The ideal is to feel at home anywhere and everywhere.
Saturday, February 4 through Tuesday, February 7, 201NAF El Centro, California: Woke to “The Sound of Freedom”!
Yep, Naval Air Facility, El Centro is the winter home of the US Navy’s Flight Demonstration Team, the incomparable “Blue Angels”! And a real thrill was their daily practicing in the skies above the campground, followed by a complete practice show routine in the afternoon. The morning sessions were interesting as you could always pick out the newest member of the team as they were frequently out of position.
Another thrill while in town, was to connect at a local Mexican spot with our childhood friend JoAnne and her husband Ron.
They are eastbound on their own RV adventure and stopped in El Centro to spend the day with us. Had a great time catching up on our lives and swapping RV stories…thanks for making time for us folks…look forward to seeing you in San Diego whenever we all make it!
El Centro, a city of 44,124 folks, sits at an average elevation of minus forty-two feet making it the only town in the United States that lies completely below sea level! El Centro is the population center for the Imperial Valley, and the valley is an important element in the growing and distribution of food crops to the American and world markets. Irrigation that turns the Imperial Valley desert into fertile farmland comes from the Colorado River via the All-American Canal, at 80 miles it is the longest aqueduct in the world. Agriculture in the valley is a billion-dollar industry, thanks to 350 days of sunshine a year, and over half the population is involved in farming.
A short drive in any direction from El Centro and one encounters farmland.
And driving down any of the farm roads you are likely to come across bee hives placed in close proximity to the crops for the pollination effort.
You can’t tell by the photo, but millions of bees were swarming about the truck as we slowly crept past.
And a bit further afield there is miles and miles of miles and miles.
Which, I imagine, is the way this part of the Sonoran Desert has looked for thousands of years …well, except for that ribbon of asphalt with the sand blowing across.
Other than sand, scrub brush, cactus and the occasional hardy residents, this desolate place has little else…which makes it a prime location for America’s finest men and women to practice their craft.
The instructions to “do not stop” is pretty much a given, especially with the skies harboring weapons laden fighters and bombers from the surrounding military bases.
And on the outskirts of the military bombing range, appropriately lies Salvation Mountain.
This lifetime work of one man is a lasting symbol of his faith and devotion to God. Kit and I have enjoyed this unique piece of folk art in the past and noticed that there is now an historical marker in place to honor the man that created Salvation Mountain.
Of particular interest to me was that one of the sponsors of the tablet was E. Clampus Vitus, a fraternal organization in the west that seeks to honor overlooked historical sites. Founded in 1849, and currently numbering 50,000 “Clampers”, this secret society can only be joined through invitation. Their motto is Credo Quia Absurdum, which is Latin for “I Believe It Because it is Absurd” and the organizations leader is known as “The Supreme Grand Humbug”. So, why do I wish to join this Fraternal Organization? Well, they are dedicated to the principal of not taking anything too seriously, especially themselves…which has long been my personal philosophy as well. So, if you happen to know a member of E. Clampus Vitus, please put in a good word for me…thanks!
Right next door to Salvation Mountain lies Slab City.
Which is another desert institution that I reviewed last year. If you’re interested in my ramblings on Salvation Mountain or Slab City, whey can be found here:
At the far end of Slab City, one comes to a fork in the road.
Where a decision must be made…veer left toward West Satan, or head right toward East Jesus. Being pious folks, and not wanting to take chances, we took the road less traveled toward East Jesus!
Where a world of folk art, whimsy, and unusual characters awaited.
The first to greet Kit and I was a fella named Mopar, or as some call him…The Wizard.
Being a slow day, Mopar gave us a personal and in depth tour of the art garden. A dynamic display that is added to daily by the various residents of East Jesus…some who actually live in their pieces of art!
Everything in the art garden was built form castoffs of modern society. Rather than bury this trash in a landfill, the artist recycles it into these amazing and thought provoking sculptures.
An example is this wall of words made from familiar items that seem to become obsolete at a very rapid rate.
