Last Thursday, late in the day, we left to drive to Death Valley. The weather forecast was pretty dismal, so we decided to take our time driving there. The choice was driving to Mojave down the 5 – OK, I give up, I am going to start adding a the to the freeways to identify them as freeways, southern California style, so the 5 it is – or driving to Bakersfield down the 101 and then crossing over the coast range at Highway 58.
We chose the 101 and 58. I had been on 58 a month ago and loved it, but I had only been as far as the Corrizo Plain. It turns out that 58, through the Coast Range, is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde road. Before and up to the Corrizo Plain, 58 wanders through oak covered hills with small, picturesque, ranches; after Corrizo, 58 goes through the Midway-Sunset oil fields. It was the end of the day and the sun was setting in an ominous sky which gave the oil fields an extra mordoresque oomph.
The next day, we were up early – for us – and headed over Tehachapi Pass into the Mojave Desert.
Just like the map show, everything changes from green to brown as we climbed up out of the Central Valley – or, The Great California Central Valley as we were taught as kids; and it should be called great: it is the largest flat place in the United States – and enter the Mojave Desert. Right at the pass, the wind farms have a lot more windmills than the last time we came over the pass. Each one is much bigger and they were all operating. As an aside; it is sort of strange that on the other side of the Coast Range, all the old windmills used to pump water have been replaced with photovoltaic cells to drive electric pumps; end of aside.
On the other side of the pass, the landscape opens up to the Mojave Desert. Deserts have personalities – the Arizona Desert (Sonora) is sort of a cowboys and Indians desert; Nevada, sagebrush and wild horses; the Mojave, Repoman and flying saucers, Charlie Manson, and -it turns out – spaceflight. In the distance is the gateway to the desert – the town, using the term very loosely – of Mojave.
The Town of Mojave is an interesting place. Because it is dry and close to the – former? – aircraft production and research center of Los Angeles, Edwards Airbase, and a rocket testing range; it is the center for alot of airplane related nonsense. That is nonsense to me, but probably not to the guys doing it. This is where the first non-stop, non-refueling, round the world flight started and ended. This is where Paul Allen’s SpaceShipOne took off and landed.
This is where Branson’s SpaceShipTwo is built. It is the airport – now called a Spaceport – and, presumably, if you book a flight into space; this is where you will take off and, presumably again, land.
It is also a graveyard for discarded jets that may, or may not, be recycled into what we used to call the third world.
Beyond Mojave, the desert gets increasingly mountainous with vast valleys and iconic endless roads diminishing into a perspective lesson. We came from a road on the right and actually turned left towards Trona where we plan on leaving the paved road. If you double click on the photo, you can read the sign.