I’m heading off to ol’Shoshone
Where the birds and the bees won’t know me~♪
Man and war won’t exist no more
And there ain’t no gals to keep no score~♪
Sometimes, I look up into the dark sky, and wonder whether we are still spiritually connected to those stars or not. We are made of stardust, and that means we are all technically eons old. But does that grant me the wisdom to maximize my potential while I am the owners of these stardust? Oh wait, just kidding. I live in a city; all I see in the sky is smog.
So, I decided to take a long journey out of the crowded Los Angeles, towards the stars. More accurately, towards the wilderness, and see the millions of stars in a proper sky.
Joshua Tree National Park
I am joined by my beloved friend Alina, who I met in Panambia 2016, and later again in her homeland Swabia. We were young; we were restless; we could not be stopped, and most importantly, we were not restrained by the shackles of this society.
We were free.
We took an Uber to a small parking garage next to LAX airport, and alas, our ride for the next week sat right in front of us.
pretty vans~ ❤
I booked a special Ford E150 van converted by this company called Escape Campervans. They do some truly amazing things on these boxes of metals. First, they put a bed in the back, along with all the beddings, and then a cabinet of everything we needed to cook. Pots, pans, utensils, a gas stove, a water tank, you name it. Each van is then hand-drawn by a local artist from top to bottom, as if these vans are not unique enough.
the back side of the van
Alina picked our ride, decided to go with the “trippy Mexican artist in a wet dream” style, and we were set like a jet. A few paperwork sessions, and a quick run down the van operations, we were on our way! First stop: Joshua Tree National Park!
on the open road
As we approached Palms Springs on Interstate 10, we saw hundreds of windmills trying very hard to produce power for LA citizens’ primary destination for outlet shopping and drunk partying. The valley was extremely windy that day, and while I was looking at those windmills spinning faster than my head, our van started to slowly veer off the lane. It was the first time that I realized the van’s volume was a problem. Wrestling the steering wheel in the next seven days made me develop visible triceps.
a blown away sign
Before dinner time, we arrived in the campground. Immediately springing into action, Alina took the wheel for the dinner, and made delicious curry. At night, the stars slowly faded into the view, frequently tinkling as if they were winking at me. Some good music, some good company, a starry night sky, and a tiny mobile home, what else could you ask for your life?
this, is what I call a life worth living
Being so far away from the hectic world and its stupid problems, suddenly life became much easier. It is not political debate or overtime work, but putting some sugar into the ginger tea and talking about constellations; it is not worrisome social struggles, but a few jumpy bunnies; it was not crippling depression from being lonely all the time, but the cracking sound of a campfire. Life can be hard, and life can be easy. It just depends on how one wants to live it…
sunrise in Joshua Tree
The next morning, we made ourselves a good hot breakfast and headed into Joshua Tree National Park proper. The park was flooded with wild flowers thanks to the winter showers that completely relieved the drought in Southern California. (by completely I mean barely 10%)
a wild Young in the flowers
Joshua Tree is one of a kind. The granite rocks being eroded by the sparse rain during the wet season form strange boulders and sometimes, mountains of boulders. We ended up at the top of a mountain called Key’s View. It has a sweeping view of the valley below. We then decided to put our short legs into work, and hiked all the way up Ryan Mountain. It was an easy 1500ft ascent, and we were on top of it in no time.
on top of Ryan Mountain
During breaks, we decided to name our van. We wanted it to be something simple yet complicated, something humble yet grandiose, enigmatic yet easy to understand. We named our van Gary.
We then overworked our paws in the Skull Rock trail and Hidden Valley trail. Both were rather similar in view, and the lizards scattering about was definitely a highlight for the lighthearted German trekker.
On the south side of the national park was a cactus garden. A swooping hill 100% filled with cactus blown us away. The prickly vegetation was more friendly towards bees than to us, and we were lucky to spot a few flowering cacti this early in the season.
Another hundred miles of mountain road brought us back to the campground in Joshua Tree town, and we settled for dinner, and a brilliant sunset.
van life is a simpler one!
Prescott and Sedona
When Alina first planned the route, I had absolutely no idea what Prescott and Sedona is, and as a matter of fact, I do not think many people around southern California know anything about these places either. However, when we started approaching the region, I realized why she chose these backroads instead of Interstate 17 on our way towards Grand Canyon. The greenery and tranquility is simply nonexistent in my busy life, and these silent woods are exactly why I embarked on this journey.
the roadtrip diagram (internet)
We passed Colorado River for the first time in our journey on Route 62 via Parker, and officially entered Arizona. The long, straight roads took us all the way to Congress, and via Route 89, we started to climb higher, and more importantly, it was time for lunch. We could not have chosen a better place to eat.
