We continued south through Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces, New Mexico and then crossed into west Texas. The things we remembered most about El Paso is that you can see Ciudad Juarez across the border and the Walmart parking lot we stopped in. When I opened the back door of the Trekker, the strong wind caught the door and almost tore it off the hinges. Walmart food marts were our go to place for groceries and wine throughout this trip. They are numerous, have a standardized lay out and of course, are known for their cheaper prices if not for the quality. Sadly, the Walmart we stopped in here was to be the scene of a major mass shooting of Latinos in 2019. And they said Ciudad Juarez is the more dangerous place.
So we quickly headed out of town and made our way to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park and went for an amazing hike.
Somewhere during this week, we had run into an friendly Englishman at a camp ground and chatted about places to see. He mentioned Carlsbad Caverns in SE New Mexico. “Absolutely gobsmack!” he said in referring to these huge underground caverns. Never having heard this term before we wondered what it meant. Was it good or was it bad? After googling it we decided we had to go and see for ourselves.
Pictures fail to capture the beauty and scale of these underground caverns that a river gorged out millions of years ago. Stalagmites and stalagtites and pools of aquamarine coloured water with crystals everywhere. It goes on for miles.
We then headed for the sandiest campground we had ever stayed in. Wow what a different experience this was. In fact it was gobsmack!
Well we have been on this journey for over a month now. Just to recap. We set out from Ottawa about March 1, 2011 on a two month tour to the SW US in our Roadtrek 190. We had now visited 10 States and driven about 6000 km or so. We are not quite half way through. You may recall we sold our home by cell phone when in Oceanside, CA. What we did not explain then is that we had given an early exit date – May 24. So we had about 7 weeks left to complete our trip and move out of our house in Ottawa to somewhere. Time to pick up the pace a bit…
But the beautiful desert scenery in eastern Arizona and then western New Mexico kept holding us back. We drove thorugh small towns called Hotevilla, Shongopovi and Second Mesa in the painted desert Navajo Nation lands.
Then we drove through Winslow with the Eagles song playing loudly. We did not know it at the time but Madonna House Apostolate located in the Ottawa Valley in Combermere, ON operates an outreach house in Winslow.
Next stop was the Petrified Forest National Park. Wow what a neat experience to wander though the stone age trees that had literally turned to stone. Just a note on National Parks. We like parks but the US National Parks we visited out west are absolutely the most amazing parks we had ever seen. Banff National Park and Jasper in Canada are definitely in this category too.
We passed the continental divide and headed east for Albuquerque. We would have liked to go to Santa Fe but we turned south instead.
We stopped in for a visit at Fr. Richard Rohr’s Centre for Action and Contemplation. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar and author is one of the world’s most popular spiritual writers and speakers. A lot of Catholic’s we know follow him daily and read his books. Non Catholics and disaffected ones too. We dropped in unannounced. It was funny. The receptionist greets us warmly and we casually ask if Richard is in today. No he is not here today and besides, you can’t just drop in and expect to see Richard….Then she smiled and gave us a nice cook’s tour. It was really fun.
It had been a long couple of days so we headed south for a peaceful evening in Elephant Butte Lake State Park.
We drove north through Flagstaff and it got cooler due the high elevation of 7000 ft above sea level. We descended again and arrived at Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. No matter how much you prepare yourself it is hard to fathom the monstrous size of this canyon – one of the largest in the world – 400 km long by 15 km wide x 1.7 km deep! To say it took our breath away is an absolute understatement. We gazed and we gazed an were stunned by the beauty and scale of what we saw there.
We settled into the campground for a couple of nights and enjoyed the wildlife. That evening we went to a camp fire chat by the ranger. He said they lose several young people every year who get too close to the edge and fall over!!!
If we had more time, we could have hiked all the way down to the Colorado River (5000 vertical feet), stayed overnight in a lodge and rode a donkey back up the next day. Instead, we settled on hiking down about a 1000 feet into the canyon and then backup again. What a refreshing and tiring experience. We learned that some really athletic people hike all the way down and run back up in half a day just for the exercise.
Dave bought a new Tilley hat to replace the one he forgot on the train in Pamplona. Next day we headed east for some more sightseeing toward Navajo and Hopi country.
We headed east into Arizona and stopped in Phoenix for a night. We revisited Yahweh Yoga where Marie had gone in 2009 for her yoga instructor certification training. She reminisced about the great people she met there and still keeps in touch with.
The next day we headed north to Sedona for some of the most beautiful scenery possible. We managed to find a campsite in a small RV park in this very popular tourist destination.
