Wed 05 Feb – We finally took possession of our RV after a little bit of messing about on the day – had to drop our rental car back at LAX and then Cruise America arranged for their shuttle to pick us up and take us back to the depot. Spent a good couple of hours getting all the paper work in order and loading up the van from their storehouse of goodies. Set off down the road to fill up and lo and behold petrol starting pouring out, so back to the depot for a replacement filler hose. Finally got on the road about 3.30 (the worst time you could imagine to try and get out of LA). Freeways were jam packed with traffic so it was a very stressful couple of hours to get to our campground at San Clemente – a very picturesque spot among small trees and just over the fence from Camp Pendalton – a huge marine base. Coming down the freeway from Los Angeles we were treated to a right show of the US Army’s military planes – including a huge plane with props that turned up like a helicopter for a vertical take off. At $25 a night this was quite expensive and not something we care to repeat too often – but we made the most of the hot showers and flushing loos!!!
Thurs 06 Feb – Waitangi Day and we headed east first to Escondido and finally after a few hours were finally free of ribbon development and traffic. Our destination was the Anzo Borrego State Park and a primitive campsite at Blair Valley at about 4,000ft above sea level – quite cold and a gusty wind blowing most of the night. We had the entire place to ourselves with just some small mountains and cacti for company. The only facilities were vault (long-drop) toilets – very clean and they bear no comparison to NZ’s long drops!! These camps are free to camp at so can’t complain about the services. The road into the Valley was a good test for Bob’s driving skills – he only clipped the mirror on my side a couple of times in the bushes on the side of the road – could have been worse as there were lots of rocky outcrops. Our RV only just fitted on our side of the road around some of the really twisty parts, but we took it easy and got over them OK.
Friday 07 Feb – After a nice restful night we had a little wonder around the campground before setting off for Borrego Springs – a small desert town which gets quite busy with all the snowbirds who come down from Canada. It was market day, setup in the middle of a big roundabout as you entered town. We parked up, bought some fresh fruit and veges and found a couple of second hand shops so were able to make some necessary purchases such as glass wine glasses, table mats and a spare power supply for the tablet. Had a walk around the rest of the town which wasn’t very big – about 10 shops in all and then out to the visitors centre for a look. On the way into Borrego Springs we passed an area called the Galetta Meadows which were empty parcels of land with just little scrubby shrubs but interspersed among them were all these metal sculptures – life size and larger of prehistoric creatures that existed in the area and modern animals as well. There were mammoths, sabre tooth tigers, horses, donkeys, eagles and many others. They covered a huge area – several miles on both sides of the road. After our fill of Borrego we headed back to the desert, past our campground of the night before and then on to Mountain Palm Springs and another primitive campground. This time we joined quite a community of campers – I suppose around a dozen in total – many from Canada, one German couple and Americans. A really interesting spot, with all sorts of little valleys leading to palm tree oases.
Saturday 08 Feb – We started our day with a hike off into the surrounding washes which took us up to our first oasis – no water visible but a thriving bunch of palm trees which provided very welcome shade. Temp today felt like early 20’s but very dry. We walked on up the wash to another palm grove and met up with our German neighbours Henry and Renate who kindly offered to take us over the Indian trail which was one of their favourites. A nice walk with great views out over the desert from the higher spots. I was very relieved to learn that you normally don’t see snakes until April. The whole area that we were walking in was full of rocks which I imagine were just were rattlers would like to live, so I was able to relax a bit more safe in the knowledge that they were probably still hibernating.
We spent the rest of the day socialising with various campers and I got to try out my new BBQ which worked a treat. It gets dark around 6pm so you have to get your act together or else you are cooking in the dark. It was a very relaxing day and hopefully this sets the tone for our trip.
Sunday 09 Feb – Still at Mountain Palm Springs – and another morning of hiking through some of the other valleys. The palm groves range in size from just a handful to one that had over 100 trees. There was a lot of signs that the longhorn sheep that the region is famous for were around, but we didn’t get to see any in the flesh. Coyotes also frequent the area, but they hadn’t been seen this season yet. I only saw a small mouse and a couple of little lizards. Tried making my beer bread in the BBQ this morning and it worked a treat – just needs a bit of refining so that I don’t burn the bottom. Decided after talking with many of the campers that we would get a better solar panel fitted on the top of the RV so that we can run our computers and charge all our devices safe in the knowledge that we are not running down our coach battery which powers our lights, pumps and also is needed to keep the propane fridge going. Several of the people we spoke with recommended Solar Mike who is based in Slab City as one the best exponents of the trade.
