Locations, Roadtrip stuff

Day 85 – 88: San Diego, CA; Phoenix, AZ; Carlsbad Caverns, NM; Midland, TX

Day 85: Monday 5th June
So, onwards we drove from LA down the Pacific Coast Highway. If you recall, we had driven the beginning section of the Pacific Coast Highway on the recommendation of a friend and had been severely disappointed. We had heard that it was cool and would bring us beautiful sights:
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From Google. I repeat – we did not take this picture.
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But the section we had driven before had been grey, rainy and unimpressive. However, we were willing to give it another chance, and hoping that this final section might be more impressive than the beginning, we gave it another shot. However, it turned out to be equally, if not more, disappointing – the highway was barely even near the coast most of the time and just looked like an ordinary road – hardly what you’d call scenic:
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Pacific Coast Highway
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It turns out that you need to actually plan which portion of the Pacific Coast Highway you want to take, and after having driven the very beginning and the very end sections, we can confirm that neither of these are worth the extra time. It seems that the good bit is the section between San Francisco and LA, which we weren’t able to do because we went to Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks instead.
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We stopped at a roadside diner called Harbor House Cafe to feed my coffee addiction, then we decided to get some lunch there, too. We were running low on petrol at this point, so we decided to ask Waze, the trusty app that we had been using to navigate, where the nearest ‘gas station’ was. Waze is a little better than Google Maps, generally, because you can add in stopping points along the way after setting your original journey, and if you search for cafes, for example, it will tell you how far they are and how far they take you off your route. It also shows you gas prices so you can save money, so when it directed us to the cheapest and closest gas station we thought little of it… until we found ourselves up against a barricade, with a military officer standing at our window asking for our IDs.
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“Erm… we were looking for a gas station, and our navigation system brought us here,” I explained, as Britishly as possible (only without saying ‘petrol’ or ‘sat-nav’; I didn’t want to cause confusion and therefore possible anger).
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“This here is a military base,” he explained patiently. It was clear to me that this was not the first time this had happened. “I’ll need to take your IDs so you can drive in and turn around.”
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Reversing apparently was not an option, so we nervously handed over our IDs, drove into the base, then turned around and left again. I was literally shaking! For some reason, I just couldn’t escape the idea that the guy might decide to shoot us for trespassing or something.
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We finally arrived in San Diego at 5:30pm, where we had booked a Days Inn motel a little outside the city centre. We weren’t in a very energetic mood, and Anna had a bad headache, so we decided to drive around within a 5-minute radius until we found a small retail park full of restaurants – the Friars Road Shopping Center, where we found the San Diego Brewing Company. They let you customise your own pizza, and it was pretty good. We had an early night after that.
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Day 86: Tuesday 6th June
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Our motel came with free breakfast – woop woop! I can’t remember anything about it, although motel breakfasts generally are not super memorable (apart from the one in Savannah, which was memorable only for its awful plastic plates and cutlery). However, on the way back to my room I chanced upon an old man with a long, white beard and a Southern drawl. He asked me where I was from, and when I said Britain, he started to tell me how we had a problem.. “and its name is Islam!”. Ohh, great. The conversation got increasingly racist (on his side… I was politely trying to disagree without risking a fight) until I Britishly backed away, saying “well – I’d better be going!” and he shouted after me “I oughta be running this country!!!” You are, mate, you pretty much are. (Anna: It’s alright, I was listening to this whole conversation from the safety of our motel room, ready to grab my gun in case things got nasty.)
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Anyway, we were in San Diego for a day and we thought this would finally be our chance to enjoy a sunny, warm beach. So, off we went towards the seafront, where the weather was glorious and sunny. No… I’m only joking. This is what we were greeted with:
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Mission Beach_85cMission Beach_859Mission Beach_864
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There was an amusement park there, so we wandered around that a little.

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Amusement Park_856Amusement Park_858
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My childhood memories of damp, October weekends in Blackpool as a child suddenly started flooding back. Not wanting to be defeated by our disappointment in this drizzly, miserable weather, we walked down the Mission Beach Boardwalk and watched a few brave souls surfing.
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We were approached by a charity street seller who wanted us to sign up for some campaign, but when she found out we were from the UK and not US residents, it turned out that we couldn’t sign up anyway (handy tip if you want to easily get out of such a situation in future, just say you’re a tourist ;)) However, she was still happy to chat to us for a few minutes, and we asked her what was with this crazy weather as we thought that southern California was meant to be sunny all the time. She assured us that this weather was not normal. Well, that is just some bad luck – we managed to come to San Diego on the one day in the last decade when it hasn’t been sunny!
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Mission Beach Boardwalk
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San Diego is famous for its zoo – just say “San Diego Zoo” to yourself, and your brain will probably go “oh, yeah, I’ve heard of that!” – and SeaWorld. However, after having every American person we’d met along the way recommend the zoo and/or aquarium in their city (and us having pretty much ignored all of this advice, apart from in Chicago where the zoo is free) we were not in the mood to start spending small fortunes on zoos and glorified aquariums.
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Stay Classy San Diego_865
We were pretty happy to find this Anchorman quote though…
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Onwards we went… out of California. Our loop was finally coming to a close, and we were coming back on ourselves, through states that we had already passed, gradually getting closer and closer back to Dallas. It was hard not to shake the feelings of sadness that the trip was coming to an end in just a few days, as well as the fear of going back to ‘real life’ and some excitement about finally not living out of a suitcase again. Or at least, I felt I should be feeling excitement at that stability, but we had both gotten so used to Daisy and living out of our suitcases, camping and crashing with friends, stopping to update our blog and organise the photos, that we felt that we could actually continue with this lifestyle for a while longer. Alas, US immigration did not agree with us, so we had to get out of there – just one day longer and we would have overstayed our visas, potentially risking a ban from re-entering in future!
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We were in the desert now, driving past sand and cactus:
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We stopped for a couple of hours in Yuma, Arizona, to get some lunch, coffee and write a little more of the blog. We found a random Starbucks on our maps and headed there. Opening the car door, I was shocked to find myself stepping into an oven. The air was hot – it burnt my skin and suffocated me. I barely managed to walk into the shopping mall without passing out… wow! So that’s what really hot weather feels like. In contrast, the sweet, cooling A/C was like stepping into a fridge, and I realised that I would need to return to the car to get my sweater in order not to freeze inside the café. A little nuance wouldn’t go amiss sometimes, guys.
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We continued on to Phoenix, where we were able to stay with Anne, a girl who I once trained at TEFL Worldwide in Prague. She told us of some nice restaurants and bars near her place in Gilbert, so we wandered around for a while (it was already 9pm by now – it had been a long old drive) and went to a place called Oregano’s Pizza Bistro. We got a bit excited about food and ended up with loads more than we could handle, meaning that Anna popped back to the car to get our Tupperware so we could stock up on leftovers.
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dark photo, weird face
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Day 87: Wednesday 7th June
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We had to wake up early so that we could be on the road for a loooong day of driving. Our original plan had been to stay overnight in El Paso, Texas, but it turned out that I had a friend in Midland – a few hours further – so we decided to slog it out and make it all the way to her place. So we woke up at a painful 6am and were out of there just after 7. We drove and drove until arriving in El Paso at 2:30pm.
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We didn’t stay long – I grabbed some coffee, we used some toilets, Anna got some lemonade from a cute place called Coffee Box, and we ran through a fountain (which Anna has dutifully noted as San Jacinto Plaza).
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We carried on and drove past the Mexican border, which we were surprised to see was very visible… however, all I have are some poor quality videos, so you’ll just have to imagine. It looked like you could just hop across the fence, wade the river and be in Mexico – but probably you’d get shot if you tried. Or maybe that’s only going the other way.
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We wondered if we were going to see a lot of police cars and people being stopped because we were so near the border, but we didn’t see much until we passed through a vehicle checkpoint a bit further on… however, we were just waved right on through. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that it was just because we were white… (lucky for us, otherwise that trunk full of meth would have been exposed…* )
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*This is a joke. We did not smuggle drugs into/out of/around the US or any other country, nor do we in any way condone the use or smuggling of drugs. (Gwynnie is paranoid about people who can’t take a joke reading this and banning us from the US for life)
