Well, I’m not sure what happened, but I’m in California. Trying to untangle it all doesn’t sound like any fun either. I feel like I owe a story, but I can’t sit still and think about things without getting a headache. This happened to be a great part of the trip, but the desert has a way of blurring together, and I’m left with a swirl of memories of roads, vistas, odd towns with mostly derelict buildings, border patrol checkpoints, and hundreds of miles of roadway.
For some reason, I’m also too angry to think clearly. It started a few days ago and seems persistent but has no obvious source. Just trying to put my day in order (do I brush my teeth first or take a shower first) nearly sent me over the edge. That means it’s unlikely I’ll be able to sum up two weeks of travel without throwing this laptop against a wall.
That’s a bit of a shame too, since I had a number of great memories come up. I last left this story off in Texas, and I am 50-miles from the Pacific ocean now. I found several areas I’d not been through, while also rediscovering old locations. Just yesterday I was in a familiar haunt called Julian in California. This was a spot I used to ride to frequently because the roads were sort-of empty and very twisty.
Riding through there on ‘Ol Dusty, I noticed so many more things. I don’t know if it was the slower pace of the lumbering sidecar, or maybe it was just a retraining of my eyes on this trip. Perhaps I’m just getting older and have less desire to tear ass up and down twisty roads? At the same time, with the bike missing 4th gear, I was hauling ass and passed more motorcycles than passed me. I was just trying to keep momentum up around the turns so I didn’t need to shift all the way down to 3rd, but I wasn’t exactly loping along.
Still in Texas?!
Yes, my last installment left me in Gainsville, TX. The amount of writing I’d need to do for a play-by-play of what I saw sounds uninspiring. On the plus-side, you don’t really need to know where I camped or what I saw each day.
After Gainsville I found a few markers for the Butterland Overfield route and ended in Allen, TX, where some more old friends had moved. I hadn’t seen them since at least 2004, and we went to their kids’ band recital, which will probably be the one and only concert I attend this year (we made one attempt in Bend, OR, but the place was restricted to half-capacity and we didn’t get there in time).
After a few days there I actually got some writing work done and was feeling good as I began the westward push. The first few days went pretty slowly because of the amount of waypoints I was stopping at to investigate. It eventually god old so I began to make more progress and choose my route based on making good time and also trying to avoid the interstate. A bid of a paradox I know, but Dusty doesn’t particularly like going above 70mph and the highways in Texas have speed limits between 65-75mph.
Four days straight of camping in parks near water left me very sick of being cold and filled up with gorgeous sunsets. I slept in the open desert near Sierra Blanca, then finally entered New Mexico. I pushed through the state in one day, visiting El Paso to see the downtown and an old 1800’s cemetery, then following Hwy 9 along the US border until crossing into Arizona and taking Hwy 80 south. I passed the weird monument to Geronimo’s surrender: it’s one of several places where people are sure the “Indian Wars” “officially” ended. I’ve seen such spots in Utah, Arizona, and California, but Geronimo is a big name in Native American history.
Personally I thought this was a crappy memorial, a shabby pile of stones slapped together in, for some unknown reason, a phallic shape, with a plaque about ending “Indian warfare.” On the plus side, there is a monument to him in Gila, near his birthplace, and he’s got a pretty awesome burial marker in Oklahoma.
This impromptu marker was on the roadside picnic table adjacent to the memorial.
I found far more historic locations along the way though, with border towns that hosted our first military aviation, towns who hadn’t made headlines since Pancho Villa raided them 100 years ago, and of course many markers to the Butterfield Overland trail.
I spent a few days in Bisbee, AZ catching up with more friends. Kevin and Gretchen moved out there from Los Angeles and opened a Bed & Breakfast in the town. It’s mostly known for being home to a massive mining operation running from the 1800’s until 1971. Since they didn’t have a famous gunfight they aren’t as famous as Tombstone, but they made a lot more money in copper than Tombstone ever did in silver.
This town knows how to party.
Johnny Ringo was buried where his body was found. It’s down 4.5mi of dirt road on private property, but the owner has a gate and allows access.
After leaving Bisbee I only made it to Tuscon because I had a few things to check out there. Kate loves saguaro cactus so I went through the Saguaro National Park as the sun sat low in the sky. I dropped into an AirBnB and shut the door to my room, then slept for 10 hours. I was up before the sun and stopped of at the Sidecar Bar, because, sidecars. It was so uninteresting that I didn’t even bother grabbing a photo. There were a few more landmarks to hit, then I went to the Pima Air & Space Museum.
An air museum Kate could have geeked out at, but sadly, no Kate to share it with. She wouldn’t have enjoyed the full five hours I was there anyway.
I’ve been here before, in 2005, but it completely changed. There was so much to see I was there for over five hours. With only a few hours of daylight left I still managed to make it to Why, Arizona by sundown. The town has a funny name, yes. It also has BLM land where I could pitch a tent for free. The stars were great and the cold wasn’t too bad, but I still didn’t hit the road until 11:30am in the hopes things would warm up more.
The Final Border
My entrance into California was not worth retelling. I went up toward the Yuma Proving Grounds and entered the Golden State by taking a road past the Imperial dam. This was an important project (and still is) to help support settlement in the area and beyond, though now it isn’t more than a footnote to people who don’t live near it.
On backroads there is no big sign or fanfare. This is the entrance to California, laid over the old route used by Spaniards in the 1760’s.
We drive by dams like this all the time with little thought. It completely changed the face of the nation though, and especially the region, turning deserts into cities and 1,000’s of acres of farmland. We turn on the tap for water without a second thought, but people literally died to provide us with comfort. We stand on the shoulders of giants.
