California Cruising July 1990.
Maps (250 pages),
With Oxshott Village sign mug
for scale purposes only.
A few pictures below if you find the story boring.
Sorry about the shorts and the knees.
Back in July 1990, I, for some reason, was feeling a bit flushed and decided to take my 16 year old son Dan for a fly drive to California. Some 22 years earlier in 1968 I had a similar urge to emigrate to Seattle, which we did, but the story for that trip can be found HERE.
So, I was fairly comfortable in navigating my way around the Highways, Byways and Freeways of The States in a gas guzzler on the wrong side of the road, or was it the right side of the road?
Any which way in order to plan the trip I bought a couple of highly detailed atlases (no GPS in 1990) of the area, which were way too heavy to tuck in my holdall, booked a return trip to LA with Virgin Atlantic and one fine day in July headed for Heathrow, boarded a Boeing 747 (with exquisitely designed leading edge variable camber flaps , not slats!), blasted down runway 28L and headed polewards for the great circle route to LA. The flight was, as far as I remember, spectacularly seamless.
Stepping out of the 747 onto the tarmac (no boarding bridges) into a blast of hot air at LA airport was the first reminder that we weren't in Oxshott Woods. Following acceptance at Passport Control we set off to find our gas guzzler which turned out to be a, sort of OK, Buick which somehow found its way to our first Airbnb, (except there was no Airbnb in those days) but damned if can remember how I booked our accommodation, must have been on something called the telephone. My scribbled sketches of the route around the sleazy end of LA gleaned from the atlases served very well except for a wrong turn into a dodgy area where we were told to vamoose pronto, ‘Si Si Signor Rodriguez, keep your sombrero on’.
The plan for the first few days was to visit the original Disneyland, Howard Hughes's Spruce Goose, The Queen Mary at Long Beach and Universal Studios. These were all achieved and enjoyed without incident, except maybe our encounter with Jaws who tried very hard to swallow us up at Universal Studios. A number of meals were enjoyed along the way, they all came in large or extra large portions usually with a bucket of side salad and a cake thrown in!
Next on our itinerary was a cruise, threading our way through the outskirts of LA, and then heading east along Highway 15 to Las Vegas (about 270 miles) which, also, as far as I remember went without a hitch or even a hitch hiker on his/her way to Slab City, which of course didn't exist in those days although we did consider that maybe ‘Sad City’ would be an OK place to live, which, as you probably know is reserved for terminally ill airliners. Crossing the border into Nevada presented no problems.
Arriving in Vegas has to begin with a cruise along ‘The Strip’ which was achieved in some style. Our accommodation for the couple of days was an OK Travelodge hotel in Vegas Old Town. It included a swimming pool and a telephone in order to order a giant pizza which duly turned up at the hotel door accompanied by another free giant pizza. Getting used to giant portions of everything in The States was something Dan and I struggled to get used to, honest! At this point I have to say that Dan was under strict orders from his mother to deter his father from entering gambling dens, strip joints or swimming pools containing young ladies, he was very vigilant!
The following day was to be a trip to the local airport, jump in a Piper Twin Comanche Six and head for the Grand Canyon. At that point, despite the fact that I had a US Private Pilots Licence our captain refused my offer to take over as co-pilot. The problem was I wasn't multilingual which was a requirement. Captain Gilanders addressed our fellow passengers in fluent Chinese and Japanese via a dial on his dashboard marked Chinese, Japanese and eleven other languages. His stories of the native Indians living in caves in and around the Grand Canyon were riveting. We landed at the local air strip our fellow passengers disappeared for a wander round the Canyon rim but Dan and I opted to go straight back to Vegas to finish off our free giant pizza. An evening drive along Highway 11 to take a look at the Hoover Dam, about 80 miles round trip, was also achieved without incident.
We then took a stroll around Vegas Old Town which also had plenty of inviting bars, strip joints and gambling dens but Dan’s mother could be heard shouting her strict instructions, loud and clear, through the ether.
