As most of you know, we visited 33 states in our first year on the road, as shown in the map below. Red are states where we took the RV. Blue are states where we parked the RV and rented a car for a road trip.
Note any glaring omission? It is obvious that we bypassed California altogether. It wasn’t really intentional, but it just didn’t work with the rest of our itinerary.
But this year we wanted to color in this state and really couldn’t avoid it, since we are staying right on the Arizona/California border. So for the month of October we worked our way north to south through the entire state, as shown below. In all, we made 6 stops before parking our rig literally 100 yards into the state of Arizona.
I did blog postings of many of our stops, but decided it would be good to summarize the entire experience. I chose to follow the lead of “Wolter’s World,” a famous YouTuber who specializes in the “5 things you will love and 5 things you will hate” about every major travel location in the world.
While I suspect that some of these things will apply to California at any time, realize that our trip was colored by the fact that we came through the state at the height of the Santa Ana wind season, aka the California wildfire season.
So here are our top 5 Loves of the Golden State:
- Diverse, Spectacular Scenery. There is SO much to see in California. No matter where we stopped, there was a major national attraction nearby. What are more iconic attractions than Yosemite, Sequoia, the redwoods, the Golden Gate Bridge or the coastline along Highway 101? If you want scenery, you can find it here.
- Choices Everywhere. As we made our way down the state, we could have stayed in a hip urban area every night. Or we could just as easily hit only small towns. We stayed in the biggest campground we have yet been in, with over 1000 sites. Ocean, vineyards, mountains, deserts: whatever you want, you can find it somewhere in California. And if all else fails, there is always Disneyland. We considered it, but they had an unusual heat wave that put us off. Next time.
- History on Display. Farming, mining, industry, movies, wars, railroads. We found two fantastic gold rush locales, which we documented in blogs, and we didn’t even know they existed. We could spend months exploring it all.
- Meeting Old and New Friends. Part of our trip was centered around meeting two sets of friends. One couple spends the winters here. The other couple started that way, then relocated here. But along the way, we also met several other very friendly Californians. It is an easy place to meet new people and experience new things.
- Overall Weather. California didn’t accumulate so many people by having an inhospitable climate. We enjoyed the temperate weather, despite traveling the state in the middle of fire season. Understand that overall weather is not every day weather. In our case, this was related to the annual onslaught of the so called “Santa Ana” winds, the strong hot winds that threaten the state around October every year. As we bought groceries to leave one location, they told us the winds would cause the power to be shut off the day after we were gone. We got to another location, we made some new friends with a house in a nearby town. Together we watched news reports of their home under an evacuation watch. Scary stuff. Our last stop was near Palm Springs. The county had two wildfires break out during the four days we were there. We literally felt like the wind was working behind the scenes to push us out of California.
By contrast, here are the 5 Hates:
- Astronomical Fuel Prices. Wow, we were warned that diesel would be expensive, but this is ridiculous. From Blythe, CA to Ehrenberg, AZ (a distance of about 5 miles), the cost of diesel drops by almost $1 a gallon! When you put in 30 gallons at a time that is a big deal!
- Terrible Air Quality. Much of California has fair to poor air quality all of the time. But the fires of October made for really bad quality, particularly in the center part of the state.
- Unending Congestion. California is a car culture like none other. It seems everyone is on the road all the time, everywhere. If you are on a two lane road, both lanes are full. But it is the same for 4, 6, or even the 12 lanes through Sacramento and San Bernardino. California freeways: if you build a lane, they will come.
- Weird Regulations. OK, we have traveled through 34 states in the last year and a half, and crossed state borders back and forth probably 80 times. But California is the ONLY place where we are stopped on the freeway for an agricultural inspection. The ironic thing is that we were not prepared for this, so we had just filled our fridge with every kind of fruit. So when we were stopped, he asked what kinds of fruit we had. We were honest. But after we listed the half dozen varieties we had, he said, “go ahead, that’s not what we are looking for.” I can’t imagine what they are seeking. And NOW we are camping in Arizona, but cross into Blythe every day or two in the truck for all of our errands or supplies. In a dozen trips we have been waived through every time, and have yet to see anyone else stopped. So it they almost never stop anyone, and have such a limited list of what they are looking for, how could this possibly be worth the effort! Then after we exited the state we were told that our truck required us to stop at every trucking weigh station in the state! Again, this is the only state that required this. We were blithely unaware, and this sealed the fact that I am not taking the RV back into the state now that we have left. And don’t get me started on the 10 cent per bag charge for grocery bags!
- Several Truly Scary Roadways. In 15 months on the road, Ellen has been worried a handful of times on mountain roads, mainly Teton Pass. But she was the most terrified on the switchback climb up the mountain to Yosemite. And we weren’t even pulling a trailer. Suffice it to say this narrow road, with blind corners, drop offs, rock walls, and an insufficient number of guard rails was not built for vehicle the size of our F-550. Many of the other roads were way too rough for as busy as they are.
So there you have it. Plenty to love. Some major annoyances to hate. And truly an adventure to explore.