We spent a relaxing day here as we leave tomorrow. It’s only 13 miles up the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Monica and the lagoon is home to Brown Pelicans, Egrets and several other waders. It is adjacent to a surfing beach and while we were watching the bids, children’s surf and kayaking schools were getting underway. Also nearby is the Adamson House and Garden. It was built in the 1920s and showcases Malibu pottery with numerous decorative tiles. Very Arts and Crafts. We did not go inside as it was a beautiful day, so pottered around the lagoon, sat on the beach and had a coffee on the pier. Now relaxing and packing before our last evening meal in Santa Monica.
Not quite – we don’t fly home until Saturday but we have made it to the end of Route 66. This morning we visited the pier to have the obligatory photo taken by a passerby. It was quite cool so we did a bit of shopping downtown and had a leisurely coffee watching the world go by. Santa Monica has lots of ‘Shop Local’ signs up and I did find a silver jewellery stall which had one of the biggest displays of charms that I have seen. I have a silver charm bracelet given to me by my grandmother when I was ten. It was made from my great grandmother’s silver watch chain and has some of the silver sixpences and threepences she had on her watch chain. Other charms added over the years are very mixed and James suggested I should have the lighthouse one so that will be added when I get home. We then headed to the beach. I had to dip my toes into the Pacific but that was all as it was so cold – only two guys were brave enough to actually swim in it. Flocks of brown pelicans flew overhead and we had one brave gull who sat and watched us (even before we got the picnic out), ever hopeful that we might feed him. As I don’t feed wildlife other than the birds in my own garden, he was out of luck unless we left any crumbs afterwards. After lunch, the onshore winds increased and got much colder so we moved back into town. I popped into Barnes and Noble and had to limit myself to one book as I don’t want the embarrassment of having to turn out my case at check in again (I bought so many books on a previous trip to the Pacific NW my case was too heavy). We returned to the hotel to relax before dinner at a local Indian restaurant. This was a welcome change from American Diner and Mexican food.
……..with a sense of relief. It’s not really my kind of town. We were on the road fairly early and were on I-15 down as far as Barstow as it has replaced R66. We had two more iconic American road experiences: a dust storm (which made me think of all those folks in the 30s who drove along this road to escape the dust bowl) and tumbleweed blowing across the road. I used to do a clinic in Lochgelly, Fife in the late 1980s and it was so deserted on a midweek afternoon, I could imagine the tumbleweed blowing across the street. We were now in the Mojave Desert and Joshua Trees have replaced the sunflowers. South of Barstow (no obvious coffee stops), the old highway loops away from the interstate and passed the work of another R66 eccentric: The Bottle Tree Ranch (see photos). There were some French bikers there at the same time as us but otherwise, the road was very quiet. Shortly afterwards we found a mini market that sold coffee and had a pit stop. We passed the huge cement works at Oro Grande but then had to rejoin I-15 to go over Cajon Summit (4190 feet) . Just past the summit we spotted a park that would do for our picnic lunch before we hit the Greater LA freeways. It was a lovely quiet spot away from traffic. I had worked out a route through LA that would be fairly easy to follow and allow us to drive down Santa Monica Boulevard which is the last few miles of R66. We have finally made it!
We woke on Monday to a clear blue sky and the first frost of the season. After breakfast we packed up and set off down R64 to connect with Route 66 again in Williams. We saw the deer crossing the road just before we left the National Park and it felt just like Scotland as we were still in the pine forest. There are a few photo opportunities in Williams, Seligman and other towns along R66. Seligman is a real tourist magnet for some reason but we enjoyed the drive away from the interstate all the way to Kingman. We left R66 there and headed north along the Colorado River for our next diversion: Las Vegas. Not really my kind of town but the approach through the mountains was spectacular and we also got a look at the Hoover Dam. Also weird were the signs advertising machine gun shooting. I still can’t get over being able to buy a gun in Walmart but not a bottle of wine and being asked for ID in one store when I was buying wine. I did enjoy getting an ‘over 50’ discount in one outlet store we visited in Las Vegas. James was keen to see the strip at night so we had a wander but other than some shopping we spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool.
Our first sight of the Canyon from the overlooks on Desert View drive were fantastic. It was great to see the real thing after years of seeing photographs. We settled into our accommodation at the National Park Lodge which is situated among the south rim pine forest. There is a lot of wildlife: birds, squirrels of various types and deer. It was very quiet and after dinner we had a good sleep. We had planned to do part of the Bright Angel Trail which goes down into the Canyon but I woke at 5.30am with a migraine. I got rid of it fairly quickly but it leaves me feeling very tired so I did not think I could do the climb back up to the rim if we did the Bright Angel. We did a section of the Rim Trail instead. Sunday was the official first day of Fall and the temperature had dropped on the rim. This diversion to the Canyon has given me lots of ideas for future visits: the North Rim, on the South – take the bus to Hermit’s Rest and hike back (this is the quieter section) and take a mule ride into and out of the Canyon, staying overnight at Ghost Ranch. I can ride a horse and have ridden Western-style once before in the Appalachians (and Ladakhi-style in the Himalaya) so am confident enough that I can ride a mule. I would also like to hike the John Muir Trail sometime (takes about 21 days).
