Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Great Southwest Trip - Las Vegas and Mojave

My breakfast this morning was I-15 between St. George and Mesquite. Who needs caffeine with a road like this? If you don't know this stretch of heaven, it's high-speed canyon carving at its best!

While today wasn't filled with eye-popping scenery like the last few days, it still had its moments. I left St. George at 7:15 AM PDT (since I'd be spending most of the day in that time zone) and headed down I-15 and was immediately rewarded by the above-mentioned stretch of road (yeehaw!). From there it was all down hill, literally and figuratively. The scenery quickly became drab tan as far as the eye could see, and as I came around one curve, Las Vegas lay below me, a tan-colored city draped in a tan haze.

Traffic through the city on I-15 and I-515 was hectic, as cars zig-zagged lanes to dodge the slower-moving 18-wheelers, of which there were many. Things loosened up as I got south, and became reasonable as I neared Boulder City, that cappuccino/latte tourist mecca just west of Hoover Dam. I feared that I had somehow missed the Lake Mead NRA Visitor Center and would end up going across the dam which I did not want to do, so stopped for gas and asked the attendant, who was clueless. I rode next door to a Best Western, and the desk clerk gave me excellent directions.

The road heads downhill quickly and Lake Mead came into view in front of me. I found the visitor center, got my stamp and left just as a tour bus disgorged its German-speaking contents into the parking lot. First of two missions accomplished.

Now to head toward the second mission of the day: Mojave Desert and Kelso Depot. I
backtracked on I-515 to I-215 west to pick up I-15 on the far side of Las Vegas. I could be charitable and say that the ride was interesting, but I'd be lying. All I could do was just keep the throttle open and get it over with. The temperatures were surprisingly comfortable at the higher elevations and I stayed cool all the way to Cima Road, my north entrance to Mojave Desert National Preserve.

This area of the Mojave is a veritable Joshua Tree forest! There were many fantastic mature specimens of this odd-looking tree right next to the road, where I could get a good look at them. The road was gently undulating, with modest changes of altitude. Far off in the distance all around me I could see jagged mountain peaks, and as the road took me higher, I began to see large rock outcroppings on the desert floor.

The road went on seemingly forever. It intersected with another road and the sign pointed to the right to Kelso, so I headed that way, but in the back of my mind I was second-guessing this route. After what seemed to be an eternity, I could see something way off in the distance. Perspective is distorted with desert horizons and the "something" seemed to be out there forever!

Finally I'd arrived at Kelso Depot, I got my passport stamped, and my second mission of the day is accomplished. The parking lot at Kelso Depot is gravel and there's much loose gravel kicked out onto the narrow roadway. As I exited the parking lot, I could feel the gravel squirting out from beneath my rear tire, a disconcerting feeling when you're out there in the middle of nowhere and there's no one else around. The remaining 18 miles of desolate desert seemed like an eternity. I could not get to I-40 fast enough as anxiety began to overtake my enjoyment of this part of the trip.

My plan was to continue straight another 50 or so miles to the northern entrance of Joshua Tree National Park, but it was starting to get hot and my anxious feelings were not abating. Therefore, when the entrance ramp to I-40 beckoned me, I obeyed. Those feelings of desolation, even slight dread, finally abated when I arrived at Needles CA for gas and some lunch.

The road gains altitude again as it heads north and east into AZ and the temperatures began to drop noticeably. I'd opened all of the vents on my jacket and by the time I reached Seligman AZ, I had to zip everything up, put on my jacket liner and change my gloves from mesh to solid leather. Another 40 miles east of Seligman, I decided to stop for the night at Williams AZ. I'm just 2 days' ride from home, now.

Aside from 20 minutes of bliss on I-15, this was a utilitarian day, one in which I got the much-needed CA national park stamp to get an IBA silver NPT, and added NV to the list of states. Tomorrow night, if all goes well, I should be in Amarillo TX.

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