Monday 10 Feb – Decided that we would move on today – in search of Solar Mike but first we need to stock up on a few things. We keep finding that we still haven’t got some of the necessary day to day items, like a broom, solar shower and day packs for hiking, so our first stop was to be the nearest Walmart which was in the town (or at least it looked like a town on the map) of El Centro. After leaving the desert park we came out onto a huge plain – must stretch for several hundred miles in each direction which was just covered in huge paddocks, all irrigated by system of canals. These were growing cattle forage mostly, but also loads of different green crops. It was amazingly fertile as there were acres and acres of hay bales just stored out in the open, some covered with tarpaulins but mostly not. It obviously doesn’t rain as they would get ruined in no time at all. El Centro was very much the service town for this region, but it was no small town!! It seemed to go on forever. Anway we found our Walmart around 11am – these stores are amazing- they stock everything you could imagine and consequently before we knew it, it was 3pm and we still hadn’t found everything on our list. The other thing on our wishlist was a DVD player and we had seen one in LA at a store called Best Buys, so we thought we would seek one out in El Centro. Our wonderful GPS tracked one down and then we spent the next hour perusing and finally buying a neat little 19inc TV with the DVD player built in. It is debatable if we will ever get a TV signal but it may be an added bonus. We trekked back to Walmart to finish off our other shopping and checked out if we could stay the night, which was allowable, so proceeded to settle in for the night. The store is open 24hrs and they have a security vehicle which continually patrols the carpark. Apart from the bright lights outside we had a reasonable night.
Tuesday 11 Feb – We were able to make contact with Solar Mike in Slab City and set up an appointment for the following morning to have him fit our solar panel. The trip up to Slab City was only about 30 miles, so we had a look around the place – found out where we were had to go the next morning and then investigated Salvation Mountain. A small hill which had been dedicated to God and had been the life-time work of one man. Check out the website www.salvationmountain.us/ and you will see what it is all about. Sadly he passed away only a couple of days ago, so there was a bit of media interest when we visited.
Slab City itself is an abandoned military base all the houses and buildings were removed leaving just concrete slabs all over the place. The area is dotted with RV’s and makeshift dwellings of all sorts – there is a large permanent community and anyone can just come and park up. There are no facilities to speak of except for a community church. This place seems to be a bastion for the down and outs and misfits. They have no rules here and nobody seems to bother about them too much – although it does seem that just recently there has been a move to buy the land and get rid of all the dwellers. I guess time will tell. Over the back of Slab City is a military base (another one!!) – this one is a SEAL base and helicopters are buzzing over all the time. There is a village visible at the base of the hills which is a copy of an Afghani village which they use to simulate their raids. We missed out on a real show yesterday as apparently they had jet fighters practicing mid air refuelling, and a few days before they were doing bombing raids.
Decided to stay put in Slab City for the night – not the most scenic of places, but no worse than a Walmart carpark. Slab City is not the cleanest of places – loads of rubbish lying around but I understand it is a lot cleaner than it used to be. The roads are mostly dirt/sand and there is the odd little shrubby bush around.
Wednesday 12 Feb – Had a really good night’s sleep – even though it is hot during the day (mid 20’s now) the nights cool off so it makes for a pleasant night’s sleep. Made our way to Solar Mike and by 2pm we had a flash new solar system installed on our roof and by the miracles of modern technology I can now run my computer and hopefully will be able to keep this blog updated more often. With non stop sunshine at the moment, we should be able to keep our battery well topped up. Decided to stay another night in this interesting area, so that we can be sure that the system is doing what it should before we move off on the road again. In the distance I can hear what sounds like bombs going off – they must be playing again over at the SEAL base and we are being buzzed by low flying choppers. Over the next few days I will work out how to get the photos on to the blog properly but have a loaded a few for the meantime.