was supposed to be about Frog Camp
2010, but things got in the way. My grandson, Mikie, had a bad cold,
sore throat, etc., and was not well enough to go by the time the
departure date rolled around. So instead this is about hiking
and camping at Hensley Reservoir, camping in the desert,
and camping in the desert again. But
first, a little about Frog Camp.
I started this report (before Frog Camp was cancelled), I
went through my journal to try and determine when the first Frog
Camp was. I started doing an "official" report in 2007,
but I knew there had been a few before that. I was surprised to
learn that Mikie and I made our first journey to Frog Camp in 2003,
so this would have been the 8th annual event.
also found information about the 2003, 2004, and 2005 trips, so I compiled
those three years into an on-line only report, posted as Early
Ever since I
camped at Hensley
in the fall of 2009, I have wanted to go back, for camping or hiking
or both. My older grandson, Johnny, and his wife Brittany have a
young German shepherd that they got from a rescue agency. Crosby is
around two or three years old and requires lots of exercise, so I
suggested having him join us while we hiked the Pohonichi Trail at
Hensley. It's a one mile loop trail that winds up and down through
the oaks and hills.
On the day
of our hike Brittany was bothered by allergies and did not want to
aggravate them by walking in the foothills, where everything is
blooming, and pollen makes up a good part of the atmosphere. So
Johnny, Crosby and I set out on the 40-mile drive to the trail head.
suspected, Crosby was quite enthusiastic about the outing; in fact,
when Johnny started putting stuff in the car a half hour before we
left, Crosby laid down next to the door to wait for departure time.
I was disappointed that we did not see any ground squirrels for him
to chase, but he did not seem concerned, and had a great time
running ahead on the trail and going off to the side to explore. I
have calculated that a dog walking with a human covers approximately
twice the distance the human does.
was perfect, with a slight breeze, just right for the moderate
exertion required. When I was there last fall, the new grass was
just beginning to show under the dry
grass of the previous season, but we have had a good rainfall
year, and the plants are now tall
and green. In most of the area, the grass is just above ankle
height, easy to walk through. However, next to the blue oaks, it is
cooler and wetter, and there is chest-high
grass in some areas. This even slowed Crosby down a little, but
he developed a method of diving and jumping, so that from a distance
his back would appear above the grass, then drop out of sight, like
watching dolphins in the ocean.
hiking, Johnny threw a tennis ball for Crosby to retrieve, which he
did both on dry land and in the lake. We all had a good time and
some good exercise. When we got back to Fresno, we dropped off
Crosby, picked up Brittany, and went to lunch at the Colorado
home of the best burgers in the Fresno area.
Camping at Hensley
By the time
I realized that Frog Camp had croaked for 2010, I already had the
motor home loaded and ready to go, so I decided I would camp at Hensley. I chose this instead of Frog Camp for several reasons, but
mostly because it is closer. I hoped Mikie would feel better by the
next day and he and his mother could come out to the lake for the
day (this was not to be, but he recovered fully a few days later).
date was Easter Sunday, and the last day of spring vacation for many
students, so I hoped that people would be going home and leaving a
good choice of vacant camp sites. Instead the place was crowded,
with tents, campers, and motor homes everywhere. There was one space
available with electricity, but it was located so that my door would
have opened directly by the road, with no room to sit.
I decided to
take a non-electric site and get by with my generator, but as I was
driving around, the campground volunteer informed me that a party
had left who was originally planning to stay that night, and I could
have that site, with power. It turned out to be the spot I occupied
in October, and one of the better campsites there.
