Road Trip 2014 – Williams, Arizona to Home

July 4 – 6, 2014

We’d travelled a long way and had another stretch of over 1,300 miles before we got home. We looked at various routes and eventually decided on the most direct taking I40 and SR58 over to Bakersfield, California then up I5 home. Now Carla and I and the kids drove down big stretches of I5 taking the kids to visit the grandparents in the San Francisco Bay area and the Mojave Desert in Southern California where I grew up. It’s a dead boring drive but it is fast and direct and by this time we were like the milk horse who could smell the barn. We decided on overnight stops in Kettleman City, California, at the bottom of the San Joaquin Valley and Medford, Oregon. We pushed the first day so we’d have some time to stop off in Ashland, a little town in southern Oregon that we love.

1,321 route home after visiting the Grand Canyon

So we headed west across the desert along I40 paralleling Route 66. Once we reached Barstow, California I felt like I was in my home country; we sprinted across State Route 58 toward Boron, Mojave, Tehachapi and Bakersfield. Here’s a picture of Jeanette riding along. She’d take pictures and samples of stones and vegetation along the way.

Jeanette taking notes along the trip

There was a rest stop in the small town of Boron so we stopped for a bathroom break. Now this was the weather I remembered growing up; we were about 50 miles north of my home town, Palmdale, California. When we stepped out of the car we were greeted by 105˚ F and winds of at least 20 MPH. Palmdale got its name from German immigrants who named it after what they thought were the abundant palm trees throughout this part of the Mojave Desert. But they weren’t palm trees; they were Joshuas.

A pretty old Joshua tree in Boron, California

When I was 3 we lived in Madison, New Jersey and my dad worked in Bell Labs in Baltimore, Maryland. In the days before central air conditioning, the hot humid summers were just too hideous (sorry east coasters). With the aero-space era starting to boom in the 50s he took a job at Lockheed, in Palmdale, as an instrumentation and test engineer. He supported the F104 Starfighter. Here is a video that gives a good idea of what is sounded and looked like when I was a kid as these jets flew over in pairs everyday, often breaking the sound barrier.

After his stint at Lockheed my dad went to work at Jet Propulsion Labs near Edwards Air Force Base where he worked on rocket engines. Now Edwards was about 40 miles north of Palmdale, but on nights they would test fire the rocket motors my dad would take us up on the roof of our house with a pair of binoculars where we could see the flames. He then took a job in the town of Boron (where we hit the rest stop) where he worked for Garrett AirResearch testing the liquid gas containers for the Gemini and Apollo spacecraft. His job was to blow them up to make sure they were strong enough to stand the requirements of outer space. Yeah, I’m pretty proud of my dad. Finally in the 70s and 80s after the space program slowed down he worked as an engineer at the borax mine in Boron. If you are old enough you may remember “40 mule team Borax”. Enormous mule trains would haul the borax ore from the desert to where ever. Former president Ronald Regan was a spokesman for the company when he was an actor. All of that is to set some context for the picture below. Our rest stop was just the other side of a fence from the borax mine.

Borax mine in Boron, California

The tumbleweeds give you a good idea of what it was like playing out behind our house when I was young. Our backdoor opened on hundreds of miles of desert like this. A few laters two more streets were put in behind us. I hardly recognize Palmdale now; it an enormous bedroom community for Los Angeles. The desert has largely disappeared.

We passed through Tehachapi; another town from that Little Feat song “Willin'” (Tehachapi to Tonopah). We saw a UP train stopped; it looks like it was having problems overheating. I of course couldn’t pass up the photo opportunity. I still had on my polarizing filter from the Grand Canyon for the first shot.

Stopped northbound UP in Tehachapi, California

Stopped northbound UP in Tehachapi, California

We took a quick detour to see the famous Tehachapi Loop where trains circle over or below themselves winding through the steep grades of the Tehachapi Mountains at the base of the Sierra-Nevada mountain range. There wasn’t any train action so we piled back into the car. We pulled into Kettleman City, California around 6:00. It’s not much of a town; a few gas stations, fast food joints, and a motel or two. But they DO have In-n-Out! We told Jeanette, a vegan, we were throwing her under the bus and going for burgers. We dropped her off at a nearby Subway restaurant where she could get a salad.

In-n-Out in Kettleman City
In-n-Out burgers and fries!

We wanted to stretch our legs, but it was 109˚ F with a strong wind, so we retired to our rooms to bed.

The San Joaquin Valley is a monument to irrigation. This arid area has a series of aqueducts and canals that makes it possible to grow fruits and vegetables for most of the country, There must be some sort of water war going on out there for there were lush fruit trees, tomato plants, and more side-by-side with burnt out trees and big signs in the brown fields about the state of California water policy.

In mid afternoon on July 5 we saw Mt Shasta in Northern California and knew we were getting closer to our home. Volcanos are scattered from California through Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, then follow there way across the rest of the Ring of Fire into Japan (Mt. Fuji).

Mt. Shasta California

We used to be able to see two volcanos from our home: Mt Hood and Mt St Helens. But in 1980 the top of St Helens blew off so it now hides behind a smaller mountain range north of us. But we still get gorgeous views of Mt Hood which is about 50 miles east of our house. With a little climb up a hill we can see five to seven of the volcanoes in western Oregon and Washington.

Finally we reached the 14th and final state of our journey!

Welcome home!

We stopped in Ashland, Or; not far from the California border for a walk and dinner. Ashland is home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival which has grown to be a big draw for this relatively sparsely populated part of the state. In fact Carla and her sisters Linda and Starr headed back down to Ashland a week or so later to see some plays and enjoy the lovely city.

We spent the night in Medford, Oregon just a few miles north of Ashland. We would have liked to stay in Ashland but the festival is so popular we couldn’t find a room. We woke up and took the “short” four hour drive to get home.

Now why didn’t I get a picture of home?

My final post of the Road Trip will cover Jeanette’s visit with our family and friends and some statistics of the trip.

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