Route 66, the “Mother Road”, miles of Americana from Oklahoma to New Mexico (Part 1 of 2)

 

Map of Route 66, from its start in Illinois to the east, and heading west 2,400 miles to an eventual finish on the Pacific Ocean, in Santa Monica, CA.

Old Gulf gas station in Sapulpa, OK, preserves an age when gas went for 19.9 cents per gallon!
Vintage Red Barn, Arcadia, OK, was built in 1898; our teardrop travel trailer in the foreground!
The famed Rock Restaurant in Stroud, OK, was made of rock excavated when Route 66 was built.
An abandoned gas station on a quiet stretch of old Route 66; it closed when gas prices were in the 29 cent/gallon range!
A vintage Phillips 66 station in McLean, Texas, on Route 66.
The iconic Leaning Tower, Groom, Texas on old Route 66.

U.S. Highway 66, popularly known as Route 66, has a special place in the hearts of Americans.  For me, it stems from a 1962 trip when my mom packed my two brothers and me into the back of a Ford station wagon, towing a tiny tent trailer, and headed out of Ohio bound for California. 

Long before the advent of Interstate freeways, we followed Route 66 from Chicago all the way to the LA area (my dad flew into LA to join us). To this day, I remember many of the cute towns, campgrounds and many arguments between three brothers!

In the Roaring 20’s, with Ford, GM and Dodge churning out inexpensive autos amid the economic boom times, Americans were progressively into automobile vacation travel, and many were relocating to the west in hopes of even better times.

Fueled by increasingly mobile Americans, Route 66 began in 1926 when the Bureau of Public Roads created the first Federal Highway, by linking existing local, state and national roads.  The result was a meandering 2,400 mile highway that began in Chicago, Illinois and crossed Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and ended in Santa Monica, CA. Aggressively promoted by the US 66 Highway Association as  “the shortest, best and most scenic route from Chicago through St. Louis to Los Angeles”, travelers poured westward!  

Businesses and towns along the newly christened Route 66 looked at the road as an opportunity to promote and expand their offerings, and restaurants, motor courts, gas stations exploded.  Though World War II caused a dramatic downturn in travelers along Route 66, traffic again increased dramatically at war’s end. Auto ownership grew from 25.8 million at war’s end, to 52.1 million by 1955. Fueled by post-war prosperity, more and more families headed west on Route 66.

However, President Eisenhower, who had noted the success of the German Autobahn during the war, launched the construction of a new, Federal four-lane highway system in 1956 that would become today’s Interstate system.  Five new Interstates (I-55, I-44, I-40, I-15 and I-10) would steadily replace Route 66 over almost 30 years, and in 1985 Route 66 was decommissioned.

Today, individual states and towns have elected to preserve the old highway, and many stretches of Route 66 retain the nostalgia and appearance of times gone by.

Near the end of a recent auto trip to Florida and back, we elected to follow much of the highway, from Oklahoma back to California (we have Illinois to Kansas targeted for 2016).  Just into Oklahoma on I-40, an Oklahoma Welcome Center provided a gorgeous Oklahoma Route 66 tour brochure.  A staffer extolled the scenic old road, and we headed 60 miles north to reach the eastern portion of Oklahoma’s piece of the “Mother Road”.

We intersected Route 66 at Sapulpa, OK, then turned southwest.. In Sapulpa, a town of about 900, we found an old downtown themed to the old route and a reborn Gulf gasoline station, reflecting gas, once just 19.9 cents a gallon!

Touring west, we admired the old red brick industrial buildings south of Kellyville, and in Bristow, we found miles of old red brick streets and a former Chrysler-Plymouth dealership with  a towering neon sign, now an oil distributorship. Chandler, OK, is home to the Route 66 Interpretive Center, well worth the visit.

In Arcadia, we toured the old Arcadia Red Barn, built 1898, and refurbished and reopened in 1992.  It’s a huge, circular barn, with a second floor used for dances and family gatherings, right on old Route 66, steeped in old memories.

We crossed into Texas and followed the old highway into Shamrock, admiring the newly restored U-Drop Inn, housing the Shamrock Chamber of Commerce, and then motored west to McLean.

There we find the McLean Prisoner of War Camp historical site and the Route 66/Devil’s Rope Museum, also housing the Old Route 66 Association of Texas. You’ll also find the first Phillips 66 station built and the old Avalon Theater.

In Groom, TX, we spot the second largest cross in the Western Hemisphere (concrete, 190 feet tall), and nearby, Route 66’s iconic Leaning Tower. We stopped at The Grill, newly reopened, for a good home cooked meal; here, Texan Amy Connors notes “Route 66 brings our little town a lot of traffic – we’re working to make it even more interesting from an historical perspective”.

A Texas Welcome Center offers a nice brochure on Texas Route 66, with the attendant claiming that Amarillo does a nice job showcasing the old highway. We head off to see that city, but find their one-mile themed stretch of old Route 66 (6th Street) is mostly antique dealers, a few old buildings and one restaurant/bar surrounded by 150 Harleys – we choose not to make that stop!

Further west, Vega offers a nice slice of old Americana, with the old 1940s-era Vega Motel, on the National Historic Register.  Vega offers a host of old, vintage motor courts and eateries.  You’ll soon realize that many of the frontage roads parallel to I-40 are original sections of old 66, complete with historic bridges for those with sharp eyesight!

Just before entering New Mexico, we decided to tour off old Route 66, and head northbound to the Four Corners area (where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada all meet) and then into Grand Canyon National Park – so New Mexico’s Route 66, featuring stretches through Albuquerque, Santa Fe and smaller towns, will have to wait.

What to take: Camera and binoculars, good walking shoes and Route 66 notes or brochures.

For more info on Route 66: Overall historic Route 66: www.nps.gov/nr/travel/route66/; Oklahoma, www.oklahomaroute66.com; Texas, www.rt66oftexas.com; New Mexico, www.rt66nm.org.

Next week, we resume our tour of Route 66 in Williams, Arizona (just south of the Grand Canyon) where old Route 66 heads west to Santa Monica, CA. 

For other inspirational destinations in CA, see my Record blog: blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel!

Happy travels in the West!

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Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA, parched, hot, alien and stunning!

Chollo Cactus at twilight in Palm Canyon.

