To San Diego and up the Coast

It's 6:00 AM on a June 1998 morning and we're loaded for departure. There are only three of us so far. This is cool! We pull out with a great sunrise. There are lots of gold and pink clouds in a blue sky. We have to jog over to Speedway to get on I-10 due to construction on Congress. Some dark, isolated clouds are hanging over the Catalinas with just a trace of a rainbow on top of them.

They've put some nice southwest motif murals and fancy ironwork on the Miracle Mile underpass. This is where AZ-77, which is the scenic route from Phoenix, ends. I-10 north of Tucson is signed as the Pearl Harbor Memorial Highway. There are neat, green fields in the Avra Valley but in the next field is brown desert scrub. Just before the exit to the Casa Grande ruins there is a patrol car in the median. The driver said he is always there. Not a big surprise, I guess.

We have a quick coffee stop at the K-Mart truck stop in Casa Grande just before I-8 goes west from I-10 to San Diego. The bus always goes up to Phoenix first and back down to I-8 by way of I-10 and AZ-85. We get to Phoenix at 7:30 AM and rush hour. We move along in the HOV lane but then have to cross four lanes of bumper to bumper traffic to get to exit 153A, AZ-143 north, and then exit 3B to AZ-202 (the 202 Loop sign is brown) and Sky Harbor Airport. A quick stop at the airport and then another mile to the Phoenix bus station.

At 8:30 AM we board the bus to San Diego. The bus isn't very full, just comfortable. We head out west on Buckeye Road and then onto I-10 east and I-17 north and finally onto I-10 west. The sides of the freeways are nicely landscaped. Why not? That's all of Phoenix that a lot of travellers see. The crews are out picking up trash before it gets too hot.

We take exit 134 to Tolleson, and go south on 91st Avenue to Van Buren. We enter Tolleson where we stop at the B&B Accounting and Tax Service. We go north on 99th Avenue to I-10. The irrigation ditches keep the fields green next to the brown desert. The CAP water comes through here and what hasn't evaporated in the heat grows Arizona crops. It's a mixture of manufacturing, new houses and farms as we head out of town.

We cruise along the interstate till we reach exit 114 and head south on Miller Road for four miles through fields to Buckeye. We drive past new ranchettes and old farm houses. It looks like corn in the fields but I didn't realize we could grown corn here. . . maybe with enough irrigation. The houses in Buckeye are the older, small town houses. We stop by a little pocket park at the bus stop.

We leave on Monroe and go east to AZ-85, passing old trailers and faded industrial plants. On AZ-85 we head south toward the Maricopa Mountains. To the southwest are the Gila Mountains. This is a well maintained two lane which gets plenty of traffic. We cross the Gila River, which actually has water. We go through rolling hills with grown and gold grass and scrub and a few saguaros. We have a nice view of the mountains off to our right. This would be quite rugged to walk through.

We pass the entrance to the Buckeye Hills Recreational Area. To our left is a large regional land fill and then, to our right, a new prison is being built. It looks empty but there is a lot of activity among the hills and Phoenix is impacting the area already. It is still beautiful. The green and gold of the plain stretes away to the brown of the closer hills and then the dark blue of the mountains, fading to the misty blue of the mountains on the horizon. There is an occasional suggestion of a butte or mesa.

We come into Gila Bend past old stucco houses and aluminum roofed arehouses. Shabby motels with palm trees and pools that were left in the backwater when I-8 came through. We drive south on Pima Street and stop at a Circle K. This is the I-8 cutoff that many people use to avoid taking I-10 through Phoenix.

We head west of I-8 through a very flat plain with fields and desert intermixed and mountains on all sides. People who consider the desert southwest to be featureless and flat must have either never been here are driven through with their eyes closed. Everywhere there are the mountains rising up from the plains. The basin and range area according to geologists. On top of the mountains are often unusual species that have been separated from their cousins on another mountain long enough to have large differences.

Our next stop is the Dateland Mini Mart. A couple people are waiting there to get on. There are acres of dates along this route thanks, again, to irrigation. We start climbing soon in order to cross Telegraph Pass. South of Telegraph Pass are the Tinajas Altas Mountains. I notice in the atlas they are called the Tinajas Atlas Mountains. Tinajas means tanks and pools were scooped out of the rocks on the east side that held water for long periods after rains and attracted people traveling through this very arid area. They are estimated to hold 22,000 gallons of water when full.

