Our last dispatch was written in Salt Lake City, where we visited the Family History Library and added to our store of knowledge, this time unearthing some new places and names in Slovakia and Belarus. It's beginning to look as if we will have plenty to do on a trip to Central and Eastern Europe.
After leaving Salt Lake City we were in the Western Desert, a place generally familiar to us. We followed some back roads west past Border, Utah and Baker, Nevada (where we spotted the town sculpture, Porchosaurus Wrecks) to Ely, Nevada, and turned our attention to a backlog of business matters, mail and phone calls and the like. Yes, even footloose and fancy-free travellers are jerked back to reality by the silly clerical errors of daily life. We think these errors are more frustrating to deal with now than when we were young, because it takes so long to speak with someone who can understand the problem and has the authority to solve it. There are interminable punch-the-telephone-button sequences to work your way through the menus, followed by equally interminable minutes on hold (why don't they ever let you punch the buttons to choose your music on hold?), followed by further interminable delays as your call is transferred from person to person (always at the risk of restarting the sequence from scratch), then interminable personal questions about Porchosaurus Wrecks the scar on your left knee, or your stepmother's maiden name, always asked by some vague voice named Sherry, or Mark, to make sure you really are who you say you are (as if they could really stop a determined crook!) and then a salvo of profuse apologies and promises. This entire process may have to be repeated several times before the error is corrected. We are old enough to remember the days when you walked to the place of business, talked to the proprietor, and solved the problem in a few seconds. But of course those weren't really the good old days, as things cost a lot more and fewer things could even be purchased, compared to what you can get today. We just wish the high-productivity automaters would make the process more fun for the customer!
Our business tasks pursued us as we ran south -- to Las Vegas, to Needles, CA, to Ehrenberg, AZ, where we finally wrapped things up (for a while) with a trip to a notary public and the post office.
The Colorado River is pretty well tamed now; no longer the wild and unpredictable torrent explored by John Wesley Powell -- except in a few places. It is still flanked by beautiful canyons and lovely dark rock mountains. We were interested in seeing the Colorado River Valley, following it south from town to town, somewhat amazed at the changes we encountered. Laughlin, NV is a casino town, with just a few houses up the hill for some of those who work in the hotels and casinos, but lots and lots of RV parks. Laughlin is all slicked up and gaudy, happily sucking up the gamblers' contributions to the local economy. Needles, CA is not a casino town, and though it had some good country restaurants, it was basically a down-at-the-heels kind of town, with lots of boarded up buildings and dilapidated business establishments. It is still a division point on the railroad, but that probably means a lot fewer jobs than it once did, and the interstate highway doesn't bring that many travellers who want to spend the night in Needles; Kingman is more attractive.
There are millions of people living in the Colorado River Valley south of Las Vegas, and probably a few more millions have arrived since the last time we travelled its length. Lake Havasu City is a more upscale retirement community, with some lovely custom built homes. We imagine that the owner of a comfortable home in the California Coastal strip can easily purchase an equivalent home along the Colorado River (preferably in Arizona, where taxes are London Bridge lower than California) for perhaps one-third to one-half the price; the balance can be invested to provide a retirement income. At least that seems to be the theory. The entire highway (Arizona 95) which runs for about 12 miles through Lake Havasu City, is under construction, and the general impression is that of a city which is growing too fast. There are plenty of condominiums, theaters, river rides, and of course, London Bridge. The 29 square miles of Lake Havasu City were bought by one man in 1964, for a little over a million dollars; no doubt he made a sizeable profit on his investment. London Bridge was disassembled, the stones carefully identified, and reassembled on dry land in Arizona. Afterward a channel was dug to allow water to flow beneath it. The fake pubs and shops are pretty tacky, and somewhat confused culturally (for example, one offering is a ten-minute gondola ride complete with singing gondolier!) It's kind of a silly tourist destination, and of course no substitute for a trip to England.
Next down the Colorado is Parker, Arizona, the headquarters of C.R.I.T. (Colorado River Indian Tribes). It seems a little like Needles, with not as much upscale development as Lake Havasu City, but still a popular waterfront destination for water skiers and jet boats. We took the road through the reservation, which was filled with large prosperous farms growing hay and cotton, thanks to an elaborate and sophisticated system of gravity-fed irrigation aqueducts which water the wide flat valley. We found we were happier driving through miles of fertile farmland than miles of retirement homes.