California Fan Palms grace the oasis at top of Palm Canyon, fed by a creek that disappears into the desert sands just a 1/2 mile below the oasis.
Rangy Ocotillo plants can grow to 15 feet; the slightest moisture will set bright red flowers to bloom.
Mojave Yucca sends up tall stalks prior to stunning bloom!
Peninsular Bighorn Sheep, the park’s name-sake, are an endangered species with only about 200 left inside the park (photo courtesy CA State Parks).
Sunrise at Palm Canyon; the 6 AM temperatures of about 60 degrees will rise to 95 by Noon!

After touring Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks last spring, we decided to explore another of California’s vast desert parks. Anza Borrego Desert State Park is 60-some miles due east of Oceanside, CA, about a 10 hour journey from Stockton.  A search through ReserveAmerica.com found the main campground and we booked three days for our teardrop travel trailer.

Anza Borrego is stark and desolate, upon first glance. Car tours and hikes in the following three days change your opinion of the desert landscape – it’s alive, and never ceases to yield amazing specimens, both plant and critter! By 8 PM that first night we were treated to a stunning, starry night!  Clean air and absence of competing light from big cities allows star-gazing to take on a new dimension; and you can see the Milky Way with skies so bright! 

Anza-Borrego State Park, huge at 634,000 acres, is larger than the other 269 California parks combined! Borrego is Spanish for “lamb”, only about 200 of the park’s endangered Peninsular Bighorn Sheep remain inside the park. The park’s rugged features are “Colorado Desert”; this is where, millions of years ago, the Colorado River met the Gulf of California. Today, thousands of tourists are peering into the Grand Canyon, wondering where all that dirt and rock went. At Anza-Borrego, we’re standing on it!

On our first full day, we visited the nearby Visitor Center, took in the stunning video on the creation of this park and walked through the adjoining desert garden, admiring about two dozen native plant species, only found in such dry desert locations. 

Our second day, we departed for the Palm Canyon trailhead at 6:30 AM, and were on the trail by 6:40. It’s a mile and a half up a stark, bone-dry canyon – we’re on the lookout for snakes and Bighorn Sheep. Unfortunately, we see neither. About a mile up the trail, having climbed about 300 vertical feet, we hear water running and come upon a pretty stream and increasing vegetation.

The final half mile, through a narrow, rocky canyon, yields more of the rushing stream, and at the apex, a beautiful California Fan Palm oasis (fan palms are California’s only native palm tree). This green oasis couldn’t be imagined, or viewed, from the dusty desert below.

On the trail and throughout the park, we could identify California Fan Palm, Indigo Bush, Brittle Bush. Creosote Bush, Blue Palo Verde (reaching 30 feet tall, with yellow flowers), Chollo Cactus, Barrel Cactus in bloom, Hedgehog Cactus and Mohave Yucca. And, our favorite, the Ocotillo, a rangy plant that shoots spindly shafts skyward 12-15 feet and, with the slightest bit of rain, blooms with spectacular red flowers!

The park is home to a wide array of wildlife, from the Peninsular Bighorn Sheep we did not see, snakes including Rattlesnakes, Roadrunners (birds which can fly but are most often seen crossing roads!), Black-tailed Jackrabbits, coyotes and a wide variety of lizards.

In the early morning the temperature drops to 59°, but by 8 o’clock it’s up to 82°. Highs in the late afternoon will hit 99 to 102° in our three day visit. We make a mental note: for a return to the desert, pick a time when the temps are going to be in the 80s, not the 100s! We slept two nights with our trailer door wide-open until early morning hours!

Exploring east, we toured 30 miles to the strange Salton Sea, the vast inland ocean formed in 1906 when a huge Colorado River flood sent waters raging into the Salton Sink.  Unimpeded for over 18 months, flood waters formed a 25 x 35 mile inland ocean, 52 feet deep and 220 feet below sea level!

In the 1940s to 1960s, fish were introduced into the Sea and the advent of air conditioning brought big resorts to several of the Sea’s towns: Salton Sea Beach, Desert Shores on the west side, Bombay Beach and others on the east shore.

Then came Tropical Storm Kathleen in 1976, quickly followed by Tropical Storm Doreen in 1977.  Heavy rains, with nowhere to go but into the Sea, pushed the lake level steadily higher, inundating these resorts.  Property values collapsed and owners fled, abandoning homes and trailers. 

We drove through Riviera Keys, with scores of paved, named streets, multiple deep canals excavated with plans to line with homes and docks – a virtual ghost town with only a few occupied and many abandoned homes. After the lake’s floods, almost nothing more was built; further north at Desert Shores, we spied the same “big resort plans gone bust”.

Our final night in the park continued bright with an almost full moon.  Several times in the night we hear coyotes howling like choir boys from nearby!

Returning to the California coast, we turned west up Highway 79, cresting the San Ysidro mountains at more than 4,000 feet. We leave behind the parched desert and are now into a cool, green oasis which extends for miles, as the mountains wring out the moisture coming off the Pacific. Anza Borrego  gets almost none of it, being on the east side of the southern Sierra mountains.

How to get there: We drove south through California’s Central Valley on I-5,  to I-210, I-10, I-15, then Hwy 79 up through the mountains – scenic at 4,000+ feet – then descended a dramatic, 15 mile switch-back road down to Borrego Springs, with the Salton Sea shimmering in afternoon, hazy sunshine to the east. It’s about a 10 hour drive from Stockton.

What to take: Camera and binoculars, good walking shoes or boots and water bottles for hiking the park’s spectacular trails Where to stay: Anza Borrego has a fine campground for both tents and RVs; several additional more primitive and back-country camps offer options.  Motels are found in Borrego Springs.

For more information: Anza Borrego State Park, www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=638, Ph: 760.767.5311.

Next week, a report on touring historic Route 66, from Oklahoma to Santa Monica, CA.  For other inspirational destinations in CA, see my Record blog: blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel!

Happy travels in the West!

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The strange and alien plants of our California deserts!

Palm Canyon, with California Fan Palm oasis, well above the desert and reward for a 3 mile hike up Palm Canyon.

Pink flowers along the hike up Borrego Palm Canyon
The odd Ocotillo plant, which, with just a bit of rain, blooms and sends these blossoms off to provide seeds for future germination.
The Mojave Yucca, which sends a stalk to 12 feet with full bloom.
Creosote Bush in partial bloom.
Chollo cactus in the desert twilight.

I guess I should not call these “alien”; they merely look like other-worldly plants from another time or place.  These are the lovely creations found at Anza Borrego Desert State Park in the southern Sierra (many also found at Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks, east of the central Sierra).

