Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Monday 24th July: 2,000 miles later - Louise drives the desert with style

"Louise drives the desert with style" 1.30am, 24.7.06. 118 degrees F
pen and ink and coloured pencil in moleskine sketchbook 8" x 10"

On Monday we were crossing two deserts during one of the hottest heatwaves the USA has ever known. Louise did it in style!

It was an odd day. We were all really tired after the very long day on Sunday. It had also been a long trip overall - Louise calculated late on Monday that we'd done about 2,000 miles on the trip altogether. I know I felt like I couldn't look at anything more. My eyes/brain simply did not want to try and absorb any more scenery given the surfeit I'd enjoyed the previous day. I took very few photos that Monday - but that was also in part because the scenery changed and then stayed the same for a very long while. However I did do three sketches.

"Cloud crossing the Sonoran Desert" 9.00am Mon 24.7.06. 101 degrees F
pen and ink and coloured pencil in Moleskine sketchbook 8" x 10"

From Prescott, we headed for Yuma through the Sonoran Desert. Louise was very keen we got started no later than 6.30am so that we got over the mountains in the Anza-Borrego Desert in California before the worst of the afternoon heat. She also seemed determined to drive with style as you can see from the sketch at the top of this post! How can anything go wrong if you drive the desert in a stetson hat with a splendid feather, sunglasses and silver earrings like Louise?

Probably one of the best ways I can describe the day is to to just 'download' the annotations for each sketch - with the temperature reading. They're succinct and paint the picture rather well
  • Mon. 24.7.06 9.00am 101 degrees F "Clouds crossing the Sonoran Desert"
  • 24.7.06. 11.30am 109 degrees F "Penny's Diner, Yuma, Arizona"
  • 24.7.06. 1.30am 118 degrees F "Sea level in (Mohave) Desert" (this is the sketch of Louise driving - and I'd misunderstood which desert we were in! The Mohave is actually above Interstate 40 and we were still in the Sonoran Desert)
.........and then, as we begin to climb 3,000 feet in the space of two miles up the major incline produced by Interstate-8 crossing the Jacumba Mountains, I started to make more notes on the sketch of Louise driving
  • no air-conditioning for the climb
  • tyres gone on three vehicles (by the side of the road)
  • 3000 feet - 101 degrees F (we'd dropped 17 degrees during the climb and heat in the 90s started to feel cool)
There were more notes I could have made on the trip such as how pink the Sonoran Desert looked that morning but how incredibly flat the desert colours were under the cloud cover; how odd it was to have yet more rain in the desert - and how amazing the rainbows were; how big the parking lots for the snowbird RVs were in the middle of nowhere; how the heat radiated off the metal on the outside of Penny's Diner in Yuma (a great 50s diner where we eat brunch) as we walked from the air-con of the car to the air-con in the diner - and how worrying it was to see the bins of water for radiators every few hundred yards as we climbed the big incline back into California without the air-con on.

As we began the long climb over the mountains, we entered the giant granite boulder fields of the Anza-Borrego desert. Switching the air-con off is instructed by road signs along Interstate-8 and is designed to avoid a car over-heating as it makes the enormous but rapid climb from sea level to 3,000 feet. It's a fast transition if you can keep moving, however most of the big trucks had to crawl up at a rate only marginally faster than snail's pace.

All we knew was that we were very glad when we got to the top with no mishaps - and could switch the air-con back on and stop avoiding thoughts of what would happen if our tyres burst!

As we came over the ridge and headed back down into San Diego County, there were fires burning off to our left towards Mexico, dense cloud cover and a very humid atmosphere - which apparently is very unusual for Southern California. Where had the sun gone?

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  1. I love your travelogue with accompanying sketches. It sounds as though things got a bit hairy, but that, all in all, the desert journey was so worth doing. Louise was a wonderful hostess/tour leader!

  2. Thanks Laura. I think I've decided that I'm rather better at doing hairy things now that I'm in my fifties than I was when I was in my teens!

    I've got a much greater respect for extreme heat and the appropriate precautions since doing this trip - and it has shown me that being with somebody who knows about the risks and understands them is absolutely invaluable.

  3. Have so many souvenirs from Arizona ! Have been there in 1996 but nature doesn't change ..
    I also paint, mostly in acrylic (oil was to slow for me) but also in pastel. I've put them in my cat blog because I mostly paint cats. My colors are so different to yours as heaven and earth !

  4. terrific sketches, I love your use of color! Might you consider a flickr account too? the wonderful thing is to put your work in sets and view as a slide show, it's so nice I think to see all the pages together like that, as close to the experience of flipping through the book as we can get. also I thought of a professional illustrator who has travel sketchbooks on his site, they are beautiful

    Adam McCauley
    and his books you do "flip" through!

    another link maybe for your sidebar

    many thanks for adding me!


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