Cross-Country, Part 8 (Bonus!)

Finally the end.  Or was it?

We’d driven most of the way across the United States.  Then we spent a week in Phoenix, Arizona.  However, we weren’t completely done.  Our rental home agreement ended two days before our return flight so we needed to spend a little time somewhere else.  Originally my wife figured we could go down to Tucson.   Instead we completed the cross-country journey by heading towards San Diego on Interstate 8.  I explained some of that in an earlier episode so I won’t repeat how we came to that decision.  Nonetheless it appended a bonus segment onto the trip and a few more things to talk about

Yuma Territorial Prison

Prison Cells

Very few communities of any size existed anywhere between Phoenix and San Diego (map).  In fact, pretty much only Yuma stood out.  It rose from the desert just on the Arizona side of the line, about half-way along our six hour drive.  That made it a perfect place to stop and stretch our legs.

Originally I wanted to cross into México at the Andrade – Los Algodones border station a few miles west of Yuma.  Looking at Los Algodones on Google Street View (image), it seemed the town existed primarily to provide cheap medical services and pharmaceuticals to retirees from the United States.  I figured we’d walk around, maybe grab some lunch and perhaps some souvenirs.  I even brought our passports.  My wife never felt comfortable with the idea and she vetoed it at the last moment, probably for good reasons.

So we made do with what we could find in Yuma.  A quick search of the Intertubes turned up the Yuma Territorial Prison.  I’ve visited old prisons before so it seemed like a worthy place to spend an hour or two.  The prison opened in 1876 — long before Arizona statehood — and housed prisoners until 1909.  The strangest bit of trivia I discovered there was that the local high school sports team calls itself the Criminals as a result (photo).


Dunes

Dunes

I’d never driven this particular stretch of interstate before so it came as quite a surprise when we crossed into California and the terrain transformed into a sea of sand.  We’d entered the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area.  Nobody can say definitively how this feature formed.  However, a prevailing theory focused on sands that blew from the beach of an inland lake that existed when the Colorado River took a different course than it does today.  Regardless, it seemed out of place and somewhat otherworldly.  Lots of people seemed to be having a good time running their dune buggies up and over the hillsides though.


Plenty of Rest

Rest Below Sea Level

Twelve Mile Circle once bemoaned the decline of public restrooms along interstate highways.  That didn’t seem to be a problem along I-8.  Few services and fewer towns within this desolate stretch pretty much necessitated them.  Oddly, by some strange set of circumstances, we ended up stopping at all four of them on Interstate 8; two heading west and two returning east.

My favorite rest stop had to have been the one in California’s Imperial Valley (map).   This spot happened to be located remarkably close — barely more than a mile — from the lowest overland elevation in the entire interstate highway system.  This would put it at about 50 feet (16 metres) below sea level.

We crossed the valley and then headed up into the Laguna Mountains. There we encountered another anomaly, one of the widest splits between opposing lanes on a U.S. highway.  Interstate 8 sure packed a lot of entertainment into such an “empty” stretch, at least for those of us fascinated by weird geography.


San Diego

Bea-Eater Birds at the San Diego Zoo

Finally we dropped down from the mountains and reached the Pacific Ocean at San Diego.  The drive truly became cross-country.  The next day we returned to Phoenix and then flew home the following morning.

Now the trip ended.


Articles in the Cross-Country Series:

  1. The Plot Thickens
  2. Weatherford Art Thou?
  3. County Counting
  4. Zoos & Brews
  5. The Eastern Half
  6. The Western Half
  7. A Week in Phoenix
  8. Bonus!

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Cross-Country, Part 7 (A Week in Phoenix)

We drove for five long days and finally arrived in Arizona.  However, the adventure did not end there.

Phoenix had always been the ultimate goal.  Our decision to go on a road trip sprang from that choice.  My wife and younger son wanted no part of the drive and flew to Phoenix instead.  There they settled into a rental home we found on Airbnb and waited for me and the older son to arrive by car.  We finally got there and still had a bunch of days in Arizona ahead of us.

