Driving into the Californian Sun


A roadtrip you and me.

Two weeks of bliss and freedom in the world of November warmth and outdoor wonderland. Its dry there, in midst of a severe drought. We arrive at night in San Diego and grab our first fish tacos at Lucha Libre on our way. After savouring a few hours of sleep with a 9h time difference jetlag, we are excited to get moving. American cities are both big and small: so big that without a car and highways you stay put, and small enough that in the city centre you can walk through and find everything you need and what you want to see.

At the coast of San Diego stands the USS Midway. It is an aircraft carrier that became a museum in 2004. Friendly and informative US veterans volunteer their time there, and strategically stand at various stations to answer visitors’ questions and tell stories of what they did while they worked there. And this is in addition to the standard audio guide tour. We spent a few hours there exploring every station open to us and were very impressed to be walking around in the massive aircraft carrier.

The afternoon sun on Mission Beach San Diego welcomed us as we kicked off our shoes to go running on the sand, waves rushing up on our legs. Who cares if we get wet?! I pulled out our first box of sushi from my pack, and enjoyed the fresh taste while looking out to the water, a surf competition a bit further. Until this point, surfing and I co-existed. The youngsters jumping into the water in wetsuits and paddled out on their boards. Many paddlers, and then once in a while one or two stand up to ride the wave back to shore. I watched on first wondering how it works, maybe try it at some point. At night, we drove out to Punta Loma to look back on San Diego at night, watching the light of the planes circling the city centre airport, the city centre, and the stars in the sky.

La Jolla in the early morning is a quiet coastal area to enjoy the waves and see marine life undisturbed. The seals in a secluded cove, sea lions, pelicans and also black crows.

Beach Grass Cafe is a hearty breakfast spot with Mexican flair on our way to Laguna beach. Nearby is Crystal Cove state park and Moro Canyon. A very dry desert landscape with recreational paths. Watch out for the reptiles there.

Each beach had its own personality. The posh Laguna beach, the more laid back Newport. On the Newport peninsula there is a walkway along the beach until the end. Another afternoon passed on the warm sandy beach.

Huntington beach came next. At the beachfront, the pier catches your eyes, behind it is the usual touristy settlement, shop and restaurant complexes. After grabbing juicy burgers at the iconic Ruby’s diner at the end of the pier, we rented surfboards and wetsuits at Jack’s and went for it. My first time riding the waves was on my belly, and yea I had my cocktail of saltwater and more saltwater.

Thirsty after the our first attempt at surfing we decided to drive straight to Los Angeles. We drove through downtown LA to Hollywood Blvd. On the way we saw some run down complexes and a lot of ethnic corners. On Hollywood Blvd is the avenue of stars, the Dolby theatre where the Oscars are presented, and the El Capitan theatre where on this night is the premier of Disney’s Big Hero 6. Further down the street is the exhibition of life, btw entrance is free and they are open late.

PatagoniaIn Ventura just outside of LA is the headquarters of Patagonia. Beside a parking lot covered with rooftop solar panels is a cozy daycare centre for employees. Did you know that besides making socially responsible items, they also craft their own surfboards?

Driving through LA again turned out to take much longer than expected, welcome to being stuck in LA traffic. By the time we drove past north LA it was already getting dark. Passing Yucca valley we finally arrived at Joshua Tree park. 29 miles into the park until White Tank Campground next to the famous Arch rock. The moonlight reflecting on the sand and rocks was enough for us to see without headlamps. After setting up camp, we scrambled on the rocks until the moonlight. The desert adventure is finally here. In the morning the sun warms up the landscape quickly. The stillness of the desert, the reminder of simplicity in life.

Driving out of the park we pass by 29 Palms in the Mojave desert. Today we will cross the entire desert to reach Death Valley. 50 miles to Amroy, we stopped for a coffee at Roy’s on Route 66. A curious sight to see Asian tourist on a Harley convoy. Amroy, the ghost town that is not quite dead yet.

Kelso was another 35 miles. There stands an old train depot from when this area was an active mining town. Now it is a museum to remind us of the old days. To Baker, another 35 miles. It is a trucker stop place where we picked up some Mexican food. Heading into Death Valley, we took the Badwater road, passing Shoshone and Funeral Peaks to find Badwater Basin, 282 feet below seal level. I had no idea that we would end up driving so much trying to experience this national park. But without a car, you will be walking endlessly in the desert, and also in the desert heat (some people do that, I know) We drove on to find Devil’s golf course, which basically is a pretty much dried out salt pan. The jagged landscape is mostly salt and mineral deposits shaped by water and wind. And we see the leftovers after the water is gone.

I am super-amused at the naming of different sites. We went past Funeral Creek where we found motels, RV colonies and a thoughtful gas station, and ended up at California 213Stovepipe Wells. There is a motel and a general store near the campsite. What else? Showers (by the pool)!! Our only regret is that the campsite tonight is more like a parking lot. Waking up just before sunrise, we climbed up nearby sand dunes and got to the top right on time.

We continued driving pass after pass until we reached the dried Owen’s lake, and went around it to Lone Pine, access point to Mount Whitney through Whitney Portal. Thomas runs up to the summit while I take a casual hike. Let’s backtrack for a second. On portal road were signs “Entering bear active country”, bear boxes, and other assorted bear warnings. Admittedly its the first time for me to see those in my entire life, I took these warnings quite seriously. So anyway, Thomas tells me I should be fine and takes off. In my mind I am thinking BEARS, what??! Well  I am not sitting in the car all afternoon scared. I take my pack, chatted up Tim the ex-park ranger and we were on the path. He just came from the Grand Canyon and is doing the Mount Whitney tour in 2 days as a birthday hike. The vagabond type going through many different jobs in his life. Eventually I turned around and returned to the car, no way I wanted to be caught in the dark with bears. The Dow Villa historic hotel in Lone Pine is filled with Western film memoria. Alabama hills, think Django Unchained. The pizza place across the street had a sign “We toss them, they’re awesome”. What a great town.

So Lone Pine goodbye, Bishop next. People in this valley can drive to Bishop for their weekly shopping needs at the big complex supermarkets and stores. In town is Erick Schat’s Bakkery, selling loafs of bread as well as pastries and pies, the deli sandwich section is popular around lunch time. This valley is a desert flanked by mountains on either side. At the end of the valley we look back to see the moraine before heading westward toward Tioga Pass. Its Yosemite time! On the way we detoured at Mammoth lake to Devil’s Postpipes (but it was closed for winter, skiing season starts soon though). Back on path, along Tioga pass road there are many domes. We walked up Pothole dome and had a view of the subalpine landscape of granite formations and evergreens. We go further to the valley, and we found the people LOTS of people. The view of El Capitan and Half Dome is breathtaking, in our minds the outdoor film fest climbing segments rolled, sweaty palms. We hiked up Vernal Falls to Nevada Falls on the pedestrian highway to see the large bounders on the creek and dense forest.  No way we can manage to squeeze into Camp 4 unannounced, so we drove up El Portal and found a campground Indian Flats right outside the park.

The next day we went to Wawona close to Mariposa grove to see the Sequoias. The forest of pines, fir, cedar and sequoias. Sequoias are redwood trees, tannic acid gives the redness. They can live for several thousand years. We saw young ones and old ones, and burn marks as well as burned trees from controlled burning in the grove to help sequoias grow. The fires clear away other trees to open the canopy for sun and to expose the mineral soil surface.



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