Ahhhh…. yes. Just the memories of those desert roads are enough to calm my spirit even now when it’s back to our 9 to 5 lives. (Or 7-6, more accurately described.)
I had my reservations about this trip because it resulted from another canceled dream of driving up the California coast and camping at Yosemite, not to mention that Chris had already been to most of these places before. Nevertheless, I had never seen these sacred grounds and he agreed his first experiences could be improved upon, so we scratched itineraries 1 and 2 and thus came about itinerary number 3: LA, Vegas, Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, Salvation Mountain/Slab City, San Diego and back to LA.
I’ve had people ask, who plans our vacations. I do. I like to march to the beat of my own drum and I learn more about how I like to travel with every trip we plan. So, I’m going to walk you through the shortest, sweetest version of our longest, sweetest vacation and hopefully inspire some traveling advice along the way.
Our first stop in LA was at our AirBnB near the Hollywood area which we booked in advance of our trip. We quickly learned that every location in LA is good and bad. I had ignored all the grumbling I’d heard about LA traffic and assumed like every other vacation in a big city, we’d use public transportation to get around. We learned through some trial and error that LA’s “metro” is mediocre at its very best. Stations are miles apart and they only drop you at a few select destinations around LA, so despite all best efforts, you usually still need to hail an Uber or Lyft from wherever you are to get where you want to be. If you’re ever stubborn and want to try the metro anyway and you see anything about a light-rail… RUN. Run fast as you can. You’ll definitely beat it wherever you’re going. On a positive note, Uber/Lyft rides are cheap. Some of ours were as little as $3 because the service is in such high demand, you can usually carpool with others to save money.
I realize that I’m backtracking here, but should note we had planned to get a rental car at the airport, but we skipped it per advice of our AirBnB host because he said it would be cheaper and easier to use Uber. There are NO rental car desks at LAX, so your only options to find pricing once you get there is to sit at the airport and surf the web or call around. My advice is to book your rental car online in advance if your plan is to leave LAX in a rental car. There are a few regrettable rental car stories that resulted from our decisions, but Enterprise eventually got us a great car and provided us with some top notch customer service, so, plug for —-> Enterprise. <— I also recommend sites like Kayak or Expedia versus renting on site to save $$ on rental cars. We only had to search for parking in LA once, and it wasn’t the worst, so I can’t say too much about parking if you choose to drive this city on your own.
After two days in LA we drove to Vegas. We left at 5:30am to beat traffic because we’d heard that a 4-hour trip could easily turn into an 8-hour one. Traffic was smooth in our direction, but gut-wrenching to watch in the other as it was already piled up before the sun started rising. When we arrived in Vegas, everything was better. Parking was free, food was plentiful, traffic was normal, and our hotel had a pool (complete with waterfalls) we waited (and waded) in while they got a our room ready for us. We swam, we ate, and we slept on repeat. I never wanted to go to Vegas, but it’s a great place with plenty to entertain you depending on what you like. I recommend a hotel on the strip versus an AirBnB if you truly want to experience the vibe of this area. We booked the Rio in advance through Groupon and loved it. Less expensive because it’s off the beaten path, but there were free shuttles to the strip every 15 minutes.
From Vegas, we drove to the Grand Canyon. We used a large suitcase to pack our tent and camping gear and had a site reserved at Mather Campground. The most I can say about the Grand Canyon is that it really is grand. People come from all over the world to see it, and no photograph you’ve seen can do it justice. It’s almost too big for your eyes to comprehend once you catch it in your gaze. It’s wonderful. A proper-planned trip to the canyon could entertain you for at least a week. Primitive camping down deep in the canyon (and perhaps some water rafting) requires at least a few days since it takes more than a day to hike into and out of the canyon and oftentimes also requires permits. We didn’t have that luxury of time on our “sampler-platter” vacation, but would love to return some day. I suggest getting more intimate with all the canyon has to offer if you’re visiting longer than 2 days. If so, this is a place you must plan and book in advance!
We left the canyon early due to a drop in temperature (despite checking the forecast daily before we left) because we were already freezing the night before. Driving to the canyon from California is a whole lot of nothing, so we found this little gem of a town with decent food and shelter, Starbucks and other such things we hadn’t seen in days. I’m certain that Cracker Barrel never tasted so good after eating trail mix and protein bars for two days. Plus, our bones ached from all the hiking and the newly constructed LaQuinta Inn gave us a spa tub, free breakfast and a late checkout. It’s good to know when it’s time to indulge and time to rough it on vacation. Both are amazing. Both are much needed for us. We left Kingman, Arizona feeling rested and headed to our AirBnB in Twentynine Palms.
