Southern California

I spent the weekend at Joshua Tree National Park. I am really getting my money’s worth out of this annual Park Pass. It’s a great park, in addition to the Joshua trees everywhere it is full of these weird rock formations. There are several campgrounds in the park, the largest is Jumbo Rocks. There are 140 or so campsites, but each one is nestled in among the jumbo rocks. I saw in the news that September is mating season for the giant hairy tarantulas here in Joshua Tree, but I can’t find any. There is, however,  a large rattlesnake basking in the sun the next campsite over. They didn’t spot it until after they had set up their tent about fifteen feet away. The Park Rangers were called, came out and said “Yep that’s a rattlesnake.” They declined to move it and suggested that the people move their tent elsewhere, and to be sure to take a flashlight when heading to the bathroom after dark. The two main ways people are bitten by rattlesnakes are 1) they just can’t resist poking it with a stick and it bites 2) they don’t see it, step on the snake, and it bites.

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My driver’s side headlamp had a crack along the bottom when I bought the Land Cruiser, it never fogged up and the crack seemed stable. It got hit pretty hard by a rock on the Dalton Highway, causing a large chip right in the center. I figured its days were numbered and ordered a new one for $200 shipped. Better to just replace it now than wait until it falls completely apart and I have to track one down in Costa Rica or somewhere. It’s not hard to replace, just remove the turn signal housing and the center grille then 3 bolts on the headlamp itself. Unplug the wires, switch the bulbs, and put everything back together. I finally feel like a real overland traveler working on my truck in a campsite.

2003 was one of the last years before Toyota switched by glass headlamps to plastic on the Land Cruisers. The upside of glass is that the 13 year old headlamp on the other side matches perfectly to the new one once it is cleaned up.

Old and busted vs new and shiny

There are no warning signs about scorpions, giant hairy tarantulas, mountain lions, or rattlesnakes. Just bees. I guess since there is no water anywhere around the bees will swarm on anything wet, including a wet sweaty person.

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There are some great sandy back roads that lead to some good trails.

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One trail leads to the Lost Horse gold mine, so named because it was discovered when a prospector was searching for his lost horse when he stumbled across gold. The actual mine is closed off but the old stamp mill is still there. There are old gold mines all over the park.

On Sunday I drive to Anaheim and grab a hotel near Knott’s Berry Farm, as I have to be at the airport Monday morning to pick up Lisa. Monday morning rush hour into the airport is crazy, but once we get clear of the airport it’s an easy drive to Newport Beach. I have four nights at the Marriott’s Newport Coast Villas, which turns out to be quite a fancy place.

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The grounds are huge, 40 buildings spread out along the hills over the Pacific Coast Highway. Tons of things to do: five pools, several hot tubs, fire pits (Monday night was s’mores night), putting green, tetherball, tennis, basketball, bags, giant chess, movie theater.

I picked up Kelsey and Robert at 11pm Monday night, then we all spent the rest of the week enjoying Newport Beach.

Watched the sun set from a restaurant on the waterfront. Newport Beach is very upscale, first vacation town I have been to that features a McLaren dealership. There was also a used car store with a Ford GT in the window.

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Another night we packed up a full barbecue in the villa’s laundry basket and went up to the south end of the grounds for the best sunset view. In between buildings they have gas grills and patio furniture, a great place to grill burgers and watch the sun set.

We did one hike up El Moro canyon and across the hills, about 5 miles. It was pretty hot and sweaty going up the canyon once you get away from the water. The sweeping coastal views from the top were well worth the hike, picture below is looking south to Laguna Beach.

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Then down to the ocean to cool off a little. The water is pretty cold, about 63, but it feels good to go in at least knee deep.

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On the drive back we stopped at Ruby’s Shake Shack, right on the PCH. A beautiful place to sip something cold and look out over the ocean. By all reports the shakes were delicious.

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On Friday we eked out the vacation as long as we could, hanging out at the pool after checkout until it was time to head to the airport. A quick stop at In n Out for lunch then dropped Lisa at the airport, Kelsey and Robert in Venice Beach then off to San Diego.

It was late by the time I arrived so I got a hotel for the night, then next morning drove downtown to see the sights. Walked along the harbor and visited the USS Midway aircraft carrier. It was built during WW II but not finished until 1945 just as the war ended. It saw combat in Vietnam and the Gulf War and was decommissioned in 1992.

It’s a great feeling to stand on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, one more thing off the bucket list.

They had a couple of presentations on the flight deck about carrier takeoffs and landings. The sessions were given by a retired Navy pilot who has over 1,000 carrier takeoffs and landings with 300 combat missions over Vietnam. Very entertaining, lots of good stories and tons of detail on how a carrier operates.

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You can tour quite a bit belowdecks, it is indeed a floating city of 4,100 people. It’s a weird mix of technology from the 1940’s to the 1990’s.

Not much camping available near San Diego but I found a county park about 15 minutes away for the next couple of nights. The first morning I woke up and found a line of ants marching up the tent ladder, across the front of the tent, and down the other side. A few ants got lost and started coming inside but after a good five minutes of ant swatting everything was pretty well cleared off.

Sunday I visited the San Diego Zoo. First time I have spent $50 on the zoo but it was well worth it.

This year is their 100th anniversary and today is the exact day it opened 100 years ago. They have cake and cupcakes everywhere.

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It’s very well laid out, you walk through most of it on little paths through trees and bamboo with the enclosures worked in so you get the feeling of walking through the woods and seeing the animals in a more natural setting.

One of the big attractions are the giant pandas. I didn’t realize just how giant they are until seeing this one in person.

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Giant Panda video

Tons of koalas, which sleep 20 hours a day.

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After staying all day at the zoo it’s back to the ant hill campground. I parked a little further down, hoping to avoid the ant army but next morning I woke up to another line of ants coming up the ladder, around the front, back down the other side with a few stragglers sneaking inside the tent again.

Today is the big day, leaving the US and entering Mexico. I decide to go a few miles east to the new Otay Mesa border crossing; it’s supposed to be quicker and much easier to get around. Pulled off on the last US exit before the border, filled up on gas, changed some dollars for pesos, grabbed breakfast at McDonald’s then off to the border.

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4 thoughts on “Southern California”

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