It was cool
and fairly windy, with rain predicted for the evening, so I didn't
do much outdoors the first day. I did hike the shorter loop trail,
and rode my bike a little, but the rain started at 5, so I was in
for the night fairly early.
all night, 13 hours non-stop (unless it stopped while I was
sleeping), but the sky was clearing by the time I got up, and it
turned out to be a fantastic day. There was snow down very
very far above me (on the lower slopes of Deadwood Mountain if
you're keeping track). With the warming weather, it began melting
very fast, and by evening there was snow only on the very top of the
mountain, and the next morning there was none visible. Of course,
there is still a lot of snow on the higher
the day with reading and a bloody Mary, had breakfast, then got
started on "officially" camping. When I was there recently
with my grandson and also in October, I hiked the Pohonichi Trail,
so I set out to do it again. Many hikes, even short ones, have a lot
of uphill one way and a lot of downhill the other. This trail is a
very even mix of up and down, alternating in small sections. It goes
over a fairly steep hill, around the side of a higher one, and down
into a drainage. Then it does it again, so there is never a long
stretch of up or down. Along the way there are plants and bushes,
but the most common is the blue
oak. They are scattered about, creating an open, rolling terrain. And of course, with the good rain
we have had, there is grass and other plants everywhere, and a fair
amount of wild flowers.
I took my
current book along, and stopped to rest about a third of
the way into the hike, and read for a while. I had gone at least another third of the route when I
realized I had left my book on the rock where I sat. I made the
LOOOONG trip back to where it was. Then I debated just continuing on
in the return direction, back the way I came, or repeating a third
of the hike. I ended up taking a short cut down a drainage that the
trail crosses twice, about 200 yards apart, and going on out the
On the first
day I had spotted a couple of rabbits near a big rock formation
across the road behind my camp. On Monday I went there again, and
immediately saw two rabbits, literally hopping down a bunny trail.
As I walked around the rock, I saw about eight or ten more. The next
day I went there with my camera, but of course, there wasn't a
rabbit in sight.
these activities, I took pictures, watched TV, read, and wandered
around on short walks near my camp. It was much warmer and of course
there was no rain, so I ended up staying outside at least an hour
and a half longer than the previous night.
On the final
day, with checkout time at noon, I had time to do a couple of pretty
good walks within the campground. I went up to the highest point in
the camp and got some good photos of distant snow covered mountains.
I was able to recognize several mountains that lie in Mariposa
County and have been familiar landmarks to me all my life.
By noon I
had packed up, emptied the holding tanks, and was on my way home.
This time I would not have to take everything out of the motor home,
since I was heading out on another trip the following weekend.
Back to Mojave Preserve
returned from my
trip to the Mojave National Preserve in early March, I wanted to make a return trip and hopefully be there when the
cactus are in bloom. My son-in-law Tim (Mikie's dad) decided to join
me, and we set off early on Sunday, April 11. Instead of heading to
the campground where I stayed in March, we took Kelbaker Road to
Kelso, formerly a major railroad stop, and now home of the main
visitor center, which is in the old Kelso
On our way
we could see the Kelso
Dunes, a 45-square mile area of sand dunes
rising up to 700 feet high. The dunes were created over the course
of 25,000 years by winds carrying sand from nearby dry lakes.
at Kelso and went through the visitor center, braving a very strong
wind as we walked from the parking lot to the building. This wind
would plague us much of the time during the rest of our trip.
there are two routes to the campground - back south to I-40, then 20
miles east, then 20 miles north; or north on Kelbaker Road, then
east and south on dirt roads. Seeking new scenery, we took this
route - shorter in distance, but probably equally long in time.
Since it was close to 5 p.m., we decided to stay at a nice flat spot
beside the Cedar Canyon Road, about a mile east of Kelbaker.
the motor home so that we could sit on the downwind side, but it was
still fairly breezy. This area was about 5,000 feet in elevation,
with several kinds of cactus as well as Joshua trees and
yucca. We wandered around the area and took a bunch of
then moved inside to eat dinner and watch TV. Throughout the evening
and during the night the wind howled outside, rocking the motor
home, but we were comfortable inside.
called for rain the next day, and early in the morning the wind
stopped and the rain started. It did not last long, stopping soon
after we got up. When we went outside, we saw a light dusting of
snow on the hills above us, only a mile or so away. By the time we
left, it had already melted. Despite the
rain, the sandy ground absorbed the water, and it was not muddy at
breakfast we got things ready to travel and headed east, hitting the
dirt road within the first quarter mile. As we had been warned, the
road was rough in spots with sections of washboard, but very scenic,
going through a rugged canyon. We turned south on Black Canyon Road,
which leads to the campground, and soon came out on a high plateau.
