Oh, yeah, the trip from Denver. Well, after Sedona everything paled by comparison.We drove home through desert scenery that would flabbergast anyone who had never seen saguaro forests, desiccated wadis, brooding mountains, or untenable cities sprawling over a hellish wasteland. Well, to be honest, we skirted Phoenix by traveling a new freeway that was built with the expectation of Colorado River water being infinite.
We stopped in Indio at El Mexicali Cafe to grab some breakfast/lunch/dinner, knowing that the fridge at home would be as bleak a wasteland as the aforementioned desert.
El Mexicali is squeezed into a strip of land between the railroad tracks and heavily-trafficked Indio Blvd. which makes the outside dining patio about as inviting as a table in the infield of the Indy 500.
But the dining room was as warm and hospitable as your abuela’s kitchen and your tio’s favorite cantina. Seriously, if you’re ever hungry in Indio, skip all the chain restaurants and try the fish tacos here. Heck, the chips and salsa and guacamole are worth the price of admission.
I spent the next two days preparing food to take to Carlsbad for the family Christmas event. My traditional dishes are rum cake and zucchini appetizer pie.
Sadie gave me this reproachful look when I informed her that I was leaving again.
The time at the beach flew by as we hiked, ate, drank and generally behaved, or more accurately, misbehaved like children.
And then it was all over but the journaling, blogging, and remembering.
Heading west towards California, we crested Montgomery Pass, 7,160”, and began the descent into Chalfant Valley, a verdant slice of land between the Silver Mountains and the White Mountains. There was an inspection station that straddled the road, just one lane wide, it looked more like a drive-through garage, where a wind-blown young woman questioned us about any fruits, vegetables or plants we might be importing to California from points east. After admitting to being in possession of oranges we had brought from California, she said we were fine as long as we had purchased them from a store in CA. We didn’t feel compelled to admit that we had picked them ourselves and they could very well be infested with California bugs.
In Bishop, we stumbled upon a lovely community park while looking for a place to park the rig while we ate lunch. There was a fenced dog park adjacent to a cottonwood-shaded people park, with a stream coursing between them. A large pond, with a resident duck population was surrounded by tennis courts, a skate park, horseshoe pits, jungle gym, picnic areas and a community garden. We walked the dogs around the park and then left them in the car, parked in the shade at the dog park, while we went to lunch. We had thought we might spend some time shopping in Bishop, but decided to head directly to our campsite just south of Big Pine, Tinnemaha Creek.
The campsite at Tinnemah was not disappointing only because of our low expectations. We positioned the trailer in the shade of some spindly trees and went off to explore and photograph the area.
Back at camp, I chatted up neighbors to find some ice for our wine. Our fellow campers consisted of fishermen who were there for the opening day of trout fishing so it was a pretty good bet that there would be ice aplenty.
We were settling into our beds, Mila to watch a Netflix movie and me to write in my journal, when Mila asked me to look at something she felt on the back of her neck. There was a big, fat tick, making his way towards her hair. Soon I found one on my own neck and a night of paranoid itching ensued.
Tinnemaha Campground proved to be an adequate place to stop for a night, but we agreed we wouldn’t consider it again. Clustered beneath high-power lines, were about 30 campsites. A stream flowed past some of the sites but ours was some distance away which proved to be advantageous when the campers along the stream grew boisterous and ran their generator through the night. By 6:22 A.M. I was ready to pack up and head down the highway when a bearded, portly fellow fired up his quad, bedecked with an American flag, to awaken his cronies, but which also served to annoy those who were still enjoying the stillness of the morning. I had been awake at 3:00 A.M. to walk the 50 yards to the pit toilets and enjoy a view of the rarely seen Milky Way. I’d forgotten my glasses so the bejeweled sky was a mess of pin-prick lights. The Big and Little Dippers were obvious, but my poor vision and scant knowledge of astronomy limited identification of anything further.
When we finally crawled out of our warm beds, we agreed that making coffee in the confines of the trailer, which by now looked like someone had tossed a hand grenade in, was too labor intensive. We fed the dogs, packed up the trailer and headed for the Alabama Hills Café.