Unfortunately, with a very dry winter and little rain in the desert, the desert bloom of wild flowers was not as spectacular as reports we have heard from the past.  We did see many plants in bloom, but not the huge fields of wildflowers we had hoped for.  Next year, perhaps!

For a full report on our recent visit to Anza Borrego Desert State Park and the nearby eerie Salton Sea and its modern day “ghost resorts”, see the Record newspaper on April 9, and my Record travel blog on April 8.

How to get there: We drove south through California’s Central Valley on I-5,  to I-210, I-10, I-15, then Hwy 79 up through the mountains – scenic at 4,000+ feet – then descended a dramatic, 15 mile switch-back road down to Borrego Springs, with the Salton Sea shimmering in afternoon, hazy sunshine to the east. It’s about a 10 hour drive from Stockton.

What to take: Camera and binoculars, good walking shoes or boots and water bottles for hiking the park’s spectacular trails

Where to stay: Anza Borrego has a fine campground for both tents and RVs, and back-country camping is another option.  Motels are found in Borrego Springs.

For more information: Anza Borrego State Park, www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=638, Ph: 760.767.5311.

Next week, a report on touring historic Route 66, from Oklahoma to Santa Monica, CA.  For other inspirational destinations in CA, see my Record blog: blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel!

Happy travels in the West!

 

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Mission San Juan Bautista, Mission San Antonio bookend majestic Pinnacles National Park

 

Mission San Antonio interior is a wonder of color and light.

Arches form a breezeway for Mission San Antonio.
The Plaza Hall and Plaza Stables stand across the green plaza at Mission San Juan Bautista.
Arches of Mission San Juan Bautista run for length of a football field!
Machete Ridge forms the backbone of volcanic Pinnacles National Park (photo courtesy National Park Service)
Author Tim Viall stands outside entrance to talus cave in Pinnacles National Park; take your flashlights!

Explore two early California missions, sandwiched around stunning Pinnacles National Park!

Pinnacles National Park, jutting up from the Gabilan Mountains south of Hollister, CA, offers the rugged remains of an ancient volcano – a volcano located 160 miles south, near Los Angeles!  Pinnacles lies on the San Andreas Fault and is moving a few inches north each year, distancing itself from its mother volcano!

Pinnacles offers a stunning landscape of rugged spines, deep canyons, eerie talus caves, verdant foliage, streams and wildlife from deer, wild turkeys  and bob cats, to the majestic California Condor with wingspans up to seven feet.   If you want your kids to appreciate the power of nature, this park offers particularly dramatic evidence of the effects of heat, water and wind constantly wearing away at this alien landscape. 

What makes this trip especially interesting is that two old Spanish missions bookend the park.  Mission San Antonio is one of two historic prizes of this trip; founded by Padre Junipero Serra in 1771, when he hung a bell in an ancient oak tree. Needing a better water supply, the mission was later moved ¼ mile to its current site. The Native Americans of the mission were the Salinan Tribe, part of the Hokan family.

They would move into the mission’s buildings and build a productive mission town, home to hundreds of Salinan members who set to work to further expand the mission and its infrastructure. Today, remnants of the first mission buildings, its water-powered mill, ovens and more have been uncovered, the old water system remains evident; the current mission sanctuary is part of the Monterey Diocese.

The old El Camino Real (Spanish for The Royal Road) connected the two missions (an unpaved, undeveloped portion of the original road is preserved just behind/east of Mission San Juan Bautista).  The historic road ran 600 miles through California, connecting Alta California’s 21 missions and four presidios. 

Mission San Antonio is 55 miles south of the park, past the historic remnants of Jolon on the old El Camino Real, through Fort Hunter Liggett to the historic mission.  We journeyed from Pinnacles south on Highway 25, to the intersection of Bitterwater, followed G 13 to King City, then G 14, passing Jolon, then west on G 18 to Mission San Antonio.

The old town of Jolon was established in the 1860s to meet the needs of miners traveling to the Los Burros Mining District.  When the railroad came to King City, that town prospered and Jolon slowly faded away.  Today, you can find the ruins of the Dutton House, Jolon’s old general store, St. Luke’s Church and faded dreams!

Jolon was acquired by William Randolph Hearst in the 1920s, and sold to its current owner, the US Army, in 1940. Ft. Hunger Liggett (http://www.liggett.army.mil) would then become an active Army training base for World War II, and continues today as headquarters for the U.S. Army Combat Support Training Center, encompassing 165,000 very wild acres!

Mission San Juan Bautista is 38 miles and an hour northwest of Pinnacles.  It was founded in 1797 by Padre Fermin Lasuén of the Franciscan order, the fifteenth of the 21 missions.  It would be built to contain a nunnery, quarters for soldiers, the Jose Castro House and other buildings around a large, grassy plaza in front of the church.  The Ohlone, original Native American residents of the Valley, were baptized and converted, followed by the Yokuts of the Central Valley. Today, it functions as a parish church of the Monterey Diocese.

We made Pinnacles National Park the center for our mission exploration.  This is a lightly visited national park with a dry and temperate climate.  We entered through the East Entrance, just 33 miles south on Hwy 25 of a very pleasant Hollister, CA (with a number of comfy motels, restaurants and food stores). Though the park also has a West Entrance, from Hwy 146 out of Soledad, it offers no major visitor conveniences (and, no road crosses this out-of-the-way national park).

We camped for three days in the Pinnacles Campground, the park’s only developed campground. With store, visitor center, swimming pool (in season) and showers, if offers both trailer and tent sites, many with full electric hookups. A shuttle bus runs regularly, taking you to the two park main trailheads, about three miles away.

You cannot really get the flavor of Pinnacles without some hiking, so bring comfortable walking shoes, headlamp or flashlight (for cave exploration) and a water bottle. From the Bear Gulch Trailhead, a moderately strenuous one-mile hike takes you to the spooky Bear Gulch Cave (bring headlamps or flashlights) and Bear Gulch Reservoir; one can return on the Rim Trail for a change of scenery.  Plenty of other hikes make for several days of potential exploration!

How to get there: Head south on Interstate 5 to Santa Nella, south on Hwy 33, then west on Hwy 152 and south on Hwy 156 to Hollister (to reach Mission San Juan Bautista, continue on Hwy 156); Pinnacles East entrance is 30 miles south of Hollister on Hwy 25.  Mission San Antonio is 58 miles south of Pinnacles.  From Stockton to Pinnacles, it’s about 135 miles and 2.5 hours.

