20
Feb 18

Santa Barbra – London

20 February 187 miles (total 1,295 miles) 14°C 8:30am

Nice breakfast in Pismo, and just driving down to LA with a small stop in Santa Barbara. Arrived at Gatwick in time (the next day tho), and couple hours later reunited with Lily finally!


19
Feb 18

Morro Bay – Pismo Beach (via Big Sur)

19 February 152 miles (1,108 miles total) 5°C 7am

Early start as usual, early morning stroll in the marina front, fresh and beautiful – OTTERS! We did not even know they live here, so it was a nice (cute!) surprise seeing these little furry buggers frolic in the water. Plus also one hummingbird. All that before breakfast. Breakfast at The Coffee Pot – massive pancakes and bottomless coffee, just like we like it; great way to start the day.

Hummingbird

Drove over to Piedras Blancas for the main attraction of the day, elephant seals observation spot. Excellent season as they come to the beaches to breed before leaving in March. The beaches were jam-packed with the massive yet adorable beasts, and we spent a lot of time just admiring their beach life.

A lone Elephant Seal

The beach littered with seals!

Gina and the seals!

Iest and a seal

The lighthouse was closed and so was a good chunk of Highway 1 up to Big Sur due to last year’s mudslide, but we made it as far north on the coast as we could, enjoying the sun, ocean and fresh air. Had a traditional Olallieberry pie in Cambria, pleasant little coastal town, where we also bought a couple of bottles of local wines for home.

Ragged Point, Big Sur

Turkey Vulture

Oystercachers

Afterwards we took a stroll on the beach of San Simeon, which was not only beautiful but also had loads of oystercatchers. We made one last stop by the seals before driving down to Pismo Beach for our last night in sunny California. Our hotel was very nice and after checking out a couple of places in town we ended up in the hotel restaurant for a nice seafood dinner.

Gina & the San Simeon pier

San Simeon

Gina admiring the seals


18
Feb 18

Death Valley – Morro Bay

18 February 401 miles (956 miles total) 8°C 7am

Driving day! Needed to get from the Valley back to the coast – not many stops on the way, and the scenery nice but not spectacular and also not much diverse. Still in Death Valley we stopped by Mesquite flat sand dunes, bathed in soft morning light – Star Wars Tatoonie unmistakably, with the Panamint Ridge on the horizon! Drove through Stovepipe Wells again on the way out and had a last look back at the Valley from Father Crowley Vista.

Gina chillin at Mesquite sand dunes

Morning at Mesquite sand dunes

Father Crawley vista

Even out of Death Valley the scenery did not change for quite a while, very dry and desert-y. We soon had a great view of the Yosemite Ridge on the horizon, with all the snow-covered peaks. Lunch at a Mexican place in California City, very filling. Afterwards it was just driving all the way, through agri lands and rolling hills, progressively less dry and yellow and more lush and green. We reached our motel in Morro Bay at about 5pm – and finally took showers, first ones since Palm Springs! Felt great. Found a nice seafood place on tripadvisor, but still were so full that we decided to give dinner a miss and make a space for a nice breakfast tomorrow.


17
Feb 18

Death Valley

17 February 105 miles (total: 555 miles) 8°C 6:30am

Zabriskie Point

Creeping sun

Creeping sun

Super early morning, rushed out to catch the sunrise at the Zabriskie Point – we were by no means the only ones with this idea but it was still a very nice experience.

Gina at Zabriskie Point

Iest at Zabriskie Point

Afterwards we headed back to Furnace and managed to snatch an early spot in a beautiful tent-only camp (Texas Spring) from someone who’s just left. There was a lot of competition, that’s for sure. Amazing views. After breakfast it was still nice and early morning and we headed to the Golden Canyon for a nice hike before it got too hot. We chose a nice walk to the Red Cathedral combined with the Gower Gulch loop, and it got us to some pretty magnificent viewpoints. Not many people around either.

Golden Loop trailhead

Hiking through the canyons

Iest & his hat

Gina’s bicep

Us overlooking the canyon

Hiking to the highest point

The viewpoint at the top

Afterwards, the top afternoon heat, we went for the Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America (some 86m below sea level). Top tourist spot but nice salt plains and an unearthly feel to the place.

Gina at Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin salt plains

On the way back we swung by a ‘natural bridge’ spot which was not really worth it tbh. Then we went once more to the visitor centre in Furnace Creek, to watch the half hour film on the history and geology of Death Valley, before heading for dinner all the way to Stovepipe Wells. Nice place and a first glimpse of data connection after like three days (since Palm Springs). We got some firewood and beer for the evening, although must be said I retired to my sleeping bag fairly soon, leaving Iest with the fire and all the stars.


