Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On the road again...

The drive home was fairly uneventful. That's a good thing. No need for excitement or drama while you're traveling 400 miles or so in a 15 year old car. It's a really grueling drive. Not a set the cruise control and chill out kind of deal. First off, the 5 is butt ugly. And it's only two lanes. You have the semis mostly in the right lane doing 55 miles and cars in the left lane doing about 80. The speed limit's 70 for cars, but you've alway got a knucklehead or two cruising along at 65, so you have to weave in and out between the semis to get past the clots of cars.

Then you hit tumbleweed country and all traffic comes to a screeching halt. I'm not kidding. People are more spooked by these rolling bunches of twigs than they would be of a boulder. That's because boulders are more predictable--they don't just suddenly dart into traffic and crash against your windshield. While some of the tumbleweeds were the size of a football, some of them were large shrubs hurling themselves in front of cars until a semi smashes it into several football sized pieces. At one point, there was a row of them growing along side the shoulder, looking like some weirdly mutated Tribbles ready to take flight and do a kamikaze dive into an oncoming car. They were scary.

After you make it past the killer tumbleweeds, you are rewarded by passing through the Lemoore/Coalinga area. This is where the cow pastures are. I didn't see any cows when I passed by on the way back, but good grief did I ever SMELL them! I think that's what the name means, Coalinga--cows linger. (Wikipedia theorizes that the name might be Nahuatl for "place of snakes," but trust me--it's more like "place of cows.") The ugly stretches on and on and on, but just when you can't take it anymore something amazing happens.It's known as "The Grapevine. A stretch of highway at the south end of the San Joaquin Valley snaking through the Tejon Pass in the Tehachapi Mountains reaching into Los Angeles county. Just breathtaking. At the highest point on the highway, the altitude is 4,144 feet. That's Pyramid Lake in the picture. Gorgeous blue-green water sparkling like an oasis in the Angeles National Forest. It's a welcome sight after the scrubby, grubby stretch of the 5 that preceded it. And because it means you're almost home.

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