We went hiking. The air was so clear and the red rock so spectacular we lost total sense of distance. It looked like you could reach out and literally touch the mountains which were actually miles away. Surreal, took our breath away, painted canvas, joyous earth, rich greenery and utter silence – the pictures speak.
Then we continued our Inner Journey north towards Flagstaff.
La Quinta (la keenta) has several meanings in Spanish. It means “the fifth”. It means a hacienda – a second vacation home. It also is a chain of upscale motels in the US. Finally, it is a resort city in Riverside County, CA in the Coachella Valley. It was to this latter destination that we now set our Trekker sights on.
We departed Anza-Borrego for the east and then north. It was pure dehydrated desert. Vast landscapes of dry dusty rock and hills. Inhabitable for sure but no doubt there was some life abounding there. We drove by the Salton Sea a landlocked body of water laden with salts that straddles the San Andreus Fault. Not very inviting and an environmental disaster in the making according to the LA Times. Such is California in all its variations.
We then drove to La Quinta to meet up with our friends Greg and Brenda who live there during the winter. Dave had met Greg many years previously at Ioco Refinery when they used to go camping together. Since then they stayed in touch exchanging Christmas cards and notes over the years. Retired too, Greg and Brenda also have a summer home in Idaho as it is too hot to stay in La Quinta (regularly reaching over 40 deg in summer!). It was good to meet up after so many years apart and reminisce.
They live in a gated community backing onto a spectacular golf course. When we pulled up to the gate the guard looked at us askance, not too keen to let in an RV to the exquisite grounds. Greg had sent down word so he opened the gate and in we went. A note on gated communities. These are very common in the US and rare in Canada. Considered enclaves by some, they are often home to high-valued properties, beautifully landscaped streets with common amenity facilities. We certainly enjoyed visiting one. Greg and Brenda offered us their private “cassita” suite separate from the house. We were bathed in luxury after our tiny Trekker living space – and much appreciative for it!
We spent a wonderful couple of days together, they taking us to Trader Joe’s, a huge wine store and a couple of great restaurants. Our days were spent walking, hiking and then recovering in the backyard pool. To say we were pampered is an understatement. Did I also mention this is a world famous golf resort? Wow.
Well you know what is next. It was time to move on again having had a wonderful time. Thank you so much Greg and Brenda for having welcomed us into your world. We hope you are staying healthy and probably getting ready to head north right now to stay cool.
We had been on the road now over 3 weeks heading mostly south west. It was now time to turn east and slowly meander in that direction. We made a bee line for Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, about and hour north east of San Diego.
We had had a sneak preview of what to expect with friends Cindy and Marvin. We were anxious to go “boondocking” which means camping off the grid far from the services and amenities provided in RV parks or established campgrounds. We were not sure if it was allowed so after driving down the main street of Borrego Springs we headed out of town for 30 minutes until we found a dirt road and turned on to it. Continuing for another 10 minutes or so we came to a rocky hill with a nice view back towards the valley. We decided to camp right there. Here is what we saw.
It was one of the most memorable camping experiences we had in the Trekker. Utter silence except for a light wind. Pure clean desert air, the light gradually fading. No one around us for miles – actually we could see one other boondocker about half a km away so we felt safe here. An extremely peaceful event in touch with mother earth and the natural cycles of nature.
The next day we arose early and after breakfast drove back to towards town. After checking things out, going for a hike to see the wildflowers in bloom, we bought some souvenirs and checked into the State Park campground for the night.
After two days in the desert sun our skin began to turn red.
We drove south from Oceanside along the coast of Socal – Southern California. We remember seeing so many little boutique retreat centres. We passed place after place where yoga, Zen Buddhist, Christian, Indian, healthy lifestyle and similar workshops were available daily. Places like Solana Beach, Delmar, Torrey Pines – state parks, beaches and campgrounds. What a great place to live we thought as we continued our way along the coast.
We came to San Diego and checked into an RV resort park. We went exploring the Old Town, the US Naval Air Station and Coronado beach areas. There was lots to see. We met up with Marie’s friend Cindy and husband Marvin who live in San Diego. They were avid outdoor hikers and promised to take us to a place that would truly take our breath away.
So the next day we left early together for a desert hike – this time towards Anza-Borrego Desert Park, about 90 km east of San Diego. We took some back roads noticing border patrol vehicles everywhere since we were only a few miles from Mexico. Cindy and Marvin directed us to a high ridge overlooking the desert. It truly took our breath away. The foggy mist of the coast literally evaporated above our heads as it could not penetrate into the dry air ahead. It was into the sunshine we gazed in awe at the stunning beauty of the California desert in springtime.
