The Two Gringas Do It Again!
Day 3 -- Saturday 31 January 2004 -- California - Arizona
"The Missing Desert"
Mile 1369 - Needles, California
This is the country of my Father, who was born in a copper town called Bizbee, Arizona, escaped to Phoenix, got a degree and a family, met my Mother in Tucson, and eloped to San Francisco, leaving his first wife and two children behind.
Today's route actually follows a road trip I took as a child, during the mid-sixties, with my father and step-mother (wife #3 -- I guess he wasn't real good at maintaining relationships -- or responsibilities).
But what I see today seems to have little relationship to those childhood memories -- I guess forty years is a long time in the economic boom region of the Southwest. The old 2-lane highways with their dusty little service towns (highway one side, railway the other) have been replaced by 4-lane freeway; and the few towns large enough to merit a ramp have blossomed into huge bouquets of lighted signs boasting the usual gas, motel, and fast-food chains, while the majority of the old towns have died, decomposed, and blown away.
And the vast expanses of rocky desert -- these too are gone! The most extreme example must be Lake Havasu -- formerly the Colorado River. As on that trip nearly forty years ago, we decided to enter Arizona on Hwy. 40 via Needles, CA, then cut south on 95 along Lake Havasu to Parker and a connection with Hwy. 10 east to Phoenix and, eventually, San Antonio, TX. Though more time consuming than making the connection in California, I recalled this route as being especially beautiful -- volcanic towers rising from a painted desert and dipping their feet in the "lake" now formed of the Colorado River by Parker Dam -- a scenic opinion with which Rand McNally still agrees.
But I no longer agree. Oh, the basalt towers are still there, but they are topped with cell phone antennae and satellite and microwave dishes, and their feet are encrusted with brand-new cookie-cutter "southwest-style" stuccoed frame houses, literally in their thousands. The road is being rebuilt in 4- and 6-lane concrete majesty all along the lake, everywhere huge sewers are being newly laid, and at the fringes newly paved cul-de-sacs serve empty lots with pipes and wires sprouting like weeds from the bare, regraded earth.
[Insert Lake Havasu City sewer pipe photo here.]
Never have I seen development on such a scale, in so short a span. I don't think we saw a structure more than two or three years old. Wal Marts and Home Depots open with not-quite-finished parking lots the size of farms, out in the middle of nowhere, but in the direct path of the cul-de-sac pavers. The "lake" edge is a continuous strip of condominiums on fake beach with boat houses and palm trees that seem shocked by their alien environment.
If I try really hard to bring that child's memory back into focus -- somehow superimpose it over what I see today, use mental CGI software by Industrial Light & Magic to digitally erase the incredible thousands upon thousands of brand new structures marching from the lakeshore up and down the valley and lapping up the sides of the bluffs and towers -- somehow I can almost see a desolate dry basalt mars-scape with its peculiar ribbon of water and the silly little spot of a "planned retirement community" mis-named Lake Havasu City.
But I can't keep a hold of the image -- it's been paved over. They are recreating Pasadena in the Colorado River desert of Arizona. Why, I just can't imagine. Do they really think they can bury it under "development" and still have it? I don't mean the builders -- they're just making money. I mean the buyers, the retirees, on whom this entire economic mushroom is based. What're they thinking?
. . .
I am actually relieved when we get clear of the "scenic" stretch of 95 at Parker and leave the Colorado and the condos behind. The desert returns. I shan't pass this way again.
. . .
We actually find a little of the old Hwy 95 at Quartzite -- just before joining the freeway that is US 10 -- in a funky rundown bit of a coffee shop called The Breakfast Corner (breakfast served till 1). This anachronism was being operated by a couple elderly women (not the owners) for whom retirement was clearly not an option. The one who's nametag said "Lee" greeted us with a pleasant-but-weary smile.
"Hon, you look tired," sez I.
"Yes, yes I am. But I'll do my best to spoil you just the same. Sit where you like. Coffee?"
We are past the morning rush, and the other lady -- "Carol" by her tag -- sits at a nearby table sorting the morning's tickets.
Lee lives up to her advertising, and we have a lovely breakfast, including entertainment provided by the banter between Lee and Carol and the cook. They've obviously been doing this for a long, long time.
As we get ready to leave, I ask permission to take their picture. Everybody, meet Lee and Carol of Quartzite, Arizona.
[Insert Lee & Carol pic here.]
. . .
We join US 10 eastbound via Phoenix to Tucson, Arizona, past thousands of acres of retirement condos and 3000+ square foot "modern living" homes, punctuated by stretches of the remaining desert. In Tucson we find ourselves in the midst of a "rock & gem" convention and pay double the usual rate for lodging. We are not in the best of moods.
== End of Day 3, Mile 1774, Tucson, AZ ==
[Insert "Desert Godshine" pic here.]
MissLena is Galena Alyson Canada
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Her blog is at galenaalysoncanada.blogspot.com