Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
Trip End Apr 16, 2011

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Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, September 4, 2011

We decided to take the back-country route to San Diego and the coast heading through in the Mojave Desert and the Joshua Tree National park. Within 20 minutes of leaving Vegas we were once again in an area of incredible nothingness and baking heat.

Gordon had a practical lesson in how mirages work when he spent 10 minutes talking about the massive lake up ahead and how strange it was to see one in a desert, even stopping the car and climbing up a little hill to have a look before realizing that there was no water, just sun reflecting off the heat haze and dust.

We did a short drive-through visit of the spectacular Joshua Tree National Park, marveling at the beautiful rock formations and incredible photogenic Joshua Trees that were reaching 30m high – and normally grow about an inch a year. Sarah discovered on attempting to climb into one that despite the fact that they look like trees they are definitely cactuses and came back with her stomach scratched to pieces to prove it having got herself stuck (much to Gordon & Iain's amusement who were watching her struggle).

We pressed on to San Diego crossing out of the desert, over the pretty Sierra mountains and then down to the coast where the temperature on a clear August evening with the sea breeze was beautifully and mercifully cool after the ravaging heat of the desert.

We had hot-tailed it down to San Diego as we had managed to get in touch with a friend from university, Mark, and his wife Anna who had recently re-located to Pacific Beach, a lovely suburb of San Diego right on an awesome beach. Happily we had timed our arrival for a house-warming party in their beautiful flat with windows out facing the Pacific and it was fantastic to party away at their house, catching up with Mark and Anna, meeting their cool Californian friends and educating them in proper English (ie not to say 'double fisted’). The next few days were then spent chilling out, eating a lot and enjoying the time on the beach with everyone in glorious sunshine, including some good long bodyboarding sessions and finally getting out the the set of beach boules we had bought in Target (for $16) for a three way game of "Extreme Boules" with Mark, Iain and Gordon. We also managed to catch up with Gordon & Iain’s cousin, Sam, who had come to San Diego for university and hasn’t wanted to leave.  Sun, sea & surf?  What’s wrong with London fog, huh?

No trip to San Diego is complete without visiting the vast and brilliant San Diego Zoo so we also duly headed there and had spent an absorbing day watching the weird and wonderful animals. In amongst all the usual cool stuff we managed to catch the snakes at feeding time and spent a good hour watching a tiny python trying to swallow a whole dead mouse, to the screams of the more squeamish visitors around us.  There was also a fantastic gorilla enclosure where there was a thick glass wall that you could get right up to meaning that you could stand and stare literally a couple of inches from a bunch of massive gorillas playing, eating and generally looking incredibly human. There was a similar enclosure with a lion sat just the other side of a piece of glass chewing on a massive bone with jaws that were at least the size of a human head. It was enormous and getting so close to it was amazing.

Our next stop after San Diego on the start of our trip northwards to Canada was another family connection with Gordon’s Dad’s cousin Jane and her husband Bob in Ojai. They live in a lovely house out in the hills just outside Los Angeles where we arrived just in time to catch up over a drink on the patio staring out at the fabulous sunset.

Happily Jane & Bob live only a short drive away from the eagerly awaited Six Flags Los Angeles rollercoaster park. We were outside the door with pre-purchased tickets 15 minutes before the doors opened and it did not disappoint. We have never seen such a huge array of different types of rollercoasters from classic wooden ones and good old looping ones to a 4-D one where the seats spun on 3 different axes whilst flying around the track, to the standing rollercoaster, to a sitting rollercoaster with no floor, to our favorite - a flying rollercoaster where you get strapped into a shoulder and knee harness and the seats tip back so you literally go around the track and do loops and twists in a flying position over the forest below. We’d never realized there were so many different ways to strap ourselves onto a steel track and hurtle ourselves around at high speed.  Despite some motion sickness it was an awesome day. 

We then pressed on north following the coastal Highway 1 which would take us up and over some of the beautiful coastal scenery of San Luis Obispo and the Sierra hills, stopping for a couple of nights on the way at a cabin in a campsite out in the middle of nowhere.  We ended up in the middle of nowhere rather than the beach because we had forgotten it was now Labour Day weekend and the area was packed, and to our horror had to stay at a KOA, standing for 'Kampgrounds of America’ which hitherto we’d avoided on account of their terrible spelling.  Happily we managed to upgrade from a ‘Kabin’ (which was one K too far) to a lodge and it was actually pretty nice, and meant we could have a campfire and introduce Iain to our campfire hotdogs. We fitted in 36 holes of crazy golf (ending in a knife edge final hole to win the game) and stopped in for a look at some of the beaches and then pressed on up the coast road for Monterrey where there was a world-renowned aquarium that including a baby Great White Shark.

We made it to San Francisco for Iain’s last night with us where we headed straight to Japantown for some awesome americanised sushi as a final goodbye meal. The next day was gloriously sunny and we made the most of it enjoying gorgeous San Fran by heading up to some hills and viewpoints and over to the Golden Gate bridge before we needed to head out to the airport. There was a minor drama at the airport when we suddenly discovered that Iain’s passport had disappeared. Cue a more-than-slightly-frantic last minute emptying of the car only to find a small backpack containing a passport and various other important items sitting quietly on the back seat.  Phew.

Iain, it was so great to see you and we hope you enjoyed your part of our American road trip.  And we definitely need a mini-golf rematch once we’re home!!
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