We were awoken by the howling wind in the night, but a weak sun rose in the morning and chased away the mist to give a clear, bright but breezy day. We left at 9 o’clock and drove back to the previous junction on the I8 and then the couple of miles south to the Mexican border at Almagodes. We had to pay $5 to park on the US side, but had heard that this was a pleasant little Mexican town, and it certainly was.
Tuesday 9th December 5 miles
A cold start, but beautiful blue sky all day. We left at 9.30 (8.30 - but by the time we got to Phoenix we were back on the right time!) We found our way easily to the storage place, where they were very efficient and swift, so we had no time to contemplate!
We were driven to San Diego airport by a pleasant employee (Mexican, from Tijuana), and this meant that we were very early. We were well and truly ‘done over’ by security - they have certainly gone over the top now.
I had a coffee, and we shared a ‘scone’ while reading a US paper which Adrian had bought.
San Diego is a pleasant airport, with nice mosaic type pictures and many exhibits. We passed the time reading while we were waiting for our 1 hour 10 minute flight to Phoenix.
Visibility was wonderful, and we looked down from the plane on to huge areas of desert, which didn’t seem anything like the area that we had driven through. All we were given on the flight was a drink - I had tomato juice, so at Phoenix we were glad of a sandwich which I had made.
We had to collect our baggage and book in again, which was tiresome. A real plus was seeing an exhibition of ‘Satelite Image Art’, which was really lovely.
We shared a pizza and a cup of tea and saw the glorious colours as the sun set outside while we waited for our flight to Heathrow.
We were lucky to have window seats, with a spare one next to us. We saw the lights of Phoenix as we took off, and were later served a pleasant meal, which I actually ate all of. We watched a film ‘Night of the Iguana’ with Richard Burton, Deborah Kerr and Ava Gardner, which was enjoyable. Adrian watched more films, but I read some of our new Lonely Planet book on the Baja.
As we neared Ireland, it became light, but it was cloudy. It cleared as we flew down over England, but by the time we got to Heathrow, we had run into thick fog. We lost all the time we had gained by our good flight (a lot of tail winds, which meant having the seat belt sign on a lot) in being stacked for half an hour waiting to land. Then, because of the fog, lots of planes had not taken off, so we couldn’t dock. It was very aggravating waiting on the runway for another hour, with seat belts fastened, particularly as it meant that we missed our airport bus to Savacentre.
It was now 1.30 English time. We collected our luggage and made our way to the bus stop, and were able to get a bus at 2.10. This meant us arriving at Savacentre at 3.15, so Adrian had rung several taxi firms before one could help us, as it was school pick-up time. Even this one couldn’t come until 4 o’clock. We had just dozed off as we neared Savacentre, so luckily another person was getting off there, because being ‘extras’ on this bus we weren’t on the drivers list and he hadn’t realised that we were getting off there. (They have now stopped having ‘assistants’ on the buses and the driver said he didn’t have time to look at the destinations on tickets!)
We did a bit of shopping in Savacentre while we were waiting - always a horrible experience when we arrive feeling half dead! Our taxi driver drove us home to Hermitage through the thick fog, which did actually clear a bit as we got to Yattendon. We arrived home at 4.30, to a freezing cold house, as Rosemarie can’t have got our message to put the heating on. We felt like going straight back!
Why, Arizona to San Diego, California
Friday 21st November 200 miles
We saw the sun rise on to another beautiful day. Joe and Irene left at 7.45 and came to say goodbye. It had been good to have met up with them. We had pancakes for breakfast and left about 8.40. We drove back to the road and parked in the picnic area opposite. Irene had suggested a walk to the little rocky outcrop here, so we attempted that. It was a good start to the day. We now headed back north, stopping by the attractive green square in Ajo, and shopping in the supermarket there. Although it looked clean and tidy, there was not much of a selection of food that we wanted, so we bought a minimal amount.
We continued to a rest area 10 miles south of Gila Bend and had coffee. There was a shelter here, but no tables! Afterwards we had showers in the Bam, hoping to get more water at Gila Bend at the Texaco station that Joe had told us about. We had a lot of trouble finding it, which wasn’t surprising, as it is now a Shell station!
We got water and dumped, then parked on a waste bit of ground to have lunch. Afterwards we got some petrol at a busy Loves Petrol Station before heading west on the I8 across the flat desert to Yuma. This large town is on the border with Mexico and California and is where hundreds of RVers come to spend the winter. Joe and Irene had suggested a couple of free places here that we could stay at. We decided to drive through the town and head out the other side, just into California. We crossed the Colorado River, which had just been joined by the Gila River.
We were looking for a turn-off to a road that Irene had mentioned. However, when we saw several RVs parked on a bit of land near the motorway we thought that we would join them. We found a spot, and I made a cup of tea. Adrian was busy with the computer, so I sat on the back step. At that point a train went by opposite, followed by one in the other direction. We decided that it would be too noisy for us here, so set off again on the I8.
We found the road that we wanted, but not before we had been through a border check!
The free camping bit was down 1.6 miles of desert road, so we negotiated that and settled in once more - now 5 o’clock so Adrian soon lit the barbecue.
