All good things come to an end, they say and, almost in the blink of an eye, we had come to the end of our road trip and reached the day when we had to head for the airport to make our way home. But our flight was scheduled for late afternoon and as long as we dropped off the car by 3 pm the day was ours. Incredibly, the bright blue skies were back and the sun was beating down once more. Venice Beach was on our way to the airport (sort of) so we finished packing and headed to the beach.
Parking presented the same problems as previously but we found a space on a meter just a short stroll from the bright blue ocean. Sunday morning appears to be the time for exercise at the beach and fun in the sun. Venice Beach is certainly a ‘happening’ place and as we made our way across the white sand to inspect the flights and loops of the skate boarders, we were amazed to see a guy performing incredible acrobatics with a large hula hoop. Further down were basketball matches, tennis, paddle tennis and football. The runners, weight lifters and press-up maestros, with their rippling muscles, added to the scene. A home from home for the ‘body beautiful’, so we stayed covered up and indulged in nothing more strenuous than ice cream licking and people watching.
The small town away from the beach is a quirky place, with its murals, crowded bars, tee shirt shops and a reputation for a bohemian lifestyle. The last time we had been here you could almost get high on the smell of marijuana, although that was in the evening! But for now, it was a very reluctant goodbye, not only to Venice Beach but to California and to our 2019 Road Trip.
We covered 3225 miles (instead of the planned 2652) and loved every one of them. This was an especially memorable journey, with just the right balance of rest and relaxation as well as the driving. So here’s to all the wonderful memories, the fun the laughter and to the planning of our next adventure.
We will be back!
Carolyn’s Curios and Curiosities
Saying a reluctant goodbye to California and the U.S. for this Road Trip. We weren’t prepared to waste even this part-day so, as Venice Beach is on the way to LAX,… we went! Skateboarders, cyclists, runners, basketball players, paddle tennis etc. but Muscle Beach was still being further developed. Not a deterrent for at least one guy!
Sunshine, sea, spray… and sand: golden, beautiful.
Checked in, through security and now waiting for the long flight back.
Until the next time… we did, indeed, cover 3225 miles and loved every one of them.
Back to overcast skies today and a sightseeing drive to the south of Santa Monica felt like a good idea. We had been to Venice Beach some years previously on a drive through California, so we set off to see if we could find where we had gone on that occasion. Even just after breakfast, Venice Beach was crowded with cars and, for the first time on this trip, we did not find a parking spot anywhere near where we wanted to be. More map researching told us that Long Beach might be interesting and it wasn’t too far.
We thought we might deploy our usual trick of wandering off the main highway, but on this occasion I have to say that our wanderings were somewhat less successful than previously. With our destination still in the sat nav, we appeared to be stretching the time of arrival by several hours. More importantly, we were not really seeing much, apart from downmarket suburbs and confusing signposts. It seemed like a good idea to head back to the main road, swallow our pride and just get to our destination. Besides, it was time for coffee.
This time we diligently followed the main highway, plus the sat nav, as well as the road signs. I am sure we could be forgiven for the confusion when the equivalent of a motorway spur road took us to the heart of a working dock area of massive proportions. Ships’ containers were everywhere, as were signs to various parts of the port. Did we want cruise ships or commercial? The sat nav appeared unconcerned, so we followed on wondering if we might find ourselves being directed on board a ship. But no, the road forked and we were going downtown, apparently.
We certainly came to large buildings, very smart hotels and “normal” traffic. So, time to park, time to explore and definitely time for coffee. That was easy to achieve and in our refreshed state we still could see no sign of a beach, let alone a long one. So, it was back to the car, look at the picture on the sat nav, which showed a very long beach not far away, and try to find a side road which might take us there. From limited parking in what may, or may not, have been the town, now there was miles of it, all along the beachfront. The problem was… the overcast skies were not welcoming to beach people and, unless we fancied walking the miles of beach, the huge prices being charged to park there didn’t really seem worth it. We stayed long enough to look at the island just off the coast, see the extent of the beach and marvel at the hardy souls wandering into the ocean. Santa Monica felt like a whole lot more fun, so that was where we headed, taking a different route to avoid the docks but not to avoid the vast numbers of other cars heading in the same direction. They do have traffic jams here!
Once back in Santa Monica, we ditched the car at the hotel and headed off once more by bus. We noted that our already cheap tickets would take us to Venice Beach if we wanted, but thought that a wander through the town, a look at the shops and some late lunch might serve us well. We also planned to go back to the pier and finally (hopefully) see the sunset. We did shop, I bought winter boots of all things, and found food at Johnny Rockets. This was an amazing experience in itself. More wandering and watching street entertainers and we were back to the pier.
Sunset here draws the crowds and there was sufficient clear sky above the horizon to suggest we might see a good one. Meanwhile there was much pier entertainment to enjoy, to say nothing of the flashing lights and loud music which came from the funfair.
And suddenly, there it was. A ball of fire heading for the sea (sorry geographers – I do know what really takes place but your version isn’t quite so graphic) and every phone, every camera and every iPad came to life in an effort to capture those magical moments from every viewpoint. It was somewhat significant as this was our last night of the 2019 Road Trip odyssey. All those fabulous days and this felt like saying goodbye for another year.
But not quite. We are not flying home until late afternoon and tomorrow is another day (or at least half a day) to enjoy.
