We are finally heading towards California.
The checkpoint right outside of Organ Pipe wants to see my Green Card. This happened after Big Bend, too, so I’m used to the drill. Many liberal white Americans are disgusted with this sort of thing and are embarrassed by it when you tell them but it doesn’t bother me too much. The little bicycle cops in Tokyo certainly hassle their share of gaijin residents. (But not the tourists. They can immediately tell who is living there and who is just visiting.) At the same time, it’s also one of the reasons why I will never become naturalized but will always keep my Japanese nationality. It’s one thing to be asked for your resident status as a foreigner and quite another as a full citizen.
We go back through the tiny town of Why and up to Ajo. That means garlic in Spanish. Did they grow a lot of garlic here? Or did the place just reek? Or maybe they simply wanted to keep the vampires away. Now, they just want to keep illegals out and garlic won’t do. Just outside of town, there is yet another checkpoint! These Arizonans are serious!
Ajo was once a pretty Mexican town. There are churches, a plaza encircled by buildings with porticos. It is nothing like the scruffy, beat up Wild West towns that are so common.
Shunning the turnpikes again, we take the Old Salome Highway. It goes right by the Palo Verde nuclear power plant.
“It’s a nuke,” I say to Big Dog, pointing to the reactors in the distance.
“I think it’s a water treatment site,” he says, confused by a billboard he saw earlier.
“Yeah. Like making the water radioactive!”
There was a time when I would not have recognized those concrete domes for what they were: Evil Mother Tits. There are 3 reactors here, like triple mutant devil boobs, near Wintersburg, less than 100 miles from Phoenix.
That is not the strangest sight (although it might have been the most disturbing.) The strangest is Quartzsite, a messy, makeshift RV city. It is like Burning Man without the art or pretensions. Or a real life Mad Max city. The people are strange – differently strange, but still strange – and even the RVers who are normally a bit different are far more different here. It’s not for everyone but I can see how it would appeal to some. It’s another subculture in Alternative America!
Pop-up tent shops line the roads and fill desert lots but there are no real stores or restaurants. Nor is there a real grocery store. Going into one – it’s more like a dollar store – I ask a shopper where we might find groceries. “They have groceries here,” she says, pointing to aisles of packaged foods.
Out of Quartzsite, we drive up along the western edge of Arizona, through Poston, where Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. There’s a small monument along the road. As much as the whole internment sucked, the ones here were the lucky ones. It’s not too different from the San Joaquin Valley. Those who got sent to hell holes in Wyoming got it real bad.
The Colorado River scene is as strange and different as Quartzsite. There are big RV parks every few miles and they are all packed with RVers. This is so completely American! Europeans also travel in RVs but it is so different and they don’t have this massive RV scene.
Campground prices seem to skyrocket as you near California. State parks are charging $25! There are no $5 campgrounds and if there were, you know they would be completely full, but dozens of RVers are boondocking on hot, dusty mesas. The Cattail Cove campground is full, too, but we can park in the overflow parking area for $15 a night. It sounds like a lot but the thought of hot showers and utility sinks loosens our pursestrings.
The teal colored river is calming and it feels simply luxurious to have a real hot shower!