We're getting visitors
Today is December 2nd. A day we have been looking forward to for a long time. Mathias' parents arrive today in L.A. and the next 10 days we will be on the road with four of them. Punctually at 16.30 o'clock we are at the LAX and wait patiently for their arrival. When we notice the first Swiss-German words of travellers who stream into the arrivals hall and see several completely identical black Ellehammer rolling cases, which Coop sold a few years ago with a trophy action and now feel that 80% of all Swiss are part of their inventory, we know: That must be the flight from Zurich. And indeed, only a little later we recognize Susanne and Hansruedi. The joy is written all over their faces. We are also very happy to have a trusted companion in the next few days and welcome them warmly. With a Uber we go back to the hotel, we join with ... well what?! ... Guinness on the start of our trip together and discuss in which direction we should start tomorrow.
Feelings of home
After our guests had already been introduced to American customs at the hotel's breakfast buffet on the first morning (they dine from disposable crockery!), the four of us can begin our road trip. The camper takeover at El Monte went quickly over the stage and so we are now on the road with two vehicles. The drive out of L.A. takes nerves (we haven't seen such bad traffic in the USA yet!), but we arrive safely at our first camping, the KOA in Palm Springs. Hansruedi is still plagued by jetlag today and goes to bed early. We take the opportunity to try out the camp's hot tubs, which are fed by natural hot springs. We feel like we're bubbling up half the night in the "hot springs" before we go to sleep completely soaked.
The next morning we drive directly to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the largest of three rotating cable cars in the world (2nd place: Cape Town, 3rd place: Titlis). The manufacturer is of course none other than a Swiss company. Within 10 minutes we are transported by gondola from the Coachella Valley to San Jacinto Peak through five "life zones" and feel a little like at home in the mountains for a short time. The only difference is that the Swiss don't usually get into a loud scream or pass out during a gondola ride. From the desert to the summit, where the alpine forest determines the vegetation, we are driven up meter by meter. But when we arrive there, we don't necessarily notice the many trees, but the thick layer of snow that has already covered the land. Well, it's not that unusual. We are finally at 2600 m.a.s.l. and it is December. The snow doesn't stop us from doing a short hike, even if it requires some coordination skills and wet feet. But in the end we are rewarded with an amazing view of the valley and warm up with a Chili con carne in the mountain restaurant afterwards.
A hairy affair
We are in the Joshua Tree National Park and are about to explore the Cholla Cactus Garden. At the trailhead we notice an AMMO box painted with a red cross on a white background. The content meets our expectations. In the box there is a considerable amount of plasters, a pair of scissors and some tweezers. We have to laugh. Obviously the box is here for tourists who have been stung by the cactus. And apparently they are not a few.
But how do you do that? If you stay on the way (which you are not allowed to leave anyway) you have more than enough safety distance.
Only a few minutes later we know it...
There you place yourself just a little bit too close to a "Cholla" for a photo and already it bites ... or better said it stings. 50% of our travel group had to determine this in a painful way. The cacti drop a part of their arm if it gets tangled somewhere. And what's very common is that the spines have little hacks, which you almost can't get out of your skin once they have penetrated.
Let me say one thing. The laughter has passed us by and we were happy at the end about the small pharmacy at the Trailhead.
A good deal
We are at the KOA Camping in Needles. The good thing about being on the road with two vehicles is that you can share a place on the campsite and save a lot of money. So actually Stuckis with their RV are the main tenants and we are the escort vehicle. When checking in, we strongly affirm that all four of us stay overnight in the motorhome and that the Toyota is not intended as a camper, but for off-roading ... this story is not questioned by anyone and we are allowed to share a place. Thus, these days also become "luxury" campings, as it is the KOA's (approx. 40 USD per night), affordable for us.
At the moment we enjoy the evenings with good company, the delicious food of Susanne, drink wine and play our fingers sore. Quality time! When the last UNO-card is placed that evening, we're still hatching the next ingenious budget savings plan. We are here in California, but just across the Colorado River is Arizona. The price differences in the two states for diesel and gasoline are enormous. With the Gasbuddy-App we find the cheapest gas station after the border in Arizona and refuel the next day for an incredible 3.09USD / gallon (=0.80CHF / liter). On the Californian side we should have easily spent 4.50 USD. On this occasion the additional tank is filled up and we make it to Hoover Dam.
Here is really something going on! To get to the parking lots at the dam, every vehicle has to pass a security check first. With so many visitors there is traffic jam preprogrammed. When it's our turn, we are asked to open the back doors. After a tired look into the interior of Baloo (we only have to open a flap of the interior), the Police Officer allows us to continue by means of cosmopolitan understandable hand movement. Mathias is about to start the engine when he sees a police officer running on us in the rear-view mirror, making wild gestures to tell us that we're not allowed to continue. Mathias winds the window down and listens to what the woman has to say: "We also need to check to boxes on the roof". Mathias face color darkens in one fell swoop and intensively takes on red tones. - "Are you kidding me?!" ... Ui, now it's no longer good to eat cherries with her! There's nothing else to do but climb the roof, open the locks on the Pelican boxes, loosen the stripes and reveal our spare parts store to the officers. With a mirror they take a close look at everything before we are finally allowed to drive on.
Valley of Fire State Park
To visit the Valley of Fire State Park I and Mathias didn't have time yet, although we have been very close before. The density of attractions in this area of the USA is so high that it is not possible to visit EVERYTHING. But now we have the opportunity to drive through the park with our visit.
