Sunday, March 3, 2013

5 days in SoCal: Catalina Island, Joshua Tree, and LA

I just took a proper 5-day vacation around SoCal with my best friend and brother, and managed to fit quite a lot into those 5 days- camping, hiking, kayaking, eating, drinking, beaching, the works. And for whatever reason I decided to write up a diary of it, so... enjoy?

Monday, February 25th

  • 12:00 - We all met in LAX - I flew in from SFO, Hunter megabussed from SF, and Stephie flew in from Washington. (Man, I love the view of the cut out landscape from the plane).
  • 12:30 - We took a pre-arranged Karmel shuttle from LAX to the Downtown landing, which took only 30 minutes or so, so we enjoyed clams and sand dabs at the cafe there.
  • 2:00 - We used our pre-reserved tickets for the 2pm ferry to Catalina Island. We set up our 2-person tent for 3, with our Target-acquired 30 degree sleeping bags.
  • 3:30 - We walked to Hermit Gulch and checked in with our reservations. We were the only ones there- it's apparently not quite the season for camping tourism there - maybe because it's actually pretty cold at night still.
  • 6:30 - We tried out the local fare - the grub from the Lobster Trap (the actual food not that great, but their "pancake breakfast" shot was really quite tasty) and the famed "Buffalo Milk" from Luau Larry's (brain freeze alert!). We also charged our phones there since we had no electricity in our lil old tent. Hunter *really* enjoyed his multiple Buffalo Milks - and the bar enjoyed his unicorn mask.

Tuesday, February 27th

  • 7:00 - We awoke bright and early from our not so restful sleep (the ground was hard and cold, and our impromptu pillows sucked), and took a hike up the Hermit Gulch trail. We were sweating by the time we got to the top, 1.7 miles later, and walked/ran the 2 miles down to the Botanical Memorial Garden (pretty but quite small).
  • 11:00 - After a round of omelettes at Joe's Diner, we boarded the "Semi-Submersible", which really truly only submerged about 10 feet under the water. As it turns out, that was deep enough to see a LOT of fish (mostly the same 4 species, but the Garibaldis are cool) and very tall seaweed forests. Also, to giggle at the undersides of ducks and sea lions.
  • 1:00 - Fueling ourselves with chocolate covered bananas, we rented bicycles and attempted the very steep climb up to the "bison spot", or so the map promised. Catalina Island is known for its roaming bison - a film crew brought 10 out there, never brought them back, and they multiplied. Sadly, we didn't really know where to find them on our bikes and probably didn't venture far enough inland, so we biked our tired asses down the hill.
  • 3:00 - We enjoyed a leisurely bike ride down past Pebbly beach and rocks covered in birds, and we were quite happy to spot dolphins just off the coast. So pretty!
  • 4:30 - We took a break at the Avalon Casino, which is quite pretty but was also quite closed (and the museum cost a whole 5 dollars, more than we were willing to pay).
  • 5:30 - As had become our habit, we started our dinner early, this time at El Galleon, this restaurant that had life size replicas of fish all around it (and a waiter who used to be a fishing captain and answered all of our inane questions about them). We stayed there until we managed to charge all of our phones to 100%, and then we went to Coyote Joe's for a nightcap, as we were determined to stay awake past 8. After 5 songs on the Jukebox, a taco, hot chocolate, and a flan, we called it a night.

Wednesday, February 28th

  • 7:00 - We tried as much as we code to sleep in, but we were no match for the cold ground and bright sun. So after packing up and bidding adieu to Killer, the local feral cat, we enjoyed a breakfast at Jack's Diner, a place covered by cowboy quotes and photos of Marilyn Monroe (who spent a fateful year on the island as a 16-year-old)
  • 9:00 - We rented a double kayak from "The Wet Spot" (not what I would have picked for a name, myself, but perhaps I've had too many accidents in my life), and Hunter and I kayaked while Stephie manned our stuff. We kayaked just around the port area for 45 minutes, and in that time we kayaked alongside many many sea lions and even a group of dolphins. Plus, of course, shit tons of cormorants and pelicans. I fell in love with sea lions at that time and decided I needed a pet one.
  • 11:45 - We took the pre-reserved Catalina Island ferry back to Downtown Landing.
  • 1:00 - We took the pre-reserved Karmel shuttle back LAX, where we picked up a car from Hertz rental.
  • 2:00 - We road trip'ed our way to Joshua Tree, passing the land of a thousand wind mills.
  • 6:00 - We checked into the Hi-Desert Motel instead of the campsite at Indian Grove that I'd reserved because we collectively decided that there was no way we would survive a night in the significantly colder desert, given how cold we were on Catalina. We rejoiced in the modern luxuries of the motel - a 20 inch TV, a shower, OUTLETS! We were also happy to find Jesus just next door.
  • 7:00 - We drove down the street to the Joshua Tree Saloon, enticed by the advertisement of Wednesday night karaoke and grass-fed beef. Hunter has never experienced karaoke, and I thought, wow, the chance for another FIRST on this vay-cay. He went page-by-page through the karaoke book, searching for songs that he'd recognize from Just Dance, and when we finally settled on YMCA, we discovered the karaoke machine was busted. Alas, that first was not meant to be.

