Monday, January 17, 2011
Day 161: Chuckwalla
I-10, Wiley's Well Road to Corn Springs Road. 22 miles/3110 total
Monday, January 17, 2011
8:35 a.m. I’m leaving the rest area at Wiley’s Well, heading west to Ford Dry Lake Road, where I’ll get on Chuckwalla Valley Road and take that for the rest of the day to Corn Springs Road, a distance of 22 miles.
Today’s walk will be through the Colorado Desert, which is what they call this area west of the river. I think it might be part of the larger Mohave Desert. I will be walking on improved and unimproved roads on the south side of the interstate, and should be able to avoid the cross-country stuff I was doing on the previous two days. I quickly find a sandy one-lane track to follow.
Right here at the beginning of today’s walk, down Wiley’s Well Road, is the Chuckwalla Valley State Prison, a minimum to medium security facility that houses over 3,700 inmates, although it was designed for fewer than half that many. I can't see much of it except for the barbed wire fences.
It’s already pretty warm, perhaps in the mid-60s, and I think it'll get well up into the 70s before the day is over. There was a mildness in the air early this morning that I haven’t felt since I resumed the walk after Christmas.
Today’s my first full day of walking in California. All of today and the two following will be spent walking across the desert. It won’t be until the middle of the third day that I'll see a gas station and can obtain my midday cappuccino. However, this morning I am sipping one I picked up at the Flying J on the Arizona side before I got on the freeway, so I will only be deprived of cappuccino for one day. Such are the hardships of the dusty road, I guess.
The topography can be described succinctly: flat and sandy, dotted with brown bushes; in the distance on all sides beautiful brown and purple mountains.
At 3.9 miles I see the sign over on the freeway for Ford Dry Lake Road, so I know I’m about a mile from there. Ford Dry Lake is an area of sand and rolling dunes located north of the interstate. At 4.9 miles the dirt path I’m on widens to two lanes of blacktop and becomes Chuckwalla Valley Road. This is the road I’ll be walking on for the remaining 17 miles of the walk. It diverges slightly from I-10, getting as far as two or three miles away from it, but rejoins it down at Corn Springs Road where I’ll be at the end.
There is an herbivorous, iguanalike lizard of the southwest called the chuckwalla lizard, described as “large,” although I couldn’t find out what that means. They live in the area I’m in now, but they tend to hibernate until some time in February, so I’ll be seeing no chuckwallas today. The word “chuckwalla” is from the Shoshone language. This, evidently, is their valley.
I come to a sign erected by the federal Bureau of Land Management inviting recreational visitors into the wilds of the Colorado Desert. The sign also lectures the would-be traveler about the hazards of going in without sufficient water, food, fuel, and a well-maintained vehicle, and begs him not to be an idiot, if at all possible.
At about 8 miles I get to Graham Pass Road, which runs south off Chuckwalla Valley Road. On the north side of the intersection is a nice county-owned piece of Caterpillar earthmoving equipment, sitting idle. Lacking other places to sit along the way so far, I perch atop the blade and manage to get in the shade a bit so I can rest. It’s not really hot yet, but I’ve taken off my outer shirt and am down to my t-shirt.
On into the early afternoon I walk, chained to this broken asphalt road, the semis on the highway a couple of miles distant and the large mountains behind them giving me my only sense that I’m going anywhere. I’ve reached what you might call the doldrums of the walk. Occasionally far ahead of me I’ll see a flash of a metal guardrail over a dry ditch and I’ll focus on attaining that. Then it’s on to the next one, or to some relatively tall or odd-shaped tree.
For the two hours or so I’ve been on Chuckwalla Valley Road only one vehicle has driven past, a Highway Patrol cruiser that didn’t seem to notice me. Sometimes I hear the caw of a crow, but other than that no sign of animal life. Evidence of our own species is all around, of course, including tall utility poles carrying electricity across the desert. And the road itself.
At about 13 miles I come to some signs of civilization, at least a past one. It’s a little ghost community. In the distance I see the ruin of an old turquoise and green house trailer and a few small brown wooden buildings. I decide to investigate, especially since it’s absolutely the only sign of human habitation I’ll pass today.
When I get closer I see that the general wreckage and strewn junk is much more extensive than it appeared from the road. The buildings are wooden sheds of some kind. There are several other old trailers that have been worked over well and stripped of anything usable. Sometimes it takes me time to get things in focus, but I can see now that this was once a trailer park, bereft now of practically everything but the skeletons of three dwellings. What’s left of rusty old air conditioners and small appliances are strewn around along with tires and 55-gallon oil drums, tin cans and broken glass. In front, near the road, there’s the guts of a building. Everything looks as if it dates from about fifty years ago. I don’t know what it was called, but I’m going to dub it the Chuckwalla Valley Motor Court.
Pausing on a galvanized guard rail about 16 miles into the walk I realize I’m looking at a couple of trees like ones I saw back on the San Carlos Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona. They’re good-sized evergreen trees, some with trunks of two or three feet in diameter. The bark is very deeply furrowed and rough. Their branches hang in a droopy fashion reminiscent of willows, but they have blunt soft light green needles growing from them. They’re three inches long or so, like pine needles, but not sharp. The ground beneath the trees is covered with a yellowish brown carpet of old needles. Because the needles aren’t sharp I’m thinking they might be a kind of juniper or cedar or even a type of cypress, but I just don’t know. If anyone out there has any idea of what kind of trees these might be, please let me know. My little tree book doesn’t have anything in it quite like them.
At about 20 miles I can see that the freeway is getting closer as it and Chuckwalla Valley Road begin to converge. I rest in the shade of some more of those trees for a few minutes and in the far distance I see a dark presence on the right side of the road, too vague to make out. But since it doesn’t move I think it might be the motor home.
In another mile I see the sign for Corn Springs Road, which runs off to the south. I now see that the dark image in the distance isn’t the motor home, but a black Peterbilt truck, which must be parked right next to it.
By a quarter of a mile away I begin to see a tire from the towing dolly, but most of the motor home is hidden behind some short trees. The truck drives away and I can see it now, and wearily make my way to it. The sun has just gone over the mountains to the southwest. It’s a little past 4:30 as I arrive at the door.