Spring Break Family Road Trip Part II: Desert Hot Springs, Joshua Tree, & Big Bear Lake

April 13th, 2018 - filed under: The Farm » Family

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After a few days of camping and exploring at Anza Borrego desert, we were ready to hit the open road again. I think if I could do my life over, I would find a way to be a permanent nomad (maybe it’s not too late, some day in the future).

I love waking up in a strange place. I love seeing unfamiliar sights and smelling unfamiliar smells and feeling brand new things. I love camping and hotels and motels and cabins and lodges, I love fancy suites and I love quirky fleabags. I love driving on that endless highway. I love when a road stretches so far in front of you that it feels like it’s going to go on forever. I love campfire cooking and I love finding new vegan options at random restaurants along the way, and I even love desperate meals constructed from convenience store finds. Kettle chips, smokehouse almonds, and iced tea for the win. Truly, I love it all. I just love exploring the world so much.



On our last morning at Tamarisk Grove, Waits helped Jeremy make a fire, then scarfed down a quick breakfast before running off to say goodbye to the campground friends he’d made. I took Vesper for another skate around the loop. I gave our bouquet of daffodils to the family one site over. We broke down our tent and packed up the coolers, loaded everything into the car, and were back on the road by mid-morning.

It was day 3 of our trip and we had yet to bathe. But no worries, we were pointed towards the perfect destination: Desert Hot Springs.

The city of Desert Hot Springs is positioned at the northern tip of the Coachella Valley, and sits above two enormous, disparate aquifers — one hot, and one cold. Thus, the region includes the largest collection of natural mineral springs in all of America. And better yet, the springs are unique in that they are completely odorless. The spas in the area tap their wells directly into both aquifers, allowing them to mix hot and cold springs in various concentrations, to create warm swimming pools, cool refreshing showers, and piping hot soaking tubs. All natural.

It’s pretty incredible.





We spent the entire afternoon in the water. It was the perfect potion to wash away the layers of desert residue. It felt like breathing new life into my body.

Theres just something about those minerals, man.

That night we found a nearby vegan restaurant, brought takeout back to our hotel room, and had a picnic on the bed. We stuffed ourselves to the gills while watching a movie on the computer, then promptly passed out in a big family tangle. It was awesome.

The next morning, we were back on the road.


Lovers in the front.

Jokers in the rear.

Our final destination that evening was a tiny truck stop hotel and casino up north, just over the border into Nevada. But we didn’t have any timeline constraining us, so we spent the day detouring through one of the prettiest places in all of California . . .




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Joshua Tree is a magical place, and our day trip detour didn’t really do it justice. It’s somewhere we plan to return very soon.

But this time, we were back on the road after a few hours, heading north through the Mojave desert. The Mojave is as vast as it is extreme. It’s the driest desert in North America, and sometimes it seemed like we’d been driving for ages without seeing another car. On that afternoon drive through the Mojave desert, I wrote this little mini Love List:


1. 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. Jeremy and I sang the entire song, start to finish.
2. My ongoing road trip prank of covertly turning on Jeremy’s seat warmer. Waits would erupt into fits of laughter every time Jeremy realized his butt was hot.
3. Speaking of hot, Vesper hot-boxing the car with dog farts. Okay, that’s not actually something I *love*, because eww, but it was pretty freaking funny.
4. Tortoise patrol.
5. The Drawing Book of Animals by Ed Emberley. Just as good as I remembered it being when I was 8 years old.


North. Nevada. We spent the night in a strange truck stop hotel/casino. It smelled like stale cigarettes and spilled beer. It was not cute. But it was okay — the hotel wasn’t the reason we were there. It was just a convenient meeting place.

We spent the entire next day deep, deep in the heart of desert, and I’ll write about that adventure in a post all its own. In the meantime, here’s a teaser:


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I can’t wait to share that adventure — soon! But suffice it to say, it was pure magic. And after a long, grueling day toiling under the desert sun, we made our way back to that same strange border town hotel. We crawled into the hot tub to soak our weary bodies, scarfed down a quick dinner, and immediately fell sleep.

