Traveling west on I-40 we crossed into California. This is the first time grammi or I have been to this state. From the Sierra Nevada Mountains to it’s Pacific coastline, from the Redwood Forest to the Mojave Desert, California has a vast variety of landscapes to explore. No need to visit the major population centers like San Francisco or Los Angeles during this trip. We’ll save that for another time. We plan to explore the natural beauty of this state while visiting its unique parks. Our current destination is Yosemite National Park. But we have three days to get there.
I don’t like to drive for too long and often think about the places we are passing. What are we missing, right? So around one o’clock in the afternoon I was ready to find a spot to stay the night. We found a little campground just off the interstate on Route 66. Right in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Newberry Mountain RV and Motel Park was clean and well maintained with full hookups, a swimming pool, a stocked fishing pond and a laundry facility. It was a man-made oasis. The pull-through sites were a little too close together but for a one or two night stay it’s not a bad stop. We quickly checked-in and setup, so we had the rest of the day to explore the area.
We headed west on Route 66. One by one we passed the remnants of abandoned buildings lying in ruins. Boarded up businesses with collapsing roofs, the paint nearly erased from years of desert sun and sandstorms. Occasionally a rusty old car sat along the side. Sometime we saw just an asphalt parking lot with weeds growing through the weathered cracks surrounding a concrete foundation. A sign post still standing in front, but the sign no longer legible. Then we passed the Bagdad Cafe, a survivor among the dead.
The Bagdad Cafe is a Route 66 tourist attraction. Capitalizing on a classic cult movie with the same name featuring the interactions between a cast of drifters, the cafe changed its name some years back. Sometimes a gimmick is what is needed to stay in business. Many fans of the movie have journeyed here to see the cafe. Ironically, the movie was actually filmed at a different cafe fifty miles away. The sign out front indicated they were open seven days a week until 7:00 PM but the parking lot was empty when we passed by.
We drove as far as the city of Barstow where we saw a giant fire helmet on display in front of a fire station. Myself, being a retired firefighter, could not resist the curiosity so we stopped to have a look. The FDNY fire helmet replica topped with a golden eagle’s head is a memorial to the firefighters that lost their lives on September 11, 2001. The number on the shield, 343, is the number of firefighters that lost their lives. I remember the intense emotion I felt on that day. It doesn’t seem too long ago. Seeing this memorial reminds me of the connection and camaraderie that firefighters have for each other. It was a tragic day that brought us closer together.
Taking another road back to the camper, we saw a sign for a ghost town. Not wanting to pass an opportunity to see a real ghost we turned in the direction the sign pointed and headed up the hill. Painted near the top of the hill in big white lettering was the word CALICO. Established in 1881 after a significant silver strike, Calico thrived until silver prices dropped and the mining operation became unprofitable. The town was abandoned and apparently left to the ghost. Then in the 1950‘s the town was purchased by Walter Knott and restored to look like it did in the 1880’s.
Calico is yet another old mining camp turned tourist attraction. Operated now as a county park, it’s a great place for families to visit. There are historical displays, souvenir shops, places to get old time photos, a place to buy gemstones, restaurants, ice cream shops, and much more.
On the day we were there I would say it really was a ghost town because there was not a soul to be found, well…except for maybe a couple of store clerks and a handful of fellow ghost hunters. We walked along the main street all the way up the hill where we looked back to see a great view of the town, but we never once saw a ghost. Even though I wanted to see a ghost, I much preferred to find one during the day. So we headed back down the hill and drove home to the camper before the sun set.
The next morning we set out for a location on private property that we had arranged through a commonly used boondockers website. Disappointment set in when we arrived. It did not match the vision we had formed from the description and online photos. Additionally, we mistakenly thought electric hookups were available. With no electric there is no air conditioner. No air conditioner makes for a miserable night trying to sleep during the current heatwave. We decided not to stay. We’re placing no blame for this misunderstanding as we are still learning the ins-and-outs of boondock RVing. We certainly need to be more diligent to read all the information and fine print. Maybe now we’ll buy that generator that we’ve been putting off.
We started calling nearby campgrounds and as luck would have it, we found a spot up the mountain. California Hot Springs Resort is surrounded on three sides by the Sequoia National Monument located in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. At 125 degrees, hot water flows from the cliffs. Known for its purity, no odor, and low mineral content, the hots springs has been a favorite destination for tourists and locals for years. The Hotel del Venado was built in 1902. A swimming pool and therapeutic center was built in 1920. A recreation hall was built in 1926. A fire destroyed the hotel in 1932 and now the campground is located there with 43 full hookup sites.
We knew we were going to be bypassing the Sequoia National Park the next day, but we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to see those big trees. So we were up and out early the next morning while we were near the Sequoia National Monument. It was Saturday. We knew the area was going to be busy. We drove to The Trail of a Hundred Giants, an easy 1.3 mile hike through a sequoia grove. We were astonished to see the massive trees, some estimated to be 1500 years old. They were wider than three lane of interstate traffic. Getting there early was a great idea as we could hear the breeze squeeze through the trees during our quiet morning stroll. As we left though, crowds of people filtered in, cars lined up along the road hunting for scarce parking.
We left that hectic scene and drove through lesser traveled parts of the forest exploring the winding road. We pulled off here and there to find hiking trails and picnic spots along the way. We meandered back to our camper at Hot Springs Resort spending the remaining hours at the pool and hot tub until closing time.
This area was a pleasant surprise for us and we’re grateful to have stayed here. We could of stayed a little longer. But we have reservation near Yosemite National Park. We are looking forward to going there in the morning. It’s exciting, the prospect of a new adventure. I can’t wait to share it with you on our next post.
So until next time…Happy days and safe travels.