Checking in from Twenty-Nine Palms, California …
Over halfway across the desert. Beautiful, changing terrain but hot as can be. Sunrises are really special, and we see most of them in an attempt to get in four hours of walking before the temps hit triple digits. From mile to mile and sometimes right across the road, the vista varies as the gravelly sand and stunted desert vegetation meets the many mountains and hills that dot the landscape. No gradual run-up, the basically flat desert floor ends abruptly at the foot of the mountains that seem to have popped right up through the sand. Some are rounded and smooth; others are sharp and jagged; still others look like piles of huge boulders. And some appear to be composed of sandstone while others are granite and some are obviously lava mounds.
The Mojave is a tough environment. No wonder it is mostly uninhabited by man. It is a fragile eco system, however, where even slight changes in seasonal temperatures and rainfall threaten the stubborn vegetation and animal life. This desert is best left as untouched as possible with very few roads, no towns and only the relatively non-intrusive Colorado River Aqueduct crossing the area. The aqueduct, running from Lake Havasu, is partially above ground, partially underground. It is the primary water supply for the metro areas of Southern California.
We did, however, leave behind a couple of modest marks of our time in the Mojave. Rice, CA became noted for its “Shoe Fence”, a lone tamarisk on a turnout just south of the highway. For reasons unknown, it became customary for travelers on Highway 62 (also known as Rice Road) to and from the Colorado River to hang a pair of old shoes on the fence. On the “shoe fence” I retired a pair of worn-out Asics shoes and hung them along with hundreds of others that travelers had left behind. No one seems to know when this phenomenon started, but now a piece of Heart Trek USA will remain long after we have moved on. Then at another empty crossroad called Iron Mountain Pumping Station Road and Hwy 62, Brenda added two directional signs to a long standing totem pole showing the distance to our hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina and to the start of Heart Trek at Cape Hatteras. We have learned this pole was erected by Steve and Wendy Page. Back in 1993 they were bored after riding through the desert several times during the week and decide to leave this landmark before moving to Perth, Australia. Just good fun being a part of desert traditions.
Walkers are obviously pretty rare in the Mohave. A very nice California Highway Patrolman (CHP or CHiPs—anyone remember Ponch and Jon?), Officer Lindbergh, rode beside me for a ways and stopped to visit with Brenda along the roadside. He was very interested in our journey and informed us that he was a former marine who had spent part of his tour at Camp Lejeune. He told me that he had patrolled a 100 mile stretch of Hwy 62 across the desert for almost five years, and I was the first person he had seen who was walking along this roadway “on purpose”. Wishing us safe travels, he promised to keep an eye out for us. One part of Hwy 62 is called the CHP Officer Daniel J. Muehlhausen Memorial Highway in honor of a patrolman killed on this highway when his car was struck head on by a driver passing a car in a no pass zone. With the twist, turns, dips and blind spots on this two-lane road, we are being very careful.
More desert for the next few days as the track heads through the Joshua Tree National Park and the towns of Twenty-Nine Palms, Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley. Keeping as cool as possible with the Pacific just weeks away.