Friday, September 25, 2009

Phoenix to San Diego in only one day!

Wednesday, September 23:

The trip across the desert from Phoenix to San Diego is deceptively long, and there is very little of interest along the way: the old Territorial Prison in Yuma (which is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays) and the Desert Tower in ... well, nowhere, really. We stopped at both.

The Territorial Prison is on the banks of the Colorado River, which these days, and at this time of the year, and this far downstream (below all the canals that siphon off water for Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and a host of other cities, plus much of the irrigation in Arizona and California) isn't much larger than the San Antonio River. It seems to consist of a pair of native-stone buildings set at right angles to one another, with windows only at the very top -- tiny windows, about a foot square, with iron bars set in them. That's about all I could tell, from the outside.

The Interstate drops down all the way to sea level just west of the Colorado River and the Algodones (or Imperial) Dunes. I would have liked to get some pictures of the sand dunes; I was at their northern end about ten years ago, and they're pretty stunning. They look like Tatooine, the desert moon where R2D2 and C3PO landed after escaping from Darth Vader. Unfortunately, there is no place to stop on the southern end. The rest area smack-dab in the middle of the dunes is literally two cement-block latrines set in a paved area between the eastbound and westbound lanes of the freeway.

From there, the road starts to climb, gradually at first, then steeply through a series of long winding S-curves up to about 4,000 feet at the Desert Tower. The Desert Tower is a sort of folk-art construct overlooking the Interstate and the Imperial Valley. It was built in the 1920s, when the road through these parts from Yuma to San Diego was a two-lane highway. Most cars couldn't make it through without stopping to add water to the radiators, and even now there are concrete vats along the Interstate containing water for radiators every few hundred yards.

From the Tower you can see all the way across the valley, past what's left of the Salton Sea. It's a stunning spread of apparent nothingness: rock, sand, more rock, sun and rock. Oh, and that little bit of water way out there. Back in the 20s and 30s, a local man started carving fanciful animal shapes out of the rock, and these lie in the boulder field across the driveway from the Tower. You can clamber around in the rocks, kind of like I talked about doing at Texas Canyon (see my entry a few days ago).

Interstate 8 runs very close to the Mexico border most of the way. We passed through several immigration checkpoints; at one of them there was a sign boasting of the effectiveness of such checkpoints. It seemed to indicate -- it wasn't specific enough to say for certain -- that all of the internal checkpoints along the border from San Diego to Brownsville had resulted in so many immigration arrests, so many criminal arrests, so many tons of drugs confiscated, so many DUIs referred to local LEOs; if the statistics were for that one checkpoint, I would say (a) the checkpoint was moderately successful and (b) the illegal immigrants in that area have to be unreasonably stupid. If, as I suspect, the statistics were for the entire Mexican border, then I'd say that these checkpoints are a waste of time and resources, an easily avoidable inconvenience, and an irritating, albeit minor, infringement of my constitutional freedom of travel. (Yes, Virginia, the Supreme Court does say it's in there.)

Oh, well. So we get into San Diego around rush hour, and manage to get to our hotel without running out of gas (which, by the way, jumped about seventy-five cents per gallon in price on crossing into California -- an indication of just how out of balance the government of this state is. Think about it. We had dinner in Old Town, the "original" settlement area of the city. If you're familiar with San Antonio, it's like La Villita but with four-lane streets and a lot more people, shops and restaurants. There was nothing the least bit authentic about it. We ate at one of the three restaurants recommended by the concierge at our hotel. The food was good, the chips were okay, the salsa was really good, and the margaritas were superb. Even the mariachi band was well within my tolerance limits for such things.