Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A Nice Morning Drive (not forgetting the afternoon)

Wednesday 5 September
The journey to Las Vegas from Palm Springs may have been in a black Mustang rather than a Red Barchetta, but the grateful anticipation was still partly attributable to Neil Peart. My holiday reading for this flydrive in Arizona and California had included Far And Away, the latest collection of travelogues from the Rush lyricist and drummer, and the two day adjournment from the driving in San Diego had coincided with his recollection of the Amboy Crater and nearby ghost town on Route 66. An ideal point of interest after the initial drive through the Joshua Tree National Park, so it appeared.
A week previously, the temperature had hit 108 as the Mustang – or should that be the horse with no name? - had taken us through the deserts of south east Arizona. The old Wild West town of Tombstone and its well preserved period saloons, notably Big Nose Kate’s and the welcome beer and sandwiches, brought back some distant memories from fifteen years earlier, while the real gem had to be the Apache Trail, somehow managing to combine a deserted mining town, a mini Grand Canyon and the excellent Superstition Saloon on the valley floor all into one. It certainly felt good to be out of the rain of another washed out English summer.
Palm Springs had been uplifting in many ways, with two coming to mind above all. The first, the aerial tramway whose destination was the near tundra summit of the Mt San Jacinto Park. The second, Marilyn Monroe’s skirt, preserved in Seven Year Itch fashion in the form of the 26 foot tall statue that had formerly been in residence in Chicago and was now gracing the square opposite Starbucks. No, this is one place where a “sheltering from the rain” excuse is always going to fall on stony ground.
But back to the road. First up, a stretch due east out of the town on the 111, past the hideouts of the seriously rich, their well watered green lawns defying the desert. Shortly followed by a cruise down Interstate 10, foregoing the privilege of a pilgrimage to nearby Mecca (that’s Mecca, CA, population 8,577), in search of the southern Joshua Tree NP entrance.
It took a while to find the first outcrop of Joshua Tree cacti from this direction, even though there were many other by now familiar species of cactus amid the rocks. Anyone not familiar with the Cholla (“Choy-a”) would be in for a nasty surprise if tempted by their soft cuddly toy appearance to go closer than common sense dictated. Let’s just say that “the thorn is quicker than the thigh” is considered to be an entirely well founded warning. The Joshua Trees themselves, towering twelve feet high with the outstretched arms that led to their Biblical name, are a real sight, all the more so for their rarity.
A brief stop in Twentynine Palms suggested that this small town on the northern border of the park ought to be commemorated just as much for the Mexican food at Edchadas as for Robert Plant’s song from Fate of Nations. Feeling the heat of its desert heart, and with the horse straining against its bridle in pursuit of the Mother Road, an hour’s charge northbound up what was on that day effectively a private drive soon reached a T-junction where the ghost town of Amboy lay.
The Amboy Crater itself might have justified a walk to the rim, were it not for the heat and the deceptive distance ahead – what seemed like a couple of hundred yards could easily have become a mile before it was too late to turn back – so Roy’s Garage, a near deserted classic filling station half a mile eastbound, was clearly a better bet. To say nothing of the abandoned motel next door. And with skins having turned well red by now, we were looking at a motel bed, where the story it told of the motel that thrived made us sad (OK, guess the rest). Just as sad as would have been the case if the group of German bikers, gathered round the gas pumps and obliviously smoking alongside their machines, had accelerated the demise of Roy’s with a discarded butt. It was indeed time to butt out rather than butt in on them.
Contrarian as it may be to really let rip along Route 66 eastbound, this was just what the beast wanted. A drive just as exhilarating as the Seligman to Kingman stretch two years previously from which I still nursed fond memories. Wind in my hair, shifting and drifting, mechanical music, adrenalin surge…
Hang on, what was that about adrenalin surge? Around 10 miles before Route 66 ran out, there were the unmistakeable signs of a storm brewing to the north. And not just thunderclouds. An ever increasing number of lightning bolts coming down on our left and – a little scarily – ahead. Not that there was any point in turning back, of course, when Las Vegas beckoned with no other civilisation in striking (sic) distance and when stopping to let it pass (no shelter, just wide open desert) may well have been just as risky. With the odds and effect of a lightning strike on the car pushed into a distant mental recess for quiet reflection, the choice of flooring it may have been a bit reckless, but…
And suddenly it had passed, the lightning bolts receding into the distance as a brief stretch of Interstate 40 gave way to the roller coaster of Highway 95, whose lumps and bumps amid a crawling queue on the single lane out of California gave way to a spanking new 3 lane race track as the border into Nevada was crossed. There’s a message here somewhere.
The time had come to let the horse run free, because the desert had turned to a sea of neon light, air conditioning and the tidal wave of human hearts prevailing over heads in the casinos. Leaving one final thought. If only driving in the UK could bring even a fraction of the pleasure it gives in the USA.

No comments:

Post a Comment