We saw the sun go down, but it wasn’t a great sunset tonight. Later it was cloudy, so no stars.
We were glad to be further away from the motorway and the railway, so that the noise didn’t disturb us, but we were woken in the night by the sound of the wind howling!
BLM Land Sidewinder Rd, Yuma
A long American train
Looks a nice desert sunset to me!
The streets and arcades were full of gift shops selling jewellery and knick knacks, with Mexicans touting for business everywhere. As in Laredo, there were dentists, opticians and drug stores by the thousand. We just enjoyed wandering around. I had wondered why many of the stalls were just setting up, when we spied a clock, and realised that it was 9 o’clock, not 10 o’clock! California time was the same, but we will be going back into Arizona for a few more days, so ignored the time difference.
We stopped at a little bakery and both enjoyed a pastry, but the drink we bought did not resemble either tea or coffee! We bought 2 large fresh rolls to eat later for lunch, and proudly showed them to the customs chap on our return when he asked what we had bought! (Actually we bought a pretty little purse for Ruby too).
We got back to the parking area at 11 (or 10) o’clock, having thoroughly enjoyed our visit. By now, Americans were arriving in their masses.
We drove back into Yuma and located the library quite easily. We had another email ready to send, and we had a few to read. Tom had emailed us about a tragic shooting incident in Hermitage, so we were able to find out more about that from the BBC website he had given us. We didn’t know the people involved - it was a domestic affair - but being so close to home it gave us a very unpleasant and sad feeling.
We now found our way to Albertsons, which we had passed yesterday, as we needed to stock up again. On the way Adrian stopped to get some fuel, but they didn’t like his card, so we got some at Walmart on the way out later.
Almagodes - a quick trip back into Mexico
Mittry Lake, Arizona
Sunday 23rd November 157 miles
We saw the sun come up on another day of clear blue sky but with a cool wind. The water of the lake looked very lovely as we left at 9 o’clock.
Route map for California
We had decided to continue on this unsurfaced road, in the hope that it would come out and join up with the 95 north, which we wanted. Luckily it did, and it was very pleasant driving up beside the canal. We even saw what we thought was a coyote.
We now headed for Quartzite, through desert country, with the barren mountains of Kofa Wildlife Refuge to our right. We stopped at mile 99 for coffee. Quartzite is a small town of 2100 residents, in the summer, but where a million ‘Snowbirds’ in their RVs come to spend the winter. It is the ‘Mecca’ of boondocking (freebies) in the USA and this was one of the many free camping areas, (there are also 50 RV Parks). Although there were a lot of RVs around, many more must arrive in December or January.
We continued into Quartzite, where there is very little to see, but we had been surprised at how attractive the setting is, with picturesque mountains surrounding the ‘town’. We got some petrol and propane (where the pleasant and efficient attendant, from Maine, chatted to Adrian), then we drove north a few miles to look at the camping area there. We thought that we ought to spend one night in the area, so headed out on a ‘scenic drive’ towards Bouse. We stopped at a so-called viewpoint and walked briefly across the desert to an intaglio marker and back. We had lunch in the Bam a bit further along the road, enjoying the lovely desert views.
At Bouse we took the road south, stopping first to look at some tanks and markers about Americans battalions who trained near here then set out to join the other forces in Europe during the 2nd World War.
The road back to Quartzite took us through a place called Brenda, where we just had to take a photo (for Mike B)! Now there are just a couple of RV parks here, and the ruins of some old wooden buildings of what once must have been the town.
Rosie in the Arizona desert near Bouse
Back in Quartzite we called in to a shop looking for barbecue fuel, but there was none suitable so we continued to the parking area at mile 112, just north of the town. The friendly, chatty camp host gave us our permit, then we found ourselves a spot on the edge of this vast area of desert.
We had time to sit outside with a cup of tea, sheltered from the wind, enjoying the last of the sun. We walked out briefly across the desert before coming in.
We enjoyed a meal of red snapper fish, which Adrian cooked on the stove outside.
Rosie at Brenda
Monday 24th November 57 miles
There was a blue sky with high, thin cloud, but it had been very cold in the night, and the day never became really warm. We left at 9.20 and drove through Quartzite. We couldn’t find our street map of the town, but luckily saw a sign to Hi Jolly’s grave, which we had wanted to see. Hi Jolly (Hadji Ali) had been born in Syria in 1828, and was brought out by the US government in the 1850’s to test camels in the desert as a means of transport. He became a well loved figure, although the camel scheme was deemed a failure, but not through any fault of his. Our free campsite last night was called ‘Hi Jolly’.
Tuesday 25th November 114 miles
We awoke to see the beautiful light on the water, and immediately got the camera. We had breakfast watching the coots (one preening itself), swallows and a grebe. We left at 9 o’clock - 8.00 by California time. Our lady was just preparing to go off in her canoe.
We drove through very dry desert scenery, with the barren mountains in the distance. We were amused to pass a huge area fenced off with barbed wire with signs saying ‘tortoise habitat’!