Thursday, March 1st

  • 5:30 - Hunter decided that it was the most important thing in the world for us to see the sunrise in Joshua Tree, so he woke us up for the "6:20 sunrise". After we all reluctantly woke up, I pulled the shades open and demonstrated that in fact, the sun was already rising quite prettily over our motel and Jesus, and now we were awake for no particularly good reason.
  • 6:30 - We decided to drive into the park anyway and try a morning walk around Barker Dam, walking strategically into allthe sunny bits.
  • 8:00 - Since we made the silly decision of driving into the park before breakfast (do not recommend), we drove back out the other way and found our only option around there was Denny's, where we un-enjoyed some breakfast skillets.
  • 8:30 - We walked around the 29 Palms Oasis Visitors Center, where I proceeded to learn a massive amount about deserts, which fueled my ego for the rest of the trip and will disappear by the next one. We also realized then there were no guided tours we could hit up that day, so we booked tickets for a Keys Ranch tour for Friday.
  • 9:30 - Determined to spend the rest of the day hopping from rock to rock, we headed back in. First we did some meditating at Arch Rock, then interpretative dance at the Cholla Cactus Garden, a quick stop by the Ocotillo patch, aimless wandering at the Cottonwood Spring (i.e. we failed to find the spring), and some learning at the Bajada nature trail.
  • 1:30 - Finally depleted enough to be hungry for our next meal, we drove south of the park to the Chiriaco summit, a truck stop with its own post office, airport, tank museum, trailer park, and school. Most importantly, the cafe had homemade date shakes (vanilla ice cream + dates), which I'm determined to make at home now.
  • 2:30 - dsfsd
  • 5:30 - We timed our entry to Keys View to coincide with sunset and we were well rewarded by the panoramic view of the sun setting over the park, the nearby mountains, Salton Sea, and even a mountain top in Mexico. That, sir, is what we call *high visibility*.
  • 8:00 - We drove to the 29 palms inn, a hotel built around the natural oasis with its own oasis-irrigated garden. We didn't stay in it for priciness reasons, but I figured we could still enjoy its food. We had to sit at the bar for a while at first because we didn't have a reservation, but that was entertaining thanks to the live jazz and more so, the live hitting on of Hunter by the local cougars. Once we got to sit, we enjoyed their homemade sour dough bread alongside our tasty meals.

Friday, March 2nd

  • 8:00 - We somehow managed to sleep in until 7:30 today (a record!), so that meant going to a breakfast place besides Denny's. We went for the Joshua Tree saloon because they have a "breakfast happy hour" and that concept just amuses me. Chili cheese omelettes are delicious, by the way.
  • 10:00 - After some scrambling around the Hidden Valley rocks (yes, "scrambling" is the technical term around those parts for not-quite-climbing-not-quite-walking), we met up with a bunch of people 5 times older than us for the Keys Ranch tour. We learnt how the native americans used the land originally (a diet rich with pine nuts) and how Keys built a ranch, dam, general store, school, and even invented his own back stretcher. Oh, and how he killed a man. Crazy cowboy shoot-outs.
  • 12:00 - We drove back to LA, waving adieu to the windmill gods and singing along to pop rap songs.
  • 3:00 - We got our swimmers on and headed to the beach, where I was immediately distracted by sand and demanded to be buried in it. Stephie and Hunter complied, but when I asked them to make me into a butterfly, they made me rather phallic instead. Sigh.
  • 5:00 - Santa Monica has this amazing "muscle beach" area filled with equipment for the acrobatic at heart, so I swung my heart out while Hunter tried the traveling rings and the not-so-traveling rings. And we mostly just stood in awe as wanna be circus folk walked along trapezes, juggled, hula hooped, and spun their body in crazy ways.
  • 8:00 - We finished off the night by meeting up with our friend Tim, of heavy metal vegan cooking fame, and our last meal was a very British one at the Fox & Hound - scotch egg, bangers and mash, beef and kidney, spotted dick.

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