Saturday, December 25, 2010

As we cross the border from Arizona into California on Interstate 8 near Yuma, AZ, we can see a definitive line of dark clouds hanging over this usually sunny state.  Our aim is to see the Imperial Sand Dunes; yes, more sand dunes.  These are up to 300 feet high and are a recreational haven for riders of ATVs.  They are also on BLM land (remember, usually RVers can camp on BLM - Bureau of Land Management - land for free), but during "dune season" from October to May, RVers have to buy a permit to camp.  Unfortunately, the Ranger Station is closed and we can't find anywhere else that sells the permits - it is very frustrating and quite unfriendly.  Unlike every other state we have ever been to, there is also no State Welcome Center or Visitors Center when you enter on an Interstate.  We keep seeing commercials at home of Governor Arnold and other celebs telling us to come to California, but when we get here there's nothing and no one to help us figure out where to go or what to see!  So we keep driving.

California Day 2, still cloudy - we stop at a gas station in the tiny town of Niland and ask for directions to Slab City which lies on Niland's outskirts.  This is a hippy town that our new friends Janice and Jerry told us about.  It is named for the concrete slabs left behind from a remaining WWII army barracks.

First we come to "Leonard's Mountain", but more on that later.  Then there are the hippy trucks and buses decorated with old hubcaps and God knows what else.  We drive around sightseeing, but also find a place to park the trailer for the night.  There are also many big, expensive RVs and trailers here, so we feel secure that we'll be safe.  The rain starts shortly after we arrive, and it doesn't stop for almost 2 days.  Small clearings appear occasionally, attempting to lull us into thinking it will stop raining, but then they disappear and the black clouds roll in and the rain comes again.  The problem is that the surface we are on is a mixture of tiny stones and clay - very slippery when pulling 12,000 pounds.  So we decide to wait out the rain.

California Day 3, still raining - we stay put.

Leonard in the middle with other tourists - Salvation Mountain
California Day 4, the skies are clear blue and the sun is shining again - we pull out and head for L.A. to meet my uncle for Christmas Eve dinner.  We stop again at "Leonard's Mountain", and this time get out to have a closer look.  And surprise, we get a personal tour from Leonard, the mountain's creator.  What a character!  He is 80 years old this year and started building and painting this mountain to "spread the word of the love of God" 30 years ago.  It is a truly amazing structure, what Leonard has accomplished with adobe and paint, and his message is simple - "God loves us first, so keep it simple".  To him, his creation is called "Salvation Mountain".  Leonard is a delight to talk to.

Along the way north towards L.A., we stop at the Salton Sea, really an inland lake that is slightly more saline than the Pacific Ocean.  It was created in 1905 by the overflowing Colorado River.  It is slowly evaporating, and one day will be gone entirely, perhaps producing another Death Valley.  We also learn that some areas of the state received a couple of feet of rain over this past week, and fellow RVers whom we meet were stuck at their campsites for days waiting out the rain, so we are lucky we had only two days.  My uncle informs us that 20 homes in San Bernardino were lost to mud slides.  What a strange land of extremes this is.

Brad, Uncle Bill and Marilyn, Christmas Eve 2010
It is heartwarming to see my Uncle Bill again.  I haven't seen him for over 23 years - that was when my grandmother died and he came "home" for her funeral.  He left Canada in 1958 and has been here in California ever since.  He just can't stand the humidity of southern Ontario.  He lives in Claremont which, it turns out, is a beautiful little college town.  It reminds me of Niagara-on-the-Lake but with a big university at its heart.  There are quaint shops and restaurants in Clarement Village - and that's exactly what it's called.  There's a bakery where Uncle Bill buys his fresh bread - everything is within walking distance.  There are trees everywhere, and the college campus is huge.  Actually, it's five colleges all together.  Tuition, Uncle Bill says, is $40,000 per year!  The surrounding areas are residential, and nice residential, not slummy.  To the northwest is Mount Baldy, a huge mountain some 10,000 feet high.  It's only about 10 miles away and the peaks are snow covered.  I can see why he wants to live here.  It's beautiful!

Uncle Bill is the last of my father's siblings, four boys.  Bill was the "baby".  He and his brother Frank moved here to California; Frank passed away a few years ago.  My dad and his oldest brother Bob stayed in Hamilton.  Uncle Bill had a pacemaker installed last winter, so I'm glad to finally be able to see him.  I hope to be able to see him on subsequent trips.

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