In Tennessee, I-40 is the state highway. It runs from Bristol in the northeast to Memphis in the Southwest, cutting through most of the major metropolitan areas in the state. Owing to Tennessee's long, thin shape, I-40 is no farther than an hour and a half from anywhere in the state. It is the lifeline of the state and nine times out of ten, the primary way to get from point A to point B. Here, I-40 is a backwater highway, running from Needles to Barstow and primarily moving through desolate, uninhabited desert. The Wife and I reached its end, where it merges with I-15, at about 7:30 yesterday.
Arizona, like New Mexico, is beautiful, although beautiful in its own way. Often, it seems desolate and majestically empty. There is much to see in Arizona, which we did not see at all on this trip, to my great disappointment. It's now been three times that I've been through northeastern Arizona and not seen the Petrified Forest. The Grand Canyon is always worth a trip, which we skipped. The Painted Desert and Monument Valley were covered in rain.
Not that I was unhappy about the rain. It cooled off the desert nicely; the times we stopped and let the critters out they were all quite unhappy with the heat. When we had rain, the cooling effect on the environment was dramatic and it relieved strain on the air conditioner in the junker. As a result, we made excellent time through
I was quite pleased when we got to Flagstaff. The high elevation and pine forest made for exceptionally clean, nice-smelling air, even by the interstate. I was also pleased to see signs for westbound I-40 identify Los Angeles as the city of destination for the first time.
Both The Wife and I were surprised, when we stopped in Arizona, by the number of people claiming to have been stranded there away from their homes in New Mexico, and asking for financial assistance to get home. Another guy approached us in a parking lot and tried to sell us jewelry. I wonder why it was that we had so many panhandlers in Arizona.
Anyway, we made excellent time, assisted by the cooling rain, and got to Needles, California before 5:00 p.m. It seemed too early to stop, so we pressed on through California's equivalent of the Arabian Empty Quarter. It's about 150 miles from Needles to Barstow and there is precious little civilization of any kind in between. The lunar landscape is studded with small cacti and poverty grasses, but very little apparent water and few buildings or other signs of human life aside from the interstate itself. I thought these were called the Chocolate Mountains, but a sign for the Mojave National Preserve identified them as the Providence Mountains. Shows you how much I know. Anyway, it's the equivalent of Saudi Arabia's Empty Quarter and no fun at all to drive through.
The result of this was nearly 600 miles of travel in one day, leaving all of us, critters included, exhausted and nearly melted into the cars. Once we got the animals fed and watered and other needs attended to, we fed ourselves -- decent Mexican food and margaritas. I haven't got enough Mexican food yet; we've been without for so long! I'll get over it soon enough, but for now it's nirvana to eat spicy fajitas and enchiladas with real queso ranchero.