We booked our flights to California without any real plans, so we were really lucky to have the chance to go on a road trip through California with Mazda and Men Who Blog. We picked up brand new Mazda 6 at LAX airport and drove straight to our friends’ house in Santa Barbara, who we had met in the Maldives almost two years earlier. After hanging out with them and doing cool stuff like riding motorbikes and even getting my UK Marriage Visa in LA, we set off on our road trip into the desert!
Having only seen this majestic place in pictures we knew we were in for an amazing ride through the merging of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, each having very different ecosystems. The result of this union is a landscape dotted with unusual geological features sculpted by torrential rain and strong winds, framed by a dramatic, endless sky of stars. Luckily we were entering this harsh wilderness in the luxury of the new Mazda 6!
The sleek, sporty Mazda 6 sedan was the perfect car for driving the smooth, winding California roads around Joshua Tree National Park – poised, sharp, powerful yet economical and with a huge boot, (sorry, trunk!) for all our road trip luggage! The ride is super smooth, the handling and steering responsive. The Skyactive engine is quiet and smooth, until you hit the accelerator, when it suddenly snaps into life and starts eating up the road. With a flick of the ‘Sport’ button, the revs perked up, the suspension tightened and the steering became extra responsive for the tighter turns on the mountain roads.
We had an incredible couple of days camping and driving in the Joshua Tree National Park and we’re looking forward to doing a lot more road trips. A big thanks to Mazda, DriveShop and Men Who Blog for helping us achieve this dream.
Here’s the top ten reasons why we loved our road trip in Joshua Tree National Park with Mazda USA!
1. Camping under a blanket of stars in Joshua Tree National Park
We reached our first night’s destination in Joshua Tree National Park after an incredible drive through the desert just in time to pitch our tent as the orange sun set over the rocks in the distance. After a day of driving we had worked up a huge appetite and enjoyed a moonlit barbecue (the cool guys of #MenWhoBlog got us a lot of spam, bacon and camping food sponsored by Hormel Food Company and the grill from Napoleon Grills) , with the added company of an astronomer who came to meet us with his telescope and helped us find so many stars and constellations in the endless night sky. It was so powerful we could even make out all the craters of the moon!
2. The Eerie Silence of Salton Sea
Leading through the National Park, this route takes you through mountains until you reach a lake around which sits the abandoned remains of a major tourist resort. During its development the salt levels of the lake rose and rose gradually until all of the fish, birds and plant life were killed resulting in the abandonment of the project. While this may sound spooky and sad, the remains are actually really beautiful in a strange contrast to the powerful scenery around them.
3. One Man’s Awesome Dream to Build Salvation Mountain
One of the most iconic Joshua Tree monuments is Salvation Mountain, a huge construction of wood, mud and straw painted in multiple bright colours. This is the decades-long work of a man who found God and dedicated his life to honouring his experience through this mountain. It’s a pretty surreal view, driving off the desert road and exploring the weird and wonderful passageways within this creation, filled with colours and shapes amongst the dry, grey mud. Worried you might miss it? Just look out for the huge white cross above the painted “God is Love” letters painted onto a big rock.
4. The Alternative Lifestyle of the Slab City “Slabbers”
This so-called city is in fact an old air force base that is now home to many people and their motor homes. We drove by here on the way from Salvation Mountain and saw many motor homes decorated with recycled junk turned into funky art. Known as “Slabbers” they all have an interesting story to tell, many are retirees escaping the cold winter weather elsewhere while also avoiding the costs of regular society. Many are simply wanderers in search of a life with real freedom. With no electricity, running water or sewage system, they must rely on solar panels, their own system of waste management and a communal shower in the form of a concrete cistern whose water source is a hot spring 100 yards away.
5. The Bizarreness of East Jesus Artist’s Commune
In the same location you will also find an artist community named East Jesus, a destination for artists to come and create sculptures in the desert. There’s something quite other-worldly about coming across these unusual metal constructions in their variety of shapes in the midst of the dusty, isolated desert. The facility is completely off-grid, un-served by any municipal utility services, while on the surface it is an exhibition space the artists here are representing the results of their investigations into creative reuse, non-linear advancement and low-tech solutions. Keep an eye out for the curator who could possibly be the inspiration behind the name with his long, white beard, hooked tobacco pipe and goblet of wine!
6. Driving the Iconic Route 66
On our second day we switched into the Mazda CX-5, a mid-size SUV all-wheel-drive, out onto a stretch of route 66. This 2300 mile road is an American icon and driving along it is a bucket list activity for many travellers the world over. Due to the construction of new routes connecting states together, many towns whose livelihoods relied on the passing traffic have become ghosts of their former selves, now serving only as a sign of times gone by and a photo opportunity. Jonathan loved the chance to put his foot down and race with the spectacular landscape whizzing past and the breeze to take the edge off the hot desert sun.
7. Getting some real off-roading action!
We put the Mazda CX-5 4 wheel drive to the test, taking it off-road through the desert for several miles to the aptly named “Giant Rock” which is literally a huge rock sitting alone in the desert and a great spot for some funny photos. The car served us well with some careful manoeuvring from Jonathan and thankfully we made it back to the safety of the road without a scratch. Driving off-road in the desert shouldn’t be underestimated, so if planning it yourself be sure to check with someone first which routes are safest for your vehicle. Also, make sure someone knows where you’re going.
8. The Guinness World Record Holding Banana Museum
I bet you never knew you could find so many banana themed items in one place or that they actually grow in California. Well neither did we! Despite its confusing location and theme, take the time out of your drive to stop off at this slightly odd but novelty addition along the way where you can buy anything from a banana milkshake to a banana-shaped record player, who wouldn’t want that!
9. The Reflections of Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch
Driving along Route 66 you may be mistaken in thinking you’ve seen a lonely patch of trees alone in the desert. It’s not an oasis, but a man made “woodland” crafted from recycled bottles in ranging shades of bright bottle green, brown and clear glass, effectively emulating the changing colours of autumn leaves. Built by a man named Elmer Long who you may be lucky enough to meet, he loves to spend time in the garden and tell visitors about his creation and often offers small glass pieces in exchange for donations that help him expand. This unusual site is famous worldwide, attracting guests from as far afield as France and Japan and now the Philippines! Photographers like Jonathan won’t want to leave, with every angle offering a new interesting effect through the lens.
10. Visiting a real life desert oasis
We ended our 4-day road trip in 29 Palms, a 70-acre oasis in the middle of the desert offering accommodation within the 1930’s Adobe style bungalow and several wooden cabins, with a swimming pool, organic garden and restaurant. They also have a creative centre offering artistic workshops for those inspired by the artworks seen in the desert. After an exhilarating off-road drive and the unforgettable experience of zooming down Route 66 this peaceful and quiet spot was the perfect place to rest and reflect on everything we had seen.
Thank you to Mazda USA for sponsoring our #DrivingMatters Trip. If you’d like to read more about our Joshua Tree trip, check out the Men Who Blog website to read the other stories of our new blogging friends who joined us!