Monday, May 2, 2016

USA 2015 - Day 9: An Eventful Thanksgiving Day (roadtrip from Pasadena along Route 66 to Joshua Tree National Park, ending in Arizona)

"There is always, always, always something to be thankful for."
Wigwag Motel, Route 66, San Bernardino, CA
This leg of our trip was plagued with hiccups - three, to be precise. Nonetheless, we hoped and prayed and by the end of the day we celebrated our very first Thanksgiving, the traditional American way.

Day 9 of our road trip was one of the days when we had the longest drives in this trip. A total of about 470 miles. A supposed 8-hour drive from Pasadena to Arizona according to our trusted Google Map app. But, of course, we knew we would be off by a few hours because we had to make some stops along the way. Our eventful day, when we encountered two "challenges", could be divided into three parts:
  1. Drive along Route 66 with a pit stop at Wigwam Motel
  2. A visit to Joshue Tree National Park
  3. Celebration of Thanksgiving Day with family in Arizona
So here's what happened during that eventful Thanksgiving Day…

PART 1: Driving along Route 66, just like Lightning McQueen
From our Pasadena accommodation, we left about 7am. We were not able to rest as much as we could the night before because we were in a bit of a shock. It so happened that about 11pm, while we were on the final approach to enter hway 134, an SUV came out of nowhere, rammed into the front, left side of our car, slowed down with flashing hazard lights, then sped off! Our initial reaction was, "where did it come from?!" My husband had to drive the car to the side to avoid any further accidents as there were other vehicles on the road. We didn't get out of the car right away, trying to recover from our shock and trauma, not knowing whether the SUV passengers would come back and go down and shoot us (yeah, maybe thinking extreme here but there are cases of drive by shooting in the US). Next concern for me and my husband was the extent of the damage to the car. We thought of the worst - the car wheels badly damaged that we couldn't drive away of the scene. We were relieved to find out that the car had minor damage and could still be driven. We arrived safely in the hotel and reported the incident to the car rental company. When all the paperwork was done, we managed to get to sleep, grateful for the fact that we were safe and uninjured aside from that initial shock during impact.

Moving on, we were on the road again more wary of the vehicles around us. The first part of this road trip was our drive along the historic Route 66. We just had to have the feel of driving along this iconic route just like in the movie "Cars". ROUTE 66 stretches from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California with a total of 2,448 miles. Someday, somehow we will be driving in one of the best American road trips on this iconic route visiting all of the recommended stops along the way.

We first came to know of Route 66 from the movie cars. We loved the movie and noticed the beautiful natural landscape shown in the movie and thought someday maybe we get to see some of those sights. One of them being the tepee shaped motel rooms. They actually exist! The original one is located in Holbrook, Arizona. When i checked it's location in relation to our route, it would have been out of the way to drive all the way to Holbrook just to see Wigwam Hotel. Luckily, there was an alternative which was closer to Pasadena and along our driving route to Joshua Tree National Park.

Wigwam Motel
2728 E Foothill Blvd, San Bernardino, CA 92376

From Pasadena we followed the main Hway 210 then took the Foothill Blvd exit to get to Route 66. You wouldn't miss this on the road for sure.
we parked to get a closer look at the Wigwam Motel rooms
family photo op after waking up Ira
it has a very small reception cum souvenir shop full of Route 66 memorabilia.
The lady at the reception was a native Indian American and was not much of a talker so after looking around
we headed out, had this photo taken and walked back to the parking lot. 
as the property was accessible only to guests, we just took photos from the main entrance
next in our bucket list: stay in one of these
PART 2: Joshua Tree National Park - where the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts meet
After our brief stop at the Wigwam Motel, we continued our drive to Joshua Tree National Park. My husband has been to this national park and he was fascinated by the joshua trees so he wanted to bring us there. As with all the other parks in the US, one could never possibly cover the entire park in one visit. We had to limit the list of what we wanted to see - Joshua Trees were a must.

Entrance fee: $20 single-vehicle permit
Open everyday, year round.

