From the Salton Sea up to, (but not including), Flagstaff, AZ

 | December 10, 2007 11:20 am

Whew. Getting an internet connection is tricky in the middle of nowhere. But I decided to stay at a hostel in Albuquerque, for two nights to get some editing done for This Week in Science, a kick-ass science show from Davis, CA that everyone should check out because they’re awesome, (and no, I’m not just saying that because I occasionally contribute to them.) I was very happy to discover that I could record and edit a piece while on the road. This was the first piece I did outside of a studio and on my little laptop. I am glad to report that it did not break down on me. Apparently reinstalling windows a year ago also fixed whatever problem ProTools (my audio editing software) was having.

But I am getting ahead of myself again. And all you actually care about are the pictures.

After the Salton Sea I headed up north and east along the 10, stopping just south of Joshua Tree National Park at the George Patton Museum. This was the stop where I actually felt like I was getting settled into the idea of traveling.

As I look back on it the museum sort of symbolizes this trip, and the idea of just going to check out something because it’s there.

I knew it was out there and I’ve passed it a couple times on the way to Joshua Tree. It interested me to find out why it was out there in the middle of the California desert, and I always figured that I would stop at some point. Other than a general interest in history however it’s not something I ever cared particularly enough to bother driving all the way out there to visit. Until now. Now I have the time to spend on random stuff like this. I’m not traveling with anyone so there’s no one else to convince. So I went, and while not a destination it’s an excellent use of 4 bucks and a couple hours.

State Prison sign.And then comes the long stretch of I-10 where there’s nothing but desert. All you can do is put on your favorite cd, imagine you’re in the middle of the montage in the movie where the main character is doing some sort of cathartic travel. Imagine the camera paning from her face out the scenery as it rushes by. Be glad that you’re not traveling in a covered wagon where it would have taken you a week to go through what now takes an hour.

Then you’ll get to Blythe, CA. I have no pictures of Blythe. My guide book recommended the many old-timey donut shops in Blythe. It should have been my first hint that perhaps my guide book was old and out of date. I found only one donut shop and had a decent but not particularly special donut there. But they do have a cafe called Steaks and Cakes. Interestingly, it did not appear to serve either steak or cake, but did have some decent chicken strips. Just outside of Blythe was the best sign I’ve seen so far. (left)

Blythe, not a destination. But Quartzsite… ahh Quartzsite.Quartzsite Sunset

Most of the year Quartzsite, AZ is a town of about 3,000 but over the summer it swells to almost a million rv’ers from the colder parts of the country. I got there on the Wednesday before thanksgiving so it was still pretty empty but there were a number of people there for the winter that I met while wandering around. It’s definitely a place I want to go back to, especially when I get around to working on a couple audio projects I’ve got rumbling around in my mind. But sadly the timing wasn’t right for a long visit then. It was Thanksgiving weekend, everything was shut down, I didn’t have my bike fixed yet (still hadn’t found a bike shop for a new tire), and most importantly I was still only a week into my trip and was still feeling pretty stircrazy at the idea of staying in the same place for more than one night. But I will be back. (As you can see, we also continued the theme of awesome sunsets. This is was the view from the driver’s seat at spot where I boondocked that night.)

Lake HavasuNext day I headed north to Lake Havasu, a great little town in AZ whose main tourist attractions are the lake itself and the London bridge. I got there the day before their big festival of lights, with the official lighting of the bridge and the touristy area around it, (known as “Londontown Land,” I kid you not).

There’s a night-time swimming competition across the “channel” and the winner gets to flip the switch. The best though was the one-man band (called “The Redcoats”) who played Christmas and Beatles music as if they were sea shanties. I recorded some and I’ll try and get it up later.

Two nights in Lake Havasu! First time I stayed two nights in the same place. Largely this was because this is when my back was hurting the worst. It was easiest to just stay put, hang out in the touristy area, read a book and walk around as much as possible to loosen up my back. (Oh, I also finally found a bike shop and got a new tire.)

The next day was one of the best days of the trip. Headed north along the 95 and then old route 66 up to Oatman. Stopped randomly in the middle of the day on the side of the road and read for a while and did a bit of brainstorming on a large project idea that I’ll get around to explaining here eventually. I love traveling on my own and being able to just stop randomly and read or write or just sit and tat for a half an hour. Christmas bush outside of Oatman And it’s a good thing I did, because if I’d traveled further down the road earlier I might have missed the Browne family as they decorated a bush on the side of the road.

Oatman has a tradition of decorating the bushes on the stretch of Route 66 up to their town. For 20 bucks you can pick out your own shrubbery and join in. Take the decorations off after the holidays and you’ll get back 10 bucks of that.

I was driving along on the day after Thanksgiving so I didn’t get to see the road in its complete magistery, though apparently it does get pretty full of Christmas cheer. At the second bush I passed being decorated I had to stop and get the story. And that’s how I met the Browne’s… two daughters, parents, and grandparents who let me ask questions, (as long as I helped with the decorating) and join in on their family tradition. I got a couple suggestions on places to visit on my trip, and both daughters live in New York so hopefully I’ll get together again with them when I make it out there.

