From Malibu to McAllen

It’s been more difficult than I imagined to both (a) find the time and space to write and (b) feel like I actually want to do that after driving for many hours and days on end.

My last “real” update — I’m not counting my previous “feelings” post — happened as I’d just gotten into the eastern edge of California. Once again, I’ve covered a whole lot of ground since then. I’ve touched on four states, to be precise: California, Arizona, New Mexico, and, now, Texas.

I’ve driven for hours upon hours and for days on end since I left California. Overwhelmingly, the landscape I’ve found myself most often in the middle of has been various forms of desert. I’ve seen high elevation desert, low-lying desert, desert with mountains, completely uninhabited barren-wasteland desert, desert with some scrappy trees and scrubby bushes…lots and lots and lots of desert. Sitting here in my sister’s backyard in South Texas, just miles from the Mexican border, I feel like like I’ve suddenly found myself in a lush, tropical paradise: There are trees!…real trees, with branches and leaves! There’s grass! There are people mowing their lawns and walking their dogs! I’ve got access to a refrigerator and lots of food and booze and a shower and clean towels and a bed with clean sheets and cable TV…Everything feels so luxurious.

But let me back up a little bit. I know I said in my last post that I would provide some infill as to my experience in Las Vegas, but I’m going to be honest: There’s really not much of interest to tell about from that particular layover. I drove up and down the strip a few times, stopped and took a photo of the sign (which was not as interesting as all of the tourists having their photographs taken with costumed ladies and an Elvis impersonator who was being interviewed nearby), and, really, that’s about it. It was cool to see and experience Vegas for the first time, but I was really more interested in the drive through the Mojave desert and the things I stumbled upon there.

Some Mojave art and architecture

I finally made it to Santa Monica, California at around 10 PM Wednesday, which was the day I set out from Vegas. My general impression of California was that, scenically, it’s fantastic; practically, it’s difficult to enjoy the scenery because it’s almost impossible not to spend all of your time snarled in horrendous freeway traffic when attempting to transport yourself anywhere. Southern California is dry but lush, coastal and mountainous, and I found the oceanside cities I visited — basically, Ventura in the north through Santa Monica in the south — to be both striking and serenely beautiful. I spent my very first moments out of the car in California walking to and relaxing/writing on the Santa Monica pier, as I wrote about in my last post, and I spent that night in my car in a lovely secluded spot up in the mountains just northeast of Los Angeles in Angeles National Forest. That’s another notable thing about Southern California: It’s enveloped by large expanses of forests and parks. Getting to them in a reasonable amount of time to justify short trips seems to be the tricky part.

People-watching on the Santa Monica pier

I woke up Thursday morning at my cliffside campsite to an odd, unfamiliar buzzing. The night before, as I’d spotted the site and pulled in to take my rest, I’d noticed several pallets of plain, white boxes dotting the dirt around me. Upon closer inspection, which primarily consisted of me taking 3 steps towards the pallets and seeing a lot of insects whizzing in the air overhead, I realized that I’d unwittingly spent the night next to a mountainside full of bees.

This is what a mountainside full of bee pallets looks like

I got in the car and headed down the mountain towards the freeway, whereupon I decided that I’d take a jog west over to Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, at Ventura, head south along the coast, and take in as much scenery as I could along the way. The Pacific Coast Highway is bordered to the immediate east and north by the Santa Monica Mountains, and to the south and west by, obviously, the Pacific Ocean. The drive from Ventura to Malibu, where I cut back east and headed towards Los Angeles, is lovely. I stopped along the road in several places to take pictures and enjoy the scenery, but traffic got bad again in Malibu, and I decided that I’d go ahead and hit the highway east again to continue my journey.

A roadside view of Malibu

Traffic going into, inside of, and departing Los Angeles was grating, to put it mildly. It took me nearly four hours to make it from the coast to the desert city of Palm Springs, where I finally stopped for gas and stretched my legs. I spent the next several hours trekking from eastern California to just outside of Mesa, Arizona, where I hightailed it up to the rural desert northeast of town and slept overnight in my car.

Friday consisted primarily of a long, secluded drive through the backcountry of New Mexico. I don’t have much of great significance to say about New Mexico. It’s big, largely uninhabited, and consists primarily of scrubby mountains and desert. There were a good two hours or so during my drive through where there were no FM radio stations whatsoever, and I spent a good deal of time cruisin’ and groovin’ to an AM country music station out of Oklahoma. I spent Friday night at a secluded primitive campsite in the scrubland just outside of Carlsbad, which I reached by somehow coaxing my coupe up one of the rockiest, most pitted backcountry gravel roads on which I’ve ever driven.

New Mexico: A whole lot of this

Saturday, I drove for nearly eleven hours from Carlsbad, New Mexico to McAllen, Texas, where my sister lives. I hadn’t showered in several days — not since I left Grand Junction, Colorado — and it was pretty overwhelmingly awesome when my sister greeted me with mixed drinks and a smorgasbord of snacks. I sat on her kitchen floor and had chips and guacamole and a couple vodka drinks before I retired to my far-more-plush-than-the-last-five-days sleeping quarters, where I fell asleep almost instantly and slept for the next ten hours.

Now, I’m lounging on the patio in my sister’s backyard as she and her companion, Desi, grill up a bunch of meat and vegetables for our supper. The weather is nearly perfect — clear skies and sixty degrees — and I’m looking forward to relaxing and recuperating here in warm South Texas for the next few days before I hit the road again.

A luxurious South Texas view

Until next time…

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