We are on the road again!! With the first painful realization being the enormous rise in fuel prices, and with that California being the most expensive of all, we fill up diligently at the border of the state but realize we will have to adjust the fuel budget drastically that we had set up for these next 6 months ☹. All of that is quickly forgotten however as we enjoy the freedom of driving our RV and being able to park it wherever we like, most often for free!
Joshua Tree National Park
First national park on the list as we cross the border is Joshua Tree, known of course for its trees, and beautiful desert landscape. We spent the night outside of it parked with a view across the valley, so we can get an early start the next day. We take the visitor center first, and get some good advice on short hikes to take today. The heat is incredible – Joshua Tree is mostly visited between September and May – so following their advice and breaking up the hiking in bite sizes is a good call.
We do 3 short hikes this day and visit some of the highlights of the park such as the Cottonwood Spring, and oasis right in the desert. The other hikes are around a large boulder outcrop, one through a hidden valley and another one to a deserted dam (at a dried up lake). The park is a combination of Sonora and Mojave desert, which you see as the landscape and nature changes driving through it. We get greeted by several of the blackrabbits in the area as well as quail, kangaroo rats and plenty of ground squirrels. The Joshua Trees are of course not to be missed, and driving further west their size and quantity gradually goes up.
Driving out of the National Park we still have a ways to go to get to our place for the night, but as we had an early start (thanks heat and slight jetlag) we have enough time to make it there. We have opted for a Harvest Host, this time a greenery with tons of fresh fruit and vegetables, and the sweetest dog named Basel. The boys empty out the strawberry fields, and we take some of the fresh vegetables and honey after having spent a great night in the backyard – thanks Jason!
Los Angeles – Venice Beach and Santa Monica
While it is not ideal with an RV, we can not of course just drive by Los Angeles, so we take the plunge – on a Sunday traffic is actually not that bad it turns out – and drive towards the city and its beaches. First stop is a foto-op at the Hollywood-sign, a must-do of course, but then it is on to the coastline. This is where we love having our bikes again, and setting them up and getting ready we all get super excited. The regular coastal fog rolls in, but that does not deter us from heading out to the beach on our bikes! The boardwalk right on the beach is a dream to ride on and we thoroughly enjoy the freedom it gives.
First stop is of course the Santa Monica pier, with all the street artists, the fun fair and a demonstration passing us by – and the picture at the start of the Route 66 sign of course. It is a fine mix of all things American as we stroll through it. Then it is on along the beach towards Venice beach for some fun in the sun and sand, checking out the skater tricks in the skatepark and taking a dip in the ocean! Fun to see all these things we know from television in real life, and of course with the sun coming out again we have a perfect afternoon. For dinner we drive along the coast to find a parking spot at the beach and enjoy the sunset.
Santa Monica Mountains
We drove up the mountains in the evening to have an overnight at a trailhead parking lot. The ‘Backbone trail’ passes through here which is a 70 mile multi-use path across the mountain range and Sven has opted to go mountainbiking along it for a good part of it. As we have breakfast we get company in the lot by female state prisoners out on their morning bootcamp we guess, an interesting sight we would never come across in Europe! As Sven heads out and the heat of the day is starting to push in, the rest of us drive the beautiful mountain road to several stops along the way. We hike Rocky Oaks around a pond in a valley, and then go on to the Paramount Ranch.
This ranch has been used for multiple movies and series of the Paramount studios, and hiking through the surrounding area gives you different views such as the ‘African plains’, the ‘Dr Quinn Medicine Woman forest’ and a race track. Fun to explore and get an idea how film sets are set up and what is needed to make sure there are no things in view that mess up the shot. We drive on to the Gilette ranch to get ready for lunch and wait for Sven coming back from his grueling MTB adventure. While the visitor center is closed, the fountain in front of it is not, which we use to get our feet wet and cool down from the California heat! From here it is a long drive land inwards to our next stop;
Sequoia & Kings Canyon NP
After not being able to visit these parks last year due to massive wildfires, we are happy to put them on the itinerary this year and still marvel at the giant trees they house. Getting to the Giants Forest, we drive an uphill road with plenty of twists and turns bringing us to cooler temperatures. While there are no wildfires, they are working on what they call ‘prescribed burns’ which are deliberate fires to keep the ground and forests healthy and free of too much flammable material on the ground. It also means the through hike we had planned can not be done, so we change our plans.
