The oh so sad face when Eli gets his "Stay Collar". The old chap only gets his leather collar with ID when we are leaving the house and he knows it. His walking collar is a different story. The dog loses his mind when he sees that one come out. Unfortunately for us not everywhere we go is all species tolerable. Today is no exception to that rule. We spent the morning kickn' back in the RV park looking at the clouds and left around noon to go see Katie's uncle Bill. Before we stop over we decided to take a closer look at some parts of LA. We started out cruising along Mulholland Drive on the northwest side. This curvy mountain road was laid out along the ridges of the hills and gave way to multi-million dollar houses. They weren't that impressive, just a normal house with a view of the city. After getting passed and honked at by all these crazy ass LA drivers we dropped back down into the city. Beverly Hills, that's where I want to be.
I popped open Zillow on my phone and started checking the prices. The cheapest house in town was 2.5 million. This was for a 5 bedroom 4 bath villa coming in at 2,222 sq ft. If you happen to not be such a pour schlub you can always splurge for he 85 million dollar manison that's 11 bedrooms and 18 baths spread out across 28,000 sq ft. With our gawking over it was time to hit up the tar pits.
Time is short. I'm running the show when it comes to being on time and we've only got 15 minutes before we have to bail. Kaite requested to see what she could and I lined up the itinerary for the morning. She's been driving through the horrendous traffic and I've been picking out the stops on the way. This place happens to be a natural tar pit. Hundreds of thousands of years ago animals from the ice age walked into these waters and never escaped. There have been 1,000's of skeletons removed from there death hold. The museum on site showcases wooly-mammoths, saber tooth tigers, and rhinos. The air is filled with the thick putrid smell of fresh asphalt and the water continues to boil as a cauldron filled with methane and petroleum.
Time's up. Back to Shirley and 3 miles to the East to get back over to Hollywood. We pull into Uncle Bill's house who just happens to be a couple of blocks from Hollywood Blvd. We're greeted with a smile and hugs, and one ominous warning. "Lock you doors." Wait.. what? We're only a couple of blocks from the walk of fame. We settle in and get to chat with Bill really for the first time ever. This trip has done that for both of us. So far we've each met a family member for the first time.
Bill makes us feel right at home as we start to relax in the backyard. He explains to us that he's been in the area for 30 years and how his neighborhood is on a path facing downhill. It's a shame since there is so much potential for this place to be booming. We both look at each other like we're nuts. We think he's mad for living in the middle of LA around all the chaos and wearing a sweater when it's 65 degrees out, he thinks we're nuts for traveling the country and calling Wisconsin home, where people shovel snow wearing a t-shirt. A little more time passes by and it's time to eat. Katie prompts him for a suggestion "Where is there a good place to eat nearby?" His response is quick. "You like burgers? Let's go to IN-and-Out. I'll drive." Music to my ears. This place is mad house of traffic.
He makes it look easy. Bolting in and out of lanes and weaving through the back streets of one ways and parked cars. It's beginning to make sense. Less than five minutes later and we're further than I could of drove in 15. The fast food place is PACKED. There are literally cars on the street waiting to turn in. This is normal..... this is the LA life. With dinner down we head back and say our goodbyes. Nice to meet you Uncle Bill, you're a cool ass dude.
Gross. The streets are dirty. Everything looks like it's sticky and full of bits of trash. There are countless homeless and panhandlers on the street harassing people for money or to buy tickets to go somewhere. This is not what we imagined.
The walk of fame was a complete letdown. Many of the stars are broken and the black tiles around them were missing pieces. We had even seen a few where they were patched with straight up blacktop to fill in the gaps. Katie damn near rolled her ankle on an unmarked hole, and there were countless others that just had a orange cone in front of the problem.
The tour buses were downright ghetto. They were just vans that someone cut the top off with a zaw-zaw and placed some padding around the sharp edges. Most of them were dented and had paint scraped off along the side. Katie elected to spend some of our hard earned cash at the Wax Museum on the main street. It was a nice distraction from the trash outside.
Walking up to the figures was actually a little creepy. The majority of them looked pretty good and the shiny glass eyeballs made it seem as if they were looking at your soul. By far the Samuel L Jackson figure was the most lifelike. We spent an hour tooling around looking at the sculptures before we hit the streets once more.
With the "Walk of Fame" out of the way we dropped back down south towards home. On the way we stopped off at the Farmer's Market. It was a nice stroll through overpriced stores and fruit stands.
The highlight of my day was seeing a $300,000 rolls royce phantom wrapped in chrome with the word "VIETRAW" on the side. It was even complete with two red dragons on the hood. Think of it as the ultimate middle finger to stuck up assholes who drive a 300k car.