It was still overcast and somewhat cool, by recent standards, as we set off for our final hotel of the road trip. We were off to Santa Monica, not just to revisit the pier where we ended our Route 66 road trip, but to watch the sun go down and take things at a rather more leisurely pace than on our previous, somewhat rushed, visit. And on that relaxed theme we decided to enjoy the Pacific highway and see some of the other towns and beaches along the way.
Our first experience was Ventura, another Californian coastal town. Like so many, it has a busy Main Street and plenty of parking. It was a bit early in our journey to think about a coffee stop, so we wandered off the main highway in search the coastal road. Our wandering took us to Oxnard where we picked up the signs once more for Highway 1 and there we were, back amongst the rugged seascapes of this famous road.
Soon the cars became faster and smarter, with a smattering of Ferraris amongst the Corvettes. We soon saw why….we were in Malibu and there was another famous pier. Canyon Park, with its inland mountains, offered views of what we assumed to be Santa Monica across the curve in the coast. It was, and soon we were on familiar territory. Our hotel was not in a part of Santa Monica where we had ventured before, so the sat nav and keen eyes were needed on these busy roads. Success….we negotiated crossing in front of at least three lanes of traffic to access the hotel’s garage and we were ready to unpack for the last time.
The day was young and the sun was out, so wasting no further time we found there was a bus just around the corner from the hotel which would take us into downtown Santa Monica. Although we didn’t really know where to get off, we took our chance with a potential stop, found the beach and strolled to the pier. Nothing had changed in the intervening 3 years but we enjoyed it as if it was a totally new experience. I still marvelled at the beaches on either side, we ate hot dogs from one of the stalls and wandered into the coffee shop where we had enjoyed coffee and cake previously. And so we spent a delightful afternoon, full of music, fun, sun, old memories and with new ones now added.
Wandering back to find the appropriate bus stop, we walked along Sunset Boulevard and put it on the list for further exploration the following day. In the meantime, I must mention dinner. We researched, naturally, and found a family owned restaurant which received great reviews about a mile from the hotel. Our walk there found us approaching head-on a man who was very high on I know not what. He was shouting, gesticulating and weaving about all over the place. Just take a deep breath and keep walking! Carolyn was not concerned and we passed safely by but then I worried that a young lady and her mother were also about to meet him. We made sure they had safely got by before turning off to the excellent restaurant. The journey back (with Carolyn carrying left over pizza in a box) was by now on very dark streets with lots of similar guys to the one we had encountered earlier. As we neared our hotel, two of them were sitting in the shadows. With aplomb, Carolyn offered her pizza, which was gratefully received, and after a quick conversation we were once more at the hotel. Phew! We had been perfectly safe in a respectable area but it turned out there was a hostel for those in need on the next block.
Carolyn’s Curios and Curiosities
Santa Monica: the last staging post of our 2019 Road Trip!
(As an aside, I can’t think of ‘Monica’ without thinking of my cousin who played a mouth organ – we called her ‘Our Monica’! #sorry)
So, we set out on the last mileage of what was planned as a 2652 mile Road Trip from New Orleans to Los Angeles via Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California. The Yosemite loop from Fresno added some of the miles but was very well worth it. Fabulous scenery and a wonderful experience.
Today’s ‘hop’ was relatively short (86 miles) so we extended it by veering off I101 by taking the more scenic and iconic Highway 1 which skirts the coast and, in parts, is known as the Pacific Highway. We’d driven cross country a little first but down Highway 1 we were determined to travel. However,… there are breaks in the road and our attempts to stick to the route were frustrated by it not being there! It was reminiscent, as so many aspects of our Road Trips are, of the Route 66 journey where the road just disappeared from time to time. Great fun, though.
We’d driven North on Highway 1 a few years ago on the way to San Francisco but never Southwards. The difference? Americans drive on the right side which is the wrong side for Brits. Coming South, we were closer to the cliff edges and the Pacific Ocean for the very best views and the occasional stopping places.
Highway 1 was designated such in 1964 as part of the renaming of American Highways but parts of the road go back to the 1930s. It is designated as an All-American Road but today was our turn. And, to cap our return to Route 66, our hotel is on Route 66 itself (aka called here the corner of the famous Santa Monica Boulevard and 20th Street).
In the U.K., we sometimes ignore the pervasiveness of American culture on us. American music, for example, has been part of my upbringing and when I saw Ventura on the map, I remembered Ventura Highway by the band America; California Dreamin’ written by John and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and Papas; Route 66, of course, sung by so many people (my favourite still is the Nat King Cole version although Chuck Berry’s is close); and,… possibly one of my lift-up favourites, featuring Santa Monica Boulevard, ‘All I Wanna Do’ by Sheryl Crow with, for me, a classic sing-along chorus: 🎼🎶🎤
“’Cause all I wanna do is have some fun
I got a feeling I’m not the only one
All I wanna do is have some fun
I got a feeling I’m not the only one
All I wanna do is have some fun
Until the sun comes up over
Santa Monica Boulevard”
Well, tomorrow morning, we’ll be doing just that – watching the sun come up over the Santa Monica Boulevard and, of course, having some (more) fun.
(As an anecdote, I decided to wear the same Route 66 T-shirt today as I’d worn in Santa Monica on our first Road Trip. Both smiling!)
Remembering our first Road Trip along Route 66 four years ago! Such fun! And, we planned it to end our 2019 one here, too. #success
I thought this was a joke as we crossed a street in Santa Monica. However, it’s part of a safety initiative. Certainly, caught my attention.