And that, Dear Reader, is really what this trip is all about, meeting cool, interesting people. (And eventually I’ll figure out the best way to ask someone if you can interview them after only knowing them for 10 minutes.) Oatman

And burros, this trip is also about burros. Perferrably baby burros surprising young children in cute and photogenic ways.

Oatman is a tourist trap. But it’s an entertaining tourist trap. Wild burros roam the streets and most of the shops sell carrots you can feed them. They have gunfight re-enactments on the streets in “period dress” (read that as “the modern hollywood-based version of generic westernwear of the 19th century”). And more cutesy shops and galleries than you can stuff a town of Saturday-afternoon-Route-66-tourists into.

Touristy, but not to be missed. A lot of the shops are full of your generic Route 66 “tourap” (tourist crap), but there’s also a couple galleries with some very nice artwork. One I would have passed by if not for the recommendation earlier from the Browne’s. It had beautiful oil on sandstone paintings.

From Oatman I continued on old Route 66 through the mountains, thinking of The Grapes of Wrath and imaging what it must have been like to travel that road after the dust bowl.

Well, I was only half thinking such deep, reflective thoughts. I was continuously distracted by the other half of my brain that kept shouting “Oh my god, this is GORGEOUS!” And it was. But I have no pictures for you because pictures, (especially from my little compact camera), wouldn’t be able to do it justice. This was big sky with layers of mountains spread out along the horizon.

If you’re anywhere near there and do not take this road between Oatman and Kingman I will refuse to associate with you ever again. You’re not even allowed to continue reading this blog. If you can’t appreciate scenery like that I have no time for you. (Exceptions given if you’re traveling in a largish RV or a car with doubtful brakes. The hairpin curves on the way back down the mountain are not for you.)

So Kingman… Can’t tell you a whole lot about Kingman. I got in after dark (not hard when the sun sets at 5:30), had a restless night next to a truckstop and in the morning was itching for movement so I drove on even though I’d planned to visit the museum there.

The day was spent on the next stretch of Route 66 between Kingman and Williams. This section you’re allowed to skip. In the winter at least. I want to go back sometime in the summer to check out Havasu Falls, which from all the pictures looks amazing, but in the winter the main draw of this section of Route 66 seems to be The Grand Canyon Caverns. It’s a neat tour, worth the $13 if you’re already there, but by itself not worth the extra time of taking Route 66 over the 40 for this section. Neither has much scenery so you might as well take the faster one. (Yeah, I know, this trip is not about going fast and seeing as much as possible, but it’s also not about getting bored.)

Williams was the last hold-out along old Route 66, so along the main street you find yet more endless 66 references. I spent way too much on a pancake breakfast at a cafe I only later learned is apparently famous for their pies. If only I had known earlier!

The highlight for me was going to the Railroad RV park the morning for a shower. Cost me 5 bucks, which hurt, but the place was run by an older gentleman who’d spent most of the last couple decades living on the land and trapping for a living. So I got to hear stories from a real mountain man and (of course) got a couple more suggestions of places to visit. (All of them cold weather places, so they’ve been added to the list for next year. Or rather, they will be once I find the paper I wrote them down on).

A drive up a nearby mountain turned into a hike about 3/4ths of the way once I decided I didn’t know if my van could make it up the steep dirt road*. The top turned out to be home to all the area’s TV and radio towers, and ironically I got a call from KJAZZ while up there, so apparently I can’t get away from radio even when I head out to the middle of nowhere.

Headed out then to Flagstaff, but I think that’s enough typing for now. I’ll describe Flagstaff and beyond a little later and leave you instead with a picture I forgot to post earlier. Here’s a sample of the dead fish that littered the Salton Sea beaches. Enjoy

*The best description of this road I can come up with is to compare it to the last section of road up Mt. Baldy, CA, with it’s insanely steep hairpin curves. Take that road, make it dirt and only slightly wider than one lane (for both directions). Chop off the sides of the mountain so it’s a sharp drop off the side of the road and add some fallen trees. I met one truck going in the other direction. Thankfully I was on the mountain side of the road then so as we inched past each other I didn’t fall off the mountain. No, they didn’t fall off the mountain either.

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3 Responses to “From the Salton Sea up to, (but not including), Flagstaff, AZ”

Molly wrote a comment on December 11, 2007

* How do people in radio negotiate interviews? Do you need consent forms/waivers/releases? Or can you just get the person on tape saying it’s OK (or OK if you don’t use their name, etc.)? I think you could ask to interview people after only 10 minutes.. . They’re gonna be curious why you’re randomly out on the road, so just tell them that among what you’re doing is meeting neat people and hearing their stories. I bet most people would say OK to be interviewed for that.

* I had more thoughts when I was reading your post but now I can’t remember any of them…

Jessica wrote a comment on December 12, 2007

Not sure what the legalities are actually, I’ll have to look into that.

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