Pacific Coast Highway

I didn’t really know what to expect from the drive from San Diego to San Francisco, but we got a lot more than we bargained for.

We set off from San Diego at about 5:30pm last night, figuring we could get through L.A. after the traffic died down and then bed down for the night at a Walmart, saving a few bucks and getting a headstart for the drive up the Pacific Coast Highway today. We were pumped full of McDonalds muddy coffee and on the road by 9am so had the whole day to work our way up to Monterey. We split the driving between the ultra-scenic Highway 1 and the less scenic but way quicker Highway 101.

Rumbling tummies encouraged us to pull off the highway and we ended up in Morro Bay. A huge dome of volcanic rock at the end of a natural peninsular dominates the skyline as you drive into the town, and then a fugly power station takes over the skyline as you drive out. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would spoil such a pretty area with such a blot, but as we got further up the coast it started to make more sense.

Our second stop was at the aptly named Elephant Seal Vista. I knew there were seals along the coast as we’d seen some in San Diego but this was something else altogether. Literally hundreds of seals were packed in along the beach, some sleeping, others vocalizing, swimming or generally showing off. The weather was pretty wet but the optimist in me says it made it feel more like we were visiting their environment and hence added to the occasion.

After changing into dry clothes we headed on up the coast. We branched off the highway to get gas and totally chanced across a sweet little town called Cambria which was chock full of cute shops, eateries and galleries. The owner of the gas station was apparently a bit of a Datsun fan as the forecourt was rammed with old 240Zs and 280Zs, most of which could politely be described as “projects”. The highlight of Cambria was the village pharmacy that doubled as a rubber duck nesting ground. I know I’m a grown adult and I only bath about twice a year, but nonetheless I picked up an eco-duck and a surfer duck to add to my explorer duck from Manitou Springs.

Back on the road and the scenery kept getting better whilst the weather kept getting worse. The section of road through Los Padres National Forest was probably stunning, but the lack of visibility, heaving rain and occasional rocks littering the road made it pretty hair-raising. When the brakes on the truck started getting hot and our nerves finally wore through we did the sensible thing and abandoned our plans of getting to Monterey. As ever it worked out for the best and we ended up in a National Park campground at Big Sur. As we set up camp the skies started to clear, I found a bag of wet but salvageable wood, and before long we were sat round a blazing campfire. Another day on the road draws to a close and I’m shattered and stinky (this time smelling primarily of smoke)…

San Diego Zoo

We’ve just spent a couple of days in San Diego. We’d heard it’s a nice city, but it actually exceeded expectations. Saturday night we went for a run along the waterfront. Krista’s getting stuck into the Podrunner Freeway to 10K program at the moment.

Sunday we attempted to go to the zoo but we overslept and by time we got there it was packed. Instead we abandoned the zoo idea and went to the beach. La Jolla cove had everything we needed. A beach, rock pools packed with crabs and fish and best of all a colony of harbor seals. Add in some nice galleries, eateries and a Starbucks and it made for a sweet afternoon.

Monday we had another go at visiting the zoo. I could write a couple of pages about the zoo, but instead I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Day-hike to Lost Palms Oasis

As part of our training for attempting to climb Mt Whitney, we’ve been trying to get in some long hikes. And what better place than Joshua Tree National Park for this week’s stroll? Krista got some suggestions for places to go from one of the park rangers and we decided that Lost Palms sounded like the top choice. 3.7 miles each way over a maintained but rugged trail with plenty of ups and downs but no major ascents. At the end of it we should be greeted by an oasis of California Fan Palms nestled in a steep canyon. Sounds good? We thought so.

We weren’t keen on being fried by the mid-day sun so we were on the trail by 7:30am, having already driven 45 minutes from Indio to the park. The hike itself was just beautiful, made even better by the fact that we were the first people on the trail. The first mile or so we were constantly scattering the assorted desert critters returning from their night’s activities and we saw roadrunners, ground squirrels and lizards galore. We hiked up and down the sides of canyons, along dry river beds, and eventually dropped down into a deeper canyon full of the promised California Fan Palms. Krista had packed us a breakfast fit for a king so we tucked into that, and I took the opportunity to scramble around on the rocks and get some particularly obnoxious cactus spines stuck in my knee.

