The Desert Remembers

  • Posted: 12/2/11
  • Category: Travel

Along a thirteen mile stretch of California 62 a few miles west of Vidal Junction, the highway runs beside both a railroad and an irrigation canal. There are no houses, no restaurants, no filling stations, not even any deserted shacks. Just the canal, the tracks and the road.

The highway drew my attention when I was searching for back roads between Phoenix AZ where I live and Palmdale CA where I teach from time to time. My GPS always puts me on I-10 before cutting off to the north near San Bernardino and eventually on to the Pearblossom Highway but, after you’ve driven I-10 between Phoenix and LA, that route gets really old.

Looking at a printed map – remember those? – I discovered I could drive the entire distance without setting foot, or tire, on any Interstate. The route uses city streets, state and federal highways and passes through places like Wickenburg, Aguila and Parker in Arizona, and Vidal Junction – last place to fill up for fifty miles – then Twentynine Palms, up to Victorville and through Littlerock before reaching Palmdale California.

The stretch between Twentynine Palms and Vidal Junction has this thirteen mile segment. What traffic you see is mostly pickup trucks with Dads stationed at the marine base near “the palms” along with their young wives and kids towing power boats to the Colorado River for a break from the heat.

Because pretty much covering the side of the railroad berm that faces the roadway, that thirteen mile stretch is filled with rectangles, heart-shapes and initials with “+” signs, all piled up from light and dark rocks taken from the rail bed.

All that love just goes on and on and on. Thirteen miles of it and nothing else.

If you can’t make it there in person, and while you won’t be able to zoom in far enough to see the individual names by the tracks, Google-Earth will reveal more lost wonder. As you scan along the highway, you’ll see shapes that were made by cars and trucks into the very slow growing desert plants. You’ll see abandoned subdivisions raked clean for streets but then abandoned and bright concrete slabs that were once covered by a house, a gas station or maybe a liquor store but long since locked and boarded up, fallen down in the summer heat and then blown away in a dust storm leaving only the bare concrete.

The “shoe tree” used to be along that stretch, a tree filled with shoes tied together and flung up into the branches. Legend has it the tree was in front of the trailer of the only prostitute for fifty miles but she, her trailer and now even the tree are gone.

But you’ll see the traces in Google-Earth and piled up along the railroad tracks.

The desert remembers.

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