Travels with Barrie and Val - The Big U Turn, Part 10


Friday, March 15th - Wednesday, March 20th


Friday, March 15th. We headed out of Yuma on the I-8 westbound. The road was fairly flat and we didnít realize we were in California as we never saw any welcome signs. We passed through El Centro where we were hoping to pass through and go north on our return trip from San Diego. Little did we know what lay in wait! The road actually went below sea level at many points and as we traveled west we could see these mountains looming up. We knew we had to go through those mountains and our Mountain Directory West showed the Laguna Summit as being about 4055í high. From the flatness of the valley floor, we started a 6% climb that lasted for 10 miles. The Windstar took it quite well. We stayed in 2nd gear and were going about 40 to 45 mph. But this is the first really long climb we have encountered since we started this trip way back in August of last year. Fortunately, the weather was on the cool side, in the 50ís F in the mountains and in the 60ís F down below. The topography in the desert changes as you go west. The desert in Texas is different from the desert of Arizona. Thereís more greenery in Arizona and more grass even if it is the large scrub type grass that the cattle graze on. But once we got into the Vallecito mountains, the topography changed dramatically. The area was part of the coastal desert which is quite different from a regular desert. There is a lot more grass, shubbery and trees and it gives the impression of total coverage of the land; but when you look closely, you still see the somewhat sparse coverage but certainly a lot more coverage than in a regular desert setting such as in Arizona, New Mexico or Texas. It was actually quite pleasant driving through this type of topography after being in a regular desert setting for so long.

We had reserved a site at the Circle RV Ranch in El Cajon, about 30 k outside of San Diego. The park is right off the I-8 and we pulled into the park around 1330 Pacific Standard Time. So we are now three hours behind Ottawa. The Trailer Life campground directory showed last years rate as $27.00 US a night. We booked in for three nights and the total, including taxes and the 10% Big Same discount came to $120.00 US for the three nights! Thatís $64 Cdn using the 60% scale!!! This is the most we have ever paid for a campground site on this whole trip. Which is why we are only going to stay here for the weekend. Weíll take off on Monday for Vegas.

Saturday, March 16th. My birthday! Iím now 58!!! Thatís nothing to brag about!

We had rain overnight and it was still raining slightly as we headed into San Diego to take a tour of the City. We took the I-8, then the California (CA) 125 south which lead to the CA-94 west. We arrived at the Seaport Village which is right on the harbor and is a touristy place made up of shops and restaurants. The Old Town Trolley (OTT) tour stop is here and we paid for our tickets, $38.00 US for both of us and picked up the next trolley. As I have said before, we always take a city tour of any large city that we visit. This gives us a good idea of the place and also, places where we might want to go after the tour. On this tour, you can get on and off only on one trip. Unlike other places where we have been where you can get on and off all day long on the tour circuit as many times as you like. Not here in expensive SD. One circuit. The tour for us started in the downtown area in the Gaslamp area which looked really neat. A little like Greenwich Village but on a bigger scale. Lots of restaurants and sidewalk cafes. The tour continued on over to Coronado Island which is accessed by a two mile bridge which is about 218 feet high in the middle. The trolley stops at the Hotel Del Coronado which was built back in the early 1900ís. So we left the Trolley to have a look around. It reminded me a little of the Algonquin Hotel in St Andrews by-the-Sea in N.B. Same type of white structure with the red roof; but a slightly larger hotel. The Hotel is situated right on the beach and has several very large patios for casual or formal dining with, of course, the large swimming pool complex. Pics will be included. After visiting the Hotel, we picked up a trolley and continued the tour.

I wonít go into all the detail but the tour took in Balboa Park which houses the San Diego Zoo and many other museums such as the Science, Art, Aerospace and Museum of Man. The tour then went on to the Old Town where we had to change trolleys. The Old Town has shops and a lot of Mexico cafes and restaurants but looks really neat. The tour then goes along the harbor front past the Marine barracks where new recruits west of, I think the Mississippi, take their basic training. East of the Mississippi they take their basic at Paris Island, South Carolina, just outside of Beaufort. We then carried on past the harbor cruise area, where we plan to take a cruise tomorrow, and back to Seaport Village where we left the tour. By this time, we were starved as we hadnít had anything to east since breakfast. So we had a late lunch at one of the restaurants in the Village. We both had fish and chips. They use cod. I guess from Alaska. But they were excellent. After that it was back to the park.

