Part 1 - Through the USA


Our drive to Mexico - 2005

Edmonton, Canada to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico

October 6 to November 3, 2005

Getting Ready
Salt Lake City
Reno/Lake Tahoe
San Francisco and the Wine Country
San Diego
Part 2 - In Mexico


Part 1 - Through the USA


Once upon a time there was a 1996 Suzuki Sidekick who was feeling old and tired.  He had lived all his life in Edmonton where winters were cold and roads were icy and summers were too short.  Every year, its family promised it that “soon” it would retire to a nice resort in Mexico where it could sit in the sunshine and enjoy its remaining years with only the occasional drive.  But “soon” was slow to come and the poor little Suzuki was rusting away and losing hope.   Then one day it happened!  The family said “Let’s Go!” and after a little cosmetic surgery and a few mechanical fixes, they were on they way! 

This is the story of the Suzuki's retirement trip.



Getting Ready

The trip was going to be over 5500 km (plus however much we added in side trips and sightseeing) including over 1700 km on the transpeninsular highway in Mexico where services would be limited so we needed to be sure the car was up to the trip.  In the end, the trip took us 4800 km to the Mexican Border and another 2450 km to San José.

Allen spent most of the summer working on the car:  scraping out the rust, filling the holes with fiberglass and painting the repaired areas.  Robin tuned the engine, put in a new clutch cable (the clutch had just been redone in the winter), changed all the fluids and belts, and got the air conditioning recharged.  The battery was almost new and the brakes were okay.

Our plan was to camp when we could and stay in motels when it suited us.  We bought our equipment over the prior year as we anticipated the trip:

  • a new cooler that plugged into either the car or wall sockets
  • a double sleeping bag - one side up for cooler weather and the other side up for warmer nights.
  • a thick air mattress and pump
  • a new camp stove with a single burner and a grill
  • a comprehensive tool kit
  • large duffle bags as we needed to take clothes suitable for the fall trip through mountains and the warmer weather we would find in Mexico
  • a coffee pot (perc style instead of the drip one we had)
  • a picnic backpack which made up the entire dish set we took (it was a gift)
  • tiny golf bags which could be tucked in behind the seats
  • plus an old tent, camp chairs, etc


We squeezed all this into the Suzuki

  Click for more pictures

On the Road

On Thursday, October 6 we started off.  In spite of leaving home late (noonish) we were able to get to Great Falls, Montana the first night.  It was too late to even consider camping so we found a motel for the night.  In the morning, we golfed at the local municipal golf course, then drove for a few hours to Dillon, Montana. Again, we stayed in a motel as the evening was colder than we had expected.  It turned out that the altitude was the problem.  We were over 5000 ft up and, at that altitude, the nights get downright cold, even though the days are warm. We didn’t camp until we reached Petaloma in California.   On Saturday, we had an easy drive to Salt Lake City, arriving there in late afternoon.  Click for Montana Pictures

Return to Start

Salt Lake City

At the tourist information office we learned that on Sunday mornings, they record the weekly TV broadcast by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir live and the public is welcome to attend the recording.  It is traditionally performed in the Tabernacle but that facility was close for major renovations.  Instead, they were using the new Convention Centre, a 21,000 seat theatre built in 2000 for their semi-annual General Assemblies.  The 7000 pipe organ was subdued for the broadcast so we toured the Temple square and went back to the theatre at 2:00 for an organ recital where we were able to hear the full power of the organ.

In Temple Square, we had the guided tour of the public buildings by two young girls from Germany.  They were in Salt Lake City for two years, doing their compulsory missionary service.  We also visited the house that was the official residence of Brigham Young when he was head of the church and first Governor of Utah.  It was also the home of his third wife who ran the household and served as hostess for official receptions, etc. Apparently, wives one and two declined the honour/stress of being the official hostess.  It was quite a spectacular house, with 12 foot ceilings and decorated in the European style of the day.  No comment on where he got his money.  The other wives lived in houses nearby. 

Click here for more pictures

On the Road Again

After the organ recital, we drove for a few hours into Nevada before stopping for the night at the town of Elko.  On our way, we stopped at the Bonneville Salt Flats in the Newfoundland Evaporation Basin.   Click here for Salt Flat and Nevada pictures.

In the morning, it was too nippy for golfing so we drove a couple of hours to the town of Winnemucca.  By then it had warmed up and we stopped for lunch and a quick round of golf then we continued to Reno. 

Return to Start

Click here for Reno and Lake Tahoe pictures

Reno and Lake Tahoe

We arrived in Reno in late afternoon.  The Fitzgerald Hotel is right in the centre of town, under the Reno sign.  The AMA book showed a price range of $30 to $130 a night so we thought we would take our chances. We got a rate of $32 per night - including taxes!  We went to their all you can eat $10 dinner buffet and then toured the downtown, not a long tour.  Unfortunately, Reno doesn't have much in the way of shows and the ones they had were dark on Mondays.  We aren't much for gambling so, once we had checked out the casinos, we had a quiet evening.

The next day, we spent some time shopping and then went to a comedy show in the evening. 

Wednesday morning we headed out to go to Lake Tahoe.  Lake Tahoe, which straddles the Nevada/California border, is at an elevation of 6,229 ft and has an average depth of 989 feet.  Because of its depth, it never freezes.  It is spectacularly clear and beautiful.

Our friends, Charles and Joan Buckley, were staying in South Lake Tahoe and invited us to stay with them for the night.  We spent the afternoon driving around Lake Tahoe, admiring the views and enjoying the fabulous weather, finishing up at a local casino for dinner.

Return to Start


On Thursday we went to Sacramento with Charlie and Joan (via a Costco and a factory outlet mall) where we toured the old town and had dinner.  Sacramento was near the site of the first gold find in 1848, state capital, and the terminal for both the Pony Express and the transcontinental railroad so has dozens of museums but we didn't arrive until later in the afternoon and only had time for one.  We picked wisely as the highlight of our old town visit was the California State Railway Museum.  After dinner, we went to the Betty Crocker (no, not That Betty Crocker) Art Museum.  Built in 1870 next to the original Crocker home, the Art Gallery has one of the finest 19th century art collections in California.  Most other wealthy collectors of the time moved to San Francisco in its heyday and their collections were lost in the 1906 earthquake.

Then Charlie and Joan headed back to Lake Tahoe.  We didn't envy them their drive back from sea level to over 6,000 ft.  We continued on to Petaluma in the wine district north of San Francisco.  For the first time on the trip, we were able to camp as the nights have been too cold till here.



Click here for more pictures

Return to Start


San Francisco and the Wine Country      

Click here for Sonoma Pictures

We set up camp in the KOA Campground in Petaluma, next to a market garden with pumpkins for Halloween and a corn maze which was a favorite of the neighbourhood children.

Petaluma is in the wine country north of San Francisco.  We had planned to go wine tasting in Napa but when we got to Sonoma, their Chamber of Commerce slogan got us:  “Sonoma is for Wine, Napa is for auto parts”.  So we spent two days around there sipping and sightseeing.  We found lots of wonderful wines but, unfortunately, they were all from small vineyards so we will never find them to buy again.  Sonoma also is the site of the Sonoma Mission, the furthest north of the California missions.

We visited the Sebastiani Winery where they were crushing Merlot grapes and we were able to see the whole process.  It was fascinating.  The Merlot grapes are tiny – about the size of saskatoons.  Apparently it is an excellent year for them.

We also used Petaluma as our base for touring San Francisco.  We spent two days seeing the sights there: in the Golden Gate State Park, on Fisherman’s Wharf, at the Palace of the Arts, up Telegraph Hill, over to Alcatraz and dinner in  Chinatown.  We were up and down so many hills that the clutch started complaining so we stopped on the way out of town for a fluids check.  Everything was fine so Allen just tightened the clutch cable and we were on the road again.

Click here for San Francisco Pictures

Return to Start
On The Road Again

We got to Salinas that night where we stayed in a motel for one night and golfed there the next day (but not at Pebble Beach which was just next door), then continued on to Buellton, just north of Santa Barbara where we camped for two nights.  The campground had the best and cleanest washrooms I have ever seen and, as you know, I’ve seen a few. The campground is about 50% long term people – one man we spoke to had been there three YEARS.  Another one had been there about 1 ½ years and hoped to be in his new house (he was building one) in March/06.  He was a real estate agent and said that starter homes in the area were about $600,000 to $700,000!  No wonder they live in RV parks.



Click here for Lompoc and La Purisima Mission Pictures

We were very close to Vandenberg Air Force Base and saw the launch of the last Titan Missile – at least we heard the boom and then saw it and its exhaust trail in the sky.  Unfortunately we didn’t know what we were seeing so didn’t get a picture.

That was supposed to be our beaching day and the weather was beautiful but we got sidetracked and ended up visiting Lompoc, a town in the centre of the cut-flower farm area where there are murals on all the public buildings.  They grow a massive variety of flowers during the summer but since this was mid-October, the only flowers still blooming were stocks. 

La Purisima Mission, just outside Lompoc, is another of 23 build in California from about 1760 to 1830.  Built in 1787, it is the best restored/reconstructed of them and was quite interesting.

One of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal initiatives was the formation of the Civilian Conservation Corps which  "brought together two wasted resources, the young men and the land, in an effort to save both."    It undertook Environmental and Historical restoration projects nationwide.  Preservation and reconstruction of the Mission complex began in 1934 through efforts of the County of Santa Barbara, the State of California, the National Park Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Under direction and labor from the latter two organizations, buildings and grounds were restored and furnished to appear as they had in 1820.

A full driving day got us to San Diego where we are camping in a campground on Mission Bay that we have used several times in the past.  Very nice and conveniently located.

Return to Start


San Diego        
Every trip needs its crisis and we had ours on Friday, the day after we arrived in San Diego.  We decided to buy our Mexican car insurance at the AAA here rather than waiting till we were in Mexico so we went to their office to get it.  Ruth pulled out the pink slip and the registration and discovered that we had the registration for… ready?... the Windstar.  Anyone want to see a nice case of controlled hysteria???  I mean Ruth didn’t start screaming or anything.  Just an e-mail and a couple of panic phone calls to kids.  We e-mailed a copy of the Windstar registration to Robin and he e-mailed a copy of the Suzuki one to us.  The original came to us on Monday by FedEx and the Windstar one went home the same way.  Thank God we had decided to get the insurance here rather than arriving at the border to discover that we had no papers for the car!!!!


Once we calmed down, we went back to touring and visited the “Old Town” of San Diego, a district from its village days in the early 1800’s.  It was the first European settlement on the west coast and was an interesting mix of European and Mexican culture. 
In the evening, we went to a Musical in the Old Town Theatre on career and lifestyle changes caused by ageism.  It was a riot but the young couple sitting beside us couldn’t relate at all.Saturday we went to our old favourite, Sea World.  It was as good as ever and better without the crowds. Sunday, we went to the Zoo.  It’s been eons since we were last there and we really enjoyed it too.  The weather had been cloudy and misty since we arrived here - not enough to dampen our sightseeing but enough to keep the crowds at bay. 
We also did the last shopping for the trip – getting a cover and ropes for when we’re storing the car in Mexico, getting the brakes checked (they were good), stocking up on propane and drinking water for the drive, etc.  Last thing to do was repack the car as we had been getting a bit sloppy.
Click here for San Diego Pictures We left Monday morning for Mexico as soon as we were able to get the car registration from FedEx.


Onward to Mexico


Visitor Number     

Return to Ruth and Allen's home page