Even though I’m already back in England and most of this seems like a distant memory, here is the story of my road trip. I’ll post more photos separately as there are too many to fit here!
The last couple of months have been quite an adventure to say the least… The ski season finished on 11th April (reasonably quietly, and with only a couple of parties) and the road trip started a couple of days later. We left Park City at about 2pm Tuesday, after one last night out to say goodbye to everyone and an early morning trip to Salt Lake City Immigration Office to make sure visas would be OK.
The Jetta was pretty well packed full of four people’s worth of stuff plus four people, although luckily we had all left our skis and as much stuff as possible with people in Park City. The first 150 miles or so were pretty uneventful, until we hit Fillmore, UT where we stopped for gas and a break before starting off again. Not far down the road we started to hear a strange noise, which is not uncommon in a 1993 car. Tim pulled over and got out to check, but couldn’t see anything obviously wrong so we carried on for another 100 yards or so until the noise got worse and then… the back passenger wheel fell off. Fortunately there were no other cars around as we span 360 degrees on the freeway, and luckily (or thanks to Tim’s driving) the car didn’t roll although it did come close. We came to a stop and watched the wheel bounce off into the distance before jumping out the car and off the freeway. As good timing goes, an off duty cop pulled up just behind us, having already phoned roadside recovery for us. He made sure we were all OK, and then went and retrieved the wheel while we waited by the side of the road, weirdly laughing about what had just happened.
So we ended up spending the night at the Best Western in Fillmore, and the following day exploring the “sights” of Fillmore, which basically meant walking the length of the one road and then sitting in a park. We had been due to spend a couple of nights in Las Vegas, and then Jenny and Sophie would drop me and Tim off in Indio for the Coachella music festival and take the car off somewhere for a few days while we were there. But now we were stranded we had to come up with a new plan. We knew of a few people who would be driving down that road in the next few days, most heading to Lake Powell but a couple going the same way as us to Coachella.
We managed to contact Dana who said she would pick us up on her way, although she did warn us it would be a bit of a squeeze. And when she turned up we saw why – her pickup truck was already full with four people and camping gear squeezed in; the two guys were sitting in the bed of the truck with all the luggage (which apparently is legal as long as there’s a cover on the bed). We managed to somehow get the bags we were taking into the back, and climbed into the two “seats” behind the front seats, which face sideways and are just about big enough to sit on. I left some clothes and things in the Jetta to be picked up by a friend heading down to Lake Powell the next day, which was a good move as I later discovered I already had way too much to carry! Jenny and Sophie spent another night in Fillmore (sleeping in the car) and they then got a lift to Santa Barbara for a few days.
The ride to Las Vegas was not as uncomfortable as it should have been, and went pretty quickly. We arrived at the Excalibur Hotel at about 1am, and all went our separate ways for the evening. As it was my first time in Vegas I wanted to see all the typical sights, so me and Tim walked the length of the strip checking out all the famous hotels along the way. Surprisingly, it was pretty dead by about 2am, and I don’t know if it was just because I was tired but I found the whole place a bit depressing. I’m sure it would have been a different story if we had arrived the previous night in a party mood, so I think I will definitely need another trip to Vegas at some point to experience it properly!
We left Vegas at about 11am to start the 280 mile drive to Coachella. Again, the journey went quite fast, and as much as I tried to stay awake to see the California desert for the first time, I slept a lot of the way. As me and Tim were working at Stagecoach festival in order to get free Coachella tickets, we had to go and pick up our tickets from a hotel in Indio so Dana dropped us off there while they went to the campsite to get set up. As it turned out, they had to queue for a good few hours to get into the site whereas we walked onto the site so were there a lot sooner but had to wait for our tent etc that was all in Dana’s car. The whole weekend at Coachella was so much fun – saw a load of bands I love, met some great people and generally had an awesome time. It might even deserve a blog post of it’s own. On Sunday night Jenny and Sophie came to pick us up in the car they had hired, and we went to a campsite at Salton Sea for the night. The following morning we had a bit of a drive to find the campsite’s shower block, but it was so worth it after not showering for the whole weekend!
