Baby Boomers and Friends: My Road Trip Across the United States, Part 1
On April 25, I drove my Honda Civic from my former home in Ventura, Calif., and as I pulled onto the 101 Freeway at Chestnut Avenue for the final time, I felt a profound sense of freedom. I only drove for 45 minutes and spent the first night at my daughter Julie’s house in Simi Valley. After my semi-annual dental appointment the next day I headed east. Destination: My friend Walt’s home in St. Marys on the southeast coast of Georgia, so I literally will cross the country. My plan was to arrive in 16 days on May 12. I had no itinerary. I decide where to stop on the morning that I leave where I am, except that my next stop was to be my younger daughter Marsha’s home in Yucca Valley, Calif., about a three-hour drive. I plan to write posts on this blog about my experiences and observations as I travel.
Yucca Valley is of interest for only two reasons. It is adjacent to Joshua Tree National Park, and it has one of the best sushi bars anywhere — yes, sushi in the desert –– even stranger, it is located in a Travel Lodge Motel. If you’re a sushi lover as I am you know that sushi near the beach does not come from its seaside location. With few exceptions, the restaurants receive it frozen from some distant locale, so logically there is no reason that a desert community could not have a good sushi bar. It is just counter intuitive, as many truths are. Please take my word for it and try it. You won’t be disappointed. If you don’t believe me, look it up on Yelp. It is located at 54850 29 Palms Highway (Highway 62) in the high desert (more temperate) about 45 minutes north of Palm Springs. Since the portions are generous, I was full on a seaweed salad, a Yellowtail roll and two orders of sushi. Sit at the bar if seats are available. The chefs are friendly and funny.
The next morning I drove down Highway 62 to the west entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. If you’re 62 or older for $10 you can buy a gold pass that gets you in all national parks and monuments free and substantial discounts on overnight camping. I used mine and drove through the park in about two hours, stopping frequently at lookouts to soak up the scenery. What you see is unique to this rugged land, the gnarled yucca trees of strange, often artistic shapes, as if they were designed by an artist (perhaps they were); enormous rocks in formations that defy reality and stimulate the imagination, making it one of the great rock climbing sites in the world; vistas of desert pastels and brown and purple mountains rising in the distance; and in the spring every color of desert flower.
I left the park and headed toward Las Vegas, a leisurely four-hour drive with a stop for lunch at another strange place, Kelso Depot. The drive through the heart of the Mojave Desert (I was glad it was April, not July) brought a change from the pastel shades of the terrain and mountains of Joshua Tree to darker shades of browns in the distant mountains and smaller foliage on the flat expanse of the beige desert floor. A startling scene as I drove along the nearly deserted highway was the Kelso Dunes, huge rolling sand dunes for miles that seemed close to the highway, but were miles away, the desert providing few clues to distances.
I lunched at the café at the Kelso Depot, a former train depot that during World War II employed hundreds to help shepherd millions of tons of war materials from the factories of the west coast to be shipped to Europe from the East Coast. A nearby grade was too steep for the train’s steam powered engines to pull their loads over the grade. The Kelso Depot provided helper engines to join the pull. After the War, the advent of diesel engines with greater horsepower eliminated the need for helper engines, and eventually, the Depot was closed. It was slated for demolition during the 1980s, but the local citizenry managed to save it, and it now stands as a historic monument, museum and café for travelers across the desert.
I don’t gamble, but I stopped in Las Vegas because it was convenient, and I enjoy the water show, the indoor gardens, art exhibits and cuisine at Bellagio. The spectacular, free water show is one of the world’s best. The indoor garden, free, was ablaze with color and as always took my breath away. The art exhibit of impressionist paintings thrilled me and was $15, $12 with the senior discount.
I always try to travel economically, especially when it comes to hotels. I discovered the Las Vegas Hilton, one block off the strip on Paradise Boulevard. It is convenient to all strip attractions because it is a stop on the monorail that goes up and down the strip for $5 a ride. I booked it through http://hotels.com for $78. It offers most of the same amenities that the more expensive hotels offer, but is not quite as glamorous, fancy or expensive.
That night, after visiting the attractions at Bellagio, I splurged for dinner at their Circo Restaurant. I sat at the bar, ate oysters, sea scallops and other delicacies and chatted with the bartenders, a treat on my solitary journey. A beautiful young woman by herself sat next to me. After she left, the bartender told me she was hired by Bellagio to promote business in their restaurants. Apparently, she just sits where potential customers can see her. Beauty of all kinds attracts.
The next morning I headed out Interstate 40 for Sedona, Ariz., which I will tell you about in my next post.