Beautiful early morning on the Colorado River
We came to the small ‘town’ of Glamis - just a conglomeration of RVs looking like a car boot sale - and were then into an area of sand dunes. To the south side of the road was the Imperial Recreation Area, and the thing to do was to drive your sand buggy over the dunes. The area to the north of the road was a ‘wilderness area’, looking just the same, but without the tyre tracks. There were ‘no parking’ signs everywhere, so we were pleased to see signs to an ‘overlook’. However, when we got there, it was closed from 21st to 30th November! We stopped anyway, and took some photos.
We were soon out of the dune area, and into flat, agricultural land, where, with the help of irrigation, cotton and other crops were being grown.
We came to the large agricultural town of Brawley, where we intended turning north, but we located the library first, as Adrian wanted to order some things to be sent to us ‘Post Restante’. It just happened that the library didn’t open until midday on Tuesday!
We continued north, stopping at a picnic area, sitting outside in the lovely warm sunshine. There was an unpleasant smell around, and we realised as we drove on that it was from the hundreds of cattle in the intensive farms - it was enough to put me right off beef. The neighbouring dry fields were covered with little egrets - even they didn’t go near the cattle!
We came to the tiny place of Niland, another ‘Snowbirds’ area, although we didn’t see them. In the small line of shops there was a laundrette, right next to the library, so while Adrian used the internet, I did the washing. His quest of ordering things was unsuccessful, but we did have some messages. We had our lunch soon afterwards beside Wister Wildlife area - we didn’t go into the picnic area there, as it was a ‘fee area’.
Just beyond was Bombay Beach, on Salton Sea, a large inland lake 235ft below sea level. This area appeared to be being developed, but we did stop long enough to walk by the salty, mucky looking water, with the shore encrusted with barnacles.
A few miles north we stopped at Salt Creek Beach, Salton Sea State Park, another camping area beside this large lake. Although the water was still grubby, and too cool for swimming or paddling, the setting was lovely, and we decided to stop for the night. The sun was beautifully warm as we sat out watching the gulls and other water birds. We thought that this was the time to put out the awning and relax. It was really peaceful, with just the occasional train to disturb the peace. Thus we spent the rest of the afternoon, enjoying a beer for the first time in weeks, and later having a barbie, sitting outside. We had watched the sun go down magically, and a tiny moon, which sank again after a short while. Despite the mist (smog?) of earlier, the stars were good. It was a place to put into our memory.
Imperial Recreation Area near Glamis, California
Magic at Salton Sea
Wednesday 26th November 75 miles
As the sun came up, we watched birds flying over the water, but despite the sun, it was cool outside, so we breakfasted inside and left just after 9 o’clock our time.
We passed several more campsites as we drove up beside Salton Sea towards North Shore. Here things changed dramatically - what a difference irrigation makes! We passed groves of palm trees, fields of orange trees, and vines by the thousand.
At Mecca we turned off to what seemed to be called Box Canyon, and what a difference again. We drove through a long pass between arid, completely barren rock cliffs. It would appear that the river had flowed through here fairly recently, completely filling the valley floor (including the road) - we were glad not to be travelling through then!
The night had been very cold, and despite the beautiful blue sunshine, the wind stayed really cold all day. The sun took a long time to reach our spot, which was annoying, as we had none last night either. It did look lovely shining on the boulders though. I cooked warming eggy bread and bacon for breakfast and we left at our time of 9.20. We had worked out that it will be our 300th night in the Bam tonight, and our 50th this trip.
We drove on through the park, stopping at Skull Rock to walk a short trail, but as so often, the map, directions and actuality didn’t quite tie up! We realised how cold it was - I had worn my gloves, and still my hands were cold!
We drove on to Keys View, and walked the short trail before having our tea and coffee in the Bam. The views from here were wonderful. We could see snow-capped Mt. Gorgonio (11,500ft) in the distance and Mt. San Jacinto (nearly 11,000ft) beyond the wide valley, which San Andreas fault ran the length of. The desert valley floor changed to agricultural lands where it was watered, near Salton Sea, which we could see to the south, and where we had been yesterday.
We crossed the I10 and entered Joshua Tree National Park. This desert park contains a lot more than just Joshua trees (a type of Yucca), which anyway aren’t found in the southerly drier and lower parts. This part is called the Colorado Desert, an offshoot of the Sonoran desert. The higher area to the northwest of the park is part of the Mohave Desert, and is where the Joshua tree grows.
We walked a short trail then had our tea/coffee sitting on the kerb, there being a grand parking area, but no seats! The wind was still cool, and got even cooler as the day went on, and we climbed higher.
We continued to the entrance station - we have now used our $50 National Parks Pass to over double its value! We drove on to Cottonwood Springs where we walked a trail for about 3 miles from this spring, which looked really colourful, up past derelict Mastodon Mine and Winona mill site. It was a pleasant and varied walk, passing lots of interesting granite boulders, and with views over miles of arid desert.
When we got back we drove a short distance to a supposed picnic area, but ate our lunch of enchilados inside because of the cool wind.
We continued driving through the park, passing different desert features, including an area of ocotillos - mostly in leaf, following the rain that must have fallen recently. We walked a short trail through a dense area of teddybear chollas, which looked great with the sun shining through their spines.