It was an exciting prospect to be heading for the sea, and our first glimpse of the ocean since leaving New Orleans. Therefore, we chose a route from Fresno which would take us straight across to the coast and from there we would drive south to Santa Barbara.
The road from Fresno undulated its way through lowlands and highlands, leaving us marvelling yet again at the ease of driving in America. There were many farms, which went on for miles, with placards declaring that water meant food, and which were no doubt political points about requiring more government funded water storage solutions. Somehow you don’t necessarily think about California being ‘dry’, but it certainly is, and the vast plains of agriculture need irrigation help by harvesting and storing each drop of rain.
We joined Route 101 happily following the coast when the result of drinking too much water along the journey necessitated a stop, which in turn gave us our first close up of the sea. (That was after the loo stop!!). Pismo is very much one of the more rugged areas of the Californian coast but there were seats along the cliff top for watching the sea birds who inhabit the huge outcrops of rocks.
But there were still some miles to go to Santa Barbara and to get there we soon had to turn inland and cross a range of mountains. That was really interesting. There we were in the Californian sunshine yet driving towards cloud which seemed to be coming further down the mountains as we climbed ever higher.
It was surreal to slip right into those clouds as we climbed, fully expecting to come out of the wet shrouded scenery as we descended into Santa Barbara. Not quite. The clouds lifted, for sure, but grey skies prevailed and after almost three weeks of wall to wall sunshine and intense heat, we found ourselves at one of the richest and most famous resorts in California on a cool, cloudy late afternoon. Not swimming weather for sure, so time for research into restaurants.
It just had to be fish, or seafood, but anything else would be almost an insult to a town with its own marina and fishing port. Brophy Bros Restaurant and Clam Bar felt like the place to be. It overlooked the marina, it was next to a large car park, so how difficult could that be to find. Well, quite difficult, but of course it was mission accomplished and we enjoyed the best fish and chips you could find anywhere! From a pair of Lancashire lasses that was quite a compliment. A stroll through the marina was followed by a more determined walk back to the car when we remembered we had ‘restricted’ free parking. Then we were off to find where the beautiful people might hang out when not on the beach. Certainly they were not along the ocean front and the one way streets threw up many a challenge in our search for a potential alternative hang-out… the shops. By the time we found them, because we don’t give up on a challenge, they were closed or closing. It wasn’t that we wanted to buy things, merely to understand what made Santa Barbara so famous for being “rich and famous”, so we were neither deterred nor disappointed. The names on the stores told their own story – we got it!
More coastal fun tomorrow as we head for Santa Monica.
Carolyn’s Curios and Curiosities
There are times when coincidences are odd. Being allocated Room 101 in Fresno, we headed for our penultimate Staging Post at Santa Barbara via… Route 101! Makes you wonder – well, makes me wonder!
After a decent breakfast, we loaded the car and set off South West for the coast albeit 254 miles away.
What a journey… through sun-soaked prairie, past grazing cattle, vineyards… all parched because the drought hitting California. More signs pleading for more dams to be provided to enable irrigation for better food production. We had enough fuel for most of the journey today but had noticed that fuel prices have risen during our Road Trip. We bought a gallon for less than $2 in New Orleans (about 50p/litre!) but is now $4+ at some ‘Gas Stations’ in California. Clearly, some of the cost differential is related to the prevalent Saudi/Iran issue and some to the increased cost of living further West.
Hills became mountains and, once more I thought back to the early settlers with their belongings on a wagon. As we ticked off the miles at 65/70 mph, they would have done in a day what we did in about 10 minutes. Such courage and determination from them and one can only imagine their feelings of joy and relief as they reached their ‘Promised Land’. Even one of us – not me – squealed with delight when she saw the sea. Somehow, the Pacific Ocean holds a different appeal to the Irish Sea at home.
Before we got to the sea were more mountains. This time their tops covered with cloud. Ominous, we thought. We drove into the cloud and our previous almost cloudless, brilliant blue skies disappeared. Santa Barbara didn’t have sunshine and the temperature, which had been 90-100 degrees Fahrenheit now dropped to below 80! We know that 80°F is more than acceptable in the U.K. but…!
Santa Barbara seems bigger in area than I imagined for its c.100k population but when we eventually found the city centre, it looked an interesting combination of Spanish/Mexican architecture. But, we were here for the beach! However,… it was cool, a little dull and less than enticing. So, undaunted, we drove around the city after a pause at Shell Beach with so many seabirds and found a well-regarded seafood restaurant next to the Yacht Club. Fish and Chips for Kath and Clam Chowder and House Salad for me. Both meals were excellent and, as we’d missed lunch, “filled a hungry hole” very satisfactorily. Another enjoyable day with Santa Monica tomorrow.
(As a footnote, we passed a sign for Los Osos… too many Os and Ss somehow. 😈)
What an absolutely awesome day. We were on the road by 7 am and off into the early morning rising sun to get a head start on a busy day. Parts of the journey were familiar to me, but after 23 years it was definitely a voyage of rediscovery and a new experience for Carolyn. Of course we had researched how to make the best of our day, so in addition to the sat nav we were armed with maps, iPads downloaded with details and water and fruit (just in case)! In the end, my memories, coupled with Carolyn’s unerring sense of direction, provided a fabulous day and, for me, hundreds of photographs!
