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
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).
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
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.
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:
- The Plot Thickens
- Weatherford Art Thou?
- County Counting
- Zoos & Brews
- The Eastern Half
- The Western Half
- A Week in Phoenix
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr