Cross-Country Trip: Cleveland to Los Angeles and back: Part 2

(Note: This is Part 2 of a three-part series. Click Here to read Part 1)

Leg #2 of Cross-Country trip, March 13 – March 25, 2019:  Salt Lake City to Los Angeles

Mercedes Sprinter in snow

March 13, 2019: Post RVX Show and over a snowy summit

After leaving the RVX Show in Salt Lake City, we head south towards Capitol Reef National Park, taking I-15 to Rt. 50 East at Scipio to Rt. 24 South at Salina.  We stop briefly at Salina, so I can start a pot roast in the Instantpot, my first time using it.  I’m happy to see that it fits in the sink, so it can pressure cook as we drive.  It starts to snow and near the 8400-foot summit, the snow is drifting across the other lane.  We stop in a long line of vehicles and Mike walks up to the truck in front of us to see what is going on.  The trucker explains that police are escorting a few vehicles at a time over the summit, as a snowplow clears the drifts.  During a slow moving hour, I add potatoes and carrots to the pot roast. At the small town of Loa, Mike gets permission to stay overnight in the parking lot of a grocery store, where the pleasant manager says that people do it all the time.   We eat the pot roast, slightly overdone – I need more practice with this new appliance – and sleep well.

Motorhome cooking

March 14, 2019:  Capitol Reef National Park

This morning it is 22 degrees F. and sunny and we have 30 miles to go to Capitol Reef National Park.  On the way into the park, we stop at Panorama Point and Gooseneck Overlook to view the gorgeous red rock cliffs and canyons.  At the small Visitor Center, we get advice on hikes from a helpful, young park ranger. We buy a National Park Passport and the first of our stamps to verify our National Park visits.  We stop at Gifford House, an original pioneer house, and now bakery. When we buy a small cherry pie, the cashier explains that since today is “pie day,” the pies are $3.14, instead of the usual $6.00.  It took us a while to figure out that today is 3/14, “pi day.” Down the road, we walk the boardwalk that is Petroglyphs Trail to view the rock paintings of the Ancient Puebloans who lived here in the 1200’s.  Across the street are the fruit orchards, still producing, that the Mormon Pioneers planted in the late 1800’s. We do a challenging, 2-mile hike up to Hickman Bridge, a large, natural sandstone arch, and then drive the 10-mile Scenic Drive.  When the paved road ends, Mike carefully keeps on navigating Escape on the narrow rutted, dirt path, winding between high canyon walls. A guy walking out stops us to say that we are braver than he is, because he left his Winnebago View where the paved road ended.  At the end of Scenic Drive, we hike Capitol Gorge Trail, seeing the “Pioneer Registry” that documented the names and dates of the Mormons who came through here, with the earliest date of 1833. We rock scramble up a ¼ mile to “The Tanks,” deep-water pockets in the rock.  

We drive down Rt. 12, seeing the rocky vistas, with Capitol Reef now to the east.  At one point, we are driving on a narrow ridge with drop-offs on both sides. We stop in Escalante and stay behind a grocery store.  We are very tired and grateful for the simplicity of our life on the road. We heat up last nights’ leftover pot roast, finish the cherry pie, and watch one episode of “The Crown,” which Mike says puts him to sleep.

Friday, March 15, 2019:  Bryce Canyon National Park and on to Zion

We leave our grocery store “campsite” at dawn, on this clear, 22-degree morning.   Just two blocks down the street we discover Escalante Outfitters, where we have good coffee and crustless quiche, with orange slices and grapes.  Except for one breakfast over a week ago at the hotel for the Work Truck Show, this is the first breakfast we have eaten out of the camper. This is a welcome treat, although hard-boiled eggs, parfaits or smoothies have sustained us well on the road.   We drive down the “staircase” of mountain ridges that create The Grand Staircase Escalantes, arriving at Bryce Canyon Visitor Center about 10:30AM.  The park ranger explains that since it has been a “snowmageddon” winter and they could not plow for 35 days during the federal shutdown, all roads and trails below the rim are closed.  We hike the only trail open, the Rim Trail, from Sunrise Point, past Sunset Point to Inspiration Point, on three feet of slippery, packed snow, viewing the amazing amphitheater below and the “hoodoos,” the tall, thin rock columns that the ancient people believed were once people who had been frozen in a past time.  Back in the van, we drive to Bryce Point and do a short hike on the one path that is open there.

