Wednesday, December 2, 2020

[Focus] Road trip!! Again!

The RS got the nod for road trip duty again last week. My wife and I drove down to Palm Springs for Thanksgiving. We rented a private place and spent our time exploring the geography, steering clear of other people. The Focus was an integral character in the journey, carrying us through Joshua Tree and then around the city, including one amazing driving loop around Mount San Jacinto.

I've never been to Palm Springs. My wife and I sat down to discuss Thanksgiving and it evolved as a natural choice. We weren't going to travel home to see our families on the east coast. I love a good road trip but we'd already gone north and east... probably snow on the ground north and towards the Sierras... ocean to the west, so that leaves south. We lived in LA before, we've done Pismo Beach and Morro Bay and the PCH thing, what's warm and a little less crowded? Palm Springs then.

We drove down on Monday. The RS crossed the 16k mile mark just a bit south of Gilroy.

I decided a couple of years ago that I was "done" with Interstate 5 if I could possibly avoid it. If you're not familiar, let me paint a picture: one highway that connects the two largest areas of the country's most populous state. It's long, straight, and flat, running through the central valley. There is nothing to look at. One of the main landmarks is a cattle ranch, which you usually detect with your nose before your eyes. But worst of all: it's two lanes in either direction, just two. TWO. The right lane is used by semis. The left lane is a free-for-all. Most cars, SUVs packed with kids and luggage, don't bother to move out of the left lane at all. So you have to decide if you are going to be the jerk undercutting, dipping into the right lane to skip past these oblivious road citizens going at whatever speed they fancy. It is misery on four wheels. You have hours to stew on how much space there is on either side for them to make this 3, 4, 5 lanes wide.

So, that said, I plotted a course that held us on the 101 as long as possible. The 101 is also 2 lanes a side, but it curves through some nice scenery and filters out the people who just follow GPS to go from SoCal to NorCal. It added 30 minutes on a 7.5-hour drive, which to me is no problem. We took the 101 down to Paso Robles, then cut east on CA-46.
This photo is deceiving, I took it on the drive home, but you can see where CA-46 and CA-41 intersect (the latter coming in diagonally from the right at the bottom of the hill). What's notable about this T-intersection in the middle of nothing? It was the end of the line for James Dean and his 550 Spyder.

Instead of following CA-46 to I-5, we cut south at Blackwell's Corner and followed CA-33 to a lunch and fuel stop in Taft. The photo above shows the view on CA-33: oil fields. It's one lane, and it's not too exciting, but it's still better than the 5. From Taft we cut over to I-5 and caught it just before the Grapevine. We followed 210 and the 10 to Palm Springs.

Palm Springs is a fascinating place. Unlike anywhere else I've visited, it feels like Vegas and Orange County had a love child. Growing up in the southeast, I didn't see the desert until I moved to California to start my first job. There is something about the desert - it has an aura, a vitality, like it's full of secrets and the ghost stories are true. It puts a spell on you.

Nestled in the desert valley are dozens (hundreds?) of vacation communities and mid-century modern architecture. I guess you would call this Americana.

I think Palm Springs' heyday was half a century ago, but it still has charm and vitality. I think at this point it's mostly inhabited by retirees.

Dark, but I had to laugh. THAT'S what you chose?? Anyway, our place was nice and, most importantly, had a hot tub. It was not extraordinarily hot during our stay, with temperatures around 70 while the sun was up, but that number dropped to around 50 as night rolled in. The hot tub was perfect for evening relaxation.

On Tuesday we made our way to Joshua Tree National Park. I loved how car-accessible the park was - we were only there for a half dozen hours, but we were able to enjoy the park. There are ample opportunities to pull over and take in the view, and many easy hikes, trails, and cactus gardens. We drove in from the south / east entrance of the park, which I think is opposite to how most do it. The southern half of the park is a completely different desert with a different climate - flatter, without joshua trees, with cacti.

Cactus garden.

Going north and west, we left the Colorado desert (flatter) and entered the Mojave desert, with boulders and joshua trees aplenty.

The park was not particularly crowded on this Tuesday, but the highest density of people was around the big-name items, like skull rock (below).

Joshua Tree really started to strut its stuff as sunset approached.

Wow. I'm not huge on national parks, but I'd visit this one again. Make plans to visit if you can swing it in 2021! On Wednesday we got breakfast downtown then hiked the Tahquitz Canyon to a waterfall.

It was a good vantage point from which to see all of downtown Palm Springs. After lunch I convinced my wife to humor me and check out some squiggly roads I'd seen on the map when planning the trip:

As a squiggly road enthusiast, I know that sometimes you're actually sending yourself down a goat road, dead end, or busted pavement nightmare. Google street view has helped with that in recent years, but the risk is always there when you pick something off the map. But sometimes you strike gold, and that's exactly what happened with this route around Mount San Jacinto. I stopped only a couple of times for photos because the drive was so good. 55mph speed limit, smooth fresh pavement, turn-offs (and more importantly, people who used them!), sweeping corners, and epic views. You climb up and out of the desert and suddenly you're in mountain forest.

That's a real smile.

We stumbled on picturesque Lake Hemet.

The last leg of this run, which dumped us from the forest back into the desert valley and the town of Banning, was my favorite part. I convinced my brave wife to snap some photos while we were on the move.

She is an extremely good sport, but the back-and-forth was turning her stomach and I'm sure looking through the viewfinder didn't do her any favors. We stopped on the approach into Banning.
Smooth, empty, scenic.

We had a very nice dinner on Wednesday that we called "Thanksgiving" and then drove home on Thursday. This was a logistical decision - the rental was booked so we had to get out - but it helped with light traffic. We stayed on I-5 a little bit longer, cutting over to Palo Robles a bit further north than the way we came down. We ate what we could with Thanksgiving closures - Starbucks for breakfast, McDonalds for lunch, and leftovers when we got home. Haha. Somewhere along the way the RS crossed the 17k mile mark and the next day I treated it to an oil change, of which I took no photos.

Thanks for reading along, as usual I am so happy with the Focus. Not a single problem, not one hiccup. CarPlay with Waze is a game-changer and made us aware of many holiday speed-traps. The only question is... where do we go next?

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