Roadtrip: Through the Mojave Desert and into Las Vegas

The downside of awesome national parks like Sequoia National Park is that, in those remote places, the restrooms are sometimes latrines.  And when you use a latrine, you are vulnerable to tiny buzzing bitey things.  I have bug bites in uncomfortable places.  I didn’t add to them today, seeing as I spent nearly the whole day driving, but I did have the privilege of seeing my car register outside temperatures of 105 Fahrenheit.  Dry heat, but still.  Dry.

Driving between Visalia, CA (where I was) and Las Vegas goes through desert, desert, and more desert,  I saw cacti.  I saw patches of sand.  I realized that CA radio stations are the only radio stations that still play Michael Jackson songs, and what’s more, post-Bad Michael Jackson songs.  I also passed by Edwards Air Force Base, which was a funny stretch of road if only because of the little signs that only scientists populate the area (towns named Boron, roads named Borax).  The rest area across from the base is kind of neat, very 50s science fiction.

I started out around 6:30 am, in order to get as much driving done as possible before the hottest part of the day.  However, arriving at Las Vegas slightly after noon, I discovered that there’s basically no shaded parking anywhere.  My deodorant stick suffered as a result, turning completely liquid, and I may have also lost some chocolate I bought in Montana.  However, there were cheap tacos (lengua that’s actually juicy and tender! carnitas with melty bits of fat!) and one of the better renditions of chicken tandoori I’ve had, with the spices charred onto the meat in a nice crust, and there was the Mob Museum, which was very flashy with the interactive sites, but which smartly took advantage of all the local history (the building itself hosted one of the Kefauver hearings).  It was sort of hilarious to see the museum do its best to maintain a disapproving tone and try to pump up the FBI’s reputation, while having exhibits like the brick wall from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (with bullet-holes) and a replica tommygun you could pretend to shoot, complete with recoil and sound effects.

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Airbnb here is way off the Strip and closer to the historic center of Las Vegas, which now is largely strip malls.and apartment buildings.  Nice and quiet, but still too hot for me.  I don’t know how they managed to build anything in this heat.

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Roadtrip: Sequoia National Park, CA

Short post today.  Driving across the (drought-stricken, yellowed, baking, kinda like interior Washington) California interior involves a lot of dust, which of course kicked off my allergies.  Benadryl cleared it up, but had me waking up groggy and sluggish, so I decided I’d cut down on the driving and just devote the day to wandering around Sequoia National Park.  Might as well get all the huge tree species in America while I’m at it (there’s a third species of giganta-tree, the dawn redwood, but it’s in China).

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Sequoia forests aren’t quite as majestic and quieting as redwoods are.  Redwoods tend to crowd close together, for whatever reason, and they’re huge, so they really don’t leave much space in between the enormous trunk columns, but sequoias are much more spread out (more forest fires thinning the herd?), with skinnier pines interspersed between.  That lets in more light, and also seems to let the birdsongs carry–tons of birds today, and lots of little chipmunks and ground squirrels that were too quick for a photo.  The shaggy bark of the pines tends to lift off the trunks, allowing the chipmunks to hide under them and just poke their heads out every so often to look at you.  However, a lone mule deer (?) was randomly grazing by the road right next to a park highlight, the General Sherman tree (largest tree in the world), so I’m back up on large land mammals.

Roadtrip: Pacific Coast Highway Fog-Out and SEALS!

For the third straight day, the Pacific Coast view was basically fog, fog, and some dim outlines of rocks in the distance.  I picked up CA 1 at San Jose, and except for the occasional bubble where the highway dipped under the fog and the mountainside incline was at the proper angle to let sun slant below the fog banks, I got no beautiful blue oceans.  Instead I basically spent the entire time creeping around very tight road angles because you could see about a hundred yards ahead of you, and sometimes not even that, if the mountain curve got in the way.

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It was like that the whole way till just outside of San Simeon, which was of course where my route was going to take me inland towards Fresno, my stopping point for the night.  I give up; clearly, the universe wants me to do the Pacific Coast Highway some other time.

One of the bubbles was Monterey, which was brilliantly sunny and gorgeous, and which was a lot more high-end resort than I remember it being the last time I was here years ago, when all I cared about was the aquarium.  I was going to revisit the aquarium for nostalgia, but it’s $40 for a single adult.  So no.  I saw sea otters in Seattle; I ate lunch at a beachside restaurant instead, and amused myself with watching some Canada geese sunbathe themselves at the beach.  Didn’t realize birds took seaside vacations too.

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And then more misty driving, and then!  Seals!  A beach of seals, right outside of San Simeon!  One of the vista points had a boardwalk dedicated to seal-viewing.  I believe it’s calving season, so the darker ones are the babies.  It took me a second to actually locate the seals–surprising, considering how big they are, but they just flop over and look a lot like dead fish.  Your eyes have to adjust to find the content round faces at the end.  The vista point was also populated with some very fat (tourist-fed, judging by the do-not-feed signs) ground squirrels, which had pretty spotted fur and which would just pose for you.

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Roadtrip: Even more redwoods

PCH today was a bit of a wash-out, as it was super-foggy and you could barely make out the water.  So I turned inland, following U.S. 101 through the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and then taking a detour via the Avenue of the Giants.  It was a quieter drive than Redwoods National Park, where I had to keep pulling over to let speedier drivers pass; I don’t know why you take a “scenic drive” if you’re just going to zip through it.  Less people, and those that were there were much less likely to ride your bumper.

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Again, the silence in these woods is something else.  It’s got this…muffled quality, quiet not because there’s no sound but because the trees seem to soak it up before it gets to you.  Very serene in the daytime, but I imagine it’s actually a bit eerie at night.  Anyway, it was a good day for it–sunny, a tolerable temperature under the trees (and scorching elsewhere, with the dried-up riverbeds reminding you there’s a drought on), and I needed a bit of a slower-paced drive as changing places every night is making me a bit fatigued.  I also was detouring to meet a friend in the San Francisco Bay area, and needed some extra time to make it through the horrendous traffic.  It’s like NYC, except spread out over a much longer stretch of road.  The ramen place (Ramen Parlor, San Mateo) at the end at least was worth it, with an interesting lobster spin on the usual pork broth.  Mine was garlic flavored (lightly), and the lobster was not really that strong, but manifested more as a lightness to the fatty pork, and the soft-shell crab and two soft-boiled quail eggs were really tasty, unique add-ons.  The regular soft-boiled egg was actually soft-boiled, in that the yolk was thickened but still liquid inside.  The yakitori (not pictured), however, was a mistake, all over broiled and tough.

Lobster garlic pork broth with extra soft-boiled egg and soft-shell crab, Ramen Parlor, San Mateo

Lobster garlic pork broth with extra soft-boiled egg and soft-shell crab, Ramen Parlor, San Mateo

Airbnb was located in the nicest “mobile home community” I have ever seen.  They’re only mobile homes in the sense that they’re prefabricated houses without real foundations.  These are roomy, multiple-bedroom units, not trailers, with beautiful gardens and flowerboxes in the windows, and wooden floors inside, and the first palm trees I’ve seen so far on this drive.  I don’t know if this is a one-off or an experiment in affordable housing, but it was relaxing to stay in.

Mobile homes at dusk

Mobile homes at dusk

Roadtrip: More PCH and Redwoods National Park

The second half of the Oregon section of the Pacific Coast Highway seems to have a lot of sand dunes (and sawdust dunes from active logging), which aren’t my thing.  I’ve been to the biggest one in the U.S. out in Colorado, and killed a pair of old sneakers there, since the sand just wasn’t coming out.  So I just looked at these from afar.

Sand dunes off US 101, OR

Sand dunes off US 101, OR

As you drive into California, the difference in the landscape is gradual but noticeable.

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The mountains turn into hills, the trees get slightly taller and then you start to notice that they’re getting huge around the middle.  And then the redwood signs start popping up, and you realize that US 101 helpfully goes straight through nearly every redwood-containing national and state park in Oregon and California.  However, the better stuff requires going off the highway, which I did at the Redwood National Park.  You have to get out of the car and stand between these giant spires to really appreciate the effect; light and sound both seem muted, like the very sight of the trees won’t allow any competitors, even other senses.

Also, I think I spotted a herd of elk off the highway on my way out of the park.  They were, I think, the wrong color and shape for cows, but I was driving 50 mph and the shoulder wasn’t wide enough for me to pull over to check, so I can’t be sure.  Stopping point for the night was Bayside, CA, where I had some excellent costillitas (Cuban-style, braised baby back ribs in chipotle sauce) at Adriana’s.  The meat was the proverbial falling off the bone, in a smoky sauce that was pleasantly warm (spicy, not just hot to touch) and savory.  With a cool glass of horchata, it was a nice way to refuel after a day of hiking and hopping in and out of the car.

Edit: Forgot to mention the Airbnb spot!  Interesting set-up with a loft-style place, and a free $5 gift certificate to the local bakery/coffeeshop to boot.

Costillitas and horchata, Adriana's, Bayside, CA

Costillitas and horchata, Adriana’s, Bayside, CA