The Evolving World
Burning Man 2009
 
 
I forget exactly what woke me up Tuesday morning. It was right at 4 AM. I figure I slept for 8 or 9 hours, a good night’s sleep. I took a hot shower, changed into my cleanest dirty clothes and pulled out of the RV park.

I thought the right front tire was looking a little low. The previous evening, the RV park owner said I could air it up at a 24-hour tire place down the road. I found the tire place, but evidently they didn’t mean 24 hours all in a row. I decided to take my chances and just keep going. There’s bound to be some other place along the way, I figured. The highway pointed off into the night. For the first half hour I was the only person on the road. Then, a black car, covered in playa dust, zoomed past me and disappeared ahead. I waved. The waning Moon dominated the night sky. Above, a shooting star flamed across the heavens, and was gone in an instant. I could see lights from Armagosa Valley off to the side.
 
Ahead, a truck stop appeared. I drove around to the back and found the air hoses, but they were broken. The hose was next to a chain link fence, which surrounded a short, cinder block building. It turned out to be a brothel, the Cherry Patch Ranch. Two black cats were squaring off against each other next to the fence. When I shone my flashlight on them, they looked at me like they were saying Do you mind?!? The tire didn’t look that bad after all. Back in the car, I found the plucky little blinky I got on burn night, still glowing in different colors.
 
The eastern sky began to appear less dark. The road turned down a valley, and all around me mountains appeared in silhouette, like brooding, hooded justices, contemplating my fate. The eastern sky was awash in yellows as I kept putting more miles behind me. Nobody can say the summer Sun doesn’t give you plenty of warning that it’s coming. The sky was a dusky blue when I got to Indian Springs, where the speed limit was 35. I pulled off the road and got some gas at a station called Sol’s.
 

As I was leaving, I spotted a dark scratch in the sky. It was moving slow, and I thought it was a glider, but it seemed too small… then I realized: it was a Predator Drone! Someone had been training on a Predator Drone at the military base, and was bringing it in for a landing. I scrambled for my digital camera and waited and waited for it to turn on. I actually pointed it back out the window, over my shoulder, to take a picture. I didn’t know until way later I actually captured it in mid-air. Wow!
 
Ahead, a beam of sunlight snuck in between a pair of mountains to let me know daytime had arrived. The Sun crawled up over the mountains, bright and powerful. A scan of the radio dial found several Spanish language stations. It was 77 degrees when I got to Las Vegas, and the morning Sun was blinding as I tried to read the westward-facing traffic signs. I came over one rise and found a sea of red lights ahead of me. I braked quickly to avoid smashing into all the other stopped cars. I listened to a Las Vegas call-in show, where they talked about “barguments”—arguments that only sound reasonable after a third shot of tequila, such as, who would win in a fight: the guys from “Gilligan’s Island” or all the boys from “The Brady Bunch?” (Personally, I figured the Skipper could beat the crap out of all of them.) At 7:30 I turned south on Highway 95.

The broad, 4-lane road descended into a wide, sweeping basin. The view was like many impossibly-large Nevada vistas, except it was surprisingly green. The green grasses and bushes added a new dimension to the vast landscape. Just then, I got a call on my cellphone. It was the Red Cross, wanting me to come in to donate again. At 8 AM I passed the turnoff for “Grandpa’s Road.”

The town of Searchlight, which straddles Doherty Mountain, was small, but gas was a lot cheaper there than in Las Vegas. Down the road was the tiny hamlet of Cal-Nev-Ari, named after the closest states. Road construction slowed down traffic to 55 MPH. About an hour after leaving Vegas, the road suddenly narrowed to two lanes as the highway crossed the California border. The road suddenly turned very lonely. Green grass alongside the road turned brown, and the highway became uneven and hilly. There were a couple of cars ahead of me when we all stopped at a train crossing, waiting for a freight train. Buildings appeared ahead, and Highway 95 ended in an overpass on-ramp for Interstate 40. The interstate was a welcome change from the claustrophobic 2-lane. It was another 27 miles to my turn-off.

The ground was very dry when I got to Needles, elevation 482 feet. At a quarter after 9, I crossed over into Arizona, where the speed limit rose to 75 MPH. Harsh, jagged mountains loomed over the Colorado River. Exit 9 was what I wanted, turning south on Highway 95. I stopped at the truck stop to get some gas and to splurge on a #8 breakfast from Wendy’s. In the parking lot, a local guy in a pith helmet drove away on a Yamaha Grizzly 4-wheeler. Bikers wore black and yellow “Soldiers for Jesus” colors. Down the highway, the landscape looked rough and uninviting. Winding through jagged mountains, the road descends into the broad Colorado River valley. Civilization appeared in the form of Penny’s and Wal-Mart. I had found Lake Havasu City. Housing additions filled with big, expensive homes lined the highway. Lake Havasu is proud of its biggest tourist attraction, the original London Bridge, brought all the way from England brick by brick. There were British names everywhere, such as Hyde Park Road and Windsor Beach. Strip malls were adorned with castle turrets.
I pulled into the big parking lot next to London Bridge, and it was indeed huge. It’s still used by cars to drive over to a little island. I got a postcard and a refrigerator magnet, then found a penny crushing machine. I made a LiveJournal voice post from London Bridge itself. The neat thing was, just a couple of years before, I went on a boat ride on the Thames in London and went under the New London Bridge. I thought it was clever how they got London Bridge over the water the way they did. When they brought the pieces over, they assembled it next to the river, then dug a trench under the completed bridge, re-routing the water. They didn't build the bridge over water-- they built the water under the bridge. I headed south and out of town. Gullies and dry washes on both sides of the road were cris-crossed with motorcycle tracks.
 
