I realise I’ve been blogging about nothing but my California trip recently, whilst everyone else is posting about Christmas trees and gift guides and hot chocolate recipes, here I am bombarding you with sunny holiday posts. We’re not even half way through my photo collection yet, so bear with me! After a few days in LA, James and I drove out to Joshua Tree to camp for the night. For the next three days we saw lots of things that had been on my bucket list thanks to reading blogs from across the pond for the last 5 years of my life. I’ve seen plenty of pictures of the Cabazon dinosaurs on Instagram and I was dying to visit them in real life, so we took a break from the freeway to have a walk around. There’s a bizarre creationist museum inside the belly of the Apatosaurus which we didn’t browse and it was so hot we couldn’t stand to be outside for long, but it’s so funny to see these huge creatures next to the tiny cars and the diner next door.
Once we arrived in Joshua Tree, we set up our tent in the Hidden Valley campsite. I think this is the most picturesque campsite, hidden in the depths of the park and surrounded by towering piles of moon-like boulders. You can’t book a spot at this camp, but even though we arrived at 2pm there were still pitches free. I think August and September are the hottest times of the year in the desert, which means the camps are quiet, but all I wanted to do is nap in the shade. We had been told that visiting Joshua Tree feels like being in space and it’s an apt description, partly because it’s so quiet. Whilst I pottered around in the campsite, James climbed to the top of the nearest pile of boulders with a beer and claims he could hear the sound of my footsteps on the sand echoing around the valley. At dusk the coyotes – which look like cute little foxes – perch on the rocks to watch you, howling to each other from across the desert. I was thrilled that we also spotted a jackrabbit and some large hamster-like animal with long legs. A kangaroo rat perhaps? The stars in Joshua Tree are incredible because there’s no light pollution to obscure their shine. We slept with the top off the tent at night so we could drift away looking at the stars and because it’s so hot we really didn’t need the insulation.
In the morning we had a walk around the Hidden Valley trail, drove up high to see the view of the Coachella Valley from above, and then headed straight for Palm Springs. When booking our California trip, I knew I wanted to spend a night in that blogger-famous rainbow hotel, The Saguaro, and it didn’t disappoint. It feels like living in a film set or something, the old-school Hollywood style balconies, and pool surrounded by palm trees are so retro. I don’t usually stay in hotels as I prefer Airbnb for the price and the option to self-cater, so I almost didn’t feel fancy enough to be there, especially as we were looking (and smelling) pretty grimy from our night of sleeping in the desert when we arrived.
Palm Springs is a weird place. I think most of the population are retired people or tourists, and the freeway into the town is plastered with billboards for casinos and spas. There’s not a lot to do there outside of the hotels and resort complexes, which is lovely for a weekend, but I’m not sure I could stay longer. It does at least have a fully vegan cafe, Native Foods, that was conveniently only across the road from our hotel. One of the great things about California is that even in smaller towns, eating out as a vegan is beyond easy. We spent a blissful evening in Palm Springs floating around the pool with overpriced slushy cocktails, and got ready to go out for drinks when I swiftly fell asleep fully clothed at 10pm. All the driving had really tired me out! If we had longer I would have liked to explore downtown, and perhaps drive around the town looking at the mid-century modern houses that I know Palm Springs does so well.
After Palm Springs, we spent a couple of hours driving down past the Salton Seas to Salvation Mountain. This was the furthest south we went on our trip and (I’m going to say it again) it was incredibly hot. How anyone lives there in summer is unbelievable to me! It must have been near 40 degrees C when we were there and there is no shade in the desert. The first time I heard of Salvation Mountain was in the film Into The Wild, where the artist Leonard Knight makes a cameo. The mountain is built on Slab City, which is a longstanding community of hippies living in trailers on a disused military barracks, with no electricity and no running water. The residents refer to it as “The last free place in America” and there’s a sign as you leave, warning you of what awaits in the real world.
Salvation Mountain is built out of mud, straw and acrylic paint and is covered in rainbow bible verses. There’s a yellow brick road that leads you to the top of the mountain, and a multi-coloured forest built of donated telephone poles. It’s an incredible piece of art, whether you agree with the sentiment in the text or not! The dedication needed to build a structure like this under the desert sun with your bare hands is mind boggling to me. It was strange being in the desert because it feels so far from any kind of civilization. Even the nearby town, Niland, is a sparse collection of trailers and abandoned buildings, which is not what I expected from the wealthiest country in the world. We spotted plenty of “keep off my property!” signs and men open carrying guns in the street, so we didn’t linger. Regardless, Salvation Mountain is a stunning piece of folk art and I’m so glad we made the journey!
The next leg of our trip led us to Santa Barbara and Big Sur. Stay tuned for more photo diaries!