By 7 am on March 17, 2020 we were on the road back home. For the next 4 days we drove almost non-stop during the daylight hours. The first 3 days we drove about 11 hours a day and with timezone changes it made for brief evenings.
As mentioned in my previous post, we had our meals in tow, so we would have dinner and breakfast in the hotel room then stop en route to eat our lunch and stretch our legs without venturing into any restaurants. We did have to stop for gas obviously, and the mandatory bathroom pit stops of course. But they were kept to a minimum.
The drive home was surreal (although made for easy driving!). The roads were almost bare apart from a few trucks. The hotels and gas stations were empty apart from truckers. Hotels that pride themselves on their breakfast spreads were not allowed to put out food. You could perhaps pour yourself a disposable cup full and grab a piece of fruit if you were lucky. The first day we stopped by a McDonalds for a bathroom break to find the place closed for deep cleaning. We were fortunate that they had not yet reached the section by the washrooms and we were kindly allowed to use the facilities but only while being escorted to the washroom and back out. From then on we were limited to service stations during the daytime stops.
While the roads in the US were eerily empty, crossing the border to Canada was a shocking change. On March 18 Canada and the US mutually closed their borders to each other in an attempt to stop the spread and flatten the curve. As Canadians returning home we had no problem getting back. This was before covid testing was common, but I expected to be told to go straight home and quarantine as per the news reports – especially as I had been ill with covid like symptoms until recently. But no such warnings, just a wave through with almost no questions and not a mention of covid. Regardless of the lack of border diligence, we had done our own due diligence. Kyle was living at our house and he had been laid off work since the restaurants shut down. So he stocked us up for a joint 2 week isolation which in the end we weathered quite well.
And to our surprise, the Canadian highways were BUSY! We hit Toronto around 1pm on Friday, March 20, 2020 and were shocked to find ourselves in the traditional traffic jam. Even the near city expressways in the States had been desolate, but here there was no indication that people were staying home. Over the coming days, weeks, and months I feel that the tables turned substantially and Canadians did a much better job on isolating than the Americans, but at the time it was disappointing.
And by late afternoon on March 20 we were home; something we would get more than accustomed to over the next year.
And so ended our California Dreaming…. at least until we can return and finish checking out all the unseen places on our wish list!
We were getting more and more concerned with the escalation of covid impacts and by the end of day 24 we had decided that we should be looking to head home early. With the announcements by the Canadian government regarding travel, we were getting worried that the border may close down, and that our travel insurance would not cover us should we contract covid, or in any situation. Several of my ECNO friends were also travelling/staying in the US and some of them had confirmation that they had a limited number of days to return home before their insurance would be void. In the end our insurance let us know that they would in fact continue to provide coverage, but we had decided that we needed to return at any rate.
So March 16 was spent prepping to leave. We headed into town to fill up with gas and get an oil change. I returned the ‘rented’ toy I had bought for Jade and bought a pair of boots I had been eyeing at a local shop. We packed and packed and we COOKED! We had bought food to last the month in our initial Costco run, so we had lots to deal with. The dry goods were no problem as we had the car space, and we had a plug in cooler for some of the consumables, but the freezer supplies needed to be dealt with. They were actually perfect for meals on the drive home. So I spent much of the day cooking. We had chicken breasts and bacon which supplied us with a few days of lunch time sandwiches. And I prepared and filled some containers with rice, stew and pasta which we would eat for dinner each night, heated up in the hotel microwave. We had yogurt, porridge, hard boiled eggs, and fruit for breakfasts. Fruit, veggies, nuts, and health bars filled out our diet. And of course we just ate the remaining ice cream that day :-)!
Michael also headed into town to try to buy some cleaning supplies, hand santizer and toilet paper. We were not sure what the drive home would provide in the way of ‘fluid level adjustment stops’, so wanted to be prepared. But just as was the case around the globe, the shelves were bare as these commodities were in limited supply and he was unable to secure any toilet paper. I managed to take one roll of TP from the rental accomodation and still leave one roll behind. Mike hit a couple of shops before lucking out as a shipment of hand sanitizer arrived just as he was at a local drug store. He managed to score 2 tiny bottles!
I contacted our host and let her know we were leaving early, which was no surprise to her. Unfortunately we did not meet the requirements for any kind of rebate on our rental. In the end however, after a suggestion from my brother, we did manage to get a partial refund from our credit card company. Travel insurance coverage is an added benefit to the card used to pay for the rental, and we were able to make a claim.
So now we were focussed on getting home safely and all that remained was driving, driving, driving.
We knew that we needed to make the most of our last days here, so we hit some of the spots we didn’t want to miss. And we had a glorious day for it. As it turned out Sunday, March 15, 2020 was the last time we ventured into Joshua Tree National Park.
