Following the fantastic time at the Tree Lot (see “A Tale Of Trees“), it quickly dawned on me that we were nearing the time to begin our return journey. Although we still had a few months ahead of us and countless experiences yet to come, I was still filled with a sense of impending finality as we headed south down the California coast. As already documented in Tanya’s post “Californication”, we enjoyed marvelous times in southern California and witnessed some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. With stops in Hollywood, San Diego, Joshua Tree, and of course Slab City, our roster of experiences continued to increase drastically as I in turn continually tried to remind myself that there was still plenty of the journey left.
Now that we are back, it seems that most folks are curious about the aforementioned Slab City. Still government owned property, it is the remains of what was once the World War II Marine barracks of Camp Dunlap. Now home to Rv’ers, squatters, and the homeless, Slab City is commonly referred to as the last free place in the U.S.. People tend to stay during the winter months and head out in the early spring as temperatures begin to rise to unbearable levels. One of the residents informed us that those who decide to stay through the summer are never quite the same come the following autumn…
For my part, I found it a strange yet intriguing place filled with dichotomies and contrasts running the gamut of all expectations. While looking at some incredible folk art in one area, we could see plumes of black smoke rising from the burn pile of someone trying to clean up their junked up “yard” in another. There were beautiful and expensive RV rigs set up in one section, while others contained burned out shells surrounded by yet more junk, with perhaps a dog tied under a makeshift lean-to for shade. I would have stayed longer if the kids were not with us as I was fascinated by this strange, almost apocalyptic landscape with its denizens of various backgrounds, filled with stories and tales of journeys that led them finally to this… place. As Tan put it, “There was art and there was junk-art. There was hip and there was hippy. There was trash and there was trashy. There was clean and there was dirty. There was young and there was old.”
Turning east again, we tried to take some different routes as we continued along our homeward trek. Some of this territory we had already been through and wanted to change it up a bit so as to not repeat places we had already seen (although some places we did want to see again). One new stop was the town of Quarzsite, Arizona. We had heard about Quarzsite from some fellow RV’ers we had met while doing the Sugar Beet Harvest. Generally a winter destination, the area boasts lots of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land therefore making it an attractive and (like Slab City) cheap place to hang one’s hat for a bit. However unlike Slab City, it is not a lawless community where anything goes until there are serious problems.
Quartzsite is actually a dying destination for RV’ers, although thousands still flock to the town for the winter. Tents, flea markets, and open air markets abound mostly with people selling and shopping for gems and minerals of various nature, along with vendors peddling everything from used books to clothing to RV parts. In recent years the Gem and Mineral Show in nearby Tucson has taken some of the wind out of Quarzsite’s sails and its winter population doesn’t reach the heights it once did, but as a newbie you would hardly know it.
One nearby attraction of interest was the Nellie E. Saloon desert Bar.
Now you all know how much Tan and I love new bars so this was one we couldn’t miss. Located in (kinda) nearby Parker, AZ, you have to travel five miles down a dusty, dirt road until finally arriving at the desert bar. Pulling into the parking lot after those long five miles, we were more than ready for a couple tasty beers and soft drinks for the kids. The atmosphere was great, and with a good band playing and people dancing and having a good time, we were anticipating a fun afternoon… until we saw the beer choices. Budweiser and Coors Light. That’s it. Yea, you could get a mixed drink, but that just wasn’t what I had in mind. Beer snob that I am, I was hoping for a good IPA or something along those lines. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a frosty Bud after mowing the lawn or some other sweaty activity, and after that long drive on a hot day one of those would have been more than welcome but… I was hoping for a few more choices. Anyway we did have a good time and it was well worth the drive and opportunity to check out something new!
Eastbound again we followed Route 10 into Phoenix for a few days, spending time with a crew of great folks we had met outside Seattle previously. Making new friends is always a welcome event, but keeping in touch and meeting up again is always the trick. We spent an afternoon doing a little desert exploration while afterwards Riv got to show off his new guitar, and get a few tips from our friend George. These folks really welcomed us with open arms and allowed us a few days of nice rest and relaxation before continuing the trek south and east to Tucson for another stop. Once again luck was on our side and we were fortunate enough to spend some time with a family member who had flown in for the Gem And Mineral Show that week.