We spent the next few days driving around Southern California – first to Borrego Springs in the beautiful Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, where we camped for a night, then onto San Diego for one night, and then back towards Indio. We knew we were due to work at Stagecoach at the weekend but the company organising it are not the best at communication so it wasn’t until Wednesday that we got the schedule saying we were due to work Thursday and Friday. This meant we didn’t have time to do LA before Stagecoach, so we headed for Joshua Tree National Park instead. We didn’t actually go in the park but saw plenty of Joshua Trees, and found this amazing town called Pioneertown which was built specifically for filming Western movies. Not surprisingly it felt like we were on a movie set; it’s a strange place as people do actually live there, but half the buildings are set up like exhibits. Totally worth the detour.
That night all four of us camped in the Stagecoach campsite, and somehow ended up drinking quite a lot of wine… which made for an interesting day of work on Thursday. The weather was completely different to the previous weekend – Coachella had been soooo hot, almost 90˚F (˚C), and this week was cold and windy. People kept saying that there was a massive storm on the way, but then locals told me that the wind and drizzle was pretty much the whole storm. And the locals were right as by the Friday the sun was back out. The job we were assigned was checking in RVs at the toll booths, which basically involved scanning their ticket and giving them info on the site while security checked their vehicles. It was good fun as we got to talk to a lot of people on their way to Stagecoach, and saw a load of massive RVs! We worked two twelve hour shifts on Thursday and Friday, which was a long time but actually went quite fast.
It was a shame that we didn’t get to see any of the actual festival as that did not start until Saturday and we had a deadline to get up to San Francisco seeing as much as we could on the way. So we left after our shift on Friday and found a campsite on the way to LA.
The next day we headed to the coast, first stop was a random beach to use their showers, and then up the coast through Laguna Beach to Newport Beach. Me and Sophie were far too excited about this, obviously being the ones who watch The OC and Laguna Beach! In reality Newport Beach is a pretty normal town and beach, nothing like on TV! After a picnic lunch at the harbour and a wander round Balboa Island, we made our way up to LA. The infamous LA traffic made sure it took a while to get anywhere, so we didn’t really stop just looked at the sights from the car.
The famous Route One took us most of Sunday to drive up, but did not disappoint! We stopped off at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which was absolutely stunning . You have to enter the park and then walk back under the road, and suddenly you’re in this little paradise world, with an inaccessible beach complete with waterfall, and beautiful coves framed by trees. We spent quite a while there as none of us wanted to leave the amazing views! My turn to drive was at just the right time, when the road got all fun and windy through Big Sur. We made a couple more stops to take in the magical views and also stopped at Santa Cruz, which was not what I expected at all – to be fair we only saw one beach but what we did see reminded me a little of Brighton or Blackpool.
On Monday me and Tim had a little trip to Sacramento to visit the immigration office there, while Jenny and Sophie explored San Francisco. That night we found a campsite on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, in the Marin Headlands area. It was a bit of a walk from the car to the campsite, and when we got down there we discovered we needed a permit to camp, which we didn’t have as the visitor center was shut by the time I had phoned them at 4pm. But we pitched our tent anyway, and in the end it didn’t matter because a couple of hours later we all woke up to rain coming in through the tent (which we hadn’t put the rain cover on) and the wind was really starting to pick up. We put the rain cover on but it was starting to feel like our Walmart tent was about to blow away so we aborted and slept in the car the rest of the night. That was the last time we used the now slightly misshapen tent but we carried it around a bit longer just in case.
Tuesday was mainly spent killing time before taking Sophie to Oakland airport at 2pm, and discovering how expensive it is to park a car in San Francisco. It was also still quite stormy so we ended up heading to Oakland a bit early and then exploring there a bit before heading to the Travelodge we had booked for that night to meet up with Lizzy, Rob and Andrea, who had been staying in Southern California before heading up to San Francisco. It was a reasonably early night as Jenny had to be at the airport at 5am the next morning, and I had offered to take her. That made Wednesday a rather long day, as I went back for another couple of hours sleep before me and Tim headed to another more central Travelodge and begged to be allowed to check in early so we could leave our stuff there and return the hire car. We then had a touristy day of Pier 39 and a boat trip to Alcatraz. I really enjoyed the Alcatraz tour – I’ve always found prisons interesting anyway, and the audio tour was both informative and atmospheric. And the wind and rain outside only helped with the spooky mood.