Sunday, March 17th. St Patrickís Day. We went back into SD to pick up the harbor cruise. We found a parking spot right across from the cruise area. Just as I was about to shut off the engine, I noticed my engine warning light (EWL) was on. We checked the manual and it referred to bad gas, gas cap not being screwed on etc. The manual also said this could just be a temporary problem. So we bought our tickets, $38.00 US, and got on board. It was a two hour cruise and the first part of the cruise does the southern part of the harbor. As we were leaving the cruise docks, the were three Canadian minesweepers tied up over by a dock quite nearby. They looked really modern and neatly lined up together flying the maple leaf from their sterns. We then went out under the Coronado bridge and did a U turn and came back by the US Navy Base. I was impressed. They had missile cruisers, large amphibious ships that can carry 200 Marines and X number of vehicles, small Marine aircraft carriers, support ships etc. There must have been 50 ships in harbor. Across on the other side, they had the USS Constellation aircraft carrier which is conventionally powered and uses 80,000 gallons of fuel every hour. There are only three conventional carriers in the US fleet. They also had the USS Nimitz, a nuclear powered aircraft carrier. That was about 30 feet longer than the other carrier. But both were very impressive, as was the sheer number of navy ships. We then headed back to the cruise docks and picked up more passengers and did the northern part of the harbor. This goes past the navy yard on the Coronado Island. They keep old aircraft there to cannibalize their parts. There were also large numbers of twin rotor helicopters, I think Chinook type? All in all the cruise was quite good and very informative as they had a real character as our tour guide. He was an ex Chief Bosunís mate off the USS Patrick Henry which was his last ship. But he knew all the navy ships in port.

After the cruise we had another late lunch at Anthonyís, a sea food restaurant just down from the cruise area. Fish and chips again, and again they were very good but the batter was a little better at the other restaurant in Seaport Village. At the parking lot, I checked my gas cap and looked under the hood but couldnít see anything wrong. So we drove back to the RV park with the EWL still on. We parked the car and let the engine cool off then took another trip to Wal-Mart but the light wouldnít go out. This meant a delay in our departure for Vegas tomorrow as I didnít want to drive with the EWL still on.

Monday, March 18th. The local El Cajon Ford dealer was just ĺ of a mile down the road, so I got there at 0745 and found about 16 other cars waiting at the service entrance. After about 30 minutes, I got a service rep, told him the problem and he said it would take half a day and that he would call my cell. He called me back about 2 hours later. Not good news. The valve cover is leaking and an air vacuum hose is also leaking and spraying oil around. I hadnít noticed that. Cost. $1,000 US!! Gulp! But it has to be done. He had taken the info on my extended warranty coverage and would be contacting them to see how much of the cost would be covered by the extended warranty. Right now I'm writing this report and wondering how much itís going to cost me in the end. As a result, I wonít have the Windstar back until tomorrow, so Iíve had to pay another $40 US for an extra night and hopefully we can get out of here tomorrow. If not, then itís another night. Iím not sorry that weíre staying today as I think we would have stayed anyway. Overnight, we had heavy rain and there was considerable snow in the mountain passes; some of which we have to cross to get up to Vegas. So weíre looking at taking an easier route around Palm Springs and over the US-95 which runs along the California/Arizona border. Weíll see how this pans out!

On Tuesday, March 19th I went down to the Ford dealer around 0915. When I got there, the service guy told me that the total cost was going to be $886 US, down from the $1000 he originally quoted me as he gave me a ďsenior citizensĒ discount!! I always want to be reminded that Iím getting older!! The Marathon Extended Warranty was going to pay for about $250 US, so he told me it was going to cost me about $616 US. I was not impressed. To cut a long story short, I argued with him and the Marathon rep in Ottawa and in the end it cost me $206 US. Plus the Marathon guy who was actually very helpful, told me that he would pay two nights of my accommodation in the RV park. So thatís another $40 X2 off which brings my cost down to $226 US. I have to send the receipts in for the RV park and Iíll do that once I get up to BC.

So, I picked up the Windstar, got back to the RV park, hooked up and we took off on the I-8 westbound towards San Diego just before noon. A very late start, but we didnít want to pay high park prices for another night. We cut off the I-8 and took the I-15 north towards Los Angeles. Just past Temecula, we picked up the I-215 north which took us to Riverside where we picked up the I-60 east. At Beaumont, we picked up the I-10. Remember the I-10 that we had picked up in Alabama way back when, well that road starts in Jacksonville, goes through New Orleans, Mobile, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, Tucson, Phoenix and ends in Los Angeles. But this time, we were headed east with our destination that day being Blyth, California. On the way, we passed through Palm Springs and we came across these windmill generators. If you recall, we had seen some of these same type of windmills in the Davis Mountains of West Texas, but there had only been a few then, maybe 40 or so. Now, we saw literally hundreds if not more than a thousand of these windmills all over the place. Beside the I-10 and on the surrounding hillsides. Iíll try and include some pics if space permits. Moving on. We got off the I-10 at Blythe and headed north on the US-95. We finally arrived in a county RV park beside the Colorado river around 1730 hours and found a spot. The office was closed. Nice campground with real grass! We havenít see real grass since Summerdale, Alabama. We had grass in San Antonio, but it wasnít great coverage.