Option of 4 visitor centers you must visit before exploring the park:
  1. Oasis Visitor Center (north): Route 62 in Twentynine Palms
  2. Joshua Tree Visitor Center: Located one block south of Hway 62 (Twentynine Palms Hway) on Park Boulevard in Joshua Tree Village
  3. Cottonwood Visitor Center (south): just north of I-10 inside the park
  4. Black Rock Nature Center: located in Black Rock Campground
here is a map of the locations of the visitor centers
First stop, visitor center to get a map and brochure. We took Hway 10 then turned into Hway 62 all the way to Park Blvd where the Joshua Tree Visitor Center was. It has a souvenir shop as well as a small exhibit area. Crowd was already building up and the park rangers were busy attending to visitors’ queries so I decided to browse through the items on sale while waiting for my turn. Then I grabbed a map, asked for directions and suggestions and we were on the road again.

It was easy to navigate inside the park with the map as well as our Google Map app. There were also brown signages to mark or point to featured attractions.

Here were some of the places inside Joshua Tree National Park that we've stopped to see:
Hall of Horrors... not horrific at all.
One of the many rock formations in the park. Hikers/climbers find their way to the top of such rock formations.
Old Woman Rock - one of the 2 most famous rock formations in the park.
It is said that if one is an aspiring climber, the "Old Woman" is where one could learn the basic
up to the intermediate skills. Being the most accessible rock formation in the park (next to Hidden Valley Campground), it is popular to most climbers. We even saw some people gearing up for their ascent
while others were already on their way down.
there it is, in all its glory, The joshua tree.
driving deeper into the park we found ourselves surrounded with joshua trees 
checking how sharp those prickly leaves(?) are

a good place to have a picnic... if it was not that hot
Our short stopover at Joshua Tree National Park left us longing for more adventure. Hiking. Rock formation climbing. There was a long list of things to try and explore in the park guide. But we didn't have much time and were just sort of passing by really. Maybe next time. Yes, there will always be a next time. It's just a matter of when (and how much, I suppose).

And so we prepared to drive out of the park supposedly going south via I-10 to make our way to Thanksgiving dinner. When we saw a park ranger close to the exit (or so we thought... it could really be confusing when you're in the middle of nowhere surrounded by desert), we asked if there was a gas station nearby. We were told there should be one at the other exit point (north) so we made a u-turn and headed north, backtracking several miles, losing valuable time.

For some reason, we've already driven a good 40 miles and we had not seen a single gas station. This was what we saw instead:
128751 California 62, Vidal, CA 92280, United States
This was supposed to be the location of the "Shoe Tree", unfortunately, the tree no longer stands and in its place now stands a memorial.
When the lone tamarisk tree was still standing, travellers on Hway 62 used to hang their old shoes on the tree brances. In 2006, it burnt to the ground and was replaced by this shoe fence.   
It was a good way to distract us from our worry - finding a gas station. When we did see one, it was already at the Vidal Intersection and it was closed. We started to get really worried (bordering panic) because we didn't know if there were other gas stations within a 20-mile radius (the farthest we could reach with what's left in the gas tank) and if any was open. The GPS indicated driving to Lake Havasu to get to the next nearest gas station. That meant driving further away from our route to Arizona and getting more delayed for Thanksgiving dinner.

Challenge #1: find an open gas station before our car stalled in the middle of the road

At this point, my husband was more concerned about us spending the night in the tank-empty car rather than being late for dinner. Luckily, not long after leaving the last gas station, we drove into a town with gas stations one after the other. Problem solved! Or so we thought….

Although the gas pumping stations were open, the shop/cashier was closed so we cannot pay cash. When my husband checked the pumping station, credit cards were accepted but we need to input a zip code which our credit cards didn't come with.

Challenge #2: ask someone to help us pay for our gas at the pumping station by using their credit card then we pay them in cash.

Luckily, another vehicle which has also been to the previous gas station, was just in the next pumping station. My husband approached the driver and asked if he could assist us. He was nice enough to help us out and we were filling up our car in no time. What a relief!

We still had a long way to go and it was already 3pm. It dawned on us that we wouldn't be making it in time for 4pm Thanksgiving Dinner. Then suddenly it hit me. We didn't account for time difference. So I recalculated our ETA in Arizona and it would mean we would be 3 hours late! There was no point thinking about that now. We just wanted to make sure we arrived there safely. There was no way for us to contact them.