The archeologists have found artifacts from some of the prehistoric tribes, and some petroglyphs and cave paintings. There are also finds from the Spanish and Americans that walked across this area. This is on BLM land and within the bombing range for the air force, and though I understand that you don't really get bombed in this area, you are required to get a permit and it is dirt roads only.

The bus is following the same route, the Gila Trail, that the army took when they first went overland to California after the United States got southern Arizona from Mexico. The Morman Battalion came this way and they were followed by the stagecoaches and the railroads. They all came across the same general route that is now I-10 through New Mexico and Arizona, with a swing south and back north to Tucson, then a swing up to the Gila River which they followed to the Colorado River. Before the Americans took over this area it was traversed by the Spanish priests who not only set up churches that are still standing, and in use, but were probably the first europeans to make the overland trip from Arizona to California.

After the second world war the soldiers that had been stationed in the southwest came back having decided that they really didn't want to go back to the snow. People have attempted to use camels and now they're raising ostriches.

We have to climb over Telegraph Pass and then down to Yuma and the Colorado River. The pass isn't very high but the Gila Mountains that we go over are very rugged and rocky with no water, that I can see. I wonder how the early travelers made it through without paved roads and motorized transit. We pass irrigated fields and industrial buildings selling farm equipment. We stop at the Greyhound station and our driver is in a bit of a snit. He hasn't been happy all day but he gets very testy now and everyone just rolls their eyes.

The old territorial prison and the Yuma crossing are off to our right as we come up to the river. My daughter and I went through it a few years ago and it is a very interesting place to visit. I shudder at the idea of being an inmate, though. This was a major crossing for the Colorado River and the reason for Yuma. Around the end of February each year there is a celebration called Yuma Crossing Day and for a weekend they have special tours of the town, the prison and the river. All the museums from the Quetchan Tribal Museum to the Arizona Historical Society have special exhibits, dancers, tours and just fun. My daughter hit Yuma on the crossing weekend a few years ago by accident and had a great time.

We go over the Colorado River into California and continue on I-8 to the inspection station. We get waved through even though I know people have fruit on the bus. When you are in a car they at least ask you, even if they never actually look through your car.

The land starts to get sandier and we see the Algodones dunes looking creamy on the horizon. They look beautiful against the sky, so clean and white. One day I'm going to stop and walk in the dunes. It seems like there is always someplace to go and I've never stopped.

There's road work (there is always road work) and we get pushed over till we are on the ridges, which make noise, which is very annoying. I can certainly see how it would wake someone up. At least we're better off than the first auto travelers who used a plank road that had to constantly be moved to keep from being covered by the sand.

We take CA-98 west to Calexico. It's a narrow two lane for 27 miles. I always enjoy it when the bus goes off the interstates. We're in the Imperial Valley with 100's of miles of irrigated fields. From Calexico north past the Salton Sea, much of the land is below sea level, and can be miserably hot in the summer. I'm glad we're in an airconditioned bus. El Centro is 50 ft below sea level. Just north of Calexico is a sign saying it's sea level.

We come into Calexico which has an amazing number of very nice new homes on the outskirts. We wind our way through town to 1st Street which runs right along the border. This is a typical border town, rather scruffy and dirty and the people look rather unsavoury, probably because most of them are so poor.

The bus station is full, as are all the bus stations along the Mexican border. From the front of the station you look right at the border crossing, which very impressive and official looking. The road from here goes down the east side of Baja California, along the gulf side. This is a lunch stop and we all try to get a burger before we leave. You rarely have a whole hour so I prefer to get my lunch and eat it on the bus. One of the pluses of intercity bus travel is that they don't mind you eating on the bus.

We leave Calexico on CA-111 heading north to I-8 where we head west for a short distance till we get off on CA-86 to go into El Centro and pick up some passengers. There's a hooker in full regalia hanging out just outside of the bus station. She's very young and it's sad especially since she looks more pathetic than sexy on a hot June afternoon.

