To the southern border of California….

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(>Pictures at the bottom!)

….with many detours
On our second departure from San Francisco, we wanted to follow the dream road “1” as far as Santa Barbara and only then turn inland again; after all, you don’t get here every day. The first few kilometres past the metropolis of San Francisco were already impressive, with the road winding its way through the cliffs along the Pacific Ocean. We had to stop again and again to look over the cliffs into the depths.

As far as Santa Cruz, the many towns were very “Mexican” and in some cases individual residential areas spoilt the beautiful landscape. But in Santa Cruz, supposedly the most liberal city in California, the picture changed abruptly. Everything was very neat and tidy and the city showed us a wonderful centre. Although parking fees had to be paid seven days a week and everywhere and all four-legged friends were always on a lead, Santa Cruz was otherwise a very open society for everything and every kind of attitude to life.

We continued along Monterey Bay through wide fields towards the town of the same name. Everything that the market demands is grown and harvested here and hard-working hands do their best. And the same faces kept smiling from under the straw hats; California seems to be firmly in Mexican hands. To our surprise, strawberries were still being picked late in the season as we drove through!

Somewhere and sometime I (Tom) had read that coastal road “1” had been closed for some time. Nevertheless, we continued unsuspectingly along the coast south of Monterey as if everything was open and passable. A large “Road closed” sign brought us back to reality and signalled the end of this dream road for the time being. We immediately looked for a possible bypass through the mountains and found a suitable connection.

No sooner had we planned a new route than we were scrambling up and through the coastal mountains, where our next adventure was to begin. At this point, we hadn’t yet realised that the previous winter had brought exceptionally large amounts of water and led to debris flows and flooding everywhere. A large “Park closed” sign at the entrance to the “Los Padres” national forest put a stop to our plans. The trail damage must have been very extensive, so the entire national forest was closed to recreational traffic.

Once again we had to re-plan the route and Chantal discovered another way to reach our dream road along the coast. At first we thought that crossing a US army training area would be a possible obstacle. However, this thoroughfare is open even to foreign tourists and led us through vast landscapes where all kinds of cannon barrels were fired around the countryside, leading to major wildfires in dry weather.

We had hoped to reach the Limekiln State Park directly after the army area and had completely cancelled the “Los Padres” national forest from our plans. Unfortunately, the park closure forced us to turn back again. The fact that we had to turn back twice within two days had nothing to do with poor planning, but with a lack of possible information. In California, there are great websites where you can find out almost everything, but without a network in the wide open spaces, even the best information sites are useless.

We had had enough of the endless wandering and decided to take our route into the hinterland, or rather to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. According to our information, the most important road connections should be open there. So we took the most direct route back through the Central Valley towards the next range of the Rocky Mountains.

The next disappointment followed in Kings Canyon N.P.: the road to the park’s main attraction was closed due to construction work. We were compensated for this in Sequioa N.P. with its huge trees and our admiration for these giant trees was immense. If these giants could talk, we would look relatively small and would hardly be able to talk about such a long period of geological history. Many of these sequoias, also known as sequioa, are over 500 years old; amazing!

The further south we travelled, the more often Tropical Storm Hilary made itself felt on our route. In August this year, it brought large quantities of water to the vast desert areas of southern California. Corresponding damage to the road infrastructure repeatedly forced us to make long journeys back and take detours.

Our next destination was Joshua Tree National Park. Of course, we didn’t take the direct route, as we were also tempted by the old Route 66 in California, which we followed eastwards from Victorville. After driving around the parking areas for decommissioned aeroplanes, we turned onto the legendary road. To our surprise, this road still exists almost in its entirety and old witnesses to history line it every time we pass through the town, as if time had stood still here. We enjoyed the long drive through the Mojave Desert on an almost empty road, while the nearby motorway was almost overflowing with traffic (lorries). Unfortunately, between Amboy and Fenner we also had to switch to this lifeline of individual traffic because the masses of water took a section of Route 66 with them. 🙁

It was only a short distance to the Colorado River and we quickly crossed the state border into Arizona, where we filled up our empty tank with cheaper diesel. It wasn’t just the fuel prices that were almost beyond our travelling budget; everything is simply much more expensive in California than anywhere else.