First up was a return to Barker Dam to check it out post rainfalls. We had been there early days (day 12) with GP and Andrea but this visit was quite different with the water levels much higher – and I didn’t lose Michael this time! At the dam I chatted with a park ranger about the wild flowers, Joshua trees and cactus flowering while Michael took photos.
The park is well known for rock climbing for obvious reasons. Our next stop was to check out the climbers in the ‘Hall of Horrors’ where several groups were partaking. Some were learners in orientation groups, others more advanced out on their own. Almost all brought mats carried in on their backs which they layed out at the base of their climb; just in case.
Out very last trek in the park was to Ryan Ranch and Lost Horse Mine. The ranch was built in 1896 by the family who owned the richest mine in the area. The views from the homestead were impressive, as were the cactus gardens. Mrs. Ryan made an effort to collect as many different cactii as possible and although left to nature for decades, many varieties still thrive there. The ranch burned down in 1978 (suspected arson) but in the 2000’s archaelogists worked to preserve the adobe remains. So the remnants are still clearly visible, including what was apparently their midden!
And so ended our adventures into Joshua Tree National Park.
After 2 rainy, cloudy days March 14 was finally sunny enough to tempt us back to hiking. We had not yet headed into the full depth of Joshua Tree National Park and with the future of our stay unknown we decided to head back into the park while we still could.
To date we had only experienced the Mojave desert section of the park. As you head south easterly, deeper into the park you cross into the wholely different zone of the Colorado desert. The Joshua trees give way to a wide variety of different flowering plants and cactii. 2 distinctive cactii are the Cholla, or teddybear, cactus and the Ocotillo cactus. The Cholla look like small furry trees, and Ocotillo are tall and airy. We stopped at patches of both and were fortunate that some varieties of cactus were even in bloom due to the recent rain. Many more were just budding, and in a week or so the desert would be bright with flowering cactii.
Also on route to the very southern section we stopped for a hike into an old abandoned mine along Black Eagle Mine Road. The flowers on this section were widely varied and colourful, but mostly small and dainty, I suppose due to the dry climate.
Our hike from the Cottonwood Spring centre took us to the Lost Palms Oasis with it’s cottonwood and enormous palm trees. The oases form over the cracks in the Earth’s crust allowing groundwater to rise to the surface and nourish a wide variety of trees, plants, animals, and even orchids. So glad we made it to this section of the park at least once.
GP, Andrea and Jade headed out early on the 12th for Phoenix for a friendly visit and then to fly out on the 13th. The weather in Joshua Tree was dull and gloomy with rain both days. Although feeling much better, I was still fighting off the cold, so we decided to lay low for a couple of days and catch up with laundry and a bit of va-ca relaxation. And much time was spent tracking the news and enjoying the view from our window.
By Thursday, March 12, 2020 the world was rapidly changing. The WHO had officially declared a world wide pandemic on the 11th and back in Canada our Prime Minister’s wife – Sophie Gregoire Trudeau had returned from a conference in London, England with Covid sending her and Trudeau into isolation. The NBA shutdown as one of their ranks had tested positive and quarantining became rampant. By March 13 the Canadian government shut their doors and the first talks of covid relief/stimulus funding were taking place. Every turn was another piece of news regarding the spread of the virus. So far, we were in a safe situation given our natural isolation and the border was open for us….
GP and Andrea’s last full day of their vacation with us called for another venture into Joshua Tree National Park.
Today we decided to head further into the park to do some rock scrambling around Arch Rock, Jumbo Rocks and Skull Rock. We made a series of stops for short hikes through the boulders. I love clammering over rocks and this environment was invigorating with giant, weather worn boulders and their remnant rocks and sand surrounded by desert fauna and Joshua trees in the distance. Every rock seemed to have its own personality. We all scattered in our own direction to explore before regrouping to return home.
Back at the BnB we enjoyed our last evening together and GP and Andrea prepared for their morning departure. They were heading to Phoenix for a quick visit with a friend of Andrea’s before they flew out on the 13th.
After a busy weekend, we decided to hang around home on Tuesday March 10. Michael did venture into the park to check out the fog and clouds. They provided another new look for the park for us; little did we know the next few days would offer the same rainy, overcast weather. The low hanging clouds however gave a unique perspective to the Dr. Seuss environs.
But it was mostly time to chillax and give Jade a chance to be mobile and play. She had been in either a bed, a carseat or strapped to a body for the past few days. She was on the verge of walking. The age of the classic moves of pulling herself up on the furniture and circumanvigating the room. She would venture a step or so when she was distracted from what she was in fact doing. Thank goodness for diaper padded bottoms!
