Thursday Feb 25 – On the Road Again

I left San Diego today to continue traveling. After a couple of stops for maps and munchies for in the car, I also succeeded in getting a car charger for my phone. I discovered yesterday that its battery dies fast when it’s trying to access GPS and continuously download maps – I didn’t even have enough battery to navigate around San Diego for a few hours.

So now I’m all set – indefinite amounts of music, GPS and Google maps – as long as I have mobile phone tower connection! A few times I’ve had GPS but no mobile coverage – which gives me a blank grid, neatly notating my location (moving according to what I’m doing) but no map, so no info about useful things like roads and intersections. Not much use that way! Having said that, I managed to get lost today, despite having both maps and GPS, but more about that later.

I headed inland from San Diego, aiming for a town called Julian that several people had recommended, on the way to Joshua Tree National Park. Heading to Julian from the coast (literally, Bryan’s place is about 1 min from the ocean) the terrain slowly got more and more mountainous (well, big hills, anyway) and drier and drier. Parts of it reminded me of inland NSW, but much scrubbier. It was fascinating how it got rockier, drier, and more desert-like as I went along (there’s the geologist in me emerging again!)

Julian is an old gold-mining town, and has a small local museum detailing the history. The mining was a bit different here to most old gold-mining in Australia – they mined for a couple of years, then the miners had a legal dispute with the local land-owner (which the miners won after 3 years) and resumed mining. But the gold didn’t last long, and the town diversified to ranching and agriculture (largely apple growing). In Australia when they struck gold there was generally a lot of it and there was huge mining in a large-ish area for quite some time, bringing considerable wealth.

I got chatting to the volunteer running the museum, who was a retired policeman who had fond memories on working with Aussie cops on anti-drug-smuggling in LA before he retired – apparently the Aussies really knew how to party! He refused to accept my donation entrance fee to the museum. There seem to be a lot of people here with fond memories of Australians, who are keen to relive them when another Aussie happens along. Lots of these memories seem to involve how well Aussies can party/drink/know how to have a good time!

Over lunch I did some research and planning – and decided to aim for the Grand Canyon after all. I originally thought I wasn’t going to have enough time or spoons to get there, especially after spending an extra day in San Diego. But considering how well I’m feeling, the condition of the roads, and the amount of ground I covered this morning in just a couple of hours, I’m going to go for it. The only issue is that there’s snow predicted for the Canyon Saturday and Sunday, so I’m going to have to do it NOW, and hopefully get off the canyon plateau before the weather really sets in. I figure if I get close, I can always catch the train from Williams (near the Canyon outside the national park).

Accordingly, I planned my route and set off, thinking I could get at least half way there this afternoon and tonight. Well, that was until I took a major detour. Most of the roads around here go through and around national parks, and aren’t well marked. And, of course, being national parks, mobile phone towers are few and far between. So, guess what? I took a wrong turn somewhere, and it took me over an hour to notice, although I was wondering about the sun not being in the direction I expected!

Apparently I zigged when I should have zagged, and headed southeast instead of northeast. By the time I got back on track I think I did about an extra 150 miles, and unexpectedly hit the 8 interstate freeway again (the one I started out on near Bryan’s place this morning), and narrowly avoided crossing into Mexico by mistake – but it was totally worth it. The countryside I traveled through was just amazing. Hilly, mountainous, flat, beautiful – and repeatedly going from high elevations of about 4000 feet to sea level. Again, amazing how vertical this country is – much more so than Australia.

I found beautiful backlit cacti (I think they were cacti – in any case, gorgeous). Landscapes that continues to get drier and rockier. And then sand dunes, just as the sun was starting to set!

I also got stopped by a border patrol – they’re set up all over, often 100 miles or more inside the border. They were very polite, asked a few questions, and let me go. I must have seemed genuine – they asked my nationality and if I had my passport, but didn’t want to see it!

Tonight I’ve stopped at a motel in a town called Quartzsite. It’s just over the Arizona border from California, and is actually a collection of on-site vans. Fine by me, I’ve got a bed, and in any case I’m planning to be out early tomorrow to keep driving. I decided I’d rather stop early, sleep, and drive early, in an attempt to not drive through darkness too much. Safer that way (especially with the bigger car, and the wrong side of the road). Also, I miss too much beautiful scenery if I drive at night. Tomorrow, presuming I don’t get lost again (!) I should be at the Grand Canyon about lunchtime. That’ll give me plenty of time to find a room, go and oggle at the canyon for as long as I want, including sunset and (if I can wake up early enough) sunrise, and then get out of town before the snow gets too bad – although it’d be cool to see it with some snow on it. Here’s hoping the plan works!