Joshua Tree" Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer." Unknown. Routing. Highway 215 out of San Diego and then highway 15 to Las Vegas. Distance: 531 km. Total distance to date: 1206 km.
Huge rocky outcrops and Joshua Trees dominate an enthralling landscape.
It was with heavy hearts that we left the Californian Coast and San Diego, in particular. This city had enchanted all of us and apart from the places visited and experiences enjoyed by all, it has an exceptional climate best encapsulated in Albert Hammond's song "It never rains in Southern California." Indeed. This city has on average 300 mm rainfall per annum but the real beauty of the place is that the sun shines on roughly 146 days of the year. As the coastal haze disappeared behind us as we threaded our way up HW 215, it was a timely reminder that the next time we would see the majestic Pacific Coastline would be west of Seattle some 2000 km up the coast as the seagull flies.
So with HW 215 embedded in the GPS and the all clear from our lady in the sky, Doris, next stop would be San Bernardino for a comfort break and maybe a quick power nap
A finer spot for sundowners does not exist
for our man, Brett, who is known for his propensity to assume the Egyptian horizontal position often. Not to be. A cell phone call soon had us on the side of the road and the allure of RV travel kicked in. Lorraine was flipping through her travel tome, "The National Parks of the USA", and spotted one of those "must see places". Joshua Tree National Park. After a brief roadside travel conference, GPS devices were reset (tough luck,Doris!), followed by a sharp right to the north east on HW 60 and the magic of whatever Joshua Tree had to offer. This meant sort of "roughing" it in a camping area without showers or electrical hook up. A restock of all manner of food and liquid in the biggest Walmart ever built in a small town by name of Beaumont, meant that we could withstand anything this hostile desert environment could throw at us.
We duly arrived at the Black Rock campsite after enduring a trip through landscape that became more arid and devoid of vegetation as we progressed into what is known as the transition zone between the Colorado and Mojave deserts. We had called ahead to ensure our
Brett and I will be entering Bobby in any fire making and braai contest back in SA. A champion in the making!
unbooked arrival would not present a problem, so it was with some alarm that the NP lady, Susan, who attended to our arrival made out that it was going to be extremely difficult to accommodate us for a single night which happened to be a Thursday. She had obviously not had her best day, or week, or year and put us in our places like naughty little school boys. Cut a long check in short. We were allocated three RV sites alongside each other and what was really intriguing was that the large campsite was mostly empty overnight. So "Happy Susan" ought not to have been so grumpy and this was in sharp contrast to just how incredibly friendly and helpful we have found the American people to be so far on the trip. At times we have looked lost spinning maps around or trying to figure out bus schedules or whatever, but there has always been a willing US citizen to assist us.
I suspect each one of us was pondering on just what the hell was so special and unique about Joshua Tree. After all up to the point of arriving in our campsite, all we had
Ready to board a scenic flight which was superb!
gazed upon was arid and desperately dry desert with little vegetation or appeal. Only one way to find out. Late afternoon we ventured into the Park and there it was. Incredible unspoilt desert countryside with an array of strange shrubs and trees which have adapted to this harsh environment. It is unlike anything we have back in SA or Namibia with huge clumps of rocky outcrops and the Joshua Tree which thrives on the plains. Not sure how it got to be called a "tree" as it is a prickly oddity which has very sharp spikes and was given this name by mid 19th century Mormons in the area as for them it symbolised limbs outstretched to the biblical figure, Joshua. There is not much by way of an abundance of a mammal or bird population sharing this hostile desert but it is mostly about incredibly beautiful scenery. On one of the information boards was a quote which sums it up perfectly, "for desert life, survival is an art". It truly is.
After feasting our eyes on the stunning landscapes as we progressed further into the park and not forgetting this was late afternoon, it seemed perfectly appropriate to
A tiny corner of this vast landscape.
toast the wonders of nature with sundowners sitting on a rocky outcrop reflecting on the splendours of nature. No better backdrop.
Bobby, our fireman, then produced a "miraculous" fire. He didn't have firelighters or the gismo's needed to get a fire going in the bush. Undaunted, he dug into his vast bush experience memory bank and solved the problem by splashing olive oil onto toilet paper and we soon had a great bush fireplace to sit around. You need this background for any sensible post sundowner conversations. With the aid of modern technology, cell phones and an Ipad loaded with (you guessed it.....Apps!) were soon pointing at the vast clear sky above us identifying stars and the like. We were fortunate to have Stephen Hawking, aka Brett, educating us on the marvels of our ever expanding Universe which, after a good meal and lots of good Californian vino, made eminent sense and ensured we all retired for the night having a far clearer understanding of our vast Universe. Sort of.
After the tranquility of Joshua Tree, we awoke to the thought of what Las Vegas had in store for us young " baby boomers." The one sure factor
About to cross the street into Old Town and some sumptuous sights.
was that it would be very different to anything we had ever experienced. Our routing was now somewhat different to the initial plan and "Doris" had to look skywards to that marvellous satellite to find a routing through deserts which would eventually reconnect us with HW 15 into Vegas. Off we set on the 300 km journey which took us on a routing through the Mojave Desert and some even more desolate and lonely countryside. Kept wondering how many other intrepid SA citizens had drifted through this remote corner of California. It was stunning and beat trying to stay out of the way of the incredible traffic volume on the main highways. Inevitably we reconnected with HW 15 and based on the number of autos on the same heading, I concluded that half of America had decided to visit Vegas over the same week end. With navigational skills that are increasing in stature by the day, it was no surprise that we arrived at Las Vegas KOA Sam's Town RV camp without a hitch.
In Vegas there are basically two boxes to tick. Firstly, go see the Grand Canyon and secondly, go stroll the "Strip." We had pre-booked a
Too many tall, imposing buildings with the brightest flashing lights on the planet.
scenic flight to see the Grand Canyon and, after an early morning pick up, we duly arrived at an airport on the outskirts of Boulder City. The sheer scale of this operation enabling tourists to experience an aerial flight over the Grand Canada is remarkable. Our flight took off on schedule at 08h00 in a Twin Otter De Havilland airplane with special viewing windows and after viewing the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, the views of the Grand Canyon were simply breathtaking. We were only seeing the South Western corner of this huge canyon and Colorado River system and it is challenging describing the experience and views. Only advice I can offer is, if you are in the USA, get to Vegas and ensure you do a scenic flight over the Grand Canyon. It is worth every cent of your SA wallet!
After those majestic sights, attention turned late afternoon to the prospect of the sumptuous sights of the "Strip." And they did not disappoint! Anything goes and the mantra is simply "the whackier the better." Being conservative lads whose eyes had never wondered, it was very distracting to see loads of scantily clad females strutting their stuff. We drifted through the "Old Town" where some amazing con artists were plying the tricks of their often dubious trades and nobody batted an eyelid. Huge crowds of people out doing the same thing....ogling and taking in this weird stuff and all having a ball. We then bussed across to the "Strip" where again the sheer numbers of people and noise was something to behold. A stroll down Las Vegas Boulevard passing Bellagio, Mirage, The Venetian, Caesar's Palace and other iconic names was mesmerising. At some point the dreaded thirst and hunger curse had to be assuaged in a restaurant adjoining a casino which had scantily clad spunky females dancing right alongside blackjack tables. No doubt the desperate looking gamblers were being distracted as intended! With a sensory overload after a long and fascinating day, a bus was boarded at mid night which duly delivered us exhausted to our lodgings.
We needed something gentler and quieter after the Vegas "blast". The journey north would continue.
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