For a multitude of reasons, none of which are even remotely tethered to a desire to stop travelling or depart from our new life on the road, we’d made the decision a couple of months ago to head back to Australia!
Sadly South America will have to wait a little longer…
One of the main factors was that after such a long time on the road we’d finally hit our groove! So why are we stopping I hear you ask??… Well, we felt that our new “groove” would, without doubt, require more time be spent in South America than we can realistically afford to dedicate to it at the moment.
Oh and did I mention that we ran out of cash!! Hahaha…
Well, not quite, but if we had shipped the Patrol across to South America, we would have been committing to an onward journey of unknown duration. We weren’t prepared to rush this wonderful continent and money for large up front costs was thinning hence a future Expedition will need to be planned.
I must admit that I also quite like the idea of having the South American carrot dangling in front of my nose – I’m not quite ready to consider this being our last international overland journey.
But on with the job at hand…
A flash of internet coverage revealed Laurie the Cat Lady and Yukon Ron were parked-up at Imperial Dam just north of Yuma. Being only an hour or so drive east of us, east we went!
Date Palms abound in this area and the landscape was mildly reminiscent of Morocco but Moroccan’s haven’t yet figured out the “Date Shake” – a luxurious ice cream and date puree thick shake. YUM!!!
Imperial Dam Recreation Area
After a few more days in great company, it was time to move on. Difficult farewells were exchanged and we made north-west through the heart of the Imperial Sand Dunes.
Highway through the Dunes
It was hard not to marvel at the sheer quantity of RV’s and ATV’s in these adventure-promising sand dunes! Petrol powered machines testing themselves against the vastness of the shifting sands!
The amount of money thrashing around hour after hour before needing to return to the 50ft Winnebago for a snack and refuel, before once again tearing off into the Martian Landscape was truly astounding! But hey it’s America.
RV’s flocking to the Imperial Sand Dunes
Dune Buggy Action
Continuing west we were treated to an aerial display by the Blue Angels as they practiced for an upcoming Air Show in Yuma! No one even takes any notice over here; it’s all happening so frequently – amazing!
In some ways, we’d been avoiding what felt like the final turn north. There was a deep down anxiety about heading toward the finish line I suppose. It had to happen eventually and so it was that the compass needle now settled on a northerly bearing. The GPS for the first time, counted down to a final destination, rather than from a start point! All a bit weird really…
Those 4 People must be important
Slab City is named after the remnant concrete foundations from the WW2 Marine Corp Barracks of Camp Dunlap. It developed as an inexpensive haven for RV’s over the winter months before the frying pan temperatures forced their migration northwards. In later years however, it’s become a nest for those living off the grid and others not wishing to take part in life as we know it – all have found their way to Slab City.
Despite it’s generally grungy appearance, it is a most interesting site for a wander especially as it sports a huge sculpture – one mans labor of love over many years after he found God!
A highlight for us was meeting more overland travellers; Kenny and Tine were about to embark on their dream of wandering south along the Pan-Am route for the foreseeable future! I’m happy to report these cool dudes have now crossed into Mexico as they follow their dream. Their blog as follows if you’re interested – http://www.adventureofhanselandgretel.com/
Kenny and Tine
Just northwest of Slab City is the Salton Sea. This below sea level lake sits within some lovely geography and during its heyday, supported numerous resorts, RV campgrounds and boating marinas. Unfortunately human activity over time has left the lake extremely saline, polluted with agricultural runoff and a rather putrid smell that wafts over the surrounding landscape when the wind is up. Hence the whole area and the promise it held has become an abandoned wasteland and it’s also one of the underlying reasons Slab City became more of a fringe settlement than a retreat for those on the road.
Some of the residents
The casualties of Salton Sea’s toxicity – dead fish
Now running north along the banks of the Salton Sea, we encountered more “men of God” living off the grid before we camped just outside the town of Mecca. I now have a rather nice collection of business card size ideological constructs for life going forward or coasters I guess, depending on your persuasion!