What to take: Camera and binoculars, good walking shoes or boots and water bottles or a canteen for hiking the park’s spectacular trails.  For exploring the park’s talus caves, take a headlamp or flashlight.

Where to stay: Pinnacles has a fine campground for both tents and RVs, and back-country camping is another option.  Motels are found in Hollister and San Juan Bautista, to the north, and King City, south of the park.

For more information: Pinnacles Park: www.nps.gov/pinn.  The park headquarters is at 5000 Hwy 146, Paicines, CA 95043; phone: 831.389.4486.  Camping can be booked through www.recreation.gov, or by calling 877.444.6777.  For Mission San Antonio, www.missionsanantonio.net; for Mission San Juan Bautista, http://www.oldmissionsjb.org/.

Next week, a report on visiting California’s desert parks, like Anza Borrego and Death Valley.  For other inspirational destinations in CA, see my Record blog: blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel!

Happy travels in the West!

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End Notes, touring the US in a teardrop travel trailer, California to Florida, the old South and back!

 

Cheapest gas, $1.99 in Texas; we averaged about $2.25 per gallon on trip; highest price was return to western AZ and CA, well over $3.40/gallon. Ouch.

Gourmet meal, Catfish, bacon and Caesar salad at St. George Island Campground, FL.
Our Scotty teardrop in front of the Confederate Powderworks, Augusta, GA.
Susan, catching up on her reading in our Scotty teardrop, in a campground in Alabama.

[This is a fifth installment of series on our trip across the US]

My spouse and I just completed a 30 day cross-country tour, from California to Florida and the old South, and back, with a 4’ X 4’ X 8’ teardrop travel trailer.  Several readers have asked “what did your spouse think of crossing the US in a tiny camper?”, so, I asked.  Here are Susan’s comments:

“We got to see a lot of places in the country that I wouldn’t get to see otherwise!  Campgrounds were gorgeous, we were able to live near nature, beside the ocean and hear the birds, see the animals (and the alligators in FL), something you would not see if you were in a hotel or motel room.

It was it nice to get a few nights with friends or at motels; it was nice now and then to get a shower and a real bed and stay with friends; but almost every campground we stayed in was clean, picturesque and had showers at the campground.

We met lots of helpful people who give us insight on where to go and want to see; and routes to take to get there.  Some of the friendliest people we met in years reside in the old South. And the starry skies from many of these remote campgrounds were spectacular.  As were many sunrises and sunsets!”.

Would you do it again?  “Most certainly”, she quickly responds!

Several others asked how much we spent, and how it matched to our budget of $2,000. 

Here is our actual spending recap:
• 30 days on road
• 7638 miles@26 miles per gallon = 279 gallons, X $2.25 = $626 in gasoline
• Seven motels, $511
• 14 paid camp grounds, $291
• 7 nights with family/friends
• One free camp night, National Forest outside Grand Canyon
• One Love Truck Stop night, no charge
• Splurges – luxury meals, tours like air boat, plantation tours, snacks, et al, $650
Total, $2,078.

And a few notes on “Favorites”:

Campgrounds: Fort McAllister State Park, GA, St. George Island, FL, Edisto SP, S. CA, Big Bend National Park, TX

Don’t miss sights: St. Augustine’s old fortress, old antebellum towns of both Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, SC, Bourbon Street in New Orleans, River Walk in San Antonio, Beale Street in Memphis, Confederate Powderworks, outside Augusta, GA, Big Bend National Park, TX, Everglades National Park and boat ride to see alligators in the Everglades, FL.

Unplanned side trips: Old Rte. 66, particularly in Oklahoma and AZ. The old town of Apalachicola, FL and S. Carolina coastal wandering.

We are now back into California, entering through the Mohave Desert; seeing surprises which included Joshua trees, as one nears Barstow.  In a few days, we are returning for three days in CA’s Anzo Borrega Desert, then onto a luxury week at our Marriott timeshare in Newport Beach, CA. 

It’s nice to be home, even if the route through CA to Stockton remains bone-dry!

Futures trip plans we hatched on the trip:

• Complete our exploration of old Rte. 66, Chicago to Santa Monica, CA, the “Mother Road”.

• Take another coast to coast trip; California to New England, up to Maine, across to Quebec City and Nova Scotia, and stop in old Ohio, my home state – need 45 to 60 days, perhaps Fall, 2016!

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!

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Traveling the US Southern tier with teardrop trailer: Georgia, the Carolinas and Tennessee! (Part 4 of 4 installments)

Forsyth Fountain in Forsyth Park, one of 22 stately parks inside Savannah, GA.

The Mercer Williams House, once home to composer Johnny Mercer
Ft. Sumter guards the Charleston Harbor entrance; it was site of first shots fired in the Civil War.
War memorial in Charleston’s Battery Park is inscribed “To our Confederate Defenders; Ft. Sumter, 1861-1865″.
Historic Miles Brewton House in Charleston was occupied by the British in the Revolutionary War, the Union in the Civil War!
Stately Magnolia Plantation and Gardens outside Charleston is one of oldest in the old South.

 

BB King's Club is heart of great music and wonderful ribs, oysters and more!

Beale Street in heart of Memphis is center of music, good food and nightlife!

[This is the fourth of four installments on a 30 day cross-country trip]

The old South, Georgia, the Carolinas and Tennessee: this is the final installment on our recent trip from California across the US southern tier to explore Florida and the old South (with teardrop travel trailer in tow).  Our plan was a 30 day journey on a $2,000 budget, including gas, campgrounds/motels/tours and food.

Our past in these states:  I spent three hot, sticky months in summer of 1970 at Ft. Benning, Georgia – we saw little of the rest of the state.  We had never been to either of the Carolinas or to western Tennessee. Accordingly, we planned to spend a week in these states, and see some of the best of the “old south”.

Hence, on day 18, we headed north out of Florida along the Atlantic coast route to Ft. McAllister State Park, southeast of Savannah, GA. The next day, we leave our trailer at the park and head into Savannah, with a grand historic district and bordered on the north by the Savannah River.  The city has 22 parks, graced by stately oaks with Spanish moss hanging from each limb (the plant is neither  Spanish nor moss, it’s a relative of the pineapple).

We walk first through the City Market, alive with confection shops, restaurants and nightspots, then down to the Savannah River waterfront and past the old Cotton Exchange. We had a late lunch at Fiddlers Crab House on the waterfront. With the second-story veranda view, we watched tugboats, a tourist paddlewheeler, and a large container ship pass by while dining on a half-dozen oysters from Apalachicola, local crawfish and crab chowder. Delicious!