They took us on a fantastic hike up a mountain gorge as far as we could safely go. It was tricky in places – we really had to watch our footing. It was a secret place that only the locals know about. We reached a large clump of huge dried out palm trees of a kind that we had never quite seen before. Marie and Cindy did sun salutations as Marvin and I chatted in the shade. What a treasure of a day never soon to be forgotten.
Later we returned to San Diego for our last night on the west coast. We were getting anxious to push on again.
So we had been on the road now for 2 weeks. You may remember that we had left our son in charge of showings of our house back in Ottawa. Well he had given us a heads-up that a couple in the neighborhood had returned for a 2nd and then a 3rd look. He thought an offer to purchase was imminent. We processed this good news as we motored from Garden Grove to Oceanside, CA a distance of 100 km.
Oceanside is the quintessential name for a town next to the ocean isn’t it? However there is also WaterColor near Seaside on the Florida panhandle that we would discover a few years down the road. After all the driving, we were looking forward to spending a lazy week in Oceanside and hooking up with our friends Norm and Patty from Calgary. We had just checked into a nice RV resort not far from the beach when we received an email from Kyle that the couple were going to send us an offer to buy our house by email.
We were operating on wifi at the RV resort. We did not have a data/roaming plan. Dave received the email offer and got so excited that he could not remember his password when he went to reply. After 10 tries didn’t his Blackberry reset itself and so he lost all his email addresses, etc.. He remembers breaking out in a sweat even though it was not that warm on the coast that day! So there he was phone in hand trying to negotiate the sale of our house by email with a wiped phone. It was not lol but sol – swear out loud! lol!
Well somehow he got reconnected and traded emails back and forth over a couple of days with the potential buyers. Finally we had a deal! All done by email on a Blackberry on wifi in the Oceanside RV resort lol! Now we were truly going to Arnprior and could really relax.
We headed to a nearby mission and enjoyed the warmer air inland, the beautiful grounds and history lesson. All told Spain established 21 missions in California between 1793 and 1833. Their stated purpose was to evangelize Native Americans. Today there is controversy about their methods and the degree of success. As in Canada, there is evidence that many natives were treated harshly and died of diseases that they had no immunity against. St. Junipero Serra a Franciscan, founded the first such mission in California and was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015.
We returned to the coast to get together with Norm and Patty and their daughter Jessica. They were here for the winter. We had some good times together, played a round of golf and visited Escondido. Surprisingly on the coast it was not that warm – we needed a light jacket unless we could get out of the wind. Inland, like in Escondido, it warmed up 3 or 4 deg C.
We certainly enjoyed our stay in Oceanside but after a week, it was time to push on again.
So there we were out on the road from Omaha westwards in early March. We were some 1000 km from our destination on the other side of the Continental Divide. It would be a long day.
Our goal was to get safely over the Eisenhower Tunnel Pass west of Denver which is 3400m (11,158 ft) above sea level. We hoped there would be no snow storm. This meant only minimal stopping today – bathroom breaks, fuel and coffee. We were up for it!
We turned SW into Colorado passing our namesake Fort Morgan. It wasn’t long before we could see the snow capped Rockies in the distance. We motored right through Denver without stopping and heading for the steep climb ahead. Going up steep hills I would usually stick to the right lane and let the Trekker slow right down. I was reluctant to go faster thinking of gas consumption and wanting to avoid potential overheating. We chugged and chugged uphill around bends enjoying the views of snow covered peaks near and far. It was cloudy but no snow. Yeh!
We eventually stopped for the night at a roadside motel. We had not camped once on this trip so far. It was still winter and few RV Parks were open yet. Plus we were in a hurry a bit. We had a reservation coming up at the Oasis RV Resort in Las Vegas and did not want to be late.
The next morning we set a goal of reaching St. George on the Utah-Arizona state line – about 950 km, another really long day. We sailed by the turnoff to Vail and gave it the gas downhill. We soon came to the Utah state line and the most of the snow was gone. We drove across a vast rolling stone plateau with little sign of life – few trees or vegetation. It was an endless rock desert. Marie felt a bit uncomfortable looking out at the desolation. We would have hated to have a breakdown here – no gas, water or food for over 200 km.
