Posts Tagged ‘sand’

Getting hot (again) in the desert

30th March 2011 by Helen
getting close to the Mexican border - not time yet so carried on

roadside flora and fauna in the Arizona desert

After an excellent hotel breakfast we headed out of California and into Arizona, watching the temperature guage steadily rising along the way.  The road we were on, the Interstate 8, runs pretty much alongside the Mexican border and the scenery was characterised by desert sand and cacti, especially the huge Saguaro growing like a forest alongside the road.

stopping at a thrift store and a chance to offload some more of the excess baggage we left the UK with!!

stopping at a thrift store and a chance to offload some more of the excess baggage we left the UK with!!

We were fooled by last night’s excellent hotel experience into staying at another Howard Johnson hotel just outside Tucson, only to find it didn’t come up to the previous night’s standard.  Still, it served it’s purpose and we finished the final preparation of our display board for the Expo tomorrow.  Trouble with living out of a Land Rover is it isn’t easy to carry this kind of stuff without it getting damaged and needs to be done at the last minute.

The Coast Road

18th March 2011 by Helen
Californian coast - between the main towns

Californian coast - between the main towns

The last couple of days have been a bit of a ‘road trip’.  After leaving the company of the North California Land Rover Club on Tuesday evening we headed south.

We’ve taken the scenic coast road, Highway 1, which has been absolutely beautiful, driving right up close to the coastline, with the beaches and sea to our right.

It’s been a pretty classic experience in many ways.  We’ve seen the surfers out to sea of course.  There are loads of surf shops all along the coast.  The houses are pretty fantastic, and there have been mountains and fields of crops as well.  There have been more joggers out along the coast than we have seen elsewhere.  There also seems to be a proliferation of psychics plying their trade along this coast too.  We’ve passed through or by some famous names we know from old songs and films – places like Santa Barbara, Malibu beach, Laguna beach, Santa Monica, Manhattan beach, as well of course as Los Angeles itself.  Fame however, doesn’t protect from the ravages of nature, and the news all along this coast has been of the recent tsunami following the earthquate in Japan.

looking out to sea - Californian beach

looking out to sea - Californian beach

Yet, despite the expensive homes and stunning scenery, it’s not that different to anywhere else.  Sure, even McDonalds manages to look slightly more upmarket, but it’s still there alongside Wendy’s, Burger King and a whole host of other well known chain stores and tourist shops.

We didn’t see anyone we know to be rich and famous.  Although if we had I probably wouldn’t have known it.  Paul is a little less incredulous these days about how few actors I recognise on screen, or even know the names of, so I truly would walk past them in the street and not know I was supposed to recognise them as someone ‘famous’.

plump seaweed on a Californian beach

plump seaweed on a Californian beach

It wasn’t all driving of course.  We took a little time out to have a look around,

 taking a walk in the park and along the beach.  We couldn’t come to California without a walk on the beach, now could we?!  We happened to choose the same beach a large group of children were exploring, looking in the rock pools and along the sand.  When we looked we found no small crabs or marine life nestling there, nor even many shells on the beach itself.  Although there were quite a few ladybirds on the sand.  There was some plump looking seaweed and a few small pieces of driftwood, but not the richness of life I recall from beachcombing as a kid in England.  Makes we wonder if those beaches back home are more devoid of such childhood delights.  I’ll have to have a look next time I’m there.

Perhaps once again the most profound part of our walks though was the smell.  They say smell is the most powerful of the senses.  In many ways we’ve not felt ‘away from home’ while we’ve been travelling – not least perhaps because, like the molluscs, we carry our home with us.  But here in California the smell of the sea reminds us instantly of England, having both grown up by the sea.  The sounds of the crashing waves reinforces the effect.

Swanton Berry Farm on the Californian coast road

Swanton Berry Farm on the Californian coast road

Another delight along the road was when we stopped for lunch at the Swanton Berry Farm.  This place is an absolute must.  An organic berry farm that also sells pumpkins, the shop is amazing.  It’s in what appears to be an old barn.  Down one end there is the ‘shop’ where they sell some of their produce in the form of some delicious fruit pies or vegetable pumpkin curry.  Their strawberry cider was amazing too.  There’s no till or cashier, just a box with lots of small change and a few small notes.  You work out how much your food comes to, put your money in the box and take your own change.  The rest of the space is taken up with an assortment of chairs or settees, coffee tables and full bookshelves with books and games.  It’s like a real community centre.  The books tend to focus on the organic message, what we are doing to our planet through over-consumption, over-manufacture, etc.  A real treat of a place and we were so glad we had stopped there.

Highway 1 - the Californian coast road - just after the road collapsed

Highway 1 - the Californian coast road - just after the road collapsed

Our journey was not without its drama too.  As we were passing the Santa Monica mountains to our left, and just as we had crossed Bixby Bridge, we saw police lights up ahead.  A few cars were stopped and we pulled in behind them.  Exploring the situation further we found that over half the road had collapsed and fallen down the edge of the mountain at that point.  A local woman just behind us told us she had noticed the level of the road dropping over the last few days and only a few hours earlier it had already dropped by about a foot, so she wasn’t surprised.  The only problem being was that she lived just the other side of the collapsed road and she was now faced with a four hour detour to get home.  It brought to an end the joys of our scenic drive and we too had to take the same four hour detour before we could continue heading south on the highway again.  An hour earlier and we might have got through.  Half an hour earlier and we might have been sliding down the mountainside!!  It takes a while to load but the local newspaper report of the collapse can be found here – Carmel Pine Cone.

Finally, on Friday, we reached Encinitas, close to where we want to be tomorrow to meet up with some car club members, and treated ourselves to a cheap motel for the night, having roughed it a bit the last few nights.