Joshua Tree NP
Adrian by an Ironwood tree
We came to White Tank (free in a National Park!) campsite. There was only one space left (tomorrow is Thanksgiving, so a holiday), and this was in the shade. This campsite was set amongst rocks rather like City of the Rocks, each with its own fireplace and picnic table, set amongst the rocks. Unfortunately by now, the wind was so cool, that we won’t be using them! We were glad not to be tent camping, as most here were. We went on a short walk amongst the strange rocks, but were pleased to come inside for a cup of tea and a toasted crumpet!
Teddy Bear chollas
I cooked a nice meal of bacon/pasta with a delicious feta salad. The stars were good tonight too.
White Tank, Joshua Tree NP
Friday 28th November 75 miles
The night wasn’t as cold as the previous one, and the morning was partly cloudy, with a weak sun shining through. It was warm enough (just) to sit outside for breakfast and watch the birds. Adrian did the ‘emptying and filling’, then we tried to find the start of the ‘High View Trail’ which we wanted to walk. As always, the information was sparse, and didn’t quite tie up! We ended up parking in the adjacent ‘horse camp’, and walking back into the campsite. We found out later that the trail did start from the road I had thought, but the sandy track was so rutted that Adrian hadn’t wanted to chance driving it!
Saturday 29th November 203 miles
I had been really cold when we went to bed, but eventually got to sleep and we both woke early. We left before breakfast (we hadn’t any change to pay for the night, so we had a freebie) and drove on through the last of the wilderness before coming to an area of ranches and more tamed land. We had our breakfast at Lake Hemet picnic area, walking down to the lake afterwards, but the air was still cool. Next to us was a large pleasant campsite beside the lake. We left just after 9 o’clock and continued to Idyllwild, a pretty alpine looking mountain resort, reminding us of the Cloudcroft area, and a bit too ‘twee’ for us.
We passed a sign saying ‘icy’, like many we had seen, but this time it really was! At Indian Vista we walked to the viewpoint, looking down to the valley, and by now the sun felt pleasantly warm.
We came to Lake Fulmer, and walked right around this quiet autumnal lake, where several dads were fishing with their sons. We had displayed our National Parks Hologram (Eagle Pass), as this was a ‘pass’ area.
Sunday 30th November 135 miles
Today was a real feast for the senses with the wonderful variety of scenery that we drove through. We left at 8.45 - Walmart carpark had been quiet and useful!
We found our way out of Ridgecrest then drove through flat desert towards the mountains, where a sign saying ‘desert preserve’ made us realise how nice it is to see unspoilt desert, without vehicles carving it up. A coyote ran across in front of us. At Walker Pass, the long distance Pacific Crest Trail crossed the route. We continued through lovely varied mountain scenery, with stunted Joshua trees contrasting with the deciduous trees by the course of the Kern River.
Monday 1st December 109 miles
We left just after 8.30 on a partly cloudy morning, which turned into a beautiful day. We drove into the pleasant looking town of Springville, but knew that the road we wanted to take was just before it. Luckily Adrian saw a map on a board beside the road, and we were able to back track a bit and take the pretty road through the hills. The river seemed to be called the Tule River (North Fork).
We came down to the road 198 and headed towards the Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks, passing numerous groves of orange trees. The small town we came to was almost fittingly called Lemon Cove! Adrian noticed some reasonably priced petrol, so filled up. We were glad later, as there was no petrol in the Park, had we needed it.
We pulled into a picnic area above a reservoir, which was rather low on water, and enjoyed sitting outside, with the warm sun on our backs. The picnic site was called Kaweah, which is the name of the river flowing from Sequoia National Park.
Soon we were into the Park. We stopped at the Visitors Centre, where the ranger, with a voice like Cliff Richard, had a lot to say, and didn’t mind expressing his views.
Just after this we saw a dump and water station, so decided to use the facilities. It was an excellent move, as there were no more in the park open at this time of year.
Tuesday 2nd December 172 miles
Well luckily we didn’t wake up to thick snow, and the night, although cold wasn’t as cold as we had expected. I had woken in the night and seen a clear starry sky - it is always nice to see familiar Orion.
Still, there was ice and snow on the ground! We left at 8.40, intending to drive as far as we could towards Kings Canyon. When we saw how icy the road still was, we decided to walk to the General Grant Tree first.
This giant sequoia (the third largest) has been known as the Nation’s Christmas Tree since 1926, and is held as a living memorial to men and women killed in service to their country.
The trail started not far from our campsite, but it was an icy drive down there. It was still bitterly cold as we walked the short trail through huge sequoias, many named in the late 19th century after prominent people, such as Robert E Lee. The sky was clear blue, and so were my fingers! Still, it was fun to walk through the length of a huge fallen sequoia!
Thursday 27th November 68 miles
While having our coffee, we spotted another trail leading up the adjacent hill, and decided to give it a go, but this time I put on extra trousers against the bitter wind. Other people were arriving now, and one wished us ‘Happy Turkey Day’!
