After 4 days in Los Angeles, we packed our suitcases again and hit the road to our next stop, Palm Springs. It only takes a few hours from one city to the other, but there’s so many things to see on the way that it can easily take more than that. The landscape is constantly changing, from 6-lanes-highways to industrial zones to the complete desert – you can actually see the amount of gas stations, motels and diners decreasing mile after mile. After a while, there were barely any other cars on the road. Some got off the road for a shopping session at the outlet mall (which is supposed to be really cool because it has great luxury brands), but not us. At that point, we had much more interest for what surrounded us than for clothes!
A few miles further, we found one of the roadside attractions that was on our bucket list: the Cabazon dinosaurs! Those huge concrete sculptures were made in the sixties, by a man who owned a restaurant there and wanted to create more traffic in the area. The restaurant has now closed for a long time, but the dinos have become local celebrities, attracting a few tourists everyday. The brontosaurus became a gift shop (yes, you can climb inside!) and a little amusement park dedicated to dinosaurs was constructed next to them. For about ten dollars, you can see more dinos there, but we didn’t feel the urge to visit it to be honest. We had seen what we came for :)
I really liked this place, it has some sadness in its atmosphere, probably because it felt so empty. What probably used to be a big deal is now this old deserted parking lot with two monsters standing on it and a dark, smelly gift shop with a Visa terminal that doesn’t work, which gives it a certain nostalgic feel of a place that belongs to another era.
After that, we got back in the car and drove about 20 more minutes before arriving in Palm Springs. Ah, that arrival, it’s something: you drive in the arid desert for hours, it’s 40°C, no water anywhere, and then suddenly, a whole lot of palmtrees and hotels and spas appear, and that’s Palm Springs. Known for its hot springs, and preferred holiday resort for LA’s stressed inhabitants, the city is a true oasis in the middle of nowhere, somewhere between the perfect retreat for old people who want to live happy days, and hipsters who want to live their yearly trip to Coachella like a real holiday. I found it very cute and pleasant, and we ate very well too, which is always a plus. We found the best fish tacos at Shanghai Reds – I have no idea how you can get such fresh fish in the middle of the desert, but it’s their specialty ! Our hotel, The Monroe, was a very good choice: good location, clean and recently renovated rooms, friendly clerks… I would definitely recommend you to book it if you’re around and need a cheap accommodation. If money isn’t a problem for you, then the Ace hotel is what you need – it’s one of the city’s most iconic hotels and it’s supposed to be pretty, pretty, pretty good.
Once we had put our suitcases in the room, we still had a few hours before sunset (which is at 7PM, since you’re closer to the equator there – I didn’t really realise that before…), so we took the car back to the desert, with a quick stop at In’n’Out for a burger first ^^
After eating, we drove past the Salton Sea, an artificial lake in the middle of the desert (HOW DID THEY BRING THE WATER THERE??) between Palm Springs and the Mexican border. Our destination: another of our bucket-list-roadside-attraction called Salvation Mountain, that you might have spotted in Into The Wild.
Where do I start… for some reason, this place turned me inside out, in a way that I really wasn’t expecting. Salvation Mountain is some kind of art project, a little colourful hill built by one guy with his own two hands. Leonard Knight spent 20 years of his life on this monument to love – religious love, but not only – until he passed away in 2014. Since then, a group of hippies has decided to take care of it and make sure it would stay up, clean and safe. Being there at sunset, (almost) alone, in the silence of the desert, holding hands, was really worth the hours driving, the crazy heat, the wild wind… it filled me with love and gratitude (and turned me into a hippie, apparently).
The day after was one of our “driving days”: we had one day to go from Palm Springs to the Grand Canyon. In theory, that’s only 5 hours, but it actually lasted much longer. It was one of the most gorgeous scenic routes we’ve been on, but it was very lonely and intense for a long time at first. While driving past Joshua Tree National Park, we were surrounded by dunes, and dunes only. No stores, no other cars, just us and a lot of sand, rocks and dry plants forming a landscape that was – literally and figuratively – breathtaking.
If one day, you decide to drive in the desert for several hours, there are two things you shouldn’t forget to do before: the first one is to always keep enough water in your car, because you never know how far the next sign of civilisation will be. The second one: prepare a good playlist! Ours was featuring, among others, Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, A$AP Rocky’s AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP. and a few american classics curated by… GTA! Hilarious and brilliant at the same time, it was perfect to pass the time and forget about the temperatures.
Finally, after hours and hours of driving alone, we saw a gas station! We were hungry and so was our Mustang, so we turned off the airco and
melted within seconds rushed into the store. People! Food! Toilets! We stretched our legs while asking the clerk for some advice on which road to pick to drive through Arizona: she indicated the longer one, saying it was very pretty and would allow us to see something else than the desert. And she was right! During the next few hours, we saw red mountains, tiny forests, green hills, and even a beautiful lake. But we still had a long way to go to Williams, the small town where we booked our hotel for the night. When we arrived, it was already very dark and pretty chilly.
Williams, as known as “The Gateway to Grand Canyon”, is indeed the city where everyone who’s heading to the Grand Canyon has to pass: the bikers, the backpackers, the families… you can even still take the old train to the Grand Canyon, and it leaves from one city – can you guess? Yes, it’s Williams.
It’s a very small town, mostly made of motels and gift shops embracing the cliché of Route 66 – but I absolutely loved it! We had booked a room in the Grand Canyon Hotel, the oldest hotel of the area (it existed even before the Route 66, which they actually built in front of the hotel), managed by an adorable woman who even let us pick our room among the ones that were still available. And guess what: we chose the Mexican room! Each bedroom has its own theme, and is fully decorated according to it, as you can see below.
We were exhausted, but before crashing, we still had to eat something. The manager advised us to have dinner at the Cruisers Route 66, a barbecue restaurant next door, and it was a great idea! I was very happy with my hamburger, especially since our order got ready very quickly, which allowed us to go to sleep early.
If you ever end up there, promise me you’ll go check out the bathrooms :D
After a good night of sleep (weird how insomnia doesn’t even make an appearance when you spend 8 hours on the road!), we got up, filled our tank and drove to this giant hole in the rocks better known as the Grand Canyon, which is about a 1h drive from Williams. Now I’m a pretty good planner, but I made a rookie mistake: don’t underestimate the beauty of the Grand Canyon! Once you see it, you’ll want to stay there for days, and unfortunately, we only had a few hours before having to hit the road again. Luckily, as I told you, I’m a good planner, so we managed to make the most out of it!
Once we entered the park (like most National Parks, the entrance fee applies to your car, in this case it was 30$ per vehicle) through the South Rim, we took the free shuttle that drives on Hermit’s Road, as it offers a lot of different angles on the canyon. Every view was breathtaking, it’s really an amazing place which ironically, makes it almost impossible to translate into a picture. I guess it’s one of those things you just have to see for yourself.
The craziest moment was when we realised that the area where we could see the Colorado river was actually the bottom of the continent. It’s where, after millions of years of erosion, the river couldn’t dig anymore. Pretty amazing, huh?
Before leaving, we took a little detour to Desert View, a view point that was scoring high on Trip Advisor – and once we got there, we immediately understood why: if you have to choose one view of the Grand Canyon, this is it. The tower you can see here above is pretty cool, but it’s the panorama that will blow your mind.
Grand Canyon, you’ll definitely see us again, this time for a few days of hiking, rafting and exploration.
In a few days, I’ll take you to a place which is basically the complete opposite of this: Las Vegas!