Overall our take away is this. Hollywood sucked. Don't waste your time and go somewhere else.
No plans and no where to be. Sounds like a day to lounge around the beach and even out my horrendous farmers tan. Besides, we had martini's last night and I had one too many. So it't to the sand with a blanket an a cooler full of water for a nap. After the majority of the day passes by we finally get Eli out for a jog. He's been cooped up for two days and needs to stretch it out a little bit.
Homeboy gets tethered to the bike and we set out for a mile long run. Upon our return we drop off furball and set out on our own for another 5 mile jaunt. It's a well laid out path with some easy up and down slopes.
The sun falls and the winds pick up. Clouds roll into the park so dense that we can't even see the planes taking off. The park has filled to capacity and people are out and about. It's starting to get loud. The dodgers are playing in the world series this weekend. People start to fill in the gaps between trailers while screaming at the top of there lungs late into the night. Sleep will be hard to come by tonight.
Today will undoubtedly be an adventure for us. Driving the rig through LA's infamous traffic is sure to be a treat. Can't wait. We've got enough fuel in Roo to get to LA and back out. There's no point in filling it up and carrying the extra weight through the mountains once more. Our water is damn near empty and Roo is ready to take a dump. We slam through the gears and roll down hwy 14 south into the northern side of LA. Out here the sun never goes away and we haven't seen a cloud for nearly a week. Makes sense that this would be the perfect place for solar panels.
Traffic is flowing freely and things are looking good. We sneak up on the hills outside of LA that hold the cities borders tightly together. We're at 2,500 feet and need to start the climb to the summit. It's 90 degrees out and Roo is feeling the stress. So it's off the throttle and down two gears in the truck lane to make the ascent.
It's about 2pm when we finally hit the suburbs of LA. The infamous traffic shows us why this place is a nightmare. Hwy 5 south to the 405 is 7 lanes wide in spots and people are fighting for their positon.
After an hour of traffic Dockweiler RV park was in view. This is a county ran RV park on the beach. It's a parking lot with hookups that lies as close to LAX as you can get. It's a trade-off of plane noise for parking, which is extremely limited and expensive out here. We hooked up Roo to the tune of $55 a night for the next 6 days. This will be the longest we have ever stayed at one RV park.
There's 22 miles of bike trail paved out on the beach and we plan on taking full advantage of it. When I booked this spot I was excited to have a place to let Eli run, however there are signs saying no dogs allowed all along the park. It's like he's constantly discriminated against because of his species.
So we waited until dusk and took the dog for a walk anyway. Hey... gotta break the rules sometimes.
It's our 4th day hanging out in Spangler Hills. The lack of things to do is causing me to look further from home in order to find something exciting. Forty miles north of here is the natural formation of fossil falls. Pack your stuff and grab the dog, let's roll.
Eli has grown quite accustomed to sitting in the Jeep and takes a quick nap to get ready for the hike. I swear, he's the only dog I've ever seen close his eyes and sleep sitting up for a few minutes at a time. Less than 45 minutes later and we arrive at our location.
Spewed lava rock makes it feel like we are back int he Mojave. Broiling volcanoes lined the back of the Coso Range hundreds of thousands of years ago. They erupted molten lava across the landscape and created cinder cones sharp jagged rocks. Their activity was quieted by the ice age and the Sierra Nevada's to the west were used like an ice tray in the freezer. During the subsequent thaw, trillions of gallons of water ran down the mountains and formed most of the valleys and riverbeds still seen today. One of those riverbeds was cut from a solid lava bed creating the spectacular dry falls that can be hiked for the adventurous visitor.
The hike out to the falls was less than 1/4 mile. We failed as dog parents and left Eli's water and bowl back in the jeep. It's hot and he's thirsty. So we improvise and let him drink from a plasitc bag. Good enough for him.
On the way out we pass by a close cinder cone. This one is still being mined today. Cinder is used in the construction of roadways and sidewalks. Another use is for that oh so fabulous decorative lava rock. Do me a favor. If you still have any of this ugly ass rock in your house get rid of it. Even if you cover it in dirt and don't plant any grass, it'll still look better than the rock.
It's back on the road and south towards home. With time to kill I pull over to snap some pictures of a few local things.
This place is now damn near a ghost town. All 17 people in town have a collective total of about 4 hubcaps on their cars. Down the street I can spot a junkyard but the place is locked up and all the lights are off. What a shame. Looks like an amazing place to take a walk.
Back to Roo in the early afternoon and I'm already bored. Katie is slumped into the dinette bench watching TV. Well... guess I can go beat on Shirley.
I figured being the last day in the hills we should make it count. Once I returned to the RV Katie points out some new pinstripes on Shirley. Guess that's the price you pay to drive to a mine shaft in the desert. Oops.
