Some people spend the weekend looking for distractions but after a busy week of dealing with the noisy other, Caleb and I find our escape in the peace of the desert. There is a calm here that is covered in sand, rocks, remains, shrubs, lizard poo, and the heat of the sun. Caleb was given coordinates to an alien abduction that we decided to see for ourselves.
Getting out of town was easy as we grabbed our bag of clothes and toiletries, bag of snacks and meals, and bags of sleeping gear to toss in the back of the car only to have them work their way towards our seats for easier grabbing access. We’re still experimenting with the best meals to pack on longer hikes and want more freeze-dried fruits and veggies on those menus.
We drive west on the I8 and forget to stop for the Imperial Valley Desert Museum, less than 14 miles from the Desert View Tower to which I’ve been to at least twice. This already gives us something to come back for. We pass through El Centro and stop to watch the four-wheelers chase each other over the sand at North Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area.
This is a sport better participated in than watched but also one where someone leaves in an ambulance due to broken helmets, collar bones, and arms; but that’s more probably the bikers. After this, we head towards the California/Arizona border and the Colorado River to test the temperature in this season and region. We’re near the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, more for where the road turns than the park.
There’s plenty of parking and a giant wash. It’s a bit of a walk before we find a route to the river that doesn’t include climbing a sandbank to get back to the car. We enjoy the quiet exploration as we continue to peak through bushes and over ditches in our search to touch the water; it’s still cold. I won’t be jumping in today as I might come out a moss-covered zombie, not that I don’t smell like one now.
Next stop, Tranny Porn Ville. Somewhere on a dirt road in Imperial County lies a stash of VHS tapes, the 80s and 90s version of online streaming before DVDs were released in 1997. It was almost as if everything was there but the walls of whatever structure these participants called home. Across the road, a rusted empty canned goods collectors dream as far as our eyes could see.
We walked the wreckage for a while finding curiosity and joy in some of the trinkets nature has left behind as these monuments to mankind have been forgotten about for future archaeologists to ponder over how one place could have use for so much aluminum, rubber, film, plastic, cotton, and metal objects with bullet holes in them and the casings dropped to add to the collection.
We find a parking spot further down the road and walk towards the sun, for hours. To some this may seem boring, annoying, disappointing, etc., but to us it is meditation, a retreat, a vacation. We take turns sharing Caleb’s hat as I only brought one to keep my head warm and not the sun from my face. We feel the small rocks crunch, the big rocks poke, and the slight breeze when we turn around.
We see the scratches on our exposed skin as we find the best way through this unmarked land that is more common for off-road vehicles and those in search of geodes. We find our alien abduction and the obligatory selfie is taken as proof before we put our backs toward the sun and return towards the red hills where we can find a camping spot by sunset and stare at the stars in the Milky Way.
It’s so dark and quiet but our city ways of being woken by car lights and sirens stick with us and we awaken through the night, both of us thinking it’s daylight each time. I’m grateful for our watches, but being this close to the border and the time zone difference they have also proven less than trustworthy with the exact hour. Our bodies do not fail us though and I’m out of the tent as the sun crests the hill.
I make coffee and breakfast while Caleb packs up our mobile bedroom. We had thought we would go farther into the desert, but unlike camels who can go days without water, our car can’t go a mile without gas. We had enough to make it back for the $5.39/gallon fill but chose to make it further out, whether we were going three or 23mph this bumpy terrain doesn’t offer an increasing miles to the gallon.
We’ll park and use the road as our trail instead as we have no traffic to worry about on this beautiful morning. It’s moments like this, one hand warm each, as we think about the cold clothes we put on and the steaming coffee we have yet to sip, that we appreciate finding each other and having so much in common but being so different and making so many memories together.
I thought we might go to Anza-Borrego area which is why I took us south instead of going north of the Salton Sea to deliver us to hiking in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. Yesterday we were on the lookout for tortoises and tarantulas, today it will be bighorn sheep and rattlesnakes, and though we see none this won’t stop us from trying.
I’m grateful for Caleb’s ability to read a map, whether it be via dirt paths, a paper book, or online he has a way of not getting lost… most of the time. That’s also why I prefer an outline of an itinerary when we travel so there’s less to worry about if we do get detoured, delayed, or distracted. We stop at the SR & SJM National Monument for the mountains on the Pines to Palms Highway.
We stop at vista points along the way and one offers more than the others — the oral history of the Cahuilla people and 21 interpretive panels that describe how they continue to use the living landscape. We stop at a campsite, part sun, part breeze and use the remaining daylight to cook dinner and setup the tent. The wind is still increasing and the clouds spreading over the few stars we can see.
Had the cloudy sky been any prediction of the Strong Breeze (25 to 31mph) that would wake us in the middle of the night we could’ve looked for a large rock or grove of trees to hide behind. We both know that this is something we’ll have to deal with on longer hikes and just stick it out in the tent, but with the option to leave, we take it.
The plan had been to do more hiking in the morning before returning home to chores before the week of work, but we’re greeted with a change-your-oil light and a storm warning upon starting the car. The rain will tease us on the ride home while the orange light flashes a constant reminder to tend to the needs of my vehicle soon — just as soon as the place down the street can get me in.