Destination: Barstow, CA

Jan. 21, 2011

As I happily left Flagstaff, I passed a sign on the road that said: “7200 ft Altitude. Continental Divide.” Wow, that’s high, I first thought. Then through my continuing nausea, I realized that I was having some altitude sickness. Never in my life had I been this high above sea level. And sure enough as I descended and the temperature gauge in my car went from 20 to 65, I felt better and better. NOTE to self: stay out of Flagstaff or prepare for altitude sickness.

My next destination was California! I couldn’t believe it ! I was going to make it to California! It had been a really easy trip so far, and my goal was in site!

The landscape now was surreal, mountainous, and then covered with rocks that looked like they could have only come from Mars. There were no billboards or gas stations, or even any sign of life. Just acres and acres of giant red rocks as far as the eye could see, which at times was really far. It was fascinating, fantastic, and unlike anything I had imagined I would see. This was part of the reason I had wanted to take this journey: to see things I had never seen before in my life. Now I was surrounded by it, and I kept wanting to stop, get out of the car, touch the earth, take a picture. But I had 400 miles to drive before the end of the day and I didn’t want to be driving in the dark, not through this kind of territory. It was really maddening, not to be able to just stop and sort of take it all in. Luckily there was very little traffic on this stretch of I-40, and I was able to take my time, occasionally straying out of my lane as I gawked at the landscape. Did Mother Nature create all this, or did some alien from outer space make this mess?

Animal Totems

At one point as I tooled along at 70 mph (the speed limit in every state except GA), an animal dashed across the interstate in front of me and I slammed on my brakes. A coyote! Another first! I’ve never seen one. It looked like a little blonde dog and I worried about it’s chances of crossing the other two lanes of traffic going in the opposite direction, but as I inched along staring over my shoulder, I saw it make it safely across. Like I said, there wasn’t a lot of traffic on this stretch.

This is the third time an animal has crossed my path on my journey, and now I think it must be significant. Always from right to left, directly in front of me. On the second day, amidst signs everywhere indicating “deer crossing,” a huge buck with a full rack of antlers did indeed cross directly in front of me. It was far enough ahead of me that I didn’t have to slow down to watch it, on a straight stretch of road. It gracefully galloped across the interstate and then struggled up the bank on the opposite side before it disappeared. On another day, a huge white heron floated in front of me, wide wingspan spread, like an angel saluting me, again right to left. And now this coyote, welcoming me to the wild west. A great antlered buck, a graceful white heron, and a blonde coyote…what does it mean? I am on the right path and they are watching over me.


Shortly after I saw the coyote, I was crossing a giant girded iron bridge. The bridge itself was breathtaking and I was busily looking around at it as I drove over. I love bridges, man’s architectural marvels, and I was taking in this one, comparing it to others I have seen. This was a great bridge! The wide river flowing underneath was azure, clear, and a small sign told me that it was the Colorado River! The Colorado River was rushing right underneath me! And then, out of nowhere, with no warning, a plain lettered sign stretched across this bridge: “Welcome to California.”

I was there.

I was shocked. My joy erupted. I began to scream and yell at the top of my lungs, pounding my steering wheel, grinning like a chimpanzee. I had made it to California! This went on for a while, and then I saw what I assumed was the California Welcome Center approaching. Cars were stopping and a structure stretched across the road.

But no, it wasn’t a welcome center; it was a customs stop, a border patrol if you will. A uniformed man motioned me into a lane. He then had me get out of the car, and asked a few perfunctory questions, not rudely but efficiently. I was still having my euphoric moment, and just let this be part of it. He must have wondered why I was so happy to be questioned by a California border patrolman:

“Where are you coming from?”
“Do you have any plants or animals?”
“Have you touched any plants or animals in the last 7 days?”
“Where are you headed?”
“Have a nice day.”

And that was it. I had been legally welcomed to California. I laughed. It just figured that the state of California wouldn’t waste money on a fancy welcome center where weary travelers could pee. No, instead they subjected everyone who crossed their border from any angle (and California has a lot of border) to an inquisition.

I was in California, and heading to Barstow. First I had to stop for gas. I hadn’t seen a gas station in hundreds of miles. I pulled into the first one I saw, and when I opened my car door it blew right back shut. The wind was just ferocious. I struggled out of the car, wrestling with the warm wind. A nice man came out of the office to help me and we struck up a conversation. He was intrigued by my Georgia license plate, something that would happen over and over in the coming days. Georgia was a long way away. Then I used the not-so-nice restroom and headed for Barstow.

Barstow, CA

I had now been on I-40 West for 1500 miles. Finally in Barstow, I would veer off.

I was ahead of schedule, due to the straight line I had been travelling at 70 mph, and I decided to detour to San Diego and visit some friends there. I needed to see friendly faces after so long on the road, and I knew they would be just the right faces to see.

But I was in for a surprise in Barstow. My ex (who had graciously been making all my hotel reservations, since she is the road warrior—my “sag wagon” she called it) had given me the wrong address for the Barstow hotel. I was using the GPS on my phone by now (another miraculous invention that made this whole trip SO MUCH easier) and the hotel it took me to in Barstow was such a dive that I didn’t even get out of the car. But, minor problem—I just called my ex and had her give me the correct address, which turned out to be several more miles away. I would NEVER have found it without the GPS. God bless every GPS satellite in the sky.

I was tired, irritated with my ex for screwing up the address, and again driving directly into the brutal western sun when I finally got to the correct hotel, which was not a Hampton Inn for the first time on my trip. It was a Comfort Suites.

This didn’t start out well and then the clerk was this young little idiot with a terrible cold, which I’m sure she gave to every guest who checked in that evening when she handed out the room keys. She was incredibly rude and insisted that we had just cancelled the reservation, when in fact all my ex had done was called and asked for directions, and then asked for the cancellation policy. After a few moments of standoff, when age and experience (mine) won out, I was finally heading to my Barstow hotel room.

Hotel Review: Comfort Suites, Barstow, CA

The room was right off the elevator, again. Dang, I hate that. But what I didn’t know was that the doors in this hotel were of such superior quality that I would never hear anything outside of it.

The room was HUGE and as I did my walk through, I was in for a big surprise: it had a jacuzzi tub. Not just a big tub with jets but an honest to god, hot tub jacuzzi in the biggest bathroom I have ever seen. It even had a full tub and shower in addition to the jacuzzi tub. I don’t know how I ranked this but it was wonderful. The water was HOT, the towels were fluffy, and the bed was divine with starched, 300 count linens. I was removing the pillowcases to see what kind of wonderful pillows these were, when my ex called and I gave her the room report. All was forgiven. Flat screen wall mounted TV with hundreds of channels (and MSNBC!). A comfortable sofa, a walkin closet. A sink, fridge, and microwave. I realized that if I could find an apartment in San Francisco as nice as this I would be very HAPPY. And the cost for all this? Only $114 including taxes.

The best fitness center, the best breakfast, the best room. For my first night in California. And checkout wasn’t until noon; that’s when I checked out.

Grade: A (lost points for the rude reception)

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