In Banning, California, Interstate 10 meets up with California 243. There is a highway sign that confidently states, “Los Angeles 77 miles”. Peter said, “Well, we have literally made it across the country”. The Pacific is just a few miles and one more day away. Until we arrive at the Pacific, here is where we are today.
I want to start by paying homage to our Ford Escape, (whom we have named Kody) since the most recent leg of our journey has been a real endurance run for Kody. On Thursday, we left Cave Creek, Arizona (elevation 2,000 feet) on the way to visit very dear friends in Idyllwild, CA which sits at 5,500 feet above Palm Desert. The temperature in Palm Desert was 88 as we started the climb up the breathtakingly beautiful and switchback-intensive Highway 74. We left the desert behind and in the first quarter mile, a sign read, “Turn off AC to prevent overheating”. Hmmm. We opened all the windows, obediently following the admonishment and the engine temp dropped a bit. At 4,000 feet it was rising again and Peter remembered an old trick from his short-lived relationship with a 1962 (and prone to overheating) Volkwagen bus – put on the heat inside and see if it would lower the engine heat. He did and it worked.
Then, at 5,000 feet, we pulled off the road a couple of times to let the line of cars pass and give the engine some time to cool down. The air temp was now 65 and the top of the mountain, tree-covered, was in sight. There are about 14 varieties of pine trees that grow here in these southern California national forests and wilderness areas. The high valleys were dotted with streams and one large body of water, Hemet Lake. The mountains were mostly tree-covered with occasional outcroppings of huge boulders. No doubt that at this high elevation, the mountain meadows of lush spring-green grasses kept the numerous horses we saw in high clover.
The two days here in the mountains, after the time in the desert, offered the restorative grace of the known and familiar. The vertical scale of pines and fur trees draw your eyes up to the demurely visible sky. A hedge of the familiar fragrance of lilacs in our friends’ yard is a gentle reminders of a New Hampshire spring, still weeks away; the unexpected treasure of finding a wild apple tree in blossom along the lovely creek; the comfortable connection to friends with conversation, long walks, and wonderful food, feeds the soul. We made plans for our next reunion, in Yosemite, in just one week, giddy with the expectation of more adventures together.
Winding down the mountain this morning, we quickly left the peace and tranquility of the rarefied for the intensity of the busy. At the junction of I-210 and I – 5, there are actually 9 lanes of traffic all heading north to what the signs promise as Sacramento. It is not hard to believe, when driving this matrix of freeways, that about 13% of the entire US population lives in California.
It is easy to feel like country mice as we are inching our way along the California freeway. We have been on them many times on other trips, but this time, hauling a 2,300 lb.,17- foot trailer, with two bicycles on our roof, is a different experience. Merging traffic now includes accounting for the shadow of the cargo behind us, our actual home on wheels. The range of driver performance is remarkably wide – from the very courteous who seem to sense, upon seeing our New Hampshire plates, that we may need a bit of room – to the completely insane and erratic motorcyclist who weaves from one lane to the other, in between cars and crossing lanes as if he was out for a test run on a race track.
Just a bit north of the junction of I-5 and Highway 99, the land opens up to the vast Central Valley where the display of commercial agriculture is astounding. For miles and miles we passed fields of grape vines, tomatoes, citrus trees, cabbage, lettuce, and beans. Mature almond groves replaced the pecan groves we saw in Arizona. The precise rows of each crop unfurled and marched across the space, melting into the low range of the mountains on each horizon. Dairy barns cropped up at the base of fields of rye most likely to be used as feed. In one small stretch, a cluster of oil wells appeared in the fringe of a field, a reference to the wealth that lies just below the surface here. High-tension power lines queue up like giants on stilts, traversing the fields. And the most amazing observation is that in the fallow fields and the empty spaces, the ground is parched and white with scrub grasses, sagebrush and thirsty stripes of yellow poppies. Without irrigation, this is a desert, made worse by the 4 year drought. Think about it…
The last detail for this post is about capitalism in action. Just west of Bakersfield, we paid the most for gas of any stop on our trip: $3.99/gallon. Way back in Virginia, in January, we sent a photo of the gas prices to our friends here in Idyllwild. It was $1.99/gallon and he said, “Wait until you get to California”. But today, we needed gas and at the base of the pass at Fort Tejan, we stopped to fill up. And then, about 15 miles down the road, we saw that gas price was $2.95/gallon. This little illustration of capitalism cost us about $8. Ouch.
OK, it’s still a pretty remarkable country…