December 8, 9 and 10
Driving and driving and driving and getting fuck all nowhere
I probably should have taken Las Vegas up on its kind offer of a new life. Ever since I left, it’s been sort of hairy and not so great. I don’t think I like California. I thought it would be full of progressive enlightened people eating granola and doing yoga and I was fully prepared to hate them but instead it’s full of asshole rednecks and drivers from hell. I hate them too but it’s still disconcerting. It’s also made of mountains, wind and fire and ok, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, ten out of ten for style but minus several million for driving through.
I left Las Vegas and had a completely pleasant, relatively uneventful drive through the Mojave Desert. It was a crazy moon landscape – I mean, I have thought before as I journeyed through the FUCKING HEART OF THE AMERICAN WEST, YO that the landscape was lunar and surreal but now I have seen the real thing. The Mojave is the true desert, the desert you see on movies and TV (it’s close as hell to LA, that would be why) and it’s just pretty bleak. It’s not beautiful. It’s brown sand. Sand and rocks and mountains that I don’t even know what the hell they’re made out of. Fossilized cheese, perhaps. It would not surprise me. They don’t really look like rocks as I know them. All through this trip I’ve been wishing I had a geologist on speed dial and never more so than the last few days. I should have paid more attention when I worked in the rock and mineral museum.
Anyway, I was planning to go to Joshua Tree. Everyone has been telling me to go there and I’m trying, I really am, but Joshua Tree is hard to get to, good lord. I didn’t want to get there too fast, either: I wanted to arrive on Sunday, because the website advises that the campsites are always fully booked on the weekends. Ha ha! Too fast, she laughed bitterly. I looked at the maps from Las Vegas to Joshua Tree and for once in my life I had the sense to just say no to the first set of roads Google and Garmina suggested. On Friday, I stayed on the highway. That was the last good decision I made.
I camped Friday night at Calico Ghost Town, which is a rebuilt / restored mining town. The campsite, when I got there, was completely deserted and very, very deserty. Good, I thought, ooh yeah, even though it was $30, which seemed steep for electric only (full hookups were $40; fuck that, I thought. Ha ha! It is amazing how quickly naivete can be dispelled.) Then the noises started. Not ghostly miners, not monsters, not even serial killers: no, something much more frightening: boy scouts! A whole troop. And on top of boy scouts and their attendants along came ATVs and, jesus fuck, guns. A whole lot of guns. I don’t know what the hell they were hunting in those brown sand cheese rock hills, but they hunted it late on Friday night and started up again early on Saturday morning. I was afraid to go for a walk so I decided to follow the helpful map they gave me and drive the camper up to the Ghost Town.
Yeah. It wasn’t a road, it was a trail, and it led to a place where cars weren’t allowed. When I miraculously got through that intact I arrived at a parking lot where RVs weren’t allowed, so I was in a REAL GOOD MOOD by the time I hit the Ghoste Towne. To be fair it was actually a fairly classy tourist attraction started by Knott’s Berry Farm – think Oatman but clean with no bikers, no burros and a slightly higher grade of T-shirt. It had a few real restored buildings – a nice small house museum I enjoyed – and a few that were built for the tourists, including one made all of bottles. I tried to find out if they were original bottles but that got gently side stepped, so the answer would be, well, sort of. And it had all the requisite shoppes, a bunch of performers in costume (I couldn’t quite bear it; I just couldn’t watch the VERY LOUD AND EMOTIVE skit “Woman! Yew won’t let me drink no coffee!” with gunfire in the main street) and a real tiny train that runs.
I would probably have more or less liked it if it wasn’t for the constant gunfire in the background and, well, I don’t know, I’ve been out of sorts ever since I left Vegas. California is EXPENSIVE. All the campgrounds I’ve looked at are like TWICE the price of campgrounds everywhere else I’ve been. It’s painful and alarming. And the gas is a whole dollar more than it is anywhere else – I wasn’t expecting that.
Anyway, I went on. I looked and looked at all the maps. I thought, hey, this looks nice, I’ll stay at Big Bear Lake; it’s about half way. I followed the Google and Garmin suggestions. The road has a route number, I thought. How bad can it be? PRETTY FUCKING BAD is the answer. Big Bear Lake is ON TOP OF A REALLY BIG MOUNTAIN and I’m an idiot. When I drove up to Colorado without the trailer, I went over Slumgullion Pass and it scared me silly. The roads I drove yesterday were like SIX SLUMGULLION PASSES ONE AFTER ANOTHER and I did it with the trailer. From like 1000 feet to 8000 feet and back again and then again! It took five hours. Five hours of switchbacks, hairpin turns, sheer drops, steep grades, falling rock and assholes on my bumper – it was rough. It only took two and a half hours to get to Big Bear Lake. Phew, I thought, I’ll just stay here and hike around the lake and calm down but everything in Big Bear Lake was closed for the winter and lined with dire warnings about ice and heavy snow. It was almost 70 degrees but apparently they haven’t heard of climate change.