Twentynine Palms got us right to our entrance at Joshua Tree National Park so we could wake up and start our day there. Our BnB also gave us a full kitchen for the night and a washer/dryer to renew our campfire-smokey, sweaty laundry. It seemed that every single stop we were thankful for something we didn’t have on the stop before and left feeling happy.
We woke up early and went to Joshua Tree, which is the most beautiful of recent memories in my mind. The trees, the rocks, the desert, the atmosphere is just breathtaking. Serene. Relaxing. Invigorating. Everything you can imagine a vacation to be is in Joshua Tree except without running water. 🙂 There are hole-in-the-ground-toilets and for a small fee you can drive 45 minutes to the park entrance and take an 8-minute shower… but otherwise, you bring the water with you that you’ll be drinking with, washing wish and cooking with. Totes worth it. I mean… Just look.
Camping is first-come, first serve, so this portion of our trip provided some wiggle room and was not booked in advance. We weren’t sure if we’d be camping there or at our next stop that night, but loved Joshua Tree so much we couldn’t leave. No cell-phone service here compared to the canyon where there was. We also enjoyed the culture in the little town of Joshua Tree just outside the park. Like all the stops along this trip (sans Los Angeles) I could have stayed longer and hope to go back some day.
If you’re still with me, congratulations, I commend you, but unfortunately there are no prizes in store except for more blog (you’re welcome?). Believe-it-or not, we still had a few more stops on this crazy trip, so our next stop was Niland, California; home of Slab City and Salvation Mountain. Most of our friends hadn’t heard of either, but Chris and I enjoyed seeing these places in the movie Into the Wild and since they were on the way, we wanted to see it in person. Since this entry is just a recap, I won’t go into the history of this amazing little slab of land or the people who currently live there, but feel free to do your own research, watch the movie we love and then GO THERE. We feel grateful to have paid a visit to this unique dwelling place and it is another place crossed off our bucket list that has left us different than when we came.
We only spent a couple of hours in Niland and continued to San Diego. When we arrived at our AirBnB there, the neighbors were all outside our door smoking weed and listening to loud music. We’re usually quick to embrace the cultures of the land, so we brushed it off and hoped the music would at least end at a reasonable hour. When we walked into the BnB it was filthy. Like, sketchy prison filthy. I took a sponge and some lysol to clean a portion of the bathtub and it visibly changed colors from all the grime coming off. Chris then took a toilet brush and easily removed the brown stains from the toilet before we called AirBnB and told them we were going to bounce. We took photos and shared them with AirBnB for a refund and were lucky to find another place quickly that was nearby for two nights. AirBnB even comped the additional cost of the second place we booked so we were more than happy with their customer service in the event. We have never ended up in a dirty place like that before because we read reviews from others who have rented previously. I have no idea how this guy ever had the good reviews he had, but I include this story just to say that false advertising isn’t likely, but it is possible I guess. If you ever feel like a property doesn’t fall in line what was advertised, AirBnB will transfer your $ spent toward your reservation to a new one, hassle-free. So that’s good news. Just to keep it real…
So our replacement BnB was CLEAN, COZY and our renter was amazing, as per our usual experiences. We rented a place on Mission Beach that included two cruiser bikes so we could cover more of the boardwalk and surrounding areas. San Diego was a nice, laid back town with the full beach-vibe (we didn’t visit downtown, since our plan here was to enjoy the ocean). San Diego was people-friendly, dog-friendly, surfer-friendly, weather-friendly, family-friendly and we would definitely recommend a visit to this town for a relaxing time.
We finally ventured back to LA (and whined the whole way there that we weren’t ready for vacation to end) and booked a hotel near LAX so we could avoid the traffic and shuttle (fo free) to the airport. Hindsight, it sparked the idea to have booked a hotel near the airport upon arrival just because of the easy transportation out of that massive airport and avoiding the rental car craziness… but you don’t know what you don’t know until you know it. I wouldn’t recommend LA without a strategic plan when you are visiting. A plan that includes In-N-Out Burger. 🙂
Okay, so that’s the recap for now. I’d be happy to expand on any stay during our 12-day trip and probably will with some additional tips at some point (like the hiking backpacks we love and won’t travel without these days and how and what we pack), but for now just wanted to share the places we saw and how we saw them. Every time we travel, we assure ourselves it will never get any better and it always does. I know I’ve used the word grateful before, but we always journey with grateful hearts to experience the places we see and break away from the routines that bog us down. We hope these experiences make us better people and better travelers… and better retirees. 🙂 We hope the itinerary helps with traveling plans of yours and sparks questions for future travels.
With Grateful Hearts,
~ Chris & Kristie Duke ~