- Where We Started: Barstow, Calif.
- Where We Ended: Barstow, Calif.
- Miles Driven: 393 (10,832 total).
- New States: None.
- States So Far: 19 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
The FHMA quartet returned to the highways on Wednesday, spending the day in the deserts of Southern California. We moseyed into Calico Ghost Town and then hit Joshua Tree National Park before returning to our hotel oasis in Barstow.
We went to the Calico Ghost Town back on the 2003 trip, but since it's close to Barstow and we hadn't gone to a preserved old western town yet on this trip, we thought we'd give it another shot. This old mining town, which thrived in the 1880s but was dead by 1904, provides an interesting view into how these towns operated in the past. Many of the old buildings and mine structures are still in place, and you can tour some of the mine areas.
Calico also provides lots of cutouts where people can put their heads to get some pseudo-Old West photos. We tried to do this with the dogs, but finally gave up lifting them and let them find something at their own level.
Our visit to Calico was somewhat brief, since we'd already been and the dogs were being a complete pain in the ass. The good news: Despite the town's best attempts to remain in its era, this cowboy was able to lasso an ATM so I could get me some dough. The bad news: There also seemed to be an anti-dog sentiment in Calico. While some folks came by to play with the dogs, others seemed annoyed. Maybe they felt Fred and Hank were intruding on their attempt to put themselves squarely back into the 1880s, as if there weren't dogs then. A French couple came up to Joan and started talking to her in French, and then seemed annoyed that Joan didn't understand what they were saying. (Isn't that what the French hate when Americans do it in Paris?). Then, Joan swore one man muttered as the beagles were headed his way, "Get the fuck outta my way." All told, while the town was nice, we were glad to get out of Dodge ... er, Calico.
We then set off for the two-plus hour ride to Joshua Tree National Park, a repeat from our 2003 trip. Part of the reason we decided to return was that we didn't see all of the park in 2003 because, well, I got us stuck in a remote part of the park and needed rescuing. But more on that later...
In addition to Joshua trees, the park features interesting rock formations, lots of cholla and ocotillo cacti, high peaks that afford expansive views and a few oases. The park also marks the place where the Colorado Desert and Mojave Desert intersect, and you can really see the difference when you cross over. Joshua Tree is a beautiful place, and we enjoyed it, but still wouldn't put near the top of our list of national parks. Part of that is likely because Joshua Tree is a great park for hiking, camping and rock climbing, but because dogs are not allowed on the trails or more than 100 feet from any parking area, none of these were not options for us. Here are some Joshua Tree pics:
One of the last stops we made at Joshua Tree was at Cap Rock, so named because one small rock sits atop a larger rock (kind of like at Skull Rock), making it look like a head with a cap on top. But this rock is famous for another totally bizarre reason. In 1973, country rocker Gram Parsons -- briefly a member of the Byrds, but more notable as an influence than for anything he actually recorded -- died of a drug overdose at the Joshua Tree Inn in the nearby town of Joshua Tree. The Parsons family wanted his body buried in Louisiana, where his family lived. But because Parsons had spent so much time at his beloved Joshua Tree, two of his friends decided he should be cremated there. So they somehow stole his body from LAX, drove to Joshua Tree and lit his body on fire at the base of Cap Rock. There's a small area at near the rock that honors this supremely odd event. If you're interested, here's a more detailed account.
After leaving Joshua Tree, we headed to Palm Springs for dinner, and on the way, passed through Desert Palm Springs. As we turned a corner, we were suddenly presented with the awesome sight of a massive wind farm. For those of you who were raised or live on the West Coast, this may be a routine sight. For us East Coasters, it was completely foreign and mesmerizing.
This is merely a sliver of the huge wind farm that occupies much of Desert Palm Springs, Calif. Ninety-five percent of California's wind power comes from three sites: this one; Altamont Pass, near San Francisco and Tehachapi, near Bakersfield.
- Sign of the Day, at a Midas in Barstow:
Maybe the guy who mounted the letters was just told what order they went in, but not where the breaks between words were supposed to be? "As kusabout"? Not that the rest of the sign makes a lot more sense. Is "kusabout" the store manager? Would you really get your oil changed at this place after seeing the value it places on attention to detail?
- Another interesting sign, only a few blocks farther down the road, as we continue our series of men hawking services via hopping up and down on street corners:
While you may be more likely to make an impulse buy of insurance than urgent medical care, having a nattily-dressed guy waving a sign wildly still makes no sense to me. Having said that, we saw a second guy hawking urgent medical care on a street corner on Wednesday, so maybe I'm missing something. Bonus sign of the day: Eagle-eye Joan noticed the "24 Min Parking" sign behind this guy. 24 minutes? Not 15. Not 30. But 24. Hmmm.
