Day Thirty Three: Surf City Here We Come : California (Death Valley, Santa Barbara)

(Events of Friday April 17th blogged from an overlook on Highway 1 overlooking waves crashing on to rocks on Tuesday April 21st)

So my plan had been to spend another day in the desert just kind of chilling. But you can’t exactly “chill” in the desert.  Which became apparent not long after we woke up. Today was going to be hot. In fact, it’s kind of a fluke that we’d had warm but not oppressive weather thus far in Death Valley. The temps had been much higher last week, but remember that dust storm I got caught in? Those winds brought the levels down to perfect (and also killed a dude on a motorcycle). Unlike most of the National Parks and tourist spots I’ve visited thus far, which are just beginning their popular seasons, Death Valley’s is winding down. When I rented Marigold I had to agree not to take her into  Death Valley between May and September as it’s so rough. SO we spent the first part of the morning doing a lot of this…

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And a bit of this…

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And even a touch of this…

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And as the morning wore on it became clear that it wasn’t going to be fun to spend the day here. There’s no shade anywhere, we’d seen all the main vistas on our agenda, I couldn’t go inside anywhere without leaving Annie to fry, and the lovely evening and majestic stars wouldn’t return for hours. If I was going to fall another day behind, why wasn’t I doing it at the beach?

So we gave a quick glance around the campsite to make sure we were all packed up…

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Popped an audio book into Marigold’s yapper, and settled in for a few solid hours of this…


Almost immediately, the audio book and I were at odds. I literally almost tossed the CDs into the sagebrush when the beloved family dog was abruptly struck by a car while trying to save a little girl. I did shout at it quite profanely, giving Annie a startle. It took 20 minutes for them to confirm he would live (sans an eye). After awhile I started getting hungry. And the craving for Chipotle I’d had since back in New Mexico (where it’s not sold in the entire state!) started gnawing away at my brain. As luck would have it, my handy dandy iExit app indicated there was one just off the interstate! And there was. And it had a tiny crowded parking lot, zero shade for the blistering sun, a ginormous line at 2 in the afternoon, filthy restrooms, and possibly the most mediocre steak burrito bowl I’d ever had. I was sitting in the car, eating this disappointing repast, when something caught my eye…

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Which seemed to look an awful lot like the weird Ford pickup I’d seen in Bryce about a five days prior…

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And it was!! And out popped Nicholas and Hansel, two super cool fellas from Atlanta and Korea respectively who are road tripping to LA in Big Bessy. We swapped stories of life on the road, the crazy dust storm, and the challenges of maintaining any sort of blog or social media in the National Parks. It was great to touch base with folks going through something similar, and if you want to learn more about their journey, they are on Instagram, at BigBessy or you can friend Nicholas Michael Buck on FaceBook where he has a GoFundMe account for their trip which gives his whole fascinating back story. He is going to LA to follow his dream of being a filmmaker. And Hansel came over from Korea just to take part in this wild adventure.

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I can’t believe the randomness of us both stopping at this particular restaurant in the same 15 minute window. Once again, fate had smiled on me, and handed me a crappy burrito for a reason. My good mood restored, and the remainder of the burrito bowl chucked, it was off in search of a place that had been intriguing me for months… Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch…

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It’s basically just what it sounds like, a small patch of land in the middle of the desert where someone, I presume Elmer, has erected dozens of metal poles and decorated them with hundreds of colored glass bottles, and placed them to somewhat resemble a forest.

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Apparently Elmer hangs out there sometimes, but when we stopped by the place was deserted. It had an almost spiritual quality as the different colors and lights and all the random other bits of flotsam and jetsam fought for the eye’s attention. It reminded me a bit of a play I saw a few years ago with my friend Jen, The Road to Mecca, in which a woman in South Africa fills her home and garden with sculptures she creates out of ground glass, and mirrors and lanterns, totally creating her own unique haven, even as most of her neighbors turned against her. I love glass, and I love personal artistic statements like this, so the Bottle Ranch gets Two Tongues Out from Annie and me.

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Of course, a place as cool as this was located on part of the original Route 66 which I had meant to include more of along my route (and had in the initial version), but parts got cut out when I was trying to make up for my Texas layover and still make my Grand Canyon reservations.

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I did take a quick minute to stop off at one little antique/junk store (where I found an amateur painting that I identified as the church as Taos Pueblo for the bargain price of $15) and chatted with the proprietress who had just returned from her OWN whirlwind road trip that was like 10 states in nine days or something insane.

Speaking of insanity. Insanity is me thinking for even a minute that I would be able to outwit my dog. So, it had been a long, hot day. We were headed for the ocean and we still had about 100 miles to go. So I stopped to top off the tank. And while I was doing that, I thought I’d take another futile stab at trying to squeegee the dead bug carcasses off my windshield. In my bare feet. And since Annie was snoozing soundly in the back of Marigold, I didn’t think anything of leaving the driver’s side door open.

Until I turned around to put the squeegee back and there was a little black dog darting across the pavement. I pursued her as far as I could in bare feet (not very), and then had to frantically dash back to the van for my shoes, and to stop the pump, and oh god where is the leash, or never mind I have to goooo! By now I’ve lost sight of her, and did I mention there is a very busy four lane highway immediately adjacent to the station. Well there was. And she very well could be on it. I saw a woman running across the highway towards me lugging a propane tank (?) and asked if she had seen the fugitive. She pointed down a nearby driveway. I ran and called and ran and called and nothing. Behind the houses was a large scrubby field in which I finally spotted that sweet little face. Just standing there, not a care in the world. Until I approached, whereupon off she dashed again, this time towards a lane of houses. I spotted some people outside and started flailing and shrieking STOP THAT DOG!!! in all my haven’t showered for two days, panicked out of my gourd, glory. And this wonderful man disappears around a corner, and comes back with a captive! As I sink to the ground in relief and thank him profusely he holds aloft his half eaten snack and declares: “I think she smelled my tamale.”

Yet again, I am overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of strangers. He even gave me an old red leash of his to walk her back with. As much as I was warned against and worried about crazies and weirdos and nogoodniks on this trip (and I know they are out there also) it is the warmth and openness and helpfulness of folks that is surrounding me every day, in ways small and large, that is really defining this trip for me.

Once my heart rate returned to semi-normal, we put the pedal to the metal and made it to the coast just as the sun was dropping out of the sky. The stars aligned for me once again and I snagged the very last spot in the campground which just happened to be right on ocean.


So one of us dipped our toes in the Pacific and enjoyed the sunset, while the other…

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was confined to quarters.