Back on Rt. 12 West, we head to Zion National Park, taking Rt. 89 south to Rt. 9 West and then enter the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway and Tunnel to the south entrance of Zion.  Built in the 1930’s between the narrow canyons and through two long tunnels, the highway clearance is 7’10” wide and 13’1” high.  We ignore the sign that says, “no RVs or trucks” and the ranger at the east entrance clears us through. About 4PM, we stop at the South Campground, which says “campground full,” but the volunteer attendant says he just received four cancellations, so this is our “lucky day.” We dump here, fill with water and, with our levelers, settle into a good spot. We enjoy taking our soup and salad out to the picnic table, our first outdoor dinner of the trip.

Saturday, March 16, 2019: Zion hikes and Death Valley National Park arrival

Since the volunteers who registered us at the campground warned us that parking at the Visitor Center fills up shortly after first light, at 7:30AM we pull up the levelers and head to the Visitor Center.  It is only 38 degrees and we are one of the first few vehicles there. We catch the 8:00AM shuttle, about half full, for the 40-minute ride to the top of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which follows the Virgin River, the backbone of the park canyon.   Sunlight is painting purple at the top of the canyon walls. We hike the paved, 2.2 mile round trip Riverside Walk, deep in the canyon at a fast clip, since the wind and shade make it damp and cold. We catch the shuttle and then do the short Weeping Rock Trail and Grotto Trail to Zion Lodge, where we warm up with a late breakfast, another welcome restaurant breakfast.  When we get to Lower Emerald Pool Trail, the sun and the crowds are out for this beautiful hike. Back at the Visitor Center, we are tired and not inspired to join the crowds being hustled around on shuttle buses, so we depart for the west and Death Valley National Park.

We arrive at Death Valley about 6PM. We stop at Zabriskie Point, walk up the dunes to view sunset and the kaleidoscope of colors and shapes of these dunes.  We stop at two campgrounds and find them full, a lesson in the advisability of booking ahead at National Parks. We park at the Visitor Center overnight, another successful scoff lawing.


Sunday, March 17, 2019:  Death Valley National Park and encountering another Advanced RV  

We wake at 7:45AM, after sleeping an undisturbed 12 hours. Although it is 40 degrees outside, this is the first night that the heat did not come on.  At the Visitor Center, we realize what a huge park this is. We hike Golden Canyon, with a ½ mile rock scramble up to Red Cathedral, tough, but well worth it for the view of the whole valley.  We stop at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. We walk about ½ mile out on to the salt flats. Down at Dante’s Ridge Trail we get the best view of Death Valley, from the salt flats to snow-covered Telescope Peak, the highest point in the park at more than 13,000 feet. We hike about three miles of the ridge.  

We stop at The Ranch at Death Valley for a rest and cup of tea on the patio and tour the Borax Museum, an outdoor display of the old equipment used to mine and transport borax, including some the wagons pulled by the famous 20 mule team Borax.  Passing a gas station, Mike spots another Advanced RV filling up. We pull in and meet Mike, a client from Colorado and have a good chat.

We decide to drive about 1 ½ hour up to Ubehebe Crater and spend the night there.  Although the sign says, “Day use only,” we feel the worse that could happen is that a ranger would wake us up and tell us to move, which being this remote, seemed highly unlikely. The moon is almost full, so the sky does not get completely dark, but for 360 degrees we can see no lights and it is absolutely quiet, a rare experience.

