Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Lava Rock
Death Valley
With an early morning hasta la vista to Chula Vista we head north.  Our plan is to see how far we get, with a goal to be in Death Valley the following day.  Traffic is light so we keep going and get to Death Valley in the early afternoon.  Arriving at the Furnace Creek campground we discover that the space we reserved is still occupied, but the Ranger remembers us and offers another space that we gladly accept. We check the map and son of a gun if it isn’t the same spot we were in last December.  Now this just feels like home!

In less than an hour we are set up and walk over to the visitor’s center to check the schedule of ranger talks for the week and check their weather station.  Good news: there are a number of ranger talks on new subjects – (cool.)  Bad News:  winds will be hitting up to 65-70 mph in the next 2 days – (argh.)

Taking advantage of the calm before the storm we head up to the Furnace Creek Inn for a cocktail and to see if our favorite bar tender, is still there.  Unfortunately, she transferred to another park two weeks ago.  However our waitress recognizes us and we have a fun time catching up.  After one cocktail we decide to head down to the Corkscrew Saloon for the one dish worth ordering in Death Valley; Dante’s Pizza… a bit of thin crust heaven with extra chorizo & jalapenos. (Mouth burning heaven for us, or hell for those with sensitive taste buds.)

Dust Storm at Mesquite Flats Dunes
We get up early the next morning and drive up to Dante’s View, the wind isn’t too strong but a dusty haze obscures the landscape.  We drive out to the mesquite dunes.  The wind is picking up and sand is billowing and drifting across the road. Not too fun and certainly not weather to spend out of doors taking lots of pictures and the gusts are really picking up moment by moment.  So we head back and hunker down.

Once the winds subside we are ready to venture out.  This time of year usually draws hundreds of tourists to view the spectacular desert wild flowers and cactus blooms.  But this year the plants are on strike.  Seems the flowering plants are protesting cut backs in water and general climate change.  This coupled with the high winds leaves very few specimens but we are able to find and photograph some. 

Wild flowers
Wind Blown Wild Flower
Desert wild flower
& pollinator

Teakettle Junction
Starting early morning driving past the Ubehebe Crater we take a dirt road that leads to the racetrack. We stop at the quirky roadside attractions, Teakettle Junction. It’s located at the junction of two dirt roads neither of which leads to anything explaining the name.  The origin of its name is lost to history but its legacy lives on with ever-changing teakettles. Last December we passed the junction twice and were disappointed that there were no teakettles the first time and one teakettle and a watering can the second.  Visitors since that time have replenished the supply and we added our kettle to the mix.


Wildrose Charcoal Kilns
We continue on the little used dirt road to Hunter Mountain, and down Saline Road to Panamint Springs through desert with budding yuccas and over higher passes through pinion pine forests.  From Panamint Springs we take the Wildrose cutoff to the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns. The charcoal kilns complex in Wildrose Canyon is among the more remarkable historical-architectural features of Death Valley National Park. These ten beehive shaped stone structures, about 25 feet high, are believed to be the best known surviving example of such kilns to be found in the western states.
Mesquite Flat Dunes

Our last stop is the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.  The dunes freshly sculptured by the recent windstorm in the late afternoon light make for some great photo ops. All in all we complete a 200-mile loop with 70 plus miles of dirt roads through some of the more remote areas of the park with spectacular scenery. 

Touring off road in Death Valley without accurate maps can be dangerous.  (They don’t call it Death Valley for nothing.) Thanks to the National Parks Maps HD app by NationalGeographic we are able to navigate the unmarked dirt roads crisscrossing the desert and mountains with confidence. 

Now for our unsolicited testimonial:  With downloadable (when we have internet connections) detailed topographical maps for 20 of the top National Parks this app gives us accurate GPS positioning when we’re off the beaten track without cell service or internet.  So far we have used this app on our iPhones when hiking and iPads when driving in Yellowstone, The Arches and Death Valley.  At only $3.99 this is a Dave and Dimples top pick tool for select National Park adventure travel. 
Death Valley is beautiful (as usual) but we can’t dilly dally here for long… So it's onto Reno to visit some family.... We need to continue on northward…

Thursday, April 4, 2013


Shells on the Beach
We call Chula Vista home for two months.  This is our longest stay in any one location since we started on this adventure.  You know what they say, “location…location…location” and weather doesn’t suck either! So we kick back and wait for spring.  Of course while waiting we explore more and expand our experiences.

Visiting Balboa Park  is one of our favorite pastimes and full of surprises.  There is always something going on. (One afternoon we followed signs and sounds and were able to sit in on a rehearsal of the San Diego Youth Symphony.)

