We found ourselves parked at a Love’s truck stop in Tehachapi Pass California waiting for the arrival of our friends the Motsko’s. The sun was shining, life was good.
Currently residing near Bend Oregon Mark and Phyllis have spent almost all of their careers living in some of America’s most beautiful and remote National Parks working as backcountry rangers, horse wranglers and interpreters just to name a few of their professions.
Denise and I were lucky enough to spend 17 years working with these fine folks in Denali National Park.
But…..It was hard for us to fathom that the Motsko’s had never driven into California’s southern regions. This journey was about to change that fact.
Our plans loosely comprised of traveling together camping and exploring some of SoCal’s and Arizona’s best desert destinations all while skirting the fringes of the southwest’s densely populated areas…..thus the title of this post.
Denise and I recognized that for first time desert travelers trying to negotiate a safe path through the crush of humanity could be a daunting experience without moral and directional support.
Our challenge…..show them the good stuff without them witnessing the bad.
Acting as tour guides would be an easy undertaking for Denise and I since we have spent well over 50 years exploring the backroads of the southwest.
We were looking forward to sharing some of our favorite spots and secret hideouts with them. This was gunna be fun!
Traveling south from Oregon the Motsko’s had driven down I-5 and Hwy 99 and by the time they passed through Bakersfield they were ready for the open expanse of the desert and a stiff drink.
In short time we left Tehachapi together headed southeast into the Calif desert.
The overall objective was to camp and explore as many of the southwest’s remote and beautiful locations as time allowed, about 10 days.
Denise and I imagined this tour to be a kind of desert sampler.
From Tehachapi we spent our first night in the beautiful Red Rocks Canyon State Park just north of Mojave. It was here that Mark and Phyllis finally started to relax.
The next morning it was off along old route 66 to Amboy Crater National Natural Historic Landmark where we enjoyed hiking, wildflower photography and later that evening a wonderful night sky.
We headed south again in the morning just as the sun was becoming too hot for the pups.
From Amboy we continued south into Joshua Tree National Park. Unfortunately it was a Friday and the LA weekend crowds were already arriving in the high desert. The weather was glorious so who could blame them.
Visiting Joshua Tree during crowded times does not make for the most enjoyable drive through this wonderful park but with the super bloom peaking and vibrant flowers everywhere it helped take the edge off!
Traffic was heavy and all the campgrounds were completely full so after a short hike in the boulders we were forced to drive south to the Cottonwood entrance to camp near Chiriaco Summit.
We spent two nights at Chiriaco Summit where we took a day trip to nearby Box Canyon. To beat the crowds we wandered up a couple of our favorite slot canyons and found no one around.
Later that evening we again sat around the fire reminiscing and laughing while in the distance the slow steady lights of traffic on Interstate 10 kept Mark mesmerized for hours.
Mecca Beach on the Salton Sea was our next stop where we hiked to the top of a hill overlooking the lake to view an ancient fossilized coral seabed.
That evening we camped 230 ft. below sea level sitting around our nightly fire sipping our favorite libations while watching white pelicans flying low over the lake at sunset….nice!
After route planning discussions the next morning we decide to drive down to Slab City at the south end of the lake.
For those of you who have never visited this fascinating place it provides you with a glimpse of what it might look like to live a free, alternative and bohemian life style.
Today Slab City’s population includes folks from all generations living scattered across the desert.
Slab City’s Salvation Mountain is a monument to a man devoted to his faith and a testiment to his unique construction abilities.
I had briefly visited Slab City in the early 70’s when there was just a few folks living in RV’s on top of foundation slabs leftover from a decommissioned military base.
Today it is a thriving city of individualistic desert characters and artists living in all kinds of mobile and semi-permanent dwellings.
The artist colony known as East Jesus is near the back of Slab City. Mark and Phyllis were visibly moved by the sight of some of the wildest freeform art, kinetic sculpture and unique living conditions they had ever seen.
Moorpark met us at the gate and led us on a behind the scenes tour of this wonderfully unique place.
That evening found us on the other side of the lake wandering through fields of wildflowers in Anza Borrego State Park. The super bloom was in full display and dozens of varieties were on display.
With 11 inches of rain this winter it could be regarded as one of the best super blooms in decades.
Finding a somewhat remote campsite near dry Clark Lake we enjoyed the sunset over Mt. Laguna knowing the rain was hammering down in San Diego just the other side of the range.
Moving south again our route took us through the Imperial Sand Dunes where we made a quick stop to visit the historic plank road and the US/Mexico border.
With all that is going on in the political world right now it was a little disconcerting to stand 100′ from the border and see the wall first hand.
Just as sun set over Mexico we found a quiet campsite along the American Girl Mine road just a few miles from the border.
Our final evening together was in Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. Driving about 7 miles into the refuge we found a site with fantastic views of the Kofa range all to ourselves.
The next day we entered Quartzite to oogle gems and minerals of all shapes and sizes. Denise and Phyllis were in rockhound heaven.
At this juncture the Motsko’s were due to head north and we were due to head west back to Thousand Oaks to visit with my mom.
Unfortunately the tour was over…dang! We had successfully skirted most of the southwest’s densely inhabited zones and found remote gorgeous desert landscapes together…what fun!
It is not often you can find fellow travelers that are easy going, willing to travel spontaneously, have a sense of discovery and enjoy causal serendipity.
While traveling with the Motsko’s we found soulmates of the road.
Thanks for a very enjoyable adventure…..let’s do it again!
Don’t miss our latest video “Skirting The Fringes Of Humanity Tour” slip on the headphones, slip in the iPods, turn up the stereo…. Enjoy!
Next we drive north up Highway 395 for more adventures with more great friends.
Keep you posted!!