Category: USA – Western States

Downtown Los Angeles

Downtown Los Angeles

We’d both been to LA before, but at the time when you didn’t go downtown. It was pretty-well a no-go area for tourists back in the 80s. So that’s were we headed now, and it was a revelation. Perfect for an afternoon stroll and everyone looked happy, even the homeless looking less desperate than up north.

In particular, in the sunlight, the stunning architecture impressed. Most notably for us the 1930s City Hall, Pershing Square, the inside of the stunning Bradbury Building and the ultra-modern Walt Disney Concert Hall.

And now we deserved a celebratory drink. Over 34 life-affirming days, we had travelled from Portland to Los Angeles in our lovely Grande Cherokee 4×4 experiencing incredible landscapes and sights. Oregon we could live in. California we would love to visit every year.

Your bloggers pictured at Perch, a 16th floor rooftop bar overlooking Pershing Square. We had simply seen the fun location from down in the square and found our way up
Enthusiastic workmates we spoke to as we left Perch. The infectiously-happy woman in the tutu was wildly excited by our travels
Orange County coast

Orange County coast

We fly to Hawaii in a day’s time, so are camping on the coast just south of Los Angeles.

An opportunity to enjoy the SoCal (South Californian) lifestyle, and watch the surfers lining up to wait for just the right wave. Thanks to the cool of the Pacific breezes, it’s the perfect place to live and everyone looks so incredibly happy. Bronzed youngsters jog along the boardwalk, a rock band plays on the beach and the retired are meeting-up for picnics.

Buzzing and exuberant Laguna Beach was just as Roger remembered it from 30 years ago
The pier in San Clemente is authentic and non commercial. At the far end they were fishing (very successfully) for mackerel
Hilary having breakfast at Onofre State Park. We are packing the tent for Hawaii but leaving all the cooking equipment behind for others to use
Claude Bell’s Dinosaur

Claude Bell’s Dinosaur

Believe it or not inside this giant Apatosaurus is a gift shop. Inside we asked “Why is it here?”. The story of these giant dinosaurs is all about a restaurant that used to stand here in Cabazon.

Back in the 60s, what better way to get families to stop at your restaurant than to have two giant dinosaurs outside? “Dad, dad, let’s stop there to see the T-Rex”. So these dinos are a pretty impressive case study in point-of-sale merchandising.

The owner of the Wheel Inn restaurant was a former sculptor and theme park artist Claude Bell, who created the 46 m long Apatosaurus (Dinny) and the 20 m tall Tyrannosaurus Rex (Mr Rex) over a 22 year period.

His original vision for Dinny was for the dinosaur’s eyes to glow and mouth to spit fire at night, saying, “It’ll scare the dickens out of a lot of people driving up over the pass.” These two features, however, were not added.

Where the Wheel Inn used to be is now a Burger King.

Palm Springs

Palm Springs

Walled country clubs and over 100 golf courses have replaced the “Rat Pack”, but Palm Springs still has charm. Everywhere is manicured, even the palm trees, and the boutiques, galleries and restaurants delight the tourists.

But we didn’t experience it at its Spring best – in June it’s simply too hot, although water misting systems cool you as you walk around, looking a bit like a scene in Macbeth. But they don’t keep out the polluted air from LA that gets channelled down the Coachella Valley.

We stayed at Caliente Tropics a 1960 motel with a Polynesian theme
Elvis Presley’s house in Palm Springs. When he died, this and Graceland were the only two houses he owned. It looked badly run-down and unoccupied
A revolving tramway (cable car) took us up San Jacinto Peak, for a spectacular view of the valley, and to escape the oppressive heat
Travel Tips 11 – Spontaneity

Travel Tips 11 – Spontaneity

Leaving Joshua Tree on Route 62, approaching the Interstate 10, we hestitate, unsure which way to turn. Right, and we camp in the cooler air of San Bernardino National Forest, or left, and we visit Palm Springs.  In short, more nature or some sophistication.

On a whim, we turn left. It just seems more fun.

Now driving along Palm Canyon Drive, we read in the Lonely Planet guide about a motel where Elvis hung out in the 60s. 10 minutes later we are checking in.