16
Feb 18

Joshua Tree – Death Valley

204 miles (total: 450 miles) 3°C 7am

Iestyn jumped out of bed at 6am because he was too cold, and gave me no choice than to follow suit, even though I was nice and snug in mine. It was super cold but nice sunrise and there were rabbits hopping around the campsite. In no time we were cruising away from Joshua Tree. This was not very smart though because Iestyn wanted to find a place for breakfast somewhere on the way despite the fact that the best place would have been Joshua Tree village itself (I even had a place circled for that purpose in my guide).

Roads for days!

Mojave National Preserve

Scenery was amazing though, even before entering Mojave National Preserve. Short stop in Amboy ghost town on Route 66, with famous(-ish) Roy’s motel. In Mojave we stopped over at the Kelso dunes, and at Kelso proper.

Kelso Dunes

Kelso Dunes

Had lunch at a Greek place in Baker, and then continued our scenic drive up towards Death Valley with a short break for gas and terrible coffee at Shoshone village. We arrived at Furnace Creek in late afternoon – too late for one of the nice camps given that it is three-day weekend and prime season on the Valley. Had to settle for the Sunset camp among RVs but was not actually so terrible. Air was balmy, sun was setting, and we just about managed to make the Artist scenic drive at the best light of the day. Dinner at a local joint in Furnace Creek, not much choice of places, the saloon we were going for does not exist any more.


15
Feb 18

Palm Springs – Joshua Tree National Park

141 miles (total: 246 miles) 11°C 7am

The advantage of a westward jetlag is that you wake up real early to make the most of the day, and so I did. Proper Americana breakfast in our hotel (thick and sweet waffles) and then to Ralph’s supermarket to stock up on supplies for our trip. Fresh and super sunny, it’s only 7:45 and we’re already on our way out of town.

Nice desert views already along the way. Listening to the American roadtrip playlist Iest picked, was not perfect but had some classics. Missed the Joshua Tree National Park visitor centre, and arrived to the entrance unprepared but managed to wing it. First point of interest – Keys view (1581m) with breathtaking panorama over the Coachella valley. In addition, our first encounters with wildlife – antelope ground squirrels, and tiny zebratail lizard.  

Entering Joshua Tree

Cochella Valley

Antelope Ground Squirrel

Afterwards, still pretty much early morning, we went for a nice loop hike on the Lost Horse Mine trail. Real desert & Joshua tree experience with added thrill of an authentic Old West silver and gold mine remains (operational until 1931). Spent some nice three hours on the trail, and got some spectacular views towards the other side of the valley too. Next stop, Cholla Cactus garden. It must be said that this, while very pretty, is a bit of a misnomer – it is not really so much fo a cactus garden as it is a cactus field, given that there is only one kind of cactus growing there but there is a lot of it. We enjoyed the walk though, it is a pretty place.

Gina at the Lost Horse trailhead

On the Trail!

Spectacular views!

Gina at the Cactus garden

By now I was a bit sleepy, but valiantly made it to see another nice spot – the Barker Dam (real bit of water, with actual ducks and a few other birds, originally built for cattle and mining use), and the Wonderland of rocks (nice rock formations, but really they are all over the park).  Afterwards it really was time to find our campsite at Black Rock, which turned out to be nice with some amazing views. It was getting proper cold in the evening, so we pitched the tent and drove to the village to get something to eat. Eventually we even managed to start the fire and got to admire all the stars in the clear sky.

Phainopepla at Barker Damn

A Black Phoebe at the damn

Camping under the stars


14
Feb 18

London – L.A. – Palm Springs

14 February 123 miles (total: 123 miles)

Early morning travel from LB to Gatwick with too much spare time, but one cannot rely on the trains in this country to run on time (or at all); missing Lily intensely. Flight was long but ok actually, sat by the window, watched stuff on tv, read a bit, and there we were, descending over a massive urban sprawl of sunny LA. Flew through the customs no probs, and Iestyn was already waiting for me at arrivals. LA was all fresh and sunny but we had no intentions to see more of it (well, Iest already did in the previous days, and I did years before), so just took the rental car (with some disorganisation hiccups eating into our time) and were on our way out. Nice car though, KIA Sportage, Iestyn’s first automatic, learned to love it pretty fast.
Drove through some unsavoury LA hoods to 60 East to Palm Springs. I was holding up pretty well, considering the long flight and 8hrs time difference but towards the end of the drive I was already dozing off.
Palm Springs was off season, so was very quiet (more like Calm Springs, amirite?) even on Valentine’s night. The evening was balmy, we checked into our nice hotel and went out for a mexican dinner with live music (not mexican). Fast asleep before Family Guy’s Valentine’s day episode was over (well, before the first scene was over, really).


13
Feb 18

California Trip!

Stafford, Steve, Iest & Andrew

Iestyn was nominated for a VES award for his great work on an animation of a dog-slash-killing machine kind of robot, which was great, and so he was going to L.A. for the ceremony. I thought it might be a good opportunity to have a little break from the dreary London winter, and it would be a nice time to go see the California deserts before they get too hot, and also maybe the elephant seals breeding on the coast. So without much planning i booked my tickets and off I went.