Wednesday, March 20th. After paying $18.00 US for the night, we continued on up the US-95 north. The 95 is a two laner with small rolling hills for the first 40 miles, but no truck traffic. The Big Maria Mountains were on our left and the Whipple Mountains eventually appears on our right. We reached Needles on the California/Arizona border and gassed up. $151.9 US a gallon! Some guy told me at the gas station that Arizona was a Ĺ mile down the road and the gas was .30 cents cheaper a gallon. This was after I had filled up. The guy in front of me was gassing up a class C 24 foot motorhome and was from Nanaimo, BC. I asked him which way he was headed north and he told me that some guy had told him the best way was to go via Boise, Idaho. We had decided by this time that we werenít going to go back to the California coast and, we werenít going to the Grand Canyon this time around either. Iím a bit disappointed, but weíll be glad to get back to Canada. Those places are for another trip, besides, my health insurance runs out on March 29th and if Iím not out of the States by then, Iíll have to pay for another month. So we decided that weíll go to Vegas and then start the trip up to BC. So after gassing up, we continued up the 95 towards the Nevada border. At Needles we had to take the I-40 west for a few miles to pick up the US-95 again. But the 95 north from here was again a two laner, but really really busy with lots of truck traffic. The road itself was moderately hilly with no major climbs, the worst being about a 6% grade. When we got close to Los Vegas we picked up the I-515 west through Henderson which is on the outskirts of Vegas. We carried on the 515 until we picked up the I-15, again, which took us to the northern side of Vegas where we made an exit and found the Hitchin Post RV park. $22.00 US a night or $88 for four nights. This will take us through to Sunday when we will again start the northern trip.

Since we had arrived at around 1400, we decided to go into Vegas and see the ďStrip.Ē Since our RV park was already on Los Vegas Boulevard, where all the casinos are located, we decided to just go straight in on the Blvd. Our park is in the northern part of Vegas and the Blvd is quite long. I estimate about 12 k into the area of the casinos. So we headed in and found the Stardust Casino and parked in their large parking lot. Free of course. Buy what can I say about the Strip. Itís fabulous. Itís everything that we had heard, extravagant, enormous, overboard and a whole lot more adjectives could be used to describe it. The key casinos we visited that night were the Stardust, Frontier, Treasure Island and the Venetian. The Stardust and Frontier were ok, but Treasure Island was a level above them with a huge display of two 18th century warships in the front of the casino where they had shows several times every evening. Very Disney like, with tons of people watching. However, the Venetian is absolutely spectacular and is another level above Treasure Island and, we think, is certainly one of the best casinos on the strip. There is a complete Venetian canal and street system inside, along with a full size city square. Plus, when you first enter this area and look up, you think that you are outside as the ceiling looks just like a daytime sky with clouds that are actually moving! There are gondolas on the canal giving rides, with the gondoliers singing popular and operatic tunes. Of course, there are stores and restaurants galore, and they are really upscale and expensive. Seeing Vegas at night is really spectacular as all the lights add so much more than during the daytime.

Thursday, March 21st - Saturday, March 23rd


On Thursday, the 21st and Friday the 22nd, we again headed into the strip. On Thursday we went in during the day and parked at the Tropicana. We started walking north on the Blvd and across from the Tropicana on the west side of the street was the Mandalay Bay and next to that is the Luxor and then Excalibur. Luxor is of course based on Egypt with a sphinx in front and a pyramid behind. Excalibur is based on King Arthur with medieval towers and fortresses. Next came New York-New York with a complete New York skyline, and I donít mean just a few stories, these buildings were around 30 to 35 stories high complete with the Empire State and Chrysler buildings. The Statue of Liberty, about 1/3 size of the original, was there along with two tug boats with water hoses spraying up. Across the Blvd from New York on the east side is the MGM; but the ones that interested us were just up the road. On the west side is Bellagio with a huge ornamental lake in front that has a water show. But inside the Bellagio, itís quite beautiful with Venetian glass flowers making up the center of the ceiling. Through the lobby there is a conservatory with a restaurant off to one side. Across on the east side of the Blvd is the Paris casino with a Tour díEiffel which I estimate to be about half size. But itís still very impressive. Inside there is a Parisian street with the same blue sky as in the Venetian. Outside, there is a sidewalk cafť serving upscale meals. The Eiffel tower restaurant costs about $98.00 US per person on average. Just down the road on the west side is Caesars Palace which is currently undergoing construction, which looked like a very large expansion.