The next morning we woke up late, exhausted after our long and laborious adventure in the desert. It was Friday, and it was the last scheduled day of our road trip. We had no reservations that night — no hotel and no campground.

But it was only Friday.

So we held an impromptu family meeting, and collectively decided that we were NOT ready for the fun to end. We didn’t want to go home! Instead, we packed up the car, checked out of the stinky hotel/casino, and pointed ourselves in a vaguely southwestern direction.





I drove and Jeremy scoured the internet. It was a Friday and it was spring break. Last minute bookings were not going to come easy (or cheap).

But somehow, by sheer persistence and maybe a little magic dust, Jeremy managed to find us an adorable little cabin with a full kitchen and a fireplace . . . in Big Bear. Which is the mountains! From the badlands to a the alpine, I mean why not?

It’s a good thing that wanderlust seems to run in the family . . .

Another day, another stretch of open road. Before we knew it, we were winding our way through the San Bernadino National Forest, up, up, up into the mountains.




Honestly, it was the perfect little end cap to our week of adventuring. Our cabin was cozy and clean and sweet. We were able to skate around the parking lot, take a leisurely stroll through Big Bear Village, hit a local gem shop, and of course, finally grab a quality restaurant meal.

That pic of us up there, in the Big Bear Lake Brewing Co, is pretty much the only pic of all three of us from the whole trip.

I love it, and I’m grateful we thought to snap it. Fresh air, green towering trees, great food, and my family. It was a good final night.

The mountain air felt cleansing. It seemed an appropriate place to decompress after our wild week of sand dunes, whipping wind, glaring sun — that desert feeling of being so exposed is at once both exciting and exhausting. That’s what I love about the desert, I guess. It’s just so raw. There’s nowhere to hide and it goes on forever, you feel absolute freedom and utter vulnerability. And that touches something really deep inside, something long since past. The desert gets to the heart of you, and I think that’s why the desert calls to me.

I’d like to get to the heart of me, some day.

♥ ♥ ♥


Until next time . . .

  • Sarah C.

    Once again I’m tracking alongside this account of your trip…I just got back from a driving trip from NM to Las Vegas (for a work conference) and now I’m dreaming up a trip back to Nevada for desert camping and a kayak trip on Lake Mead. What a gorgeous state! I live in the desert surrounded by mountains and I love that the NV desert/mtns was so different than mine and so stunningly gorgeous. I’m glad I can see the beauty and majesty in the desert like you do – I talk to some people who just can’t see it as anything other than drab or dead, which is sad.

  • Betty Spaghetti

    Been there too….first stop Palm Springs (I love that town), then Mojave desert and Joshua tree, climbed up the same mountain formation as you did. Nice memories come up when I see your pictures and report. One day you should tackle driving across the U.S. – it’s quite an adventure. We did many moons ago when we moved to So-Cal from NYC.

  • Rebecca Carnes

    I’m planning to take P camping in JT next month!! All by myself… for the first time!! I am SO excited to hike and breathe that desert air and star gaze at night.
    Too bad my car doesn’t have butt warmers bcse I would DEF be pranking P the whole time LOLOL. I am also looking forward to your upcoming post on the crystal hunting:):)

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    I’m always so amazed by how deserts are so different from one another, even just in California! And when I went to Arizona? It’s like a whole other world. I’ve never been to New Mexico but it seems like an absolutely gorgeous state!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Aww that’s awesome! I loved Joshua Tree and can’t wait to go back!

    When I was 19 I lived in a van for 5 months and drove all across the US. We hit 38 states. It was one of the best experiences of my life . . . I should write about it some day!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    That’s soooo awesome!! I want to take Waits solo camping, I’ve done it with a mom friend and her kiddo, but never as the only adult. It sounds so fun! Looking forward to the pics. =)

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  • Sarah C.

    It is gorgeous and so unique in culture–you’ll love it when you finally make it over here!

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