Creek Running North

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October 27, 2003


Baker

Hours driven today: seven.
Miles driven: four hundred seventy eight.
Coyote corpses at roadside: eight - counting separate sightings of one coyote head and one headless corpse as one coyote, despite separation by approximately five miles along I-5, Kettleman Hills.

Also of note: Green Toyota Tundra with multicolored Amazon parrot in passenger seat, exited at Kettleman City.

It's been two years since I drove the route I took today. Last time I came past Tracy, the Shiraz Ranch's orange trees seemed little wisps. Now they're lush and verdant.

The Central Valley seemed dirtier, if that is possible. Brown air, windblown trash. Even the semis seemed rusty and battered. It was a relief to pull up out of the valley toward Tehachapi, though I was surprised at how quickly I made the transit.

The Mojave Bypass is finished. Twenty years I've been driving this route, and this is the first time I haven't gone through that windy little nothing town. It's sad. The trip from Monolith to Barstow was once rural, quirky, both rustic and rusty. Old highway 58 once passed funky settlements, junkyards with fences made of old school buses, geology and sociology on display. Now the closest you get along the route to any real people is in the outskirts of Boron.

I need to stop in Boron one of these days.

Mojave isn't nearly the stop it once was, now that Reno's restaurant is out of business, replaced by a shiny white and pink, silk flowers venue name of Mike's. Reno's had dead animal heads on the wall, always the mark of a fine dining establishment. Wood paneling, high-backed booths, knotty pine decor, what's not to like? Becky and I ate there Thanksgiving weekend 1989, after a cold camping trip to Mono Lake and Death Valley, and had soup that had been made from the carcass of Reno's Turkey day dinner special. Now the place is an unspectacular and unthrilling LA-style eatery. Nice enough waitresses, who respond well to flirting and ask you if you live 'round there.

Despite the lack of historic restaurant opportunities, I still felt oddly guilty circumventing Mojave. I used to at least fill up at Casa de Gasa. I used to at least have to hold down my hat against the omnipresent winds off the east desert. Same old story, from Cloverdale to Kearney: the road bypasses the town; the town dries up.

But past Barstow and past the ever-growing assortment of billboards around Calico, and the old Mojave presented itself. The sun set as I was passing the Cronise range, and I went beyond down into a vast bowl of violet and brown, into the desert night. Now the breeze lifts a bit of dust from the ground, the news anchors talk in distressed tones of the hellish fire at Cajon Pass - I saw the smoke from California City, probably a hundred miles away - and the World's Tallest Inaccurate Thermometer reads a sultry 68 degrees. Life is good.

I was preoccupied as I wound over Tehachapi Pass by the usual mixture of boredom, distress at how much the Valley has changed since my first visit, and sore back. With the first Joshua trees after Cameron Road, that feeling went away. Scruffy and olive-drab, dingy clumps of Yucca brevifolia along the freeway hillside lifted me. I was at home again.

I am surprised to be reminded of the size of the trees along the roads near Kramer Junction. Some looked dead. Maybe they were just patinaed in dust from the non-stop traffic along what's left of old route 58.

In Baker, outside my room at the Bun Boy Motel, the breeze conveys an acrid smell off Soda Lake, terminus of the Mojave River. Trucks thunder past on I-15, some of them turning near my room to head south on Kelbaker Road. Taillights draw long trails against the Mojave night.

Posted at October 27, 2003 07:55 PM | TrackBack

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