Back Rock Canyon Campground (NPS), Yucca Valley, CA
    Finish: Midhills Campground (NPS), Mohave National Preserve, CA

    Took our time in camp, but not too long. Lots of activity all around in the campground. Stopped in Yucca Valley for supplies, the next few days will be in remote areas. A quick stop at the Indian Cove Ranger Station near Twentynine Palms for the last of the Joshua Tree NP passport stamps.

    Left Twentynine Palms on Amboy Road, heading for the third California desert on this trip. We were entering the true Mohave Desert, very stark. Not sure why, but I love this area. Virtually no flowers and limited plants, but the open vistas to ragged, colorful mountains always hold my interest.

    Once we reached the town of Amboy we took a short detour west to Amboy Crater. When living in S. CA in the late 70s and exploring this area we drove by the crater many times. Since our last visit the BLM has paved a road leading back to a well-developed day use area; restrooms, picnic ramadas , trails, interpretative signs and an observation area. The most recent eruption was 10,000 years ago. It is 250 ft high and 1500 ft in diameter.

    Amboy Crater

    Amboy Crater is not a National Monument- the current sign shows it as a National Natural Landmark.

    At this point we were on historic Route 66, National Trails Highway. We continued east and then turned north on Kelbaker Rd. A highlight of the trip has been crossing over I-10 and, today, crossing under I-40. We prefer the 'blue highways', 2-lane roads. We were now in Mohave National Preserve. We drove past the Kelso Dunes to Kelso Depot. We stopped for passport stamps and a picnic lunch. From there we continued east then south on Cedar Canyon Rd and over to Midhills campground. We selected a nice site then traveled to Hole-in-the Wall visitor center. It was the busiest we have seen on previous trips, but not as busy as Joshua Tree NP.

    Hole-in-the-Wall visitor center

    We drove a back road, Wild Horse Canyon Rd, to return to our campsite. At the beginning of the road a 'jeep' symbol is shown. The staff at the visitor center assured us it was suitable for 2-wheel drive, and it was. There were several undeveloped camp areas along the road.

    Wild Horse Canyon Road - looking back at Hole-in-the Wall

    Elevation has been very diverse along the trip. At Anza-Borrego Desert SP the elevation ranged fro 700-2200 ft. At Joshua Tree NP the elevation range was 3500-4400 ft., we were camped at 4000 ft. At MidHills my elevation app indicated 5500 ft, even though the park paper indicates 4400 ft and Hole-in-the-Wall at 5600 ft. It appears they switched elevation because the drive to Hole-inThe-Wall was downhill and it was warmer there. And as we head into Death Valley NP the elevation will drop, all the way to below sea level.

    Flowers along the way

    Passport Stamps
    Joshua Tree National Park - Indian Cove
    Mohave National Preserve - Kelso, CA
    Old Spanish NHT - Mohave National Preserve, CA
    Mohave National Preserve - Hole-in-the Wall, CA

    Wildlife Sightings
    Whip-tailed lizard

    Common Raven
    House Sparrow
    White-crowned Sparrow
    Oak Titmouse
    Dark-eyed Junco
    Red-tailed Hawk & nest

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