We were itching to get into the hinterland, which is one of the things we really enjoyed about living in SoCal, so with Carolyn at work and having done our errands the previous day, we decided to drive out to one of our favourite hinterland places here, Joshua Tree National Park. It’s a two-hour drive, so we headed off at 8am.
The trip there
The route to Joshua Tree takes you past the turnoffs to Palm Desert and Palm Springs, and through a very windy area. It was so windy that our car – admittedly a little Toyota Yaris – was buffeted around. Back in the early 1990s, this was the first place we ever saw wind farms … And they have multiplied dramatically since then. In the space of 30 mins driving, the temperature rose 10°F temp, which rather explains the wind, says Len.
We decided a coffee break would be a good thing before we entered the park and, being the area it was, we opted for a diner-style place, the Route 62 Diner in Yucca Valley. Diners are fun, with a culture all of their own. The coffee may not be their crowning glory, but they are usually small, local and friendly. Once we got in, we thought food would also be a good idea as we wouldn’t have food in the park. Sue ordered her favourite poached eggs expecting them to be overcooked as they often are, but they were cooked to perfection, served with pan sautéed potatoes, and cost all of USD5. Len chose pancakes with sausages and syrup. When in America and all that. One of the servers was delightfully friendly, but the other was a little what Sue called “passively aggressively polite” if that makes sense. She warmed up though when Sue praised the eggs. And anyhow, it was all part of the diner experience. It’s great to see such traditions surviving amongst all the chain restaurants, and we like to support them.
Joshua Tree National Park
Next stop, the Park. After buying hats at the Visitor Centre because we hadn’t packed for summer-style walking, we drove off into the park. We realised we didn’t have time to do any major walks so headed to one of the popular nature trails called Hidden Valley. We’ve done that short walk a few times before but it is always beautiful, and anyhow it is stunning just to drive through the stands of Joshua trees in the upper park. (Joshua Tree National Park encompasses parts of three deserts – the Colorado, the Sonoran and the Mojave – and the plants, not to mention other features, change quite significantly between them).
As we were driving there, Sue commented that, as she recollected, Joshua trees are part of the lily family. However, we were interested to read that as the result of DNA testing they have now been categorised as part of the agave family.
Anyhow, we loved our walk in Hidden Valley. While we expected not to see many flowers in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Ontario because of their late spring, we expected not to see many flowers in the Californian deserts because they usually bloom in early spring. In fact, the Joshua Tree website published the last of its spring season weekly wildflower reports on 2 May. We were lucky though to see some flowers, including stunning pink Beavertail Cactus.
The park was busy, particularly at that walk. We met a large group of Italian tourists and also a German couple, as well as, of course, Americans. We suspect it has become busier since it was upgraded in 1994 to National Park status. After we left Hidden Valley, we stopped at the long Boy Scout Trail head where Sue did a quick 20-mins walk while Len rested in the car. It was lovely to walk for a little while with no-one else around (Len excepted of course!). The peace!
Ma Rouge coffee shop
We left the park in mid-afternoon and had a cuppa at another little independent cafe in Yucca Valley. It was called Ma Rouge. We loved the sign on the board outside that read “Don’t Panic, It’s Organic”! It had a cosy, friendly vibe.
From there it was a fast and furious drive down the freeways home. Sue drove in the park and the quiet roads of Route 62 but let (ha!) Len tackle the freeways. She remembers confidently tackling them herself in years gone by but felt her reflexes were out of practice! We got home around 5pm, with an hour or so to spare before heading out to dinner.
The Winery Restaurant and Bar in Tustin
We wanted to find an interesting and different place to take Carolyn and Hana to for a farewell thankyou dinner. It was tricky given we are out of touch with the area, but with the help of Yelp, UrbanSpoon and TripAdvisor we settled on The Winery Restaurant and Bar in Tustin. We had read it was located in a shopping complex but we hadn’t counted on how big the complex was and how “spooked” the GPS gets when you leave named roads, and start driving around parking lots. At one stage Len was driving around the complex with three GPS’s going – the one in the car, and those on Carolyn and Hana’s iPhones! We found it eventually and were only a few minutes late.
It was an interesting night. We were shown to a table that was in, shall we say, subdued lighting. So subdued, in fact, that Len and Hana got out their little keychain torches to be able to read the menu. Really, a bit much! And then our waiter was a very nervous trainee being shadowed by his trainer. He had to remember several specials and got a little stuck on a couple of occasions. “Oh my goodness” he’d say when he couldn’t remember. We felt so nervous for him and wished he’d been allowed to look at a cheat sheet. Also when describing the food it sounded like he was the chef – “And then I put the lamb on the pureed peas” etc – and every special was “wonderful”. Meanwhile the trainer was hovering, and when we gave our drink orders he said “Ok, let’s get this show on the road”. After the food orders went in, it was “Now, let’s have fun”. It was a bit of a hoot.
The food though – particularly in the first two courses – was very good and of generous proportions. We shared three appetisers – buffalo carpaccio, spiced calamari and seared ahi tuna, each served with interesting salads and garnishes. Main courses were similarly generous. Hana, who likes food and cooking, tried venison for the first time, and Len said his filet mignon was excellent. Carolyn had shrimp and scallops and Sue lamb. It was all delicious.
Most important of all, it was a fun night. At least, Len and Sue enjoyed it and we hope Carolyn and Hana did too. It’s always fun trying something new and this restaurant filled that bill for all of us we think. It was sad however to think this was our last night together, as we’ve had some really lovely times together. We’ve greatly appreciated Carolyn’s generosity and thoughtfulness for our comfort in every way, and Hana’s concern also that we enjoy ourselves and eat well. We enjoyed getting to know her better – as she was a teenager last time we met. We were thoroughly spoiled.
And the slideshow …
There are windmills …
A quick trip through Joshua Tree and its Hidden Valley …