On Friday, the 22nd, we went back in around 1400 hours and parked at the Venetian. We walked along the canal and I took my video camera as I didnít have it the other night. After Val did some shopping, it was almost 1600, so we decided to have a late lunch/early dinner at one of the two restaurants on the town square. The restaurant was called Postrioís and is owned by renowned chef Wolfgang Puck. The meal was excellent if not on the expensive side, but how many times does one visit Vegas!

After our meal, we hopped in the Windstar and started back on the Blvd. We passed by the Stratosphere Casino. This is a tower of about 1000 feet with a roller coaster and another ride on top of the steel tower that goes up and down rather scarily. Not for me! I think weíre stripped out now! Tomorrow weíre going to visit the Hoover Dam.

Saturday, the 23rd. We drove to the Hoover Dam via the US-93 and Boulder City. As we were going through Boulder City, which was only about 20 minutes from our RV park, we saw all these RV parks that were advertising overnight rates from $11 US up to $16! We were paying $22 a night. If we ever come back here with the Airstream, this is where weíll stay.

Itís only about an hour to the Hoover Dam. There were signs saying that semi-trailers and RVís were not allowed to cross the dam. This was due to 9/11. The scenery around the dam is quite rugged and beautiful and the road drops down to the dam down a 14% grade then goes up the other side on a switchback of about 10%. So Iím glad we didnít have to come this way with the Airstream although we would have been ok going down and up those hills. The dam is quite impressive. I think it took five years to complete from 1931 to 1936, all during the depression years. There is a plaque there which states that the hydro produced from the dam had been purchased by the city of Los Angeles. I guess thatís still the case as they are really short of electricity out here. But when you look at the Vegas Strip at night, with all those lights blazing away, you have to wonder where their priorities are We parked across on the Arizona side as the state line between Nevada and Arizona goes right through the middle of the dam. We walked back across the dam, had an little snack in the small restaurant then walked back to where we had parked the Windstar and returned to Vegas.

Sunday, March 24th - Wednesday, March 27th


Sunday came and it was time to move on. Our plan had been to visit the Grand Canyon and then go back to California to San Luis Obispo and visit the Hearst Castle just north of there. But our additional health insurance would be running out on March 29th and we had to decide whether to pay to extend the health coverage for another month or, return to Canada and do California and the Grand Canyon on another trip when the weather would be warmer. It was still quite cool in upper Arizona and there is a climb up to the Canyon which would make it even cooler. We had spoken to some people from Ontario in the Casa Grande RV Park they had visited the Canyon when there had been snow. So, we decided to get up to BC ASAP and start spending Canadian dollars again as we have been through quite a bit of money on this trip since we entered to States.

We decided to go up though Utah, Idaho, Oregon and then Washington. We had talked to someone from BC who said thatís the route he was told was the quickest from Vegas. We had planned to return on the I-40 via Needles in CA, then eventually over to the I-5 which would take us straight up to the border. However, knowing that there were some good hills on that route, we opted for the Utah route.

We headed up the I-15 north towards Arizona. We have to cross a small corner of Arizona before entering Utah. Of course, when we started out, it was raining cats and dogs and that rain would stop and start all the way to our first nights stop. The scenery was spectacular. When we got to Arizona, we had the Virgin Mountains and the Black Rock Mountains on our right which are actually the northern extremities of the Grand Canyon area. At one point, we had to go through a huge gorge with the walls going up either side about 2000 feet. Once we got through that, we were into Utah and we were going through mountainous terrain the whole time. But the route goes through the valleys and we were able to see lots of snow covered peaks. We were going to stop in Salt Lake City, but it was still raining on and off so we decided to press on as we still had a couple of hours of daylight left. We finally stopped in Ogden, Utah at an RV park right beside the I-15.