The meal was gorgeous. Not many people get to say they ate lunch in a secluded part of the world where you sit on top of a cliff facing a hundred miles of grand steppes. By afternoon tea time, we had already reached the tiny city of Prescott. This beautiful town sits in the middle of a protected forest, and still retained much of its charm.
Prescott city center
After the coffee break in the slightly overcast afternoon, we set out for the campground. Alina seems to have one of the sharpest eyes when shopping around for free campgrounds, and we drove down a tiny one-lane road for a good half hour before reaching the place for the night. Completely isolated from the world outside, this campground was more than perfect for a cheap getaway.
Gary in Cherry campground
Next morning, we set off for the beautiful town of Sedona. And the country road became more and more inhospitable. It quickly became an unpaved, windy, two-directions-sharing-single-lane dirt road. Being my first time driving a van was not helping either. However, we pulled it through. Barely, but we were through.
looking down from the campground
Before lunch, we arrived at the beautiful town of Sedona. Perching on top of the iconic red-green canyons, this town is more than just a touristy destination. Alina and I decided to pay a little visit to a famous local attraction: a stupa at the edge of the rock towers. For both Alina and I, stupas have a special meaning. We both started out our life of journeys from Nepal, and our beliefs in life have been deeply rooted in our Nepalese adventures. Life was never the same once you see a stupa flying prayer flags, trust me.
stupa with rock towers, strange combination indeed
Flagstaff & Grand Canyon approach
We left Sedona after a hearty meal, and started our leg towards Flagstaff. On our way, we took a little detour towards the Walnut Canyon National Forest. As we descended down the deep canyon, the stratified rock layers started exposing some deep holes within. It turned out that indigenous people had been living there for thousands of years, making their homes in the eroded layers of rocks facing south.
They had complex social structures, and had full control of some advanced technologies. While living in these cliffs made transportation difficult, they did not need to walk too far for food and water. The sheltered caves provided warmth and clay, and the snow melt in spring gave them enough fresh water.
After a coffee break in Flagstaff, we finally started our journey towards Grand Canyon. The tiny state Route 180 slowly climbed up, and up, and before we realized, we were 5000ft high in the mountains. After a long, long scenic drive, we finally ended up in the tiny junction of Valle. Here, we settled in for the night in the Flintstones trailer park and amusement park. Yes, it is an amusement park based on the cartoon, and yes, it was as deserted as it should be. The night there was extremely cold, and we shuddered ourselves into sleep.
Grand Canyon National Park
We woke up with our legs frozen like popsicles, and crawled out to make tea. It was probably freezing at the time, and yet we had places to explore! A cold breakfast, an hour of drive, and a lot of caffeine later, we arrived at Grand Canyon National Park. We decided to make our lunches to go and started hiking the trails.
my crippling loneliness is telling me to plunge into the depths
This was our second time seeing Colorado river on this journey, and it was surely a different sight than when we first set our eyes on it in Parker. 5 million years of carving made the rocks here finally bow to the overlord of us all: time, and the jagged trenches tell stories of their own. The fossils and rock samples in these different layers tell a tale of 2 billion years, and even as you read, the river is still cutting deeper and deeper into the past.
I have never seen anything like this, because there is nothing like this majestic crack on Earth. It is so deep that only in a few places could we see a little section of the river. It came around so abruptly as well, because one second we were walking in perfectly flat road, and the next second we were looking down a mile deep into the canyon. It would not be easy to spot the precipitous fall.
the majestic gap in the ground
After our hike down the canyon, we were absolutely exhausted, and decided to take a drive towards the eastern side, where a beautiful watchtower remained. Called the Desert View Watchtower, it truly deserves this name. It is the tallest point of the south rim, and offered a brilliant view of the canyon.
Desert View Watchtower
We quickly retreated back to our campground before the sun disappeared to the west, and most importantly, before the howling winds could freeze us like TV dinners. We asked the campground management to give us an RV spot, so we could hook up the tiny heater provided with the van. It worked. It worked too well.
Route 66 (well… partially)
The next day, we headed off south and joined Route 66. This is the mother road for USA, yet the fact that we barely saw anyone on the road was a bit sad. We made our way through Ash Fork, and ended up in Seligman for a morning fix of caffeine. A small shop owner told us she came from Switzerland, fell in love with this place, and never left. We then slowly cruised down the famous road, and passed by the tiny Indian reservation town of Peach Springs. Their cherry blossoms were in full force, and it reminded me of my WeekendInTokyo last year.