An extended walking tour takes us south, snapping pictures of the historic Mercer Williams House (the family of composer Johnny Mercer), the stately Forsyth Fountain in Forsyth Park and admiring the elegant homes and grand mansions that surround the city’s shady parks.

We’re staying about 15 miles south east of Savannah, at Fort McAllister State Park. Fort McAllister was one of the major Confederate fortifications protecting Savannah from Union ships and the blockade on the Ogeechee River. During the war, it withstood seven separate attacks by Union gunboats before falling at end of Sherman’s March to the Sea on December 13, 1864.

After two days in this part of Georgia, we journey north along the Atlantic coast to Charleston, SC.  We descend quickly into South Carolina’s “Low Country”, crossing multiple rivers, low tidal marshes and, once again, lots of bridges. As we approach Charleston we journey through miles of poor, rural South Carolina towns.

Charleston was once the very hub of the early Confederacy.  Today, it features the HS Hunley submarine (a Confederate sub, first to sink an enemy ship), and a huge historic district, tied both to the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.  The district includes the Charleston Museum, the Confederate Museum, the Dock Street Theater, old Cotton Exchange and Provost Dungeon, South Carolina Historical Society and the old Slave Market Museum. We see a dozen old churches, including most with significant, historic graveyards, final resting places of early patriots.

Off the Charleston Harbor is the historic Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began. We stayed down the coast at Episto State Park, a nice park with full facilities, and only a mile from the cute seaside town of Episto Beach. Here we admired many vacation homes, all on stilts to avoid hurricane impacts.

Charleston, on a peninsula surrounded by water, preserves a marvelous historic downtown full of shops and eateries, museums and historic churches. The old King Street was closed off for a second Sunday leisurely walking tour, with many shops and restaurants open, catering to a large turnout of locals and tourists.

We stopped for a late lunch at the iconic Hyman’s Seafood where specials included Low Country Boil (huge, bowl of crab legs, shrimp, fish, vegetables), Cajun fish and shrimp, southern fried porkchops, orange roughy, and smoked beef brisket sandwich.

We took a day to explore the Ashley River Historic Plantation District about 20 miles south west of Charleston.  The Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is a 17th-century estate acquired 1676 by the Drayton family, featuring America’s oldest gardens, circa 1680, which bloom year-round. The tour features a pre-Revolutionary War plantation house, huge gardens and antebellum slave-quarter cabins.

From Charleston we toured up the coast of South Carolina through Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach – developed with towering condos, vacation hotels and huge homes dominating most of the beachfront.  Further north, we toured off the highway to Little River, SC, and found the Key West Crazy restaurant – the biggest fish and chips, ever! Two dollar margaritas made the meal tastier!

We made North Carolina and Carolina Beach State Park; clean and only $20 per night. With the Georgia, South and North Carolina coasts so broken up by inlets and Intracoastal waterways, it makes touring up the coast and making time almost impossible (though we were in no hurry). In Wilmington, we found the USS North Carolina battleship, commissioned 1941 and decommissioned 1947.

It was now time to begin heading west, and our trek took us past Augusta, GA and discovery of a huge brick industrial complex – the Confederate Powder Works, a former US armory, which the new Confederate government took over and expanded.  Here they made most of the powder for the Confederacy for the three years of the war.

Traveling further west, we cruised through Memphis, TN, and spend an evening at BB King’s Club on historic Beale Street, enjoying music and the best ribs, before resuming our journey west.

End cap: 7,700 miles in 30 days…would have been nice to have an extra 10 days; actual spending for gas, lodging, tours and food was about $2,100.  And, we hatched idea of a future Route 66 exploration (we toured portions in Oklahoma through Arizona), and a fall, 2016, 60 day trip from California to Maine and New England!

For more info: Savannah, www.savannah.com; Magnolia Plantation, 3550 Ashley River Rd., Charleston, 843.571.1266; Charleston, www.charlestoncvb.com.

Next week, we visit two Spanish Missions that bookend Pinnacles National Park.  For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!

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Central Florida; “big Ag”, and, old towns not feeling the tourism love of the coastal cities!

Old shuttered theater and closed auto shop in Pahokee are emblematic of Central Florida towns that don't receive the tourism bounty of the coastal cities.

Water cannons, mounted on huge “big Ag” trucks, thunder water 150 yards into Florida fields.
Lake Okeechobee is huge, outlined by giant levies courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers and our federal government.
Huge levies and water channels take Everglades water to oceanside towns in East Florida.
Sunrise over Nine Mile Pond in Everglades National Park; sharp eyes will see an alligator cruising in the center/left portion of the photo (don’t go wading)!

Two days ago, I posted the overview of our week in Florida.  Due to space constraints, the Record newspaper and blog version did not allow space to share observations on the central portion of the state; so, here is a bit more.

Earlier in our exploration of the Everglades, from the Sawgrass National Recreation Area and Everglades National Park, several locals tell us the Everglades have been reduced by about half due to encroaching development and levies constructed by Army Corps of Engineers. The Everglades provide most of Florida’s fresh drinking water – imperiled as population continues to grow. Not only does the Everglades provide most of Florida’s drinking water and water for agriculture, it provides a home for fish, alligators, eagles, pelicans and many critters.

We departed Everglades National Park’s Flamingo area and headed north, through the Everglades area and up to Lake Okeechobee in central/south Florida.  Much of that portion of our trip took us through Florida’s waterways, and “big Ag” lands. Exiting the park, we are quickly into the state’s agricultural empire. Miles upon miles of squash fields, tomatoes, avocados. Around a curve, we see an army of industrial trucks with water cannons, thundering water 150 to 200 yards, 360°, drenching the road and nearby properties. Apparently no water shortage in this state!

We take the interior roads north of the Everglades to huge Lake Okeechobee. Highway 27 rims the lake, with massive levies splitting the Everglades on one side, limestone quarries and big Ag on the other and channels sending Florida’s fresh water to the beachfront towns to the east. East of the huge lake are sleepy, back-water towns like Belle Glade; then Pahokee, a truly beaten town with an abandoned theater. 

At a gas station, I run into Lester Crawford, a Vietnam Vet and Purple Heart awardee (Tet Offensive), who invites us to spend the night in his nearby RV Park.  Also a City Council member, Lester notes his town, Pahokee (with the shuttered old theater and a score of closed businesses), “is on the comeback trail, attracting more tourists – take the time to see!”, he exhorts.