Water in the Desert

Goodyear, Arizona

The whole reason behind our destination tied to my wife’s desire to run a specific race.  She chose a rental home near the upcoming race in the Phoenix suburb of Goodyear.  The housing development clustered on two man-made bodies of water called North and South Lakes (map), rather unimaginatively.   It all seemed fine on the mild January days we visited.  It even rained a little bit, helping to replenish the lakes.  I enjoyed gazing upon them and strolling around them too.  Still, I wondered what happened in summer.  How much of this precious water in the desert evaporated for such a meaningless decorative purpose?  How much longer can something like this last?

We also experienced a bit of irony.  My wife hurt her foot shortly before we left home and she couldn’t run.  We no longer had a reason to go to Phoenix.  However, by that point I’d already planned my route and I had no intentions of backing out.  I had counties to count.


Arizona Commemorative Air Force

B-17 Flying Fortress

I’d visited six zoos on the long drive with my older son.  Now it only seemed fair to spend some time with my younger son.  He loves vintage aircraft and enjoys visiting airplane museums.  That led us to the Arizona Commemorative Air Force in the nearby city of Mesa.  The main facility held a wide range of combat aircraft covering the history flight, with a particular focus on the Second World War.  An adjoining hanger included restorations in progress as well as fully-functioning aircraft that could roll onto the runways of Falcon Field Airport (map) and reach the skies.


City Lights

Nightfall in Phoenix

Even better, the museum offered flights on its antique warbirds.  They weren’t cheap although I’d just taken one kid across the country.  So the other one got a ride in a World War II Douglas C-47 Skytrain as night fell over Phoenix.  Plus I could rationalize it as a Christmas present.  We got to see the twinkling lights of the Valley of the Sun from a much lower altitude than a commercial jetliner.  We were so close we could even see Christmas decorations on people’s lawns.  The valley was remarkably flat and the roads aligned in a practically perfect grid.


Hole in the Rock

Hole in the Rock

I didn’t have to traipse far from town to experience the rugged terrain of the Sonoran Desert.  I simply headed towards Papago Park, right within the heart of Phoenix itself.  Imagine 1,500 acres of wilderness completely surrounded by suburban sprawl and that pretty much described the park.  It included a major zoo, a botanical garden filled with desert plants, miles of hiking trails, and fascinating geological features.

Hole-in-the-Rock (map) dominated the landscape, rising a couple of hundred feet above surrounding flatness.  The natural sandstone formation eroded naturally over a few million years.  Wind and water worked in concert to carve chambers in its surface, including one that cut entirely through the outcrop from one side to the other.  A sign at the trailhead explained that the ancient Hohokam culture considered this a sacred sight and tracked the position of the sun shining through the hole to mark planting seasons.  Hole-in-the-Rock served as something of a geological Stonehenge for these people.

An easy trail led to the window on the backside of the outcrop.  Most people stopped there and ventured no further.  The views of Phoenix were pretty amazing from that point.  However, feeling adventurous and probably acting younger than I should have, I had to continue up towards the summit.  I got there just fine.  Climbing back down was more challenging and a bit scarier.  Even so I managed and — since I’m able to write this — obviously I didn’t fall or injure myself.

Phoenix offered a nice counterpoint to our many days on the road.


Articles in the Cross-Country Series:

  1. The Plot Thickens
  2. Weatherford Art Thou?
  3. County Counting
  4. Zoos & Brews
  5. The Eastern Half
  6. The Western Half
  7. A Week in Phoenix
  8. Bonus!

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Cross-Country, Part 3 (County Counting)

I wanted to grab some new counties.

That basic objective served as a guidepost, the unifying premise for the trip.  We would see other things along the route and during most of a week in Phoenix, Arizona, of course.  However, make no mistake, I wanted the new counties more than anything else.  As noted earlier, the middle-southern route offered the best opportunity for the most unclaimed counties during our limited time.  It looked pretty nice on a map too.