We stopped to photograph a monument erected to commemorate the internment camp at Poston, Arizona. We knew that the xenophobic Roosevelt not only violated the civil liberties of thousands of loyal Japanese citizens by rounding them up and depriving them of property and imprisoning them in camps, even as their sons gave up their lives fighting for the United States, but were unaware that he also had the unmitigated arrogance of appropriating Indian reservation lands guaranteed by treaty for the purpose. Not to mention his refusal to save the multitudes of Jewish refugees... The wondrous thing was that during his lifetime Roosevelt was idolized, and never held accountable for these unspeakable criminal acts. Perhaps the lesson here is to be wary of Poston Internment Camp the PR spin used by all those holding great political power -- often their true nature is not revealed until long after they have left office and died.
Ehrenberg, Arizona is similar to Needles, only worse. We saw more boarded buildings, more dilapidated businesses, more poverty. But the gasoline is 30 cents a gallon cheaper in Arizona than across the river in California.
The next day we continued to be surprised. Quartzite, Arizona was an interesting town. The restaurant we chose for breakfast was decorated in a most peculiar way. An old pickup truck was used as a salad bar; horse collars hung on the walls, and each column supporting the roof beams was decorated with a different kind of semi-precious stone: one with amethyst geodes, another with polished slabs of agate, still another with quartzite, one with fool's gold, etc. The front and back doors were wide open to promote cross-ventilation, and the waittress, all by herself, kept apologizing to all the customers for the delays. But the food was good, and we enjoyed listening to a group of six guys, whom we guessed to be off-duty cops from California on an off-road expedition to the Arizona desert.
Next door to the restaurant and next door to that were flea-market stores; that is to say, they were stores, but the kind of junk and prices made them look like flea market stands. Come to think of it, the buildings that housed the stores were so rickety, they kind of looked like those folding flea market tables. Anyhow, people were indulging in a favorite pastime of browsing the tables and buying nothing. Some of the customers didn't look as if they could afford to buy anything, even off the flea market tables!
We are definitely too early for the season in Quartzite. South of town we found mile after mile of overflow BLM campsites, waiting for the snowbirds to descend on the Colorado River Valley in the months of January through March, when it's really cold and snowy up north, and park their RVs next to other RVs, in rows and rows, claiming a few square feet of Arizona desert for the duration of the winter. But the setup was there - the BLM signs in place (LONG TERM VISITORS 1/2 MILE) and so on. Tamarisks, aka salt cedars
Continuing south we followed highway 95 past the Army Proving Grounds at Yuma. We clearly are too far removed from our days of weapons analysis and testing, because we found ourselves musing about "Proving Grounds" as special places for mathematicians to go; perhaps because of the climate and geography the Lemmas and Theorems and Propositions and Corollaries would come tumbling out faster if mathematicians practiced their craft on Proving Grounds. (Oh, Well . . . !! ) We did spot an Air Force Aerostat that looked rather like a bulbous fish with its inflated tail. Saguaro and ocotillo and cholla and opuntia decorate this part of the Colorado Desert, which would be very colorful in spring when these cactus bloom.
Then we came to the Gila River area, which has all that any desert needs to become farmland -- namely, water. There actually wasn't much water to be seen in the Gila River, because it was all being carried by aqueducts to the fields. Citrus and lettuce cotton and palm trees and more, and large crews of farm laborers. Our road also took us through the Imperial Valley Sand Dunes, which are gorgeous any time of the year.
Yuma has 27,000 people, a big airport shared between commercial aviation and the Marine Corps Air Station, and looked quite prosperous. We found a Barnes and Noble and made our obligatory stop, and then headed west along the Mexican Border.
Calexico was a surprise, too, with large new developments of solid homes with red tile roofs. We had remembered Calexico as a poor border town, but no more. The students at two schools were all neatly dressed in white tops and dark bottoms. We guess the prosperity is a combination of the excellent farming in the Imperial Valley, irrigated by Colorado River water, and NAFTA, which has spawned great gouts of warehouses and trucking companies, with their ancillary businesses. Things seem to be booming here.
All in all, the "dash" to San Diego from Salt Lake City showed us quite a variety of cities and towns, quite a variety of mountains, deserts, rivers, aqueducts, mines, farms, lakes, towns and cities. For most of the way the traffic was light, and the roads good. There's lots of opportunity for driving off-road, too, and we know from past experience that the desert dirt roads lead back to some beautiful canyons.