A road runs from Mecca up through rather scenic Box Canyon before arriving at Joshua Tree NP’s southern entrance. We had endeavoured to camp within internet coverage because some insane Canadians that we seem to have had an effect on, decided to throw a tent in their luggage and fly from Calgary to San Francisco, hire a car and drive 1600km to catch-up with us for a couple of nights…
the coyote’s after you…
Well, there was an ulterior motive to this little escapade! The delivery of a gift that needed to be packed in the Patrol for return to Australia! And that gift is just bloody fantastic, but you’ll have to wait to see what it is – guess I can keep you on the hook that way and force you to keep reading my monologue…
Opening gifts from Crazy Canadians
You’ll have to wait for the big reveal
The opportunity to spend a couple of days with Alison and David before our return down under requires no elaboration our end, primarily because I don’t have the words to adequately express how we feel about such an amazing gesture. Thanks Guys!
Joshua Tree NP
Our last night camped together before the crazy Canadians made the dash back to San Francisco saw us struggling a little to find somewhere suitable. With deteriorating weather adding to the pressure, we did as we always do and eventually found a home. That change in the forecast resulted in a bloody cold night and well we may have a small camper but it proved it’s metal that evening! The 4 of us enjoyed the Webasto heater whilst we managed to cook and devour a roast within our tiny confines, I’m pretty proud of that effort. Oh and we drank a little too!
It may be a small camper but 4 of us dined in comfort!!!
Our last camp with David and Alison
We enjoyed an early lunch at the Café 247 in Lucerne Valley (conveniently located on Hwy 247) where we said our goodbyes before Alison and David departed for the long drive north back to San Francisco and a flight back to frozen Calgary!
Whoever owned the café must have been to Australia as the walls were decorated with Automotive memorabilia (as is often the case in the good old USA), but this was the first time I’d seen Holden collectables and Aussie number plates as decoration (tags for those who don’t speak Aussie English) Even Western Australian ones…
Western Australian Licence Plates on the wall
After Alison and David departed we actually started to believe that we truly were heading back to Australia. Weird I guess but that’s the truth of it.
More friendly locals spot the Patrol
Now it was time to get to work cleaning the car. We settled on a few nights at Sawtooth canyon, the same campsite where Jen had previously upset some locals with a generator resulting in there timely departure! Anyway, as like minded travellers are like minded, we ran into Kenni and Tine again, requiring more social interaction, it’s tuff being nomadic!
Close to Barstow and a high-pressure wash facility, we began cleaning the Patrol for its transit down under.
We spent about 3 days on the car, pressure washing the undercarriage and engine bay, pulling up floor mats and trim, vacuuming everything, checking radiator fins for bugs and seeds and removing dust from every nook and cranny with a toothbrush! Not an overly enjoyable task especially when you know in the back of your mind that despite the vehicle now looking better than when it left the Nissan Factory, it’s more than likely that Australian Quarantine Inspectors will still find some reason to send it for “cleaning” and a large cleaning bill could follow…
Cleaning the car…
Looking for dirt in every nook and cranny…
Hopefully I’m wrong, but that seems to be the general experience amongst travellers. I do wonder if it’s random or whether returning to Australia from an overseas journey just gets their heckles up and they feel the need for a little fleecing! Ahhh well, we shall see if I’m wrong on the above count shortly… Wharfies, Customs and Quarantine are generally easy to deal with aren’t they??
The only real goal that remained on our agenda was a run up Hwy 1 along the California coast, so we best get moving! Across the top of LA we travelled via Vasquez Rocks – a famous Hollywood filming location – and on to Santa Barbara.
We popped out at Ventura and hit Hwy 1. Onward to Santa Barbara, we followed the coast taking in the sights as good tourists do.
Seaside Santa Barbara
Once again, I have to give the Americans credit here. A large section of old Hwy 1 has been set aside along the drive specifically for RV’s to camp in the narrow band that divides road and ocean and enjoy the lovely scenery. Can’t imagine Australia instigating that sort of freedom any time soon…
Our night’s camp was at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area , a section of beach set aside for leisure and camping amidst a populated stretch of coast. I’m starting think Australian councils should visit California – I guess they do when the tax payer funds a junket! I suppose they only see the insides of restaurants on those trips now that I think about it. Ouch the cynicism is rampant now!
