Thursday, November 04, 2010

Ghost Real Estate

I think we both slept better in Barstow, due in no small part to not being freezing cold all night. Since we'd gone to bed early we both woke up fairly early and after consulting the internet on various important issues, packed up and said good-bye to the tiny little pool. We were bound -- for IHOP!

Theo had the evening previous stated that he wanted a real breakfast, not Sara's 'eat something, whatever, come-on, let's go!' routine. Our choices in Barstow and the surrounding area seemed to be between Denny's and IHOP so -- there we went to enjoy pancakes and hashbrowns. Theo got a crepe with fresh fruit, one of the few non-fried things he'd had in the past few days.

Next we got onto the 58 freeway and started out for California City. The sky was dark and ominous in most directions, and we saw lightening in the distance. There really wasn't much else to see except for broken old houses doing imitations of Stone Henge.

We came upon California City boulevard and turned right, traveling through more nothing. Another ten minutes and we'd reached our ultimate goal.

California City was strange. Very strange. We'd read about it in an article some month's ago and both been determined to come out and see the endless empty lots that made up the third largest city in CA -- geographically. At first all we saw was the actual city -- but something wasn't quite right. Street signs marked streets that weren't there. There were strange, double, one-way streets and we made a wrong turn and went down one going the wrong way, not that it mattered because no one was there. At one point in the middle of the city, only a dozen yards from a Rite Aid, we drove around a winding street with dead-ended off shoots, ending in a circular spot of asphalt. There were no buildings being served by this road.

We got out to the edge of town and found the lots. Debris and motorcycle tracks littered the ground. Weeds had forced their way up through the cracked roads that led past dozens and dozens of empty real estate signs. Others still sat in the weeds, hopeful that maybe someone would be interested in some local property. Strange metal pipes stuck up at even intervals and we found a fire-hydrant parked out in nowhere. Here and there we caught sight of houses and trailers without any nearby neighbors.

I looked at Theo and around where we stood and knew these empty lots went on and on and on. It was strange, and surreal. I dubbed it standing amidst ruins that had never come to be. Really, it was the ruins of one mans fantasy. We'd come out here to look at nothing, and it was pretty creepy.

After a little while we'd had enough, and got back onto one of the main roads to take us out. Even out here we caught sight of a few more strange, endless roads going nowhere and some of the strange, naive charm of California City. We drove on out through all the empty lots.

After that we made a pretty straight/circuitous trip back home. We'd talked about going through Angeles National Forest but it was raining so hard and we were pretty tired, so we took the 14 down to the Los Angeles Area, and were home in time for a sushi lunch.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Happiest Ghost Town on Earth

Theo and I spent the night miserably shivering under our thin sheets, each worried about shutting off the air conditioning and bothering the other person. We got some sleep, but not of the highest quality.

Since we'd gone to bed early, we got up fairly early anyway. We packed up and set out, driving through Needles on our way out. There were some quaint leftovers of time gone past, and to add to the atmosphere, trains going by. But in the end there wasn't a whole lot to see, and we got on the freeway.

After a few minutes on the 40 and then the 95, we got ourselves onto historic Route 66. If I'd ever been on this road, I don't remember. The first part of the road wasn't so bad, with parts that had been recently paved. There weren't too many other people driving it, so we slowed down and took pictures of the ghost-houses and structures that we'd pass from time to time. When we couldn't see any signs of life in the area we questioned the even meager population count of a few of the signs.

I have a soft spot for modern ruins, and they kept the desert interesting.

We stopped at Roy's Motel Cafe in Amboy and filled up. According to wikipedia Amboy has a population somewhere between 4 and 8, and we saw a few lively looking palm trees in the area. At the cafe we each picked up an unabashedly tourist, and amusing, Route Beer, as a souvenir from our trip.

Next stop was the Amboy Crater. In theory we could go climb it. But it was hot, and the two Ravens hovering nearby were looking a little too eager. We got back into the car and traveled further along.

Next stop was Calico. I didn't have high expectations for Calico. I'd read up and knew that most of it was reproductions build by Walter Knott (of Knott's berry farm). We paid our fee and walked up the paved road through the scattering of shack like buildings, and since we were hungry, went to the restaurant. We sat outside swatting flies, and when I saw the little train go by, I pretty much knew that my low expectations would be met.

I don't want to be mean to the theme-park like ghost town. For certain people, those who are actually afraid of ghost towns, and those that need to entertain small children, Calico might be just right. But it was cute. And I don't like my ghost towns cute. I want to be creeped out. And having already been to Bodie, which I would return to in a heartbeat, Calico didn't have great chances of usurping it's place in my heart anyway.

