Archive for August, 2012

MOJAVE DESERT

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.

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Checking in again from Big River, CA …

Yes, I completed my 3,000th mile this morning. And, no, we are not there yet.

This milestone was reached about a third of the way across the Mojave Desert. Although the odometer, maps and GPS tend to not agree, all sources indicate that we are now within 300 miles of the Santa Monica Pier. All distances have been carefully recorded by a handheld GPS that I carry on each walk. Maybe that extra 300 miles is me running behind bushes and cacti.

The walk across the Mojave takes six days. On the first three days, we return after the walk to an RV park in Big River on the banks of the Colorado River. Then we move the RV to Twenty-Nine Palms, California for the last three days. After that, I’ll ease back on the daily mileage to time our walk to the Pier to arrive on Sunday, September 2, where we look forward to celebrating with friends and family. Currently, my walks start at about 5:15AM and end around 10:00AM to avoid the heat. The forecast calls for a high of 117 with a low overnight of 91. Temps reach triple digits as my walk ends each day. Also, there is not much to see on this stretch of desert.

California has an agriculture inspection station not far from its border with Arizona. Every vehicle is stopped to check for fruits, vegetables and animals. Mostly they concentrate on commercial carriers but all are subject to inspection. So far our apples and oranges haven’t been confiscated, and Zuzu has passed muster. Across from the inspection station, is only one gas station along the 110 mile road across the Mojave. The proprietor takes advantage of his location to gouge the public. With gas priced at $3.26 back across the river in Parker, Arizona and $3.83 in metro Los Angeles, this guy charges a whopping $4.79 per gallon. We haul extra gas with us rather than trading with this guy.

Camp Rice, Desert Training Center, CA in Mojave Desert. One of 12 such desert camps built in 1942 where over one million American troops were trained in this harsh environment to harden them for battlefields in WWII. The Center was operational for 2 years and was closed early in 1944 when the last units were shipped overseas. A total of 13 infantry divisions and 7 armored divisions plus numerous smaller units were trained here. The 5th Armored Div., nicknamed “The Victory Division”, began combat operations in France in July 1944 and quickly gained a reputation for combat excellence, spearheading the Normandy breakout of the 3rd Army. It was the first division to reach the Seine River, first to enter Belgium, first to reach and liberate Luxembourg, first to fight on German soil, and first to plunge through the Siegfried line.

We have seen a lot of strange things along the roadside during our travels but this is one of the strangest. Near Rice, CA (a town of zero population) there is partial fencing (about 100 ft. long) and about 20 ft. from the road (no yard, no house, nothing around but desert for miles and miles) and people have stopped and hung their old shoes, tires, t-shirts or whatever they found around to the fence. It seems this has been going on for a long time because some date back to the 90’s. I am leaving a pair of old Heart Trek tennis shoes tomorrow.

Hope you’ll keep following our final month of Heart Trek USA. Thanks for your interest and support.

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Checking in from Big River, CA …

My final walk through Arizona crossed the Colorado River Indian Tribes Reservation and the town of Parker. As we have seen several times, the reservation lands are pretty barren and undeveloped except for the mandatory casino in virtually every case. This particular reservation is home to the Mohave, Chemehuevi, Navajo and Hopi nations. Parker sits within the boundaries of the reservation. We were shocked to find that the sales tax in Parker was just over 13%. The reason—the normal sales tax is doubled with the extra half going to the tribes.

Lake Havasu

The Parker Dam straddles the border between Arizona and California and crosses the Colorado River some 155 miles south of the Hoover Dam near Las Vegas. The reservoir which is created is called Lake Havasu and covers almost 650,000 acres. The dam is 320 feet high with 235 feet being below the riverbed, making it the “deepest dam in the world.” The dam has four huge turbines which generate a tremendous amount of hydroelectric power, half of which is used to pump water into the Colorado River Aqueduct, the primary water source for the cities in greater Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego. Additionally, Lake Havasu provides most of the water for the Central Arizona Project Canal and Aqueduct, which irrigates desert agricultural areas and provides municipal water for Phoenix and Tucson.

The lake is also a favorite recreational area for much of the Southwest. It is truly beautiful; a radiant blue gem surrounded by ruggedly mountain terrain. We have seen some gorgeous places while walking across the US. Lake Havasu ranks with the most picturesque. Be sure to check out the extra photos on this website and at Heart Trek USA on Facebook. The lake and the river below the dam were packed with boats on the weekend with lots of people escaping the heat. Numerous RV parks along the banks attest to the popularity of the area. Lake Havasu is also known as the Spring Break capital of the Southwest. Move over Panama City Beach and Daytona.