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We had decided to sneak in one more exciting adventure before arriving in Midland, and that was a visit to Carlsbad Caverns, which we thought was in Texas, but later turned out to be in New Mexico. Once we realised, we also figured out that we had lost an hour – New Mexico and Texas are in different timezones, so while we thought it was 7pm in Texas, it was actually 7pm in New Mexico, therefore 8pm in Texas, so we were going to arrive in Midland even later than we had thought!
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The caverns are famous for one thing – tons and tons of bats. Every night, as the sun sets, thousands of bats swarm out of the cave – into the waiting sight of hungry tourists (hungry for excitement, not bats, I should clarify.) Carlsbad Caverns are actually a National Park, meaning we were able to squeeze in one final National Park before leaving the US. They had been recommended to us by a friend of Anna’s, and since we had missed the famous bats flying out from under the bridge in Austin, we thought we’d go and see it here.
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We arrived at the National Park area quite early – the sun wasn’t going to set until around 7:30pm, but we rolled up at 6pm when everything else was closing. There was no Wifi, either, so, we decided to eat at their canteen (while everything closed around us) and slowly meander down to the bat cave, which was in front of an amphitheatre.
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Sneaky picture of the cave that the bats fly out of
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At around 7pm, a park ranger appeared and started talking to the eager crowd about bats. There were loads of people there – not only children – and it seemed that just about everybody had a question about bats. Did they see in the dark? How did they operate? My favourite, though, was a child with a severe drawl who asked, “Does bats has fleas?
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Fun bat fact: Mummy bats leave their caves to look for food, and when they come back they have to locate their baby among thousands of other bats. They are able to do this with echolocation or biosonar, and the lady described to us how they would climb over all the other baby bats, elbowing them out of the way, as they try to find their baby – the babies don’t care so much and will try to latch on and feed from any bat that comes their way.
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Finally, at around 8:15pm, the bats deemed the sky dark enough to start flying out – hundreds and hundreds of them, pouring out of the cave. We weren’t allowed to take any photographs, unfortunately (because it might scare the bats and they would wait until later and later to start flying out, apparently) so there are no pictures, but I can assure you that we saw a lot of bats. I mean, they could have also been birds, it’s hard to tell when small black things fly against a dark night sky. But it looked pretty cool and there was a nice peaceful silence because the park ranger had warned us that we all had to be completely quiet or the bats wouldn’t come out. We didn’t stay to find out just how many bats were in that cave, though, because we didn’t want to get to Midland, TX, too late.
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We drove in the dark for a few more hours, with only the stench of oil fields (or “money”, as Texans would apparently say) filling our nostrils. We didn’t arrive at my friend Katie’s house until after midnight – but still, we had a nice, happy reunion! Throwback: Katie was one of the first people I met when I moved to Prague, having found her blog about how she was about to move there at the same time and then discovering that we were on the same TEFL course (see my old blog about it here). She spent the next few years teaching English in Taiwan, where she apparently became a bit of a celebrity, but now she’s returned to her homeland.
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Day 88: Thursday 8th June
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Our last full day before flying home… argh!! Well, there isn’t a whole lot to do in Midland, TX, but Katie was kind enough to make us breakfast before showing us George W. Bush’s childhood home! That’s right… Dubya himself not only grew up in Midland, but Katie’s dad went to school with him. I’m not exactly a fan of the Bush administration, but we still wanted to go and check out the house:
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George W Bush's Childhood Home_870George W Bush's Childhood Home_871
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However, we decided that seeing it from the outside was quite enough and didn’t pay to go in. We did, however, wander into the information centre/gift shop and chatted to the ladies there for a while, who thought it was ‘neat’ that we were from the UK (or something like that). We left before they could ask us too many questions about what we thought of George W. Bush – things might have gotten awkward.
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After a little drive-by tour of the city, Katie took us to a lovely place called Brew St Bakery, which seemed like the perfect environment for chilling out with a coffee and doing some work. We chatted a bit with some cake and raspberry scones, and – if I recall correctly – a lavender coffee. But we still needed lunch, and as we were finally back in Texas, we were able to get Whataburger again!
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You may or may not recall that Whataburger was our first drive-thru, and we remembered it being really amazing. However, this chain only exists in Texas and some neighbouring states, so after being hooked at the beginning we were deprived of the delicious, greasy taste for months. So, naturally, we tried to figure out what we had ordered before – something with toast and avocado? – and scoffed it in Katie’s living room. Was it as good as before? I don’t think it was… sadly, these things are often glorified in our memories, and as Anna and I had learnt from reading Stumbling on Happiness to each other in the car for the last few weeks, it’s almost impossible to compare a present sensation with the memory of a sensation in the past.
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And then it was time to go… onwards, to Dallas, back to Michael’s house again (our first host!). But we weren’t going to go out with a whimper, oh no… we still had plans of seeing the cattle drive over at Fort Worth…!

 

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