From Phoenix AZ to Los Angeles CA is about a six-hour drive straight west on what used to be Interstate 10 but has, almost universally, become The 10. We start at a tick above one thousand feet, in Phoenix, and slowly drop to about a quarter of that as we cross the Colorado River at Blythe CA, then we will slowly climb out of the Colorado Basin and cross into the Los Angeles Basin 145 miles later, around Beaumont, at about twenty-six hundred feet. All of this on a four-lane, or larger, divided highway rolling about eighty miles an hour. If driving on back roads through Georgia is like sipping an interesting beer, this is like a double shot of rye; fast and effective.
The first section, Phoenix AZ to Blythe CA is about a 150 miles and it goes by like we are watching it on TV (TV with trucks, that is).
After crossing the river, the country started to feel familiar to me even though this was a new highway for me. All the maps say we are still in the Sonoran Desert but it feels like the Mojave to me, at least from the highway. I’m not entirely sure how the four primary American deserts are officially differentiated but I think it is, mostly, by their flora and fauna. However, there are other, less tangible, differences that give each desert its own personality.
The Basin and Range Desert is the northern 7/8 of Nevada and the eastern 3/8s of Utah, this is the Cowboy Desert, think Cliven Bundy. The Sonora and Chihuahuan Deserts are the Cowboys and Indians Deserts (where the Indians are more real than the Cowboys). The Mojave is the Wacko Desert, think Area 51 or the mysterious glow in Repo Man. It is the home of the Mojave Spaceport and Death Valley and is the most extreme of all the North American deserts. It is also the most trashed, think Hinkly of Erin Brokovitch fame. The Mojave is not for everyone but it is my favorite desert and driving up out of the Colorado Basin, it is starting to feel like home.
Michele noticed that we would be passing Joshua Tree National Park and since she had never been there, she suggested we get a to-go lunch at a Mexican place in Blythe that Yelped well, and eat it at a picnic area in Joshua which is about 75 miles up the highway.
The most noticeable geological features of Joshua are the softly rounded granite boulders which were formed when the Pacific Plate pushed under the North American Plate 250 to 70 million years ago. In the mountains, on the other side of the park, there are much older rocks that were formed about 750 million years earlier when the Earth’s plates collided to form Rodinia, a supercontinent before Pangeia. The most noticeable flora are the Joshua Trees which are – theoretically – only found in the Mojave but they are at a much higher elevation than we are, here the Ocotillo, which is Sonoran, is dominant.
After a short walk past a California Palm grove and into the low hills, we were back on the highway to Glendale where we have a Chinese dinner at one of the best Dim Sum restaurants I’ve ever been to, Lunasia Dim Sum House. This is our last night on the road. Only one more day to go!