- Yet another interesting sign we saw, this one in Landers, Calif.: "Beware hazardous trees. They can kill you." I had no idea. This warning convinced us to use the double-lock on our hotel room door on Wednesday. Thankfully, no trees were able to make entry.
- I mentioned Roy Rogers and Dale Evans in Wednesday's post, and mentioned their connection to Victorville: the one-time presence of the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum, which has since moved to Branson, Mo. I was wrong. Turns out both Rogers and Evans are actually buried in Apple Valley, Calif. I realized there had to be more to the Rogers-Evans connection when, seeking lunch, we encountered Roy Rogers Boulevard, Dale Evans Parkway and Happy Trails Highway. They don't name this many roads after you for a freakin' museum.
- New add to my favorite town names of the trip: Twentynine Palms, Calif. Slightly related fact: There's a indy movie called "29 Palms," which I saw not too long before we left on the trip. I won't rate it, but will leave you with this fact, and let you decide for yourself: Chris O'Donnell plays a nasty hit man.
BONUS 2003 ROAD SCRAP
I mentioned earlier the Joshua Tree Incident Of 2003. Here's what I wrote about this event back then:
Having some extra time on our hands, we decided to venture down Geology Tour Road, a dirt road through some of the park's cooler rock formations. The park map says that this road is recommended for four-wheel drive only. Now we have seen this in a number of places on the trip, and the Acura has had no problem at all.
About five miles down the road, the rough dirt road started to turn into sand, and we started sandplaning. After about one mile of seeing the sand get deeper, we decided going any farther was a very, very bad idea. But because we were going downhill, we knew coming back uphill was going to be tough. After some difficulty, we were able to turn around and start uphill. We made it about 10 feet before we got stuck. I handled this with great dignity, punching the steering wheel and impressing Joan with my command and range of English-language expletives. Even worse, determined to get out without assistance, I kept trying to rev my way out, which only dug the tires in deeper and deeper. Soon, it became clear we had a problem.
So here's the situation: We are on a dirt road in a deserted part of the park. It's 5:15pm and about 85 degrees. We have no reception on either cell phone or on the mobile email device in the car. Not a single car has been seen on this road since we started down it. So we're feeling pretty confident that we're going to be be here overnight. Now we had loaded up on gas and water before heading into the park, so we were good there. And the heat was bad, but was clearly fading as nighttime approached, and we had lots of blankets and an umbrella and an emergency road kit, etc., so we were not in any terrible danger.
I am too angry to be of much help, but Joan has it all together and decides this is the time to test out OnStar's wireless voice service. I am sure this will be of no use, since when we don't have cell-phone reception, we're usually out of luck with OnStar as well. So we hit the button and -- happy day -- we have reception!
At 5:30pm, we make our first call to the park dispatcher, who lets us know he will call AAA and get a tow dispatched. At 5:40, we make a second call to park dispatcher, who is still trying to confirm when a tow will be sent. At 6:20pm, we call the dispatcher again, and he tells us AAA is sending someone and that they will send a park ranger out in an hour to make sure we're OK.
By this time, we have decided we might as well get some odds and ends done. So I unpacked and repacked the car to combine some bags and save space. I changed all the CDs in the player and the visor holder. We started to plan out the remainder of the trip day by day. Unfortunately. we were also both forced to go to pee outside for the first time on the trip, a milestone we're not proud of.
Finally, at 7:15pm -- after a shorter-than-expected two-hour wait -- we see headlights. Even better, it's not the park ranger making a welcome wagon visit; it's the tow truck, or as the driver called it "an off-road recovery vehicle." But the news is not good. AAA does not cover off-road towing, which this most certainly is. Off-road towing, the guy says, is $150/hour, including driving time, of which there has already been an hour. And he also tells us he's not sure he's gonna be able to get us out at all. The guy asks us what we want to do. Joan and I -- being the savvy negotiators we are -- quickly determine the weakness of our bargaining position, decide not to call his competitors and OK the arrangement.
The guy then provides us with a piece of information that, at once, angers us and makes us feel a little less stupid. "You know, there's usually a sign a mile or so back that says 'Four-Wheel Drive Only Past This Point,' but it must be down, because it's not there." And it was not.
