Friday, January 14, 2011
Day 159: Rocky Road
Quartzsite to Ehrenberg. 21.8 miles/3065.2 total
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
8:40 a.m. The morning chill is already wearing off under cloudless skies as I begin walking from about two miles east of the town of Quartzsite. Today’s walk will take me through Quartzsite, down Dome Rock Road, and onto I-10 to the last exit in Arizona, a distance of 21.8 miles.
The further toward town I go down this access road the thicker the congregations of motor homes become, although people still allow themselves plenty of space. One need be no less than thirty or forty feet from one’s neighbor. Naturally there are people who like to be cheek by jowl with others and they can get closer. These dry campers, as they’re sometimes called, who rely on their generators and supplies of water, are generally more short-term than the campers who go to the places with full hookups and settle down for the season. But some of these gargantuan luxury motor homes can go quite a while before they have to schlep into town for refilling, refueling, and emptying. Nevertheless I’d say most of the “free” campers along this road are here for two weeks or less.
I understand that I’m here just about at the height of the season for RVing. I would be interested in seeing what this place looks like at the hottest and most inhospitable time of year, just for comparison purposes. Most of the commerce along Kuehn and Main Streets is of a semi-temporary nature, many of the stores being made of pole structures over which nylon tarps are stretched, almost like the shops at an Arab marketplace, and I imagine that by late March or so most of the vendors literally fold up their tents and go elsewhere, perhaps up into the Midwest for the summer.
Besides having a nomadic feel to it, this community has an “adult” feel, too, meaning that most of the people around here are retired. There aren’t a lot of children or even younger adults around, although I know there’s a small permanent population somewhere. The age group I’m talking about is probably pretty narrow, perhaps between 55 and 80. Folks younger than that are still working and those older than 80 are probably less able to get around. By the time someone reaches the age of 60 or so, if they’ve managed to survive that long in decent health, they’ve probably outgrown most of their most self-destructive and antisocial behavioral tendencies, which makes them friendlier and more relaxed. Of course there are happy and unhappy campers in all walks of life and at all ages. But I can say from my own experience that nothing liberated me from stress better than the cessation of daily work.
At a couple of miles I reach the I-10 overpass and make my way to Main Street. At the corner of Main and Riggles there’s a large lot of new and slightly used motor coaches of the more luxurious kind—Monacos, Sportcoaches, Berkshires. I’m sometimes amazed at how many people find the money to spend on these leviathans.
Another fact about this way of living—whether it’s driving around the country in a huge motor home or pulling an equally large fifth wheel behind a full-sized pickup truck—is that the age of the drivers of these huge beasts is considerably above the average. Something to consider when you’re out there on the road: the guy behind the wheel of the average motor home is probably a great grandfather. From a safety perspective that’s generally not a bad thing, even when you factor in the risks of stroke, sudden heart attack, and incipient dementia. But it is an interesting thing to contemplate. Give them a wide berth.
I’m really easily persuaded in my more superficial beliefs, whipped, as it were, by the winds of change and the influences around me. I have to say that the more of these big campers I see the more normal they begin to appear to me. I can’t help but think that if one is going to live a substantial amount of the time in a motor home, one should have the biggest one possible. Nevertheless, it is a costly undertaking to own one of these 42 foot jobs as big as Willie Nelson’s dopemobile. The used ones often go for $150,000 and up. “Canadian Financing Available.” Naturally you can get something in any price range, and the somewhat smaller class A jobs, maybe only 30 to 35 feet in length, can be gotten, still almost new, for 40 to 50 thousand, based on the prices I’m seeing here. Still, that’s one hell of a lot of money for an ex-working stiff to spend in the afterlife.
I pass Reader’s Oasis Books, owned and operated by Paul Winer, the well-known naked book guy, formerly the naked piano guy. Ordinarily it’s open seven days a week, but today a sign says it’s closed so Paul can practice and prepare for his concert tonight. So my hoped-for return to Reader’s Oasis is thwarted, but I will attend the concert this evening.