North of the lake, we continue to Holopaw (approaching Orlando) – only then do we see our first orange groves. We turn east, through vast cattle country and slowly descend to the beaches at Melbourne – then head north to Daytona Beach. Here, for $56 we find a nice room on the beach.  With a lovely view of the sunrise over the Atlantic, Susan is up early to see it’s multiple hues. Later that day, we take a short drive south along Daytona’s hard, sandy beach, just as we had done 45 years earlier, in the week before I reported into Fort Benning, Georgia for my Army duty.

From there, we continue up Florida’s east coast, past huge condos, timeshares and luxury vacation and retirement homes – all seemingly oblivious to future water challenges!

For more info: For Florida state parks like St. George Island, go to www.floridastateparks.org; for Everglades National Park, www.nps.gov/ever/.

Next week we will continue our journey into the old South, arriving at Fort McAllister State Park southeast of Savannah, Georgia.  For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!

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Traveling the US southern tier, California to Florida with frugal budget and teardrop trailer; onto Florida! (Part 3 of 4 installments)

 

The historic Orman House in Apalachicola was alternately taken over by both Union and Confederate troops in the Civil War.

The St. George Island Lighthouse and our Scotty teardrop on way to the state park.
A 12 foot alligator glares at our air boat in the Everglades; don’t dip your toe in the water!
Mile after mile of elevated bridges link the many islands of the Florida Keys
Grand old mansion is now a fab bed and breakfast in Key West!
Our Scotty teardrop trailer, about to hit the hard sands of Daytona Beach!
The old fortress in St. Augustine dates to 1672; the oldest fort in the USA.

[Installment 3 in a 5 part feature]

Traveling the US southern tier, California to Florida with frugal budget and teardrop trailer; Alabama and Florida

This week we continue our journey of discovery for two retirees traveling from California, across the US southern tier to Florida and the old South with a teardrop travel trailer on a $2,000 budget.  This is the third in a series about our adventures; our rig is a four-year old teardrop trailer, 4’ wide, 4’ tall and 8’ long, offering comfortable sleeping quarters, drawing admirers in campgrounds (“do you keep your dogs in that little trailer?”; we respond, “nope, we sleep in it”.) and manage 26 miles per gallon on the highway.

We have never been to Alabama or Arkansas, only to Florida for the two weeks prior to my entering the Army in 1970 and have never visited either of the Carolinas. We’re planning to take advantage of my youngest brother, Ned, who, with girlfriend, had rented a nice apartment in Naples for February.

Hence, on day eleven, we head east out of Louisiana (two days in New Orleans), into Alabama, bound for a week exploring much of Florida.  Our budget, so far: three nights in motels, spending $270, gas is averaging $2.15/gallon (so we are under in our fuel budget), campgrounds are averaging about $20/night and we are working not to splurge too much on luxury food/drink (in New Orleans, we spent more than planned).

Departing Louisiana, we cross southern Alabama and discover, just east of Mobile, the USS Alabama battleship, active in the last three years of World War II, massive at 683 feet with nine huge 16 inch guns in three turrets, providing awesome firepower. The park also displays a huge collection of Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard wares, including tanks, a World War sub entirely out of the water, all types of airplanes including a huge B-52 bomber. – all available for touring at a reasonable price.

We continue into the Florida panhandle, and pause to admire old Apalachicola, FL, lined with grand old vacation homes.  We toured the Chapman Botanical Gardens, and adjacent Orman House historical home, occupied by both sides during the Civil War. The town also offers the quaint John Gorrie Museum and park – he the inventor of the ice machine!

Just beyond is St. George Island.  A 4 mile long bridge takes us out to the 12 mile long barrier-reef island. St. George Island State Park inhabits the east end with plenty of beaches and dunes, nice campground with newer shower facilities; luxury camping, $24 per night.

The next day we trek south to Naples, a nine-hour drive-through Florida coastal scenery the first couple hours, and pine trees and sandy forests the balance. Naples, high luxury with huge homes, condominiums and a number of Bentleys and Maseratis roaming the streets.  Lowdermilk Beach in south Naples provided a lovely two day’s destination, though the sight of scores of Floridians tanned to a leathery brown is a bit oft-putting.

We had arranged an air boat tour of the Everglades, from the Sawgrass National Recreation Area. It’s about a 90 mile drive into the center of the state, where boat captain Debra tells us the Everglades have been reduced by about half due to encroaching development and levies construct by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Everglades provide most for Florida’s fresh drinking water – imperiled as population continues to grow.

The boat skims across the freshwater Everglades, down narrow channels lined by eight foot-tall Sawgrass; as we round a bend we spot a good-sized gator, about 12 feet, who cruises slowly past the bow of our boat, then turns and stares down our crew of eight. We see four more gators on the trip (as well as egrets, an eagle and pelicans) and get a good educational session on alligators, crocodiles and other critters of the Everglades, an invigorating journey!

After four days in Naples, we make our way south to the tip of the state, to Everglades National Park’s Flamingo area.  Formerly End of the Earth”, it offers an unchecked view due south into the Gulf of Mexico. A nearby camper, Lonnie from New York, notes “been here multiple times and just finishing up two weeks” continuing “watch out for tiny no see-ums (tiny, biting insects) and spray inside your screens with Deet”. At the marina store, we found Off spray, only $8.58, and so treated our windows.

We take in two morning sunrises at Nine Mile Pond, on the first, we see an alligator slowly cruising past, right to left, about 100 yards off shore. Pretty mornings, about 65°, red skies!

Exiting the park, one dives quickly into the state’s agricultural empire. Miles upon miles of squash fields, tomatoes, avocados. Around a curve, we see an army of industrial trucks with water canons, thundering water 150 yards, 360°, drenching the road and nearby properties. Apparently no water shortage in this state!

We devoted a day tour to the Florida Keys, south of Everglades down Highway 1, entering the string of barrier islands; first up, Key Largo, site of the Bogart and Bacall movie of the same name, and after a series of elevated bridges, a number of other Keys including, furthest south, Key West.

Key West is a lovely, old town and port with grand homes. A big Carnival Cruise liner is tied up, disgorging scores of youth to seniors into a dozen bars and eateries. The downtown buildings are bright yellow, pink, coral, green. Tourist trains operate the main streets, with jewelry and T-shirt shops, all designed to separate tourists from their dollars.