Yep, the wall above is indeed a stack of old televisions and computer monitors with their screens painted white to provide a suitable canvas.
Then there is a wall of bottles imbedded in adobe that serves to separate the public art space from the artist’s homes.
The residences are made up of scrap, trash, and abandoned vehicles. Many decorated with art as well… such as this old tour bus.
Many other resident artists were milling about but not as eager to talk or have their photo taken…such as this barefoot fella with a piece of duct tape for a bandage. And, yep…he’s wearing a dress.
Unusual place, but fascinating as well…there are a lot of fringe element folks living in the California Desert and making art.
Last issue, I alluded to a “huge rotating kiddie barrel from our early family travel days” an item of nostalgia that Kit became obsessed with finding. Well one afternoon we were on the hunt for information of the huge rotating kiddie barrel…first stop was Bucklin Park, the huge rotating kiddie barrel’s last known location. Searching the grounds, we found no evidence of a huge rotating kiddie barrel or any knowledge of a huge rotating kiddie barrel amongst the pigeon feeding geriatric set sitting in the park. Next stop, El Centro Parks and Recreation, where the thirty something clerk was amused and confused about our inquiry until an age appropriate director came out of her office and verified the existence of the huge rotating kiddie barrel in Bucklin Park! Then pay dirt at our final stop…El Centro City Hall.
Where more stories of youngsters from yesteryear playing in the huge rotating kiddie barrel, and a vintage photograph emerged!
This pre-litigious playground apparatus was made of wood and features a huge rotating kiddie barrel propelled by said kiddies running inside hamster style. Whoa be the child that tripped because they soon found themselves on their bellies sliding along the splinter encrusted floor… wasn’t childhood in the 1960’s grand!
Well, tomorrow we continue west toward the land of the setting sun.
Tuesday, February 7, 2017: Woke to strong winds from the south with predicted gusts into the 50 MPH range. Since our travels are westerly, the winds from abeam would likely make driving hazardous, so we decided to spend an extra day in El Centro.
Spent the bonus time off the road in taking care of correspondence, straightening up the inside of the camper, and just lazing about. Kit made a nice roast beef dinner and we enjoyed a glass of wine before retiring to read in bed…again, goodnight!
Wednesday, February 8, 2017: Up and on the road by 1042 hours under sunny skies with a temperature of 76 degrees, and most importantly, very light winds from the west. Headed out on
I-8 through the desert and toward the coastal mountains of California.
We noticed that alternative sources of energy are very popular out west by evidence of the miles of solar panels that line both sides of the interstate.
The two million solar panels of the Tenaska Solar Energy Center can supply up to 44,000 homes with clean power when generating at full capacity.
Not to be left out, the wind turbine electricity generating complex further to the west is up and running as well.
The 112 turbines scattered over 10,000 acres of land generates 315 megawatts of power at full capacity.
These two projects are in response to a California congressional mandate that electric utilities produce 33% of their power from renewable sources. Makes sense…the politicians have an abundance of hot air to efficiently operate the solar and wind systems!
Pulling off I-8, and onto California Highway 94 where a lot of road maintenance was going on.
This winding and guardrail less mountain road can be a bit treacherous, especially when pulling an 8 ½ foot wide by 30-foot-long camper, so any improvement is welcome to the RV traveler.
At 1222 hours, we pulled the rig into Potrero Regional Park…a favorite camping opportunity of ours.
And set up in a very nice site for the next few days.
Following dinner and a nightcap, we turned in for the evening enjoying the silence of the East San Diego County mountains as a full moon shown through the bedroom skylight.
Thursday, February 9 through Saturday, February 11, 2017-Potrero County Park, California: Located in the Mountain Empire region of San Diego County, the small town of Potrero, population 656, lies 45 miles Southeast of downtown San Diego. A rural and remote country location, the closest city is Tecate, Mexico, a mere 5 miles to the south. Potrero Park features a picnic area and campground situated on ancient pasture land festooned with centuries old Live Oaks trees
There is an abundance of wildlife in the surrounding hills, but the only wild resident we encountered was this cute little fellow.
