#California, Part 3: Joshua Tree and Las Vegas
After the excesses of Los Angeles we had a great, chilled out week in San Diego, which was the perfect prep for our first road trip, to Joshua Tree.
Given that the BF was, at first, completely uninterested in doing any driving throughout our California trip, I was fully prepared to take a coach for our trip to the desert, but he soon changed his mind and we booked our car a few months in advance. He just had to adjust to driving on the other side of the road. A few non-Americans that we met along the way said to draw an arrow, pointing right, on a Post-It and stick it on the right hand side of the dash board, as a constant reminder to stay on that side of the road. We left San Diego as early as we could so that we made it to Joshua Tree before it got dark. I think it took us around four hours to get there, and we relied exclusively on Google Maps. One thing I know for sure, next time we travel to the US I will not be buying any maps as they proved totally unnecessary.
After spending so much over my birthday, we decided to rein our expenses right in, so when we were just thirty minutes away from our JT Airbnb, we stopped off for supplies at one of those huge American supermarkets. You know, the ones where you could easily rack up hundreds of dollars on ten different types of sugar. We planned on being super frugal - which is kind of the opposite way that we tend to live while we're on 'holiday'. We bought a bag of rice, tinned black beans, loads of avocados (they're so good - so creamy - in California), some salad items and granola for the mornings. We knew we had a double burner hob type situation, plus one of those mini ovens, so we took this opportunity to save a little cash.
As the sun started to set, we drove up to our Airbnb. Unfortunately, we didn't get to meet our host, but the next door neighbours, Claire and Blaine, were the loveliest, most genuinely helpful people. When we saw the place, we actually couldn't believe it was ours. I wouldn't say it was as stylish as most of the other places we had stayed in, but the vibe was just so chilled, safe, and cosy, and the little details were so much more appreciated. There were so many travel books, so many guides for local hiking and places to eat. Outside we had our own back yard, complete with a wood burner, chairs and hammock. I don't think I'll ever forget the first night we spent there. We decided to sit out, under the stars, for as long as we could. We grabbed a couple of duvets (there was a cupboard full of things that any traveller would need, such as hats, brollies and waterproofs), poured some wine and used our tiny Sony speaker to listen to Alabama Shakes and Chris Stapleton's Tennessee Whiskey, and watched as a blanket of stars started to take shape above us. That night, I saw a shooting star - just me! The BF missed it and laughed at me; I probably sounded like such a kid when I saw it.
The following day we decided to go for a trek; as we were literally in the middle of the desert, it only took us about 15 minutes to find our way to some pretty epic rocks. Fortunately, the BF hasn't seen 127 Hours, because if he had, he definitely would have been reimagining James Franco having to cut his own arm off. The rocks were beautiful; some were jagged, some were smooth, and as we walked further into them, they got bigger, and the drops between them became more pronounced. As we are most definitely amateurs when it comes to hiking, we probably spent about an hour there. Also, we picked the hottest time of the day, doh. So by 130pm we were sweltering.
Eager to get back to our little place of Zen, we spent the rest of the day and night chilling. We decided that the following day, we would actually pay to visit Joshua Tree National Park, instead of winging it. It seemed crazy to us that you could be driving for miles, (73, I think is the exact amount) and still be inside the same park (it actually covers over 550,000 acres of wilderness). We would drive, then stop to take pictures, and finally got out when we came to the Hidden Valley trail, a short one mile, easy trek for newbies like us. Before we set off walking, we thought it best to use the bathroom, and that was my first encounter with an old school 'hole in the ground'. Yes, this hole was covered by what 'looked' like a toilet, in that it was white, and it had a lid on it. But on lifting the lid, if you were stupid enough to look down, like, really way down, you could make out a pit of goodness knows what. JTNP, like most other national parks in California, is concerned with conserving water, so there was also no running water to wash your hands with, afterwards. But it was nothing a little hand sanitiser couldn't deal with...
Walking into the Hidden Valley was at times unreal. You could view it as just a bunch of rocks, with pretty little flowers and spiky vegetation scattered around. But I just couldn't believe the sheer size of the place, and couldn't help thinking that these rocks were here long before us, and they will remain here long after we are all gone. Hidden Valley is a popular destination due to the fact that it has its own micro eco-system that works efficiently with whatever little water it receives over the weeks and months. If we had waited a couple of weeks or so, we would have seen many more colourful flowers of the desert, but we didn't feel like we had missed out on anything.
The trail itself is clearly signposted the entire way, and you'll no doubt meet other friendly travellers along the hike, some of whom you will find to be seriously obsessed with the various flowers and trees on display.