The following day was to be the longest drive I'd ever done in a day, around 600 miles to Yosemite Village via Death Valley (most sensible people avoid Death Valley in July). So, with a 6am start and another full tank and lots of my sketchy but invaluable maps we headed north along Highway 95 via Indian Springs, Death Valley Junction, Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells. Here we stopped to take in the searing heat and visit a few old relics of the mining going on in the area in days gone by. How the hell the miners survived, let alone work, in those conditions I will never know.
Another tank of gas, which was expertly achieved by Dan without touching the red hot gas nozzle and we were back on the road, air conditioning working overtime, heading north along Highway 395. This stretch was mostly arid desert, searing heat, hardly a bush, cactus or even a vehicle. Lone Pine and Big Pine signs drifted by and eventually reached Lee Vining. Here you turn left on Highway 120 into Yosemite Park. On entering the gates relief was short lived as Yosemite Village, I discovered, is another 70 b****y miles along a twisty, narrow, up and down road. However, our prebooked, cabin in the magnificent Yosemite Village was waiting patiently, a very welcome sight.
You really need a couple of months, at least, to appreciate what Yosemite Park has to offer but our couple of days and nights took in Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, towering redwoods, a myriad of magnificent vistas, a family of wandering bears and a few more giant sandwiches.
The task for the following day was to navigate another couple of hundred miles up to Lake Tahoe, firstly retracing our steps back to Lee Vining and continuing up Highway 395 through Bridgeport, Sonora Junction, Topaz Lake, Gardnerville and South Lake Tahoe. Here Dan decided to hire a Jet ski on Lake Tahoe and disappear into the distance, over the horizon, never to return but fortunately Gina spotted his plight and realised that she had taught him how to go faster but not how to go slower or turn corners so, without a second thought, she hightailed after him in another Jet ski and met him on the way back, Dan having quickly learnt how to do a U turn.
The accommodation at Lake Tahoe is somewhere in the writer’s memory but he can’t find it.
The next day was yet another couple of hundred mile cruise via Highway 50 (the Gold Trail) to Hayward, via Sacramento, Sausalito, across The Golden Gate Bridge through downtown San Francisco and across the San Mateo bridge into Hayward, why Hayward? Because old friends Mike and Naomi lived there and were looking forward to our visit (I think). I met Mike back in 1966 at a drawing board in Southall and then again at Boeing up in Everett in 1968. Marcia, Julia and I lived next to them in Lynnwood, Washington State, but again, that story is HERE.
On the way to Hayward we stopped in Sacramento to visit the State Capital building and probably enjoyed another giant pizza or two. Another stop at the northern end of The Golden Gate bridge to admire the view, a drive up and down Lombard Street (the wriggly one with 8 hairpin bends) and then on to Hayward. The couple of nights with Mike and Naomi was relaxing despite whirlwind visits to downtown San Francisco to visit Levi’s headquarters and complain about pair of Levi’s Dan had bought, we came away with a voucher for a new pair. A visit to Pier 39, a ferry across to Alcatraz to check on ‘The Birdman’ and a visit to Napa Valley for a glass of wine completed our tour in the San Francisco area.
The final 400 miles or so back to LA was to be a 3 day cruise down the (has to be done, celebrated, famous and often filmed) coast route known as Highway One. A night in Monterey and a night in Santa Barbara was the plan. The high points were the canning factory at Monterey, The Big Sur, Morro Bay, the accommodation at Santa Barbara, Malibu Beach and a giant Chop Suey! With a bucket of side salad and cake, of course. Phew!
Bob. March 14th 2023.
Gas guzzler Buick, Queen Mary and Bob.
Inside the Grand Canyon
Stove Pipe Wells, Death Valley.
Boarding for flight in and around and out of
The Grand Canyon
Lone Cactus, Lone Buick, Lone Dan!.
The 'High Point', El Capitan in the background.
Yosemite Valley Cabin.
Yosemite Falls top left.
Dan and Gina.
Golden Gate Bridge.
Pier 39 San Francisco.
There are approximately 300 pictures available to see in the album.
But these are the chosen few.