TAKING THE BACK ROAD TO LAS VEGAS (The Grand Circle Part 2)

By Barry Zander, edited by Monique Zander*, the Never-Bored RVers

The Grand Circle – one of the most interesting and dramatic circuits in America – and we were heading there for a second tour, only this time with a different perspective, through foreigners’ eyes. But before we set our GPS for this spectacular route, we encountered an adventure worth relating.

The Back Road to Las Vegas  © All photos by Barry Zander.   All rights reserved

The Back Road to Las Vegas  © All photos by Barry Zander.   All rights reserved

In my formative days in my hometown of New Orleans I didn’t have any concept of the grandeur of the Golden West, and, therefore, I didn’t care about what new vistas it held.  I traveled extensively around the Eastern U.S. by car, but when I had business on the West Coast, it was by air.

Well, Easterners, I’ll assure you, if you don’t point your RV westward at least once in your life, you’ll miss out on America at its grandest. What we saw on Day One of our journey was desert … expanses that flowed for miles left and right until abruptly careening against mountains crowned by jagged peaks and ridges.

As we drove onward, we were surrounded by desolate patches of land where few stalwart souls eke out existences, catering to the tourist trade or living off the unforgiving land. For more than five hours, we were never bored.

Our always-mischievous GPS was there to route us from Point A to Point B.  Instead, we turned to Google this time, where, as an exercise, I asked it how to get from our cabin in Southern California to Las Vegas.  It offered three routes, including one Camille (our GPS) would have never condoned. It was a scenic one on straight, narrow roads across the ever-changing desert.  Being adventurers, we allowed Google to map that route, and now we highly recommend it for a different view of the California desert.

We departed mountain cedars and detoured through Joshua Tree National Park on our way to our day’s destination, Las Vegas. I can’t talk about Joshua Tree without mentioning the way the cacti and succulents changed mile after mile. Why did the roadrunner cross the road? Why did the tumbleweeds cross the road? Why did the Cisco Kid and Poncho cross the road (I actually don’t remember seeing them on this trip.)?

The route took us onto Historic Route 66 for a few miles until we turned onto remote

Cholla Cactus

Cholla Cactus

Kelbaker Road, which is reminiscent the of wavy frost heaves on the way to Alaska.  We entered the Mojave National Preserve, where we saw a flashing yellow light advising us of tortoise crossings (desert tortoises are an endangered species).  For the entire stretch we never saw another RV (or tortoise), except at the Kelso Depot, a fancy train station in the middle of nowhere.  We noticed two dozen tourists getting what was probably an interesting guided history lesson about the gold and other precious mineral mining days in the Mojave’s past. Next time through we will stop for the history lesson.

Man vs. Environment: Environment Won This Time

Man vs. Environment: Environment Won This Time

Since we weren’t in a rush and can drive 250 miles on a tank of gas, this made the journey more important than our Las Vegas destination.   And even though we’re always amazed … no, make that “stunned” … at the new casinos and changes on The Strip, that day’s thrill was behind us when we arrived in the glitz after miles of sand, spiny vegetation, and blissful solitude.

Monique Spotted a Coyote Hunting for Prey

Monique Spotted a Coyote Hunting for Prey

The desert was almost lush:  green, healthy, gorgeous.  The cacti and succulents of the high desert were the healthiest we can remember.  The yellow and white wildflowers added to the spectacle.  Simply a path through desolation? Not even close. Had our trip ended there, we would have felt satiated, but it was just the beginning. The next day we were due at Las Vegas International Airport to pick up Monique’s brother and sister-in-law, who were arriving on a non-stop flight from Paris, France, to Las Vegas, Nevada – from the internationally renown City of Lights to the American City of Light.

The excitement builds!

Serrated Peaks and Ridges Change Tones as the Sun Sets

Serrated Peaks and Ridges Change Tones as the Sun Sets

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

This article was first published on AmeriGOrv.com.

© All photos by Barry Zander.   All rights reserved

WHALE-WATCHING IN BAJA – A WOW!

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the seriesBaja California

By Barry Zander, Edited by Monique Zander, the Never-Bored RVers

You can read in magazine articles or see programs on TV about how whales can communicate with humans, but being among them brings it home!  It qualifies as a lifelong memory.

Members of the Fantasy Tours caravan celebrated  their chance to pet the grey whale calf hoisted to the boat by Mama.

Members of the Fantasy Tours caravan celebrated their chance to pet the grey whale calf hoisted to the boat by Mama.