Death Valley

28th February 2011 by Helen
Outside the general store in Shoshone

Outside the general store in Shoshone

Having ‘camped’ just outside Shoshone last night we went into town to fill up with fuel before heading out into Death Valley (25th).  The town sign says the population is 100 – the woman serving in the garage said they might have reached that many by now!!  She happily told us that the town is owned by Susan Brown, granddaughter of Senator George Brown.  Although the town has its own museum there are also artefacts everywhere else – an old range in the garage, a couple of cupboards, old fireside tools, etc.  Even the post office had artefacts on display.  Probably the work of Susan Brown who apparently also takes the trouble to make sure the shops stock interesting and varied souvenirs, and none of them were tacky.

ruins at Ashford Mill

ruins at Ashford Mill

Once inside Death Valley we visited the remains of the old Ashford Mill.  Death Valley has several disused mines.  Although gold and silver were mined here, so too were a number of other minerals, including Borax and Bakelite.  The first mine we explored was the Queen of Sheba mine, where an old bunkhouse and shower block are still standing.  Some of the buildings have collapsed but much of the machinery is still recognisable and we followed the lines of pipes and machines, working out how the old mine had worked.  While the Mill was on the main road through Death Valley, the mine was at the end of a long ‘4×4 road’ to the side of the main road, and we saw no-one else out there.

Salt Formations and Devil's Golf Course at Badwater at lowest elevation in Death Valley

Salt Formations and Devil's Golf Course at Badwater at lowest elevation in Death Valley

Passing through the middle of Death Valley we reached the lowest recorded point in the US, where our Sat Nav read that we were over 300 feet below sea level at one point.  Here is the remains of a river running through, but it is almost solid with salt deposits.  Here too are strange mud formations, encrusted with salt, and nicknamed Devil’s golf course.  To say it was windy would be an understatement.  Paul tried to get out of the car to take some photos and could hardly shut the door again against the wind.  In this there were cyclists, fortunately going in the same direction as the wind – I doubt anyone could have cycled against the wind.  Cycling is pretty popular here for some reason, not quite sure I could fancy it.

There are numerous canyons inside Death Valley’s mountain ranges and on our first night here we camped in Echo Canyon.  By now the wind had died down and it was as calm as calm could be.

one of the huts at Inya Mine in Echo Canyon, Death Valley

one of the huts at Inya Mine in Echo Canyon, Death Valley

The next morning (26th), after a night of high winds, with me lying in bed imagining the early scenes from the Wizard of Oz, where the house is picked up by a tornado and poor old Dorothy ends up in Oz, we explored more of Echo Canyon.  Further on from our camp we found the disused Inya Mine.  Here too were some fascinating examples of old machinery.  An open air museum almost.  Paul marvelled at the inventiveness of some of the early machinery, using what looked like car parts in places, the whole mechanics of everything.  Me, I just marvel at the transition from the agrarian age to the industrial age, marvelling at the creativity of invention.

derelict machinery at Inya Mine in Echo Canyon, Death Valley

derelict machinery at Inya Mine in Echo Canyon, Death Valley

Travelling back down Echo Canyon we took a diversion off along the road towards Amargosa Desert.  The road came to an end (my version), slightly rockier patch (Paul’s version), but I really didn’t want to chance going any further and so we turned around.  It was then we noticed, next to what appeared to be the remains of some kind of ruin, that a wire ran up the mountainside, along what appeared to be a smooth path.  Paul followed the wire up, probably 1,000 feet, and over the crest, only to find the upper reaches of the mine we had explored earlier – and more examples of early machinery.  How they got it up that far we can only guess at.  Determination.

And so, as it’s possible to camp in most of Death Valley (as long as you are more than two miles away from the main road), we headed out towards Cottonwood Canyon for another night in the tent under the stars.  No wind this time.

Chert (flint) in the rock in Marble Canyon in Death Valley

Chert (flint) in the rock in Marble Canyon in Death Valley

It was a bit warmer when we woke up the next morning (27th).  Continuing to follow the Cottonwood Canyon Road we turned off towards Marble Canyon.  There we came across a couple of tired looking hikers who turned out to be two members of a group taking part in a geology field visit to Death Valley.  We gave them a lift right into Marble Canyon, with them riding our ‘tree sliders’ and hanging on to our roof rack for as far as the road would go.  Then we hiked into the canyon together.  They enjoyed the ride and we had the advantage of some expert information as we travelled.  Needless to say a lot of the rock was marble!  The geologists pointed out geological features.  Then we spotted some strange rock.  Dark grey with black circles of another rock embedded in it, making it look like the rock had a bad attack of the measles.  Turned out the darker embedded rock was Chert (or Flint as we would call it).

After leaving Marble Canyon we stopped to admire the well trodden Mesquite Sand Dunes before hitting the road to head back out of Death Valley.  Not before one more night of camping under the stars!!

Finally, the next day (28th) we explored the road to Chloride Cliff where we found some of the workings to the closed Keane gold mine.  Overworked to the point of being in danger of collapse the mine area is closed to the public.  Our final stop was at the ghost town of Rhyolite (with seated row of ghosts at the town entrance) where we met a group of photographers just starting a short break in Death Valley.  Just past here were a small group of Burros.  The Burros had been introduced to Death Valley, presumably during the height of the mining in the area they are now being rounded up and removed because they, along with the horses, are not native to the area.

We finished the day many hours and a long drive later just short of Reno in Nevada.  Once again in the cold and snow we found all the forestry roads had been closed because of the winter weather and we were unable to find a campsite.  Eventually found a tiny roadside layby.

Campsite – just outside town of Walker, Nevada

Distance travelled – 503