Lap of honour….

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(>Pictures at the bottom!)

……through southern California
After standing at the border fence to Mexico, we wanted to make the most of the remaining “insurance days” (car) for the USA. So we decided to take an extra lap through southern California. At the top of our wish list was the Mojava National Preserve, where – according to our travel guide – there is almost nothing else to be found apart from lots of nature.

We drove eastwards along the US-Mexican border. After many kilometres, we reached the Imperial Sand Dunes again, where countless campers and their ATVs were already setting up camp on the official and wild campsites on this Friday afternoon. Although the clouds were already hanging low, many recreational athletes were already moving around the dune landscapes on their crazy off-road vehicles as if there was no tomorrow. A little away from this “theme park”, the Imperial Sand Dunes, where almost anything that can be driven is allowed, we found a quiet spot for the night.

The following day, we wanted to cross Quartz Peak on our backroad, but soon had to abandon this plan; it was too steep and the ground was completely churned up in the steep passage. Other paths also turned out to be too difficult or simply unsuitable for our jeep. So it was a long journey back until we finally found a – more or less – sensible route again.

In Blythe, we briefly crossed the Colorado River to Ehrenberg/Arizona, where we topped up our empty tank with cheaper diesel before heading back to California. In the meantime, a bad weather front caught up with us and that afternoon we often didn’t know whether we were travelling in a stream bed or on a path. Whole sections were under muddy water and countless streams had to be crossed. We found a safe place to spend the night at a disused railway line, where we could be sure that we wouldn’t be surprised by a tidal wave or other natural event at night.

The next day, as if nothing had happened, the sun peeked out from behind the mountains again. But the landscape was somehow different; purely subjectively, we would say that everything was greener. We followed our route further north towards the Mojava National Reserve. It was many kilometres through a vast, lonely landscape and at a lonely petrol station in the middle of nowhere we filled up our tank at European prices, as there were many hundreds of kilometres between us and the next petrol pump.

The Mojava National Reserve was once again an absolute highlight for us and it’s fair to say that there is simply nothing here apart from a wonderful landscape. Even the Joshua Trees were to be found in a density that could almost be described as forest. In Cima, we reached another remnant of a bygone era, where important supplies were once sold. Today there is a large “closed” sign in front of the trading post and the few houses will probably not survive the next few decades. A place that will probably disappear from the map in the next few years.

In Kelso, we wanted to visit the park’s visitor centre. But at this wintry time of year, no tourists are likely to stray into this deserted area and we found ourselves standing in front of closed doors. Despite everything, the former railway station building, which now houses the visitor centre, reminded us of a grand bygone era and the great westward departure. Although the train stop boards still tell of various passenger trains that were supposed to stop here, the entire railway system no longer actually allows passenger traffic. Instead, heavy goods trains thunder through this lonely landscape, clambering up the steep ramp to Cima and towards Las Vegas with the roar of their engines.

For our night’s accommodation, we drove out into the lonely landscape again. At the Kelso Dune, which we were told was the largest shifting sand dune in North America, we found a wonderful spot for the night. Due to the movement of the sand, this dune was supposed to keep making “whump” noises. But even on the climb, I (Tom) didn’t hear any of the promised noises. Instead, the panoramic view from the top of this huge sand hill was marvellous and the subsequent descent down the stalky flanks was great fun. Before we left the park in a southerly direction, we marvelled at the bizarre landscape and the fantastic granite towers at the Granite Pass; it would actually have been the moment to lace up our climbing shoes and take off.

After the Mojava Nat. reserve, we headed south-west again. In the end, we wanted to travel to Mexico and Baja California in the next few days. As we are still in possession of our annual pass for the American national parks, we didn’t miss out on another trip through Joshua Tree National Park and were surprised by the freshness of the plants here too. Thanks to the recent rains, it was much greener than on our last visit around two and a half months ago.

From the green plain of Indio, where the grass strips along the roads are maintained with great effort in the middle of the desert, we climbed up into the coastal mountains and foothills of the San Berardino Mountains. Out of sheer exuberance, we stopped on a hill (1200 metres above sea level) for the following night and were ultimately glad that we had collected enough wood for the evening fire; as the sun disappeared behind the horizon, it became bitterly cold.

Two days later we crossed the centre of San Diego and were immediately impressed by this southern metropolis. We had expected a different cityscape here in the south and were pleasantly surprised by the clean city. We explored the streets the American way and were surprised by something new at every turn.

On the same day, we looked for our place to stay for the night at Border State Park. However, the access road was under a long flooded section where a pick-up truck had already got stuck in an awkward position and we had to look for an alternative approach. A helpful ranger then escorted us to the campsite and informed us about the past and forthcoming rainfall. Very heavy rain was forecast for this region over the next few days, which also meant that the same bad weather conditions would prevail on the other side of the border in Baja California/Mexico. Accordingly, we studied the weather forecasts in the evening and were surprised by the expected amount of precipitation. Further east, i.e. behind the coastal mountains, it is also expected to rain, but with very low rainfall. The “El Niño” phenomenon apparently still has a corresponding effect on weather patterns on the west coast of North America.

Our decision was soon made: Even in the well-organised USA, strong natural events such as heavy rain bring many things to a standstill. What would it be like on the Mexican side? So we drove eastwards again, where torrential rain was not about to flood everything. But it didn’t stay dry everywhere on our “escape trip” and we often had to stretch our rain tarpaulin behind the jeep so that we had a dry place to sit.

Before we reached the Colorado River, we were tempted by the Picacho Wilderness Aera and our plans were changed again. The drive through this desert to the Colorado River appealed to both of us. The weather was again quite stable and we had plenty of time anyway. The fact that we got stuck in a large rut shortly before our destination for the day cost us a lot of time and sweat. The rescue equipment had to be painstakingly retrieved from the jeep, which was in an awkward position. The recovery itself was a “jolt” and the jeep was out. The heavy earth anchor/sand anchor that was dragged along was a miracle tool in this treeless area. 🙂

Back on the Colorado River and at the border between California and Arizona, we definitely set the compass in a south-westerly direction and followed the course of the river into Mexico. To our surprise, the border formalities were completed in ten minutes and when the drug dog had finished sniffing us out, we received a warm welcome from the border officials in Mexico.

So there we were in the east of Baja California and we will explore it from this side. Although we have travelled on Mexico’s roads before, we found it almost like “new driving territory” – the Mexicans just somehow drive differently 😉

Chantal and Tom/february 2024

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