But the food was very good, though we worried about what it would do to our insides. After wards we made a brief trek through the little town, but didn't linger too long. We noted with amusement that we seemed to be the only people who spoke english, a majority of the visitors were from tour buses.

Luckily the car wasn't too boiling hot when we got inside and headed for Barstow. It was still early afternoon but we decided to take it easy. Theo had been talking about taking a dip in the swimming pool, but two things got in the way of that. One, it was the size of an enlarged kiddy pool. Two, it's location as centerpiece to the parking lot.

Still, we decided to go in anyway. But Theo's days of gleefully jumping into frigidly cold water are apparently over, and he daintily sat with his feet in the water for a few minutes. I made it up to my belly. We'd had enough.

We relaxed for the rest of afternoon, knitting and listening to Penny Arcade's D&D podcasts, letting our legs relax. Though somewhat traumatized by the heavy meals we'd indulged in, Barstow didn't have a lot to offer in the way of light, salad dining. We opted to go to a local place well-reviewed on Yelp, Lola's Kitchen. After feasting on delicious and cheap tacos and quesadillas, we went back to the hotel to take it easy for the rest of the evening.

We made a vow that if either of us were freezing in the night, they were allowed to turn the air conditioning off.

Monday, October 25, 2010

It's a Long Way to Needles...

We set out about a half an hour later than we'd meant to, owed in part to Theo sleeping in and me not being prepared at all and still recovering from the surreal experience of my High School Reunion the night before. In Santa Monica the air was thick with fog, damp and cold and atmospheric. As we made our way east on the 10, the mist thickened into rain here and there, and the dense fog took out buildings and made the sky ominous.

When we got far enough east we broke free of the gloom and the sun hit us. We stared at the wind farms, entranced by the spinning blades, and missed our exit to get onto the 62.

Realizing this about 10 minutes later we turned around and stopped at a nearby In-N-Out for the traditional road-trip lunch. We got back on the road, admired the wind farm again, and got onto the 62. A few little towns lined the road, and I wasn't entirely certain whether we were seeing towns trying to be quaint, or actual quaintness. I suspected the latter. Theo and I also discussed living in the desert -- something he could imagine doing and I had little interest in.

Nervous and over-eager after his failure to get us onto the 62, Theo attempted to take us to the Joshua Tree Memorial Lawn, thinking it was the entrance to the actual park. Not interested in viewing the cemetery, I stopped him before we could actually turn in and we made the correct turn a few minutes later.

Per our discussion earlier, I dreaded getting out of the car and into the hot sun a little. But when we stepped outside I got a pleasant surprise -- cloud cover. The sky was a beautiful shade of dark blue that photographs fantastically, and thin sheets of clouds kept the sun from searing our skin. We stopped a few times at different pull offs before making the commitment to hike at Hidden Valley, an easy 1 mile hike with little grade. I admired the colors of the foliage and the blue of the sky. The rocks and rock-climbers were kind of interesting too -- but I've never been a big rock person.

As we came back towards the beginning a large, dark form broke free from some bushes to our left.

Theo was both interested and terrified, and once I pointed it out to nearby travelers the tarantula had a whole group of admirers taking it's photo. Satisfied with a few photos taken at a distance, Theo and I moved on. We paused, and were confused by, the Wonderland of Rocks. Which looked a lot like the other rocks we had seen. So we continued on to Barker Dam. Signposts along the way were a little less than helpful, but we made it to the mostly-dry dam anyway.

I took a few scenic shots. Further on we found the petroglyphs, and a pair of hikers who were sitting in them and ruining most photo-ops.

We got back to the car and hit the road again. After a brief, exciting section of unpaved road we were at the exit and back out on the 62. And we hit the most desolate road in CA.

We put on the Penny-Arcade D&D podcasts, I pulled out my knitting, and for a long time we drove through empty desert. We saw a lot more people heading in the other direction -- maybe going home after a weekend in Vegas? And the sun set over the brittle, desert mountains, turning them pink. After a few hours we were in Needles, and at our hotel. The man who checked me directed me to the two dinner options in the area -- Mexican or Dominoes.

After leaving our stuff in the spacious but nondescript room we went out to the Mexican place. In a previous life it might have belonged to a fast-food chain. Guessing that the ambiance inside wouldn't be much, we hit the drive through and both got cheese enchiladas and orange drinks. Theo explained to me how during his traveling days he drank mostly water to be cheap, but treated himself to orange fanta on occasion. To this day Orange fanta is his travel drink.

At our hotel we dug into cheap, saucy Mexican food and enjoyed it. We lay across our beds, watched some Better Off Ted, and went to sleep around 9:30pm with some sheepishness, the roar of the AC loud even to my hearing-impaired ears.