Chapter 13 -- Homeward Bound

October 10, 1997

It was 35 degrees last night in Flagstaff, probably similar on the plateau I was on.

When I started driving, I realized that the flat area I had camped on was actually a big plateau, and the canyon country was nearby to the west. Went into Sedona, was impressed by the scenery, but disgusted by the asphalt. About half the license plates (including my own, of course) were Californian. They've built homes on lots of the ridges, and ruined many of the views. There are still a few left, though.

One place that particularly galled me was Mystic Hills -- An Environmentally Conceived Community. This is a typical gated community with a big sales office. At their entrance, they have a huge manmade waterfall (this is the desert, remember), and they've planted Argentinian Pampas Grass, a non-native invasive plant species that will spread by the wind and destroy native plant habitat. There were other invasive exotic pest plants in the entrance garden, as well. It wouldn't be so bad if the plants would stay put, but their progeny will eventually crowd out the native plants which help make this area so special.

I know that land developers everywhere will do as much damage to the local ecology as the zoning board will allow, and it's too much to expect them to behave differently in a beautiful area like Sedona. But there's something extra upsetting, almost blasphemous, about seeing them use such an "environmental" slogan as they're doing it. The sad thing is, some prospective customers probably think their exotic garden is very pretty, and think it's so nice of these folks to keep mother nature artificially green instead of the old brown and red of the native desert.

In the local New Age lingo, I'm feeling an incredibly powerful vortex of negative energy vibrations, and I've got to get out of this town ASAP.

I drove west toward San Diego. Just east of Yuma, at Telegraph Pass, the interstate twists around through the mountains so that the westbound lanes cross over on top of the eastbound lanes, and for a few miles, you're driving on the left side of the oncoming traffic. Its weird, but I guess that was the easiest way to fit the road through that narrow pass.

Southern Arizona and California are big, harsh, and desolate along I-8. I'm skirting the Mexican border here, and all traffic gets stopped by the border patrol for inspection.

Got to San Diego, spent the night at a cheap motel, and wandered around Tijuana a bit.

October 11, 1997

Hit the road a little after noon. Drove up to Orange County, got off on the coast highway (highway 1), up through Laguna Beach, where I stopped and walked Pepper for awhile. It was a good place for crowd watching. I snapped these photos. The bird of paradise flower was in front of the Laguna Beach lawn bowling courts.

Went up through LA along the tangled freeways. The GPS helped me navigate through the unfamiliar LA freeways, but it couldn't tell what lane I should get into. Also, I figure my primary job while driving is to avoid running off the road or hitting other vehicles, so I couldn't watch the GPS as closely as I would have liked. So I made several wrong turns at freeway interchanges. At least the GPS let me know right away that I was on the wrong road, and it helped me figure out how to get back on the right track. I've driven through LA several times, and this time was certainly the easiest.

I stopped at Mullholland Drive to get this quintessential picture of Los Angeles urban sprawl.

I've had headwinds since Arizona, and they're not stopping now. The radio traffic/weather reports are warning of 50 mph gusts on I-5 in the Grapevine area, and saying trailers and such should stay off that road. The wind is pretty gusty, and blows the tall van around quite a bit.

I hurry up to go to the Kern River Canyon before dark, where some old familiar hot springs are found. I make it there right about dark, stopping at Hobo Campground. The campground is fairly crowded, and I have some very noisy neighbors with a loud boom box. They keep yelling "whooo", "yeow", and "whoo whoo" at the tops of their lungs. They sound almost as intelligent as coyotes, but considerably less musical. There's a hot spring right near the campground, so I walk over, and find it all fenced in, with signs saying it's closed at night, and they're charging a parking fee to park there. I look around a bit more, hoping to sneak in, and a couple of German Shepards start barking, and lights go on. This is a bit too much like a sneaking onto a secure military installation at night, so I give up.

With the noisy neighbors, and the hot spring inaccessible, I'm starting to rethink my plan. I know that if I stay here, I'll have to pay a fee (I think it's about $8.00) for this campsite, and I'm beginning to think it's not worth that. In fact, it's worth money to get out of here. By now, it's about 9:00 at night, but I decide to pull up stakes and park near the undeveloped Remington Hot Spring. Much nicer. By moonlight, I wander down the steep path to the spring. I find some friendly mellow people there, and more come soon after my arrival.

October 12, 1997

I decide not to start the van's engine today. I go for a morning soak in the hot spring, meeting the same few people that were here last night. I go back up to the van to read some of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road", and enjoy reading him tell about some of the small towns I've recently vistited. Take a nap, time for another soak. This time, there's a woman here who volunteers to help take care of the pools. Today she's cementing a stair/seat in the lower pool. Her plan is to put several seats into the lower pool, thus reducing its volume, which will increase its temperature. I help out a bit, carrying some big heavy rocks around.

That night on the radio, I hear that John Denver's plane crashed into Monterey Bay. It takes them awhile to confirm it, but yes, he was the pilot, and was killed instantly. I get out the guitar and play a few of his songs.

October 13, 1997

I go for a pleasant morning soak, and then stow everything in the van and get ready for one last drive. I drive to Bodfish and Lake Isabella for gas, and then twist down the Kern River to Bakersfield.

From Bakersfield, I drive up California's Central Valley on I-5, and on the way I hear the news that Andy Green and the Thrust SSC team broke the sound barrier out at the Black Rock Desert today, one day short of 50 years since Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the air. YESS!

It's an otherwise uneventful drive home, and when I arrive, everything is in order. It takes 8 trips to unload the van. Pepper is very happy to get back to her old familiar territory, but other dogs have been marking it as theirs while she was gone. She has to stake her claim again.

Time for me to do laundry, pick up pictures, clean up, check e-mail, and get ready to go back to work in two days. I wish I could say it's good to be home, but I think it's more accurate to say it was good to be on the road.

I went up to Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands to finish up my roll of film. Met a guy from Vancouver, B.C. who's taking a month long vacation to see the western U.S. He loaned me his telephoto lens to get this shot of the full moon rising over Alcatraz at Sunset. What a view to come home to!

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©1997 Richard Cochran
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