The road turned back west and went down through another canyon,
finally turning south again toward the camp. Along the way we noticed what
we first thought were spider webs in some bushes, but on closer
examination, they proved to be some kind of cocoon, with
caterpillars inside and crawling around on the
arrived at the campground area, we had already decided to camp in a
different location nearby that I had spotted on my earlier trip, but
first we went to the Information Center. It proved to be closed, so
we headed up to the upper end of the ring
trail. This is a loop
trail that winds around the hills by the campground, and up (or down
if you start at the top) through Banshee
Canyon. This is a narrow
slot canyon with iron rings attached to spikes embedded into the
rock to assist in navigating the short but steep section between the
Since I had
done this hike a month earlier, I decided not to repeat it, and Tim
did not feel up to it due to a nagging back injury. However, we went
down to the top of the rings to take a look, and soon Tim was on his
way down. As he reached the lower group of rings I told him if he
wanted to go on through, I would meet him on the other side, since
the trail passed close to the trail. A few minutes later he
announced he was going through, but by this time he was too far for
me to hear him. After waiting a while for him to return, I decided
that he was going to go all the way through, but just in case, I
decided to follow him, and began the climb down the rings, the
opposite direction of my previous hike. Although I think it's easier
to go up, it was not as bad as I expected, and I made it down, and
on back to the info center parking lot.
sign of Tim, I suspected he had gone on to the top of the trail, but
I decided to rest a few minutes before making the short, steep climb
to the trailhead. This proved to be a wise decisions, since he
appeared a minute later, tired but well exercised.
We drove the
short distance down the road and in on the dirt road that lead to
our chosen camping spot, and got set up. The campground does not
allow generator use after 7 p.m., which is just the time people are
going inside and watching TV and kicking back, so I wanted to get
away to a secluded spot where we would not have that limitation.
It was still
cloudy and as we were putting the awning up, we had a few hail
stones, and a few drops of rain (and of course, the wind that had
stopped only for the morning rain). However, there was no further
rain, and the clouds opened up to reveal some blue sky. We hiked up
to the lower entry to the canyon to take some more pictures and see
if there was anything we had missed as we hiked through there
The rest of
the day remained quite windy, so we did not build a fire as we had
hoped, but we were able to sit outside next to the motor home and be
out of the wind most of the time.
brought some steaks, and set up the barbecue around 3 p.m. or so,
which caused it to start raining immediately. He moved it under the
awning and we finished fixing dinner, which we ate inside out of the
planned to spend another day and come home on Wednesday, April 14.
The weather was sunny with only a very light breeze Tuesday morning,
but we realized we had done everything we wanted to do in that area.
We did some short walks, read and talked, and then got ready to go
about noon, planning to stop at an RV park on the way home.
check the temperature as much as I usually do, but the lowest
recorded was 41 degrees the second night. Late in the evening it was
in the high 40s, and the daytime temperatures were probably around
60, although it felt cooler due to the wind.
and had a late lunch/early dinner at Peggy Sue's
Diner, just east of
Barstow off I-15, then went on to Boron, where I had stayed on my
previous trip. We got the RV parked and I was bringing something in
from an outside storage compartment when Tim warned me about the
bees. Yes, next to our space was a tree that contained a hive of
bees, with hundreds of them buzzing about. We moved to a different
location, and spent the rest of the evening with our usual
We got under
way about 8:30 Wednesday morning and arrived home in the early
afternoon. Our search for cactus blossoms was mostly unsuccessful,
although we did see one, which I think was a mound
cactus, with a
number of nice blossoms. There were a few Joshua trees and Mojave
yucca in bloom, but most of the flowers we saw were non-cactus
plants. Many of the annuals, perennials and bushes have very small
flowers, and most non-spiny plants in the desert have very small
leaves, to help conserve moisture. There had been a good rainfall
this winter, so there were lots of green grass and plants, and
overall it was a very worthwhile trip.
Estel, April 2010
to the Desert Part II
After I sent out my
report on my trip to the Mojave National Preserve in March I got an
Email from my friend Janell saying "I want to go camping in the
So being an accommodating
sort of guy, we set out on May 28, the start of Memorial Day
weekend, for my third desert trip in as many months. Since there had
been no flowers in March and few in April, it was our hope that May
would finally be the right time.
