South California (20th April to 2nd May 2010)


Joshua Tree National Park

This park is around 4 hours away from Las Vegas on the way to the Californian coast. We camp at the Black Rock campground on the North West edge of the park. The park is set on both the Mojave and Sonoran deserts so there’s different vegetation and wildlife depending where you are. The wind is very strong and cold when we first get here and it is deserted. More people turn up and it is busy by the weekend and the sun comes out. At night we here coyotes and owls close to the tent


On the Hidden Valley trail there are some wonderful varieties of desert flowers and plants. At the Cholla Cactus Garden we learn about these spiteful plants that you only have to brush against to get prickles stuck in you. Further down towards the Sonoran (Colorado) desert end there are tall colourful plants called Ocotillos with bright red flower tops. They look great with the moody grey skies as a backdrop.


The main stars of the park are the Joshua Trees, of which there are hundreds. They are not actually trees but are related to lilies I think. They grow like yuccas then branch out as they flower, growing half an inch a year. The tallest are around 40 feet and around 300 years old. The park is not particularly scenic although there are some weird rock formations that look like someone has dumped big boulders in a pile.
On the road to Barker Dam we drive into heavy hail and a little snow, which seems to follow us round the country. The trail to the dam takes us via a few old Indian petroglyphs. (a petroglyph is pecked or scratched in the rock, whereas a pictograph is drawn using paint) Barker Dam, also known as the Big Horn Dam, is a water-storage facility and was constructed by early cattlemen in 1900. It has formed a large lake behind it that attracts lots of migratory birds and big horn sheep.

At Indian Cove there is a nice primitive campground and a short nature hike along a wash. There are some different plants here due to the underground water and we see some pretty huge lizards. Rich nearly treads on a sand coloured one, he freaks as he thinks it’s a rattlesnake!

49 Palms Canyon is a tough 3 mile round trip hike up a steep hill and down in to a canyon where there is a proper oasis with tall palm trees and loads of birds. On the way there are many weird cactuses and flowers and again, lots of lizards. We see a big black chuckwalla which is a good spot. Desert quail are also all over the canyon, making loads of noise and showing off their comical crests.
It seems to be a popular pastime here to make out shapes in the rocks such as Skull Rock and Jumbo Rocks. The rocks are very popular with climbers who are all over the park at the weekends.
We have a fairly quiet night after trying to attend the ranger talk which seems to get cancelled.


Driving from Joshua Tree to the Pacific Coast

As we leave Joshua Tree we enter a canyon that has amazing rock formations, like it has been shunted up vertically. We carry on to the top of the Salton Sea where the landscape takes a dramatic change and we can’t believe our eyes when we see deep green agriculture. After months of grey and sage it just looks unreal. The area provides about 70% of the state’s crops, mostly citrus, grapes and corn by the looks of it. After getting a bit lost in the farms and the town of Mecca, we find the road that takes us down the east side of the huge Salton Sea lake. It’s 376 square miles and formed around 1905 due to flooding and issues with controlling the water. It submerged a town and Indian lands. It’s now used for water sports and farming.
Further down the lake we take a west turn and head in to the Anza Borrego desert region. This is a far more lush desert than we’ve experienced so far, with loads of wildflowers, yuccas and cacti. There are miles of trails for off roading and ATVs. The Americans certainly have superb facilities for enjoying the outdoors. The road is fun, with lots of winding switchbacks that climb right up into the hills. As we cross the desert we hit a lush green valley, which is a treat after all the sand. There are horses and cattle everywhere, and quaint old gold rush towns. As we pull into Oceanside the weather changes and a heavy grey gloom hangs over the coastline. This can happen quite a bit on this coast, but hopefully won’t last for long. We have a little thought for our journey as we have now travelled from Atlantic to Pacific coasts and ticked off over 10,000 miles. We mooch south along the coast stopping at some wonderful beaches on the Pacific Coast Highway. The area is full of flowers and palm trees and everything is spotlessly clean. We have a brief look at Delmar, La Jolla and Windansea beaches. California beaches seem to have so many restrictions on them it’s amazing anyone feels they can spend the day there. No smoking, no drinking, no dogs, no glass, no noise, no breathing....I don’t know if anyone takes much notice of this though. We’re getting used to the forceful language the States uses to enforce rules, having already been accused of a “violation” on a campsite in Florida despite following the ranger’s instructions. We also notice the price of petrol is inflated here and diesel is extortionate.

Torrey Pines State Park


We spend an afternoon here and at the stunning beach. The Torrey Pine is a rare tree that only grows in 2 areas of the country. The park is set on a cliff top, actually a little like Hengistbury Head but bigger. On the trail we see a few hawks and some unusual flowers. Down at the beach there are fossilised shells and rock pools. A pod of dolphins comes past. We get stalked by some more killer squirrels.



There is a load to see in this big town. We’re staying at Ocean Beach for a week, near to the Sunset Cliffs. It’s a nice residential neighbourhood and the studio is bright and homely. Nearby are plenty of bars, restaurants and shops as well as a big sandy beach and pier.




San Diego Zoo


The zoo is around $35 each but we spend the whole day there so pretty good value compared with some of the theme parks. We walk miles as it’s a big park with lots of spread out enclosures. The setting is really nice, with tropical plants and trees and exotic birds flying freely around the park. There’s a gondola ride over the treetops that is included in our ticket, as well as an open top bus that we didn’t use. We go to the sealion show and the raptor and bird display which are very well put together and funny. Our favourite enclosures are the polar bears and the pandas.

I get up close to the polar bear that is being fed peanut butter through a wire fence. You can also see them swimming under water. The panda has a baby who is rolling around playing with a piece of bamboo and swinging in a hammock. It’s the cutest thing and Rich gets some great photos.


Most of the animals here seem to be endangered or protected in some way, rather than just locked up for the sake of being looked at.



USS Midway Aircraft Carrier


There’s a lot to see onboard and they let you into all the areas of the ship, including the tower on the top. The huge ship is dotted around with men who have served on the Midway in the past and are really easy to chat with. Most interesting is the man who used to land planes on the deck, who explains how they would navigate them in, very scary!



Cabrillo National Monument


This park is situated at the tip of the peninsula and has famous tidal rock pools. It’s low tide but not low enough to see much, very pretty though and we spend an hour picking through the rocks. We see an osprey fishing in the sea and the usual massive pelicans.




San Diego Old Town Historic Park


This is a quaint centre of Victorian era houses from the Spanish settlement. The day we visit, there is a festival in the town for “Cinco de Mayo”, celebrating Mexican heritage and pride. There are stalls selling Mexican food and drink. We watch a display of horse riders, including ladies riding side saddle in traditional costume. A Mexican rock band is playing and it looks like many people are going to have a long day drinking tequila.