Peach Springs cherry blossoms and Gary
A few mountain crosses, a dozen tiny settlements, and a full album of country music later, we arrived at Kingman. We took a look at the rather famed “town corner” and turned towards further west. We were not done with Route 66 yet, since there was still so much time left over!
Route 66 quickly turned into a narrow, sketchy road winding up the mountains, and I was struggling with the long van. Yet after an hour of mountainous turns, we reached a highlight of our Route 66 journey: Oakman.
stopping for a view
(psst. I will tell you a secret, can you not tell Alina? okay here goes nothing~!
Alina, secretly, did not believe tumbleweed exist! not your casual disbelief, but DEEPLY ROOTED CONVICTION that tumbleweed does not exist!!! And guess what, when she saw tumbleweed tumbling across the roadway she literally screamed!!! Yes, she did not scream at the Grand Canyon, nor the Hoover Dam, but two tumbleweed!!! We even stopped once so she could have fun playing with tumbleweed. I am not joking! And this roadtrip has just given me a tiny peek into her bizarre world view in her head full of mystery, and I believe I am just seeing the tip of the iceberg here…)
lunch with the unexpected guest
This tiny village in middle of nowhere exudes 1800s. The wooden houses with front porches, a large wooden plaque for every shop, artists playing guitars, and a dozen burros roaming the streets, all indicated we had just travelled back in time. The burros used to be key members of the gold mines here in Oatman, but now they are little more than cute town symbols and effective traffic-jam producers.
the burros give literally 0 fucks
yo, check out this hot ass! oh yeah baby~!
We had lunch at the flowery slopes of these mountains by the town, and had an ice cream in the only diner of Oatman. We had a blast in this beautiful town, re-enacting cowboys and cowgirls along with exploring the old mines. The laid back tone and lazy sunshine made this fast roadtrip seemingly so slow, and so tranquil…
inside a bar
We had to continue, however, after messing around for a good half of the afternoon. We took a tiny road towards Bullhead City, and crossed Colorado River the 3rd time, into Nevada’s booming new Vegas, Laughlin. Towering over the desert were dozens of casinos, and they were not humble to show that gambling was readily available across the river.
Las Vegas approach
We had little interest, or money, in gambling, however, and we continued north towards Las Vegas. If the enormous distances between cities in Nevada was not enough, the howling wind would add a lot of pressure onto our otherwise serene day. As we turned into Palm Gardens on State Route 95, the weather had brewed into a fully fledged sandstorm. I struggled to keep Gary in the lane as we sped through the troubled desert, and luckily it was not terrifyingly dangerous.
driving in the sandstorm
By the time we reached Boulder City, the wind reached unbearable levels. My phone screamed with emergency messages, urging citizens of Boulder City to stay indoors. People were running on the streets, trying to find cover, and the palms lining the roads appeared that they could fall any minute. We had to continue, however, for our campground of the day, right beside the city in Lake Mead Recreational Area.
We got into our campground safely, and listened to the noise of strong winds rattling the trees until we fell asleep. Next morning, we woke up early to check out the biggest dam ever constructed on American soil: Hoover Dam. It was just a quick 10 minute drive from our campground, and we arrived so early that we were the only person at the security checkpoint: you do not want this motherfucker to blow up. After a wait, a few securities checked our cargo hold, realized there was nothing more than a bunch of junk food and a large bed covered with more junk food, and waved us pass.
After a view of the dam, Alina had a special request: eat IHOP for breakfast! IHOP!!! (yes, that place where they serve pancakes. no, not Denny’s. the other one, no, no, not Flappy Jack’s.) This was almost as funny as her picture of a water fountain back when I saw it in her house in Swabia, and I bet in her head USA must be so different from what I have in mind. I bet in her silly head 😛 , in USA, it rains fried chicken from the sky and sometimes a bald eagle perches on top of an IHOP sign, while an enormous pickup truck towing a giant American flag rolls by.
(do you know? IHOP stands for International House of Pancakes.)
After filling ourselves with American freedom, we took a stroll down the Strip in Vegas. Neither of us were big fans of wasting our hard-cold cash earned with hours and hours of fruitless labor on machines that randomly generates numbers on a screen with fancy sound effects, so we quickly did a turn around the area.
the only strip I care about is chicken strip
We took a small detour to the west of the Sin city, and headed towards Red Rock Canyon National Monument. The weather was atrocious, yet there were many many red rocks, so I guess it was a plus…
Red Rock Canyon
After we were done cruising around this place, we headed towards our next destination, Sonic. Yes, Sonic Drive-In. Because apparently going to IHOP was not American enough, we had to go to a fast food restaurant that you drive your car into a stall and wait for the food to literally come to you. Because any other way was Communist.