The road into the park felt immediately familiar, and yet different. My last visit had been in the spring time and yet here we were with Fall well on the way. There was evidence of the Californian fires here in the park (and we learned that they also use controlled fires to manage their forestry), but the previously gushing waterfalls along the route were presenting themselves as little more than dribbles. We started by finding a road only open May to October and the car climbed steadily 7,214 ft to Glacier Point. The temperature up there was probably equivalent to a very warm summer day in the UK as we looked across at the tops of the famous El Capitan and Half Dome. People were already rock climbing on the mountain faces and, through binoculars ,you could see them hard at work and dangling off ropes. The views were truly breathtaking and this was a vista I had missed last time as we had been too early in the year for the road to be open. There may have been lots of people around but there was definitely a pervading air of peace and tranquility. I thought at the time that of all the places I have been fortunate enough to visit in the world, this particular view would have to be high up on my list of favourites.
Somewhat reluctantly, we tore ourselves away and set off down to the village (ground floor) for a different perspective, stopping briefly on the way after exiting a mountain tunnel for another spectacular vista. This gave us a view across the valley floor to the sweeping mountains. We were definitely not going to climb any mountains, but buses were advertised which would drop us off at strategic points. But first of all we had to park the car. Most of the village car parks were declared closed and looked full but, undeterred, Carolyn found a way in. I am not snitching on how she did it but gratefully accepted the parking space she also found near to where we wanted to be! How does she manage it?!
After lunch under the trees with a chipmunk adding to the entertainment, we tried a free shuttle bus around the floor of the valley. Sadly, the journey was not terribly comfortable as the bus was packed with more people being rammed in at each stop. Additionally, we were under a huge canopy of trees, which I did not remember being so tall and ‘view restricting’, so we gave up and went to the theater (sic) in the Visitors’ Centre to see a short film about the start of this National Park (the first of its kind in the USA).
We finished our personal Yosemite tour with a walk to the centre of a meadow to enjoy these towering mountains. We were not going to let the trees get in the way and the centre of the meadow provided a potentially different view in spite of various hazards seeking to put us off (small concealed ditches, stinging plants and swarming flies). I was looking for the famous and spectacular waterfalls which I had delighted in seeing previously. However, the Yosemite Falls were down to a trickle and the Bridalveil Falls were somewhat “quiet”. For us, a small price to pay for the fabulous weather, whilst knowing the rains will come soon to bring the falls back to full force.
Our drive out of the park, and back to Fresno, held a tinge of regret for me that I was leaving this wonderfully spectacular place, but with hundreds of photographs to enjoy in the meantime, here’s to the next time!
Carolyn’s Curios and Curiosities
This has been very much Kath’s day which I’ve been privileged to share! Thank you.
Leaving Palm Springs for Fresno with 330 miles planned for the day, we ate a hearty breakfast, filled up with fuel and set off. The town hadn’t been as glamorous as I think I’d expected but we’d had another great couple of days.
Travelling between the expanses of wind turbines, we marvelled at the sheer scale of the venture. Between them, they generate enough power for 330 000 homes. No fossil fuel consumption, no waste products, clean energy.
The I10 stretched before us and with Kath at the wheel, we hit the HOV lane at a speed which indicated a slight disregard to the stated speed limit! (#justsaying!) The other four lanes slowed almost to a standstill with the weight of traffic but we carried on with only one car and a motorcycle in front of us. Now, HOV stands for High Occupancy Vehicle and, to illustrate the American worship of personal transport, High Occupancy means 2! Even that was defied by the motorcyclist who didn’t have a pillion passenger.
I’d researched the route and saw that we passed a number of places which brought back memories. ‘Downtown Burbank’ from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in announced by Gary Owens with one hand to his ear; ‘Pasadena’ by the Temperance Seven linked to The Pasadena Roof Orchestra; San Fernando of the ‘Last Train to…’ fame by Johnny Duncan and the Blue Grass Boys and, for me, Anaheim where I had my first ever visit to America which was for an educational conference in 1991.
Trucks slowed as we climbed the inclines of I5 which saw them struggling round Pyramid Lake and the oddly named Hungry Valley. Some of them were almost unable to keep climbing and the ominous sign saying ‘Radiator Water available’ sent a clear message. The climb was to over 4000 feet and we passed evidence of the fires which had ravaged parts of California during the drought. Some agriculture was obviously possible as we passed grapes, olives and one corn field. We saw cattle being fed fodder and adverts for a Vintage Cheese Factory showing some dairy and beef production but didn’t see any growing pasture. There seemed to be a significant campaign by farmers for more dams to be built to provide irrigation. ‘More dams mean more food’ read the posters.
So, we arrived in Fresno despite our Sat. Nav. insisting that Sacramento should be pronounced ‘Sacramenno’ with an apparently silent T… which led me to imagine an afternoon meal where people didn’t speak… Silent tea?! Sorry, I was driving by that time!
The last time a Road Trip involved a cinema visit was, on Kath’s recommendation, to see ‘The Mechanic’ with Jason Statham whose facial expressions ran the whole gamut from A to… err… B! Just!
So, with trepidation, another of her choices… and what a difference! Action, acting and humour in ‘Angel Has Fallen’. Ok, I’d worked out the villains from 5 minutes in but, hey, an enjoyable film in a very comfortable stylish cinema called the Manchester Regal. Wow!