Not a real exciting day. Not a whole lot to talk about. Katie and I lounged around the RV just trying to stay out of the heat. To kill a little time we went into town to check out the local thrift stores. Without fail there are two places that can give you a feel on the local community and what kind of people live there. #1: Go to Wal-Mart and see what the people are like. Watch how they talk to strangers and how terrible the children are in the hallways. #2: Go to the local thrift stores and see what kind of junk is laying around. Nice junk means the town has some money and thus is typically a higher class of people. Then there is the opposite side of things. If you go to the local thrift store and its wrapped in spun razor barbed wire.....
This place looked like where Goodwill's trash goes to die. Now to spend the rest of the day waiting out the heat for the sweet night time cold in darkness. Boring day.
Another day in Spangler Hills. We'll be here for a few days and need to kill some time today. This nearly 89 square mile park is home to hundreds of abandoned mines. During the gold rush in the 1800's there were so many mines dug they couldn't keep track of them all. A large majority of them have either been fenced off or bulldozed shut for safety. It's a good thing too, because it is awfully tempting to climb down a mine shaft and look for remnants of the days gone by. Ironically it is I that has to keep a stable head around these inviting holes. Katie is ready to climb down and explore. I'm way too concerned of collapse and especially worried about the lack of oxygen or deadly gas that could be down there.
We climb back into the Shirley and keep driving around. Not all of the holes have been covered or fenced in. Accidents have been known to happen out here from people falling into the chasms. Eli is smart enough to give it a check, without getting too close. The old boy has been running around unleashed for a couple days now and is loving it. He's a big boy and can make his own decisions.
Prior to heading out I grabbed my metal detector. Gold in these hills still lures people into the hills. What the hell, I've got nothing to lose.
What I didn't count on was the rocks in the area to be laden with copper. My metal detector kept telling me there was something every 4 feet. After a few false hits I gave up.
No matter where we travel weird things are bound to show up. Why is this here? No clue. Just leave the boots alone it says. With the day getting long it's time to rustle up some firewood. One thing I've learned is that you can almost always find someone's left over firewood in established campsites.
Jackpot. Like a couple of vultures scrounging for a meal the wood gets loaded onto Shirley's back. Sierra Nevada pine will make for a fine campfire underneath the desert stars.
Parking out amongst the dirt and rocks is starting to become real familiar territory. At first the desert was a place of mystery. Unexplored land for two people from Wisconsin. After a couple of weeks this place is starting to feel real comfortable. The mountains in the background are gorgeous every single day. The sunsets here... incredible. Even the weather is tolerable. Although it's 90 during the day, it drops into the 50's at night.
We'll be heading into town today to get a taste of the local flavor. The county fair is going on just 9 miles away. We buzz over to the parking lot and find out that tickets are $8 at the door. Uh, no thanks. The nice lady at the counter points at the Humane Society donation bin and explains to us that admission is free with any donation. All we need is a $1 can of cat food and we can stroll through the gates. So it's off to Wal-Mart for some quick shopping. We pick out a dog brush and a few cans of food. Neither one of us has a problem with spending a few bucks to help out the humane society. We practically have one ourselves.
After walking around for a bit we both talk about going on a ride. I don't even know why we bother having those conversations. Both of us are too cheap, and neither of us really want to go on one. My years of corporate training kicks in and I start looking at the rides. There's zip ties and duck tape. Extension cords being used where it should be hard wired. This place is sketchy. I've got no problem hopping on a roller coaster at six flags. I know that a team of engineers works there and inspects the rides on a regular ongoing basis. The chances of that happening with these rides seems pretty slim. I think I'll keep my ass off the mobile coffins and watch the action from the ground.
Just your typical fair. Small rides and overpriced food. Anyone who pays $7 for a funnel cake is an idiot. We continue to stroll until we see a dog show in progress. Twenty minute goes by and we witness a dog team that does about 1/2 of it's tricks correctly, and a real cheesy routine. Nothing special to see here.
Back home Katie starts to get things ready for dinner. She pulls out the cutting board and sees a couple of mouse turds. Fantastic. Looks like we picked up a traveler somewhere. The excitement doesn't end there. Turns out the little bastard likes silicone measuring cups too. Off to Wal-Mart for some DCON and a measuring cup. Guess life could be worse.
