The route from Mexico to San Diego took us through a huge variety of scenery, including large areas where they use irrigation to grow quite a variety of crops.  I had always wondered why it had been claimed that it required so much water to grow crops like wheat and here you could see why.  In one of the most arid areas on Earth, they are channeling massive quantities of water to grow basics like grass.  There are immense  dairy farms in the area, where normally you need fifty acres per cow.  No wonder the west coast has a chronic water shortage.

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On Friday we headed off towards the KOA near San Diego, which was only a forty minute drive from Pine Valley.  The route was truly beautiful and it must be a much more pleasant area to live in than down near the city.  It is much cooler and the wild flowers and natural greenery are delightful. 

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We were lucky to get a pitch in the campsite, as it was virtually fully booked; we have now hit the month of Spring Break, so finding somewhere to camp could be tricky for a while. That particular campground was excellent with beautifully planted and groomed grounds, clean, well maintained washrooms and the best outdoor cooking faculties we have seen anywhere, including Europe. 

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They have catered properly for tents (that makes a nice change) with a very comfortable wood chip surface and sufficient room for the Tentipi.  They even have a nice little cafe that sells very reasonable food as well as pretty decent local beer and ‘hard’ cider (‘cider’ is apple juice in America).  What was noticeable was that while the campground was full, the other campers were not interested in talking to two stray Brits.  There were a lot of groups there and most of the other campers are not old retired folks like us with time on their hands to chew the fat.  I finally got talking to a really nice couple, two teachers that teach maths in an inner city school.   They were pretty liberal in their views and were very anti gun, as they see how difficult gun culture makes it for their students and the tragedies that ensue from the possession of guns.

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While we were in the area, we went for a cycle along the Sweetwater River to the local marina restaurant, where the salads were very good, if a little pricy.

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We sat and listened to the Mariachi festival across the harbour, amused that EVERY group seemed to play the Mexican Hat Dance and feeling glad that we hadn’t actually had to pay to hear it, as it really started to grate after a while.

On the second day we headed off to try to see the centre of San Diego on the Bromptons, as our travel guide said that it was a great place to cycle.  Nope, the only road into town was pretty scary.  We had to find a post office to pay the next instalment on the car insurance.  This is very annoying as we couldn’t pay with a foreign credit card so we had to get a money order.  We also had to find a place to print off the paying in slip, so we had to track down a library as there didn’t seem to be an internet cafe nearby.  By the time we had sorted that all out we decided to head back to the safety of the campground.

On Tuesday we headed out to Joshua Tree National park.  The route took us through some amazing changes of scenery

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When we booked in at the southern ranger station we realised we were in a race for a tent pitch when we saw the sign that said every campsite north of us was fully booked.  We trudged around the Cottonwood campground feeling more and more despondent as every pitch we could see was tiny.  When we finally managed to pitch the tent, we felt incredibly thirsty due to the desert heat, but I was a little distracted with a guy just over the road from us who seemed to be making apiece of tiny rock art.  It turned out that he was taking a selfie of himself, his bike and his tent.  We got chatting and Bart was probably the most liberal American we had met so far in the USA.  He likes Obama and has voted for him twice, despite his parents initially threatening to totally disinherit him.  (They have since started to vote for the Democrats as well.)  He used to love guns and had a huge collection of weapons, but has since given them all up and feels that tighter gun control would make a lot of sense.

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We saw Bart off the following morning, as he is currently testing his cycle gear with a view to completing a massive cycle ride later in the year

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Joshua Tree National Park is very beautiful and has a range of fascinating scenery that would not look out of place on Star Trek, (well that would be a more accurate statement if there were a few polystyrene boulders around and a guy in a red top about to be eaten by a monster).

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The choila cacti looked like cuddly teddy bears , but the warning signs said it all

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the spines are vicious and almost impossible to remove.

There were wild flowers throughout the park, as it had rained at some stage

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the giant  yucca plants were wonderful

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as were the Joshua trees, which weren’t trees at all ,but plants related to lilies and

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I was thrilled to see some cacti in full bloom.