It was a raw, rugged country… and the way the road twisted and turned, I thought I was lost. I stopped at a small general store for a Dr. Pepper. It was scorching hot out, and it wasn’t even noon yet. I passed Parker Dam and the entrance for Buckskin Mountain State Park. I could see lots of fancy riverside houses lined up on the far banks. I took a detour which got me on Indian Route 1. On all sides were green, irrigated fields. This was the land of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, where I saw lush farmland and stacks of hay that would fill a warehouse. The detour took me down Agnes Wilson Road. When most people think of a detour, they think of a route that takes you around something that’s going on, and then gets you back on track again. This didn’t. This route took me past farmland, over irrigation channels and way across the river to dry, barren land.
 
The road turned south, and I found myself on Highway 95—California Highway 95, not to be confused with Arizona Highway 95 about 15 miles to the east. A sign declared the road was being improved with government stimulus money, which was good for them, but left me still lost. There were no houses on the road. Side roads led to tiny RV parks and campgrounds huddled next to the river, the only pleasant areas around. I had to remind myself that it was into this rugged land that thousands of Japanese Americans were moved into "internment camps" during World War II.

It took me about a half hour to get back to a major highway, Interstate 10 at Blythe. There was a business there called Steaks & Cakes. Crossing back over into Arizona, I stopped at the Exit 4 rest area to catch my breath. Cactus dotted the land. As I recall, the water from the water fountain was hot— and undrinkable. It was a good thing I took that five gallons of water from that burner! I couldn't find any radio stations, and my MP3 player malfunctioned, so that left me with only the stark beauty of the Sonoran Desert to keep me company.

One of the highway overpasses was set up with a camel motif, as a memorial to the U.S. Army experiment with camels in the 1800's. There was a memorial grave to one of the camels in Quartzsite, but it was inside the fence of a closed museum. Dotted along the road were little crosses-- memorials to loved ones who had perished in highway accidents. About mile marker 40, I passed an elaborate one built into a hillside cave. I stopped at the Exit 52 rest area to give Satori a break and to refil my water bottles.
Just after 2:30 I passed the exit for Tonopah (Arizona), just up the road from Old Camp Wash. Exit 98 led people to the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, the largest nuclear power plant in America.More buildings appeared as I got closer and closer to Phoenix. I don't think I ever saw a sign that specifically said I was in Phoenix, I was just there. Traffic slowed ahead at exit 121. It took a mile of bumper-to-bumper driving to find out why. A truck moving a house accidently let it tip over. It lay on its side in the median as drivers from both directions slowed down to take a look.
At a quarter to four, I pulled off the highway and found my way to the Pueblo Grande Museum. Pueblo Grande was a huge Hohokam village that was abandoned back in the 15th century. Now, the site is completely surrounded by the city of Phoenix. The inside of the museum was gloriously air conditioned. Since it was so late in the day, they suggested I look through the ruins before browsing the museum. People were living there before the Roman Empire fell. The central mound was huge, the size of a football field. Hundreds of people must have scratched out a living in the harsh Arizona desert.
Abandoned for centuries, the town's adobe structures had mostly melted back into the Earth. The park had modern reconstructions to show what the homes must have looked like. Inside the museum, I liked looking through the artifacts. I got some souveniers, then looked to head out. I wanted to find a Wal-Mart before going to my campsite. the very nice lady at the desk went on the Internet and printed me out directions to a store that was on my way. She also gave me vital driving directions for getting back on the interstate: "They're not gonna want to let you go," she said. "Just go!" That was very nice of her.

It was, of course, rush hour in Phoenix, but following the directions I found where I needed to go. I got some supplies, then got back on the highway, headed east. There was an angry thunderstorm in the distance, but it looked like it was heading away from me. I hoped. I followed the Superstition Freeway to exit 197, where I took Tomahawk Road to the Apache Trail. Just down the road was the Lost Dutchman State Park. I arrived right at sunset. Paying my fee at the closed ranger station, I found the bathrooms and then looked for a nearby campsite. Each little campsite had a place to park and a space with a picnic table. I parked under a giant saguaro cactus, at the foot of Superstition Mountain.

 
Lost Dutchman State Park was also where they filmed the picnic scene in one of my favorite movies, "Raising Arizona." You can see Superstition Mountain there in the background. 

Darkness was on its way, so I had my priorities: food was first. I set up the propane stove and cooked up a meal with ingredients I'd brought: rice, a chicken bouillon cube, and a can of chicken breast. I boiled some water with the bouillon cube and cooked rice with it, so that the rice would taste like chicken. When I opened the can of chicken, to mix with the rice, I noticed that nowhere on the can did it say the chicken was cooked. I figured it was, but just to be on the safe side I sort of stir-fried the mixture over the fire. I thought, if it kills me, I just won't post the recipe.
 

Supper turned out delicious. As I was eating, I noticed a dozen or so quail marching defiantly under my van. Rabbits hopped through my campsite. I washed up in the restroom, and ended up smelling much better. By then night had mostly fallen. 
 
To the east, the thunderstorm flashed with lightning, and it seemed to be getting closer. The wind picked up as I curled up in the back of the van, and Satori rocked back and forth under its force. Lying in the darkness, I could hear coyotes howl. I could tell they were very, very close… 
 
  
 
LINKS
Pueblo Grande Museum 
Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant 
Lost Dutchman State Park 
London Bridge 
World War II Internment Camps 
"Raising Arizona" 
All original content copyright 2009 by Tim Frayser. If your image appears on this site, and you'd rather it didn't, drop me a line and I'll remove it. Pictures appearing on this website are for personal use and are not for sale. 
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Introduction  Day 1  Day 2  Day 3 
Monday  Tuesday  Wednesday  Thursday  Friday  Saturday  Sunday 
Day 11  Day 12  Day 13  Day 14  Day 15  Epilogue