Our journey continued on Monday, the 25th as we got back on the I-15 and continued our journey northwards. Less than an hour up the road, we came to a fork where we picked up the I-84 which would take us westwards towards Idaho. The I-15 continues north and ends at the Montana/Alberta border. So I guess all the Albertans take that route and all the BCerís take the I-84 route. It took us a good part of the day to get through Idaho and we eventually came to the Oregon border about an hour after passing through Boise, Idaho which I believe is the state capital, population of 185,000. Going through Idaho had been a constant climb up to higher plateaus. When you think youíve reached the top of one plateau, another climb comes up and youíre up to the next one. But nice scenery with lots of snow all around but the roads were all clear. We eventually came to La Grande, Oregon where we stayed at an RV park right beside the I-84. A nice park with nice people who of course couldnít believe I really only had a six cylinder in ďthat little minivan?Ē.

Tuesday, the 26th and weíre back on our westward/northward trek on the I-84. Our Mountain Directory West had shown four hills/mountain passes that we would have to go over on the I-84. We had been over two of them the day before and we passed over the other two just before Pendleton. After that itís a gradual downward route towards the Columbia River. When we reached the Columbia, the 84 follows the river all the way into Portland. Again, the scenery continued to be entertaining with large bluffs on either side of the river with the same topography on the Washington State side as the other side of the river is where that state starts. When we reached Portland, we picked up the I-205 north which took us around Portland and across the Columbia River to Vancouver, Washington where, just north of Vancouver, we picked up the I-5 interstate. We continued on the I-5 northwards and we were making really good time. As we approached Tacoma, it started to rain, and it really started to come down as we were going through Tacoma. I could only see about 300 meters ahead and it was a gray mist. I was thinking of pulling off when the rain let up and eventually stopped just before Seattle where we decided to pick up the I-405 which would take us around the eastern side of the greater Seattle area and we went through Bellevue and eventually picked up the I-5 once again on the northern side of Seattle. But by this time, it had started to rain again and it kept on for about another hour before it finally let up. By this time, Val was not too happy about driving for such a long time as we had started out at 0850 in the morning and by this time it was getting dark. So we decided to look for a Wal-Mart. But before that, we had to stop at a rest area to let the dogs do their thing. There were a couple of RVís from BC that were set up to spend the night. We considered overnighting there, but felt it would be safer at a Wal-Mart where they quite often have security. We finally found a Wal-Mart at Mount Vernon. I parked the Airstream and stayed in the Windstar while Val went in Wal-Mart to see if it was ok to stay overnight. No problem. Park anywhere. So we picked a spot, stayed hooked up and put the hitch post on the ground to take the weight off the Windstarís shocks and went off the Dennyís for dinner. About an 11 hour day! I though I wasnít going to do that again after that drive from St Andrews by the Sea in NB to Montreal! Well, it was a really long day and we were only about 81 miles from Vancouver itself. Probably about 40 miles to the border.

Wednesday, the 27th and after a breakfast at Dennyís, weíre back on the I-5 northwards towards the border. One easy climb and we were at the border in less than an hour. The customs guy just asked us how long we had been out, since November 2nd I replied. A short discussion ensued about our trip and he welcomed us back to Canada. He didnít even ask us if we had anything to declare! But it was great to be back.

We continued on the BC-99 north, which is the continuation of the I-5 from the border. We headed for an RV park in Delta, but when we got there, we didnít like the looks of it, and it was about 10 away from the ferry. But that didnít matter as I had made an appointment at the Airstream dealer in Langley for the next day, so we would have had to leave that park anyway. So we turned around and headed west towards Fort Langley. We ended up going right through the business district of Langley, up a couple of very short 11% hills and finally getting on to the Trans Canada No 1 highway. The highway signs here are the pits! Iím surprised we even found the bloody highway. Anyway, thatís another story. We finally reached Fort Langley, which is a really nice little town with a number of craft shops, restaurants, pubs etc. We found the Provincial Park, which we had picked out in Trailer Life Campground Directory and found it was closed!!! No mention of that in the Directory. And I was on a road leading straight down to the ferry crossing for Mission! I didnít know Mission was that close to Vancouver! Well, I had to make a u turn on the wide part of the road or, entrance-way to the ferry where the cars line up. Fortunately, there was no traffic when I picked my moment to do the u turn.

We then decided to head for Aldergrove which is really close to the US border. We should have gone there in the first place! We found an RV park in Aldergrove that was full but the owner had an overflow site right next to the office with electric and water but no sewer. That was ok as we could last another day or so without emptying our grey tank. And that was that. It was of course, raining!!

Well folks, thatís it for this report. Iíll pick up the next report from the Airstream dealership and it will be, the penultimate report for this trip. Weíre planning to go over to Victoria and stay there for a week before moving up island to Parksville where our house is. But we canít move into the house until August 1st, when our tenants lease runs out. So on to the next report and all those great pubs on the Island.

Cheers
Barrie



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