I’m headed to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. But first, I have to do some serious Kerouacing to get there. Although perhaps my first day’s agenda is more that of Neal Cassady, as I think I remember reading that, ironically, Kerouac never learned to drive. Anza-Borrego is more than 500 miles from San Jose, and 500 miles feels more like 1000 when you are driving an RV. At first, I thought I’d break the journey down into two parts. But I was having a hard time figuring out a logical stopping point. Midway puts me around Bakersfield and there was no way I could figure out how to split the journey and NOT end up hitting LA during morning rush hour traffic. So like Cassady and his literary alter-ego, Dean Moriarty, I prepared to get hopped up on benzedrine and blast my way down there in one hallucinogenic shot. Actually, my drug of choice is caffeine. And I drove down slightly under the speed limit because my little taco truck-like RV doesn’t exactly stop on a dime or take corners well. The Neal Cassady approach to a roadtrip is not usually my style. I break for all historic markers. Old Neal blasted across America stopping only for gas or to steal another car. But given that my route doesn’t exactly have a lot of scenic turnouts, the Cassady approach worked well. Still, I found some sights to ponder, if not always to stop and photograph, and a way to enjoy them when you can only see them flash by at 60 MPH.
First stop, after successfully negotiating the Pacheco Pass after an O-Dark 30 start, was Casa di Fruta. Sure it’s a tourist trap, but it’s one that’s been around for a hundred years. And you’ll never find better dried fruit, nuts and local food products.
So down the I-5 I sped with barely a stop at a designated Rest Stop, and if you’ve followed my adventures, you know how I like a good Rest Stop, especially if it features displays on local history. But I had no time for lingering, so I confined my stops to truck plazas offering diesel. One of those stops was in Wasco, which I had briefly considered as a stopping point when I thought I’d break this journey into two days. But Ranch Manager Louis, who is always full of horrifying stories of violence and bizarreness, scared me to death with stories of the Wasco Clown. Besides a creepy clown lurking around, Wasco’s other claim to fame is a prison. So, no. Not a place I think I want to use as a sleep-over spot.
Several hours later, I was wending my way through the Angeles National Forest and down the Grapevine into LA. I started to see large swaths of purple and gold cascading down the hills, so things were looking up for catching a Super Bloom. Next, I hit what I’m starting to call my lucky freeway. I’ve avoided LA for decades simply because I’m too scared to drive the freeways. But three times now in the last two years, I’ve traversed the 210 when it has been almost empty. Since the Foothill Freeway goes through Pasadena, I speculated that, unlike the rest of go-go LA, the good people of that district are occupied with visiting the Huntington and growing roses — pursuits that keep them at home or on surface roads. Another thing I love about the 210: you drive for miles seeing signs for Pasadena and Colorado Boulevard. Which, of course, necessitates singing Jan & Dean’s “Little Old Lady from Pasadena”. Sometimes I even change the lyrics:
And everybody’s sayin’ that there’s nobody keener
Than the little RVer through Pasadena
She drives real slow ’cause RVs drive hard
She’s the new queen of Colorado Boulevard
It’s the little RVer through Pasadeeeennnaaa!
Actually, I alter a lot of songs and sing them in the car. First, I keep forgetting to update my iPod playlist and, hours into a long trip, I’m sick of the same songs. Secondly, if you’ve heard my singing, you know that alone in an RV is probably one of the only safe places for me to sing. Usually I remake songs to include terriers, but lately I’ve been working on RV versions. Jeez, I’m easily amused!
When I got tired of singing, I spent a good amount of time contemplating all the important things I forgot to pack. My Flowers of the California Desert book and all my other relevant guidebooks, my Eggtastic microwave egg cooker, my hiking hat (!), my longer lens, olive oil for sautéing my dinner… I hate to think what else. Note to self: don’t get distracted with other projects the night before you leave on a roadtrip.
So those little exercises got me out the other side of LA, where I had a sharp reminder that I don’t know Southern California very well. I thought once you left LA, it’s just farms and dusty cowtowns. Apparently, there is an area called Riverside, which bleeds into Corona as one big long stretch of malls and car dealerships. On the map I saw towns with dusty cowpoke sounding names like Lake Elsinore, Murrieta and Temecula. Seems those are just malls as well, and when I drove through them, every intersection’s streetlight was out and all the roads were under construction. Finally, I entered windy country roads which signs told me were Temecula Wine Country. While it was pretty, I couldn’t stop and take pictures. There were no turnouts and lines of angry motorists were hugging my rear bumper on a two lane twisting road with no passing lanes. I also noticed that, while things looked pretty green, I didn’t see many wildflowers. I also didn’t see any desert even when my GPS told me I was only 8 miles away from Anza-Borrego. I started to wonder if I’d been oversold.
In fact, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest state park. Even better, with over 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in the contiguous United States. That’s a lot of desert, but, as I’ve written before, I love the desert. Unlike a blowsy display of, say, tulip fields in Holland, deserts only reward those who really take the time to look. I certainly found that as I wound down into Borrego Springs at 25MPH and 8% grade. At first, the hills look brown. Then you look closer and see how nearly lush it all is. The greens are muted tones of sage or pale avocado. But the hills were bursting with cactus, agave, and succulents. The Barrel Cactus and Red Ocotillo, especially, were covered in blooms.
Flowers aren’t the only things to see at Anza-Borrego. Apparently, an heir of the Avery label fortune bought huge amounts of land down here and commissioned a local artist to create rusty metal sculptures and install them throughout. Some you can see from the roadside, some are meant to be viewed up on a bluff or from far away in a meadow. The artist seems to favor larger than life-sized horses, fanciful dinosaurs (especially T-Rexes), cowboys and stage coaches. Before I even saw any of the installations — which are further toward the park — I stumbled onto the artist’s roadside studio.
Finally, I made it to my campground. Yes, yes. I should be boondocking. Just pulling off the road, as you are allowed to here and camping wherever the scene looks nice.
Tomorrow, up with the birds and out to search for flowers and rusty metal statues. I’m being warned that the flower seekers are causing bumper-to-bumper traffic. So, in the afternoon, I’ve booked with an outfit that is taking a group of us off-road to some less accessible flower locations.
Today’s pictures on Flickr, here.