Oysters, Frogs, Strawberries and Champagne

by Gary Hawkins, May 3, 2018 

For Mummy's 25th (again) birthday we headed to Agua Caliente County Park, CA. Famous for its hot springs, the park is located 26 miles north of Ocotillo on S2 (also known as the Great Southern Overland Stage Route of 1849 - now that's a mouthful!).

When coming here, make sure you have everything you need foodwise. The nearest place for dinner is Julian, which is a fifty-minute drive.

Agua Caliente Country Park - Getting Ready for the Spa

We all took advantage of the hot springs, although unfortunately Xaria was not allowed in the heated spa. Springs, like Agua Caliente, are one of the few places you can find desert frogs! Shrieks of joy from Xaria indicated she'd located one near the Children's Pool.  Their constant nighttime chirping was particularly relaxing - it almost felt as if we were back in Bermuda.

Birthday Dinner at the Julian Grille, Julian, CA

Although we had plenty of food, the galeforce winds in the area made cooking impossible on our outside kitchen during our first evening. Therefore, we drove back into Julian and had an excellent meal at the Julian Grill - a favorite haunt of ours. Xaria loved the spaghetti and meatballs, and soon sauce was all over her face!

The following morning Xaria decided to try Mum's makeup - she's going to need some practice!

Xaria Tries a Little Rouge at Agua Caliente County Park

Slapping on the Rouge

Xaria With Her Makeup Done at Agua Caliente Country Park

We did our first off-roading to the Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves.  Arroyo Tapiado in Spanish means “walled wash,” and this is where you find the caves. Reputed to be one of the most extensive mud cave systems in the world, they contain twenty-two caves and nine slot canyons.   We only ventured part the way in - this is an unstable environment and signs of mud falls where apparent in several places. These caves can be dangerous so proceed with caution. 

The Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves Near Agua Caliente Country Park

On the way back from the caves, we visited the quirky Red Feather Off-Road Market & Cafe in Ocotillo. Only open till 2 pm daily, this place serves great breakfast or burgers. The owner is a former Motocross rider, and the walls are covered in pictures of fellow competitors from the 70s and 80s.  There are also a number of bikes on display. Since Dad is a motorcycle fan, we spent some time looking at the memorabilia, and Xaria had a chance to sit on her first dirt bike.

Xaria and Dad at the Red Feather Cafe, Ocotillo, CA

While in Ocotillo, we also visited the Imperial Valley Desert Museum. This is a relatively new facility in the heart of the Yuha Desert housing Native American and historic artifacts found within the Imperial Valley.  It's well worth spending a little time here, and it was our only chance to get up close and personal with a bighorn sheep on this trip.

Big Horn Sheep at the Imperial Valley Desert Museum, Ocotillo, CA

One of Dad's favorite spots in this desert area is Little Blair Valley. A renowned dark area, this is a fantastic location to bring a telescope. Unfortunately, this weekend the moon was full and there was a good deal of cloud cover. I'm sure we will be back here later in the year for a little stargazing.  Xaria took a stroll across the dry lake that forms the bottom of the valley.

Xaria in the Grass at Little Blair Valley

On the evening of Mummy's birthday, we sheltered in the tent from the still gusting wind; the wind advisory remained in effect for the next eight hours.  Dad brought champagne, strawberries and dark chocolate - yummy!  Xaria wished Mum Happy Birthday in traditional style.

For our final day in the Yuha Desert, we headed to an area known as the Oyster Beds.  Found south of I8, after taking the Dunaway Road exit east of Ocotillo, off-road on Rt.274 (Anza Trail) before heading to the Shellmounds on Rt 346. There is considerable soft-sand in places, so 4-wheel drive is recommended. The Oyster Beds was once a shallow inland sea that has been exposed by the shifting continents. Dating from the late Miocene period, 6 million-year-old fossils can be readily found and may be collected in small quantities.  As Xaria's pre-school class was focussing on dinosaurs in May, we took the opportunity to gather a few petrified oysters and other shells.

Shell Collecting at the Oyster Beds East of Ocotillo, CA

Dad shows Xaria a Petrified Oyster

Shell Collecting at the Oyster Beds Near Ocotillo, CA

Petrified Seashells At the Shellmounds

While the facilities at the Agua Caliente County Park are good, be aware that most of the 140 campsites are close together and the park get's very crowded over weekends in the winter. We chose to arrive after the weekenders had gone, sharing the campground with only four or five other RVs.  Due to high temperatures, the park is closed Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend.

About to Break Camp at Agua Caliente Country Park

Breaking Camp - A fantastic Way to Spend Mummy's Birthday!

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