The wilderness around Los Angeles

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(>Pictures at the bottom!)

…from Joshua Tree National Park to the dream road “1” and back to Los Angeles.
For our second attempt at Joshua Tree N.P., we chose a side entrance, far from a well-maintained road. Although the Joshua trees are somewhat sparse on the south side, the vast landscape is very calming and the large stone fields and mountains are perfect for hiking. We found a great place to spend the night at one of the two campsites, where the rule is “first come – first served”, in the middle of strangely shaped boulders. For the other campsites, you have to book your pitch online in advance, or you have to leave the national park to connect to the internet. This leaving is a double-digit number of kilometres in the upper area; absolute nonsense!

On the second day, we drove around the boulders and Joshua trees for too long and it came as it had to; pretty much everything on the “free” pitches was occupied. The decision was quickly made and the route re-planned. After recalculating the exact distance and checking the diesel in the tank, we set off. We bumped along another track to the south-western edge of the park, where we hoped to find a quiet pitch. We were surprised to find that this route was a lot more challenging than the track from the previous day and it took us longer than planned. On the other hand, our spot right on leaving the national park was unique and made up for the arduous journey there.

We loved the Joshua Tree N.P.. Instead of spending the night in Pioneertown, where there was a big festival at the weekend, the groundsman there recommended that we drive to another site, unless we wanted to drown ourselves in beer with the wannabe cowboys through the night. So we were back on the northern edge of Joshua Tree and enjoyed the remote north-west corner the following day, where very few tourists go.

Once again we scrambled up behind the seven mountains to Pioneertown, where many westerns used to be shot and where films are still made today. However, the glamour has worn off somewhat and presumably the big stars no longer ride through the dusty streets here. Instead, the Americans have done an excellent job of turning these shacks into a tourist mecca.

On our onward journey, we discovered Giant Rock in the middle of a large BLM area (BLM = Bureau of Land Management), which we really wanted to visit. But BLM land also means that there is almost absolute freedom and everyone can do what they want and how they want. In addition to the crazy off-roaders with their monster vehicles, there were bangs around almost every corner, as if war had broken out. Afterwards, the sites look accordingly and the shot-up objects and the many shell casings are not disposed of properly. What a pity!

We travelled through the San Bernardino Mountains high up in the mountains to bypass one of the largest conurbations in the USA (L.A.). Unfortunately, it was hazy and the visibility in the distance hardly allowed us to take any great photos of this Los Angeles juggernaut. Various closed roads also forced us to take long detours or continue along some mountain track that wound its way around steep flanks and sometimes made our hearts sink.

We actually wanted to spend a few nights in Los Angeles and Chantal really wanted to visit a well-known film studio where Harry Potter was filmed. However, when calculating the total costs, our desire for one of these highlights diminished by the minute. Do we want to or can we spend so much money for two or three days and then put everything else on the back burner? The decision was soon clear – we were not going to do it.

So we crossed the Beast – as the locals call their daily traffic chaos in Los Angeles – coming from the north-east in the direction of Venice. Of course, we wandered a little through the posh neighbourhood of Hollywood and were amazed at this spruced-up residential area where nothing is left to chance.

After the centre, the picture changed again and homeless people were everywhere with shopping trolleys from some supermarket carrying their belongings. As soon as we reached the Pacific Ocean in Venice, the picture changed again: along the beach must be a marvellous area for evening parties and the Nobles send their regards. We have never seen so many Porsches and Ferraris as here in Venice and Santa Monica.

We followed road “1” in a westerly or northerly direction and were amazed that after Santa Monica, the last neighbourhood of Los Angeles, there was a change from urban areas to almost undeveloped countryside. We soon had the feeling that we were travelling somewhere far away from a large metropolis and enjoyed the unobstructed view of the expanse of the Pacific.

As we still had some time until our holiday – yes, even long-term travellers need a holiday in between – we went to the place where we would store our jeep and were able to calm our fears for once. The Californian legal situation is a bit special for us Europeans and as the person setting up the vehicle you have to assume almost all the risks associated with the stored goods. Or, if 60 days pass without payment, the stored material belongs to the owner of the storage and he can sell it. Very special!

With a certain amount of relaxation about the locations we had seen, we continued northwards, as we were sure that we would fulfil the financial requirements. We chose our route through the mountains near the coast so that we didn’t have to take the same road twice. Just after Santa Barbara, we climbed up the first mountain range, where an adventurous path between heaven and earth led us through almost impassable mountains. Even the name says it all; Camino Cielo.

The views of both the Pacific and the mountains were fascinating. We weren’t the only ones enjoying this wonderful day away from the hustle and bustle. Whether athletes on their gravel bikes or motorcyclists on their rattling enduros, there were plenty of people on this narrow path high up on the ridge. Including the two young Mexicans who wanted to try out the climbing ability of their brand new truck and ended up stranded on an off-road crest. Our drive past in this lonely area was almost like winning the lottery! In just a few minutes, we were able to get the car back on all four wheels. As thanks, they wanted to offer us a joint, which we gratefully declined in view of the challenging journey. However, we gladly accepted the chilled beers and immediately stowed them away in the cool box, as they are certainly easier to drink in the evening than up here on the sloping mountain roads.

From the sky we headed back down to the sea and more pleasant evening temperatures, where the beer also tasted better than high up in the fresh air. But no sooner had we got used to the sound of the sea than we left the surf again. After all, we would be travelling back along the coastal road! So we headed back into the hinterland, where after a few kilometres we reached absolutely deserted countryside. The fact that we drove along the park of (Michael) Jackson’s Neverland the next day was a surprise for us; we would have loved to take a ride on the railway built especially for Neverland. But the new owner doesn’t want strangers on the 11 km² property and has the ranch protected by an elaborate security force.

After that, it was not so easy to find an adventurous route, as the many ranches claim large areas for themselves and the respective gates were secured with thick chains. So we had to take a long diversions to the Carrizo Plain National Monument before we could dust our way through this vast grassland. Long ago, indigenous people hunted animals up here and rock paintings were left at Painted Rock. Unfortunately, the earlier settlers did not fully understand the murals and scribbled their names and dates on the rock faces, so much of the original hunting scenes have been lost. The settlers also cultivated cereals in this area for a long time, which demanded a lot from the people in the summer temperatures. Today, the area along the Andreas Graben belongs to nature again and only a few settlements can be found on the edge of the national monument.

We reached the extensive Los Padres National Forest again, where we had already had to give up twice due to closed trails. This time, too, we were faced with a sign warning us that the road was closed. But our thirst for adventure was greater than the sign on the side of the road and so we ventured on to Pozo Summit, the last high crossing before the Pacific Ocean and road “1”. Presumably the sign had simply been forgotten to be removed, but the road to the heights was easy to drive on.

It was only a few kilometres to Limekiln State Park, where we finally came to an end. A bridge pillar at Pfeiffer Canyon had been damaged by flooding, and this year there had been huge landslides that were impassable even for a jeep. However, we enjoyed the opportunity to drive a larger section of this wonderfully scenic road, which runs along the steep mountain flanks to the Pacific Ocean. In addition to the exciting landscapes, the elephant seals added to the experience and kept us waiting at the observation post for a long time.

It was not far to Ventura/Santa Paula. We enjoyed our last days of freedom and warmth during the day. In the evening, as soon as the sun disappeared over the horizon, it became cold and only the warming fire kept us outside in our dreams. But everyday life and our imminent return journey kept us increasingly busy and even this short journey back to Switzerland required a great deal of preparation.

At the campsite in Santa Paula, time was suddenly short and we postponed some things until our onward journey next year: I would have liked to carry out more service work on the Jeep and clean the inside of the car to remove the dirt and dust from last year. But suddenly everything happened very quickly, which was certainly not to be underestimated. Sitting around for ages and getting on each other’s nerves; no, we skipped that.

The last bags were quickly packed, the jeep put into storage and we were sitting in front of the campsite reception. And the craziest thing was yet to come: At this point, there was no taxi available to take us to LA airport. Our flight was in 6 hours and we had to get there through the juggernaut that is Los Angeles. The nervousness increased to infinity!

Chantal and Tom/November 2023

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