25. Apr, 2016

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WEDNESDAY 30-04-08 

This morning saw no improvement in the amount of smoke coming off the other side of the mountain; let’s hope they soon have the wildfire under control. We were sorry to be leaving the ‘Happy Traveller’ campground; The Chef said it was her favourite so far. 

Our first task was to find the house at 1148 E Alejo Road, Palm Springs,  (GPS: N33.830400 W116.533773) which Frank Sinatra shared with Ava Gardner, his wife at the time. It wasn’t too far from the campground or downtown, so it was good to know that Ava could put her coat on and pop to the local Off-licence if Frank needed a bag of ice or a bottle of something. 

We found what we think was the house, or rather bungalow. It was the only one without a house number on it, but located where we thought 1148 should be, probably a cunning ploy by the owners to try and fool us tourists. I did offer The Chef the opportunity to climb up the rear ladder of the RV and take a few pictures standing on the roof but she declined, instead sticking the camera through the fencing at the front of the property and snapping a couple of quick pictures, unfortunately when uploading them in to the computer tonight we found the camera was crooked, so now we’ll have to tell people that Frank and Ava lived on a very steep hill. 

After seeing the house we moved on to Wal-Mart to stock up for what could be a couple of nights dry camping, we also decided to buy a large plastic cool box to keep in the rear cargo locker in which to store fruit, vegetables, and beer etc as sitting bags and boxes among the other items in there wasn’t really working. 

As we left Wal-Mart with our food shopping and new icebox we couldn’t believe how the wind had suddenly got up, so often during this trip sudden windy conditions have been a problem to us. It was difficult to keep the shopping trolley in the same place as Rosina loaded foodie bits and I put the water etc in the rear cargo locker. 

Next it was on to the Desert Memorial Park Cemetery (GPS: N33.816208 W116.442069). ‘She’ in the Satnav didn’t recognise the address, and there seemed little point in punching in ‘Frank Sinatra’ as she’d probably start singing ‘Come Fly with me’. Luckily we remembered the directions given to us by an OAP we accosted on the street a couple of days ago. His directions were to prove spot on, though I can’t help feeling a little guilty as I remember him, following our conversation, starting to walk back in the direction he had come from before we’d interrupted his train of thought, so I guess he arrived home without whatever it was he went out out for. 

Desert Memorial Park Cemetery is on the junction of Ramond Rd and Da Vall Drive, in Cathedral City, about 5 miles away from Palm Springs. It is a large and very well maintained cemetery and we were able to easily park the RV inside during our visit. We were pleased to have found it as we’d had to endure local people who didn’t have a clue where Frank Sinatra was buried, or didn’t know where the cemetery was or who told us it was not open to the public. It’s that local knowledge problem again. 

I popped over to the office and picked up a diagram of the plots which thoughtfully listed the ‘celebs’ interred there. Close to the RV we found Frank Sinatra and his family, all in a row – mother, father, uncle, parents of his wife Barbara and his 'friend' Jilly Rizzo. Noticeably there didn't appear to be a space for his widow when she eventually dies. We then moved on to find others on the list we recognised, Busby Berkeley, Sonny Bono, ex husband of Cher and former Mayor of Palm Springs, Zsa Zsa Gabor’s mother and sister, with an empty spot next to them waiting for the girl herself, Betty Hutton and William Powell. 

The cemetery was kept tidy by not allowing traditional headstones. Instead each grave has a fairly standard sized inscribed tablet which was sunk in to the grass. That way the strimmers and mowers could keep everything nice and tidy. Plus of course it did away with any one-upmanship in the size and elaborateness of any headstone or monument. The one thing that did surprise me was that there was only a small posy of plastic holly on Frank’s grave. I know that it’s been something like 10 years since he died, but I would have thought there would have been a member of his family who must surely have inherited a fortune, or a Fan Club somewhere who could have made an arrangement with a local florist to have a small posy of fresh flowers placed there a couple of times a week. We did also notice that a number of the graves had a few one cent (‘penny’) coins lying on the headstones. We had no idea of the significance. 

After our tour of the cemetery we were feeling peckish and so had lunch in the RV. 

 After lunch, and having noticed how ‘Ol’Blue Eyes’ had no pennies on his grave I took a few one cent coins and placed one on his and each of his family’s graves. I had two left over and so left them on Frank’s. I didn’t know the significance of the coins but if you leave a coin having had a thought for that person, then my thought was ‘Frank - you owe me 9 cents’. 

I had contemplated using the huge amount of information we were gathering en-route to write a book, probably ghost written by somebody who actually has the gift of writing, in order to share our experiences of RV travelling in America. Today I came up with the title for such a book - 'Lunch with Frank Sinatra'. 

Back on the road we were making for Joshua Tree State Park. The wind was getting really strong; we were on the I10, passing the huge wind farm, built there because NASA had identified it as one of the windiest places on earth. The gusts were almost blowing us off the road and my speed was down to about 40mph. I was very close to aborting the journey and returning to Palm Springs. I persevered only because we were due to leave I10 soon afterwards. We didn’t go into Joshua Tree State Park. We had planned to wild camp there for the night, and I had left Palm Springs with sufficient fresh water in our tanks had we chosen to do so.

The area wasn’t as unspoilt and desolate as I had imagined it, and the very strong winds had blown up a lot of plastic bags and rubbish etc which was leaving a bit of a mess. I’m sure the park is a wonderful place but the image had been spoilt, so we decided to head towards Death Valley for a second visit as we had enjoyed it so much last time, even though it had only been an overnight stay. 

We headed out on Hwy247 to Victorville. This was a road through bleak desert territory and there were sandstorms everywhere and we passed through a place called Johnson Valley. Now if you were to go to a Sunday school here and ask the children to draw ‘Hell on Earth’ – they’d draw Johnson Valley. Rumour has it they were planning to carry out the first ever nuclear weapon test explosion in Johnson Valley until somebody pointed out that the aftermath would actually improve the environment there and been political suicide for the project. So thanks to Johnson Valley it was New Mexico which was the first place on earth to get ‘nuked’. 

At Victorville the strangest thing happened. We’d been travelling miles and miles seeing hardly any other vehicle on the road in this fairly barren desert when suddenly we hit a traffic jam, three lanes wide in each direction. Four roads from each point of the compass met and it was rush hour. I’ve no idea what all of them did for a living or where on earth they worked but they were obviously all looking to get away from it at the same time.

After Victorville we decide to carry on and head for a campground in Barstow where according to our list, Wal-Mart would let us camp with permission. On arrival at the store the security man explained that things had changed and kindly gave us directions to a car park at a nearby Barstow Mall, where a couple of fellow RV’ers were already camped. 

From our experience a number of RV campgrounds are built fairly near railroad tracks, or at least within hearing distance of them. Well it turns out they also build under-used shopping malls near railroads as well, in fact we learned that two major railroads pass through Barstow on tracks just across the road from us. 

We couldn’t be bothered to cook and so popped along to the fast food eats joints in nearby Barstow station, an interesting building constructed mainly out of old railway rolling stock. After a ‘Panda Express’ takeaway from there The Chef used the laptop to get the accounts and her notes up to date and I decided to do battle with the blister packaging surrounding the new 12v charger for the laptop I’d bought in Palm Springs. This new toy would allow us to charge the laptop overnight from the vehicle battery. 

Oh deep joy they’d sold me another mains lead and not a 12v lead. Would I be able to find the receipt? 

LOCATION TONIGHT: Car park near Barstow station, Barstow, CA (GPS: N34.888898 W116.996351).