Camped at Oceano Dunes
Other campers – there is a river crossing involved to get this far!
Unfortunately, the storms which had given us a mud bath back in Mexico, had released the brunt of their force on California. The tourist drive up through Big Sur sits along a steep section of coastline and was completely washed away with the obvious consequence of the road being closed until further notice. We were aware of it before we headed up Hwy 1 but decided to see what we could see anyway.
Bull Elephant Seal
Hearst Castle in the distance
As the saying goes, clouds often have a silver lining! In our quest to avoid the main route around the closed scenic drive, we ended up on an older narrower and far less used road following the San Andreas Fault – a truly lovely and relaxing transit away from the racetrack.
The scenic route…
Another 4WD vehicle recreation area camp
A while back we’d received a few questions about our camper via our website contact page from Mike and Wendy who live just outside San Francisco. We’d tentatively made plans to meet up for a coffee and a chat whilst in the area as it’s always nice to meet up with people with similar interests who have made an effort to contact us. With their nicely set up Tacoma they have some plans in motion for a little more exploring of the US and presented us with a parting gift leaving us with even more fond memories of our American Adventure.
Justin, Michael and Wendy with their nicely set up Tacoma (Hilux)
We spent the night in the Anthony Chabot Regional Park campsite just east of the Port of San Francisco. It is a lovely, elevated forest campsite sitting amongst the range of hills that hems in the city east of the Bay. It poured rain and was bloody freezing so, with the Patrol due to be delivered to West Coast Shipping in 2 days time, we decided to move into a motel for our last night as we really needed the camper to be as dry as possible. Breathing and the general humidity created by the human body needed to be mitigated as best we could this close to departure.
Anthony Chabot Campground just out of San Francisco
I’ll take responsibility because I chose it. “Motel 6” for the night was the closest we could find to the port. Well that was an experience! Picture the dodgiest part of your city, park a motel in it with tired decor, surround it with weirdo’s moving around outside all night, and you will be about 20% there! We were expecting it to be character building as a security officer had made his way over to us before we’d actually checked in (although we had booked and paid) and asked where we were staying. When I told him, he suggested it was the best part of the precinct but it would be better to move somewhere else – that had us filled with confidence! hahaha
High Class Motel!!! – read the fine print…
This one is busted!
Fortunately we had a break in the weather and were able to pop the roof and get everything pretty dry whilst at the motel making the whole experience much more palatable.
A final touch up
The following morning, we pulled the furniture away from the door and peaked out (kidding of course!) and jumped into the Patrol for the short drive to the port.
We found “West Coast Shipping” and met up with Alex, the shipping agent we’d been liaising with for some time. I felt pretty comfortable with these guys and after a look around their facility we departed with 2 small suitcases, no longer Overlanders…
Delivering the car to West Coast Shipping
Justin and Alex
Without the Patrol it was into an “uber” for the first time and onto the train for the run into San Francisco for a night in a proper hotel and a little more exploration.
A last wander in San Francisco…
Cable Car Museum
Before we knew it we were heading for the airport…
With a little reflection I’ve come to realise that this whole experience has left quite an indelible mark on my consciousness. I can still tap into the excitement around packing the Patrol in Perth and then unloading it in Vladivostok before finding our first camp almost 3 years ago. Whilst more recent events covet the most vivid recollections, so many of our earlier experiences still manage to emerge with such gusto that it’s as if they happened yesterday, I guess an overall measure of how I’ve enjoyed my time on the road!
We think we decide how the pages of our travel journal will be filled by the destinations we choose, but its the human connections and experiences along the way which truly dictate the narrative and if you stay open to it, the book will write itself.
All we need to do is get to the end of our book without a blank sheet of paper remaining and preferably very small print! The key is in the realisation that the tale you tell is your tale and it’s a tale for you!
Hmmm don’t know where that came from, a bit deep but I’ll leave it in the post as it probably gives an insight into the effect our journey has had on us. Oh and the couple of beers I’ve had might have helped get it out…
The Big Island awaits!
Back soon with The Final Destination.