When we leave the irrigated section of the valley there's a sharp change to dry and brown. Soon we're into the rolling hills and and the mountains get closer. We go over Mountain Spring pass just west of Ocotillo and pass just south of Anza Borrego State Park. Soon we start climbing and winding up to the summit of the Sierras at Laguna Junction. We pass massive rock piles as we go through the foothills. The interstate is split here and we can see the east bound lane following a separate route.

The desert scrub slowly gives way to grass and everything gets greener as we come out of the rain shadow. By the time we reach the summit we're into alpine vegetation with some desert plants still around. It's so nice to see flowers all over. This is a beautiful area. It's hazy and foggy as we come down. I've always loved riding through fog.

At El Cajon we go into the transit center. This also serves the city buses and the trolley. The driver is still in a foul mood and won't let one of the passengers get his luggage off here so he won't have to go into San Diego, and I can't take any pictures.

Our next stop is San Diego. It's a nice station and right across the street from the San Diego Transit store so I just have time to get some local bus schedules and a pass before it closes. I catch the city bus #23 out to the Point Loma hostel. I have to walk about a block from the bus to the hostel and am ready to rest once I'm there.

The hostel is very nice and clean. It has good security and a bright, large kitchen with plenty of tables to sit at. The rooms and bathrooms are very clean. This one definitely will get a return trip. It's in a nice residential area and not too far from the ocean. A supermarket is a block away, on the street where you get off the bus. They have bikes you can use which would make a nice way to see the area. They have pay computer terminals. They are about what you would pay at a cybercafe. The manager said there was a library about a block away and she thought they had terminals you could use there but didn't know if it was just email or also internet access.

I am awake the next morning at 5:00 and up at 5:30. I sneak out of my room so I won't wake my roomie. At least the common rooms are open, which isn't the case in many hostels, so I have breakfast and then go for a walk. I went west on Voltaire till I could see the ocean. I consider taking bus #29 down to Cabrillo Point but decided I wanted to get an early start up the coast.

The manager arrived a little before 8:00 and I caught bus #35 to Old Town and got the the Old Town Transit Center at 8:10. Its great. The buses are arriving to take people to work and next to them is the trolley and the coaster and the Amtrak just blew by making me jump when it blew it's horn.

It's a beautiful ride up the coast. We follow West Mission Bay Drive to Mission Beach and then Mission Boulevard and La Jolla Boulevard to La Jolla. I wasn't paying attention and got on the the bus that only goes to La Jolla, so I had to get off and wait for the next bus which was a nice stop as I had time to walk around La Jolla a little. The next bus then took me past Scripps Institutution of Oceanography, by the VA hospital and, finally to University Towne Centre.

I took a quick walk through the mall and then caught bus #301 up to Oceanside. We backtrack through the VA Hospital where several people got on and then headed up the coast on North Torrey Pines Road. We pass through Torrey Pines State Beach and State Reserve. I am enjoying this thoroughly. Behind a gentleman who got on at the VA Center notices me writing and I explain I like to make notes of where I'm traveling. He's going back to Oceanside and says he comes to the VA Hospital once a month on the bus. For the rest of the way he keeps me up on where we are.

We wend our way up the coast stopping at each town. We parallel the Coaster but can't always see it. I love all the beach towns with that seashore town look that can either be very inviting or very tacky. Several towns have transit centers that both the bus and the coaster come into. The best is Oceanside which has quite a large center with San Diego County buses, Greyhound buses, Amtrak, and the metro. This is the way to run a transit center.

It was about and hour and a half up to Oceanside but there I had three hour wait if I wanted to take the local bus across Camp Pendleton, so I took Greyhound (only one hour wait) up to Long Beach. The bus was stopped at the immigration center and they asked for papers of anyone who said they were not born in the US. They don't ask me, they just say "How are you today, Maam?" which is a bit ironic since I was born in Mexico while many of the people they ask were born in the US.

I took a Long Beach bus from the Greyhound station to downtown Long Beach. They were having a fair there, but I was tired and just caught the Torrance bus to the Del Amo center in Torrance. My son picked me up there and we were soon at his place. It was so nice to see him and his wife again. Their second wedding anniversary was in a couple days, which was what I was there to help them celebrate.

After a few days in Torrance enjoying the kids company, I had to return to Tucson. I took the quick way back on I-10 but some day I would like to take the trip up the coast again, only stopping several places so I could walk around the coast towns.

©Rachel Aschmann, 1999
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