Man, it pours.
First published 8/3/2008
Eastbound on Highway 40, just west of Ludlow, for those following at home. Just ahead were some lovely thunderheads, with that wonderful desert phenomenon of rain-that-doesn’t-reach-the-ground. At ground level, the winds were kicking up some serious dust clouds. Yet, there had to be some water in there somewhere, as one of the ground level clouds looked to have a segment of rainbow in it. We’ll know when we get there.
Dust blowing almost sideways, dust devils twitching over the ground, the sound of the paint on my car being scoured off. I so wanted to bring the other car, as Brunhilde has a trunk you could pack a pigmy mammoth in, but driving thru this stuff, I’m glad I didn’t. She’d just gotten a new paint job.
Then a raindrop. Another. Harbinger of things to come, as within minutes, I was driving thru a massive downpour. Drivers experienced in this sort of thing had their flashers on, the rest followed suit. It made sense, as flashing lights can be seen a bit better thru a wall of water. Because that’s what we had. Wind and the speed of my car blew the rain up the windshshield; never touched the wipers. Everybody slowed down, partly because we couldn’t see diddly, but also because hydroplaning was getting to be a serious issue. I was keeping an eye on the trucker behind me, as he could see the traffic flow farther than I, being higher off the ground. When he changed lanes, so did I.
Then the out-of-state wusses started pulling over to the side of the road to ride out the storm. Guys, that ain’t gonna do you no good. This storm may sit here for hours, dropping rain in this one spot. You hafta go on thru. Which I did. I let the trucker I’d been watching pass me, then tucked myself in behind. The rain was still blowing up my windshield, but now at a rate that was almost blinding.
And I’m having a great time! Just enough adrenaline rush to keep me focused, furious rain thundering on the roof and sides of the car, and the Kingston Trio’s “South Coast” playing, an appropriate song for the adventure. Poor Jim wasn’t too sure of me, as I kept laughing and saying “Wa-HOO!” every so often. He did get a touch of revenge, as he pointed out this is the kind of weather that generates flash floods. Now I’m really glad I’m behind the trucker. If he stops, you know it’s bad.
And then we broke out the other side. Rain lessened, then dribbled down to nothing, just as we passed the exit to Ludlow.
Starting out a little late
We started out three hours later than I’d planned, four hours later than the official time. Plans were to start out between 8 and 9am. By 10am, things were getting put into the car, and those last minute “OH! I need this.” was being found and packed. (Flying keeps your wants pretty much limited to your needs. Driving means there’s always one more cool thing to take along.) When it got close to lunch time, we had lunch, and then on the road.
And then back to the house because I can’t drive anywhere without my Kingston Trio CDs.
The desert is glorious!
From Barstow, Interstate 40 runs thru a chunk of the Mojave Desert, a land cut down to its bare essentials. Creosote bushes and sage dot the landscape. Mesquite trees, looking almost ephemeral with the trunks of the trees showing thru their sparse leaves, take hold along the highway where drainage gives them a bit more water. Yuccas and joshua trees take hold in areas with a bit more water. The bones of the land are seen everywhere, from the piles of rusty stones and broken lava flows from long-dead volcanic activity, to the sedimentary layers resting like hats on top of basaltic pillars. Distant pillars and mesas float on haze, seemingly unattached to the ground below. Close at hand, the road meanders in and around the landscape, maze-like in the randomness of the mesas. When vistas opened, I could see how high we’d come, driving into the mountains ahead. Often the only sign of human life is the double ribbon of US 40 stretching away into the distance.
As we come up on that last bit of mountain, I could smell water, water from the Colorado river, the lifeblood of the Southwest. Topping the mountain, the green of the valley stretched away in long rectangles, with a sprinkling of buildings scattered about. Spread before me was the thriving metropolis of Needles. Three offramps later, I’m headed for another row of mountains.
The road slides thru a cut, and there is the Colorado. Slow, narrow, obviously deep as there are no rapids. Cross the bridge, past the warning signs for those bringing in livestock, slide into the cut in the mountains on the other side. Colorado river, come and gone.
The road to Kingman is as stark in its own way as the Mojave, but on this side, it’s the stark of desert mountains. The pillars and mesas randomly scattered thru the Mojave have morphed into wind-carved sedimentary rocks in faded reds, ochers, and sands. Occassionally, the terrain widens out to a valley, with a few buildings to show that humans are stubborn enough to live anywhere.
The final climb to Kingman is steep and twisty. It passes thru some amazingly layered sediment showing the stresses the earth put on the land to build these mountains. There are pictures of one of these currently living in the camera. I’ll add them later, if they came out clear enough. There were also some tremendous thunderheads, but when we finally stopped to eat, there was a huge sign structure right smack in the middle. So you’ll just have to imaging thousands of feet of billowing cloud, lighting reaching down to strike the mountain tops.
As we pulled out of Kingman in the twilight, headed for Ash Fork, the lightning inside that thunderhead lit up the clouds like some gigantic photo studio. As we drove, lightning lit up the sky, cloud to cloud, or cloud to ground, sometimes forking down, once in an amazing s-curve on the mountain tops in front of me. Somewhere between Kingman and Seligman, the promise of rain became reality. Once again, I was driving thru a wall of water, this time in the dark. On the positive side, flashers on all the other cars were much easier to see this time. Once again, I drove on, still disturbing Jim with outbursts of “Wheee!” and “Huzzah!” and “I love Arizona.” I spent some childhood summers in Winslow, and have always loved Arizona’s thunderstorms.
By the time we got to Ash Fork, the rain had faded to the occasional splash. Turning south on Hwy 89, the rain became a steady drizzle. This wouldn’t have been too bad, except instead of having a four-lane divided highway, two in each direction, I’m now driving on a two-lane highway that often just had painted lines without reflective dots. In the rain in the dark, this meant the road markers would disappear. I kept my eye on the truck ahead of me, the center line when I could see it, and Jim kept an eye on the right side of the road to make sure I didn’t slide off that way. Earlier in the day, when it was clear to do so, I was moving at 90mph, but at this point, was happy to ride behind the truck at 65. When we finally made Prescott, the rain had stopped. It’s close on to 10pm at this point, and I told Jim we were taking the first motel we found that had a name we recognized or any kind of rating in the AAA tourist trap book. We found a Holiday Inn Express and checked in. I grabbed the bag with the medical supplies so I could redoctor Jim’s toe, said we can get clothes out tomorrow, blogged and went to bed.
I wish I had pictures of all of it. But if I’d stopped to take pictures, I’d still be on the road. I’ll see what I can do on the way home.