The drive out of Death Valley was supposed to be easy. I had made a plan ahead of time so there weren't any problems. The whole reason for the RV park was so we could hit the high elevation climb early and in low temps. With Shirley left unhooked we headed southwest into the hills. Starting at sea level Roo had to climb to 5,000 ft in order to escape the grip of Death Valley. She plunked along the fairly steady climb for 20 miles. Towards the end she was only doing 25mph in second gear. No big deal though, engine temps were under control and we've got nothing but time. We reached the summit and saw a place to pull over. Shirley gets hitched onto the back and we pull back out onto the road. Then just a 1/2 further I see the sign for the downhill portion. It's warning me that the next 7 miles is a 9% grade downhill. That's pretty damn steep. Katie asks if we should pull over and unhook Shirley. Brimming with confidence I say "Not a problem. The brakes on this RV are made for semis. Besides, the jeep brakes will be working too" (Shirley has a brake contraption that slows it down with the RV). I manually shift Roo down into the lowest gear I can and flip on the engine brake. Down the hill we go and the speed starts to gain quickly.
Stab brakes, release too let cool, repeat. Here's the problem. Typically on steep downhill grades you can still drive 50-60 mph. That helps cool the brakes and the wind resistance helps keep speed under control. This road is all switchbacks and we've got to keep it around 30 mph. Stab brakes, release too let cool, repeat. We're almost 4 miles into the downhill section. Stab brakes..... oh shit. OH SHIT! The brakes are soft. I can feel they are starting to fade. We have to pull over. We have to pull over now. Scanning the side of the road I found a spot that was good enough. I heave the brake pedal to the floor and swing into the gravel shoulder hoping it's hard packed enough to hold the weight. It doesn't matter. We don't have a choice. Roo slowly comes to a halt. I set the parking brake. OH SHIT. It won't hold. The RV is slowing moving forward. The wheel gets cranked to the right just enough to face uphill in the ditch. That made the RV stop moving and I make Katie hold the brake pedal as hard as she can.
I fling the door open and run outside. The brakes are smoking at all four corners. Not good. This is how RV's start on fire. Reaching inside the door I grab the fire extinguisher and run to each corner. No flames yet. I bolt into the ditch and pick up the biggest rocks I can to start chocking the wheels. After that it's back into the RV. I kick Katie out and take the parking brake off. Why off? Because the amount of heat will kill the brake pads if it stays engaged. We still have 3 miles to go. Roo doesn't move. Oh thank you baby Jesus.
We wait out the faded brakes for a half hour until they are cool enough the parking brake can go back on. Katie opts to stay behind and I climb into Shirley to scope out the rest of the road. We still have 3 miles of downhill to go and I want to see what's coming up. Luckily it turned out to be only 1 more mile of twists and turns, then 2 miles of 5% straightness. I get back and we head out. The only thing on my mind.... don't smoke the brakes and flip the RV at 70 mph off a cliff.
With fingers crossed we drop to the bottom of the hill without any more excitement. That was, without a doubt, the scariest thing that has ever happened to me while driving.
Time to keep moving. Luckily for us, life goes on. The town of Ballarat is only 30 miles down the road. A cool old ghost town with a couple people running the joint. That's plenty of time to let the brakes finish cooling off and to compose my frazzled nerves. This was on my list of things to see because of my addiction to TOP GEAR. This place was in one of their shows.
With Ballarat behind us we head for Ridgecrest. Wal-Mart fills the RV back up with supplies and we head off to our next parking destination. Spangler Hills OHV ground is 57,000 acres of public land. Here you can camp for 14 days at a time. Sounds like a good place to call home.
The day had come to hit the open road. A couple of hours to the east was an RV park that would be our last stop in the valley. Temps were already on the climb, and there was one more big hill to crest in order to get out. We hatched plan to get to the base of the summit today, and tackle the hill with cold temps the next morning. It's supposed to be 100 degrees out today and we could use some AC. It's either run the generator or go plug in. We drive two hours to our new destination and don't see much that's new. Then I spot the camouflage.
Something I never expected to see on this trip was manufacturer testing. The car above is a new model not yet released to the public. It's wearing heavy camouflage to hide body lines, styling, and any other trait that gives away some details to the competitors. With the excitement aside, we park across the street and hook up for some sweet AC. With the RV set to cool we've got time to do some exploring. Across the road and up 2.4 miles of washboard gravel road lays the mosaic canyon. Pack your Camelbacks, we're going for a walk.
The canyon has been carved out by thousands of years of floods and exposes some really cool looking stuff. Some of the walls are solid white marble.
Another half mile further and we can see why the canyon got it's name. A few thousand years ago a land slide piled hundreds of feet of rock on top of the marble. With enough time all the gaps between those rocks turned to rock itself.
So there you have it. A picture of more rock. Just what you were looking for. Here, look at me.
You see that? I'm surrounded by rock. Let's take a look at Katie.
I'll be damned. She's surrounded by rock too.
Death Valley. Rock. Dirt. Repeat.
I'm just a guy, with a wife, a dog, and three cats. Watch us travel the country.
Months of travel
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