When we explore the small but fine State Park, we are glad that it was not withheld from us. There are a few pearls to visit, such as the Fire Wave, and we really like the landscape in all its different shades of red. At the end of the day we make a last stop at a few petrified logs, when Mathias suddenly urgently "has to". He chooses a bush a little away from us and can't believe his eyes when he looks more closely at the ground in front of his feet. There are 21 dollars! In the middle of the desert! The selected shrub seems to be a popular pee spot 😉
How good it is that our next stop is Las Vegas! Susanne and Hansruedi of course want to experience the famous city and therefore (at least to my delight) there is no way around it, even if we were only there recently. I am sure that the found money will find a suitable slot machine where it can multiply cheerfully.
Meeting point: Golden Lion
We stay two nights in Las Vegas and don't want to miss one of the famous Cirque du Soleil shows. The night before we decided for the show "KÀ". Mathias and I now organize tickets while Susanne and Hansruedi stroll through the strip. We have agreed that we will meet again the night before the show and have chosen the "Golden Lion" at the MGM Grand (in the hotel where the show takes place) as our meeting place. When we arrive punctually at the agreed time (18.30 o'clock) at the lion in the lobby, there is no trace of Mathias' parents. Maybe they are a few minutes late, we think, and first try our luck with the 20 dollar bill we found at a nearby slot machine. Things one-ling-ing!!! After only one round we have actually doubled our stake and let us spend the ticket with the winnings grinning.
Meanwhile it is 18.40 o'clock and of the others is still no trace! Slowly I get a little nervous, because the show starts at 19.00 o'clock and the entrance is on the other side of the casino. Mathias calls his mother via Whatsapp and we find out that there is probably more than one golden lion here at MGM. We have of course chosen two different ones and now wait in completely different places. The casino is huge and we have no plan in which direction the other party is.
Next meeting point: entrance to the show...
Now we have to come from the hip, because the show starts in 5min! We push our way through between slot machines and crowds of people, always looking at the signs with the inscription "KÁ". In the last second we manage to get to the entrance, meet Susanne and Hansruedi and move into our seats.
Afterwards we experience an enormously impressive show on the highest acrobatic level. The stage consists of a platform that can be turned in all directions. In Extremis the artists perform on a 30 meter high wall which stands vertically in the room. Unbelievable! Breathtaking! Incredibly breathtaking!
Just a few kilometers from Las Vegas is Red Rock Canyon Park. We are in the mood for hiking and there we get our money's worth in the park of red rocks. We choose the hike to the "Turtle Head Peak" and have 600 meters altitude later a great view of Las Vegas. On the summit of course a Vesper is not missing. We have a lot of fun with the nimble chipmunks just waiting for a crumb to fall down.
A surprise and a disappointment at the end
Our way leads us further through Death Valley via Ridgecrest to Lake Isabella. In the village of the same name we find a recreation area after a long day of driving where we will spend the night. Although our first impression of this place is not so bombastic, we are still positively surprised. Because we wanted to go to one of our last common evenings again really American to eat. Although our hope to find an authentic and acceptable restaurant after entering this dreary abandoned village quickly dwindles to 0, we are taught otherwise. We stop at the family-run restaurant "Paradise Cove". As soon as we step over the threshold, we realize that we have landed in the right place. We enter an opulently decorated, lively and homely dining room. A big party is already celebrating Christmas here and we take a seat at the side table of Mr. Reindeer Sweater and Mrs. Snowman Wool Socks.
We decide on the menu and are served the first of three courses a little later. A large bowl with mixed salad is placed on the table and we are allowed to serve ourselves. While we are already struggling with the size of the portion here, our neighbours are singing the first Christmas carols. "Jingle Bells, jingle bells....mhmhmm...". Then comes the main course. A perfectly roasted super tender steak - also of considerable size - with baked potatoes as a side dish. Susanne and Hansruedi share a portion with wise foresight. We manage to eat our plate empty but burst at the seams. But it hasn't been that tasty for a long time! We first need a little break before we can continue with the dessert, which is also included in the unbeatable price of 24 USD. We are still thinking about whether we want cheesecake or sorbet and meanwhile we hear loud "Ohhhs" and "Ahhhs" from the next room. The Christmas party has moved to the next room and started to give presents. According to the noises, there must be incredibly great gifts exchanged. Finally, we fight with the piece of cheesecake, which we now also share in pairs and then leave the restaurant full to bursting, but satisfied.
The next day we have to say goodbye again. We accompany Susanne and Hansruedi to El Monte, where they return the camper. Unfortunately we have to accept a disappointment at the end. The takeover two weeks ago went so fast and without any problems that we didn't expect any problems with the return. During the short inspection, however, the employee looks directly and almost exclusively at the wheels (which is not quite comprehensible to us) and immediately points out that in front right a wheel cap would be missing and he would have to charge us for it. There are only 35 USD that we have to pay additionally, but we are still outraged about the way they seem to try to get an extra few dollars. We can't help feeling that customers here at El Monte are being tricked into deliberately targeting damage that would never come to one's attention in a takeover.
We saw on a photo we took the evening of the first day that the hubcap was already missing and therefore most probably couldn't have fallen off because we only drove on the highway until then. This "proof" did not interest the employee at El Monte.
We remember how the takeover took place two weeks ago. We never talked about the wheels or the hubcaps. The employee who handed over the camper to us had always stressed that when filling out the takeover protocol we should "only" pay attention to major damage in the cabin area and minor defects were irrelevant for our rental contract. Which customer should notice a missing wheel cap when he sees the vehicle for the first time?
In addition, the situation is exploited, which was the reason why we did not discuss it any longer. In the vast majority of cases travellers have to drive directly to the airport and catch their flight after handing over the camper.