We stopped briefly at the Manzanar internment camp. The first two tar-papered buildings that had been reconstructed to display the office and living area for new arrivals was so disturbing that we found neither of us were inclined to further explore the barracks, canteen, hospital, etc. I have toured the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and, while what was done to the Japanese in this country doesn’t compare with what the Jews suffered under Hitler, the emotions evoked by the two memorials felt very similar.
The flagging spirits of the end-of-trip, dampened by the uncomfortable memory of Manzanar, made further exploration along the way unappealing, so we skipped Fossil Falls and headed for home. Note to self: don’t end a trip with a visit to a memorial.
The second trip to Goldfield, Nevada, with my cousin Mila, went off without a hitch…except for the one connecting the Wanderlust to the car.
As is typical, I spend a couple of days preparing the trailer, packing gear, etc. Each trip seems to have its own special requirements, meaning I remove the unneeded items, weight being the primary consideration, and install things that make a guest more comfortable, like the heavy memory-foam mattress that fits the front bed, normally used by the girls when I travel alone.
The 350 mile trip would take a normal person about six hours to drive, but never one to be in any hurry, it took us more like ten hours, which included some interesting stops to visit places that Google Maps had identified as well…interesting.
Transcribing from my journal will necessitate this being related in several chapters. It will prove to be stultifying to anyone who wasn’t actually riding along, but, since I anticipate that Mila may enjoy devoting some time to reliving the experience from my viewpoint, here goes.
We had nicely pulled into the parking lot at the Mad Greek (in Baker) and walked the dogs to a well-used pee spot, when the thought of restroom facilities excited our bowels. What wonderfully trained things these mature bodies are!
Despite the restaurant’s dramatically Covid-abbreviated menu, Mila zeroed in on a veggie quesadilla that sounded appealing to both of us. The dessert case held an even more limited assortment of sweets but Mila ordered a small box of mixed treats, cookies and baklava for $25. Immediately curious as to what these expensive items would taste like, we bit into one of the powdered sugar-coated cookies. All conversation ceased as we attempted mastication. Muffled sounds of distress ensued until we managed to wash some of it down with iced tea. As luck would have it,we had invited the girls to join us on the patio, and they, having no need of any chewing, happily gulped the remainder of our cookies down and even offered to eat more of them.
Back on the road, the miles passed quickly, even at our trailer-towing modest pace of 60 mph…oops! I mean 55. The speed limit in California is 55 for autos towing trailers. Interestingly, the laws of physics that mandate this maximum speed, are somehow more forgiving in Utah and Nevada.
The Mojave Desert is stark and seemingly infinite. Traffic was mostly non-existent. The hills that rimmed the valley, through which the road sliced straight to the horizon, provided comforting relief from the immensity of the panorama.
Salt Hills provided a timely break in the drive. The girls and I hiked a couple of miles to what was purported to be “the oldest standing structure in California”. I’ll let you be the judge of the use of the word “standing”. Mila relaxed in the shade of an Athel grove, trees imported from the Middle East that thrive in the Mojave wherever there is a water source.
As usual, each curve in the trail beckoned me further. At one point, I texted Mila to ask if I should return, but she didn’t respond, so I took that as permission to continue. Of course, there was no cell signal but this didn’t seem relevant to my decision.
Our next stop was about an hour and a half up the road, Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. The visitor’s center entailed a six mile drive down a ribbed gravel road, so we were astounded to find a beautiful LEEDS (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) awarded building and a mile-long boardwalk that meandered along a spring-fed stream.
We relaxed in the shade beside the spring, enjoying the bird songs and the tranquility of the clear pool. After about 15 minutes, another visitor came by and acted apologetic for intruding on our enjoyment of the space. We moved on to allow him the solitary experience.
Naturally, I had researched places to eat along the way and found a small Mexican diner, El Valle, at a wide spot in the road just a few miles from Ash Meadows. A whiff of stale grease greeted us at the door, but the underwhelming décor inside boded well for good food. It looked like the mother/daughter team was proficient, with mom in the kitchen and daughter covering the dining room.
Chips and salsa were served; the chips weren’t remarkable but the salsa stood out, which made me optimistic that the chile relleno I’d ordered would be good too. Indeed! A sweet poblano stuffed with quality cheese and smothered in a savory sauce was cradled in freshly simmered beans, refried with the perfect amount of salt and lard, along with the requisite fluffy rice. Mila’s juevos Mexicana were deemed very good as well, though they didn’t look nearly as tempting as my dish.
The last couple of hours driving into Goldfield passed pleasantly as we enjoyed our tired legs, full bellies and the spectacular desert panorama unfolding ahead of us.
Seventeen weeks or 119 days, which sounds longer? How about almost four months? If you had told me when I was ten years old, that you were taking me to Disneyland in four months, it would have been excruciating to have to wait so long; but ironically, at this age, when active life ahead looks like a narrow window of time, I will treasure every one of those 119 days of planning and anticipation. Maybe it has to do with how quickly time passes as we age. I read somewhere that there’s a reason time speeds up as we grow older; it’s because our brains form fewer memories which condenses our memories into a fast-motion scene when we review them. Probably pseudo science.
At any rate, my Word Press ramblings serve as a detailed memory that should entertain me when I’m confined to a nursing home but not yet drooling in my laptop.
MFN Tamera expressed an interest in attending her high school reunion, but didn’t want to leave her Mini-Aussie, Lucy behind, which precluded flying from Denver to California. While the idea of leaving my girls behind wasn’t ideal, I offered to fly to Denver and join her for a girl’s auto trip across my beloved desert Southwest. I’ll miss the Wanderlust with it’s cozy bed and efficiency kitchen, but the convenience of popping into a hotel for a hot shower, a clean bed, and mediocre coffee has its appeal too.
I’ve already plotted the itinerary, complete with breaks in the driving (I have very limited tolerance for sitting still), that include hikes, ghost towns, a burned suspension bridge and stops at favorite restaurants. Our first night is four hours from DIA where I land mid-day, so the drive is proportionally long compared to the hike. Rifle Falls State Park should be just perfect for a late afternoon walk. https://cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/RifleFalls
Our next hotel is in Moab. I’m steeling myself for the changes tourism has brought to this “ugly little town” that Edward Abbey so loved/hated. All of the things that curmudgeon loathed have reproduced themselves exponentially. I usually read parts of Dessert Solitaire before I visit Moab to refresh the sense of loss. I first started going to Moab once a year in the 1980s and each time we turned off the freeway towards this mountain biker’s paradise, my heart would swell as if I were returning to a home I’d known in a previous incarnation. Even then, the scars of human abuse were everywhere, beginning with the uranium tailings that covered many acres at the edge of town, adjacent to the Colorado River (a major source of water for much of Nevada, Arizona, and California). I read recently that there is a clean-up operation in progress. Once it’s completed, a hotel chain will probably build a high-rise on the site. Bring your Geiger counter if you book a room there.
After a hike up Grandstaff Canyon, (formerly known as Nigger Bill Canyon, then renamed Negro Bill Canyon when the trail namers became aware of the offensiveness of the original name, and finally William Grandstaff was appropriately remembered when it was renamed Grandstaff https://moabmuseum.org/william-grandstaff/ ) we will grab a bite to eat in Moab before checking into our sterile, chain hotel. It’s called something reminiscent of a boutique hotel but is probably owned by Hilton. Energy levels permitting, we will do another short hike or stroll the main street, where my favorite bookstore, Back of Beyond, still lives, or so I’m told.
Another four hour drive, through Bryce Canyon and Cedar Breaks, to Overton, will bring us to within striking distance of Valley of Fire. It may be too hot for little Lucy and my heat-sensitive niece to hike in June, but VoF lends itself to auto touring as the Big Horn Sheep graze obligingly close to the road and pose for photos when approached.
I will fill you in on all of the exciting events of the trip as they happen. I hope “exciting” is an exaggeration, but as you well know, I do play fast and loose with the truth.