PETER and ANN FROST find fascination in the desert states of America’s sunny South West.

At one time it would have taken wild horses to make me visit a desert. I’d got my impression of deserts from the endless dunes of the movies – remember Lawrence of Arabia. So here I was in the desert between Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon; and what had brought us here? We’d come to see the wild horses.

On this trip we had discovered how fascinating the wildlife of the, far from barren, dry-lands can be. One evening on site we had heard a snuffling outside our motorhome. We discovered a most beautiful creature. It was like a huge blonde squirrel, the size of a small dog with the biggest bushiest tail we had ever seen.

We had already made friends with and fed chipmunks and ground squirrels at our breakfast table so we moved in for a closer look and some interesting photos.

A fellow camper tipped us off. “Keep clear of that critter” he advised, “its an albino skunk, very rare, very pretty and very smelly indeed, he can squirt about thirty feet and you won’t get rid of the foul odour for weeks, however many times you take a shower.”

The sunny climate and clean dry air bought the early film makers to this part of the American South West and it was in Hollywood we started our journey. The clean air is just a memory but the sun shines most of the time. Los Angeles certainly lived up to its movie image.

Sunset Strip and Santa Monica both reminded me of my favourite Raymond Chandler crime novels. Chandler is my favourite writer but sadly I never met the lady who featured in his best ever line. “She was wearing a dress the colour of sea water, and the tide was out.” I just wish I could write lines like that.

From Los Angeles we took the drive along the Big Sur, following the ocean north to San Francisco. I’d done it a score of times alongside Chandler’s hero Phillip Marlowe: now in real life it was so much better. Highway one, the Pacific Coast Highway takes you through some of the best ocean front landscape in the world. No wonder this is where the movie stars choose to live.

Next stop was San Francisco. It must be our age but as we cruised into town Ann and I were both singing at the top of our voices. “If you are going to San Francisco, be sure to wear flowers in your hair.” As they say once a hippy, always a hippy.

From the sophistication of Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown and the cable cars we left town for the rugged and simple pleasures of the deserts. Yosemite was truly awesome but not as awesome as Death Valley.

No wonder our transatlantic cousins use the word awesome a lot. Death Valley is the lowest, dryest, hottest spot in the USA. It is simply, what can I say?  Awesome.

On we went like some on-the-run heroes of a spaghetti western. Each new wind carved rocky bluff giving way to a yet more spectacular view. And then we reached Las Vegas.

Frankly we went to mock, to laugh at the gaudy glitz, to be superior about how we preferred to enjoy our simple travels. But we loved Las Vegas, and are still just a little ashamed that we loved tinsel town so much.

Its amazing how two of the world’s biggest, but most contrasting tourist attractions are so close together. It’s just a day’s drive from the loud and brash casinos of Las Vegas to the silent splendour of the Grand Canyon.

There are plenty of canyons in this part of the USA. Zion National park is amazing, Bryce canyon certainly worth a visit, but nothing gives you even a hint at the size, spectacle and sheer beauty of the vast hole in the ground that is the majestic Grand Canyon.

This place is timeless. The mighty Colorado River has taken eons to carve the canyon and we just walked the rim gasping at the scale and beauty of this unforgettable place.

All holidays come to an end – we ended this one singing, we could have admired the towns along our route back to Los Angeles, or more spectacular desert landscape, we even found ghost towns in the Mojave desert but that wasn’t what made us sing.

No we were happy and inspired just with the road signs. We raised our voices in song again. Yes, you’ve guessed it. We were on that very famous highway.

All together now; “Get your kicks on Route 66.” It was just like having Chuck Berry in the back of the motorhome.

This article appeared in Camping and Caravanning Magazine in 2008


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