Monday, May 21, 2012

Gila Bend AZ to Indio CA

Sunday May 21, 2012

What an interesting day!  We left the motel in Gila Bend and drove east about 10 miles along the Maricopa Road to a marker that indicated where the Butterfield Trail had passed through the area. We got out and hiked about 200 yards down the trail into the Sonoran Desert National Monument.  We went far enough to get the feel of the trail but not far enough to get hot.  It was 9 AM and already quite warm.  


Then we backtracked through Gila Bend and got on I 8 headed west towards Yuma. Fairly desolate area but about half way we came to Dateland where we stopped to view the date trees – tasted a few and bought some.  Then Ben saw the donuts and bought one and some iced mocha – a mocha drink made into a slushy drink – really quite good. This area was used by the US Army for training the military prior to their assignments during WW 2. 

There were more and more mountains north of us – and south was the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range. Information stated there was limited access and it is used by all branches of the military.  Ben continues to say – “I can’t believe how much this area looks like Saudi Arabia. “  Having traveled to Saudi Arabia when he was doing business there he had probably said that 10 times today!  There are high rocky mountains here and there and not much else unless there are irrigated fields where the crops are lush. One rather unusual business – or at least it seemed unusual to me – were the huge dairy farms. Hundreds perhaps thousands of dairy cattle are located under shelters; with numerous fields of alfalfa and other silage growing and being harvested nearby. There are huge stacks of hay (or something) bales also under shelters. 

As we neared Yuma there was more and more irrigation and types of field crops. Yuma with less than 3 inches of rain a year; the 230,000 acres used in Yuma County are watered 100% from water from the Colorado River.  The process used to regulate the water levels is quite complex. 1909 the Bureau of Reclamation built a dam north of Yuma and a tunnel UNDER the Colorado – an amazing feat then and even more so that it is still being used more than 100 years later! For more information  It is a good bet some of our winter veggies come from this area in Western AZ and Southern CA.

We visited the Yuma Territorial Prison which was known as the “Hell Hole” of prisons…interesting place.  We were able to take our “Mug Shots” with the camera and mirror method used in days of old!They did not have the striped uniforms out to wear but not sure I would have put one on in the 100+ temperatures! One interesting thing - when the prison closed in the early 1900's the prison was used for all sorts of things including the high school for a few years.  The ball teams were called the criminal's in jest and it caught on and the nick name still holds today!  

 Then we drove to the Yuma Quartermaster’s  Museum where all the forts in Southern California and Arizona were supplied from San Francisco. They found it was 5 times cheaper to transport goods by water – south around the Baja Peninsula and back up the Colorado River by Steamboat than to send the supplies overland.

We ate a quick hamburger – first of our trip- and headed across the Colorado to California. Our plan was to stop at the California Visitor Center on I 8 and plan our trip forward into CA.  We had received a mediocre map and travel book from California but that was the extent of our information….and there never was a California Welcome Center...guess in their cost cutting they don't care about tourists!

Our welcome into CA was a stop at a check point that we thought would be the border patrol – we were within 5 miles of the border in this area.  Oh no – it was the agriculture police – a rather surly guy who wanted to look through the Sprinter for any fruits and veggies we might be bringing into the state. He picked through much of our gear and finally said OK travel on. Maybe 30 or 40 miles further on was a Border Patrol station. All other stations we had seen were under large aluminum shelters. This one was two small sheds with absolutely nothing to shelter the agents. Ben asked the guy about it and he said something like “No they don’t like us much here.”  Interesting perspective – the guys inspecting for tomatoes had better facilities than the ones protecting the country from illegal drugs and people!

There were canals carrying water along the huge sand dunes of the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area - we were surprised by this area. 

We kept on west to El Centro and turned north towards Indio where we wanted to be to visit Joshua Tree National Park.  This area was primarily agriculture. One unusual thing we saw was a  huge pile of something white – when we reached it we found it was a sugar processing plant…and we also saw several trucks full of sugar beets.  This area is known as the Imperial Valley and grows lots of veggies, fruits, and more dates.  We saw orange and other citrus as well as date orchards. 

We also traveled along the Salton Sea which is a below sea level lake formed when there was a huge flood from the Colorado River back in the early 1900’s. It has become more and more salty and while it is beautiful I guess is not worth much today. After all our altitude a few days ago we are now at less than 400 feet above sea level.

We pulled into Indio and found the hotel we had booked via Kayak. Using the internet while traveling does makes some things easy.  We search for a motel we think sounds possible on Virtual Tourist and then find the best rate on Kayak and book it. Sometimes we also use our points from MC to pay for motel rooms.
We plan to avoid LA and the San Diego area – that could be an entire trip in itself and from being this close I know not a place I want to go. This area is Palm Springs, Palm Desert, etc and is also quite the place – lots of casinos, restaurants, etc.  Being Sunday night we had some difficulty locating the places we had selected to eat – after finding a fish and then a Chinese location closed – we just took the next Chinese we came to and had a quick dinner. 

The highest temperature today was 108 just after we came into CA. When we were returning to the motel about 8 PM it was down to 98.  When I checked the weather there was an extreme heat alert and this is an unusually hot spell.  We have been filling plastic bags with ice and putting them in the refrigerator at night when we are not plugged in to electricity to avoid too much use of the generator overnight. That is the only use of power overnight and usually is not an issue but with this heat is could be!  This morning the ice was not complete melted so it must have helped. 

Some time during the afternoon Ben took this photo to prove the heat!
Got to do a little study on Joshua Tree and how the Butterfield Trail heads north.      

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