The mighty USA part 2: Joshua trees, the west coast and San Francisco

After an amazing sunrise in Grand Canyon National Park, we were full of energy for our long roadtrip to Morongo Valley, a small town, close to two places of my interest: Joshua Tree National Park, and Coachella Valley. Both places are known for their natural beauty as well as the musical influence coming from here. Joshua Tree National park inspired U2 to record their album ‘Joshua Tree’, and Coachella Valley is the hometown of stonerrock, a musical genre I like a lot and I play in my band.

But first a long and quiet road through the desert.

Road to Mongoro Valley

At one point, we drove for about an hour, not passing any form of civilization. After this hour, we passed a gas station. The gas station was on an intersection, where was not much more than this gas station and a restaurant. The servants of the gas station calles us ‘hon’. After this gas station was another long road with only desert, no houses or factories or whatsoever. The people working here were actually living on this intersection! They had a very small trailer park. What a place to live, in the middle of nowhere! We got a real desert feeling.

After a long road we arrived at Morongo Valley, a beautiful small town with one paved road and small sandy side roads. It had a strong hippy feeling. Did you know that former Kyuss singer John Garcia lives here? We did not see him however.

We slept in a very cute 1970’s airstream, to accomplish the desert hippy feeling. The airstream had an authentic interior, with an LP player:) We enjoyed it a lot.

From here we went to Joshua Tree National Park, a beautiful National Park with desert, cacti, a lot of sun and, of course, Joshua Trees. At sunset we saw the beautiful Cholla Cactus Garden. The low sun gave the cacti such a beautiful glow! I just loved it!

Beautiful cacti

Joshua trees

Road through Joshua Tree National Park

Rob overlooking Cholla cactus garden

From the highest point of the park, we could overlook Coachella Valley. Nowadays the famous town of Palm Springs is adjecent to the Coachella Valley, but it is also the birth place of the Palm Desert Scene, with bands like Kyuss, Brant Bjork and the bros, Fu Manchu and Queens of the Stone Age coming from here. As a stonerrock fan it was so special to be here! We also went to the famous ‘welcome to sky valley’  sign, a signboard that is the cover art of one of Kyuss’ albums. At the back of the signboard are now our names written:)

Besides watching all this musical history, we also went to see a band at the famous ‘ Pappy and Harriets’. Pappy and Harriets is a restaurant and musical venue in Pioneertown. This town started as a live-in Old West motion-picture set, built in the 1940s. The set was designed to provide a place for the actors to live while using their homes in the movie. A number of Westerns and early television shows were filmed in Pioneertown. Nowadays the set is not in use anymore, and there is not much to do in this town, which is a 15 minute car ride from civilization. Besides watching music in this venue, where artists like Paul McCartney, Queens of the Stone age, Robert Plant, Billy Corgan and Arctic Monkeys played. A very strange, nice and hippie place, in the middle of the desert!

pappie and Harriets

Then it was time to say goodbye to the desert and hello to the California coast. But not before we saw giant trees.

It was a long ride to the coast. We had the option of going all the way through Los Angeles, which was the shortest route, but also the most stressfull. The traffic around Los Angeles was very different from the traffic inland. People were driving much faster and agressive and it was so busy! That’s why we opted for a longer, but more scenic route. Although the scenery was not that spectacular all the time; one time we drove through an orchard, which was about a 30 minute drive to go all the way through, only seeing planted trees on both sites of the road.

We noticed a big differende between the coast and the inland. I already mentioned the traffic, but the food was also different. Suddenly there were plenty of healthy food options, with normal size portions. The people were not so fat at the coast. The cars were much smaller. Instead of a cowboy feeling, there was more of a surfer feeling.

Our first stop at the coast was Morro Bay. There was nothing specific we wanted to see here, but it was a nice stop at the coast, before we went to the Big Sur. One attraction of Morro Bay is a rock, lying in front of the coast, which looked nice on pictures. But when we were there, the fog was so thick, we were not able to see any rock. There were a lot of see animals though, very close to the shore!

After Morro Bay we had a beautiful route to drive. First we went through the Californian Hill Country, with nice green hills. I made this photo at a viewpoint on the way. In the distance you can see the fog hanging above the sea. It looked like a fairytale!

California Hill Country

We had to go through the hills, because the coastal route, the famous California Highway 1, was closed for a part. There had been terrible landslides, which broke roads and bridges. It will take a long time to repair all this damage. Horrible for the people living there.