I pass the Family Dollar and the Quartzsite General Store, as well as a succession of RV parks, RV sales lots, vendors and merchants of all kinds, selling jewelry, souvenirs, junk, tools, rocks, you name it.
At 3.4 miles I reach Main Street and Arizona Route 95. Just beyond this is a marker indicating that here was the site of Tyson’s Well. That was the original name of the town. It was a stage stop on the eastward journey in the 1870s and 1880s. “No grass but good water,” one desert guide said. Back in 1864 a miner named Tyson dug a well by hand, and the town became known as Tyson’s Well or Tyson’s Wells. As if to commemorate and underscore this there sits, on the other side of a dry river bed from the marker, a place called Tyson RV Park. That would be its modern incarnation.
Up Moon Mountain Ave. from Main Street there’s a collection of churches and more permanent buildings that I take to be the center of the town itself aside from all the RV madness, and where I imagine most of the permanent population of about 3,400 lives. At this intersection there’s also a ruined adobe building from the 19th century, showing the classic adobe construction with timber and two-foot-thick red mud. Most of what looks like adobe today is really just a thin coat of stucco-like plaster over regular plywood construction or sometimes over cinder blocks.
There are a number of references to camels around here. There’s a place called the Camel Driver’s Tomb up on Hi Jolly Road. Interesting story here. Hi Jolly was a Greek-Syrian whose real name was Hadji Ali, who took part in the U.S. Camel Corps experiment. He came here in 1856 and died at Quartzsite in 1902. It is his tomb to which the sign refers. Although camels are native to North America, they became extinct here long before humans came. In the mid 1800s the army decided to bring them back, and imported some from the Middle East, along with some drivers. During and after the Civil War the camel craze died down, the army having other things to spend its time and energy on. Also the camels seemed to spook the horses. For many years afterwards feral camels could occasionally be seen plying the desert. The last one was spotted in Texas in 1941.
Since Quartzsite does bill itself as the Rock Capital of the World or some such hyperbolic nonsense, I stop a very large store called Gem World on my way out of town. It’s full of rocks of all kinds, shells, glass beads, and polished gemstones. Much of it is for people who want to make their own jewelry, but some of it is ready made.
At 5 miles I cross back over I-10 to the south side and begin walking on Dome Rock Road, which I’ll follow for a few miles. Here and there a lone motor home sits off in a large flat lot, much like on the road on the east side of town where I stayed, only less populated by campers. Come to think of it, this might be the same road.
At about 8.5 miles I pass the small conical mountain topped with a protuberance that is Dome Rock. It’s one of thousands of places throughout the southwest that could be called a dome rock, but it’s the only one along this road.
Today is my last full day of walking in Arizona. Very early in the next walk I’ll be crossing the Colorado River into California. I’ll do a standard statistical wrapup then, but for now I’ll make a few valedictory remarks about the Grand Canyon State. When I crossed into Arizona from west of Lordsburg, New Mexico in late November I was convinced that nothing could equal the mountainous beauty of the state I was leaving. Since Arizona’s justified reputation as a reactionary state had preceded it, I felt a tiny bit of trepidation about that, too. But I should have felt no different here than I did as I set foot in Mississippi, say. Now, after walking for over four hundred miles over hill and dale and through a great metropolis, I must say that not only is Arizona at least as beautiful as New Mexico from a geological standpoint, but that its people are just as friendly overall, with notable exceptions such as the recent assassin with three names. The most decent Arizonans I happened to meet were the Apaches of the San Carlos Reservation, a group on whom you wouldn’t automoatically bestow such an accolade, given their history vis a vis the white man.