We drove back to the junction with the main road through the park, and here we walked a pleasant short walk amongst the attractive pink boulders, with Joshua trees all around. The rock climbers were beginning to get to work now. A bit further on was Hidden Valley campsite, which we had thought of staying at tonight. That wasn’t to be, as it was packed out with climbers, mostly camping in their little tents. Hardier folk than us! Several were scaling the huge rocks around the campsite.
View down to Salton Sea
Snowcapped Mt Gorgonio in the distance
We drove on a bit further, and set off on another trail - a really lovely walk to Barker Dam, a dammed pond, used in the past by cattle ranchers, and looking a real ‘Oasis in the desert’! However, some of the water on the ground had turned to thick ice! The walk was very varied, and was again through pink boulders and evocative Joshua trees. The sun was at its warmest, and the walk was sheltered, but back by the Bam the wind was still cool, so we ate lunch (including an excellent Waldorf salad which I had made) inside. (Also, there were no picnic tables here!)
We walked one more trail - the Hidden Valley trail, which again was lovely, and we particularly enjoyed the time we were in the sun, and not in the shade of the rocks!
Rocks for the climbers, Joshua Tree NP
We now headed out of the park, driving past huge mounds of smaller pink rocks, and came to the spread-out town called Joshua Tree. We had hoped to pass a place in the park to get water and to dump, but didn’t. We drove east for several miles on a wild goose chase looking for free camping places on our list. When we reached the place where we thought that we could camp, it was in a vast sandy area where driving sand buggies is the thing to do. We didn’t fancy getting either stuck in the sand, or run down by marauding 4x4s, so reluctantly returned through Joshua Tree and found our way to another Park campsite, Black Rock, this one accessed from out of the park, and with a $10 fee. There was nothing for it but to admit defeat and pay up (we have paid for 10 nights this trip, with 40 free ones!) We were lucky to get a spot, as tomorrow night is fully booked (Thanksgiving Weekend).
We looked out past a large Mojave yucca and a Joshua tree to the valley in the distance, and wishing that it was a little warmer so that we could have had a fire outside. I cooked some nice spare rib pork chops which Adrian had bought for supper.
Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree NP
At Palm Desert we turned off onto the 74, winding up again through the barren desert hills to 4,000ft. We stopped at a viewpoint and looked down to the desert floor again from this side, and to Salton Sea in the distance. We entered San Bernadino National Forest, and soon came to a short ‘Vista Trail’, with boards telling about the Cahuilla Indians. It was pleasant being out in the peace of the late afternoon. A bit further on we stopped for the night at Pinyon Flats Campsite, where the sun went down and it became pretty cool.
I cooked a simple spaghetti meal, then wrote some more Christmas cards while Adrian put background music on to the second video.
Rosie on High View Trail
We stopped at Robinson Cove, looking down to Lake Isabella, and enjoyed our tea and coffee sitting on a large log, in the peaceful surroundings. We continued up Kern Canyon, where there were forest campsites everywhere, many of them closed now. We stopped near an area called Chino Flat and walked down to the river, which looked really picturesque and made me think of a Scottish stream. We were now in Sequoia National Forest.
We stopped beside the road, at a point called South Creek falls, where a long waterfall fell away, right beside the road. Now we came into the area of tall redwoods - the Sequoias of the forest’s name. We had climbed up high, and there was a lot of snow around on the ground. The road was winding, and very slow, and we did wonder for a while if we were on the right road!
All was well, and we stopped to photograph this alpine setting, enjoying the wonderful smell of pines. A bit further on we came to the, ‘Trail of the 100 Giants’, a walk through the forest of these enormous trees. The campsites here were closed and there was very little room to park, but we found a spot and ate our lunch in the Bam. We were surprised to see a respectable looking elderly couple putting greenery into the back of their car, despite signs saying that ‘cutting Christmas trees was prohibited’. After our lunch we walked the trail - badly signposted as usual, and with nothing to tell you the length of the trail. The trees were superb though, and we were excited to see what we found out to be a whiteheaded woodpecker, as well as several stellars jays.
Snow on the ground
South Creek Falls
There was more snow around as we drove on, and we were able to stop by a waterfall ‘frozen in mid sentence’ as Emma once described it.
By the giant Sequoias
Now the colours of the trees were dark green, interspersed with orange autumnal oaks. It felt as though the sun was shining, even though it wasn’t. The manzanitas added another texture and colour, with their deep red bark and olive green leaves. Way below was a lovely creek, flowing over white rocks and edged with a sprinkling of golden trees.
A waterfall frozen in mid-sentence!
Orange and green
We came out of the forest (actually called a National Monument at this point) and very soon came to a large layby beside the road. Although still quite early, it was too good to miss, and we had plenty of things we wanted to do. We pulled in and had a cup of tea before getting on with printing, photos, diaries etc.
We were just before Springville, and had just passed Camp Coffee. (along the road is Milo - is there a Bournvita?)
We ate Dover sole for supper, which Adrian had cooked outside.
On the 190 just before Springville
Autumn colours and a pretty creek
Wednesday 3rd December 205 miles
The night was quite cold, and the day started off cloudy. After we left at 8.40 and headed north through the hills it became quite foggy for a while, but luckily cleared by the time we neared Monterey.