By mid afternoon Scottsdale was far behind us and we had arrived at our next destination. I worked out that it was about 23 years since I was last in Palm Springs (collecting Nicky from her gap year placement near LA) and two things stood out in my memory: the aerial tramway which takes you over 8,000 feet to the top of the mountain and the massive desert wind farm. They were definitely on the list of places to visit but we were keen to explore, and, for me, it was time for some memory refreshing as the town had left no memory whatsoever. We wandered out into the wall of heat and decided to take the car whilst we got our bearings (and in order to enjoy the air conditioning). Essentially, Palm Springs (downtown) is one long strip, with side roads that might, or might not, contain restaurants or bars. Having got the measure of the geography of the place, it was time to abandon the car and seek some refreshment. One feature of the town I had most certainly not encountered on my last visit was the huge number of LGBT folks who were out enjoying the bars, restaurants and late afternoon browsing. Actually, advertising boards explained the LGBT Film Festival taking place that weekend.
Bars and restaurants were plentiful and we eventually selected a quite crowded restaurant, which is always a good sign, and we were shown to a table overlooking the pavement (sorry, sidewalk) to enjoy people watching. Great food and not expensive, so what a winner.
The following morning we were geared up for exploration further afield. After some research, I was gutted to learn that the tramway was closed for maintenance so we couldn’t enjoy the experience of going from almost 100 F to 50 F at the top. I shared with Carolyn that you start off in the desert heat wearing summer gear but the final element at the top of the mountain can be bone-chillingly cold. Last time I was there it was Easter time and there was snow at the top and a biting wind! Fortunately, the wind farm still flourishes, along with swathes of solar panels too. Standing in the middle of the desert taking photos with a hot wind blowing was an amazing experience and really quite beautiful! It remains the largest wind farm in the USA and the main Interstate bisects it for some miles. It is one of those places you have to keep on exploring to discover more and more windmills, and now lots of solar panels too. An amazing sight.
Lunch beckoned and as we were driving back into Palm Springs I spied a bakery. I thought it might be somewhere to pick up ingredients for a picnic around the swimming pool, or bits and pieces for a snack. But Shermans Bakery and Delicatessen offered a restaurant too. Its origins are Jewish but strictly Kosher it is not. However, it offers New York style sandwiches and my choice was corned beef on wheat with yellow mustard and pickles. My concern was that my mouth wasn’t big enough to accommodate this vast delicacy. Of course it was, and I ate the lot. Carolyn’s equally overfilled tuna sandwich was tame by comparison. Quite the culinary delight of the trip. We enjoyed a quiet afternoon in the sun and in the pool and made use of some of the rest time I had written into this Road Trip. Tomorrow is a long drive up to Fresno in preparation for a visit to Yosemite.
Carolyn’s Curios and Curiosities
Welcome to the Hotel (in) California 🎼🎶🎤
It was a light not dark desert highway but, with a window open, we did have cool wind in our hair although the car told us that the outside temperature hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit! The hottest we’ve seen. Despite one of our earlier staging posts, Houston area, having 30 inches of rain in the past three days, we’d left a couple of days before that and our dry, slightly dusty journey continued. The I10 West from Scottsdale opened with five lanes plus a HOV (High-occupancy vehicle) lane for each carriageway. Traffic moved smoothly! Even when it narrowed to two lanes, the max. speed being 75 mph meant that, with our cruise control set, driving was just about steering (and being overtaken!).
Before we said our au revoir to Scottsdale, we had to check out of our hotel. Usually it’s no problem as we’d arranged it through Booking.com and had the agreed price to hand. Unfortunately, there was a gremlin in their computer system which increased our bill significantly from the very reasonable price Kath had agreed. A brief discussion with the desk clerk was followed by a slightly longer discussion with the Manager who agreed we were correct and amended the price. However,… (why is there usually “However,…” in these anecdotes?!) when the receipt arrived later in the day via email, it was still significantly more than we had agreed. So,… a toll free call to the hotel company (Vicky), a transfer (still free) to the hotel, a transfer from the operator to Bradley, the Manager from the morning… resulted in a very amicable result with the agreed price being met with an extra $60 discount which left us paying about half the original bill! As some may say, “Get in there!!!” Scottsdale was lovely but the visit was not uneventful!
So, we headed to Palm Springs. The name has a magic to it. But, I’d never been and Kath’s only visit was many years ago and the memory was faded. She’d remembered the wind farm, which research tells me is the oldest in the U.S. with the first turbine erected in 1980, but not much else.
The place was first called Palm Springs on a map of 1853 but there’s uncertainty about how it got its name. One theory is that it’s from the Spanish who called the area the ‘Palm of God’s Hand’.
The Coachella Festival takes place close by and signage when we arrived told us that there was an LGBTQ Film Festival taking place this weekend.
Having arrived and checked into our latest hotel, we set off exploring and found the designated best restaurant in Palm Springs – not expensive and very tasty food. Walking the sidewalks (pavements) past the odd Red Thunderbird, we spotted their Walk of Fame Stars. I’m a bit of a geek with old TV/Music/Film stars but we didn’t recognise most of them. I’ve included some we did.
Another excellent, eventful and successful day with another 300 miles on our Road Trip clock. Tomorrow an aerial tram… or, as it turned out… not!
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! It was really Hot Corned Beef on Rye and was delicious as was my Tuna!
