07-Sep-2008 -- As I was in the vicinity working with my colleagues at ESRI on GIS education, and as we had been working long days, a confluence visit seemed like the perfect thing to break up the work weekend and to see the magnificent Mojave Desert. As I have recounted in these pages about other visits, this too would take an early morning rise, for two reasons. First, I had a lot of work that I wanted to accomplish today. Second, the temperatures near Barstow had been hovering near 110 F for several days, and I wanted to get out on the landscape before the heat of the day.
Why Barstow? Two reasons. First, I had been amassing a tidy collection of confluences in southern California, and the one at 35 North 117 West near Barstow was the closest one that I had not visited. Second, it was nearly one year ago when my Dad passed away, and he always liked big and bold geographic place names. Barstow was one of his favorites. Plus, it is included in one of his favorite songs, "Get Your Kicks on Route 66."
And thus, at 4:04am, when the alarm rang in San Bernardino, I promptly got ready with anticipation. I was in the vehicle by 4:26am, heading north on I-215, and then I-15. It was pitch dark even when I reached Barstow over an hour later, and I was beginning to wonder if I had perhaps awakened too early. It turned out to be perfect timing, for the day began to dawn just as I set out walking. First, though, I drove through Barstow without seeing more than two other cars on the road. I drove north across the dry wash, on the north bank of which stands what looks like an enormous central vent from an old volcano. I made one wrong turn, but was soon driving north on Fort Irwin Road. In the dark I found the turnoff to Fossil Bed Road. My plan was to hike to the confluence along a known landmark--the huge California-sized powerline that crossed the basin from the southwest to the northeast.
The road was graded, with steep dirt sides, and there was no convenient break in the sides to pull over. I wasn't expecting traffic, but didn't want to leave a rental car right in the road, either. I parked some distance beyond the powerline, made a U-turn, and got out of the car. I had little inkling what a sunrise in the desert can do for the soul, as it had been awhile. I took a short hike while the darkness slowly left the landscape, not wanting to hike too far where snakes might lay about without me seeing them. After about 15 minutes, it was still dark near the surface, but light enough in the sky to provide enough light to hike, so I gathered camera and GPS and set out.
I hiked at an angle toward the powerline to the northeast. The GPS gave a distance of 1.5 km to the confluence. Not a cloud was in the sky. As I hiked along, eventually reaching the powerline trail, the dawn behind the Joshua trees made for some magnificent photographs. If one had a four-wheel drive vehicle, it would be a fairly simple matter to drive down the powerline road, but that wouldn't be as much fun as walking; one would miss too much. I overshot my destination and angled back, reaching the confluece just as the sunlight touched the tops of the joshua trees and yucca in the vicinity. It was truly a magnificent sight.
The confluence lies on ground angling about 5 degrees to the southeast, in clear view of the powerline, just to the northeast of the main stand of joshua trees. The ground cover was about 3/4 bare desert soil and 1/4 shrubs and trees. A decaying log lies about 5 meters to the north-northwest of the confluence. I saw no animals and few birds. The views were long in each direction, even though I was in a basin, because the basin was large. The views were probably longest to the southwest, toward Joshua Tree National Park, and shortest to the south, where a series of towers marked the far horizon. The temperature was already about 24 C (75 F) under skies that were absolutely clear.
I had been to 35 North several times, in California and in North Carolina. This was my third trip to 117 West Longitude. I had gathered a half dozen southern California confluences already without really trying. They were mostly due to my trips to ESRI in Redlands, but also from my trip to the University of California Santa Barbara this past spring, and from the ESRI conference in San Diego.
I spent about 25 minutes at the site, reluctant to depart, as it was so peaceful and beautiful. I hiked back to the powerline road, and took a few videos as my feet crunched through the dried mud blocks. On one video I sang "Horse With No Name" by the band America, since the song is about hiking through a desert. The temperature was already hot--good thing I had chosen an early morning hike. It must have been over 80 F by the time I reached the vehicle. I drove out the way I came in and was able to get to work by about 8:35am.
But all was not over yet. Just two days later, on 9 September, I flew from Ontario, California, to Denver, Colorado. As we climbed out of the Los Angeles Basin, we flew to the southeast of this very confluence. As my window seat was on the north side of the airplane, I had a perfect view of it all--the powerline, the braided stream valley, Fossil Bed Road, and the Joshua tree grove. It brought back magnificent memories of that early morning trek.