The next morning we went to hire another car for a trip to Yosemite NP. This is where we discovered the importance of packing light for a road trip, as we had to walk about 6 blocks to the car hire place with ALL our luggage. This was pretty hard work… But we got our new car, a (rather ugly) Ford Focus and drove the 3 hours towards Yosemite. It wasn’t until we got to the entrance at about 5pm that we discovered it had snowed a fair amount in the last few days and snow chains were required on the pass that goes to Yosemite Valley. We stupidly hadn’t even thought of this, and were left with the option of going back to the closest town and buying snow chains, driving 90 miles to the southern entrance which was not snowy, or waiting until morning to see if it improved. We decided to drive to the other entrance, so we could still have a full day at Yosemite the next day. We ended up spending the evening in Mariposa, the closest town to the entrance and sleeping in the car after treating ourselves to a pizza!
We started off early the next morning and it didn’t take long to get to Yosemite Valley. We drove very slowly through to the visitor center, trying to take in the views and stopping regularly to take photos. After spending a bit of time in the visitor center we picked a trail to do a 2 mile hike. It was the “mirror lake” trail and was a nice easy walk with lots of rocks to climb ending up at a lake and a rockfall that had happened the previous year that was still blocking the path. We had been thinking of doing a longer hike later in the day but blisters, unsuitable footwear and maybe a little tiredness put us off… So we drove saw the rest of the sights of Yosemite Valley, including the stunning Yosemite Falls (pics to follow), and then decided to drive out via the South entrance which was a slightly longer route but more scenic and something we hadn’t seen before. We had also wanted to see the giant sequoia trees but that area was still shut due to snow. We drove home through Fresno but couldn’t see anything of interest there so carried on further before stopping to sleep in the car (again) and got back to San Francisco the next morning. After two nights sleeping in a car we splashed out on a hotel right next to Chinatown, where we were again allowed to check in early and have a well deserved shower before spending our afternoon at the Golden Gate Bridge.
Our last day in San Francisco was spent doing some more exploring, including Japantown where I could have spent all day wandering around the shopping mall! Unfortunately money and luggage space were both getting limited by then so I had to be restrained… I also learnt a lot about the history of the Japanese in America which I had not previously known. If anyone’s interested there’s more info on Wikipedia of course.
Our bus to Santa Barbara left from Oakland that evening, so we got on the BART train to take us there. The bus journey was 8 hours overnight, which sounds pretty horrific but it actually went quite quickly (we managed to get 2 seats each so could stretch out a bit!) Our next train was a shorter 2 hours from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles and turned out to be commuter train which got busier and busier as we got closer to the city.
Our day in LA was not quite as we planned it. We discovered quite quickly that it is pretty difficult to sight-see in LA without a car. We wanted to go to the Griffith Observatory, and asked a couple of people the best way to get there. We were told we could take two buses to the LA Zoo, and from there we could get a shuttle bus that runs to the observatory. So we did got two buses to the zoo, where we told that the shuttle bus no longer runs, and hasn’t for about 2 years… The very helpful lady there suggested we could either get a taxi (but not with our meagre budget) or make the 45 minute hike there (but not with our heavy bags and limited time). So we didn’t get to the Observatory, and instead got the two buses back towards Hollywood Boulevard. Anyone who knows me will know that this kind of thing does not sit well with me and put me in a “Well I don’t want to do anything now” mood, even though LA was one of the places I really wanted to see.
After spending some time on Hollywood Boulevard, doing the mandatory walk looking for all the famous stars and checking out all the instantly recognisable buildings, we decided to head to the Downtown area to find a bookshop. We eventually found one a little walk from the subway stop, which turned out to be an amazing find! All the books were second hand but perfect condition, and all $5 each! Luckily I couldn’t carry very much
otherwise I may have gone crazy in there. By now it was about time to get back to the station, so we made our way there (by this time lugging a ridiculously weighty handbag, now 3 books heavier).
This was another overnight journey, fortunately train not bus this time, but the train was pretty much full so we couldn’t spread out too much. We were also lucky enough to have a restless toddler across the aisle, who made enough of noise to keep me awake most of the night. The train got into Flagstaff at about 5am on Tuesday, and then we only had a 6 hour wait and a 2 hour drive (a lift from a very kind friend) to get to Lake Powell, destination for the next few weeks…