We turned off to drive through the delightful old town of St Juan Bautista. We found the Mission, with difficulty, but as we had expected, it wasn’t open yet, and neither was the library - the price we have to pay for keeping our own time!
Soon we found ourselves on the fast roads to Monterey, passing names we remembered from last year - Marina, Sand City and Seaside, which still amused us! We had our coffee on Monterey State Beach, where we had breakfasted last time. A group of ‘locals’ were occupying all the picnic tables having ‘breakfast’, so we sat on the sand, but it felt a bit damp! Afterwards we walked briefly towards Fisherman’s Wharf, utilising the rest of our 20 minutes parking, as we had actually put a quarter in the meter! The sun was shining, but the wind was still cool.
Thursday 4th December 178 miles
The night was cold and noisy with vehicles, and the morning was foggy. We left at 9.15 and continued south on the 101. Luckily the fog cleared after half an hour, and we could see the lovely scenery.
We turned off to drive through St. Luis Obispo as I had wanted to see the mission church. We had driven through the outskirts of St. Luis Obispo last year, when I wasn’t feeling well, and I had no real memory of it. This time we did find the old quarter, and drove past the mission. The only parking was at meters, so we didn’t stop, as it probably wasn’t open anyway at that time of the morning.
Back on the 101 we continued south, turning off on to the 154, hoping to find somewhere for coffee. There was nowhere until we came to Lake Cachuna Reservoir, so here we sat in the warm sunshine at the one picnic table enjoying our tea and coffee and the last of the pumpkin pie.
We drove on through the hills to lovely Santa Barbara. Now this is somewhere I could really take to! Again, we had visited last year, and seen the mission, but this time I had wanted to see the Courthouse. This wasn’t to be though, as all the roads said ‘no left turn’, so it got in the too hard basket! The tree lined main road itself was really pleasant, and not at all ‘over the top’. We were able to park right by the sea, close to the pier, and we ate our sandwiches sitting on a wall by the wide sandy beach, enjoying the warm sunshine. A concrete cycle way ran the length of the beach, and people were going by on all modes of transport - bikes, trikes, tandems, hire ‘fun bikes’, scooters, roller blades, skateboards, invalid vehicle, walking, running (only one or two of each). It seemed a fun and happy place, and was very quiet at this time of year.
We walked across the beach and along as far as the pier, coming back to the road where the palm trees were edged with colourful cyclamen.
Santa Barbara had a nice feel - we liked it! (expensive tastes my wife - but not all expensive places have such a nice feel, e.g. Monterey - ed)
Friday 5th December 137 miles
Saturday 6th December 40 miles
We both had slept well. The night and the morning were mild, and it was greyish as we looked out at the surfers before we left at 9.20. We continued south down the coast, stopping at Las Flores Vista, where there were ground squirrels and lots of birds, including Heermann’s gulls, but it was still misty.
We turned off the Freeway to drive through pleasant Oceanside, where lots of young people were heading for the beach to surf, joining those already there. The town merged with Carlsbad, where we had to collect our post from the post office. Carlsbad had a nice American ‘village’ centre, with an old world feel. We located the post office, and posted a few of our Christmas cards (square ones cost more, as they were irregular!) and collected our mail. We had an Escapees magazine, and - a surprise item - a jury summons for Adrian! We had coffee outside while taking this in! He decided that he was exempt. We were amused by the exempt categories - for ‘over 70’ it said ‘please state if this is permanent or temporary’!
We found the library, and sent our last email, plus one to Rosemarie to ask her to put our heating on. The library made us think of Cairns airport, as it had exotic plants growing in the centre - outside!
We drove on and stopped beside the beach just south of Carlsbad, and ate our lunch sitting on the sand, resting against a wall. It was beautifully warm, so afterwards we lazed and relaxed for a while on this lovely deserted beach.
We drove on through Encinitos to San Elijo State beach, which had a sign saying that it was full. We went in anyway, and waited for about half an hour to see if there was a place for us. We were in luck, as we got the last non-electric site. OK, it was next to the road, and opposite the loos, but we were pleased to find a place on this coast for $13!
We sat out at the picnic table and had a cup of tea, and later walked down along the surfing beach. There was a laundrette, so I did one lot of washing, finishing just in time before it closed at 5 o’clock. Adrian lit the (wood) fire and we sat out to enjoy our chicken meal.
Sunday 7th December 54 miles
The night was mild, but we hadn’t expected to wake to a wet morning! This hadn’t put off the surfers, who were out there in their numbers when we walked over to look out to sea.
We left at 9.30 and continued down the coast, but we couldn’t see much because of the poor visibility. By the time we reached la Jolla, the sun was almost coming out. We were able to park above the sea and walk along to the cliff promontory where dozens of brown pelicans had gathered, along with a few cormorants. It was a very attractive and scenic area.
Monday 8th December 30 miles
It was a partly cloudy but pleasant morning for our last day. We walked on the beach before leaving after 10.00, as we were told that the gate was shut until then.