On our way back to the trailhead we passed a side trail to nearby Mastodon Peak. After a bit of gentle persuasion Krista agreed to give it a go, so we darted up the trail for 1/2 a mile or so, then realized the top of the peak actually required a bit of a scramble. After 7 miles of hiking I didn’t think Krista would be up for it but she surprised me by dancing up the last few metres like a well-equipped rat up a rather dusty drainpipe. We took a few quick photos on the top, then we were back down and returning to the truck. Our first proper scramble together and our longest hike of the trip too. Not bad for day’s work.

What I liked about this hike was that we were in the middle of nowhere, totally surrounded by wilderness, and yet it felt totally welcoming and engaging. There was so much to see, such variety, that 8 miles just flew past. We’ve seen other more jaw-dropping scenery but nothing quite so pleasurable to be out in.

Joshua Tree National Park

Back to reality, time to get outta L.A before I dye my hair and ask to see a plastic surgeon…
We decided to drive back to Indio California as it was super close to Joshua Tree National Park. A few hours and we were out of the smog encassed city. A lovely drive through the wind farm and we were baking, literally baking in Indio. Man it was hot. I know I am pale and a whimp when it comes to heat.. but it was pushing 37 degrees and that was at 5pm! Ew!
 
A/C on and the chilling commenced. We had a late start the following day so we decided to drive to Joshua Tree National Park, get a park pass, take a look at the hikes/climbs around there and organize one for the next day. I normally relate Provincial or State parks to Algonquin in Ontario or something like Banff National. This was something else… The Desert! I automatically think barren, no wildlife, very little plant life and hot, damn hot. It was quite the opposite. Rattlesnakes, Lizards, Roadrunners, huge birds! Prickly Pear catcus, Ocotillo, fan palm trees, Yucca trees. To top it all off, it was on the chilly side! Huh? Yes, it left me dumbfounded and confused yet amazed at the same time. After a quick chat to a park ranger we decided to take the afternoon and drive through the park and take it all in.
 
We drove from the south entrance to the park all the way to the north entrance which If I remember correctly was close to 30 miles. There were exhibit stops along the way that discussed the park, the history of the mining settlers, pinto people, along with the plant and animal life. The best bit for me was actually seeing the meeting of the Colorado and Mojave Desert. The terrain changes, the rocks suddenly look different.. infact they are massive. A few stops along the way Matt could not contain it any longer and had to climb a few. He bouldered his way up one which took him about 10 minutes or so.. all the while I was taking pictures and a lovely lady asked me if it had taken him an hour to get up it, that is just to give you an idea of the scale of some of these baby hills!
 
We found a lovely Joshua Tree… I blame U2 for making me think there was this one MASSIVE tree and it was called the Joshua Tree when in fact it’s actually Yucca Brof evifolia tree and there are in abundance throughout this park. Damn you Bono. My favorite were the Ocotillo trees. Beautiful but sharp!
 
We left the park and into Twentynine Palms, a small town. We then had to drive close to 2 hours just to get back to the RV park. Kudos to Matt for his driving through some windy sections, especially through the wind farm outside of Indio which is home to nearly 4,000 wind turbines! With that said we prepare ourselves for a day of hiking.

Los Angeles

So we had a few days to fill with things, i.e All things awesome, so we decided to hit up La la land.. You know, the land of the rich, fake, tanned, botoxed, fast cars and cougar women land! Also known as L.A.

Looking for an RV park in L.A really wasn’t working. You basically have to pick outside of the city and rent a car to make your way into town. The place we chose? None other than San Dimas. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of other places we could have picked but the George Carlin fan in me and the dudes none other than Bill and Ted enticed us to go there.