Monday, March 18, 2019:  Death Valley National Park

From the van window, we see sunrise as a short burst of color over the mountains.  Early, we hike to Little Hebe Crater Rim, steep at first, and then hike around the Ubehebe Crater Rim, about 1.5 miles, looking down in to the 2000-year-old, 600-foot crater.  We meet a volcanologist who is there on an expedition with his team from the University of Buffalo. He explains that this is a “maar volcano” or explosion volcano, where magna is trapped below water and, like a pressure cooker, explodes at a weak opening. His interest is in the sand drifts created as the volcano blows, like at Pompeii.  

After a cup of tea, we hike to the bottom of Ubehebe and back, an experience of feet sinking and sliding in volcanic scree that reminds Mike of the challenge of hiking Kilimanjaro. We leave Ubehebe about 11AM as the parking lot fills up. We hike about 2 miles on the huge, rolling sand dunes that make up Salt Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.  The smooth, almond color dunes against the light purple and pink mountains in the distance make a peaceful palette for our good bye to Death Valley.

We head west on 190 to 395 south, a scenic mountain road until we hit the valley, dotted with small towns that appear from the highway to be one strip mall after the other.  In Apple Valley on Rt. 18, we stay the night at a Walmart.


Tuesday, March 19, 2019: Joshua Tree National Park and a welcome respite from the van

In the morning, we drive the last hour to Joshua Tree Visitor Center, which is crowded by 9AM.  It is a perfect, sunny, cool day in the 50’s. We hike Ryan Mountain, 5458 feet, with a 1000-foot climb in 1.5 miles.  The view is worth it.

Mid afternoon, we drive to Morongo Valley where Mike’s brother-in-law has two small Airbnb houses.  Lucky for us, one is available. Off a rutted dirt road, we find the brightly painted houses and move into the tiny “pink house.”  Kit and Tanya, the hosts, soon arrive to greet us. We can use the washer and dryer in the other house, a most welcome privilege after two weeks on the road.  We start the laundry and go to Kimi’s Shushi, back east on Rt. 62 – an excellent surprise in this remote, landlocked desert country.  As we finish the laundry, we watch Vice on Netflix and sleep well, our first night out of the van.  


Wednesday, March 20, 2019: Back in the van and Joshua Tree “superbloom

The “pink house” is so cute we hate to leave.  An artist from Berkeley spray-painted all the walls and ceilings in energetic bright colors and geometric shapes.  The art on the walls and all the well-chosen household objects make a harmonious and uplifting experience of color in this bland desert ecosystem.

Today is cloudy and a misty 50 degrees F.  We have breakfast at the Frontier Café in Yucca Valley, where we feel we are in the Old West.  Today, we enter Joshua Tree at the northern entrance, Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Pines.  We drive the Utah Trail and hike the easy Discovery Trail, designed by and for kids, among the smooth, jumbo rocks, formed by molten rock being pushed up by volcanic activity.  We thought we were hiking a loop, so we were surprised not to find our van at the end of the trail. We walk the road back about ½ mile and are happy to find the van where we left it.   We drive through Jumbo Rock Campground, 124 sites, with new picnic tables and fire pits. As we have found in all the National Parks this trip, there was no vacancy, even in the first come, first served campgrounds.  Reservations are a must if one needs a campsite.

Off Pinto Basin Rd, we walk in the Cholla Cactus Garden, amid these amusingly shaped, densely concentrated cactus.  I hear a noisy bird in the top of an ochilla cactus and see it hop up and down and then dive to the ground. From a later naturalist sign, I learn this is a roadrunner.  At Cottonwood Spring, we hike to the fan palm oasis and continue the 3-mile loop to Mastodon Peak. Mike does an additional rock scramble to the top of a craggy granite peak, while I rest below.  We end at Bajada Loop, where we are lucky to see the “superbloom” of wild flowers, which occurs when there has been a good rainfall in the desert, a relatively rare event. We head west on I-10, stop at Indio for a truck wash, and for dinner finish last night’s fried rice and shrimp from the sushi restaurant.   We sleep at a Love’s Truck Stop.

Thursday, March 21, 2019:  San Gabriel Mountains and Channel Islands National Park

In Palm Desert, we have breakfast at a café near Whole Foods and then get groceries.  We take Rt. 111 to 10 to 210 to Angeles Crest Highway (Rt. 2), a scenic drive into the San Gabriel Mountains, north of Los Angeles.  We hike at Switzer Falls Trail Picnic Area along the creek, but the creek is too high to make it more than one mile. We head to Ventura and arrive at Channel Islands National Park just before closing at 5PM.  For tomorrow morning, we are booked for the 8:00AM Island Packers boat trip to Santa Cruz Island. We get permission (yes, Mike asked!) to stay the night in the Island Packers parking lot, where several other campers are parked, too.


Friday, March 22, 2019:  Channel Islands National Park

At 7:30AM, we are in line to board the ship, which will take about 100 of us on the one-hour trip to Santa Cruz Island Scorpion Point for the day.  We pass though a pod of dolphins, hundreds of them. I get seasick but once on land, feel fine. We join a group of about six, following a National Park volunteer, to hike the eastern Santa Cruz Island on Cavern Point Loop.  He explains the geologic history, as well as the history of the Native American here, the early ranchers, and the native flora and fauna. We see the native small fox and the unique island scrub jay. The island is green and lush, dotted with bursts of giant, yellow coreopsis.  Mike and I continue on to Potato Harbor, with spectacular coastal views. We do a bit of the Scorpion Canyon Loop, but get back well in time for our 3:30PM boat ride back. When we return to the camper in the parking lot, we are dead tired and decide to spend another night right here.  We walk to a fish place on the harbor, but it is so bad we hardly eat. We watch one episode of season 2 of Ozark and collapse for the night.

Saturday, March 23, 2019: Ojai, California

We decide that going up to Pinnacles National Park is too far and that it would be too crowded on a spring weekend.  Instead, we head toward Ojai, California, where we will meet our kids on Wednesday. At the Ojai Valley Inn, the concierge and the valet recommend hikes in the area and introduce us to the app All Trails.  They and the app send us to the Luci-Pratt trail in Ojai Valley Land Conservancy Valley View Preserve. It is a beautiful three-four mile hike. Back in Ojai, we spend the night parked on the street across from the grocery store and in front of a church.  After dinner in the camper, we walk to a wine bar for live music.


Sunday, March 24, 2019:  Hiking the Santa Monica National Recreation Area

First thing in the morning, we move the van from beside the church to the parking lot of the grocery store, where Mike gets coffee for us.  After smoothies in the van, we walk to the Farmers Market, where fresh spring vegetables and greens, cheeses, bread, eggs, and handicrafts are beautifully displayed.  On the way back, we stop at a French café for more coffee and scones. Guided by the All Trails app, we drive between Thousand Oaks and Agoura Hills to hike in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.  Last year, this area was burned in the Thomas fire. We see the evidence of the fire in the blackened live oak trees, but most are showing new growth and the grasses are green and thick. Again, decay and renewal, recalling the theme from the Kansas City photo show.  We hike about eight miles in Cheeseboro Canyon and enjoy the vistas, the clusters of California orange poppies and spikes of blue lupine. Mike spots a rattlesnake sunning itself on a rock. We “camp” in Santa Paula, a midsize town, staying in the municipal parking lot.

Parked Mercedes Sprinter

Monday, March 25:  Los Padres National Forest

We walk a block to Rabelais Bistro for coffee and good scones.  The waitress there recommends Sisar Canyon/Red Reef Trail in Los Padres National Forest for a good hike today.   Tracking our route on All Trails, we hike steadily uphill for 5 miles, do two significant creek crossings and get a great view.  At a KOA, we dump, but their laundry facilities were burned down in the Thomas Fire two years ago. Back in Santa Paula, we do laundry and then drive to Santa Monica, where we are meeting our one son and his family.  We park in valet parking of a Hampton Inn, a few blocks from the beach.

This ends Leg #2 of our cross-country trip.  Leg #2 is our stay in California and our trip back home, arriving April 8, 2019.


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