We drove back over the long Coronado Bridge, then made our way to Old Town San Diego State Park. This was an attractive area of the former old town, where the rebuilt/restored buildings had mostly been turned into craft shops etc. There was a pleasant atmosphere, especially as everywhere was decorated for Christmas, but not many people were about at this hour. All we bought was a tin Christmas ornament of a red and green saguaro cactus and a Butterfield trail newspaper for Val and Mike.
We (I) enjoyed a coffee and we shared a cookie sitting in the sun beside a man playing marimba music.
We now wound up higher and higher, stopping at various viewpoints to admire the splendid scenery, and then coming into the area of the giant sequoias. We turned off, and drove past Tunnel log, which cars could drive through, but we had to go around! We stopped at Crescent Meadows and ate our lunch at a picnic table, but although the sun shone, it was pretty cool this high up! (we stayed between 6500 and 7500 ft all day).There were a lot of birds around, including a nuthatch but I didn’t feel like sitting bird watching!
We drove on to Morro Rock, which we had looked up to from the road far below. You could walk the 400 steps, plus slopes, to the summit. I hid my fear of heights, and we both made it up to the top! The views were tremendous - down to the Kaweah Valley that we had driven up, and beyond, and to a glorious range of snow covered peaks.
Splendid view as we enter Sequoia National Park
Looking to Morro Rock
We came back down, and drove on a bit, stopping to visit the museum, which had a lovely roaring log fire. Outside was a huge sequoia called ‘The Sentinel’, and just beyond it a ‘Big Tree Trail’, which we walked, enjoying our isolation for this wintry walk on a path through the snow covered ground.
Worth the climb to the top of Morro Rock!
We had to stop and look at ‘General Sherman’ - apparently the largest tree in the world. Strange to be looking at something over 2,000 years old.
Now we continued on our drive through the Parks, often with snow beside the road, and we even had a few flakes falling. We knew that the road into King’s Canyon is closed, but not because of snow, which is what Adrian had thought, but because of falling rocks in autumn and winter. Annoyingly, when we came to the viewpoint to it, clouds rolled in, and we couldn’t see anything.
We had been deliberating where to stay tonight, as there is still a bit more of the Parks we want to see. There was one campsite open in this area, but we though $18 rather a lot, and had talked of trying to drive out of the park and returning tomorrow. Then I read a line in the info which read ‘no fee in winter, after water is turned off’! We made our way to Azalea campsite, arriving at about 5 o’clock, and hoping that it doesn’t snow hard tonight! I made a warming cup of tea.
We ate beef for supper. Just before we went to bed it started to rain and sleet for a while.
Azalea campsite, Kings Canyon National Park
Adrian by a fallen giant sequoia which we walked through
Partly frozen Lake Hume
Looking towards Kings Canyon
There were a few trees here, so we walked out a little way along the road, but the sun had set behind the hill now, and we were surprised how cool it was.
We ate chicken for supper. When we went outside to look at the stars, we could hear some sort of animal howling.
On the J1 between Panoche and Pacines
A nice walk out from our overnighter
We managed to find the Tourist Information, as we wanted a map of Pacific Grove. Our reason for returning to Monterey was that since our last visit, we had found out that John Denver’s fatal plane crash in 1997 had been in Monterey Bay. We had read on the internet that a memorial had been proposed in Pacific Grove. We managed to find our way to the site, but found no memorial - we knew that the local council had been opposing it, as it thought that it would bring people to the quiet residential street. It was enough for us to wander about this beautiful area, where numerous sea birds and seals adorned the rocks off the lovely shore.
Back to warmth at Monterey Beach
We came back to Walmart to collect the photos, by which time it was past supper time, so everything was a bit of a rush. I quickly got a meal of turkey(!) then we looked through the new photos. The evening remained mild.
Walmart Carpark Paso Robles
We drove a short way along the coast before joining the 101 again, and passing names that we remembered from last March. The road was now busy, as we turned off through Oxnard and on to Thornhill Broome State Beach, where we had stayed before. Just before we arrived, a film crew was busy filming.
We got some water before settling into a place, but were rather disappointed to find that, as before, it was very windy here. The wind dropped a bit, so having walked along to put our ‘fee’ in the box, we decided to light a fire. Adrian was just coming to say that we would turn the Bam around, so that the light shone on the barbie, when another motorhome pulled into the space beside us.
We were at the end of the camping line, with one space, then a couple of Mexican ‘outfits’ - one a chap with his dog, a clapped out old car, a bike in pieces, and a tent. Next to him was a motorhome which had definitely seen better days, and was all done up with plastic! It seemed to be the ‘rough’ end of the camping. This late arrival immediately set up our pet hate - a noisy generator, outside. We tried to turn our backs, and enjoy the fire, and the sea beyond. The noise of the generator permeated all, even the cars going by offered some relief! Despite all this, we cooked our meal - expensive salmon, baked potatoes, corn on the cob and mushrooms - and ate it outside by torch/moonlight, before coming in.
The night remained mild - we walked to the beach at bedtime and were able to see Orion in the sky, but it was partly cloudy.
We liked Santa Barbara!
