Here we go, the last chapter of this amazing trip: 6 weeks road trip in South Western US mainland. It’s going to be summer, hot, packed with tourists but big fun with lots of camping, beautiful national parks and thousands of miles on the road to discover – this is what we expected before we started. Our intention was to pick up (and later drop off) a motor home in Los Angeles to discover some of the world’s most famous national parks in the south west by driving a huge (about 4’000miles long) loop and then hire a car for the last two weeks to get all the way from Los Angeles to San Francisco from where we will be heading back home in the end of July.
LA didn’t welcome us with open arms. After touching down at LAX we waited 50mins in the airplane taxing for our gate, another hour for the luggage delivery and in the end again an hour for our complimentary shuttle service to the hotel that never arrived (we took at taxi at our expenses in the end). It got pretty late that night so we had a short 4hrs sleep before (and this time the shuttle arrived) our rental company picked us up to get the motorhome. One of the few things we pre-booked more than six months ago was our recreational vehicle (or simply called RV) for the first 4 weeks. What appeared to be ridiculously distant when we booked it last winter is now standing in front of us: an 8meter long, 5.6 tons heavy motorhome powered by a huge V8 5.6l Ford engine (which consumes approx.. 30l per 100km – 3-4 times more than our car back home) with all the amenities one could imagine: shower and toilet, electricity generator, AC, a wifi-hotspot and, the coolest thing ever: an expendable living room that slides sideways out of the vehicle. After camping with campervans in Australia and New Zealand this vehicle comes with all the trimmings and feels more like a hotel on wheels than a motorhome…and guess what: this was the smallest available RV for rent. Appears more like a house on wheels than the smallest available camper but yeah: if in American do as the Americans right? We were actually told by our rental company that Americans don’t like this kind of small RVs…of course…
After shopping all the necessities to camp for the next few weeks (which was kind of a headache since catering for two seems to be really difficult here. They mainly sell one kilo+ packages of meat or 8 packs of breads) we hit LA’s freeways. It was ridiculous. 6, 7 oh wait this one’s got 8 lanes in one direction. Their streets are just massive…and…still way too busy. The avalanche of cars, trucks and buses came to a stop every now and then. No wonder it took us more than 2hrs to cover the first 50miles westbound (and we were not even driving through the city center and it was Saturday morning. We really don’t want to know how bad their weekday’s rush hours are). We just wanted to get out there. We parked our car at a Walmart parking lot in a suburb at the western end of LA to sleep. Temperatures were comfortable…yet… Walmart seems to be a good place to park overnight actually, as opposed to what we initially thought. This Walmart is open 24/7, so that means there is security all the time and we could use their restroom all the time if we wanted to.
After sleeping in our own comfy bed for the first night, we got up feeling refreshed and ready for the big road trip. Our schedule today was to go to Joshua Tree National Park. It is a desert-ish park with various types of plants and animals that have adapted to the hot, dry weather in the park. It is amazing to think of how the plants and animals could survive under these hard conditions. We arrived there at around noon time which shouts: hot hot hot! It was so hot that you would practically seek for shades every 5 seconds you’re walking somewhere…but too bad we are in the desert where there are not that many shaded places. Obviously there was no way that we could hike or do anything outdoor for a longer time at that time unless you want to be grilled. Temperatures were well above the 100 degrees (40degrees Celsius) line. We visited a few spots that offered beautiful views of rocks, Joshua Trees and the desert. The heat was worst here at 2.30pm as informed by the park ranger, so we did not do much in the late afternoon. Roman was brave and went out of the car sometimes for photo shooting. 5minutes later he would come back looking like a cooked shrimp. We stayed for a night at a camp site in the park called Jumbo Rock. As the name suggests, the campsite was surrounded by huge rocks, each one unique. At sunset, the heat became more bearable and we could even walk around the park and enjoyed the sunset. Lights reflecting on rocks made them looked orangey and pretty. Eventually some rabbits, birds and lizards started to show up. As the sky got darker an endless blanket of stars opened up above us. Just lying on outdoor picnic table we could see uncountable stars and occasionally shooting stars. Simply the beauty of nature that one could see here…
