My last trip was too short, so I decided to take another one. Dan, the best neighbor someone could ask for, volunteered to watch the dogs. I had planned on taking them with me, and though I missed them once or twice, it was so nice to only have to worry about myself for a while. It also made it easier while staying with others who had pets or small children and cheaper at hotels.
I like to pack (or prepare) for three days before a trip…or at least that’s what ends up happening. I was ready to leave at 5:00pm yesterday, but that would’ve left me driving in the dark, so I had a burrito and beer with my neighbor and then went to the theater to watch Now You See Me with a friend. I had trouble sleeping and was on the road as soon as the sun was supposed to be on the horizon (SoCal’s fog/smog mornings). I was hoping to enjoy some sunshine without traffic.
I plan on taking all the time I want (up to a month) to see everything, but quickly remember that it’s impossible to see it all and that is why I am constantly looking (and traveling new roads and planning different destinations). Usually we set out to see one place or a list of things and that mindset can block our eyes from other sights in the area and along the way because we are set on having time for this one activity.
I’m enjoying the no-set-plans travel. Last time it was a turn around date and this time it was a turn around location – Oak Harbor, WA with a possible drive into Canada and/or flight into Alaska. I made a list of a few suggestions of things to see and roads to take, but leave it to chance that things will change in the moment and that I’m willing to take a detour based on someone’s suggestion or lack of follow through.
I’m off to a healthy start in the morning with two donuts from 7-11. I’m driving by a lake and thinking about how great it would be to put my feet in the water. I turn on the next road and park in front of a lady’s house with little barking dogs and make my way to the Salton Sea. It’s a good thing I put my shoes on (in case the rocks were hot) because the beach is made up of fish skeletons that have died from the salinity of the largest lake in California (by area).
With that idea gone, I take some pictures of the birds (mostly pelicans) before making my way into the rocky desert that is Joshua Tree National Park. I drive through Mecca, known by me, for their delicious grapes. I just expected to see some trees, the same ones I have seen before on the road side with some dusty shrubs nearby, but what I got was a meeting of the deserts – Mojave and Colorado – offering a glimpse into what their climate supports.
There are cacti that look like caterpillars when all the blooms are shriveled and tan. In a tree is a small bunch of mistletoe (thought that was a Christmas thing) that adds a nice touch of green to its brown surroundings – and provides a major food source for the phainopepla, a black crested bird, that breeds in two habitats – desert and woodlands. There are other plants with green bean, mini-dudhi, and pea-shaped fruits.
Up the road, for the first time and not the last, is a person with a vest on and a stop sign in hand. I’m in no hurry, so I can appreciate the ‘up to 30 minute delay’ to stop and see the scenery. I talk with the construction guy about work and travel; he has long days in the heat now and looks forward to returning home further north. There is a couple visiting from the Netherlands and they are just as excited to experience everything that’s offered.
With the 13 miles of construction, we are forced to follow the pilot car past the Cholla Cactus Garden – and I know it was worth a stop, but just another reason to return. We also drive by Fried Liver Wash and I can imagine more parts would cook the longer someone is out in this heat, but it’s where I want to be. Next stop, Skull Rock which seems to be laying down and peeking out of the dirt. Some climbing on his back offers some more views.
Rock climbing is a popular activity here with the availability of some short excursions, but not something I will be doing today. I’ve got a few hikes planned. I head out to Lost Horse Mine (two miles one-way) with the expectations, because of a ranger, of being able to touch something or get a picture, stamp, or rubbing. The hike was great – lots of ups and downs, some critters, few people, new plants, and an expanded view of the landscape.
The mine is surrounded with a tall chain-link fence as some guys that arrived before felt it necessary to leave their name and take part of the experience away from the rest of us. I wanted to climb the stairs and imagine being a miner in 1850. The day only seemed to get hotter and I continued drinking my water. I had 100 ounces in my Camelbak and a gallon jug in the car waiting to be used. Down to Keys View, change out of my sweaty boots, and see the San Andreas Fault Zone in the Coachella Valley.
Also seeing the Salton Sea, smog, and Gorgonio Mountain (tallest in southern California) from this view is a family of three generations – the fourth (wife with kid) had gone home today. How neat to be able to spend time like that with family. I know it can be hard for most to make it through a holiday dinner. I have a lunch of sunflower seeds and cherries then change into my tennis shoes from my slip-ons – glad I brought three pairs.
My next hike would be the Barker Dam, a 1.3 mile loop around an area that sometimes has water. Today the dam will be holding dirt and hikers anxious to explore and see the valley from every angle. Those hikers are music majors – seven of them wanting to play in the best orchestra when they graduate and one that wants to teach. We talked for a bit near the petroglyphs and then carried the conversation back to the parking lot. They are camping for the night and I decide to leave Hidden Valley Trail for another visit.
There is an Indian Restaurant in the town of Joshua Tree that sells pizza, subs, and burger along with Indian food and salads. I wish I would’ve been hungry, but perhaps I still could’ve checked the place out for its vast selections. Caleb calls as I’m stopping to take a picture of a house near Lucerne Valley. I will stop in Barstow around 7pm for gas and make a sandwich on me and the backseat (breadcrumbs and almond butter) for dinner.
I make it to Red Rock Canyon State Park Ricardo Campground where I will watch the sun set and plan to spend the night. I notice the $25 fee and figure it will be worth it to lay under the stars and then walk the trails in the morning. I pull into Site 5 and get out the tent. I see three possible spots and pick the best one as the wind decides to pick up. I find large rocks to hold the tent down while I attempt to assemble it.
Then comes the hard part – trying to put aluminum tent stakes into a rock with the wind blowing. I know I need my tent secure or I risk suffocating in the night. I struggle a moment longer before hoping to find a better spot. I saw some lights on the other side of the one-way loop and as I drive over there realize I’m in an RV campground and it’s pointless to try again. I fold the tent up and get back on the road in the dark.
Not too far down is a OHV (off highway vehicle) site that I pull into. I was looking forward to stretching out, but at least I can still see the stars. I crack the windows and climb in the backseat. Now I’m more grateful that I brought a real pillow and not just my camping one. My headlamp will begin to attract some bugs, but not so many that I can’t write some notes and read a chapter before going to sleep.
Today’s travels would take me a distance of 450 miles in 14 hours making me average 32 miles per hour. My route: 5N, 54E, 94E, 8E, 86N, 195E, 62W, 247N, 58W, and 14N. A goal of mine is to avoid major highways when possible – the more dirt and curves the better. Highways may lead you to great places, but you are bound to miss a lot along the way. I notice I feel more stressed after driving on a highway – billboards and assholes aren’t that conducive to a vacation feel. I can understand why those that don’t like to drive prefer to fly – they go from home to holiday and back again with no in-between.