This was Apache territory and the dam’s location is close to where the Spanish would float across the Colorado River back in the mid-1700’s. It was such an important route that when the natives stopped allowing passage it ended settlements to the east. It wasn’t until more settlers came from the east that the area began to grow in population. The Butterfield trail also went through here, though no markers are present.
I slept in the open desert, which was fine when the wind died down. It picked up with a fury in the early morning though and I was cold and miserable the entire time I made breakfast and packed up for the day. I was determined to not camp again. Cold, filthy, low on supplies, and in need of clean clothes, I stopped at the Valley of the Names (stones arranged along hillsides with messages) before bouncing off the washboarded dirt roads and into the green farmland of Winterhaven.
At this point both ‘Ol Dusty and I are tired of dirt roads, cold nights, and rough living… though Dusty wakes up in the morning with less effort than it takes me.
From here I took I-8 west and, although I stopped to check out several things, I kept distance and time at the forefront of my mind. El Centro was and still is a typical desert dump. I got gas, a burrito, and some more water, then continued. At the Imperial Dunes I stopped to watch dune buggies blast up the hillsides and to see the remnants of the plank road.
The old plank road.
Before the interstate (or any pavement) teams of horses would drag pre-fab boardwalks together so cars could drive across the sand. After that there was plenty of gorgeous views but I was jaded. The sun was warm and I just wanted to keep that feeling, so I continued to move west.
Climbing the Tecate Divide though was worthy of note. I swear I’ve driven the entire length of I-8 but I do not remember this stretch. I was stunned at the huge piles of boulders, looking man-made in a sense. There were views to the valleys below while still halfway up. Dusty found little to admire: this is exactly the type of road his 4th gear was made for. Without the sidecar he’d happily do this in 5th gear, but a sidecar isn’t like pulling a trailer. It’s more like pulling another motorcycle, but having it beside you so its aerodynamic resistance is fully present.
I didn’t stop for photos because the grade was steep and it was windy, but there were panoramas everywhere. Even looking down and seeing the eastbound freeway could give you a feeling you were in a low flying plane, gazing at the people below.
Center of the World in Serenity, California is way more than a tourist trap. It’s an attempt to leave human history– carved in granite– for hundreds of generations.
Just the same, we got up to the Desert View Tower. It’s exactly what the name implies. The view is stunning, and if you take your time you can see leftovers of the old road before the interstate cut its path. And before that roadway it was rough, stony earth. A team of men and oxen lived here full time back in the day, because horses alone couldn’t do the 30% grade. It’s also home to an art/junk pile of weird vehicles, art, and fake flying saucers, so it’s worth a stop if you appreciate the offbeat nature of the desert and its inhabitants.
Familiar Yet Unfamiliar
When I took the S1 up to Highway 79 North, I really felt it was the home stretch. In this area is Julian, a town that has survived on its pies and being close-enough-yet-far-away-enough from San Diego to make it a weekend destination for local tourists. I used to ride down here from Orange County because the roads were twisty and only semi-populated.
Now, after more than 11,000 miles of touring the country, and not having been to Julian since 2005, I was surprised at how unfamiliar it was. The town was the same, though VERY full since it was a Saturday and Californians were obviously dreading another bout of COVID lockdown. I recognized the shops and most of the stores open up in them.
Julian, CA when a hypocritical governor tells the populace they need to stay home to stop the spread of COVID.
The main difference was the road. I think in my youth I was so focused on riding fast that I didn’t have as much time to enjoy the views. I recognized a few turns, but I saw so many more vistas, so many more campgrounds, so many more old buildings… it was a different world. I don’t know how much of it is me and how much is the area. For sure there were more buildings, but not all of them were new. New traffic circles had come in. A closed gas station was now open and totally refurbished.
I may have been riding slow, but somehow I kept getting caught behind people on two wheels. Maybe it’s just being on this trip that has taught me to notice more detail, and not me becoming ‘old and slow.’
The feeling continued as I went up I-15. Part of this stretch was on my delivery route when I drove trucks in the early 2000’s. Restricted to 55mph and becoming increasingly bored, you’d think I would have every rock memorized. While it’s true in a sense, I noticed differences too. I saw a Butterfield route marker on a frontage road. I noticed a strip mall that was once near-empty now displaying shop names on every single unit.
There were brand new shopping complexes and, of course, brand new toll lanes being put in to remind the poor people that there time just isn’t as important as that of others. Well, I feel a rant coming on with that, and so it’s time to retire this post.
I’ve got much more to say and eventually I’ll write a book about it, literally, but for now I don’t have the inclination to keep going. That angry feeling I’ve had since starting this piece is still here, and I’m happy I got through this post without digressing a dozen times on why everything and everyone is wrong in every way. I wish I knew what brought moods like this on, but sometimes you just have to put up with yourself.
Maybe it’s radiation from the powerlines? 😉
I’m “home” now but not, and that’s an entire topic on its own. I don’t have an “end” to the trip. When I get back to the San Francisco Bay and reunite with Kate, it will be an official end to this trip, but I still will have all my stuff in storage and no place of my own. Dusty will become an instant liability too. Unable to split traffic like a regular motorcycle (legal here in CA) and getting worse MPG than most small cars, he is also to big to fit in my storage unit. All that, plus the broken transmission. That’s a rant for another time though.
For now I’ll just look forward to the next installment here, when I can talk more about what I want, and can spend less time with a step-by-step travelogue. But until then, a merry Christmas and happy new year to you all. 2021 is just around the corner. I predict anti-climax, but that’s also a topic for another post.