One of the most famous national parks in USA would probably be Yosemite and Grand Canyon, both of which we plan to visit. We were awaken as it started to get sauna-ish in the motorhome with sunlight (at 8am). After having breakfast in the shades outside of our motorhome we hit the road again in the direction of Grand Canyon. What seems close by on map can be deceiving, the distances between the parks are just huge. From Joshua Tree to Grand Canyon would take us at least 5-6hours. And as we were told there’s really nothing much that’s particularly worth seeing between this two places. Hence we ended up driving the whole day to get to Grand Canyon. As we drove, the landscape changed from desert (where it was 43 degrees and the wind hurt your skin and eyes) to savannah within the first two hours and then later dense needle tree forests at the higher altitude of the Colorado Plateau. Though driving can be tiring, driving on American highways was sort of entertaining too. We wonder where all the pick-ups are heading to as we saw them in the middle of the desert with their boats on the back trailers. Though passenger trains were not so common here, we did see many freight transportation trains. One of the trains that we saw was over 1.2miles long with four locomotives in front to pull it. Well even with that it did not move fast… one of the “sceneries” on the highway was how long certain vehicle (not trucks) can be: we saw a truck which was transporting three other trucks or a huge motorhome (length of a bus) towing another Jeep (which we assume is for day-tripping). We love the comfort of this spacious motorhome but driving such a vehicle also means that you become a more and more welcomed investor at petrol stations. We got sort of a bad deal by refueling 2/3 of our gasoline for 160 USD shortly before crossing the California to Arizona state boarder. And then 15mins later, we realized that the gas price in Arizona was much cheaper, almost 50% lower (but yeah. We didn’t know about it and didn’t want to risk driving further in this almost abandoned area not knowing when the next service station is available). After having spent so much on gas, we decided that for this night we would not spend another 50 USD for a campsite in small touristy town of Williams. So we ended up camping for free in a forest about an hours’ drive away from Grand Canyon south rim. At an altitude of more than 2’000m it chilled fast in the evening (what a nice contrast to the sweat the last night).
Camping in America in this season is absolutely lovely, nice weather (though it can be real hot) almost guaranteed. And obviously we are not the only ones doing it, there are thousands of other tourists on the road at this time of the year visiting the famous Parks and sights, which means: campsites might be booked out well in advance. We could not plan our stay at all the attractions months in advance to make campsite reservations as we have been “busy traveling” for more than 4 months. Grand Canyon is one of the spots that we were worried not getting any campsite for a night. So we set an alarm to get up early and started making phone calls to various campsites in the National Park itself: our worry was confirmed. None of the campsites in the park had vacancies. After an hour of effort, we finally found a reasonably priced campsite for the night, just outside of the town Tusayan in Kaibab National Forest. We got here at 10am and got our campsite for the night reserved. Yeay! In the afternoon, the big thing was up: Grand Canyon. The 80 USD annual National Park pass we purchased in Hawaii proved to be worthy as the entrance to Grand Canyon costs 30 USD. GRAND Canyon is indeed GRAND. 446km long, up to 29km wide, and 1.6km deep, this canyon was breathtakingly beautiful. After walking along the rim for some time we took a shuttle bus to enjoy the sunset a less touristy lookout. The shades of the setting sun playing with the rock formations was gorgeous.
As the campsite was so peaceful and convenient so we decided to extend another night here whilst we had the whole day to do some household and motorhome servicing. We have not had any campsite with full hook-ups (water, dump, electricity) since we received the car four days ago so it was time to get our motorhome cleaned up! It was our first time having a motorhome with a toilet so we were curios how it will be removing our own waste. Came prepared with rubber hand gloves, we disposed of the waste tanks at the National Park successfully. We realized that waste dumping was not as scary as we imagined. Luckily! Laundry, charging of laptop at McD, etc were also done. What an eventful day J Our day ended with a wonderful BBQ wood fire dinner (of course lighted the Swiss pathfinder style with only one newspaper and no chemicals) by sunset. Good company, food and wine, what more can one ask for in life!