My Great America Road Trip – Bye, Bye California

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Palm trees lining the streets of L.A. as we left.
Bye, bye, California palm trees!

June 17th, 2015: our last day in California. We packed our luggage, grabbed coffee from Zona Rosa and headed out.

Pasadena -> Flagstaff

Distance: 520 miles
Driving Time: 8 hours, 15 minutes

Pasadena to Flagstaff road trip map gif

We left Pasadena via Manhattan Beach, and hit the California desert sometime in the morning. It surprised me how after driving east through the suburban sprawl of Los Angeles, there is nothing but open desert on the other side. Along the road, small withered bushes dotted the sandy ground and we were in a valley surrounded by dry mountains. Trucks sped by our Mini on either side and we passed a wind farm that covered the landscape in giant white wind turbines.

On the desert road, east of L.A.
On the desert road, east of L.A.
Clockwise from top left: our little bunny road mascot, courtesy of my dear friend Trish, a motel boasting of color-tv in LA; desert scenes; sign at a desert pit-stop
Clockwise from top left: our little bunny road mascot, courtesy of my dear friend Trish; a motel boasting of color-tv as we left LA; desert as seen from the road; a friendly sign at a pit-stop

Dead east from LA is Palm Springs, truly an oasis in the dusty, brown landscape. After consulting Yelp for options, we made a b-line for a place called The Sandwich Spot, which turned out to be an excellent lunch find! J is not really a sandwich person, but he made it work, and I ordered the turkey with pickles, cheddar, red onion and avocado, plus a little bit of mayo. It was so delicious that I ate the whole thing, thinking: hey! I’m on a road trip, it is likely the food will be terrible, so I better load up in California while it’s still good! Next time I’m in Palm Springs, I’m definitely headed there again.

Delicious sandwich from the Sandwich Spot in Palm Springs

After lunch we walked around for a few minutes in the blazing sun only to realize we were in desperate need of sunscreen. Stopping at a nearby drugstore, I couldn’t stop exclaiming how hot it was while I slathered myself in SPF 70 in the parking lot. It was SO hot! How do people live here? Obviously a pool + air conditioning is essential. I gaped at the neon green grass in front of some houses – they must be watering all day, every day. I had never been to Palm Springs before and while I did glimpse a handful of mid-century buildings, we stayed for such a short time that I know there was much more to see. After an hour, we were back in the car.

Below is one of my favorite videos from this part of the road trip. Maybe it’s the song, the happy memories of our journey, or the wonder of the great open road, but I tear up whenever I watch it.

We arrived at the Salton Sea midday and it was a beautiful, albeit melancholy place to visit. Once a resort destination in the 1950’s, the man-made lake became polluted from agricultural runoff and algae blooms. The unstable ecosystem meant that only a few species of fish could survive in the water, and even then with the continuous change in salinity (more salty than the ocean), there seems to be a continuous cycle of dying fish. 

J walking the shore of the Salton Sea
J walking the shore of the Salton Sea
Dead fish scatter the shore

The colorful resorts and beaches are now deserted and derelict. Great MessyNessyChic Article about it here, if you want to know a little more. When my sister found out we were visiting, she told me that this is where Christopher McCandless, AKA Alexander Supertramp the young traveller from Into the Wild, spent some time before heading to Alaska.

Salton Sea's polluted shores
So hot at the Salton Sea!

I can’t even tell you how hot it was outside of the car. PHEW! We didn’t stay outside for long because the heat was so intense it was making me woozy.

I really wanted to go to Salvation Mountain and Slab City, but they were on the other side of the Sea and we just didn’t have the time. As it was we would be getting into Flagstaff rather late. Oh well, more to see on the next road trip!

After becoming lost around Joshua Tree (we took some side road through what looked like Flintstone’s territory), we headed north east to Flagstaff, Arizona, nearly 6 hours away. We booked a little bed and breakfast where we stayed years before on a trip to the Grand Canyon. I watched the sun set over the desert as we drove east and I looked forward to what the next day would bring.

welcome to Arizona sign gif
Welcome to Arizona!
Our cherry red Mini Cooper
Seen on the road: never-ending trains
Seen on the road: never-ending trains
Desert sunset in the rearview mirror
Desert sunset in the side view mirror

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