Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Road to PAX: Tucson to Bakersfield

Yesterday I made the familiar drive from Tucson to Bakersfield, the first of a three-legged journey on the way to Seattle. I'm driving by myself, as usual, along with a van stuffed with merchandise.

I'm going to describe that trip here, in case you're interested in the visuals.
In this 9 hour drive, the first two hours cover the very familiar distance between Tucson and Phoenix. I've made this journey many times, whether to catch a flight from Sky Harbor, to see a concert, or simply to visit IKEA. The sights alongside I-10 there are mostly barren desert, with the most interesting features being the occasional dust devil rampaging in the distance. If you're lucky there will be one near the road, though they're generally far more visible the further away they are. This time I had the pelasure of watching one cross the road just a few yards in front of me as it Frogger-danced around the cars and somehow didn't get hit.

The major landmark between Tucson and Phoenix is Picacho Peak, a curious mountain that juts out of the otherwise flat landscape on one side of the highway, with another ridge running east on the other side. The ridge and the peak form a sort of gateway that you can see from a hundred miles away, and I treat it as a sort of half-way point between the two cities (though it's actually a bit closer to Tucson). There's also a few other curious sights, like the fence to a huge, non-existent theme park, a forest of pecan trees, and some abandoned towns and outlet malls. The journey is a mix of wonder and sadness.

Phoenix itself is a bustling city, though the traffic usually stays moving. I usually like passing through since I can visit a Raising Cane's for lunch, but I was very full from breakfast yesterday, so I didn't need to stop just two hours into my trip. Maybe on the way back.

After Phoenix is the strip of desert leading toward the California border. There's very little to see out there, far less than what exists between Tucson and Phoenix. During this section I started listening to a podcast called History of Rome, then switched over to the audiobook Predictably Irrational. Both of these things are cool and interesting, and I recommend them.

At the California border you have to stop for a moment so that a guard can make sure you're not bringing any plants into the state. After that you get to see a brief stretch of greenery: grass, trees, the suggestion of water. It's as if they're trying to say, "Welcome to California! It's better here than in Arizona!" However, that stretch of greenery lasts maybe a mile before you re-enter the desert that spans the distance between the California border and Los Angeles.

That stretch of desert isn't too bad, though. There are mountains that divide the green parts of California from the dry parts, and they slowly come into view as you head west through the desert. The peaks are huge, and it's fascinating to watch a patch of what you thought was pure sky coalesce into a massive mountain in the distance.

That stretch of desert also contains several wind farms, which you may recognize from GTA V or certain movies, like Mac & Me. That stretch also has the dinosaur attraction as seen in movies like Peewee's Big Adventure and The Wizard.

After crossing the mountains you hit the outskirts of Los Angeles which, if it's not your destination, is best avoided. The traffic in that city is awful, and even taking 210 through Pasadena isn't terribly fun. The urban area is absolutely massive, and the roads are choked with cars. Getting to I-5 is not fun. Since my only real experience with Los Angeles is driving through, I don't have a terribly high opinion of the place.

I-5 winds north through the mountains again, bringing you back to the dryer side of the state. Shortly after reaching flat land again, I've reached Bakersfield, a town whose claim to fame seems to be that it's definitely not Los Angeles. So, that's where I decided to stop.

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