Saturday 27th saw us undertaking the long drive, over 500 miles.
Up at 5.30 am for an early start: left home 6.45 to call in at a local All-American Diner for the best breakfast in the area, according to friends. I had poached eggs, bacon and Cottage Potatoes which comprises large chunks of potato pan fried plus fried onions. The bacon was streaky and fried to a wonderful crispness. Friend had Mexican food, Tortilla with black beans, tomato salsa, avocado pear and cream cheese, and her husband had pancakes, sausages and maple syrup. Fully replete and victualised for the trip, we hit the road 7.30 am with a schedule to stop every two hours to change drivers.
The earlier part of the trip was along green, fertile Northern Californian valleys, prime dairy country with a few sheep. As we drove further South we passed more and more Gum trees and at one stage were driving along a glorious avenue of very mature Gum trees. Apparently they shed boughs frequently and there is a lobby to have the avenue cut down.
In California, Interstate 5 runs along a loooong, hugely wide valley – beginning in the Sacremento Valley and continuing down the San Juaquin valley, in what was once a lake bed in prehistoric times, stretching from Sacramento in Northern California 500 miles South. The valley runs between two sets of mountains and is in a rain shadow, hence extremely dry. A huge aqueduct runs the entire length of the valley: up to now the water has been used to irrigate the valley to provide a very flat and fertile agricultural area, feeding the whole of California, and large parts of the rest of the US with tree fruit, grapes for wine and some crops. However we passed several, and progressively more, dead orchards, where irrigation had stopped because of the costs involved. Signs protesting at the attitude of Congress were pasted on the roadside, beside the acres and acres of dead orchards, reading “Congress induced dust bowl”!The water used to irrigate has been taken from rivers further North and conservation issues around water have led to this decline. Clearly, left to itself, it would revert to desert. In fact we passed areas which were uncultivated now and they were covered with wild flowers and desert scrub.
At the various change-over points for the drivers we got out and stretched our legs and I saw birds each time: Brewers Blackbirds, both male and female and a songster which looked like a slim-line Robin which I could not identify, plus several Old World (ie introduced) House Sparrows, and chickadees.
By mid-afternoon we reached a mountain pass intothe Sierras between two National Forests, the Angeles on our left and the Padres on our right. We climbed up from the long lake bed we had been travelling along, through beautiful green hills whose sides were covered with masses of poppies in all shades of yellow through to orange and other patches of mauve and purple where lupins were growing. The higher mountains were snow topped and looking wonderful in the afternoon sun. The stops were in poorer looking places now with a much larger Hispanic population visible.
Once through the pass we began to pass place names I had heard of for so long but never been near: Los Angeles, Pasadena, then later San Bernadino, with Edwards Air Force Base off to our left.
By the time we were passing Pasadena the road had turned into a huge highway with 8 lanes each way: however, I saw a Ferruginous Hawk, large, snow-white, with black wing tips, lazily riding the thermals, high in the sky. We noticed that the other drivers had become progressively less helpful and more selfish as we drove towards Los Angeles, and this was difficult negotiating such a multi-laned road, when one needed to look for turn offs and then get across to get off.
About 40 mins. from Palm Springs we noticed the car thermometer going up: on investigation we found a leak somewhere in the radiator. As we poured more water in the reservoir it just poured out the other end. After some discussion we decided to press on, stopping to top up with water at every available opportunity. Everyone was getting tired and we had all had enough. Friend’s daughter rang then to say she had prepared an evening meal for us so that we only had to get there! Kind woman.
We finally made it to the house, 75 miles from the Mexican border: we unloaded and drove the couple of miles to friend’s daughter. She and her husband are in the building trade and built their own home – a huge house, like a Mexican Mansion. A lovely yellow Labrador, teenage boys and the site of roast chicken greeted us. I noticed the air: it was so fresh and clean it felt like water being poured into your lungs, quite unlike anything I have ever met before except perhaps in the high Alps. We ate outside in the garden, spit-roasted chicken, glorious braised courgettes in olive oil and garlic and then left promptly to unpack and fall into bed.
Although one knows mentally what a huge State California is, it was not until we spent a long day driving that it was borne in upon me physically: I don’t know whether California or Texas is the largest State, perhaps someone will let me know? Anyway, apparently the annual budget for California is more than that for some countries!!