Day 10: Welcome to California

A few days ago we were worried about crossing western NM and eastern AZ, and remarking on the desolate desert landscape. What the hell did I know, innocent Easterner? That was a trip through green pastures compared to today.

Leaving charming Williams, AZ after breakfast we rapidly descended from 7,600 ft to less than 400 at the Colorado River. The terrain changed and changed again, from tall pines to arid red rocks to scrub desert as we spiraled down out of the high land of the Colorado Plateau.

Looking at Needles, CA across Goose Lake, Havasu Wildlife Refuge, Topock, AZ

Seeing a watery wildlife refuge, we exited Route 40 just before the California line. Tango got to wallow in water from the Colorado that fills Goose Lake, a huge wetland surrounded by white sand desert. It was hot and windy, and a very strange place. Even a few dozen yards from the water and the landscape was unforgivingly harsh. Still, there was the scruffy town of Topock there, touting its recreational benefits.

After lunch we excitedly crossed into the Golden State and began climbing uphill again. Soon it was apparent that we were in a monumental desert world. The adjective ‘lunar’ worked its way into the conversation. Almost all the greenery disappeared and the colors grew muted. Some cactuses, a few small yuccas, tumbleweeds. And rocks, sand, wind.

Mountains were toothy and varied in color and form. Sometimes there was a totally black mountain. Later we saw more ‘malpais’ – recent lava erruptions of grainy black stone. There were no signs of life, no living things, no houses or power lines. For dozens of miles.

The Mohave Desert is over 25,000 square miles of daunting desert, stretching from Vegas into Arizona and California. It felt like the surface of Mars, only less colorful. It’s the first landscape where I couldn’t imagine surviving on my own. I like to think I am comfortable in the wilderness. But this environment was deeply hostile in my book, despite the long list of creatures who live there.

Jose and I have been on the road for over 3,200 miles and ten days. We’re tired, and so is our vehicle. Today, while watching the engine light and the temp gauge, one strap holding the bicycle broke, fortunately we caught it before it got completely loose. Later, in 30+ mph winds the cartop carrier began rattling ominously, so again we were on the hot, windy and dangerous highway fussing with straps and buckles to cinch it tighter.

After the blasted feeling of the Mohave, climbing up into the Tehachapi pass with all its windmills was exhilarating. But then the high winds had whipped the dust into a haze, and the sun was low. All those twirling pinwheels spinning on the mountainsides were mesmerizing.

After that, the rugged hills softened to a leathery tan, more green appeared and livestock to dine on it. Trees other than Joshua were a sight for sore eyes. And when we hit the first orchards in Caliente, it was like being in candy-land. The colors were so intense!

Here in north Bakersfield The air smells of flowers and manure, and its relatively humid. there are vineyards and orchards just outside of town, and they will line our route home tomorrow, the Garden Basket of the US.

Welcome to California, a huge, strange, rugged, lush state. What a first day!!

Thanks everyone for following along on this wacky adventure. There are many more tales to tell, and tomorrow, more miles to go. Stay tuned!

Day 9, part 1: Across the Desert

On this amazing day  we traveled over 450 miles and through many amazing types of terrain. We are pretty bone-weary and happy, since we ended our day with the Grand Canyon. That story is for Part 2.

This morning we left ABQ after fueling up at Starbucks and heading out old 66 for a bit. The empty desert stretched out forever before us, powdery sand and shriveled sage baking in the sun. As bleak as it was, soon there were bluffs and mesas, and we passed by Acoma Sky City as I read the amazing tale of their civilization (on Wikipedia, natch).

Whizzing along Interstate 40

Later we were sweeping through big curving red rock landscapes, passing impoverished Indian settlements and eccentric tourist traps as we ate up the miles. We got gas at Gallup, near the once-famous Hotel El Rancho, favoured by movie stars in the days of the big Western pictures: John Wayne and the like.

We crossed the Continental Divide and then the Arizona border. Somewhere our phones decided we had crossed into Pacific time as well, so the day became even longer.

Arizona brought less arid landscape: some breath of green to the range, and cattle appeared, grazing upon it. Lunchtime was a wonderful picnic at the Petrified Forest NP. Our shaded picnic table looked out over colorful hills dotted with petrified logs.The wind literally wuthered: around the rocks, the shelter, the scrub pine and sage.

Petrified Forest NP

There were lizards skittering, and birds. A few wildflowers were blooming including a cactus with orange blossoms.

After lunch, once again we were climbing. We were approaching the San Francisco Mountains and Flagstaff, gateway to the canyon lands beyond. But that’s tomorrow’s story. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, here is today’s

Josephine Report: Desert Thoughts

Patrise and I have an ongoing conversation about how we feel about being in the desert. Both of us have lived our lives in various parts of the country surrounded by water, woods, and green growing things. Today we spent a good five hours traversing the New Mexico and Arizona desert, so that gave us time to think about being in it. I find it forbidding, inhospitable, bringing up survival fears. No leafy cover, no humidity, the sun so aggressive. I know I will never choose to live in such an environment.  For Patrise, her body responds with a big “yes”! But let her speak for herself.

And yet, it’s not as simple as that for me. I’ve now participated in three retreats over the past several years in the high desert near Abiquiu with White Eagle on her sacred land, Star Dance. Although the environment of the desert there did keep me on edge, it also sharpened my senses and mental faculties. I gained an enormous respect for the living creatures there who manage to thrive in such adversity; the sparseness of the landscape did not have the same emptiness I experienced crossing the desert at 70 miles an hour.

I’m waiting for the Desert Elders to join the conversation and share their wisdom.

My two cents on the desert is that I feel a tremendous joy when in New Mexico, that seems in conflict with the lack of water. I’ve been a water person my whole life. But something literally enchants me in the Land of Enchantment. More on this later.

San Francisco Peaks

For now, zzzzz.

Day 7: Land of Enchantment

Miles traveled: 451Total: 2311

Beginning Altitude: 3605
Current Altitude: 7163

First Cactus: mile 1907
First Mesa: mile 1913

Crossing the High Plains is like driving up a ramp: flat but steadily climbing, climbing. As we approached and crossed into New Mexico the land became more furrowed, rising and falling yet climbing still. You could see the railbed, made mostly level by tunnel and fill. So many trains. Josephine counted 98 cars on one. We chased another, trying to get pics.

We had some misadventure trying to find gas, which led us to Tucumcari, a Route 66 town with many old road relics, sadly many of them closed and rusting. The town has great murals, too, that you’ll see in the photos. Later we went to visit a lake that wasn’t there.

This land is so beautiful, so much blue in the sky, the dark green trees, and the shadows on  the land. Rose and cream and sage and grey hills dotted with cedars. Huge cloud shadows trundling across the hills. The photos cant do it justice, especially shot out the car window. But here they are, anyway.

Finally we arrived in Santa Fe, where I spent time visiting with my friend Elizabeth, so good to see her!!

Can you tell, I am too tired to write a proper travelog tonight? And my adventure mate is already snoring! But here are some photos to tide you over until next time. there are certainly tales to tell.

The Mother Road
The Mother Road
Wind Farm – Texas
First Cactus – Texas
At last! (bugs on the windscreen)
Ranch House Cafe
Trains
THE LAKE THAT WASN’T THERE