Driving To Phoenix

Notes about an uneventful trip: I have done this 713 mile drive perhaps a dozen times before, but I believe this was the first time I had done it alone. Being in the driver’s seat for 9 to 11 hours isn’t new, but it took some adaptation to not having anyone except myself to talk to. And, of course, “Junior”, on duty as our Driver Bear.

It’s a lot easier to fly, but the idea here was to transport a trunkload of stuff that wasn’t being used in California, like my 5″ Maksutov telescope, to Arizona, where hopefully I will find it easy to set that up and use it on clear nights.

I brought the camera but took no photos. The weather was generally overcast and hazy. There are too few stretches where a solo driver should dare to fool with photography, and I never found a spot which shouted “pull over!”

I don’t have any problem keeping myself mentally alert on a long drive. Like Calvin of “Calvin and Hobbes”, having an overactive imagination fills the hours admirably well – as long as you don’t lose track of what’s happening in the classroom. Navigation is a different issue.

I know the route: SF Bay Area 580 East to Interstate 5, south to the “Grapevine”, the mountainous approach overlooking that dirty, nasty LA basin, down into the San Fernando Valley and the 210 interchange, followed by two “switchbacks” to the horribly designed San Bernardino Freeway, and finally onto I-10 east, a straight shot into Phoenix.

I brought some Google Earth screen prints of the LA freeway interconnections, which look like a photomicrograph of blood vessels supplying a cancer, and things didn’t turn out that way. Anxious to avoid any more of Los Angeles than need be, I took the San Fernando 210 (past Sylmar) because I know it and we have done this before.

A real, detailed AAA map of Southern California would have been a plus here. Once again, it would have saved me an hour after I pulled off on a “Palm Springs” offramp for gas. After several miles of back road driving, I found a dumpy Shell station with Bay Area prices ($3.69/gallon for medium grade). The attendant happily told me the best way to get back onto the Interstate: west on the main drag to the light, then turn right. This dumped my into a new condo development enclave.

tourist bureau postcard of glamorous Palm SpringsHere’s a tourist bureau postcard of Palm Springs. Tasteful, ain’t it?

I noted the “main drag” is state route 111, so reasoned I could drive east until seeing an Interstate sign for route 10. Now, let me tell you, I had no idea how huge Palm Strings is. It’s as ritzy and glitzy as you’d expect, with its postcard signature desert mountain backdrop looming over the boulevard. Hitting it as I did at the tail end of lunch hour, behind a slow endless parade of Hummers, Escalades, Mercedes RV’s and Jaguars, I thought I’d never get out of town!

And Palm Springs is now connected to Palm something or other else, with commercial zoning where real business is conducted, and “affordable” $1M plus condo developments. About 24 miles of this after gassing up, I found a “I-10” sign and was back on Interstate 10 east. There’s no easy way out of Palm Springs that I could see – they really want you to spend money. I hope my purchase of a Tropicana orange drink helped. In 27 miles and an honest lost hour, I was again eastbound.

It is always a treat to drive over the legendary Colorado River, past Blythe. The remaining 200 or so miles to Phoenix include some lovely stretches of high desert, ancient eroded mountains, and evidence of the inland sea that flooded the interior here some 100-72 million years ago. At one point I noticed a 20 mile long strip of terraced sand that arguably could have been the primordial shoreline.

Thanks to my Palm Springs delay, this drive was an honest 11 hours. I was sure glad to walk into the house here in Phoenix, and “driving video arcade game” images kept replaying in my head until I finally went to bed early at 9PM.

I’ll drive back next Saturday. I hope I’ll have located that map before then, if for no other reason than to study it beforehand and just have it aboard – the point being not that you might not find you way home after so many years of doing it, but that, like flying airplanes, it pays to plan ahead and know your waypoints in advance.

And, weather conditions permitting, I plan to spend that “lost hour” at turnouts, taking pictures of the terrain I love so much.

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