Once we made it out of the park we were pretty ravenous, so we looked up places nearby that might serve veggie or vegan food. We came across The Natural Sisters Cafe, in downtown Palm Springs, and, to be honest, I wasn't expecting much. But I was so wrong. The BF got the black bean burger and I went for the quinoa burger. That was the day that would set us off on a national hunt for decent vegan cheese once we arrived home. The black bean burger looked meaty, even in the way that it was slightly charred on the outside, and my quinoa burger was hefty enough for me to not feel like I had drawn the short straw, which is often the case with vegan 'junk' food. Both were served with blue tortilla chips, but we couldn't resist buying a piece of blueberry coffee cake each, for later too. It was GREAT. I really regret not taking any pictures of the food here but it was just too good to wait any longer for. Just trust me on this one, you won't be disappointed.
Aside from our entry into Joshua Tree National Park, that meal was the only additional expense that we racked up, and we didn't regret a cent. That night we went to bed a little earlier, so we could leave early for the drive onto Vegas.
Ah, Vegas... As I've been there a couple of times before - for some reason, every manufacturer within the hair industry loves Vegas for their annual conferences - I thought it best to do a short, sweet trip, just so the BF could say that he'd been there and done it. One thing I was super glad we'd done in advance of this trip, was book tickets to see Gary Clark Jr performing at Brooklyn Bowl. We have loved him for some time now, so when we saw that he was playing during our trip, we had to buy tickets. I'd already missed out on booking us into any of the famous Vegas brunches and even missed out on seeing the Neon Bone Yard, so I knew that a night with Gary had to be done.
Our Vegas Airbnb was cool - super cheap at £23 a night! It was clean and airy. We'd hummed and hawed about booking this one, mostly because the host's reviews were either, 'LOVE her', or, 'she's mean'. We took a chance, and while I could get while some people would see this lady as a bit stand-offish, dare I say it, rude, she was cool with us, and even let us do our laundry in her house, rather than having to wait until the next day to use the communal laundry area. Later that day, we thought we'd try using Lyft, rather than Uber. Cue our second ride with a racist immigrant, and our last ever Lyft. (You can check out our first racist ride here). This time the culprit was from Bulgaria, a lady who, despite only spending TWELVE HOURS in London, at an airport she couldn't remember the name of, had decided that the UK was 'full of Indians', and that, maybe if she'd gone to a different part of London, she might have 'felt safer'. The rest of that cab ride was pretty quiet.
So, we get dropped off at The Linq, a complex which houses casinos, restaurants and also Brooklyn Bowl. On contact with the ground, the BF took an instant disliking to the place, in fact, Vegas in general. I convinced him that we should go for a drink or two, before our meal and Gary, so we sat at a bar and people-watched for a while. One man that took our attention looked so depressed. He looked so depressed that he was GREY in colour. Casino staff surrounded him; I wondered if I had just lost his entire lifesavings and if the staff were there trying to avoid a suicide on-site at all costs... It certainly wasn't anything like watching Sam and Ginger in Casino. There was no glitz, no glamour. Guys walked in wearing shorts so low I could see their boxers (just like home really); women wore leggings, shrunken t-shirts and flip-flops. It seemed that the only people interested in looking like they had made some vestige of an effort, were the men and women working on the bars. One thing I did enjoy, was the fact that you could smoke inside. I'm a non-smoker - used-to-be-a-social-smoker -and as it was my birthday trip, I'd bought one packet of cigarettes (they lasted the entire six weeks), so there was some kind of silly fun in the fact that I could light up while sitting inside, at a bar. I persuaded the BF to have one more drink (fatal mistake) and then we headed off to Brooklyn Bowl. We ate some okay food, had another drink, and then headed to the area where Gary would be performing. We waited a while for the support band to come on. They were okay. Then, suddenly, I felt like I was going to either faint, or my entire stomach was going to make a swift exit, through my throat. I had to move immediately. Cue endless apologies to my BF about missing out on our spot right near the front. We'd so looked forward to seeing Gary and I felt so bad. We didn't leave though; after I'd 'sorted myself out' and got on the water, we found a seated area where they had screens and watched Gary from there. He was great, by the way.
The next day we stayed in. The level of the BF's disdain for Vegas was that deep. We did make one outing though - we found the brilliant Ronald's Donuts, a regular donut place that has become legendary for its vegan versions. Honestly, I still don't believe that they were vegan because they were so. bloody. good.
I wish I had something so fun and amazing to say about Vegas, but it's absolutely a love it or hate it kinda place. Next time we will definitely stay on longer in Joshua Tree and also check out more of the boutique type places in Palm Springs. Let me know if there's anywhere you can recommend!
The next California blog will be all about the epic-ness of Yosemite.