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The park had pretty varied scenery, as it sits where the Mojave and Sonoran deserts  meet and the views from some of the peaks are fabulous

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I met some Australians there, who had actually heard of Bognor Regis and had one couple had stayed about ten miles from our house.

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There were fantastic rock formations and we particularly liked the aptly named Skull Rock

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there were ancient rock paintings

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some of which have, sadly, been vandalised.  Why would someone be so stupid as to paint over markings that are thousands of years old?

There were several oases and active springs

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which were lovely, if deadly, due to the mining practices in the past.

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Despite being in early March, the temperatures reached up to nearly thirty degrees centigrade (90F) nearly every day, so we were concerned about these young people who seemed to be in trouble at the side of the road

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but as we went back to check on them, it turned out they were filming.   At one trail head we saw that some poor bloke was stuck in the gents toilet, which is not where you want to be in all that heat.  Lots of people were trying to help and some efficient young lady was passing tools under the door to him, but we were relieved (!) to see that he had escaped when we got back an hour later  after our stroll and that a Ranger was fixing the problem.

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There were some animals around and we saw a couple of jack rabbits, some road runners, quite a few different birds and some of these cute little furry things

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which were some kind of chipmunk.  We knew there were snakes around and someone told us they had seen one quite close to our tent.  (That’s when I found out just how quickly I can change out of sandals into shoes.)  We were coming back to the tent in the dark one evening when Tim saw something that concerned him outside the tent.  I was sure it was a snake ands was absolutely terrified.  I sat in the car quietly having hysterics at which point Tim just fell about laughing.  It turned out that my pyjama top had got dragged out of the tent and was half buried in the sand.  I managed to see the funny side the next day, but I hate to think what would happen if I ever really did meet a rattler.

Back at the campground we met Al and his lovely daughter Julia and had a meal with them on our last night.

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Al is a math lecturer in Boston and Julia works for L’Oreal in New York.  It is the first time we have come across a father and daughter camping together and they seemed to be having a great time.  They were a lot of fun and it was the icing of the cake for such a fantastic stop.

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We wanted to find an hotel or a decent campsite before we next stayed in a national park, as they don’t have showers in Joshua Tree and we were beginning to feel a tad grubby.  We were aiming to visit Death Valley, but as it was a weekend all the nearby hotels were extremely expensive, even in Las Vegas.  I managed to find a KOA site a couple of hours from the park at Lake Isabella, so we drove the two hundred and fifty odd miles through some stunning scenery.

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We stopped to buy supplies at a Walmart and we were intrigued to see the display of petitions outside

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When we were just a few miles from the campground one of our tires blew out.  Luckily we were on a quiet road and not the motorway at the time.  Tim managed to get the car safely onto the side of the road and then tried to get the jack under the car to change the wheel.  Due to the shape of the carriageway he could not get the jack to lift the car so Tim went off the find a piece of wood to see if he do something about it.  Just then two cars pulled up and two guys came over to help us.

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They were a father and son and they were wonderful.  The son got his jack out and between them Tim and he managed to change the wheel and get us on our way. We thought the blow out had damaged the tyre at first, but when we got to the campsite and looked at the other wheel, we realised there must have been a problem with the tracking and that the other back tire was a down to the steel reinforcement on the inside as well, despite the tyres having lots of tread left.

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It was a retrospectively terrifying though; we had been on the freeway beside giant trucks and the tires could have blown at any time.  Someone out here was looking out for us and we made it to a really nice tire place in the town of Lake Isabella, just eleven miles up the road to get sorted.  The boss-lady did not have what we wanted right there but her words were something like ‘I hate to give up profit but safety comes first’ so she ordered up the tires we needed from her depot that would be open on Monday and gave us a free second hand tyre to get us to the campground and back.  (There was no way we were going sightseeing on mismatched tires.)  There was a display of tires that hd been replaced over the years.

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 The one with the hoe through the tire we could understand but the one with the live round?

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The owner had driven to get the tire replaced and it could have gone off any time the bullet hit the ground.  I guess we all live on borrowed time sometimes….

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