One of the really nice things about the desert, is that you don’t have to stand in line waiting to get on a plane. Out here on the Pacific Coast, we are within a few hours of scenic driving to the deserts or the mountains or the sea shore. At the time for this trip, in 1977, I was still living in Whittier, California.
February is a prime month on the desert, so having a little time available I took a short vacation to one of my recent discoverys in Arizona, the Castle Domes. Getting there is half the fun to me, so I headed out on Interstate Hiway 10 East.
I had left around ten O’clock, rolling along in my Ford Camper-Special truck. I took the “high route” passing through the communities of Claremont, Montclair, Upland, and passed what little was left of a once booming wine industry around Guasti.
A little further ahead were the Kaiser steel plant and its towering smelters.
If I went by there in the dark early morning I might arrive when they applied the oxygen lance to the top of the Bessemer Converters. A stunning plume of brilliant white fire would flare out into the night as “pig-iron” was converted into steel.
Passing rapidly through the freeway interchanges of San Bernardino, I continued East and into the country. To my left, the towering San Bernardino Mountains, still snow-capped. To my right, the sharply-rising San Jacinto (pronounced: ha sin toe) Mountains where backpackers, day-hikers, and a million Boy and Girl Scouts could be found on the weekends, practicing their woods-craft skills.
After climbing for a bit, the freeway leveled out and started its drop to the desert. Soon I rolled through the narrow San Gorgonio Pass and its constant wind, the driving force for all the spinning wind generators that made up a giant wind-power farm that fed electric power into the “grid”.
I think that the wind generators have slowed the wind velocity as it leaves the wind-farm. In the early 1970s, the winds were strong enough to turn the sand dunes into sand blasters that would strip paint off your car, and partially bury cars that had pulled off the freeway to wait for the wind to die down. My buddy, Larry, had much of the paint on his truck completely sand blasted to bare metal once.
I continued on Interstate 10, now Southeast, until Indio and then left the freeway to go down the East side of the Salton Sea via State Hiway 111.
The 111 route demanded a bit of driving skills. It passed bye the foothills and so had many dips and chunks of asphalt removed in places. It was not such a “hurry-up” route as the West road, State 86, with its constant 18-wheeler traffic. One Eleven also parralled the railroad tracks of the Union Pacific.
As I rolled along, I admired the afternoon shadows on the foothills to my left and the shimmer of reflected sunlight from the ripples of the Salton Sea to my right. At one time, the Sea was much lower and the Eastern shoreline was further out with now-sunken houses along the shore. Even further back was a salt works complete with mill and a steam locomotive still sunk to this day.
At last hiway One Eleven turned due South, leaving the Chocolate Mountain gunnery impact area and headed to El Centro via Niland, Calipatria, Brawley, and Imperial. Here, I picked up fuel for the truck and fuel for my stomach.
One of the cities I passed East of, is Westmorland; it is very seismically active. It is my opinion that Westmorland lies atop a large magma plume and will one day be a volcano. I hope I am still around to see it.
Refreshed, I turned East onto Interstate 8 and headed for Yuma, Arizona, where I picked up US Hiway 95 North to good old Milepost 62 and the Castle Dome Mountains. I arrived at our camping area at 5 O’clock and set about unpacking the camper and preparing my supper. Long-time readers of this column will remember Larry and my detailed initial exploration of this area in 1975. Now we both use it as a solo camping area, in this case it was 1977.
In 1975, we had placed reflectors at the utility corridor that crossed the desert pavement of our base camp mesa. Since then I found our reflectors had been removed; both at the corridor crossing point, and up near the hay bales that were still being left for the wild burros. We had coated a nearby rock with yellow traffic marking paint and fine reflective glass beads. We never saw who was leaving the hay bales, but they were either fresh or almost eaten up. Each time we had to replace our beaded rocks. We did see burros in the area several times.
For years Larry and I made “Scotchlight”covered, narrow, aluminum, short stakes, we used to find our way back to favorite camps in the dark. For several years, the Rust-oleum paint company made a heavy duty “highway” spray paint in spray cans. Those paints were approved for hiway lane use etc. I found a work-safety supply store in Los Angeles and bought the glass beads used to sprinkle over the wet paint making our own reflectors. The store sold the beads (in different sizes) in four pound paper bags. When I retired and moved back to San Diego, the smallest quantity I could locate came in forty pound sacks. By then we had settled on a particular bead size that worked for us. I bought the traffic marker paint as it lasted the best under outdoor conditions of sun, wind, and rain. I had white, yellow, silver and red.
This was not for graffiti. Only a small rock was painted and left on the ground at car headlight distance. During daytime, they were not visible At night they looked like the reflection of a wild animals eyes.
Now back to my solo vacation. I was rewarded by a supurb sunset and by dark, I climbed into my sleeping bag in the camper and fell instantly to sleep.
The next day arrived, as they will. I got up around eight O’clock, had my usual breakfast of freeze dried noodle soup cup, donuts, and hot chocolate. It promised to be another beautiful day, and it was. Around noon, as I took a stroll, I saw several very large Hares in an adjacent wash. I could see why this area bordered a wildlife preserve. Now, I understand the “keep out” signs are all the way to the hiway.
In the afternoon, a light breeze started up. Still very pleasant. I read and relaxed. For dinner freeze-dried Tuna Newburg. There were quite a number of ladybugs today. The desert was starting to bloom from Whitewater and Eastward. The evening treat was a fire log and a few dead sticks for kindling. Bed time at midnight and how the stars had shone in the black velvet sky.
Sunday was another nice day. It started a nippy 50 degrees at sunrise, then soon warmed up to 90 degrees by noon. I indulged in finishing off some double-eight color film in my old 8mm Keystone movie camera I had bought from a coworker. I never could really get into movies. I did lots of slide and color prints. But it was a good little camera without the high “new-cost”.
Again I made a camp fire, finishing my three hot dogs & buns with a cigar, brandy and a headache. Bed at eleven thirty O’clock.
Monday, glorious Monday. When I got up early (seven O’clock), I saw a beautiful mirage to my South. Magic black-colored buildings and towers danced above a glistening band of sand at the horizon. An early breeze, made things hazy by the time I finished breakfast. South to Yuma and West to Picacho, the previous two days, were sparkling clear in those directions. Now it was hazy. I prepared a large red reflector rock at this site. I would emplace smaller stone markers along the route as I left in the afternoon.
Well, time to pack and clean up the site. 2:30 O’clock in the afternoon, I and my camper moved out of #62-2 camp toward #62-1 camp. 3:20 O’clock at camp #62-1 after several false leads. I think my new markers will help that. Windy. 5:40 P.M., an incredible sunset! 5:45, I left the camp site and 6 hours later, I arrived home in Whittier.
A major sandstorm west of Indio; rain in Beaumont & Banning-
Glad you could ride along,