Gary indulging himself in Sonic
I could not believe I am saying this, but I actually quite enjoyed the dining experience. Well, that is assuming you can call it dining. We quickly put our leg into work, and by that I mean my right leg on the gas paddle. Gary zig-zagged across a few tiny roads, past Pahrump, and down a small country road. We arrived in Death Valley Junction. Goodbye Nevada, we are back in California!
Death Valley National Park
entering the true desert
We entered Death Valley from the northeast, and our altitude quickly dropped, and dropped, and dropped. Within an hour, we arrived at the heart of the park, at Furnace Creek, a tiny town, or a ranger station, or a junction; I am not sure. What I was sure was that this place is below sea level. We checked into our campground, and decided to watch sunset at Zabriskie Point.
The lookout was nice, but we were more eager to exercise. We took a hike around the water-tortured landscape, and found ourselves in absolute dryness, devoid of water of any kind. The sky was crystal clear, with barely any cloud at all; the ground crumbles as you step onto it, cannot retain any moisture; there was not even a tiny bush.
hiking in the desert, waving to our shadows
As everything has an end, the sun has to set when its time is due. We watched a beautiful flaming orange orb slowly descending into the California drylands, and hoped that it could last a bit longer…
sunset may be ephemeral, but that feeling is eternal
We camped at Furnace Creek, recounting our past 6 days of journey. A few good cups of tea later, the stars were eager to show off their brightness. We watched stars, talked about the past and the future, because we were living the present to the fullest.
An early morning brought us to Dante’s View, an hour of drive from the campground, way up in the mountains. Dante may have seen the circles of hell, but what we saw from there was heaven.
Gary seems to be enjoying the view as well!
We slowly climbed down the hill, making sure Gary does not tumble down the hills like a tumbleweed. (oh boy I can hear Alina screaking for tumbleweed already) We detoured into the long, windy Badwater Road, and was mesmerized by the harshness of this weather. It was barely 9 o’clock, and the salt-infused ground was heating up beyond the bearable range, and it was barely April!
Devil’s Golf Course
We made our way to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. Sitting comfortably 282ft/85.5m below sea level, the place was incredibly inhospitable to life. The mineral-rich water deposits tons of salt onto this basin when it rained, just like Salar de Uyuni that I visited last year! Like the Bolivian sky mirror, it was also so harsh that only specific types of animals could survive here, including a type of snail that eats salt.
We finally made our way out of the park, and I dropped off Alina at a date farm near Shoshone as she wanted to experience how to actually date. I proceeded back south, passing through Baker to join Interstate 15. A lunch at Barstow, and a long, long drive past San Bernardino mountains later, I finally arrived at Los Angeles. I returned Gary back to join his friends, and finally made it back home.
fancy a background music?
Look at it! Just look at it! How far have we travelled! We crossed Colorado River 4 times, traversed 3 states and put 1500+ miles of adventure, fun, tranquility filled with joy and excitement onto the odometer. With just a few clothes, a handful of food, and a heart full of passion, we went through hail, snow, rain, sun, very very hot sun, freezing cold, and laughed, cried, argued, and smiled. We might have grown a little bit older, a bit wiser, and my mustache might have got a bit too long. Most importantly, we lived a life away from the cities and their robotic routines. We were not merely hosts of this planet living in our closed narrative loops. We watched stars in the desert; we sang songs in the forests; we shared food with squirrels; we skipped rocks by the lakes; we lived. For a long time, I realized I truly lived.
Thank you, Alina, for accompanying me on my first roadtrip, and it will be hard for me to do another roadtrip without you! Thank you, Gary, for taking us across these beautiful lands. I felt like I was in the famous Need For Speed game titled The Run, in which you journey across the beautiful USA to win. But at the end, both the protagonist and I realized, it was more than just the finish line: all those thousands of miles we went through was what really matters. It was those days, and those who accompany us, that made crossing the finishing line meaningful.
This, is a tribute to the spirit of open road. May its freedom never die, because for the first time, Young understands what it feels like to harbor it inside.
I’m headed off to Ol’Shoshone~
Where the elk and owls won’t know me~♪
Where there ain’t no judges to whom I gotta plea~
Cause I can be me, in Ol’Shoshone~♪
-=ForeverYoung|The Run 2017=-