Later in the day George Patrick & Andrea headed to 49 Palms. It is accessed from another northern entrance to the park (not the one down the road from our abode) and as its name implies, is home to an oasis of palm trees. They had a Jade-less venture while Michael & I stayed back and gave them some time off.
May 9, 2020 was the last day of our mini trip which took us through Death Valley.
The first section of the drive took us through sandy desert terrain. We had a planned hike into Golden Canyon, so although we made short stops to check out the dunes, we didn’t do a full hike into them. I happily stayed in the car with napping Jade on the stops while GP, Andrea and Michael wandered around in the dunes. I was still very much lower energy and wanted to save my energy for the hike. We did however check out the Harmony Borax Works. There are still active borax mines in Death Valley, but this one is long closed. It was started in 1883/4 and initiated the opening of Death Valley, and the formation of Furnace Creek. Large mule teams (the 20 Mule Team symbol of Borax) were used to haul the borax out of the valley in double wagons.
Next stop was the Golden Canyon Trailhead where we took the 5km round trip hike to Red Cathedral. The start of the trail was fairly flat with golden rock formations rising on both sides of the canyon. As the trail progressed however, the steepness and need to rock scramble increased. The golden rocks gave way to the magnificent Red Cathedral which rose in front of us. Andrea did an amazing job making it to the very top with Jade onboard. You certainly needed good footwear by the top where the trail grew narrow and slick. But the view from the top of the trail at the cathedral were well worth the effort.
We stopped at Zabrinskie Point for another great view back over the canyon, this time from the other side. And then off home, through the rest of Death Valley with more dunes and desolation before returning to our comfy beds.
Big plans to see the giant Sequoia’s today! The drive from Barewood Inn was to take us into the Sequoia National Forest before heading to our next night near Death Valley. After a motel room breakfast of porridge and fruit we headed out down the long route into the giants. GP took us on the journey into the depths of the forest on the long gravel road only for us to discover that the final leg of the route was closed!! The winter snows and ice were still blocking the road and this was the only way to the giant trees from the south. The only solution was to retrace the drive out the gravel road and continue on to our next stop. Michael took a few shots in the area (the first 2 river shots below), but no trees of import. Very disappointing!
Once we left the forest zone, the drive north to Panamint Springs was through the outskirts of Death Valley – so quite barren. As we neared our destination, we stopped for a photo op and to stretch our legs at Father Crowley Overlook. It turns out that it overlooks Star Wars Canyon, so named for its proximity to the location used to film sequences of Tatooine in the original Star Wars. We did not realize that at the time, but cool after fact! It was at this stop where Andrea was surprised by an encounter with her co-worker from Ottawa who was CYCLING her way through Death Valley to Vegas (vague memory here). She was cycling alone on this challenging, desolate route – routine for this lady though! I was happy to climb back into the van…
We arrived early at Panamint due to our abbreviated visit to the trees. The Panamint Springs RV park offered the only accomodation for miles with a ‘rustic’ combo of caravans, cabins and camping grounds scattered with interesting residue. As our cabin rooms were not ready, we headed for the hike to Darwin Falls. The 2.5 mile ‘4 wheel drive only’ dirt road into the parking lot made for a hairy drive, and we were a bit concerned about the rental agreement insurance coverage, but in the end all was fine. It was a nice little hike into a green zone in an otherwise barren area. Back at the rooms Jade and I settled in for sleep while the others went for dinner at the restaurant. Michael brought me back some food and that was us for the night.
Off on our mini-adventure! GP had hoped to hit many spots including the Grand Canyon and perhaps Vegas. But having just 1 week and a baby who was not especially keen on excessive time in the car seat, there was not enough time to cover it all. After much discussion of what we could manage, we landed on a trip to try to see the giant sequoia trees and to check out Death Valley.
We drove for about 4 hours to the Barewood Inn in Wofford on Saturday again taking the van for all 5 of us. We took turns entertaining Jade while she wasn’t napping – a dedicated activity! En route we stopped at a local, authentic Mexican buffet. Michael had no problem getting a gluten free meal as the corn tortillas were freshly made.
The motel was on the shores of Lake Isabella outside of the forest. Once we settled at our destination, the boys headed out for a hike while the 3 of us girls stayed back for some down time (some of us napped!). Mike & GP headed to the Lake Isabella trails. It was fairly windy and cold. There were several trails so they just followed by feel and enjoyed the spectacular views of the lake. There was also an abandoned mine which was blocked off as it is now home to bats so is protected. The landscape was quite unique with rolling hills with exposed granite boulders.
Having the van allowed us to bring the cooler and food, so when the boys returned we supped at the motel rooms. Jade & I had lots of fun taking a tour of the ‘smelly’ trees and flowers in the gardens. More adventure to come, so we had an early evening as the clocks were jumping forward that night.