Monday, July 27, 2015

South by southwest

at sunset
We left the Grand Canyon after two nights of camping.  I think the last time I was camping overnight with any of my kids was when they were Cub Scouts, so no one knew what to expect.  Kudos to Deke for (a) having an excellent tent and air mattress, (b) booking the Mather Campground at the Grand Canyon, (c) the steak tacos on night two and (d) coming up with the idea in the first place.  Mather campground is first rate - clean, convenient, well spaced camping sites, good facilities,  Great place to reintroduce yourself to the great outdoors.

Our first night at the canyon we stayed at a hotel just outside the south entrance.  Again, a Deke choice.  We bowled a few frames in the hotel's rec center, got introduced to Grand Canyon pilsner (very drinkable) and loaded up on water, firewood and supplies for our camp.

After the park we headed south to Phoenix for the purpose of catching a baseball game.  It was 100+ outside, but the ballpark is covered and air conditioned.  Diamondbacks beat the Brewers, so the home team fans were happy.  And we checked Phoenix off the list.

Somewhere during the trip, San Diego was added to the itinerary when Deke contacted an old friend and all of us were invited to stay over.  Worked out perfectly, since we learned that I-10, our planned route, was running single lane for a long stretch because of a bridge washout, which we were able to avoid by heading south and taking I-8 into San Diego.

That's literally the southwest US.   At time you could look left and see the long fence near the Mexico border.  And a landscape full of surprises.

For most of Arizona it's rocky desert.  Long expanses of nothingness.  Then about the time you cross over into California, it becomes sand, blowing into giant dunes on all sides, then subsiding into rock again.  In the Imperial Valley there are great green fields of crops.  You look in wonder at these verdant fields in the desert, then realize that they're sucking up water that's in precious short supply as you go further west.  Looking west, what I first thought was falling from clouds was actually the contrast between blue sky and clouds of dust stirred by the relentless wind.  That wind is harnessed by a forest of windmills as you approach the mountains.

And these are no ordinary mountains.  They take you from seal level to 4000 feet in a steady climb. You're warned at the outset to turn off air conditioners if your car starts to overheat.  When you get into the first ascent you see that the mountains are actually giant piles of rocks - boulders piled high.  How did they get there?  Farther up they become a little smoother in texture but they're still all rock and sand.  You watch the temperature gauge slowly climb and realize that maybe the warning was right, so you turn off the AC and eventually turn on the heat to circulate water through the engine and open the windows.  Finally just over the top there's a gas station, where you stop to fuel and let the car cool off a little.  Here's a first taste of California, where regular gas is over $4 a gallon.

The rest of the drive into San Diego is scenic, in a California sort of way.  Hills covered with short trees and none of the underbrush we're so used to in the east, brown in the midsummer drought.  San Diego itself seems an oasis, although locals see the transition from green lawns to desert landscaping.
So we reached the Pacific, and almost our destination, in the company of Kelly and Marc and their terrific boys, who welcomed the scruffy voyagers into their home for an evening.  Such a treat,  We can't thank you enough.

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