On Saturday we were up before it was light and had breakfast as soon as it opened. Then a 6 mile drive to the White House Trailhead. We were the first people there and so had the trail on the way down all to ourselves and some crows. The windblown sandstone rocks were amazing and it did not take us long to get to the canyon floor. There were a few Navajo homes as they farm there and some people were arriving to set up stalls in the hope of customers. Despite the recent heavy rainfall there was some mud but no water in the river. We crossed to look at the ruined White House which was built by the Pueblo people who left the area 700 years ago. Then, as we had a fairly long drive ahead of us, we climbed back up the 1.5 mile canyon wall via the switchbacks and headed off towards the Grand Canyon. This was a drive through the Painted Desert and some spectacular landscapes. We entered the canyon via the East exit which leads to Desert View Drive after a stop off at the Little Colorado Canyon viewing are run by the locals.
Today began by driving the six miles of R66 which takes you from the Rio Grande in Albuquerque to the junction of the interstate where it switches to the frontage road. This, along with R124, takes you most of the way to Gallup. We passed the Continental Divide – everything ahead of us drains into the Pacific and everything behind into the Atlantic. After a coffee stop in Gallup we left R66 for a detour to the canyons. The road climbs up to Fort Defiance plateau where we drove through a coniferous forest. At Window Rock just past the Arizona border we stopped for lunch and to look at the hole in the rock. We are now in the Navaho Reservation and there are strict rules about photography so I snapped the rock and no people or homes. The road then descended onto the Arizona desert and we had quite a few miles of this before we reached Chinle. The sunflowers, our roadside companions since Illinois were getting fewer in western New Mexico and I thought we had seen the last of them but there are still a few stragglers if there is a roadside ditch. We’ve just had dinner in the hotel and as we are in the reservation – no alcohol can be bought or sold. Fortunately I have my supplies with me. Early night planned tonight so we can fit in a 2 hour walk into the Canyon de Chelly tomorrow morning before heading off to the Grand Canyon. At least I am hoping for an early night as I have to keep giving James tutorials on his iPhone update and switching my PC over to him.
We drove back into town on old Route 66 and our first stop was at the botanic gardens. There is a wonderful butterfly pavilion, several different gardens and glasshouses including a Japanese garden and a 1920-1940s working farm. The trees provided welcome shade on another hot day. We had yet another storm last night and several places in the state are now flooded. The rest of the morning was spent in the old town around the plaza. There was a guy playing a three-string guitar made from a cigar box and an elderly gentleman pushing his dog around in a pushchair. There were several galleries to browse in and I can’t wait to retire and get back to doing some more painting and other art stuff myself. We visited the Rattlesnake museum and saw a huge collection of snakes, a few other reptiles and spiders. The guy uses the money he makes from the museum and shop to fund conservation and rescuing abandoned snakes. The afternoon was spent back at the hotel lazing by the pool as tomorrow is another driving day. We are over the Rio Grande and will soon reach the Continental Divide and a new state: Arizona.
We left Santa Fe by the Turquoise Trail heading south towards Albuquerque. It is a very scenic drive with some rock formations, great views of the mountains and interesting small towns to pass through. The first was Cerrillos where we saw the railway for the last time and then Madrid where we stopped for a coffee and to pick up some more reading material for a small donation at the Old Boarding House – a great place for a pitstop. According to the guidebook some of the old timers here model for the ‘Nude Geezers’ calendar! After the next town, Golden, we took a detour up to Sandia Crest in Cibola National Forest – the view at the top is supposed to be great. Unfortunately as the weather has been very unsettled of late, the top was shrouded in mist. Just like Scotland and mirroring my experience in La Gomera a couple of years ago: we climbed to the top as you are supposed to be able to see North Africa and had no view because of the clouds. Anyway, we had to come back down the road we drove up as the very tempting alternative was only suitable for 4x4s. We had our picnic at Balsam Grove and had a wander along one of the trails. It was lovely to be in the forest after all the plains and bare rock. There were still some late flowers but I did spot some tiny fungi just a few millimetres across. I saw some rather large non-human footprints (probably bear) but the only other wildlife seen other than birds was a rodent. We eventually arrived in Albuquerque and spent some time in and by the pool. Will explore the city tomorrow as we are back on Route 66.
After a slowish start this morning we drove into town with a stop off at Camel Rock in Tesuque – a rock formation which does look like a camel’s head and has a couple of humps. In town we visited the Georgia O’Keeffe museum which only had a couple of galleries open but we had a free guided tour of their research centre which covered her life and how her work developed. We were shown the early works and colour charts she made and some of the other things she collected and was inspired by including stones, bones and shells. I could certainly connect with her love of nature and the need to create something abstract from it whether that is painting or photography. After a coffee break a little shopping. Found an antique map and antiquarian book dealer and bought a lovely 18th century map of the coast of NW America from Monterey Bay to Washington State passing though some of the places we love. On the way back to the hotel for some relaxation and planning for tomorrow’s drive to Albuquerque, we popped into a mall for some supplies. James found a music/books/video store and while he was looking at music I discovered the extensive periodical section. I used to love Borders because they had a great selection of magazines and miss their store on Oxford St which was a regular stopping off point when in London. This surpassed even Borders. There was a whole section on magazines devoted to shooting every critter that you can think of, large and small. Another whole section on quilting and even ‘Weed World’ and ‘Skunk – the how-to issue’. In the book section was the equivalent of our ‘Idiot’s Guides’ – this one being for the AR15 rifle. And I thought Santa Fe was a fairly civilised place. Enjoying the mountain scenery and now off to decide on our route down the Turquoise Trail tomorrow.