Overview

Counties encountered during the journey. Underlying map courtesy of Mob Rule.

This route crossed through 104 counties on its nationwide path.  I’d captured 60 of them in previous drives (light blue).  The other 44 joined my personal lifetime list as brand new additions (dark blue).   Interstate highways cut a direct path, with plenty of easy captures.  I also scheduled a handful of jogs, a reroute and out-and-back to pad the total a little more.

Feel free to click on the map to see a larger image in another tab.


Jogs

I selected two jogs during the journey.  I defined a jog as an incidental out-and-back.  Ideally a jog should add only a few minutes to the overall drive time.  The easiest jog happened on Day 2 in Tennessee.  Interstate 40 passed barely a half-mile north of DeKalb County with a convenient exit at the optimal spot (map).  This capture took maybe two minutes and represented the only new capture during the eastern third of the trip.  My son took it all in stride and didn’t even raise an eyebrow.  He knew the deal.

The Collin County, Texas capture on Day 3 should have been equally convenient.  However, construction blocked the exit we needed.  Then Interstate 30 took a decidedly southern tack, moving it farther away from Collin.

We took the very next exit into the little community of Royce City and guessed at at the easiest route up to Collin Co.  We headed northeast and felt vindicated as we crossed County Line Road.  My son actually seemed to enjoy that mini-adventure and the educated orienteering.


Reroute

I decided to forego Interstate 10 as we approached Arizona, preferring to take a parallel route on much smaller U.S. Route 70 instead.  This marked our only significant departure from the Interstate highway system.  It added an hour to the overall length of our drive although the reroute allowed us to capture three out-of-the-way counties; Greenlee, Graham and Gila.

The highway rolled through rugged, empty landscape.  We entered Duncan, one of only two towns in Greenlee County.  Only a handful of people lived there and intuition told me that I shouldn’t drive even a single mile per hour above the posted speed limit.  Sure enough, the sheriff sat right behind the 25 mph sign and I passed without incident.  I didn’t see much else in Greenlee County although apparently one of the largest copper mines in the world could be found there.  The mine employed 4,000 people, or about half of the county population.

Later I drove through Safford in Graham County, a much larger town than I expected in such a remote area.  Several adjacent towns hugged the same stretch of highway, accentuating the population.  This seemed to be the only sizable community anywhere along Route 70, with a bunch of traffic lights that all seemed to be red and about every major box store imaginable.


Out-and-Back

We arrived in Phoenix as expected and poked around for several days from the rental house we used as our base.  I’ll talk about that in a future episode.  However, I still hadn’t stopped counting.  My map showed a blank space on Interstate 10 due west of Phoenix, representing the County of  La Paz.

On Sunday morning, I woke up early and drove for an hour on an empty freeway to a nondescript interchange, then looped back to Phoenix.  The entire adventure lasted about two hours and I spent less than five minutes in La Paz.  It still counted.  This would be significant a couple of days later.  Shockingly, nobody else in the family wanted to join me.

By the way, this wasn’t the farthest I’ve gone on an out-and-back. That honor probably went to Elko County, Nevada during my Utah trip a few years ago.  Altogether that one took about four hours.


Bonus Counties

Phoenix was our intended destination from the start.  However, it began to gnaw on me that we’d come so close to driving across the country without actually reaching the Pacific.  I enticed my zoo-loving son with the ultimate prize, a chance to visit the world famous San Diego Zoo.  So we added an overnight trip to San Diego onto the tail end of our Arizona adventure.  That also allowed me to capture Yuma Co., Arizona and Imperial Co., California.  With Yuma, I finished all of the Arizona counties, my first completed state west of the Mississippi River.


Articles in the Cross-Country Series:

  1. The Plot Thickens
  2. Weatherford Art Thou?
  3. County Counting
  4. Zoos & Brews
  5. The Eastern Half
  6. The Western Half
  7. A Week in Phoenix
  8. Bonus!

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr