Tonight’s update brought to you by the numbers 145 and 115, and the letters A and C.
You’ll get it later.
Well, New Mexico and Arizona had both been nothing like what I had expected: flat, brown, and hot. Why should California go according to plan?
The bad part is, I thought California was going to be nice. You hear “California” and you think of the north part of the state where there are mountains and forests and nice weather, or you think of the southern coast, with the beautiful beaches and nice weather. I should have paid more attention to what all those little black dots on the map meant…
California threw me a curveball called the Mojave. One hundred and forty five miles (there’s one) from Needles to Barstow. I had stopped on the outskirts of, well, we’ll call it “town” for the sake of argument after driving through Needles because Roberta Verona was getting cranky about the heat. Actually, I was kind of glad to see that gauge actually worked, it hadn’t offered up much information until that point. I had been hoping to find a mall to kill a couple hours in so that I could drive on in the cooler evening, but Needles is another stop on Route 66 (I’ll tell you more about this later, for now realize it means the “town” is six gas stations, four restaurants, two hotels, and eighty four “Route 66, America’s Main Street” gift shops), so I desperately grabbed at the last gas station before the interstate got cranked up again. It had a Dairy Queen sign, so at least I could have an ice cream for awhile. I pulled behind the station and parked the RV between a couple tractor trailers, hoping to defray as much direct sunlight as possible. I got out and singed the back of my leg on the door frame. It was far past hot. I always think it’s hotter than it is, but I knew it was high 90s if not a hundred.
The Dairy Queen was just a counter inside, I guess they didn’t want you hogging up all their air conditioning by sitting down to enjoy your Dilly Bar (I wanted so bad to put a joke here, but for the sake of my mother, I refrained), so I went to the restaurant next door to see if they just had dessert or something, ’cause I was still full from breakfast (again, more later). I just wanted to sit somewhere for awhile to let myself and the RV cool off a little (did you remember I have no air conditioning when I’m driving? There’s that A and C I mentioned…), but in a restaurant I feel obligated to buy something. Luckily, they had ice cream, and even more luckily (don’t read this, Suzy) an absolutely stunning waitress. She had to be over six feet. So I ordered my ice cream and iced tea, and, being a guy, started talking her up a bit. Now, as an educated, well-travelled man of the world, I dusted off one of my best lines: “So, how hot do you think it is out there?”
Apparently, my scheming was too subtle, for she seemed to take this as meaning I was curious about the weather. She went off to find out, and I was going to take another tack when she returned and said “It’s a hundred and fifteen degrees.”
115 degrees. One hundred, then fifteen more… ELEVENTY-FIVE DEGREES.
Wow. My new record. To be fair, there is something to that “dry heat” thing, like I said, I thought right around a hundred. Roberta Verona didn’t like it any more than I did, after sitting in the shade for almost an hour, on start-up the temp gauge showed higher than it had all trip, up until today. But it was a bit lower than when I had pulled over.
Three hours through the Mojave. If I never see a more desolate, dead, altogether unappealing strech of geography, I’ll die most pleased. _This_ is what I thought Arizona and New Mexico were going to be like: sand, scrub brush, sharp, black, forbidding-looking mountains completely bereft of vegetation… and millions and millions of little black rocks that, from the driver’s seat, anyway, looked like charcoal briquettes. For a hundred and forty five miles. At a hundred and fifteen degrees. In a couple places, I saw a motor home parked, with, presumably, people living in it. And even one house, off in the distance. The motor homes I could almost understand (the engines explode, you push it off the highway and put out a mailbox), but I have no clue why anyone would build a house out there. Maybe those rocks _were_ charcoal, and that was the old Kingsford place…
Just to connect with something I said an update or so ago, I wasn’t actually unhappy about all this. I mean, it was damn hot, and I could have been miserable if I’d wanted to. But I had to drive through it, no choices here, so turn up the CD player real loud and drive. I’ve surprised myself with how fast three hours of driving can go by (although I must confess that this wasn’t one of the fastest, or anything…).
The day started out much better, though. I had breakfast at this little Route 66 diner, and learned some things (things that I had begun to suspect, but now I knew for sure). I-40, for much of its distance, parallels or simply runs right over top of the old US Route 66. All these weird, tiny “towns” I’ve mentioned that have two exits on the interstate (the exit become the main drag which ends in the other exit) are where I-40 bypassed the busy parts of the route. Pretty much everywhere that I’ve stayed, eaten, bought gas, or used the can for the last three days has wanted to sell me “Historic Route 66” t-shirts, mugs, and shot glasses (pretty ironic: all these “Don’t Drink And Drive” signs everywhere out here, and they’re selling Route 66 shot glasses). So I’m sitting in this diner being waited on by a girl in a Route 66 t-shirt (mine for $17.95 [the t-shirt, not the girl]) drinking a tea in a Route 66 glass (a bargain at $5.95) and eating a composition of scrambled eggs, chilies, onions, and cheese wrapped up in a big flour tortilla with salsa, sour cream, refried beans, and hash browns. I mooshed everything up and poured hot sauce on it and it was great, even though it had no direct correlation to Route 66.
I decided to change my plan for my morning stretch of driving, and go ahead and follow this, the longest surviving stretch of the original Route 66. Yes, I got some kicks on Route 66. One reason was because Grand Canyon Caverns was there.
And I really wanted to go somewhere that had “Grand Canyon” in the name, because it looks like I’m not going to make it to the real thing this time around. I passed within 90 miles of it late last night, and there was a huge electrical storm off that way. I could only imagine what it might have been like. For a minute my mind wandered back to a wasted day in Salina Kansas, to five hours in a Wichita repair shop, to…
Then I mentally tipped my hat to the Canyon in a “maybe next time” gesture and drove on, realizing that sometimes, that’s all you can do.
But anyway, I found myself at the Grand Canyon Caverns, and went on a 45 minute tour about 220 feet below the ground. I had a blast, took a lot of pictures (we’ll see how well they come out), and just generally enjoyed the 56 degree temperature (little did I know my afternoon weather would more than double that mark). One thing I thought was kind of funny, in one of the bigger “rooms,” there were stacks of boxes and cans, Civil Defense food, water, and emergency equipment that the government “convinced” the family who owns the Caverns (I forget their name) to leave there in case of nuclear war (this was, like, in the fifties, or something). Two thousand people could live for two weeks on this stuff. The only problem was that the relative humidity in the Caverns is 6% (carbon-based life needs about 18% to not dehydrate and die): In two weeks, everyone would be dead and well on their way to mummification, food and water or no. There was a mummified bobcat that had apparently fallen in and died there. I really hope the picture I took came out. The cat had been found in the highest reach of the cave, which, unfortunately, turned out not to be the exit. But in pitch black (not even cats can see without _any_ light), with a broken hip from the fall, in less than thirty-five hours (the guide says this he how long it takes for vertigo to set in when there’s no light at all), the cat found what, logically, _should_ have been the exit. I was standing there, about to cry in public again over the (in my mind) heroic efforts of some long dead cat.
After that, Route 66 headed down the mountain, hit I-40, and we had a desert.