The Road To San Diego

Some of the strangest mountains I've ever seen on I-8 in Southern California. They erode into piles of boulders that almost look like construction debris.

I've wanted to visit San Diego since I was in elementary school, which was so long ago it almost seems like it happened to someone else. San Diego has a reputation as a city with perfect weather year round, long beaches on the Pacific Coast, towering sea cliffs, and plenty of culture. I made plans for much needed time off and a road trip. Having been there, I can't entirely confirm the "perfect weather," but it is remarkable that the daily low and high temperatures hardly varied while I was in town, day or night, five degrees difference Fahrenheit, about 2 degrees Celsius. Incredible. But this is less true the farther inland you travel.

The drive itself proved to be interesting. I covered hundreds of miles of territory that was "new to me." I grew up in North Central Indiana until I turned 16, at which time I moved to the Southeast. After that, the story complicates, but suffice it to say that I've never seen such diversity of climate and landscape as I did on the drive from my home in Flagstaff to San Diego. It's an amazing landscape, though severe in places.

Dry, really dry, very extremely dry mountains from some rest area on I-8.

The shortest route from Flagstaff to San Diego travels south around the west side of Phoenix into Southern Arizona, onto Interstate 8, then along the Mexican border. It passes through a part of Arizona I'd never seen. The drive starts with classic Sonoran desert with saguaro cacti. Some of the areas are severely dry, though there is some irrigated agriculture. As always in the basin and range region, the highways usually pass through broad, flat valleys with mountain ranges in the distance.

When you reach Yuma, things green up as the Colorado river valley is farmed, but you can see the desert is extremely dry there without irrigation. I thought I would see Joshua Trees but didn't notice any. The most notable thing I have to say about this area is that Yuma is a larger town than I thought it was, which is not to say it is large.

After you cross into California there is an erg (a sea of dunes); beautiful, impressive.

Massive dune field ahead.

You have to stop at a checkpoint a couple of miles into the state. Why do they do that? They didn't search my car but just waved me on through. After a few miles, there was another checkpoint run by the Border Patrol, which makes more sense. They waved me through there too. I assume they are looking for people who look Latin American, or perhaps just vehicles with an unusual number of people in them, as this seems to be a common practice of human smugglers.

After a while you drive out of the Colorado Desert (as the dry areas are called near the Colorado River), and enter agricultural areas that are recognizable from a thousand movies and TV shows filmed in the area over a hundred years. It's a region of small towns, green fields, irrigation ditches, and water towers. Then you go back into a deep rain shadow of the Peninsular Ranges as you approach the coast. Some of the mountains there are among the driest, most desolate places I have ever seen, rivaling even Death Valley. Yet you crest out over 4000 feet above sea level in the mountains before beginning the descent to the coast.

I was in greater San Diego before I realize it. There are expensive homes in high mountain valleys as you approach the city. Some of these have flowing streams and pine trees. As I approach the coast, I could see a strange cloud bank that I realized might mark the beaches. This proved to be true.

I finally dropped down onto a coastal plain just three or four miles from my vacation rental. One of the most surprising things about San Diego is that the terrain is mostly hilly to mountainous. For some reason I didn't expect that. Only areas right along the coast are flat, and even then not all of the coast is flat. I will write about sea cliffs in a later entry.

On the whole, the drive was interesting, but kind of oppressive in places. I have several friends who say desert is more beautiful than forest, but I prefer forest. Parts of the Sonoran Desert are beautiful and team with life for 6 months out of the year, but the Colorado Desert conveys a sense of emptiness, thirst, and desolation.


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