A Western Fence Lizard, (yep, didn’t make that up) and a frequent target of my brother, my friends, and I for capture and enslavement in our pockets. Great fun to find and apprehend one of these guys during a walk to our elementary school…not so much fun for the teachers however.
The park and campground features hiking and walking trails, some with exercise equipment arrayed alongside the path.
Something is just plain wrong with a mechanical walking apparatus within inches of an actual walking path!?!?
A short distance away is the town library, a favorite stopping point for Kit, and a great photographic opportunity for me.
The libraries sign was originally accompanied by a cactus garden, but native wildflowers have taken over masking the transplanted vegetation, much to the chagrin of the library staff…but not to the pleasure of color loving passersby!
One change to the area since our last visit was a wildfire that blanketed the area last June and forced the evacuation of the entire Potrero community. The fire blackened over 7,600 acres and was brought under control by a combined force of 1,937 fire personnel.
There were a few structures lost but fortunately no fatalities, and the fire was halted within yards of the county park. Eight months later the charred section is regenerating and signs of thanks spontaneously put up by residents popped up as well.
As mentioned, Potrero is just a stone’s throw from the Mexican border town of Tecate…the home of my childhood best friend Rodney and his wife Gloria. As in the past, they graciously invited us south of the border to spend the day with them, so we headed through the rural countryside toward the south.
Where Rodney met us for the short trip through the town of Tecate.
To their beautiful compound in the heart of the city.
After an enjoyable few hours of visiting, Rodney and I walked into town to his favorite “Street Taco” place.
The menu was classic Baja Mexico, and very reasonable.
And everything was freshly grilled and prepared on site.
The sight, sounds, and aroma emanating from this open front taqueria were incredible!
Thanks, Rod and Gloria for treating us to an excellent meal and for your hospitality…next time it’s our treat!
We’ve mentioned in past Excellent Adventure Journals of our 1965 trip from San Diego to Key West Florida…well much of that trip was pre-Interstate days and was made by following US Highway 80 toward the east.
US-80 parallels the Mexican border before as it travels through the towns of Manzanita and Jacumba.
You’ll notice in the photo above that the existing border fence ends where the mountainous terrain becomes steep…good luck building a wall in this rugged terrain!
All too soon, Historic US-80 get gobbled up by Interstate 8 but not before we snake under the massive ribbon of asphalt and head out on In-Ko-Pah Road toward the Desert View Tower.
This stone tower was built in the 1920’s by a real estate developer who was trying to lure customers to his new projects in the area. Sitting at 3,000 feet elevation, the three-story tower can be ascended by a central spiral stairway made of native wood.
Where a commanding view can be enjoyed of the surrounding countryside.
Adjacent to the tower is a sculpture garden called Boulder Park. Built into the huge boulders, the park features many whimsical creatures that were carved from stone by an unemployed engineer during the great depression.
A maze of tunnels and stone steps takes one up into the stack of boulders.
Where more sculptures await discovery.
Desert View Tower has been honored as a California Registered Landmark with the help of my new favorite fraternal organization, E. Clampus Vitus.
Those guys really get around!
Speaking of getting around, there are repair shops in America for most any mode of travel…cars, trucks, motorcycles, aircraft, boats, etc. And if you arrive in the area via spacecraft and happen to breakdown near the Desert View Tower, you’re in luck! Coyote’s Flying Saucer Retrieval and Repair Shop has your little green self covered.
Well, with that, we head back to Potrero County Park in time to enjoy a nice sunset.
Kit’s Bit’s: We didn’t make many miles on this trip, but we enjoyed every bit of it. So many times, over the last 50+ years, we’ve blown through this area and never had time to stop and explore anything. Rather than making a beeline for an amusement park, we seem to seek out the weird and unusual things. Who knows why?? I suppose the good thing is, we enjoy every minute of finding and exploring these strange sights. We meet up with the nicest people, who are eager to share their knowledge of the local area and their experiences with us. A fun (but strange) way to travel the countryside of the USA!