We continued round Marina del Rey, passing an area of flat wetlands, before stopping above the beach opposite the airport. Unfortunately in pulling in, Adrian scraped the hub cap of the rear wheel against the high kerb, making rather a mess of it.
We walked across the wide, sandy, neatly swept but deserted beach and watched a little bird running back and forth by the waves, looking like a young child trying not to get its feet wet!
After this, we drove past a power station to the very smart and attractive area of Manhattan. The streets sloped steeply, reminding us of San Francisco. The bad thing was that it was very busy, with nowhere to stop, except at parking meters.
We had to give in eventually, and put a quarter into a meter to park above Redondo Beach to have our coffee. We sat on a seat in the warm sun, watching the chap sweeping up around us, and the surfers out to sea.
We continued around the Palos Verde peninsula, passing many salubrious houses set above the sea. We did find one place to stop and look out to sea (a fishermen’s parking area), then saw that there was a park opposite where we could go to have lunch. It went under the strange name of Joan Milke Flores Park. We sat at a picnic table, but were rather wary of the watering system which occasionally gave us a light shower. The sun was nice, but it and the cloud and wind were having a battle. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our lunch, including a pasta salad which I had made.
Adrian was able to get some petrol in San Pedro, and pump up the tyres (well, 4 of them - there are 6!) with a gadget he had fixed yesterday. He had tried earlier to get petrol, but as often happens with the cheaper petrol stations, it wouldn’t recognise his English Visa card.
Now we came to the mind boggling huge maze of the port area, but somehow found our way down to where the Queen Mary is docked. We discovered that parking was free for the first half hour, so were able to have a look and to photograph. In fact, we had a second look, as we took the wrong turn when leaving, and came back for a second go!
Peaceful, misty Venice, Los Angeles
Beyond here was Long Beach, where we went on to the sands at Alamitos Beach long enough for a photo.
Queen Mary - still a bit misty
Empty Alamitos Beach
A chap came by and asked us how much we paid for our van! We chatted for a while. He had a very ugly British bulldog with him - his pride and joy! Contrary to the Mexican that I thought that he was, he said that his grandmother lived in a large house in King’s Road Chelsea! He said that he was her favourite grandson - but he had never visited her. We told him that he must. He lived near Santa Barbara in what seemed to be an expensive area and worked in the Paramount film studios.
We walked back down to the beach, where the tide had been very high, before coming in.
Enjoying eating outside in December!
Huge waves were rushing in, but this didn’t deter 2 women swimmers, who swam far out into the bay and back - only one was wearing a wetsuit, and neither rushed for a towel when they got out! Later a male swimmer followed suit. Other people were surfing, but without surfboards. We wandered along the coastal path - it made us think of Torquay, and of South Africa. There were walkers and joggers, and other people just wandering about. An extra delight was to see 2 young sea lions close up on the cliffs. We came back to the Bam and had coffee sitting in the cab, overlooking the water. We thought that the place had a pleasant atmosphere.
Brown pelicans at La Jolla
We followed the coast down to Cabrillo National Monument, but by now it was foggy again. We were high up, at the end of a long peninsula, with supposedly wonderful views, but we could see very little. We went into the Visitors Centre, which had good exhibits about Cabrillo, who had landed here in 1542.
A sea lion at La Jolla
We viewed the monument to him, before coming back into the Bam to have welcome scrambled egg on toast for lunch. We did walk out afterwards to look at the old lighthouse (being worked on, so behind a fence). Adrian had tried phoning about a campsite for tonight, but got no joy (luckily it was OK).
Before leaving, we drove down to the rockpools, and again this made us think of South Africa, especially as it was now a bit sunnier lower down.
We drove back up the peninsula, and then found our way around the harbour, using a map which Adrian had just bought. We managed to find our way to the impressive 2 mile long bridge over to Coronado Island, and then south to Silver Strand State beach, where RVs could stay ($13).
We backed right up to the sandy beach, with views across to the Cabrillo peninsula. We walked along the beach - me barefooted - enjoying the sun which was peeping through to shine on to the water.
Viewing Cabrillo’s monument, in the mist
Adrian phoned about campsites for tomorrow night - our last night.
I cooked turkey for supper and we finished editing the third video of this trip. When we walked out at bedtime, it was drizzling.
Sun breaking through the cloud at Silver Strand
We left just after midday and found our way to the KOA campsite. Once settled in (and paying our $35! - but amazingly to us a KOA was the cheapest campsite in San Diego) we had lunch at the picnic table and got on with preparing to leave tomorrow. Adrian did some good ‘van things’, and we even cleaned it a bit, ignoring the fact that you are not supposed to clean vehicles here.
The real bonus of coming into a site like this was that there was an excellent warm outdoor pool! We both had a lovely swim - only the second one this trip! - and sat in the Jacuzzi for a while. I then got on with putting in some washing, and when it was dry I was even able to iron it! Adrian was dealing with the crisis of the loo being blocked. We had briefly used the expensive internet here.
We ate a tuna meal and later played Yahtzee. It was cool when we walked out at bedtime.
Coffee in the sunshine while the man plays marimba