Driving down to Scammon’s Lagoon, where the massive grey whales breed, give birth and play, is … well, let’s just say “an adventure.”  To negotiate “the much-improved roads” for 600 miles from San Diego, California, takes patience and constant alertness.  More on the ride down in a moment, but we are here to pet whales, and that’s what we did.

A whale-watching launch (the locals call them “Panga”) holds eight tourists in seats along

Mother and baby coming toward the boat can be daunting, but none of these massive mammals touched the boats.

Mother and baby coming toward the boat can be daunting, but none of these massive mammals touched the boats.

the sides and three in the middle.  For those on the sides, there is a better opportunity to touch or even pet the newly born calves.  I set my cameras down long enough to stick my hand out and feel the skin on the nose.  Each of our crew who had the experience described it differently, but I didn’t hear anyone say anything other than it was a thrill.

Grey whales are incredibly large beasts.  When the mothers swim past the boat laterally, they just keep going, something like when those 18-wheelers whiz past your RV on an interstate – seems to never end.  The word for them is “mammoth.”   These sleek leviathans can be identified by unique spots that have formed from years of having barnacles on their backs.

I don’t want to spoil the moment for you when you get down here, so I won’t go into further detail about what you might see and feel.  I will dwell a bit on the sensation of realizing that you’re among mammals that seem to enjoy the chance to show off their calves to the travellers.  Mammals, like your dog or cat, interact with humans.  What may be hard to imagine is that these huge creatures of the sea are mammals just like us and relate to us.

Spectacular moment.  Mama Whale breaches (lifts out of the ocean), while Baby spouts approval.  One of my all-time favorite photos.

Spectacular moment. Mama Whale breaches (lifts out of the ocean), while Baby spouts approval. One of my all-time favorite photos.

The protected preserve in the vicinity of Guerrero Negro may be a one-of-a-kind town.  There are whale-watching tours throughout the world, but nowhere else that I know of provides an opportunity for people above the surface of the ocean to interact with these heroic-sized mammals.

Cirio and Cordon cacti surrounded us on much of the trip through the desert.  This area is called "The Rock Garden."

Cirio and cordon cacti surrounded us on much of the trip through the desert. This area is called “The Rock Garden.”

It’s a special experience, in which we are participating as members of a Fantasy RV Tours & Creative World Tours caravan.  As I sit in the lobby of a hotel/RV park writing this, I hear dozens of arriving travelers asking for parking sites and rooms no longer available.  I’m thankful that our part of the trip is to drive, eat and enjoy.  No problemo!

Most of the roads are narrow.  Making it more of a challenge is the lack of shoulders: veer

Driving through desert and rocky hills makes for a tedious journey, but worth it when we got out into the boats.

Driving through desert and rocky hills makes for a tedious journey, but worth it when we got out into the boats.

too far to the right and you’re struggling to get back on the blacktop.  Making the trip more interesting are military inspections and fruit inspection, none of which, for our group, was an actual inspection; it was simply a minor delay.  Two other delays were tolls and pest control spraying:  again, no big deal, but we shelled out pesos for the privilege.

A few bad spots in the road, lots of potholes to look out for, and miles of steep grades all made the drive interesting.  Easing the concern over safety and roadside problems were two Angeles Verdes, “the Green Angels,” a team of Mexican tourist department agents who stay with the caravan to keep us out of

Our Green Angels escorted and protected us all along the 1,100-mile trek.

Our Green Angels escorted and protected us all along the 1,100-mile trek.

trouble.  They are there to get us through traffic situations and make minor repairs along the way.  We have enjoyed their participation in some of the group functions.

There is lots to see on the route, from the unique vegetation like cardon cactus and cirios or boojum plants; the rock garden; the shanty towns; the ocean.  Since it is slow-going on the roads, we had plenty of time to get to know the landscape.

One other stop while in Guerrero Negro was the salt mines, actually the 42,000 acres of ponds and salt refining – largest facility of its kind in the world.  Definitely an educational experience only a short trip from where our whale-watching boats docked.

Looking ahead to the next chapter in this trip, we turn to the northeast of the Baja California Peninsula, pushing our rigs toward the Sea of Cortez, with the experience of seeing the grey whales in their southern habitat before they begin heir 6,000-mile swim northward.

Many evenings during our 14-day caravan ended with social get-togethers.

Many evenings during our 14-day caravan ended with social get-togethers.

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

© All photos by Barry Zander.   All rights reserved