We sampled the bar scene, then found the Southernmost Bar and Café, on the water, and walked out on the concrete pier – the most southern point in the US. It flanks a fun, active beach scene in front of the restaurant, with warm water attracting swimmers. Returning north along Highway 1, endless marinas, many of Florida’s 159 state parks, fish markets, restaurants and bars dot the roadside.

We take the interior roads north of the Everglades to huge Lake Okeechobee. Highway 27 rims the lake, with massive levies splitting the Everglades on one side, limestone quarries and big Ag on the other and channels sending Florida’s fresh water to the beachfront towns to the east. East of the huge lake are sleepy, back-water towns like Belle Glade; then Pahokee, a truly beaten town with an abandoned theater.

North of the lake, we continue to Holopaw (approaching Orlando) – only then do we see our first orange groves. We turn east, through cattle country to the beaches – then north to Daytona Beach. Here, for $56 we find a nice room on the beach.  With a lovely view of the sunrise, Susan is up early to see it’s multiple hues. Later that day, we take a short drive south along Daytona’s hard, sandy beach, just as we had done 45 years earlier!

Following Hwy. 1 along the coast, our final stop in Florida is St. Augustine, oldest city in the US, founded 1565. We enter the city near the Spanish-built Castillo de San Marcos, dating to 1672. It stands today as the oldest fort in the United States. The town is rich in early American history and a must-stop!

For more info: For Florida state parks like St. George Island, go to www.floridastateparks.org; for Everglades National Park, www.nps.gov/ever/; for St. Augustine, www.ci.st-augustine.fl.us/.

Next week we will continue our journey into the old South, arriving Fort McAllister State Park just southwest of Savannah, Georgia.  For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!

 

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Traveling the US southern tier, Arizona to Louisiana, with frugal budget and teardrop trailer! (Part 2 of 4 installments)

Author's spouse takes a break to read up on travel writing inside our teardrop trailer!

San Antonio’s Riverwalk is a beehive of activity as Texans and visitors celebrate the night scene!
Our teardrop trailer in front of the stately old Marfa, TX, courthouse, on way to Big Bend National Park.
Towering peaks surround Big Bend National Park, in southwest Texas.
This old plantation, framed by mossy oaks, is about 35 miles southwest of New Orleans.
St. Louis Cemetary, New Orlean’s oldest, features this five-coffin mausaleum, for the Young Ladies Association members!
Bourbon Street is very active at night, with young to old celebrating the city’s history and nightspots!

[Installment Two of Five] New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana/New Orleans

Can two retirees travel from California across the US southern tier, explore Florida and the old South towing a teardrop travel trailer and come home on a $2,000 budget?  My spouse and I think so; this is the second in a series about our adventures!  Our rig is a four-year old teardrop trailer, 4’ wide, 4’ tall and 8’ long, offering comfortable sleeping accommodations, drawing gawkers in campgrounds (“can you sleep in that little thing?”) and, towed by our small Ford, allowing 26 miles per gallon on the highway.

For us, it’s a voyage of discovery. We’ve never spent any time in New Mexico, not much in Texas, only a very brief visit for a convention in New Orleans and had never been to Alabama or Arkansas. We hadn’t been to Florida except for the two weeks prior to my entering the Army in 1970. We figured things probably have changed since then!

Hence, on day five, we head east out of Yuma on I-8, passing south of the Phoenix area (we visited last year, home to 15 major league baseball teams, where we saw the Cleveland Indians beat the San Francisco Giants; Cactus League games continue to end of March). We merge into I-10, continuing across an arid Arizona (we make a mental note to stop and explore the Tucson area on a future trip) and into new territory of New Mexico. 

Just off I-10 is New Mexico’s Rockhound State Park, named for the huge rocky landscape and rock hounds who explore nearby formations for noteworthy stones.  Soon we hit Las Cruces and turn south east into Texas, where we will soon leave the Interstate and head southeast on Texas Hwy. 90.

Texas: big skies, arid plains, lots of yucca and cactus and a long way between small towns – and, surprisingly, the mountains of western and southern Texas. I hadn’t planned on those peaks, including Guadalupe Mountains National Park just north of El Paso, the highest place in the state at 8,753 feet, and, traveling to the far southern portion of Texas, Big Bend National Park, on the Rio Grande, surrounded by peaks in the 6,000 foot range – stunning scenery.

Heading to the park we pass through Marfa; despite the town’s strained existence, it has a handsome old Courthouse and the historic Marfa Opera House, now the lightly used Palace Theater. And, quite the art scene, inspired by noted artist Donald Judd.  Though Judd died in 1994, two foundations continue his artistic legacy. 

Nearby is Prada Marfa, a permanent art installation by two Danish artists, located just off Highway 90 about 20 miles northwest of the town. It’s designed to look like a small, upscale Prada store, and was initially designed never to be repaired, so it might slowly molder away, back into the landscape. However, the plan was changed when, shortly after its completion in 2005, vandals stole handbags and shoes and graffitied the exterior.

We stop at the town’s only open restaurant, Dairy Queen, and chat with two young Border Patrol officers. They note that much of the town’s visitor attraction “comes from Big Bend National Park, further south, and the Prada installation”. They also note their jobs are some of the “best in the region”, and, “most border violators are merely dirt-poor Mexicans looking for a better life”.

Big Bend National Park offers stunning beauty amidst its mountains, gulches and dry arroyos. We camped at Cottonwood Campground, on the edge of the Rio Grande River. Road runners (fleet birds) scurry across the roads; leaving the park, we see one Javalina (like a wild pig).

Coming out of Big Bend, a string of dry, dusty and mostly abandoned towns dot eastbound Highway 90 –Marathon, Sanderson, Dryden, Del Rio, Hondo.  Blue sky in abundance, abandoned buildings from better days past, South and west Texas vast, rolling – and, bone dry. Just west of San Antonio, the land gets a bit more rain and we finally see trees!

San Antonio’s calling cards are The Alamo and the Riverwalk – two blocks apart and wonderful reasons to stop in this dynamic city. The fortress called the Alamo was originally the Mission San Antonio de Valero, founded by Spanish Franciscans in 1724 and closed in 1793. The siege and battle of 1836 saw the death of stalwart Texas fighters, contending against a much superior force led by Mexican General Santa Anna.  Today it’s known as the shrine of Texas freedom and a hallowed ground.  Six weeks after the Alamo defeat, Texans led by Sam Houston would defeat Santa Anna and his army at the Battle of San Jacinto, ending the revolution.