A main tourist attraction in Lake Havasu City is the London Bridge which spans a neck of the lake and crosses the river. In 1968 after years of the bridge “falling down” and scheduled for demolition, Robert McCulloch (the founder of Lake Havasu and an oil tycoon) bought the bridge from the City of London for $2,450,000. It cost another $4.5 million to move the bridge and reassemble it. The bridge first spanned the River Thames in 1831 and the Colorado River in 1971.

“Welcome to the Hotel California”

On the western edge of Parker, I crossed a bridge under repair and unceremoniously entered the Golden State of California. Then just a mile or two into California I walked through the tiny unincorporated town site of Earp. As you might guess, the town is named for the famed Old West lawman Wyatt Earp who wintered in the area for almost twenty years following the shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone (he spent his summers in Los Angeles where he died in 1930). Earp staked out more than 100 copper and gold mining claims in the nearby Whipple Mountains. The post office in Earp is 220 miles east of the county seat in San Bernardino, making it the most remote post office in the country.

For the next week, we will tackle what may be the most difficult part of our journey. From Big River to Twenty-Nine Palms, CA, my trek will cross the mountains and desert of the southern Mohave. That’s 110 miles without a single town or rest area in what may be the hottest part of our trip. Temperatures are predicted to be in the 110-115 degree range. Brenda will be carrying me to my starting point each day and staying close by with cold water and G2. She’ll have an extra can of gas since there are no gas stations, and she’ll need to keep the AC on. Wish us luck. As the song states, “…this may be Heaven, this may be Hell.”

Thanks

We wish to thank those who continue to aid our trip. Jim at Desert Pueblo RV Park in Bouse and Kathy at Big River RV Park in Big River each have allowed us to park our RV free for a couple of nights. We appreciate the support of these kind folks and so many others.

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THE FERTILE DESERT

Checking in from Bouse, AZ …

For the last few days, most of my walk has been through McMullen Valley in western Arizona, an 80 mile by 15 mile stretch of desert separating the Vulture, Harquahala and Plomosa Mountains to the south and the Harcuvar and Buckskin Mountains to the north. The majority of the valley looks like just what most of us think of as desert—sand, scrub bush, cactus, heat, lizards and snakes, buzzards, isolation and desolation. For part of the valley, however, a magic ingredient transforms the area. The magic ingredient—water. Where water for irrigation can be obtained, from the Arizona canal system or the nearby Colorado River or from the deep underground aquifer, the desert turns into an oasis that yields three to four crops a year.

Around the towns of Aquila and Wenden, huge fields of watermelons, cantaloupes, honeydew and Crenshaw melons spread across the valley. These fields are dotted with small clusters of beehives for pollination. Haven’t seen that anywhere else across the country but looks like a great idea to me. Salome, the next town to the west, has large groves of flourishing pistachio trees. The desert obviously is really a fertile plain needing only H20 to provide food and employment for the US. There certainly is an abundance of unoccupied land.

Salome was an interesting place where we parked our RV for a couple of nights. It was founded in 1904 as a depot area for the mines that are prevalent in the surrounding mountains. One of the founders, Dick Wick Hall, was a humorist who made the town famous in its early days. From his “Laughing Gas” gas station, his vivid imagination provided ample material for his writings in local, regional and national publications like The Saturday Evening Post, making the fledgling town well known beyond the valley. He entertained with tall tales of imaginary animals that lived in the valley including his pet frog named Putnam who never learned to swim. To this day, the local high school sports teams are nicknamed the Frogs, and the road to the school has a frog Xing. Dick Wick also named the town after his partner’s wife, Salome, who burned her feet when crossing the desert without shoes. The original name of the town was “Salome, Where She Danced, Arizona.”

Just outside Salome, Brenda and I came across a little piece of spiritual inspiration. The Little Roadside Chapel beckoned all travelers to “enter, rest and pray.” We did just that, visiting the little 6 foot by 12 foot chapel which is outfitted with a pulpit, a couple of pews and Bibles for travelers use. Very nice, Salome.

We are currently in Bouse, formerly known as Camp Bouse during World War II, where the US Army conducted desert tank training. Next is the last stop in Arizona, Parker, then across the Colorado River into California.

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