We returned to the west side of the Colorado River and followed a gravel road southwards through the mountains. The following night we were woken from our sleep by strong gusts of wind. We had to quickly dismantle our toilet tent before the wind tore it to shreds and turn our jeep into the direction of the wind. But the howling of the wind around the nearby rock towers and the flapping of the tent walls of the exhibition roof left us no peace. And even the eight-legged arachnids gave us (Chantal) another shock. So we continued early in the morning without breakfast. In this wind, we would hardly have been able to heat up a coffee with our cooker, let alone fry our Sunday pancakes in the pan.

In the afternoon, the strong storm subsided and we moved back to Arizona, where there was almost no wind. After a large Indian reservation, we found a windless spot for the night in a dry river. Of course, we checked the weather situation with regard to rain beforehand and then set up camp for the night. And, there was no general fire ban in Arizona, so we were finally able to light a fire again in the evening.

We wanted to drive east of the Chocolate Mountains via an old track to the sand dunes near Glamis. But far from any civilisation, our journey came to an end after Palo Verde Peak. The road became increasingly difficult and eventually deep washouts forced us to drive back. Well, that’s how our hours passed and in the evening we were back at our morning starting point.

The Algodones Dunes, also known as the Imperial Dunes, stretch from the north-west through the entire East Mesa to the south-east across the border to Mexico and are for the most part a huge playground for big boys with their crazy ATVs and sand vehicles. When we arrived in Glamis, a major event had just finished and the area looked like a big event. The last visitors were still kicking up a lot of sand with their vehicles, making for unpleasant conditions to spend a night at this campsite.

Further north of Glamis, the sandy landscape is sheltered and therefore certainly quieter than at the campsite, where mobile workshops were tinkering with the thundering ATVs. After a short time, we found a wonderful place to spend the night and were looking forward to a quiet night. However, we ignored the nearby unguarded railway crossing when choosing our spot and things turned out as they had to; each train sounded its horn four times before passing the crossing and there were a lot of trains. Chantal had a sleepless night and was not in the best of moods the next day.

We’d had enough of the ATVs thundering around the area and the trains that woke us from our dreams every time we passed through. Passing through Slab City, a caravan settlement in the middle of the desert where nobody knows who lives there and will soon be suffocating in their own rubbish, we headed briefly for Salvation Mountain. After what we had experienced in Slab City, this religious work of art was a marvellous object.

It was only a few kilometres to the Salton Sea. This lake lies 66 metres below sea level and was created by a dam burst. It was thought that the water masses would soon evaporate, but for over a hundred years the water level has defied scientific assumptions. Migratory birds soon recognised the lake as a place to spend the winter or as a transit point on their journey south. Fish were also introduced that could tolerate the increasing salinity and recreational areas were built for humans. As a result of intensive agriculture on the northern edge of this huge lake, pollution increased and the lake is fighting against its own collapse. Tourists have been staying away for a long time and abandoned places lie on the shore.

Nearby, after the many fields where thousands of Mexicans provide fresh fruit and vegetables, comes Palm Springs, a huge green oasis in a desert landscape. Here, money doesn’t seem to play a role and people splash out generously. If the neighbour enlarges their house, they make their own a little bigger and nothing is left to chance when it comes to garden maintenance. It’s crazy what wealthy society can afford here!

After “seeing and being seen”, we headed to the south entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. However, as we hadn’t pre-booked a place to stay overnight, we had to leave the park again and find a place for the night somewhere outside the south entrance. We now hate these pre-bookings as we rarely know where we want to or can spend the next night and on the backroads there is not always access to the wide world of the WWW.

Despite the directions out of the park; Joshua Tree, we’ll be back!

Chantal and Tom/November 2023

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