The "charm" of eastern California
Sep 28, 2010
|For the next several stops we are basically marking time. We are aiming to arrive in Cottonwood, Arizona (about 100 miles north of Phoenix) on October 4 to visit with our friends Fred and Jo Wishnie, who will be camp hosting at Dead Horse State Park for the month of October. We decided not to arrive on – or just before – the weekend, since we know that those destinations in northern Arizona are pretty popular on weekends with people looking to escape the heat of the city. Also, we figured we’d give the Wishnies time to adjust to their camp hosting duties before we arrive to distract them! So, we’re lollygagging our way south and east!
The first part of our drive, south from Lone Pine, still on Highway 395, continued to be “charming”, at least to me. There are scattered odd little gatherings of buildings – too derelict and abandoned really to be called “communities” – made up of misfits, loners, and maybe some old-time residents who just don’t want to move. They live in rusty trailers and shabby houses, next to clearly abandoned buildings and most often with rusty, dusty old cars and other machinery scattered around. There are former commercial buildings, most with some kind of sign remaining to show what they used to be – restaurants, bars, grocery stores, general stores, auto repair shops – all the signs faded and ghostly reminders of someone’s dreams, hopes, plans gone now but still stirring the imagination of travelers like me, who like, however briefly, to wonder what the place was like when a business like that seemed viable.
Anomalies abound in these scruffy communities: in one dusty, junky town, amid many shack-like houses, a small auto repair shop sports a huge, shiny BMW sign. Hopeful? An oasis of foreign car repair in the middle of the desert? I was so surprised to see it I didn’t have a chance even to see if the shop was open and operating! A couple of houses down the road was a sailboat dry-docked in the back yard of a very shabby house (this is the desert, remember, although there is water within driving distance).
After a while, though, those distractions disappear, we leave even the edge of the Sierras and the road is boringly flat, with just a hill or a curve now and then to break the monotony. We see a variety of speed limit signs – one for cars only, one for trucks (three axles or more) and one for any vehicle “towing” – and the occasional “daylight headlight use area”. I wonder if it’s all on purpose to keep drivers alert and awake by giving them something to do or check. Who knows – it’s California, after all!
As we turned east, leaving Highway 395 for the state highway that would take us to Barstow, where we would pick up Interstate 40 for the rest of our trip to Arizona, we crossed the line into San Bernardino County and immediately found ourselves on a road nearly as bad as any we’ve seen this summer (and that’s a lot!). I know money is tight in California, but we’ve seen enough road construction zones this summer to know that repairs are being done – why not here? Or is this just another way to keep drivers alert? Well, we were alert. My brain felt scrambled, my teeth hurt and my temper was getting very short by the time things improved enough so that I didn’t feel like my seatbelt was keeping me from hitting my head on the ceiling of the truck cab.
Which brings me to one of my pet peeves: the seatbelts that automatically tighten at any small jolt. I understand the safety-related theory, but, at least in our truck, they are set at such a sensitivity level that even a mildly rough road means that you are trapped by the belt, unable to move unless you either unbuckle the belt or stop the truck. And if you unbuckle the belt, you have to stop the truck to re-buckle it, since it won’t pull out of the thing it has retracted into unless the road is smooth or you are stopped. So, when things start falling off the dashboard (like the GPS, which we don’t mount even semi-permanently for a variety of reasons), it’s almost impossible to retrieve them. Or when my phone (which is in my purse on the floor) rings, I can’t reach it to answer. I guess I should feel safe, but mostly I’m just annoyed!
Anyway, we finally arrived at our chosen campground in Barstow (Shady Lane RV Park -- they don't even have a website!). Why Barstow, you ask? Well, because it’s on the way – really, if you look at a map between where we were in California and Arizona, there’s not much. So . . . Barstow. When we got there I realized this was the campground where we spent our very first night in an RV of any kind, back in September 2001. We had embarked on a trip with another couple (who had their own travel trailer) to explore the Pacific Coast area and we were driving a rented Class-C camper from Cruise America. That camper was such a trial for us that, when we returned to Phoenix about 5 weeks later, I vowed I’d never get into another RV. Ever. Never. How far we’ve come, eh? More alarmingly, I realized we drove all the way to Barstow from Phoenix – it’s about 400 miles! These days we consider 200 miles a long driving day!
Anyway, this is a campground that can be described as bare-bones, shabby, junky or funky and friendly, depending on your point of view. 9 years ago I probably thought of it as junky, although my experience of campgrounds was, well, none; today we found it funky and friendly – and cheap! We did have some adjusting of our position to do in order to get our internet satellite dish out from under an overhead cable line that was interfering with its line of sight (another indication of progress – such things didn’t even exist in 2001, either cable or satellite internet access), but we were eventually settled in comfortably for a couple of nights of relaxation and catching up on chores.
I’m going to combine this with our next stop in Needles, California because . . . well, I have almost nothing interesting to say about the drive to Needles from Barstow or our stay in Needles.
I did describe our trip to Needles as “shake, rattle and roll” – it’s flat and straight, but another 140 miles of terrible road. As with all interstate highways, this one is crowded with trucks – at one point I actually thought we were seeing more trucks than cars. As another sign of hard budget times, all the Rest Areas along the way (probably a half-dozen or so in 140 miles) are closed. There are some wide-shoulder areas, which truckers and others are using to pull over for a break, but there are no facilities – if you need a bathroom break, you need to plan ahead and stop at one of the infrequent service stations. We saw a couple of trucks – notably one Fed Ex truck pulling double trailers – wandering alarmingly off the road and across the center line. In the case of this driver, we saw him pulled off at the next “wide-shoulder” area – clearly he needed a break and I was glad to see he realized it!
The only other notable things about Needles are: it’s been 105-108° every day (hotter than Phoenix) and we had to drive 12 miles to find a grocery store. We are using this time to do things inside (I’m doing major housecleaning, which shows you how desperate I am!). Although the grocery store situation may not improve markedly, we do look forward to much cooler temperatures at our next stop, which will be Williams AZ for the weekend before moving on the Cottonwood.
No pictures, this time – nothing interesting to photograph!