Cherry Blossoms
The two-acre Japanese Friendship Garden originated as a teahouse during the 1915–16 Panama-California Exposition. Along the Garden’s winding paths is a Zen garden for meditation, an exhibit house, koi pond, bonsai exhibit, ceremonial gate, and a Fujidana  (wisteria arbor).  We are fortunate and visit the garden on the day of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. The garden is packed with folks viewing the blossoms while enjoying culinary treats, dancing, music and Japanese culture.

The Spanish Village Art Center is home to  San Diego County's largest community of artists. We spend a pleasant afternoon exploring the thirty-seven working artist studios/galleries that host over two hundred local painters, sculptors, metal smiths, jewelry designers, clay artists, gourd artists, photographers, printmakers, fiber artists, basket weavers, mixed-media artists, glass artists, and more!
Blooming Cactus

TheDesert Garden  contains more than 1,300 plants, including cacti, succulents and drought-resistant plants from around the world, within its 2.5 acres. We are fortunate to catch the tail end of the peak blooming period. And if this isn’t pokey enough, adjacent is the stunning three-acre Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden; a thorny yet fragrant and colorful display of approximately 2,500 roses of nearly 200 varieties.

TheMuseum of Photographic Arts houses more than 7,000 works, representing the entire history of photography, its aesthetic movements, and technological advancements. A special exhibit UNSEEN: The Photographs of Jessica Lange  who maintained a career as a fine art photographer for nearly two decades, alongside her work as an actor. The works are cinematic and provocative. But as to be expected – photo taking not allowed!
Vampire Slayer Kit

TheSan Diego Air & Space Museum  is California’s Official Air and Space Museum and an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.  The Museum houses a collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft from all over the world, including a working flying replica of Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, the actual Apollo 9 Command Module spacecraft and the only real GPS satellite on display in the world. When we visit there is a special Ripley’s Believe it or Not exhibit.  How often can one say they saw the Apollo 9 spacecraft and a vintage vampire hunter kit under the same roof?

And then there’s the Natural History Museum (affectionately called the NAT.)  The permanent exhibits showcase the unique and bio-diverse southern California region.  The day of our visit it’s all about the bugs. Dr. Entomo's Palace of ExoticWonders is a real kick.   Now, this might be a bit traumatic for those afflicted with Entomophobia but for us, an old-fashioned circus sideshow with glow-in-the-dark scorpions and the world's largest bird-eating tarantula, is fascinating. The museum is also home to a state of the art Dolby 3D theatre where we view Bugs! 3D: A Rainforest Adventure  about the dramatic and savage lives of an Old World praying mantis, Hierodula and a beautiful butterfly, Papilio.
 We enjoy a second 3D  film The Last Reef about our oceans and an exhibit: On the Trail of Ansel Adams, Black and White Nature Photography.

And wait… there’s more…

30 miles north is The San Diego Zoo Safari Park, an expansive wildlife sanctuary that is home to more than 2,600 animals representing more than 300 species. Its renowned botanical collection represents 3,500 species and 1.5 million specimens. This beautiful preserve is dedicated to consumer education and breeding of endangered species.  We take a behind the scenes tour and see some of last Somali Wild Asses on the planet. (BTW these are of the equine variety, not anarchists or pirates.) In the afternoon we watch a cheetah run at 70 mph… yeah… so fast that the photos only show where she was… then there’s the baby Southern White Rhino… How cute is this??? <- click for video

Baby Rhino & Mom

Odd Companions
The Living Coast Discovery  center on the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Chula Vista, is the place to explore the amazing animals and plants that call this coastal region home.  Here we see Raptors munching on their rodent lunch, and aquariums full of local sea creatures and reptiles.
Our RV Park is located along the San Diego Bay Bike Route.  This is a 24-mile loop that circumnavigates the bay with a ferry ride to cross the open channel.  We don’t do the loop but ride around our end of the bay to Imperial Beach and Silver Strand State Beach.

IB Surfer
Imperial Beach  (“IB” in local lingo) is the most southern beach city in California and a classic So Cal beach town. It’s full of great public art.  Here we watch locals fishing on the pier, inspect shells on the beach and stroll along the wetlands of the Tijuana estuary.  Looking further south we can see Mexico.

Our stay would not be complete without an evening spent bar hopping in San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter. This 16 square-block neighborhood of side-by-side Victorian-era buildings and modern skyscrapers is a cosmopolitan playground, rich with cultural offerings: cinema, art galleries, symphony halls, concert venues, museums, fine dining, craft cocktails, live theatre, music and dancing. BTW the Gaslamp may be cosmopolitan, but we sip Bulleit Rye Manhattans ;^)

So that’s about it for this area… during this time we have also done some research and made plans for the summer… looks like Alaska is the place to be… so we pack up and start heading north… again…