Another ‘dusty drive’ full of highway instructions about what to do in case of a dust storm, which convinced us that such phenomena must be a regular occurrence. For all the warnings, our journey was uneventful and we arrived in Phoenix by lunchtime. At this point I need to confess that Carolyn is often (usually) generous enough to leave the choice of hotels to me and, therefore, I have to take full responsibility for what we subsequently found. I had booked a Super 8 hotel and it is a chain we have used a couple of times in the past when our favoured chains were unavailable. It advertised a swimming pool, great, and all the usual amenities, so I wasn’t too concerned to see the outside, which had some motel type features. As we had arrived early, we were wanting to dash off to Scottsdale, where we had booked a Segway tour for the following morning. Because we had no idea where to find the meeting point, we thought we could go and explore the neighbourhood and discover the best way to get there when we might be pushed for time the following day. With that in mind, we accepted the early check-in (how kind), dropped off suitcases and set off for Scottsdale.
Scottsdale was quickly found, as was the Segway company, so off we set to explore, and fall in love with, this most western of western towns. Part of it is a replica of a Wild West town, even with a Saloon which had swinging doors. Another part of the town houses very upmarket shopping and yet another is an art centre with galleries which rival those found in New York. Upmarket? It most certainly is. We took a tour on a free trolley bus and for a while were the only passengers. This gave the driver an opportunity to “sell” the town, but there was no need, we were captivated.
Having enjoyed a quick snack for lunch, by the time we were done with the trolley bus an ice cream was a distinct possibility. The driver had pointed out an ice cream parlour, which had kept the same style from its opening in the 1950s, so off we went in search of refreshment. Oh my goodness, the decor was fabulous, the waitress inspiring with her knowledge of all things sweet and delicious and her recommendations were just divine. For me, it was one scoop of butter crunch ice cream along with a black raspberry ice soda, and, for Carolyn, an enormous sundae and a milkshake. It was almost too much, but stalwarts as we are, we managed to force it down!
Meanwhile, playing on my mind, was the fact I was less than happy with my choice of lodgings. We were here for two nights and, although I had only taken a brief look at the accommodation, I wasn’t happy. Scottsdale was enchanting, so why did we want to be downtown?! Back at the hotel my fears were confirmed. It was seedy, not just grubby but downright dirty in parts, rooms felt gritty underfoot, drawers had remnants of goodness knows what, and bathrooms… not going there! The much advertised pool was green at one side and I was staying only long enough to avail myself of the wifi to find another hotel. Within 10 minutes I had booked the Hilton Resort Hotel in Scottsdale, had provided the receptionist with a long list of evidence that the accommodation was unfit for habitation, cancelled the booking and received confirmation that no charges would appear on my credit card. Result! (I did follow this up with a blistering complaint to Booking.com and subsequently had profuse apologies and assurances that the hotel would be reinspected by them with a view to removing it from their listing). Even Super 8 got in on the act with all sorts of offered inducements to use them again. Never might be a bit too soon.
The Hilton Resort was lovely, and just the job for a couple of respectable travellers! We moved swiftly, checked in, and went back into Scottsdale for dinner. (By this time the ice cream was just a memory!).
The following morning (after a most comfortable night) we were off for our two hour Segway ride. Having enjoyed these jaunts all over the world, we now consider ourselves almost experts, but merely tell the tour guides that “we have done it before” and happily go through the training and safety briefings along with “first timers”. It was a good tour, with a great guide and we zipped along the route, demonstrated that we could stand in a hands-free pose, and genuinely had fun. We bookmarked places for a return visit, restaurants for breakfast and dinner before deciding to go back to the hotel and enjoy the multiple pools for an hour or two. Such a fabulous hot and sunny day and the joy of a resort hotel with drinks (and food) served to your sun bed.
Our final evening in Scottsdale took us in search of a really nice restaurant for dinner. The popularity of the place meant that many of the eateries were already fully booked but we enjoyed a wander and, by an incredible stroke of luck, we happened upon a restaurant which had been highly recommended by our tour guide on our Segway tour. Were we particularly hungry or was the food exceptional and very reasonably priced? I think the latter and with the restaurant manager asking us to take her to England, we left with fully tummies and still full purses.
Tomorrow we are off to Palm Springs with more than a small amount of regret at leaving Scottsdale. We must come back!
Carolyn’s Curios and Curiosities
And, so to Phoenix…
We arrived at our Super 8 hotel a little early but were welcomed and told our reservation was ready. Regrettably, as Kath explained, it was dirty, had broken security bolt on the door, the toilet would barely flush, the curtains were tatty and the swimming pool had green mould on its walls. Kath commented that if she hadn’t been from Preston she would have described it as a “flea pit”! As she is from Preston, the description she used was a euphemism for a primitive toilet! With the aplomb and application her working life had given her, within minutes, the Receptionist was keen to cancel our booking and reimburse our payment. Kath had already researched an alternative in Scottsdale where we had spent a fabulous afternoon and it is in the Doubletree by Hilton that we are now spending the next two nights. Putting that hiccup to the back of our minds, we can reflect on Scottsdale this afternoon.
The town describes itself as ‘The West’s Most Western Town’ and Old Town Scottsdale certainly was something special. Other than the cars, we would have expected stage coaches and cowboys on horseback. All the cowboy film sets were seemingly modelled on this place. And then we spotted a free trolley bus tour (“every 15 minutes”) which took us round the whole town with high end shops, beautiful art galleries of many types, numerous restaurants and live music bars – even a karaoke one… which was tempting… briefly.
A decent late lunch; the ice cream and soda; and now resting in our clean, comfortable, secure hotel with a Segway ride already booked for the following morning!