PART 3: Finally, we made it to Thanksgiving post-dinner in Arizona

"Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse. " Henry Van Dyke

When we finally arrived at my cousin's place it was well after 7pm. Their front yard was beautifully decorated with Christmas inflatables and dancing lights. My cousin was so relieved to have seen us in their front door. She was so worried about where we were that she called all our other relatives thinking we may have been in contact with them. We were both happy to be in each other's arms again after more than a decade.

This was the first time after 12 years that Kelvin has seen his cousins again. They were just toddlers when they first met. Now, he has 3 more cousins to add to the list. For Ira, on the other hand, this was the first time he was meeting everyone. He and the little ones, Nathan and Ryan, hit it off right away. They brought him to their playroom to show him their toys.

As Thanksgiving dinner was already over hours before we arrived, everyone was relaxing by the fireplace in their backyard. After introducing our to some of their friends and family members, we headed back to the house to have our late dinner and to catch up on the years of being apart.

It was our first Thanksgiving dinner and food was overflowing. Desserts were on a separate table! Each family had something they have brought into the table and we had a taste of it all.

We are grateful for this day that even with the challenges along the way we still ended the night in the company of warm-hearted family members. We had some much to be thankful for really...

  • The safe flight to the US
  • The favorable weather
  • Our safety on the road, even when we were involved in a hit-and-run accident
  • The opportunity to go back to places that left an impression on us during our previous visits
  • The opportunity to meet with relatives we've not seen for decades
  • The experiences we will always have in our memories (and in hundreds of photos)
  • The relationships we will treasure forever

How wonderful it was to be able to celebrate this special holiday with them. Unfortunately, because of all the excitement we didn't get to take a photo!

Travel Tips:
  • Gas stations near Joshua Tree National Park, please refer to map below:
because of our near empty tank experience it's better to know exactly where these gas stations are.
We did have our fill before going in, but since we still had to travel miles and miles away there was a need
for another fill. Take note: Thanksgiving day some of the gas stations are closed.

  • Bring water, lots of it, if you want to hike in the area. Snacks will be a good idea too to power you up on your hikes/walks.
  • If you are not venturing out to Arizona and visiting only LA and Joshua Tree area, you can add a visit to Palm Springs, CA.
the beautiful golden horizon during sunset as we drove along the desert highway on our way to Arizona

JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK other attractions/things to do:
  1. Oasis of Mara - home of the first people (American Indians) in Joshua Tree NP. Now home to park headquarters and the Oasis Visitor Center.
  2. Indian Cove - has a campground and a 0.6-mile loop interpretive trail highlights the plant and animal life of a Mojave Desert wash.
  3. Fortynine Palms Oasis - a moderately strenuous 3-mile round-trip hike will take you to this oasis of palm canopy with possible sightings of wildlife
  4. Keys Ranch - take a ranger-guided walking tour and learn the story of Bill and Frances Keys who were among the few successful homesteaders in this area.
  5. Barker Dam - what is now a small rain-fed reservoir used by park wildlife was built in the 1900 for use in mining and to hold water for cattle.
  6. Hidden Valley - this one-mile loop trail winds among massive boulders through the legendary cattle rustler's hideout.
  7. Keys View - with an elevation of 5,185 feet overlooking the valley, mountain and desert. Spot the San Andreas Fault, if you can.
  8. Ryan Mountain - a one-mile round-trip trail to the 5,458-foot summit with lookout points to view Queen, Lost Horse and Pleasant valleys.
  9. Lost Horse Mine - a four-mile round-trip trail leads to the area's gold prospecting and mining history.
  10. Geology tour road - an 18-mile driving tour through fascinating geological sites. Four-wheel drive is recommended after stop #9. Be prepared. Drive a four-wheel if you are adventurous enough.
  11. Cholla Cactus Garden - dominated by cholla cactus
  12. Cottonwood Spring - used by the Cahuilla Indians for centuries. Gold mills were later established by prospectors, miners and teamsters.
Here's a map to help you plan your driving route:

Don't forget to grab a copy of the park map and newspaper (updated depending on which season you are visiting). These will come in handy in exploring the park. A list of hiking trails with the locations, distance, estimated time and description to help you plan your day(s).

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