We kept going to St. George and found a nice roadside motel around 6 PM with palm trees. Aha we thought, we are out of winter now. But no!!! Overnight there was a 20 cm snowfall and the Trekker was covered in the morning! It soon melted away once we were on our way to Las Vegas, now only 200 km away.
We passed through the NW corner of Arizona and drove through the well irrigated Moapa Valley in Nevada. We finally drove down the strip in Las Vegas marveling that there was not much traffic. We found the Oasis RV Resort south of town and checked in. This was one of the most luxurious RV parks. Spacious, lovely landscaping, huge pool and clubhouse enriched by endless sunshine.
We decided to take the bus back into town rather than unhook, drive in and find parking. Las Vegas! The thing I remember most is people – of all ages in colourful clothes, some laughing, some crying, some preaching, others muttering to themselves. People approached us continuously, inviting us in to their casino or restaurant or trying to sell something. Very strange but interesting. Lot’s of souvenir shops, huge luxurious hotels, fountains and casinos.
We had a great dinner after wandering through the casinos and picking up some souvenirs. The next day we went swimming in the resort pool and then downtown again. Soon we had had enough of the big city and were ready to push on for the desert.
So we were on our journey to Arnprior. The distance from Ottawa is only about 60 km but we took the long route to get there – over 13,000 km! We had bought a house in Arnprior and had almost a year to sell our Ottawa home and move. We started by getting rid of stuff and doing a deep clean. Then we put the family home up for sale in November 2010. It was not the best time of year and we had few nibbles. We were selling it ourselves using Grapevine. The people we had at the few showings did not like this or did not like that. We were getting discouraged. So we decided to take off March 1 in our treker on a long trip leaving our son Kyle in charge of showings.
Here is the extended routing we took on our long Journey to Arnprior Ha! It was as much about an inner journey as an outer one. In transitioning from big city to small town, we planned to visit friends in Nebraska, California and Arkansas. It was to be our signature treker trip. We timed it to meet up with friends from Calgary who were wintering in Oceanside, CA. Our other friends enroute all lived in the U.S..
We ate down our food inventory at home and stuffed the rest into the small fridge and cupboards we had on board the treker. The first day we made it to London, ON and stayed in a motel. Next day when we crossed the U.S. Canada border the the customs and immigration officer asked us “You’re not moving down here are are you?” I replied “Absolutely not sir, we are just visiting some friends.” “OK on your way.” he replied. The second night we made it just across the Illinois-Iowa border and had some great fried chicken in our motel room. The drive had been uneventful but there had been a lot of traffic south of Chicago. I made a mistake and entered a pre-paid toll highway without paying. Ooops. We were using a GPS and it told me to keep left so I did lol. We would have to pay a small fine later.
That was the only trouble we had. Marie and I were enjoying the scenery and anticipating warmer weather ahead. I always enjoy driving the treker and never felt tired or sleepy. Marie was the most patient passenger. Then again, we would only drive 500 to 600 km each day stopping no later than 5 PM. We were in no particular rush and always had our own food and accommodation for emergencies. Life is truly great on the road in a treker!
We made it safely to Omaha, NE on the third day. We had met Don and Jean on our retirement cruise to Spain in 2010 while on a shore excursion. We really hit it off as they were super polite and pleasant. They had no tell tale accent so we were sure they were fellow Canadians. But no, they were from Omaha, NE, a great mid-west U.S. city of 500,000 residents.
So what is famous about Omaha you are wondering? Warren Buffet lives there, one of the most successful investors in the world worth some $85 billion. Maybe you have heard of Mutual of Omaha and the Union Pacific Railway Corp. which are headquartered there. You’ve heard of the beautiful Missouri River which flows through town. But the truly nicest thing about Omaha is the people. They are extremely friendly, relaxed and hospitable – just like Canadians lol.
We found Don and Jean’s house not too far from downtown. We would play it by ear. Stop for coffee and a chat and then move on. But no, they insisted that we stay with them – for 2 nights. They gave us a lovely guest bedroom. After settling in they invited us to go on a long walk through some beautiful park land. The next day they gave us a tour around town including stopping for lunch in the world famous old market area. That night they invited their kids and families over for dinner and we had a great time. I recall their son was a policeman and told us some interesting stories. We got a sense of what it is like to live in Omaha in the Cornhusker state and cheer for the U of NE Cornhuskers.
The next morning we were anxious to get away. We thanked Don and Jean for their warm hospitality and promised to host them in Arnprior once we were settled in. Wow it was getting warmer and we were feeling really pampered. We were off to Colorado on the next stage of our journey to Arnprior.