I’ve struggled to state this succinctly and in a way that I believe, but I think I’ve come to a useful conclusion about human nature on this walk, which is this: People in this country are on the whole quite friendly and willing to help others, but they tend to believe that almost everyone else is not. They believe in their own goodness but not in the goodness of their fellow citizens or of mankind. This is odd, when you consider it from a purely logical perspective. It means that we tend to think our behavior is the exception to the rule rather than the rule itself. We hold ourselves to relatively high standards but write off practically everyone else as hostile, careless, or incompetent. It shows in our attitudes toward other drivers, fellow workers, and people from other cities, states, races, and countries. The lack of logic in this is astounding in its implications. It has lead to racism, paranoia, anger, intolerance, and war. If we viewed our own behavior as normative rather than heroic or angelic or long suffering, we would have more confidence in others and their motives, and would be less likely to think of them as strangers or enemies. And when the few exceptions to this rule did present themselves we wouldn’t be as quick to assume that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Imagine all that being accomplished just by people accepting the fact that their own friendliness is a natural facet of their humanity. Of course our external stimuli, such as newscasts, television programs about cops and serial killers, and shrieking right wing pundits, all militate against our ever adopting such a rational world view. Even our religions tell us that mankind is innately sinful rather than innately good, and that God has it in for everyone who doesn't kiss his ass regularly. Like newspapers, religions sell themselves by giving the bad news first.
At 10.7 miles I reach Exit 11 on I-10 and have to get on the interstate temporarily. Just half a mile past the freeway ramp I manage to get down off the shoulder and onto an area that is reasonably packed down for walking. But it’s hilly and up and down. I’m aware that if I were walking right here in the warmer months, I’d be seeing rattlesnakes and scorpions and I wouldn’t be particularly safe. I have been fortunate in that respect, this being the hibernation season, and that’s fine with me.
There’s quite a bit of pink and white quartz in the gravel and stone around here, as you might guess from a name like Quartzsite. I’d like to pick some of it up, but I think the reader will understand the drawback of gathering rocks during a long walk.
I work my way back up onto the shoulder when the gravel path disappears, and once again I get stopped by the police. This time it’s a La Paz County Sheriff’s deputy, fairly friendly. He tells me to stay down off the interstate, but doesn’t write me up. So I get back down off the shoulder again and find myself on some outrageously steep paths up and down the mountains on the side of the freeway. A group of four-wheeled off-road vehicles comes the other way, and a couple of people ask me if I’m okay. I come close to tumbling down rocky hillsides on several occasions. Once in awhile a dirt road declares itself and I get on that, but then it goes off into the mountains and I have to leave it, not knowing whether it will ever come back to the side of the highway. So these five or six miles become a guessing game of “is it a road or not?”
At some point I’ve entered the Colorado River Indian Reservation. This is home to four small tribal groups—Mohave, Chemehuevi, Hopi, and Navajo—all situated here in La Paz County and on the California side of the Colorado River. There are about 9,000 of them. They work together for purposes of maintaining the reservation and running their various farming enterprises, and they have a casino somewhere, I think along the river. But nary an Indian do I see. In fact, nary a white man, except for those guys on the quads.
At 16.5 miles I get to the Tom Wells Road exit. Here I visit a Texaco station for refreshment, legs tired from the cross country hiking. I have to climb a couple more barbed wire fences to get to it, but I’ll do that for a cup of coffee and a cold drink. I work my way back over the interstate (which, by the way, is damned wide when you’re trying to get across it fast) and climb another fence to return to where I was. Several more miles of hit or miss hiking, trying to find a path that doesn’t stop at the top of a steep ravine. Finally, tired of negotiating this lunar landscape I decide to take my chances on the shoulder of the highway.
At about 21 miles, continuing on a general downhill slope toward the river, I spot the motor home parked in another of those rough RV parking lots, just east of the Ehrenberg exit, this one containing only a handful of other vehicles.
The mountains seem to have pulled back away from me and I’m on a wide alluvial plane as I climb my last barbed wire fence of the day to get to the access road and the motor home.