I often counsel new full-timers that there are only a few places in the continental US where you can go for “guaranteed” warm weather all winter. Those places are south Florida, southern Arizona, and the southern California desert. It’s fairly temperate along much of the California coast and a few other coastal spots too. But for those who are “chasing 72 degrees” there really are no guarantees, as we’ve discovered this week in the southern California desert.
Normally we get 60s and 70s by day here, with nights in the 40s. The weather this past week has been unusually cold and there’s no sign of much improvement during our scheduled stay. In the sunshine it’s not bad even though the air is only about 50 degrees (and cooler in the shadowy canyons and palm oases that we favor during hikes). Immediately after sunset, the air plunges into the 40s and dips below freezing by morning. We’ve been running the Airstream’s heat pump in the evenings, then switching over to the silent catalytic heater for peaceful sleeping. This is the first camping trip that I can remember having to leave the catalytic heater on its highest setting (9,000 BTUs) all night.
This means layering clothes is the key to comfort. We knew this during our packing stage and brought the right clothes, so we’re fine. On our hike through Palm Canyon yesterday afternoon, I started with two layers on top, the midway through the uphill hike I got warm and shed a layer. Then when we paused to sit on the cold rocks and have a snack while watching a waterfall, I got cold and put two layers back on. I had a ski hat in my bag too, just in case.
Back at the Airstream my job was to grill hamburgers for five people out on the picnic table by the dim light of two railroad kerosene lamps (and my headlamp). The temperature plummeted as usual, and so before the grill was even lit at 6 p.m. I had to go back into the trailer and load up on serious clothes plus the ski hat. It’s a little challenging grilling in the dark and near-freezing temperatures, but fortunately I have experience from our life in Vermont. All that was missing was a few inches of snow — something that Borrego Springs has rarely seen.
We haven’t let the cold change our activities, except that we aren’t spending quite as much time outside after sunset. The desert here is still very beautiful and full of surprises, and there’s much we want to see. We’ll pack the bags with extra layers of clothes again today and head out for some exploration.