This R.V Park was pimpin’. We managed to get a lake view lot (man made lake) and we parked up after dealing with the crappiest roads ever. I was still vibrating by the time we got to the park.. Anyways, we parked up and chilled out preparing ourselves for the next day. Matt took his bike and picked the car up… Now we are going into Beverley Hills today.. I am thinking.. fast car!, sharp looking car, hot car, ohhh yeahhhh… Matt pulls up in none other than a Grand Marquis. Oh yes ladies.. Mmmm mmmm.

Beverly Hills was wonderful. In the sense of walking around and looking at stuff. Chanel, Herve Leger, Cartier, Prada ( I am salivating while typing). We ended up having a lunch right outside Tiffany’s. Wine and Pate while people and car watching. It was a nice change! We then took a ride around the area and popped into West Hollywood to get an idea in preparation for our tourist action the following day.

Hollywood! – Day 2, AWESOME! Did we ever rock out. We got down early and hit the streets. We spent quite a bit of time in front of the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. The biggest surprise there? How small some of the feet were of the actors! We then walked to the Kodak Theatre and spent time going through shops taking photos. Highlight was seeing some very important, influential names through the Hollywood walk of fame. Bob Barker, you are my hero.

The day had to continue with a drive through the infamous Sunset Strip. Whisky-a-Gogo, The Viper Room and The Roxy… Mecca for all that is G n’ R and none other than Motley Crue. we still had some time to kill and ended up busting it down to Santa Monica and had a nice walk to the pier. At this point I realised I didn’t wear the most appropriate foot wear as a hobo even laughed at me while I was attempting to walk down a flight of stairs. A quick zip through venice and our lovely dave (GPS system) getting confused and taking us to LAX, we were back in West Hollywood. I wanted a wicked souvenir to take back with me from this surreal place… So, we ended up at High Voltage Tattoo. For those who dont watch TLC.. that would be the tattoo shop of Ms. Kat Von D and L.A Ink. Rocking out in a tattoo parlour, immersed in a debate about music Jeff aka Tattoo artist, we left the place with somewhat of a permanent reminder of how Rock n’ Roll the L.A scene can be. YAAAAAAAA! OWWWWWWWW!!!!!!

A Most Excellent Time in San Dimas

Whilst we were in California, we were brought forth upon a most excellent adventure conceived by my esteemed colleague Krista. We figured that driving the RV through Los Angeles might be a bit of a chore (!) so Krista found us a cool little base camp at a state park. Despite being nestled between two highways, an airfield, a (possibly) gay hot tub resort, a drag strip and the Los Angeles county fair site, it was a little slice of heaven. We didn’t encounter any floppy-fringed rock bands or time-travelling historical figures(*) but we did spot some pretty cool wildlife and an awesome sunset.

(*) For those wondering what the hell, I’m on about, San Dimas is where the legendary Bill & Ted are allegedly from.

Meteor Crater

Today we went to Meteor Crater, the first proven meteor crater on earth (although not the biggest). We would have gone yesterday but an awesome dust storm pretty much closed the whole area down. Anyway, here’s a quick history lesson…

50,000 years ago a lump of iron ore about 150 meters across forgot to turn left at Uranus (easily done) and subsequently piled into the Arizona desert at 40,000 kilometers per hour leaving a divot a mile across and 700 feet deep. One can only assume it learnt to drive in California. Jump forward to 1902 and a young mining engineer called Daniel Barringer did some sums and figured out that all that iron ore from the meteorite must be worth about a billion dollars to the local railroad builders. Of course, what he hadn’t figured out was that when a meteorite smashes into the earth at warp factor seven, it doesn’t stay in one piece and in fact gets pretty-much vapourised. After 26 years of digging holes and generally poking around the money-grabber ran out of ideas, technology and money. The meteor crater was abandoned and when its owner passed away the following year it was bequeathed to his family. The family leased the whole site to some local ranchers who wanted to turn it into a tourist attraction, and the rest is history. Today they run guided tours of the crater rim (sadly they can’t take you to the crater floor in case someone breaks a heel and sues them) and have an awesome visitor centre and viewing area. Our tour guide, Eduardo, clearly loved everything about the site and spoke with enthusiasm about the creation of the meteor crater, the geology of the surrounding area and the fruitless search for the meteor itself. Krista was so enamoured with our guide that she wants to get a cactus (!) and name it after him. My favourite feature of the visitor centre was the “create your own meteor” simulator. I spent many happy minutes firing various materials through the atmosphere and into the heart of south east asia, with a variety of results ranging from a pretty light show over China to the total eradication of Eastern Australia.

All in all we spent a very entertaining day and were reminded once again that for all the mess we make on the surface of this planet, there are plenty of things out there that are way more powerful than us.

Stepping Up The Pace in Sedona

After our chilled out week in the beautiful city of Phoenix, we’re back on the road again and enjoying the wilderness around the Sedona area. Not that Sedona itself is what you would call wilderness. It’s a pleasant enough place, but somewhat overdeveloped for my tastes. Whilst the building regulations are clearly tight (ie no high-rise, natural-coloured exteriors for all building etc.) it has a full compliment of fast food restaurants (Burger King, KFC and McDonald’s are all represented) to go along with its airport, array of tour companies and hotels. Gladly the whole Red Rock area is criss-crossed with hiking trails and dirt tracks so there’s plenty of opportunity to escape the town and get in amongst the scenery, wildlife and fauna. Hiking is by far the best way to see the sights around here, so yesterday we spent a couple of hours hiking on Doe Mountain. Whilst it’s “only” 400 feet high, the views are somewhere between stunning and alarming depending on your tolerance for vertical drops. One of the highlights, other than the immense views, was seeing a female deer running across the plains at the foot of the mountain. I wonder if she knew the mountain was named after her. We’re also starting to think about plans for climbing some “proper” mountains in late May or June. Mt Whitney (14,505 feet) and Pikes Peak (14,110 feet) are both on the list of proposed targets at the moment, but we may change our mind. Whatever we end up going for, some proper training is definitely in order. To kick things off, I went out trail running last night and had a lot more fun than I thought I would. So long as you’re at a sufficient level of fitness, there’s a real joy to slipping and sliding along a rocky trail on a warm day, sweat running in your eyes, scaring elderly hikers. The nice thing about the route I took yesterday was that there was a river to cool off in at the halfway point. OK, so being honest, I’d actually planned to cross the river and complete the loop on the roads but I totally failed to account for the water levels being so high and hence my 60 minute loop became an 80 minute out-and-back. Mental note: read the trail description *properly* next time.

We’ve also started doing a morning core/strength workout, custom designed to target my underdeveloped areas by my personal trainer. Well, designed by Krista to make me suffer as much as possible, or so it seems.

The physio on my shoulder seems to be progressing steadily too. I’d say I’ve got 90-95% range of movement now, but it’s still mighty weak and causing me a fair amount of discomfort. I’m increasing the strength work now, so hopefully it will beef back up quickly.

Alice The Camel Has Two Humps – Conquering Camelback Mountain

There are a number of hills and mountains to climb around the Scottsdale area. One in particular looked pretty awesome. My cuz Neal mentioned that it was Camelback Mountain. It looked awesome and I just knew it would only be a matter of days before we were going to try it out.

We had learned a lot about climbing with one another from our last attempt in Santa Fe so this would be a great way to use our experience on a new climb. Matt did a bit of research and informed me that the majority of posts indicated that this was no walk in the park and was considered to be strenuous and difficult with exposure when you are close to the summit.

We were on the trail a little after 8am. Matt suggested we take the Cholla Trail which is a 1.4 mile trek up. Sure! Why not? The initial part of the climb was a nice gradual incline, a few switchbacks and a bit of people traffic. The trail was clearly marked. My lungs were definitely working but a part of me thought “where is this hard bit?”. I spoke too soon! The markings stop after you reach a plateau and you then are on the look out for blue spray painted dots throughout the rocks. My nerves set in but it definitely made me more aware of my surroundings. Legs were put to work as well as my arms.

Route finding was great and at one point a challenge. We were hoisting ourselves up through the rock slowly making our way to the top. I had one moment where I got to a point where there was nowhere but up. The problem for me was I couldn’t see what was beyond it. I pulled my infamous Krista move and started talking to myself. My words exactly? “Oh my god” several times over. Rather than freaking out completely and turning around, I took a moment, became stubborn and pushed forward. Once I hoisted myself up over the rock face I saw a dirt path. A small one at best that had big drops at both sides. Insert Matt and his comment of “too much fresh air”. Not long after we were suddenly at the top and WHAT a view! High fives all around and big smiles as we hung out on the top of Camelback. Took a load of pictures and assisted taking photos for others. It was just a cool view and so awesome to be up there hanging out.

Team work was at its best today. Matt looked at me and suggested we head down as I may turn into a strip of bacon. Yup. I forgot to put on sunscreen. The climb down was a little slow at first. The traffic going up had increased significantly as well as the wind. Wasn’t long before we were back down.

It was a great climb. Hard work, fun and definitely challenging at times but worth the sweat, the very sore legs and sunburn.

A few things to note on this trip: Matt balancing on a rock on the summit like a giant Karate kid. Little kids actually making it to the top as well (kudos to all of you). And I make one comment about a girl on the summit and now I am a lesbian apparently? 🙂

Tombstone, AZ – The Town Too Tough To Die

If you’re a fan of western movies, frontier history or wild west mythology, we’re in almost sacred territory today. Back in the 1880s, many young hopefuls met with a bloody ending in this area, but there’s one story that draws 99% of the visitors. Wyatt Earp, Tombstone, Gunfight at the OK Corral, Hour of the Gun, My Darling Clementine….  Those movies are all set here and all tell essentially the same story of , each with a different lead actor and varying degree of respect for the established historical facts. When you’re in a town like this you obviously have to do the standard tourist stuff, watch the re-enactment of the famous gunfight at the OK Corral, check out the souvenir shops, visit the museum, blah blah, and it’s all great entertainment. Although the National Park Service are having a bit of a problem with some non-authentic frontages and inaccurate dates painted on buildings, I think they’ve done a great job of making it feel authentic, preserving the 130 year old frontier history, and still enabling the permanent Tombstone population of 1600 or so to actually live and work here.

Once we were done with the tourist stuff, we decided to regroup and go grab a beer and a bite to eat. Rather than going to one of the family restaurants in the middle of DisneyCowboyRanchLand, Neal spotted somewhere a bit more authentic (the back room of the Silver Nugget, in case you’re interested) at the end of the strip which turned out to be a stroke of genius. I love visiting new places, but I love meeting interesting/unique/eccentric/funny people even more. We ended up spending most of the afternoon sucking back Buds, eating burgers cooked on a wood fire, and meeting some of the locals. I shot a couple of frames of pool with local boy Troy, and Krista got hit on by a local Indian by the name of Chisqua. Chisqua, if you ever get on the internet and come across this article (which I’m guessing is a bit of a longshot), Krista says thank you again for the necklace, and I’m still wearing the feather in my cap with great pride!

There’s one more piece to this story that needs special attention too. Our Tombstone trip marked the first time we’ve had house-guests in the RV. Cousin Neal, Misha and Deb all piled in for our wild west over-nighter and it worked out pretty well. I am finally convinced that this motorhome really can accommodate 5 people, but only if they’re super-cool people. Thanks for coming guys, it really made the trip!

As usual I’ll finish up with a few pics. I’d like to draw particular attention to Finnegan, the wildest (and possibly cutest) puppy in the whooooole west. RRRRUUFF!!