When I last provided an update on my cross-country V Wagon roadtrip, I was at the Grand Canyon. Since then, I’ve driven through the desert. If you thought these things were one and the same, as I did, you’re mistaken. It turns out the Grand Canyon is surrounded by pine trees and gas stations that charge over five dollars for premium, while the desert is surrounded by nothingness and gas stations that went out of business in the 1970s.
But let’s back up. Upon leaving the Grand Canyon, we drove towards California, where a man at the border stopped us and confiscated a large portion of our roadtrip snacks. I’m not kidding. It started when we left Arizona and saw a few signs that indicated that we would have to stop at a “checkpoint.”
Naturally, at this point, we felt we’d be in the clear because we had no drugs, or guns, or any sort of Republican paraphernalia, all of which is presumably outlawed in California. But it turns out that he was looking for fruit, so he told us to lower our window and he would do a visual inspection to see if we had any.
The problem is that we did have fruit, purchased earlier in the week at Trader Joe’s. So the inspector picked up a bag of apples, examined it carefully, and stated – in a tone I might reserve for informing someone that their home just burned to the ground and they’ve lost all their earthly possessions and possibly their pets – “These are not California apples.”
Meanwhile, as the man examined our apples, the second guy at the checkpoint, keen to avoid a backup, started waving through cars without stopping them. So we’re sitting there, temporarily detained for possession of suspect foreign apples, while these people – who could be smuggling all sorts of fruit into California from exotic, disease-ridden places such as Nevada – are driving right past without so much as slowing down.
In the end, our fruit violation was deemed so grievous that the man confiscated our apples – all four of them – and wrote down my license plate number. Truly. I assume we are now on the California State Fruit Watch List, and we will be periodically stopped throughout our time in California by the CHP, who will search our vehicle for pears.
After we left the fruit checkpoint, we drove through the desert. When I say this, I don’t mean we took the interstate through the desert. I mean we got on some desolate two-lane highway – the kind of highway where you can stop the car in the middle of the road for as long as you’d like, including overnight – and drove towards Joshua Tree National Park, where I insisted we visit because I had spent eighty bucks on an unlimited national parks pass, and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t going to get my money’s worth.
For those who haven’t been to the Mojave Desert, I’ll attempt to sum it up. Imagine, if you will, absolutely nothing. Now triple it. Then add some mountains. This is an exact description of California from approximately the Arizona border to Greater Los Angeles.
OK, so maybe it isn’t that bad. There are two or three towns along this two-lane highway, all of which include about four mobile homes and a collection of broken-down vehicles that are probably advertised on Craigslist as “ran when parked.” There’s also the town of Amboy, home of Roy’s Motel and Cafe, a former Route 66 hotspot that’s now largely abandoned. As we stood at Roy’s, photographing its iconic sign, surrounded by almost incomprehensible nothingness, a Maserati GranTurismo drove by.
Eventually, we continued our drive and passed more nothing, then still more nothing. The only way I can describe this accurately is to say that we pulled over at one point, and by this I mean we stopped in the middle of the highway, and when we got out to look around we realized it was absolutely silent. Imagine it: no cars, no birds, no construction vehicles, no horns, no screaming children. Pure and complete silence.
We reached Joshua Tree National Park after a few hours and rolled up to the main entrance, feeling high and mighty because we were esteemed holders of an eighty-dollar unlimited national parks pass. I arrived at the gate, rolled down my window, held out the pass and discovered the booth attendant had already gone home for the day, and we could enter for free. This, I felt, was a great deal because Joshua Tree National Park is home to many cool things such as, and this might surprise you, a lot of Joshua Trees.
Leaving Joshua Tree meant heading west towards the Los Angeles metro area and our hotel stop for the night, ending 527 miles of desolate, empty driving through the middle of the desert.
If you’re wondering, the V Wagon is doing great. Yes, it’s dirty, which I plan to rectify today. I considered leaving the roadtrip filth on, but we’re to the point now where the windows are so heavily covered that the grime is creating enormous blindspots. Also: we’re staying in Laguna Beach, where having a dirty car appears to be a violation of some type of city ordinance. But other than its cleanliness, the V Wagon is handling everything with ease. If you’re in the market, I strongly suggest it. There’s really no better vehicle for smuggling fruit.
For more roadtrip updates and photos, please follow me on Twitter.
Total Distance – 2,570 miles
Total Fuel – 138.99 gallons
Fuel Economy – 18.49 mpg
First installment: Across America In A CTS-V Wagon: The First 2000 Miles.