Twelve days, five states, six thousand miles. That sentence describes our trip in the simplest of terms but there was nothing simple about all the things I saw, perceived, and experienced. In the coming weeks I will be sorting out my notes and doing research; this is just a quick recap of our journey through five very different states and a wide variety of environments.
The trip started with heavy gusts in Oregon. Everything was green and wild and shaped by the wind. My new home state is lush and vibrant with hues brought to life with constant precipitation. On the third day, however, we were traveling through the Central Valley of California. Greens replaced by browns, dry creek beds and fields struggling to survive. We headed over the mountains into the Mojave Desert to spend the night in Lancaster. Joshua trees, gnarled and unforgiving, popped out of the dry earth all around us. You could see poverty in every battered mobile home and threadbare shop. Someone was high and, mistaking our room for someone else’s, pounded on the door and window.
We talked to a winemaker near the town of Willow Springs. I never knew they could grow grapes down there but that just goes to show you how much I have to learn about this weird place I love so much. Stopping for lunch we heard a boom that was probably a meth lab exploding. Candy, having lived in the area several years back, showed me the mountains separating the Antelope Valley from Los Angeles. From there we traveled north, away from the towns and into the sparseness of the desert. The two of us explored a canyon several miles off the canyon where locals had been shooting at targets. There were scores of spent shells and we marveled at the red cliffs and native plants.
The next day we checked out a salt flat that had been a lake eons ago before crossing the Mojave Preserve. It was a beautiful place but one few people visit. The sun was setting as we wandered lava fields near the Amboy Crater, a place that genuinely struck me.
That was followed by experiencing Route 66 in Arizona–where in Kingman we had the worst food of the trip–and a journey through the Painted Desert in the northern part of that state. I know it will be a struggle to come up with a way of describing the intense natural beauty of that area. That night, still in awe of the red canyons and cliffs, we spent the night in the most tastefully decorated Motel 6 of the trip replete with a bamboo floor and an accent wall.
I had never been to New Mexico before and it definitely left an impression on me. It’s not just the scenery, it’s a feeling–something unearthly. We explored a lava field by the side of the highway that was full of rifts and protected by plants covered with thorns and sheltering things that can sting or bite you. Candy picked up a rock only later to remember the place she had picked it up from had been a nuclear test site. It was beautiful, but we left it on the side of the highway.
Coming back we traveled through southern New Mexico and had to go through a Border Patrol checkpoint. There is a strong police presence in Arizona; it seemed everywhere you looked there was a cop along the highway. The two of us explored the desert along a remote road in that state and saw evidence of people crossing the desert: Duffel bags full of empty water bottles and cans of food.
Back in California the sun was vibrant and we had our trip high temperature of 84 degrees. We drove through Joshua Tree and then up through the Antelope Valley and to the town of Lone Pine. With our largest mountain range to cross, we watched the weather nervously. After our shortest time in any of the states–(an hour in Nevada)–we crossed the Kit Carson Pass in the Sierras. Rain was falling intermittently as we climbed, the two of us watching the snow on the sides of the road and wondering if we’d get caught in something more than rain. That pass was the highest point on the trip (8500 feet) and we both sighed with relief when we got over it safe.
I had no idea what to expect with regards to what we would see and experience on this trip. I had seen pictures and read about the areas but those accounts did not do the places we saw justice. Traveling in itself is a strange experience with all the motel rooms and McDonalds restrooms and people staring at you because you’re an outsider. Rest stops, unexpected places of profound scenic beauty, motel rooms either too close to train tracks or where you are neighbors with an illegal tattoo shop. Shocking poverty, hypnotically beautiful landscapes that can kill you if you daydream–we saw it all. In the coming weeks and months I will be putting all that into words and sharing it with you.