Scottsdale, Arizona – what a find! The name rang a bell but only somehow connected with UFOs. We’d come to see Phoenix but stayed in Scottsdale and would love to stay longer. I could live almost anywhere in the world but this town is really appealing in many ways. It is a cultural combination of high end shops, fabulous art galleries, public amenities and statues coupled with history and obvious civic pride. Well done, Scottsdale!
We had booked our favourite tour activity for the morning – 2 hours of Segway riding. My formal review of the tour? …
“Having done Segways Tours around the world, this was, probably, the very best. Certainly, Juan was the best tour guide we’ve ever been fortunate to meet and the safety videos before we started were informative to a level we’ve not experienced before. The areas we covered highlighted Scottsdale’s enormous appeal and we look forward to coming back! Thank you. Excellent!”
Juan was a teacher in a nearby local town and did the tours at the weekend. We were kitted out with a helmet and a headset so we could hear his excellent commentary throughout. He learned everyone’s name and seemed genuinely interested in all six of us whether from UK, Chicago, or Colorado. Kath and I were the most experienced riders – the ‘Pros’, Juan said – but everyone had a great time. We zipped (max. 10 mph) from sidewalk to road to park to paved areas after our familiarisation on the car park. Fascinating historical anecdotes and great sights throughout our two hours made the morning memorable and enjoyable. Kath and I impressed Juan by our knowledge from previous experiences when we all had to be photographed in front of the ‘Love’ statue – hold each other’s handlebars to maintain an upright and stable position. ‘Pros’ indeed! I did make sure that Juan was aware of my first Segway experience when I foolishly disobeyed safety instructions and fell off outside the Congress building in Washington DC to the concern of my son several years ago. If you’re going to fall, do it spectacularly! The armed guards were quite sympathetic, I recall.
The morning had started with a quick bite and drink at Lo Lo’s where Kath refused the offered grits. Me? I’ll eat anything although grits do remind me of semolina which is not my usual breakfast!
The Pony Express statue was historically inaccurate as the riders didn’t carry guns and would have been jockey size but the movement captured by the sculptor masked that as we relived memories of the iconic stories we’d been told in the past. One of the most inventive was the ‘Doors’ which you went inside to find yourself in a kaleidoscope of images and, for fun, the One-eyed Jackrabbit made us smile.
The afternoon was spent by (and in) the hotel pool – our first of the trip – and the experience was very worthwhile with a clean, cool pool and very sunny weather blazing through the palm trees.
After Dallas, the pit stops across the vast Lone Star State were meant as simple stops to break up the miles, so it was delightful to reflect on how much we had enjoyed them all. We mopped up the miles with great conversations, music when we could hone in on a good station and singing when we couldn’t. All was going really well until we set off from El Paso this morning for a long but straightforward drive to Tucson. Carolyn had a bright idea which would involve ignoring the sat nav and finding a route that more closely tracked the Mexican border. Ooo er Mrs! She assured me that all would be well, we were not going to cross into Mexico but she had found a road which followed the official border so we should be able to look at Mexico whilst driving in the USA!
Google maps offered us a peculiar route, taking us out of town via the suburbs and golf courses which we followed to the best of our ability. The sat nav didn’t want anything to do with our meanderings, instructing us to turn around when possible, until we turned off the sound and attempted to use Google Maps on a phone. We took a couple of turns which looked right, but clearly were not, and Carolyn decided to follow her instinct. We got onto a quiet dual carriageway and started to see signs for the border. No map in our possession showed a turn off to the somewhat mythical road along the border. There were farm tracks but no right turns. The signposts became more demanding about what we could and could not take into Mexico (guns featured) and we were rapidly closing in on the border crossing with no escape except for a solitary U turn point. I sensed Carolyn’s reluctance as she was certainly up for a face-off with the border guards but this lady was definitely up for turning. Phew. Didn’t want to go ‘down Mexico way’ today.
That wasn’t quite the end of that story….the official sat nav route, which we accepted with some bad grace, took us along the i-10 and I couldn’t quite believe it when we were guided by cones and flashing lights into a border checkpoint, somewhere in Texas or New Mexico. In a bit of a Thelma and Louise moment I wondered if Carolyn was going to put her foot to the floor! The car was photographed, automatically, then flash and our mugshots were captured too, only for us to be waved on by a gun-toting, smiling border guard. What border? We were in the US. I checked and found these points are on several freeways and highways in States which border Mexico to prevent illegal immigrants, undesirables, etc. Fooled them!
Our drive was a real wilderness experience. Over 300 miles with signs everywhere about what to do in zero visibility in a dust storm. You could see how that might happen in a vast desert bowl between mountain ranges where the only thing providing any anchor for the dust was scrub and cactus. An interesting day but happy in the hot dry air of Tucson with its shiny buildings interspersed with very white, very Mexican, lower structures. Our hotel is on the outskirts of the city and just across the road from an excellent Asian restaurant. Too good to miss and very much enjoyed. I doubt we were able to walk much further in the intense heat as it was well over 100 degrees in old money.
Arizona is by no means new to us but our visit here is a first, as is our next stop tomorrow when we roll into Phoenix.
Carolyn’s Curios and Curiosities
As I now own and drive a Hyundai Tucson, I wondered whether the Hyundai Tucson is called Hyundai Tucson in Tucson… it is! (But, the hire car is a Nissan Rogue but called a Nissan Qashqai in the UK – always like to ask questions!) #busybrain
A casual ‘find’ but delicious food with truly enormous portions. This was a ‘starter’ – the ‘entrees’ were too large for both of us and the invitation to take it ‘in a box’ for later was turned down! Enough!