The San Antonio Riverwalk is a several mile stretch of the San Antonio River, about 20 steps below downtown, lined with shops, restaurants, taverns and night spots. It’s a hive of activity for young and old San Antonians and thousands of visitors; it was booming with revelers until we departed after a late dinner on the Riverwalk.

We pass through Houston – tall buildings, a bit more vegetation but no time to stop.  Surprisingly, despite about 800 miles on Texas back roads, we see little evidence of the oil industry. For us, we are now bound for Louisiana and New Orleans!

Rainfall and vegetation increase on the way to Louisiana, the state with endless swamps, bogs, bayous and tall trees. The cost of bridges and roads, all of them elevated over water, must be astronomical.

New Orleans appears out of the bayous: gritty, gray, levies holding back sea water. The huge Mercedes-Benz Astrodome seems incongruous, though a modern city rises around it.  Surrounding one side is the old French Quarter, preserving the town’s history and now a hot spot for 20-somethings; the Hurricane Katrina-flooded and derelict Ninth Ward adjoins it, seemingly unrepaired and uninspired.

Armed with a $59 coupon – we stop at a Super Eight, and the clerk notes “$99″, matter-of-factly; it’s late so we settle in for two nights. It’s a three story, interior courtyard hotel that could use a good cleaning and makeover. Floors in the bathroom sag – making one wonder about structural integrity. Figuring it won’t collapse while we’re there, we travel four miles back down the interstate to tour the French Quarter and the Ninth Ward (which had been flooded just years earlier by the devastating Hurricane Katrina).

We toured the oldest cemetery, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, dating back to 1789, including the “five coffin hi-rise” crypt for the Young Ladies Association, and the French Quarter. For lively entertainers and an active street scene, Bourbon Street cannot be topped. Later, we tour the Ninth Ward – it looks really beat up and abandoned – though locals tell us it wasn’t much to look at even before the hurricane!

The next day we head 35 miles southwest, touring the old plantations, finding friendly people staffing the grand old farms like Desthrehan Manor House, constructed between 1787-90, the Ormand Plantation, founded 1797, now a bed and breakfast and  the stately Towering Oaks, once a sugar cane and tobacco producer.

How to get there: We crossed New Mexico on Interstate 10, diverted down Hwy. 90 to get to Big Bend Park, and followed 90 to San Antonio, then back to I-10 to get to New Orleans. 

What’s nearby: All of these states have too much good stuff to list; take good maps or a GPS and you’ll find many diversions, depending upon your interests!

What to take: Good walking shoes, a good road atlans, binoculars and your camera!

For more info:  For New Mexico travel, www.newmexico.org; for Texas, wwwtraveltex.com; for Louisiana, www.louisianatravel.com; for Big Bend National Park, www.nps/gov/bibe/.  I also like scanning the New York Times web site, for travel features like “36 Hours in San Antonio”.

Next week, we continue into Florida for a week’s exploration of the Everglades, Key West, St. Augustine and points in-between.  For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!

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The Salton Sea and Imperial Dam on the Colorado River; working together to prevent future floods!

The huge de-silting ponds, below Imperial Dam on the Colorado River, designed to remove sediment from irrigation water that is fed by gravity into the Imperial Valley.

An abandoned home in Bombay Beach, caused when flood waters reached almost to the home’s ceilings.
Skeleton of luxury trailer home, mired in mud, at Bombay Beach Resort.
The floods of 1976 and 1977, trailer homes under water along former shores of Salton Sea.
The Great Flood of 1906, railroad tracks completely washed out between the filling Salton Sea and the raging Colorado River to the east.

Last week, my article featured our travels from California to Yuma, AZ, our quick visit to Salton Sea Beach, a derelict resort on the southwest end of Salton Sea, and our visit to the Imperial Dam and Desilting Works on the Colorado River.

Several readers asked about the connection of the Salton Sea to the Dams on the Colorado, so thought I would add further detail.  A year earlier, we had toured to the east side of the Salton Sea, and I researched the sad state of the “ghost resorts” we had seen on that side of this immense, land-locked lake.

We found Bombay Beach on the eastside of the Salton Sea. Bombay Beach, a former resort community was almost completely destroyed by huge floods in 1976 and 1977.   Skeltons of houses, trailers, abandoned and ruined homes and restaurants located blocks inland from the current seafront makes for a very spooky, depressing visit.

In the late 1800s, the California Development Company built a canal to take water from the Colorado River to irrigate the desert region to the south of the Salton Sink (the Sink was much like Death Valley, 275 feet below sea level, dry, arid and almost no precipitation)  – this area would eventually become known as  the Imperial Valley.

By 1904 and 1905, the canal clogged with sediment; the CDC built a second canal, then a third. Later that year, with what would be determined to be an El Niño weather pattern, the desert Southwest experienced the most rainfall on record.

The Salton Sea was formed in 1906 as a result of a huge flood of the Colorado River – the entire volume of the River ripped down those silted irrigation canals and poured into the Salton Sink, unimpeded for over 18 months, forming a 25 x 35 mile inland ocean, 52 feet deep and 220 feet below sea level!

In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, fish were introduced into the Sea and the advent of air conditioning brought big resorts to several of the Sea’s towns: Bombay Beach and others on the east shore, Salton Sea Beach on the west shore.

But then came the new floods.  Tropical storm Kathleen hit the Imperial Valley in 1976, quickly followed by Tropical storm Doreen in 1977.  With nowhere to go but into the Sea, sea levels rose dramatically, inundating these resorts and ruining the local economies.  By the 1980s, these towns were barely hanging on, property values collapsed and owners abandoned properties and left the area.

Today, modern-day ghost towns are the result; only a few hardy hangers-on remain.  The former hope to develop world-class lakeside resorts is just a distant memory!

Today, the Imperial Dam on the Colorado features huge de-silting ponds just below the dam.  The ponds allow the heavy silt of the Colorado to settle out, so that relatively clean water is then fed into the gravity canals that irrigate the vast Imperial Valley – thereby avoiding future silting challenges that once led to the 1970s man-made disaster.

How to get there: From Stockton, take I-5 south, then I-210 east to I-10 past Palm Springs, south on CA Hwy. 86 to the Salton Sea, then east on I-8 to Yuma and Arizona.

What’s nearby:  To the north of the Salton Sea, Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park.

What to take: Good walking shoes, binoculars and your camera!

For more info: Yuma Chamber of Commerce, 180 W. 1st Street, Yuma; 928.782.2567; yumachamber.org.

Next week, we continue across Arizona, Texas and to New Orleans.  For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com.

Happy travels in the west!

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    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in late 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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