San Diego, Joshua Tree, and a BIG Disappointment

We had quite a long drive on Boxing Day from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument across to San Diego, but all went smoothly and we arrived at our campsite in the late afternoon. It wasn’t the campsite we’d originally identified when researching the trip, as by the time we were ready to book a week before (we hadn’t wanted to commit ourselves to the dates any earlier) they had ramped up their prices and set a 4 night minimum stay. The sods. After a bit more research we found another campsite that, although expensive, wasn’t completely extortionate and booked ourselves in for three nights.

We spent our first full day in San Diego at the zoo. This is, of course, one of the most famous zoos in the World so had all of the animals you’d expect to see plus lots more. A keeper explained how the polar bears are kept thin on purpose so they don’t have the thick layer of blubber they’d have in the wild. This, together with air-conditioned indoor areas, a cooled swimming pool and mist sprays in the summer means that they can cope with the climate. They did look quite happy when we were there; one was even having a snooze in the sun!

The elephants (my usual favourite) were nice but there were no baby elephants  😦

The disappointment was compensated for though by a baby orang-utan. We’ve seen a two day old one before, which was pretty much a small bundle of fluff being carried round by mum, but this one was big enough to be scampering round on his own, full of energy and mischief….

The other highlight of the day was the giant pandas. These seem to be the zoo’s big draw, and it was the only exhibit we had to queue for all day. We’d arrived at the zoo by 9am and, on finding the panda queue later in the morning, decided to leave it until later in the day when the queue might have shrunk. This proved to be a good move in that we didn’t have to wait long at all to see the pandas; the downside was that as the zoo is so huge, by the time we got back to the pandas it was going dark so we didn’t manage to get any photos (SAH & RL: no, I don’t have the Sony camera with me, a long story involving Sony / Apple compatibility or lack thereof. The Nikon camera I have with me doesn’t do low light… at all….).

On our second day in San Diego we got the bus into town and walked for miles around the Gaslamp Quarter and along the waterfront.

The areas we visited seemed quite affluent, with plenty of modern apartment blocks and well turned-out city-dwellers very much in evidence. There were some clearly homeless people, as you get in all cities. The thing that did surprise us was the sheer number of people Mark refers to, in the nicest possible way, as The Bewildered. Does San Diego attract them for some reason, or is there just a very sad lack of mental health provision in Southern California?

We found a Vietnamese cafe in the Gaslamp Quarter for lunch, which did a very good Pho ga. Mark declared his Vietnamese sandwich to be very good….

Whilst sat outside at the cafe we watched an unfortunate incident develop across the road, whereby a clearly distressed larger lady decided that punching glass doors and kicking over a display of shoes outside a shop was a good idea. Over time we accumulated a Segway-riding security man then two of his bicycle-riding colleagues. These weren’t proper police; we presumed they were employed by the city to patrol. These three hung back and observed from a distance, intermittently looking down the road as if waiting for assistance. Unfortunately this took so long that we’d finished our lunch and never did find out what kind of official response would be deemed appropriate to the situation…..

We saw the USS Midway but didn’t go in as we’re both somewhat planed-out after Pima and Mark announced that he “really wasn’t fussed about looking at the inside of a ship”. I suspect that it may take quite some time for Mark to rediscover any interest in ships…..

We also passed the Maritime Museum. Luckily their most interesting exhibit was clearly visible from the promenade and even had a sign explaining about it, so we saved ourselves an admission charge there as well…. The Star of India is apparently the oldest iron-hulled merchant vessel still afloat, dating back to 1863 and built at the Isle of Man….

We got a chance whilst wandering round to get photos of a US Postal Service van. These look completely ridiculous in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona where everyone else is driving huge vehicles, so much so that whenever we see one, the rule is that we must immediately launch into the theme tune from Postman Pat…..

Mark was ecstatic to add a Police Interceptor to his list of favourite American vehicles….

Overall, we had a great couple of days in San Diego, and the weather was warm and sunny. Moving North, we had decided to give Los Angeles a miss, the plan being to head inland a bit to Joshua Tree National Park then back West to the coast, neatly bypassing the great metropolis.

Joshua Tree is named after the plant, which is a big yucca rather than a tree. We were now in the transition zone between the Mojave and Colorado deserts, and worryingly close to the San Andreas fault… Oh well…..

From Joshua Tree we had a three hour drive West back to the coast, on freeways all the way so not the most exciting. Mark had been excited for months about going to the Rock Store, which is a biker cafe just inland of Santa Monica / just North of LA proper. He’d seen it on a documentary with gazillions of bikes outside. We found it without any problems, but oh dear…. it was a tiny little place with a grand total of three bikes out front….. Poor Mark did look very very dejected….. We didn’t hang around……

We’ve now got a slow trek up the California coast as far as San Francisco…