Goodbye Idyllwild, Hello Open Road

The day finally arrived. We’ve been planning this road trip for a long time—years, in fact—and waking up on the day we aim to leave feels both exciting and a little surreal. Melissa and I have just packed up the house we’ve been living in for the past couple of years in Idyllwild, CA, and we are now without fixed abode. For the next two months or so our home will be “truck”—our little red Toyota pickup truck. We plan on taking a route which takes in the edge of the country, with a few excursions inland, maybe somewhere around 10,000 - 12,000 miles. When we get back to California, we’re going to be looking for a new place to live. The #1 candidate right now is Joshua Tree. But who knows—out future home way be waiting for us somewhere along this route.

While we’re out on the road, Thomas, our cat, has opted to stay in Idyllwild. Not to say that we asked him if his preference was to eschew the nomadic in favor of the familiar charms of his home hunting ground (watch out, bunnies), but based on the times we’ve had to have Thomas ride in the truck with us—when we were evacuating the Zen Center and then Idyllwild in the forest fires of 2013—it was safe to assume that he’d rather sit this one out. Thankfully, Sean, Melissa’s brother, will be taking care of him and cleaning up all the headless baby bunnies that appear in the house from time to time.

After finishing off the last of the packing, we hit the road at about 3pm. Our goal was to get to Arizona, to a campground just south of Phoenix and west of Tuscon. We decided to take the I-8 instead of the I-10 through California. For any non-local readers, the I-10 runs from Santa Monica, California on the West Coast through to Jacksonville, Florida on the East Coast. It serves the singular function of getting a lot of people and traffic across the country, or parts of the country, but it is a road that we’ve driven a lot, so we decided to try a new route. The I-8 is a short west-east interstate that merges with the I-10 just after Phoenix, but one that roughly follows the border to Mexico, at least during the Californian stretch of it. I hear a lot of people complain about the ugliness of many of the interstate routes in this part of the world, but I love them. Coming from England, these oversized and seemingly unending roads hold the true magic of driving in the US—the world seems vast and open and with a taste of the infinite, anything is possible. And unlike England, where the landscape is rarely that interesting as seen from the motorways, the variety of landscapes even just driving through a single state (granted, California is a pretty big state) is mind-boggling. We took a scenic route to get to the I-8, through Anza, Julian and then the S1 (S for Scenic) which overlooks huge swathes of the Anza Borrego Desert. We abruptly hit the I-8 and were pleasantly surprised by the lack of traffic. Compared to the I-10, the I-8 more closely resembled a very well paved 2-lane country back road, albeit with the notable presence of a variety of Border Patrol vehicles. On one stretch close to the Arizona border, you can see the fence between the two countries, with only a few hundred yards of Jeep-patrolable desert between it and the interstate.

One of North San Diego County's hidden gems. Or a weird building with a car on top. One of the two.

The highlights of the I-8:

  • A swallow hotel built on the underside of one of the bridges crossing over the freeway. My knowledge of birds is not that hot, so they could have been swifts or house martins or some other species of migratory bird that looks like a swallow, but whatever they were, they were present in numbers and had made and awesome Gaudi-esque structure using the red clay that makes up the ramps for the bridges. We didn’t get a photo, alas, as it’s kind of hard to just stop on the interstate, however good the photo-op!
  • A crop duster. I’ve never actually seen this before, but it’s a small plane that with incredible skill that flies a few feet over a crop field, blanket spraying the plants and any poor critter that should be nibbling on them, with some horrific chemical cocktail. Melissa switched the air intake in the truck’s cab to recirculate when we drove by, just in case.
  • Sand dunes. Once we reached Imperial, CA, we were all of a sudden surrounded by sand dunes. I’ve seen sand dunes in England before, but just by the beach and they were few in number. This was more like a drive-thru Sahara, with the dunes continuing into the far distance. There was a healthy looking waterway passing through it, which added to the strangeness. In fact, there are a lot of full-looking waterways in this part of California. A lot of water is diverted from the Colorado river, and probably other sources (I’m too lazy to Google this and verify) as in the middle of this arid desert, they grow crops and in parts, graze cattle. That is one of the things I love about this country—in the UK I think we’d be a bit too sensible to try and turn a massive desert into a luscious farming venture (if we had such things as deserts), but here the crazy can-do attitude makes it happen, whether it’s a particularly good idea or not.
  • Gas prices. This is more a leaving-California thing, but I stop to get gas in Yuma, the first town we reach in Arizona, and it is $2.50 a gallon! In California, at the time of writing, it averages $3.50, with some places as high as $4.20.

At the end of the first day, we made it to our undeveloped campground (BYO everything, including water) at the Painted Rock Petroglyph site and were pleased to find we were the only visitors. It’s now the morning of day two, and our plan today is to head to Bisbee and Tombstone, before ending up in Sierra Vista, AZ.

The only visitors in the vast (and very hot) Painted Rock Petroglyph campsite.

Melissa and I will both be posting, so keep checking in for more installments as the trip unfolds. The blog is also being built as we go along, so expect more features and fanciness as the trip progresses.



Jim is the proud owner and driver-in-chief of the small red truck (affectionately named "truck") that will make it all 11,000 - 12,000 miles of the trip around the States with nothing more than a couple of oil changes and tire rotations. When not indulging in delusional thoughts about the abilities of his 21 year old truck with almost 300k miles on it, Jim likes making websites and taking photos and gets paid by people for doing these very things at Apple Canyon Designs.