Back down towards Texas we went, following the same route we had originally come west on. We tried as much as possible to avoid repeating highways but in some cases it is unavoidable, although seeing the same scenery from the opposite direction can at times be interesting…. I guess. We finally altered our course turning south into Texas and through El Paso. A night in the local Camping World was good enough for us in that city and we continued our breakneck pace across the Lone Star state to a much anticipated stop in Corpus Christi.
We had heard that Corpus Christi is not a particularly nice place, having dirty water and trash washing up along the shore. Fortunately we were pleasantly surprised and found ourselves in the clean, open air of Mustang Island State Park which adjoins Padre Island on the east coast of Texas. Although a little too breezy to swim, we were rewarded with days in the mid-seventies to low-eighties and just enjoyed a quiet time along the Gulf. Even though it was late February, the prospect of returning home began to loom heavily over my head as I began to reconcile the thoughts of life after this. The road had certainly become our home and I was comfortable with the idea of venturing from place to place while still keeping a distant attachment to work and our responsibilities back east…
After just about a week in the state park, it was time to move on again this time with the full intention of returning someplace we had already been. We loved Fontaine Bleu State Park in Louisiana so much the first time that a return stay was well in order. Another trip to the Abita Brewery (this time with the kids) was on the agenda as well as a little more exploration of the area of Mandeville along Lake Ponchartrain. Tan and I were directed to a wonderful Brew Pub (why does that always happen?) along the lake shore that we couldn’t believe we missed the first time around. We loved the little neighborhood there so much that we brought the kids out the next day for a stroll, all the while trying to half-jokingly convince them that we needed to stay.With a pang of remorse we set off again along Route 10 for our final approach back to the east coast. Once again with a destination in mind and friends to see we happily entered the Sunshine State knowing we would be in the Florida sun for a few weeks before turning north towards the colder weather.
First stop was Orlando to visit friends, and deliver on our promise to the kids to go to a fine waterpark. After finding another state park to hang our hats for a few days, Tan and I slipped out for a little grocery shopping and to solidify our plans with the afore-mentioned friends. With plans to meet that evening, upon our return to the campground we were pleasantly surprised to find our friends hiding in the RV with the kids! It was a truly endearing reunion as they had allowed us the pleasure of staying with them over a year ago when we were on our way out to the vast wilds of the country. Seeing their smiling faces sitting unexpectedly in the RV was such a wonderful sight that will always stay with me. We spent the next few days with our friends, enjoying their hospitality and relaxing poolside as guests in their resort complex. The days and evenings were filled with laughter and the comfort of spending time with people you truly care about and respect. The week was capped off by a trip to the waterpark in Disney and we all enjoyed a great time doing the slides, rides, and swimming in the giant wave pool. Sadly it was time to go and we bid them farewell for now…
A return trip to Jensen Beach was up next and I greatly looked forward to seeing my father who I hadn’t seen in almost a year and a half. We were able to secure a spot not too far from where he was staying and spent the week again enjoying the sun and fun that a resort community offers. We reconnected with folks we had met on our first stop in Jensen Beach at the beginning of our trip and talked much and shared stories about our mutual travels and experiences on the road.A pleasant surprise was a visit from my two step brothers who had also come to visit my dad in Florida. We got to hang out with those guys for a few days and really got re-connected. We had never really spent much time together as adults, and although I was not surprised, it was very pleasant to be able to hold intelligent conversations, and laugh and joke comfortably as people who have known each other for a long time do. I can only hope that as many years don’t go by before we can all get together again.
As our impending return edged ever closer, the time came for us to begin the last leg of our journey. Heading north up the east coast for the first time in 18 months brought feelings of happy anticipation as well as tinges of sadness. Happiness knowing that we would soon be reunited with friends and family that we hadn’t seen for over a year and sadness to leave behind a lifestyle that suits us and that we truly feel at home in…