I had gotten up there so I had to get down, which was the next two and a half MORE hours of terror and closed campgrounds as it got darker** and darker. I know you’re supposed to be able to camp on the side of the road but on those roads? No. Just, no. As it was I had to pull over every five minutes to let cars go by – I will say they had a lot of easy nice pulloffs for terrified freaks like me who are stupid enough to try to tow a trailer through the San Bernardino mountains. Eventually I got down to level ground and I was so relieved I almost didn’t mind paying $30 to Yukaipa Regional Park to spend the night with no hookups on the side of a road next to somebody’s house.*
For the last three days my phone has been chiming ominously with FIRE WEATHER WARNINGS for everywhere I am and everywhere I’m going. Wind gusts up to 60 mph, they say, FIRE. Well. I left Yukaipa and after I found the Verizon store and then found an Aldi which I couldn’t go in because I got stuck in the parking lot for 30 minutes negotiating an 80 million point turn, fuck my life, I got on the highway to, I thought, Joshua Tree at last. That’s when the wind gusts hit. I got terrified. There was tons of traffic and the wind was pushing me around and semis and then a traffic jam and I seized my chance and got off the highway. Anxiety! It’s fun to battle your own brain!
No, I told the Garmin, no highways, there must be another way. And there was! She found it! I followed her orders but the first part, through a crazy canyon, was windy as hell and scary and I was miserable and thought, it’s no good, I’ll have to find somewhere and camp. Then it got better, so I kept going. I went about 20 miles and stopped at a grocery store. Everything was dead calm, so I thought, well, OK, I’ll get back on the highway, easy peasy, I’m only 60 miles away now. There’s probably a way to get on the highway quite near.
This was an Easterner mistake.
HA HA IT IS TO LAUGH. The Garmin routed me right back the way I had just come. I got about half way – 10 miles and there was the windy canyon, just as windy, just as narrow, just as jammed with traffic – and then started screaming. I turned around. I hurt my hand beating the dashboard. I threw the Garmin across the truck cab. I went back to where I had just been and I asked Google what to do. We found another road. I headed for the other road. It’s okay, I told myself, I’ll go until 3:30 and find a campground.
The other road wound on and the mountains got closer and closer and . . . closer. The road went down to two lanes. There was a sign: NEXT 44 MILES STEEP GRADES WINDING ROADS SWITCHBACKS RECOMMEND NO TRUCKS NO TRAILERS. And another sign, FIRE DANGER EXTREME. And another sign, WELCOME TO SAN BERNARDINO NATIONAL FOREST which is, yes, the mountains I spent all of yesterday crossing.
FUCK NO. NEVER AGAIN.
I turned around. I went back the 30 miles that I had just driven twice. I looked at the time. I pulled into a parking lot and called the KOA that was on my way but only just – it was close, was the thing, and the winds were kicking up again.
And that is why I am sitting here in a KOA in Banning, California. I drove for four hours to get about 25 miles and the camper is rocking but I don’t even care anymore. Tomorrow I will try again to go to Joshua Tree but I tell you, dear reader, if it goes as badly tomorrow as it has the last few days I might just say FUCK IT and. . I don’t even know. Apparently I can’t leave California without going through all the mountains, not just of the moon but of the whole solar system. I want to go to the San Diego Zoo. I want to go to LA. But weather bug advises that they might be on fire at any minute and I am mountain-ed out and wind-ed out and scared of fires. And I haven’t even talked about the gas station where the pump wouldn’t work or the way the sewer hose fell apart this morning or the two CDs*** stuck in the CD player which keep making a clunking noise trying and failing to load.
But, I’m in California and that is a big, big thing.
* There were owls, though. I woke up at 4 or so and heard the owls first and then a distant siren and then two roosters and then a dog barked, once, just to say, and then there was a pause and the owls again. It was lovely. Also there were ravens in the real morning. So, OK.
** It gets dark at like FOUR FUCKING THIRTY HERE it’s ridiculous.
*** I KNOW. It started out with this Macy Gray CD I got at the Goodwill in Bullhead City. It would not come out and I like Macy Gray but after the 20th repetition or whatever I got desperate and looked up how to get a stuck CD out on Wikihow. WELL. It recommends taking a CD you hate and wiggling it around until it somehow triggers the other CD loose OR – and they didn’t mention this part – it GETS SUCKED OUT OF YOUR HAND AND INTO THE CD PLAYER TO BE STUCK TOO. Why yes clearly I am a genius.