It's always odd leaving from Primm, because you're in the middle of the desert (literally) and so expect it to be hot, but not only is it not -- I'm particularly talking about the morning, when I leave -- but it's often been nippy. I don't mean nippy by "And this is the desert" standards, I mean...one year there was frost covering all my car's windows and I had to scrape it off and then defrost them.
It always can get chilly in the evenings (when I head out to the Mad Greek for dinner), but even beginning in the late afternoon. Yesterday, the afternoon was fine -- quite comfortable, in fact -- but one year was blistering, and (not expecting it and having left my jacket in the trunk), there was a lot of fast running-around.
Mind you, I don't mean to compare this to sub-zero Chicago winters, or the blizzards hitting the east. But most especially when you're in the desert and aren't acclimated to the cold, frost-weather does come as quite a nippy surprise.
The drive back was fine. The first part through the California foothills is fairly nice (it's a bit dull for the first half hour, but then picks up), but driving through Victorville is unappealing and the first heads-up that you're gong to leave the desert behind pretty soon. And then the last 45 minutes is pretty annoying. You've left pure nature behind, traffic almost suddenly becomes crowded, and the "architecture" of encroaching civilization is fairly disorganized, almost like it wants to be somewhere, but they couldn't figure it out and so threw a bunch of buildings and unrelenting billboards down at random. At that point, you just can't wait to get home. Only near the end, though even more crowded, is there at least a sense of "place." That's not saying a lot, but happily it's enough.
There's one point on the trip after Victorville, though, that's absolutely gorgeous -- though for years terrified me. That's the area of the El Cajon Pass. You're pretty high up in the foothills and make your very-winding descent down. And sometimes if you're lucky (or not, depending on your perspective) you're near a low-hanging cloud cover.
Here are a couple of pictures I took my year after finishing grad school at UCLA. I'd gone back home for the summer and then drove back from Chicago to start my post-grad life in Los Angeles. When I hit the Pass, I was so taken that I pulled far off to the side and took a couple of photos. These don't do it justice, but will have to do, if only for the "historic" factor. Keep in mind that these were before digital photos, I had a cheesy little camera, the pictures faded after years, gathered some dust and then got digitized.
And then turning back a bit and to the left, you'll see what I meant by the low-hanging cloud cover. When I say "low-hanging," I actually meant it...
A close second in the Utterly Terrifying category (and when I think about it, it sometimes nudges into first place) is when I did the drive at night. Again, remember, this is very winding. And also, I have night blindness. I can see, but not great, and my depth perception is off. So, I tend to try to remember to wear glasses in the dark. It's far better. Though I don't always remember. And I didn't on this trip. I hadn't factored in the El Cajon Pass -- and drivers whizzing along at 70 MPH. And this was before the "Rain Trip," so I hadn't factored in the slow lane, either and was in the middle. I swear to you that I was frozen in my seat. My arms stiff, hands vice-like gripping to the wheel, my jaw and teeth clenched and heart palpitating all the way down (it takes a couple of minutes). Unable (or more a case of unwilling) to look over my shoulder to get in the right lane and slow down. It was horrific. And it was the last time I made the trip at night.
What I did do, though, is mark down exactly how many miles it is to get to the El Cajon Pass from Primm. (It's 155 miles, for those keep score.) And now, when I reach about the 152 mile mark, I begin to get in the right, slow lane with all the trucks and calmly plod along at around 40 MPH surrounded by my trucker buddies -- as the cars to our left zooooom past at 70 MPH. Even still, when you're out of the Pass and the ground levels out, it's one of more pacific and beatific moments of driving that I have, anywhere.
Alas, I really can't find a picture online to do it justice, but this is the closest I can get --
And then he decompressed...