For us, this is a good illustration of why gap-year travellers shouldn’t firm-up too much in advance. After all, you can’t microplan everything for a year’s trip. You need to have the flexibility to be spontaneous and go with the flow and your feelings.

We have the discipline of our round-the-world flight bookings, but apart from that pretty much everything else has been firmed-up just a few days in advance.

There have been a few exceptions. Yes, we did need to book our days at Torres del Paine well in advance. And just today, fearing we might get stranded and miss our upcoming flight to Sydney, we have booked an inter-island flight in Hawaii.

So, our tips for middle-aged gap year travellers are:

  • Give yourself a framework for the year
    Given that so much is best unplanned, we think its best to have the big picture agreed upfront. So that means sorting out where you want to go at the country/region level and then doing some research to check the allocation of days makes sense. We did this pretty diligently at the time we booked our round-the-world flights.
  • Within each country/region just go with the flow
    Our approach has literally been to start travelling and see how it goes. So, if we like somewhere we can stay longer. If we need a change of pace we can react accordingly. If we hear about somewhere special we can make a diversion. For us this approach is liberating, but you’ll need to check you have the personality to thrive making arrangements on the fly.
  • Constantly look for the new
    Having been on the road for nearly eight months we’re appreciating that you can have too much of a good thing. We really have seen enough Cathedrals. We’ve seen enough volcanic lakes. We’ve seen enough forest trails. So now we are actively searching out new treats. That’s why, albeit at the last moment, Palms Springs appealed so much to us. We wanted to swim under palm trees at midnight, to visit the home of tennis’ fifth most important tournament and to go in our first-ever rotating cable car (see the next post for pictures)
  • Be alert for those things that need booking in advance
    Although highly recommending the laissez-faire approach, we do recognise there will be certain things that need to be booked in advance. The secret here is to recognise them in the first place. For instance, we have just booked our hostel accommodation in Honolulu for seven days time as we read there is only one hostel there and it’s likely to be full.

This is one of our occasional tips for middle aged gap year travellers. To see the others, click below on the link – Travel Tips

“Clearing your Head” – Thoughts from the World

“Clearing your Head” – Thoughts from the World

Reflections from a few of the most emotional, beautiful and obscure places in the world. Thoughts from the World is an occasional series of posts from Roger about travelling for inspiration.

Driving up the road from Twentynine Palms you leave the everyday behind; gas stations, fast-food outlets and faded motels, all disappearing in the rear view mirror.

I am escaping the 21st century, and entering the timeless desert of Joshua Tree National Park; nearly 800,000 acres of wilderness.

Ahead of me, Joshua trees whimsically stand proud, granite stacked boulders look like giant brains emerging from the earth, and a surprisingly wide variety of plants thrive. The sun overhead dominates everything. The air is hot, the dust is hot, the scent of creosote bushes hot.

My routine changes. I’m up with the sun, and then through the heat of the day searching for shade, and then climbing viewpoints at sunset. Yet, in this harsh environment it feels surprisingly safe. For us privileged humans, one gallon of water a day per person is recommended.

My mind clears. A Time to dwell. A Time to savour. A Time to think.

This is getting away from it all. Getting rid of the shackles and worries that hold back our hopes, and our dreams. Now I can think beyond the distant horizon.

A Thought from the World 

“To think clearly you need to declutter your head and your life”

Three things we might want to do

Find a quiet space and do some mindfulness (free exercises are easily found online).

Get out of the house and go for a long walk, hopefully in big sky country when the sun is shining.

Declutter the home. Throw out anything not used in the last year or lacking any intrinsic value.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

We’ve spent 48 hours in the almost prehistoric wilderness of Joshua Tree National Park, camping for two nights at the Jumbo Rocks campsite.

The mesmerising Joshua trees are not really trees, but a species of yucca. They can grow up to 40 feet tall at the rate of an inch a year and live for hundreds of years. They seemed very characterful, each with a unique outline. We were too late for the blooming of their magnificent cream-coloured flowers, however, we had other flowers to enjoy…

Plant-wise we walked amongst Mojave yucca, pinyon pines, scrub oaks, creosotes, and jojoba. We glimpsed desert spiny lizards, jackrabbits, cactus wrens and American kestrels.

Our time here was a real highlight of our tour through the national parks of SE California.

In the cool of sunrise, we walked around the Cholla Cactus Garden
A woman saw us watching the sun set at Keys View, and offered to take our picture
Hilary’s worst moments

Hilary’s worst moments

We thought you might like to read about some of our less glamorous moments. Here are Hilary’s six worst so far:

Meltdown in Puerto Iguacu, Argentina

As it was a Saturday night we had booked a hostel in advance, but let us down; when we turned up, our room was taken. It was the end of the day, very hot, I was tired, my backpack was heavy, I hadn’t eaten and meltdown happened… Roger became the hero of the hour and carried both backpacks as we tramped around trying to find somewhere else!

Shitting in my pants in the street in San Pedro de Atacama

After a long journey, we were starving and tucked into a hearty pizza for lunch at what seemed to be a nice restaurant. But within hours my stomach was feeling dodgy. Later, whilst out for an early evening walk, the worst happened! There was no controlling it, just a quick dash back to our hostel…

A massive argument with Roger in Quito about our return date

Roger wanted to extend our year of travelling because he loves it so much, and we can’t get back into our house until mid-December. I enjoy the travelling but I am missing my children and friends and I’m also totally exhausted and know I cannot last beyond 12 months. After an hour Roger agreed.

Night in a cheap hotel in San Rivas Gerardo, Costa Rica

Being built into the rock face, it had seemed quite a wacky place when we checked in… but when we switched the lights off in our bedroom at night, a whole swarm of noisy insects came out of the corners of the room and attached me! A massive moth got caught in my hair, another large buzzing  insect hit my face and everywhere there was a loud drone of others. I freaked!

Bus ride to Iquique in Chile

It was always going to be a long 28 hour bus trip, but then it got even longer. The bus broke down at midnight on a two-way highway sided by cliffs. To save the battery, the driver then IMG_3096switched off all the lights whilst we had lorries hurtling by in the outside lane. Roger and I got off the bus and stood in the freezing cold for two hours, lest it got run into. The other passengers thought we were mad! Suffice to say, a replacement bus turned up two hours later and we all got to Iquique safely by 11pm the next night.

Losing my favourite scarf on the bus to Paraguay

How I loved that blue and black scarf; I wore it everywhere for five years because it was so practical (see photo taken in Chile). It didn’t show the dirt, kept me warm as a scarf and cool as a headscarf and went with virtually every top in my wardrobe. But alas. On a long overnight bus journey from Formosa my scarf must have fallen onto the floor, so I didn’t see it when we left. I realised about an hour later and tramped back to the bus station in fierce heat, but it was too late, the bus had already departed.

Amboy on Route 66

Amboy on Route 66

On our way to Joshua Tree National Park we drove through the desolate Mojave Preserve and then a stretch of Route 66. Six weeks after enjoying this historic route in Missouri and Kansas, it seemed like an old friend.

Because of its isolated location, Roy’s Motel and Café built in 1938 at Amboy became the place to stay. Business boomed in the deluge of motor tourists after World War II.

Today, its 1959 sign is still an iconic sight and the whole setting is bizarre, but the motel is closed and the only sign of life (just) is a seriously overweight man serving in the gas station.

Since 2005, this slice of history has been owned by Californian fast food entrepreneur Albert Okura, who offered $425,000 in cash and promised to preserve the town and reopen Roy’s. Much work is still needed. Roger would like to return one day and stay in the motel.

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point

With the temperatures so high, and the desert wind gusting up to 40 mph, camping in Death Valley was impossible. So we had no option but to check into the Furnance Creek Ranch; our most expensive stay of the gap year so far. We consoled ourselves in the morning with the swimming pool, in the driest place on earth!

Ten minutes drive up the valley was Zabriskie Point. Along with many others, we went there for both sunset and sunrise; made extra special by the full moon. Christian Zabriskie was the Vice President of the Pacific Coast Borax Company, and did much, after mining revenues collapsed, to open up Death Valley to tourism.

Also in the morning we did a little trekking into the so called badlands. But we soon turned back, it was getting very hot and we were worried about losing our way.