Tucson was a brief stopover as we moved next to ‘Phoenix’ – more of that later. Tucson gave us a lovely meal, more sunny weather and a good rest after a longish drive. More incredible scenery with vast expanses of arid scrubland in a bowl surrounded by sharp peaked hills and mountains. We appear to have been in the Arizona-Sonora desert with Saguaro cactus about. Our trivial dust cloud experience was man-made and off the highway but the warning signs were ominous. The roads, as in Texas – because we’re now in Arizona – were mainly straight and fast. As we left El Paso, we had seen our first herds of cattle, albeit in stockyards and we saw one cultivated field in 300 miles. However, Tucson was well worthwhile as a staging post with a very acceptable ‘complimentary breakfast’ – we always like compliments!.
We have frequently commented to each other about the lack of solar panels in such a sunny clime. Tucson is remedying that. An arm of Tesla, SolarCity, appear to be driving this forward with car ports in parking lots with solar panels on the roof and charging points for electric vehicles built in. Great innovation – well done – and on a day when the world is seeking to resist climate changes!
Usually I am totally excited at the prospect of a new place to visit but, on this occasion, I was less than certain. All through our planning I had tried to avoid the towns close to the Mexican border. Various troubles had been flaring in recent weeks so I had deliberately organised a hotel to the north of the city and as far from the border as possible. But, for now, as we left Odessa, there were decisions to be made. We could take the endless highway or choose the scenic route closer to the mountains. No contest… let’s enjoy the scenery.
Escaping Odessa (sounds like a spy thriller) took us initially through lots of nodding donkeys as, clearly, this is an oil town, but, as we turned towards the distant mountains, we encountered hundreds (and then thousands) more. Various sections provided names of co-operatives and this, no doubt, accounted for the huge numbers of oil tankers we met as we drove. Most seemed to be coming towards us and the traffic in our direction was fast flowing. The oil fields just got bigger and bigger and not only held storage tanks by the roadside but the odd oil refinery as well. This is the view of Texas which you don’t necessarily see on TV or film, although this vast state is an equally vast oil producer.
Eventually we were speeding along a highway halfway up a mountain (it was a very long straight road with no real undulation), having briefly flirted with a short spell in New Mexico. By then, we were approaching the mountains of El Paso with, initially, some evidence of military personnel which became a very strong military presence with armoured vehicles, trains with military hardware and then huge barracks. This should have been a comfort, but somehow it wasn’t.
We found our hotel, which was reasonably close to the major highway, and once again looked for places of interest. We quite fancied the novelty of a “Car Wash Diner” which was highlighted as a key attraction, so off we went towards the surprisingly large city to find this curio. I am not sure if our sat nav was having a hissy fit on this particular road trip but after the meteor debacle in Odessa we were taken to a built up suburb and politely told we had reached our destination. We tried every which way to reprogram the route, tried it on our phones, but, according to all, here we were! We concluded it had moved and by this time we were feeling the hunger pangs from just a piece of fruit for lunch. I had noticed a steak restaurant round the corner from the hotel, so back we drove to enjoy the most divine steaks…..when in Texas what else would you eat?!
It was a peaceful night. I am not sure what I was worrying about!
Carolyn’s Curios and Curiosities
Another day in the saddle!
Texas; briefly New Mexico and then back into the Lone Star State synonymous with Saturday morning cinema cowboy movies – Lone Ranger, Cisco Kid, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry… the list is almost endless. Over 300 miles from Odessa to El Paso through stunningly sparse yet hauntingly appealing countryside. We travelled at 75 mph for much of the way on roads which were barely A-roads in the UK but these were mainly as straight as an arrow. For about 250 miles we saw no-one on foot and only one brave soul on a bicycle. Scrub desert (and two salt lakes) doesn’t lend itself to farming and we didn’t see any cultivated land and only five horses and a dozen or so cows – in 300 miles! Even the one town we passed through, Jal, couldn’t even provide traffic lights but seemed to enjoy the queue of traffic their two junctions caused. 75 mph on open roads with minimal traffic but bunching and static at Jal suddenly demonstrated poor road management. There were many more enormous trucks than ‘family’ cars.
We were initially surprised to see nodding donkeys (pumpjacks) drawing crude oil from the ground but after counting dozens, hundreds, we gave up as there were thousands! Of differing sizes and ages, the pumps were scattered across the landscape with the odd flarings in the distance. But then we saw the future…? In 2009, the Roscoe Wind Farm was the biggest in the world and as we passed into New Mexico we saw our first solar panel farm. Amazing that in such a sun-drenched area that many more haven’t been installed. New Mexico also saw a change from oil extraction to gas (as well as much worse road surfaces – we saw a notice yesterday for ‘textured pavement’ a deliberate intention to improve grip – today wasn’t deliberate; merely worn and lacking maintenance!). We’d re-routed from our original schedule to visit the mountains after flatland after flatland – and we saw them!
And, so, into El Paso with some trepidation from news reports of tensions, border wall etc. We have seen nothing untoward and the people have been polite and friendly – as we have been, too!
Tomorrow is Tucson – another 300+ miles – and we’ll think of my Hyundai and Jojo who “left his home in Tucson, Arizona for some California grass.” (🎼🎶🎤 for Beatles’ fans!)
When in Rome… well, El Paso, Texas… steak, loaded baked potato and wedge salad… wow! Fabulous. What else do you eat in Texas?! #delicious #filling at Saltgrass Steak House.