2008 Drive to Phoenix

Drive-by shootingThis is what you get when, driving solo, you stick a point-and-shoot out the window, keeping your eyes on the road, and point, and shoot.

Eastbound on the I-210 Pasadena Freeway headed for Riverside CA and the junction of I-10, I missed a fine shot of Mt. Baldy and finally settled on these snow-capped peaks. Soon we will begin the ascent of the Tehachapis and the long descent back down into the Mojave, which is quite cool (about 79-81 degrees) this time of year.

The trip began when I departed Castro Valley at 6AM. I was going to top off the tank before getting onto the freeway, but somebody had run over a skunk by the gas station, and I thought better of stopping. It is dark this time of the morning, but you could see the faint glow of twilight off in the east. By Crow’s Landing on I-5, the sun was one solar diameter above the horizon of the San Joaquin Valley, a dark crimson orb pushing through light fog and haze.

By anyone’s accounting, the north-south I-5 through California’s great Central Valley is a stark, barren drive, with the highlights being the occasional vast feedstock lots, and, as you approach Bakersfield, the alkali deposits that leach out of the fields from decades of heavy fertilization and hard water irrigation. But I like it, except for the smell of the feedlots (which was oddly absent this year). To look at the land, with its white-laced powdery ashen sandy soil, you would never suspect that this state manages to grow enough food to supply the state and most of the nation with an unimaginable abundance of fruit, vegetable, and beef.

Further on around Bakersfield, the land projected an eery, otherworldly appearance as the “fog” thickened. Visibility was still several miles, but faded rapidly. Nearby objects appeared hazy, while distant objects revealed ghosts of disembodied appartions floating on the gloom. The fog revealed a faint trace of dirty reddish gray-brown, proof that a large component of the poor visibility was really just smog. Backlit by the low winter morning sun, this soup made for poor visibility and challenging driving.

A glimpse of the sky ahead of the horizon offered a truly jolting sight. The gray silhouette of a huge mountainscape towered over the highway for an instant through the haze: gray on gray. Then it disappeared, then loomed above once again, with hints of snow on the peaks. Signs announced “Grapevine” and “trucks use weigh station”. We began the mighty ascent to Gorman Pass. This is roughly the halfway point on the trip from the SF Bay Area to Phoenix.

I always underestimate the vastness of the LA basin, the intimidating traffic and the confusing, last-minute highway signing. I take the Pasadena Freeway at Sylmar to bypass as much of LA as possible. These freeways are engineered for commute traffic, not interstate traffic. Most people are afraid to use the HOV lanes (2 or more passengers) even on a Saturday. Traffic is skittish and can go from 75mph to a full stop in fifteen seconds. Honking motorists pass a lady on a cellphone crawling along at 35 mph in the fast lane in a brand-new SUV. I can hardly WAIT to get out of here.

You break loose of all this past Riverside. The Interstate-10 reduces to two good lanes in each direction. From here on out to Phoenix, truckers own the road. It’s trucks passing trucks passing trucks. With a little patience, a V-6 or V-8 can zip through this when breaks of clear lane are offered, though it’s divided freeway all the way, a smart move in my opinion. The days of pulling out into the oncoming lanes and stomping it into passing gear are long gone.

The other thing I always underestimate is the vastness of the desert. There’s over 100 miles of Mojave between Riverside and Blythe, on the Colorado River. Breaking through to the “Welcome to Arizona” sign on the bridge is always cause for cheering. “Phoenix: 196 miles” seems like it’s all downhill. 

At 100 miles outside of Phoenix, you can see the Superstition Mountains far away on the horizon, though dimly. You can also see an obvious white hemisphere of smog enveloping Phoenix, like a geodesic dome. As you approach mile 36, you realize the traffic and the atmosphere is not that much different from the LA basin you just fled.

Two-car garageFrom this point, the commute to the garage at the house in Phoenix took as long as the trip from Blythe to the outskirts of metro Phoenix.

But it is always good to get home. Pictured in the garage are the California car (backed in) and the Arizona car. It is the only other photo I was able to take.

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1 thought on “2008 Drive to Phoenix

  1. The return trip was 719 miles, and took 10 hours exactly – not too shabby an average speed. Photo opportunities were limited. I saw a couple of shots that might have been great, but there was no place to turn out or pull over. I hit fog just after sunrise about 100 miles out of Phoenix. When the sun just started clearing, and desert shapes started looming out of the fog, “Ghost Riders In The Sky” would have been a great musical backdrop.

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