So the driver tied a tow line to the car to try and get it out, but moving forward was hopeless because the front right tire was badly jammed up against a large stone. So we got towed backwards first, and then started moving forward. On the second attempt, we' wee starting to make progress when the tow line snapped. And the tow guy just kept driving. At this moment, you can only imagine what was going through my mind. Death? Hunger? Nope, it was "Gilligan's Island." As the guy was driving away, all I could think about were all those episodes where a benevolent man promised to take the gang off the island, and then fled without them. But, thankfully, the tow driver had not realized the tow line had snapped, and he soon returned to continue the effort.
After a good 45-minute exercise, we finally got yanked out to the main, paved road at about 8:15pm. And all for only $375! But it could have been worse.
So, on our return visit, we decided to stop by good ol' Geology Tour Road, and see whether anything had changed since Gilligan and the Ginger had been marooned there. And it had. There were a lot more signs now about not going down that road without four-wheel drive. The sign right at the start of the road now says, "The full tour is recommended only for 4-wheel drive vehicles." The sign also tells you exactly at what point the road gets rough, as opposed to depending on a sign that may or may not fall down. Suffice it to say, we believe enough in karma that we didn't go back down this road again, even the parts that were fine for two-wheel drive.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "What Your Soul Sings," by Massive Attack. I got into Massive Attack in sort of a backwards way. A few years back, I saw a movie with Jet Li and Bob Hoskins called "Danny the Dog." The movie was perfectly fine for the martial arts genre -- not a particular fave of mine -- but I loved the music. Turns out the soundtrack was done by Massive Attack, who I'd heard of but never given much thought to. So I picked up that soundtrack, and then bought what was critically considered their best album, "Mezzanine," and immediately fell in love with it. In fact, I'd put it on my all-time Top 10 album list, thanks to songs like "Teardrop," "Angel," "Group Four" and "Inertia Creeps." Massive Attack is one of the pioneers of the trip-hop movement, and if you've never listened to them, I recommend giving them a shot. Another great trip-hop album: "Endtroducing," by DJ Shadow.
- Most-Played Albums: I did spin Radiohead's "In Rainbows" a few times, and I have to admit, it isn't speaking to me yet. We then switched over to the Radiohead classic "OK Computer" for most of the ride to Joshua Tree. But when we reached the park, we did what half the people who go there probably do: we switched over to U2's "The Joshua Tree." This is not merely goofy sentimentality, though. It happens to be a phenomenal album, and while I'll always prefer the rawer U2 sound of' "Boy" and "War," there's no arguing that "The Joshua Tree" is, from start to finish, its finest album. In addition to the well-known songs like "Where the Streets Have No Name," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "With or Without You," it's got some wonderful deep tracks like "Running to Stand Still," "Red Hill Mining Town" and "In God's Country."
- Lunch: Pita Place/Wendy's, Apple Valley, Calif.: For the time time when we've been together on the trip, we went separate ways on lunch. Joan didn't want fast food, so she found the Pita Place and got a falafel sandwich. Since we were trying to get to Joshua Tree, I wanted something I could chow down quickly, and the presence of pita bread usually makes eating messier than I was up for. So, having found the necessary excuse, I got a double burger and fries. Jim Nutrition Rating: 1 star (out of 5). Restaurant Rating: The Pita Place: 4 stars (out of 5. Wendy's: 3 stars (out of 5, on the fast-food scale). The fries were particularly good (translation: extra salty).
- Dinner: Matchbox, Palm Springs, Calif.: After leaving Joshua Tree, we pivoted south for dinner to meet Russ Walker and Kim O'Donnel, former colleagues from washingtonpost.com. Russ is now the executive editor of grist.org, and Kim has an excellent food blog, A Mighty Appetite, on washingtonpost.com. Needing to find a place where dogs could hang out, they found this restaurant in the heart of Palm Springs where the dogs could chill on the outdoor patio. Ironically, Matchbox has only two other locations, both in Washington D.C. Joan and I split a tomato and mozzarella pizza, and I started with a excellent salad. Jim Nutrition Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5). The pizza wasn't too big or overloaded with cheese, so I'll cut myself some slack. Restaurant Rating: 3 stars (out of 5). The pizza was good but not great; the tomatoes were cooked to the point they were crunchy. I no like that.
- Comfort Suites Barstow, Barstow, Calif.: There's nothing left to say here. We love the hotel. The hotel loves us. Joan truly does not want to leave, as the front-desk guy keeps fawning over her. I never thought it'd be this hard to get Joan out of Barstow. Hotel rating: 5 stars (out of 5).
COMMENT OF THE DAY
JOAN PIC OF THE DAY
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTO