National Park Week: Moving East

Through a rather happy coincidence, our move inland through the beautiful Southwest of America also coincided with National Park Week. Marking a centenary of the National Park Service, this week offered free entry Рa nicely timed saving. We decided to take a sampler approach to visiting the parks, and so began a long week of driving, camping, and exploring one corner of America.

Starting in San Diego, we kicked off the week by visiting Cabrillo National Monument. Site of the first landing of a European explorer to America, the park included an interesting history exhibition and some nice examples of historic restoration of the lighthouse. If you visit at the right time (February/March) then you might even get lucky and see migrating whales.

Cabrillo was our last outing in San Diego, and early on Sunday morning we packed up the car and got back on the road. Our first stop: Joshua Tree National Park. Now, when I hear Joshua Tree it is actually my Dad that first comes to mind. I remember U2’s album of the same name being played often when I was a kid, and the imagery of that tree on the cover. Well, I can report that the trees are definitely rather unusual looking things.

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Heading into the desert proper was an entertaining drive, as we said our farewells to the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, we got to see how America is making some headway into alternate energy sources. A massive wind farm and later a solar farm were interesting examples. While gas is still astoundingly cheap for my foreign eyes (at least once you leave California), the prevalence of change in this country has surprised me. In California, it is not unusual to see places in parking lots where you can plug your electric car in, and the massive investment into the wind farm and solar farm we saw suggests there is an appreciation of the need for change.

We made good time to Joshua Tree National Park, and snagged a nice little campsite amongst the boulders. There is nothing I have seen the is quite as otherworldly as this National Park. At times, it was reminiscent of just what I imagined the moon surface to be like. Combined with the surrealism of the Joshua Tree itself, and it was like something from a Dr Seuss book.

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The set up at the National Park campsites really is quite lovely. Each site is given plenty of space, and there is normally a fire pit and some kind of grill set-up. Whilst the desert campsites do not have showers, there are toilet facilities. We spent sometime exploring as the sun set, taking the opportunity to do some rock clambering. Luckily for me, Ashby is a much better photographer than I am – so there are plenty of photos to share.

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It was a lovely start to National Park week, and set us up nicely for the next stage – Lake Mead National Park (and the Hoover Dam), and the triple threat of Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce Canyon.

 

My happy place: Zion National Park

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Zion National Park

Over the last few days we have travelled throughout the Southwest, but tonight I have wifi and time for a very quick update. We made it to Zion National Park. I was last here in 2011, and there is nowhere else I have visited that left me as awestruck. Second time around, it is perhaps more beautiful. We rolled in late, so missed out on a campground in the park itself. However, we have a nice spot just outside the park, and it has perks (like wifi and showers). Tomorrow, we will explore some more and aim to get back to Angel’s Landing. So very happy to be back.

Sunny San Diego

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After exploring the USS Midway

Nothing rejuvenates the soul quite like a good dose of sunshine, and San Diego has certainly turned it on for us this week! We have eaten our weight in tacos, explored the downtown and surrounding towns, and fully embraced being tourists. My absolute highlight was certainly San Diego zoo, where we got to spend time watching pandas, gorillas, polar bears and a multitude of other enticing creatures. There is likely to be a special blog post all about our zoo visit soon, in part because there are a tonne of pictures to show off.

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We went to the zoo, zoo, zoo.

San Diego is my kind of city. The downtown area is bustling, even in the middle of the week, and yet it is still easy to drive around. We have stayed in a lovely place, which has the peace of almost being rural, while still only a fifteen minute drive from the central city. The freeway system is also easy to navigate, though I am yet to take the driver’s seat myself on this trip. Perhaps as we head out of the big cities…

One of the best parts of being here, just a short drive from the border, is that the food is amazing. Ashby is a full blown taco convert, and we have tried a huge range. The Californian style puts a real emphasis on the fresh flavours, and is primarily fish based. Despite some early concerns, we have had a great time with the food. It’s not hard to find fresh, healthy options. Californian oranges are fabulous (despite my dislike of American oranges in NZ supermarkets), and there are plenty of places to get organic salad options at a reasonable price.

However, it is time to move inland, and see some more of America. By lucky coincidence, our visit has coincided with the National Park Service’s 100 year celebration and they are marking this with a week of free admission to National Park sites all over the country. Such ideal timing, and we are going to explore a few places this week. First stop, Joshua Tree National Park! This means that internet access is going to be patchy, but I will try and flick up a few updates.

Travelling the Pacific Coast Highway (Part Two)

Los Angeles

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Los Angeles

Driving into Los Angeles on a rainy Friday afternoon was perhaps not the most auspicious start to our visit. It is not long before you are confronted by just how big the city is, and how confusing driving around it can be. One wrong turn and our much trusted advisor, our GPS, is left in a state of recalculation, while we are stuck on yet another freeway.

Our explorations led us all over the city. From a rain drenched Santa Monica, up to the Griffith Observatory to check out the view, and some lovely wanderings through Pasadena and Long Beach. The latter two, with the benefit of sunshine, were definitely personal highlights of the Los Angeles area.

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Venice Beach – not quite the postcard image
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Hollywood sign, from Griffith Observatory
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Long Beach, thankfully the sun is back!

The real Orange County

Leaving Los Angeles behind, we continued driving south. As a big fan of The OC many moons ago, I was particularly keen to check out Newport Beach. The area is stunning, and the houses were massive, the streets filled with expensive cars, and to top it off we found the most fantastic lemonade at one of the local shops.

From Newport, we headed through Laguna Beach (the houses were even bigger) and then on to the I5 into San Diego. We booked an Air B’n’B for a week in San Diego, relishing the chance for a break as we prepare for the next stage of our trip.

Travelling the Pacific Coast Highway (Part One)

San Francisco

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The Golden Gate Bridge, still feeling a little rough.

Our introduction to America started on the steep streets of San Francisco. The sun was shining as we picked up our rental car at the airport, then drove towards the city. With accommodation pre-booked, we could find our feet quickly and start exploring. I rediscovered my appreciation of Blue Moon, and the city welcomed us. A fabulous beginning. Sleep came easily that night, and the next day we started exploring early. Then we were stopped in our tracks – food poisoning. The details are painful, but we were out of action for the next 36 hours… Unfortunately this included missing our pre-booked tickets to Alcatraz!

But slowly we came right, and it was back to exploring. San Francisco is an interesting city. I have met so many people who really love it, and I can see the appeal. I love a city where walking is the norm, and good food is everywhere. However, I have been able¬†to visit a couple of times, and really would not rush to return. For me, there is something missing in the city. That special feeling that around every corner, there is an opportunity for something new and exciting. I do not feel that in San Francisco… Mind you, a bout of food poisoning can hamper one’s views slightly. We did get to explore the Bay Area a little bit, taking our trusty rental car out to see the sights (and drive over the mighty bridge). It is beautiful in the sunshine, and a nice introduction to America.

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Downtown San Francisco

Travelling south on the PCH

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Brixby Bridge

Now, I grew up with the Californian movie ideal. Central to this was an awful lot of sunshine. Unfortunately, someone forgot to pass on this memo and our drive down one of the most beautiful roads in America was somewhat hampered by a rather impressive amount of rain. Therefore, our planned two night trip south ended up being only one, with some extra time added to Los Angeles. However, despite the cold and the rain, we still got to see the beauty of the region. As Ashby got used to driving on the wrong side of the road, we followed the coast along cliff faces, through farmland, and amongst towns. On our overnight stay, we found a spot on a forest road in the Big Sur region to test out the car for sleeping. It was comfortable enough, but a tent is in order for our next stage through the national parks.

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Testing out the sleeping capabilities – not bad!

The second day was annoyingly wet, and we ended up just pushing through to Los Angeles. Thankfully, I think the really beautiful stuff was enjoyed on the first day.

On the road

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Brixby Creek Bridge, Pacific Coast Highway, California

Majesty can strike around any corner. It is the moment where your breath is almost caught in your throat. You stop, stare, and admire the beauty that sits in front of you. These are the moments that make travelling special, at least for me.

We left our home in Paraparaumu, New Zealand a little over a month ago. From there we have travelled throughout New Zealand, visiting with family and friends, exploring new corners that we had not yet seen. Being endlessly reminded of how beautiful home is. A little over a week ago, we stepped foot in California. A couple of early missteps (with a resulting bout of food poisoning particularly tarnishing) put to the side, we have traversed the West Coast, following the Pacific Coast Highway all the way down to San Diego.

Sitting in a little room, looking out the window at the drought-ridden lawn of a friendly local we found through the marvellous Air B’n’B, there is a sense of peace. We are adjusting to the beautiful Americanisms, enjoying some sunshine again, and preparing for the next few weeks of exploration ahead.

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My current view, Bonita, San Diego

I will update this over the next few days. There is loads to write about (including our wedding!) – but for now, just a spot of California dreaming.