We could take part of highway 1, but we had to drive up north through the hillcounrty, and than take the route south along the beach, and take the same route back north. First we were planning to take a smaller road, so we did not have to track back. But the lady at our hotel said that road was quite dangerous. We looked at Google Maps, and were glad the lady advised us not to go there, it was a very small and windy road.

Highway 1 goes through Big Sur State Park. This park actually is like a drive thru, the attraction is the roatrip you take there. We thought it was spectacular! With deep cliffs going into the sea, and a fog above the sea, which gave you a feeling like you were in the cloud. We kept driving in and out of the fog, and in and out of the sun. It was all so beautiful and surreal. Like you were driving through a fairytale landscape. Look at the photo’s to see it for yourself!

The see and a beach, photographed with a long shutter speed

Foggy road, HDR

The road next to the fog

At some point we had to leave, it was getting dark and we had to move on to our next stop: Monterey, or more specific: Moss Landing. We went there to spot whales. The tour we did guaranteed to see whales. And yes, we did see, multiple whales! But this was not the most specacular. We also saw a large group of dolphins! They were swimming with us, next to our boat, under our boat, along with the boat. This was so special to see! I loved the dolphins, they lookes so happy and playfull! A funny fact about the dolphins: when they sleep, they still swim and jump in and out of the water. They just lower their brain activity and swim a little bit slower.


Loaded with energy from this beautiful morning, we drove the last part of our road trip to San Francisco. Listening to our San Francisco playlist, we passed this field of flowers, which made us immediately turn on Scott McKenzie’s: ‘ If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair’.


In San Francisco we said goodbye to our car. We thanked our red vehicle for driving us all these miles.

In San Francisco something exciting was going to happen. I was going to make photo’s for Project Homeless Connect, an organization that is doing a great job for homeless people in San Francisco. I was quite shocked by the amount of homeless people in San Francisco; 8 out of 1.000 inhabitants of San Francisco are homeless and it is estimated that there are about 7.000 homeless people! Many of them have mental problems or are addicted. They sleep on the streets, in tents and sleeping bags, next to the coffee shop where people sip on their latte machiatos. There are not enough shelters and social services are not sufficient. There are even second generation homeless people, which means that you are born and raised on the street! It was very inhumane, and this is all happening in a prosperous country like the USA! Why are they not taking care of these people? I was glad I could help this organisation as a photographer! I did not want to make close-ups of homeless people, because they looked so vulnerable, and some a bit unpredicable, but I made this photo of a tent, to show how people sleep in their tents in the middle of the street.

Tent in the middle of the street

Besides the inhumanity of the homeless people, San Francisco also has an inhumane history of prisoning people in Alcatraz. We went there and took a tour. Most of the main building is still in its original state, which gives you a good idea how it must have been to be locked here, although you probably will never really understand how this will be, and I think we are lucky for that.

Besides this horrible history, San Francisco also has a happier history, the one of the hippie culture. San Francisco was the center of the birth of the hippie culture. Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix and The Grateful Dead lived here. The crossing of the Haight and Ashbury was the center location of the summer of love in 1967. This whole neighboorhoud still breathes the hippie culture, although it is all a bit touristy now. In the Golden Gate park is the Hippie Hill. In the weekends there are still people coming together here and drumming in a drumcircle for hours. It was pleasant being there, sitting in the sun and listening to the repeating drums. Although I thought it was difficult to draw a harsh line between hippies and homeless people. Hippies are celebrating freedom, reject material possessions and were under the influence of drugs a lot of the time. Nowadays a lot of homeless people are doing the same, but not by choice. Does the fact that you can choose make the difference between hippies and homeless? Or is it a melting pot, with no line inbewtween. It gave me a different thought about the hippie culture.

In San Francisco we took a lot of public transport, and they had quite some cool trams. One tram was a very old one, originally imported from Italy. It was an old mechanical one, and at the end of the track it had to be turned by hand.

We had three full days in San Francisco, in which we enjoyed the sun and nice and healthy food. San Francisco left me with mixed feelings. It was a pleasant city, with pleasant people and a nice vibe. But is was also a city with a lot of poverty and misery. A city with a rich history, of good as well as bad things. It was a city of contradictions, where I like to go back oneday to do something more for all these homeless people living in here.

Golden gate bridge

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