Hits and Misses in the California High Desert

(Fear not, loyal reader… after a brief hiatus when celebrating Christmas and the New Year with our families took priority over blogging, we’re back. We WILL continue sharing our trip and we’ll hopefully finish before memories start to fade. Thanks for sticking with us and for your patience!)

Our last night spent in California was a stop at the KOA in Barstow, in the high desert enroute to Nevada. The scenery was beautiful and despite the desert climate, the campground has successfully kept shade trees alive in each of the campsites. Much to Emelie’s delight, the pool was still open, though even she was quick to admit that the water was a bit cold for swimming. To her credit, she stayed in a lot longer than the rest of us wanted to.

IMG_2493That’s right ladies! He cooks, too!

IMG_2492The trees add both shade and a bit of privacy. Functional and pretty!

IMG_2491Beautiful desert sunset
IMG_2487

The campground was a short distance from the Calico Ghost Town. After having driven past several similar “ghost towns” and judging them to be tourist traps and not worth the price of admission, we decided to give this one a chance. We were leaving California, after all, and it seemed reasonable to spend a little time exploring the remains of one of the mining towns that brought civilization to this fair state.

So we braced ourselves for a tourist trap and were prepared to pay the price of admission that was listed in the brochure. We headed there right at opening time in the morning, since we planned to drive from there to Las Vegas later in the day. What we’d failed to anticipate was that we were visiting a ghost town in mid-October… and Halloween is apparently their favorite holiday. Go figure.

We were there on a Friday morning just before their big Halloween Festival weekend. Since the festival officially began on Friday, the admission prices were increased. With a deep sigh, we paid the price of admission and headed in. Most of the place and most of the employees were fully occupied with festival preparations. Ordinary buildings and exhibits were transformed into haunted houses. Emelie still gets scared and refuses to watch most animated movies. There was no way we were taking her into a haunted house. And besides, what we wanted to see were the preserved mines and buildings, and they weren’t going to be visible anyway. The only places that really were open were the stores, of course, selling all manner of overpriced useless items. There was a little train that you could ride, which of course cost extra, but we had to do something while we were there and the kids loved it.

IMG_2495Largest silver mining camp in California, 1881-1896

IMG_2507We climbed up the hill and got this overview of the town

IMG_2499One of the few “exhibits” that was open, the old fire hall with this old fire truckIMG_2501They were also prepared for a bucket line in case of fire. I guess when you’re mining in the desert you can’t be too prepared.

IMG_2503Because no tourist trap is complete without things to put your face in to take pictures. I think my favorite thing about this picture is that her knees are sticking out where the hand holes are.

IMG_2517Apparently decorating for the festival is primarily comprised of covering everything in a weird net-thing and tying skeletons to every post. Are old looking nets scary? Or do they throw them on the guests later after dark? That would be scary.

IMG_2519 Here I come to save the day! Trains are always fun!

IMG_2520An unusual kind of train car. But there we are!

All of this to say that we were a bit disappointed with our visit to Calico Ghost Town. It may be a better family experience at other times of the year, and even the Halloween Festival may be more fun when it’s in full swing. (They kept saying that it would be crowded and lots of fun later if we would stay longer.) But there is fun to be had just about anywhere when you’re on an adventure with the people you love.

Campground Review: Barstow/Calico KOA

Price: $32/night
Location: Beautiful location, but not close to anything except Calico Ghost Town. A reasonable distance to break up the drive from San Diego to Las Vegas.
Facilities: Great pool (though cold in October) and playground facilities, bathrooms adequate, but over air conditioned and freezing cold inside.
Site-description: Desert sand and gravel, shaded with trees
Neighborhood: Predominantly the retired RVer crowd, but a few other families when we were there
Website: http://koa.com/campgrounds/barstow/ 
Comments: There aren’t many options for camping in this area. Calico Ghost Town also has a campground, but it costs more than the KOA and doesn’t look nearly as nice… no trees, for example. If you find yourself at the KOA watch out of the cacti. There was a decorative cactus garden near the bathroom, and despite our warnings, Emelie’s curiosity got the better of her. That evening was spent with tweezers, a headlamp and a very unhappy girl. She kept complaining about how much it hurt, even after we cleaned her up, so Staffan decided to go touch the same cactus to see if she was exaggerating. He decided she wasn’t.

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