24.12.2012 - 26.12.2012 24 °C
I have no desire to make this trip one of speeding down Interstates: I don't think I am being unduly uncharitable in thinking that they tend to be lacking in delight and surprise. So, when it came time to leave Palm Springs, I headed for the hills, Route 74 and had a wonderful day, full of surprise and delight. Locally, this is called the Palms to Pines Highway: I'm not sure what it says about Desert Springs or Tripadvisor users, but they have voted it the third best local attraction. At the bottom, a sign warned it was an 11 mile climb although ultimately the altitude reached was only about 5000 feet. I had to stop several times to look back as I climbed
Even in the cheapest car in America, it was an exhilarating drive. Eventually, the road crested into an Indian reservation and then a mixture of ranching and forestry. The outlook was beautiful, made more so by the fact I was in the clouds.
I took a small side-trip further up to a wee town called Idyllwild in amongst the trees.
It was high enough for there to be traces of recent snow. When I was in San Diego, I had wanted to go to a historic hill town called Julian but without a car found it very awkward: it just so happened that it was right on my path: although small, it had a nice feel to it, with a cider maker and several cafes selling locally made apple pie.
I might have stayed, but for the facts that I didn't want to get stuck in snow and most shops and cafes were already closed for Christmas. I couldn't even get any apple pie: the one place still open had a lengthy queue. I did, however, accidentally have lunch: I'd noticed quite a few people coming in and out of this building
but it had no sign of any sort so I had to go in and find out, where I was accosted by a charming waitress and made to sit down and eat spaghetti at Romanos.
Here are some random shots taken as I drove on
Somehow, something went wrong when I left Julian: my GPS had told me to take a certain road and to expect a certain town after a certain number of miles: I never saw that town (no towns, in fact) and my GPS crapped out, so I couldn't work out where I was. Eventually, the road I was on came to an end and the signs gave choices that I didn't recognize. Now, I've read quite a lot about how people here hate the fact that there are so many border control checkpoints so far inside America, but this one was a life-saver (not that I knew what it was when I encountered it - I actually thought I had got so off course that I had hit the Mexican border). Here I was using their spotlights to look at my map to try to make sense of the roads: the lights went off and a gruff sort of fellow came over to see what I was up to.
And thus, well after dark and still without a clue what the Salton Sea looks like, I was in Yuma. I came here for two reasons: the movie 3:10 to Yuma had made me curious as to where it was and I'd heard it was a kind of poor man's Palm Springs (which probably explains the mile long stretch of RV parks at each entry point). First impressions were not good: just a strip fast food outlets and cheap motels with a few small shopping plazas.
Second impressions were not good either: just a huge mall covering a couple of blocks. But I picked up on a few references to the historic downtown area and thought I would go explore: I found a coherent town centre, although (sadly) one which is no longer the centre of town life.
Many of the shops were closed down, although there were signs of a lot of Government money being spent here: a fancy City Hall building,
a new Courthouse being built and an extensive development of a park on the riverfront. This river (the Colorado) is in fact the reason for Yuma being here: early efforts to create a coast to coast road and railway were thwarted by the river, but at Yuma they finally found a spot where it could be bridged (although the first couple of efforts were no match for the river). They eventually managed to build a bridge that wasn't washed away and that is now rather grandiosely called the Ocean to Ocean bridge.
Now, everyone who knows anything about America knows about Route 66, but I reckon Route 80, which is the one which crossed this bridge, has just as valid a claim to fame: it stitched together a number of roads but as a result was the first trans-continental road. Most of it has been buried under the Interstate system (I-10 in particular), but I have resolved to make use of US80 wherever it still exists (I've found a huge amount of information on the internet about it).
Anyway, back to downtown Yuma. Because I'm here thanks to a train, I went in search of the railway station: it was such a disappointment, I haven't even taken a photo of it. I did find a locomotive parked up, from the Southern Pacific Railway system
and I found some cool looking old hotels that have closed down along with downtown: here's the Hotel del Sol, directly opposite the railway station
Just down the road, there was one functioning hotel, although it seemed to cater more to permanents than to travelers
I actually spent Christmas evening and much of the next morning in the downtown area. The cinema was still functioning, so I watched a fairly forgettable comedy called This is 40, then had dinner at the Mad Chef's diner around the corner (it had been busy earlier in the day, but by the time I got there, it was deserted, so I had Christmas dinner in splendid isolation (which made up for the jam-packed Coco's I had lunch at)
As I wandered, I gained a real sense of history (and a feeling that it would be interesting to come here to live). Here are some of the sights I saw:
Adobe had originally been a favored building material, but there was a big flood in 1906 (water and adobe don't mix too well) after which they were banned in this area (the ones that remain were on higher ground).
The main public library is one thing they have not spent big money on redeveloping in downtown: instead, they have spent big money on building it out of town - it had a market garden out the front! Weird location but a really lovely library, and I was able to pick up a copy of the Hobbit for a quarter!
I was, once again, conned into going to a restaurant without realizing it was a chain, this time a barbecue joint called Famous Dave's, although I could tell as soon as I went in. Luckily the food was pretty good and excellent value
I was perversely amused by this sign
Mexico is just the other side of this fence