First we get our Junior Ranger booklets and take the shuttle out to Morro Rock, a granite outcrop you climb up through a narrow stairpath to stellar views across the valley. Not to be attempted by those afraid of heights! Then we hike back to the Giant Tree Museum along the Bear Hill Trail, hoping to run into its namesake. No luck there, but we do see the Tunnel Log that cars can pass under and plenty of smaller wildlife along the way.
With a good morning hike under our belts we head out to the main attraction of the Sequoia side of the parks; the General Sherman tree – the biggest (in volume of the trunk) tree in the world! It is quite an extreme, and the park does a great job at letting you feel the size of it by laying out the heights and widths along the trail. We then hike the Congress Trail past plenty of other enormous Sequoias, but the true highlight pops up as we head back up to the RV: BLACK BEARS!! Plural, as a mom and her cub make their way across the trail and give us a great show in the valley below. Mom teaches how to pull away bark from fallen trees to snack on the insects, and even gives a tree climbing demonstration, completely ignoring the growing group of spectators up at the trail. That adrenaline rush pushes us easily back up the trail, all the tiredness gone!
Between both National Parks is the US forest, and that means we do what we love the US for; Drive down a forest road and park for the night in the middle of nature. We have a very cool spot, shaded under the trees and for the first time this week we are actually under our covers at night as the temperature drops to a comfortable 16 degrees. Next morning it is rise and shine, no bear or mountain lion tracks around the RV so they left us alone, and on we go to Kings Canyon. The boys get sworn in at the visitor center, having finished their booklets last night, and we enjoy the exhibition in the center that tells us some more about the National Park here, especially the canyon.
We split the day in two; at the end of the road into the canyon we hike down the river along the Zumwalt Meadow and finish at the Roaring River Falls. A great place to have lunch in the shade, and for the men to give fishing another go – or to be more exact; feeding the fish 😊. From here we head back to the area around the visitor center called Grant Grove, named after the highest tree in the world: The General Grant. We do a nice loop in this area through the woods where we witness some more of the devastation of last years wildfires, and get egged on by the squirrel population.
At the end of the day we have a long drive back towards the coast ahead of us, so we take a first stab at it and drive downhill into the valleys of California again. We take the same stop as last year to fill up on gas, as we know it is the cheapest around and worth the slight detour, and after the monthly fast food trial (we went to Denny’s this time, it was very good) we drive a bit further out. We park the RV somewhere down a road under a tree, not really sure where we are but confident we are not directly in somebody’s backyard, and call it a night.
Next morning we turn out to not be in the backyard, but in plain sight of a farm downhill. Seems to not bother the owners so we have breakfast and are on our way again. We have about an hour to go for the next National Park on our list; Pinnacles NP. It is a fun stopover on the way to the coast as this relatively small park boasts a hiking trail that takes you through a cave and on to a water reservoir up in the bouldered hills. The caves turn out to be closed for the most part, but the scramble up and partly in them makes up for this disappointment.
After a good few hours we call it quits and drive on to the sea, excited for some sand, sea and surf, and potentially some cooler temperatures. Be careful what you wish for turns out to be spot on, as we get to the beautiful town of Monterey and see the coastal fog roll in, bringing temperatures down to a serious chill… yikes. In need of a shower we check into a campsite where the boys take their bikes and play with the other kids on the campsite while we arrange our stuff and get ready for a hot shower and bedtime… One week into our RV life we are starting to get into our routine again and are absolutely loving it!
Next week: Driving up the Pacific Coast