Janell had to work Friday
morning, so we didn't get started till about 1 p.m. I did not want
to try to make it all the way that late in the day, so we stayed
overnight in Barstow. This allowed us to arrive at the Mojave
Preserve fairly early in the day. There is a nice campground there,
but they don't allow generators after 7 p.m., so I wanted to stay at
the spot Tim and I camped at in April. Since this is an obvious
camping spot not far off the main road, it was no surprise to find
it already occupied. We continued down the dirt road another quarter
mile or so and found another level spot that had been used for
camping in the past, as indicated by the fire ring.
As expected, the weather
was much warmer, around 80 degrees, but there was a good breeze
nearly all the time, and it was always comfortable to sit outside in
the shade. Also as expected, the nights cooled off considerably.
When we drove in, there
were no flowers immediately noticeable, except for some bushes with
yellow blossoms, which we saw everywhere we went. However, we soon
learned that walking around paid off and was the way to find
flowers. Our first discovery was a cholla with green
flowers, which I
think is a rare color for blossoms. The various cholla had several
different blossom colors, ranging from green to yellow to
also spotted several other cactus plants, which I am pretty sure were
hedgehog and mound cactus, with bright red or pink
Each time we went walking
around we found some different kinds of flowers, including some very
interesting and unusual blossoms on small
shrubs. These bushes had been
mostly bare and lifeless-looking on my earlier visits.
We were about a mile from
any access to the infamous Ring Trail, so we saved that for the
following day. We decided to go there and to the Hole in the Wall
Info Center, then head north and across to the paved road that goes
through Kelso and back out to I-40 (the opposite direction I took
when I went there with Tim).
Having hiked the Ring
Trail both up and down, I decided the best way to do it this time
was to have Janell do
it, while I walked back to the motor home and
drove around to the parking area at the trail's upper end. Just as I
had in March, Janell had a little trouble with the top of the first
section of rings, but made it through and finished the hike in
triumph. We walked the guided nature trail next to the campground,
spent a short time at the information center, and headed north on
Black Canyon Road, which turns to dirt just past the campground.
Apparently I had
already forgotten how rough this road was, as well as the east-west
section (Cedar Canyon Road) that took us back to the pavement. The bouncing
caused a cupboard door to come open, and a vodka bottle to come
bouncing out, and if we had not stopped it would have been followed
shortly by the satellite converter that is in that cupboard. We took
it very slow and managed to make it through, although I found a
couple of screws on the floor. I still haven't determined if they
came out of the motor home, or were left over from the satellite
Our camping area was
located at 4,500 feet, and this trip took us up over a 5,900 foot
pass, where there are junipers
growing, but as we descended to the
north-south Kelbaker Road, we dropped below 3,000 feet and
experienced higher temperatures and not much breeze. The Kelso Depot
(visitor center) 15 miles down the road was a welcome site, and we
spent some time looking around, as well as having lunch at the
sandwich counter there. The food was good, nothing special, but they
had the best iced tea I can ever recall having in a restaurant.
There are no camp grounds
in this area, so as I did the previous month, we drove down to I-40
and on to Boron for the night. This put us less than five hours from
home, but we made a few stops the next day, and despite a 9 a.m.
start, didn't get back to Fresno till around 5. Our first stop was at
Murray Family Farms at the foot of Tehachapi Grade which has a huge variety of
fruits and vegetables. I came away with berries, apricots and corn.
Then we stopped at the
Bravo Cheese Factory near Visalia, which features a similar
selection along with many cheeses, a gift shop, and lots of old
artifacts to look at. We ate lunch here, and of course, had to bring
home some cheese and other items.
The desert is not
something everyone enjoys, but Janell has long been a big fan, and
greatly enjoyed the cactus, flowering bushes and dramatic rocks and
mountains. Even after two visits I also found new things to
appreciate, but it will probably be a few years before I return -
and future trips will NOT involve driving a motor home over the
Black Canyon Road.
--Dick Estel, July 2010