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YourCharacters > from "Undaunted Spirit: The Story of Our J"

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Michael Hemingwayhero | 2 comments *I'm writing a piece on my daughter's birth(born @24 weeks @ less than a pound!); This is the opening, kind of a prologue. Would welcome any thought....

Driving up to Palm Springs from Vista, the car picks up speed on the interstate leaving the winding turns of Deer Springs Road behind and the outskirts of Escondido in the distance; passing homes perched on hilltops above the dry-burnt, grassy, boulder-filled hillsides of August which stretch for miles beyond the highway, the house windows briefly reflecting the glowing brilliance of mid-morning light; past empty rural roads along chaparral brushland and solitary ranch shacks beneath oaks and sycamores and surrounding orchards of fruit trees; This stretch of the road is known as The Avocado Highway, being named for the largest local crop in the agricultural community. Old Highway395 runs parallel to the west of the Interstate, having been the "mother road" once, traversing the western states from San Diego through the Canadian border into British Columbia, now only being found in segments like this one stretching from Escondido to Temecula, crosses the road at Fallbrook and follows the interstate on the eastern side tip reaching Temecula. The intense smell of chicken manure from the regional poultry and egg hatching farms suddenly invades the air. You consider changing lanes, opting instead to stay in the left and driving faster. It’s just under a hundred miles to the desert.
Heading north through the hilly terrain, grassy savannahs burnt dry and brownish from late summer, and local farmland neighboring the highway, you pass beneath the elegant Lilac Bridge arching 100 feet above as the road stretching out ahead begins to level out before ascending into another incline, crossing State Route 76, and roaming through the towns of Fallbrook and Rainbow Valley; Cresting the final hill before descending into the Temecula Valley, a notable wine region of oak trees, rolling hills and remarkable beauty nestled in the Santa Ana Mountains, you gape in wonderment at the magnificent basin framed by mist-filled highlands and hidden meadows in the surrounding buttes and hillsides. On the north side of Temecula, Interstate 215 turns north through Murietta, an old railroad town and natural hot springs known for its low crime rate and burgeoning population; Exiting the Interstate at Newport Road and heading east past the open spaces outside of town toward the Domenigoni Reservoir, or Diamond Valley Lake, south of the San Jacinto Valley, a vast settlement of retirees and home of the Ramona Pageant, you turn north onto Warren Road through the southwest side of Hemet, gazing out at the west past Juniper Flats and Maze Rock, lost to abstraction. Going north through San Jacinto, the oldest city in Riverside County, founded in 1870, past masses of wildflowers to the west just south of Cottonwood Avenue, dairy farms line the flat valley road, on both sides, a strong smell of cow manure leaving an acrid bitter odor in the vehicle. Turning right onto SR 74, and heading east past more dairy farms for less than a mile, you turn left onto SR 79 and head north, leaving San Jacinto, toward Lamb’s Canyon and Beaumont, through a range of rolling hills covered with sun-burnt grass and strewn sand-colored boulders.
Elijah Lamb homesteaded this canyon during the 1880’s, hauling mail between Beaumont and San Jacinto through the rugged gorge. The road through the ravine meandering easterly straightens out heading north past the landfill road leading to the county waste disposal site or dump, continuing up the highway as it winds and climbs to the top of the San Gorgonio Pass at Interstate 10 in Beaumont at 2500 ft. In the 1850’s explorers searching for a route to connect the east to the Pacific discovered the pass which many saw as a practicable means for connecting a railway through from the Missouri River; By the 1860’s the Southern Pacific put down tracks through what is now Beaumont (French for ‘ beautiful mountain”). The town is also known as "the land of the big red apple" as there are over a thousand acres of fruit orchards in and around Beaumont, most of the trees being varieties of apples; The fall brings a harvest festival flood tide of tourist activity to the surrounding farms of growers in the foothills and outskirts of the city proper, the trees reflecting the seasonal gallery of colors the fall foliage brings in the higher elevation of this region.
Entering the highway and heading east on Interstate 10 towards Banning, an early stagecoach stop on the route to the Colorado River during the discovery of gold there in 1862, the city taking its name from General Phineas T. Banning who opened a shipping company here in the 1860’s, transporting freight over the Mormon Trail from Salt Lake City to San Bernardino to Los Angeles, you continue easterly toward the desert. Two dinosaurs, a 65 ft. tall Tyrannosaurrus rex and an Apatosaurus, in front of a diner grace the north side of the interstate at Seminole Drive in Cabazon. The tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad follow on the southern side of the Interstate heading eastward into the lower rim of the pass; San Gorgonio Mountain, or "Old Greyback," resting magnificently to the north is the highest peak in Southern California at 11,503 ft. , while on the opposite side the sublime scene of Mount San Jacinto rising majestically on from the south, the second highest peak at 10,834 ft., creates quite a spectacle of beauty at the gateway to the Coachella Valley. On the hillside slopes just east of Whitewater stands the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm, consisting of over 3000 wind turbines, ranging from 80-160 ft. in height, spinning like pinwheels in one of the windiest places in Southern California; Like a weird scene out of a bad science fiction novel the visible scarring on the landscape here paradoxically piques the curiosity and compels the disgust of the viewer simultaneously.
As the road descends into the desert, the Coachella Valley basin spreads out on the right under a cloudless, deep blue, cerulean sky, like an old friend waiting for your return. You think about the origin story for the valley’s name: “Conchilla" is the spanish word for “seashell." This basin was once a vast inland sea, and one can find tiny fossilized mollusk shells all over and throughout every part of this valley. Legend has it that the name change is attributable to a mistake made by map makers hired to record and copy data supplied by the Southern Pacific Railroad surveying party; Instead of redrawing the costly maps, the railroad decided alternately to begin calling the region by the misspelled name “Coachella” instead of its traditional name “Conchilla.” Thus, the valley got its new name, and it stuck. And it's a valley unlike any other; A place where, as someone once remarked, there’s an amazing blending of Babylonian glamor and Arabian agriculture in a Palestinian setting; Known as a playground for the rich and famous, it’s where exclusive private country clubs, elegant gated communities and fascinating resort communities vaunt homes of presidents, film celebrities and financial magnates; In this valley, one of the most arid regions in North America, you'll find the third largest inland body of water, the Salton Sea, the two tallest mountains in Southern California, the largest amount of acreage below sea level, the steepest escarpment in the United States in the face of Mount San Jacinto, and the second largest aquifer in North America just a hundred feet beneath the surface. On top of this, there's a tram that can take you through five ecological zones in 10 minutes during a trip from the valley floor to the Mountain Station at 8,516 ft. But one does not need to grasp all this to understand the uniqueness of this place; It permeates the soul and senses with an almost physical tranquilness and captivates the heart and mind with its haunting, yet serene, spirituality.
Driving into the valley in the August heat felt like home. Oddly enough, there is a peaceful feeling experienced every time I arrive into this valley; A calm resolve, agreeable mood, and harmonious outlook on life achieved in few other places. Passing Indian Avenue, I glimpse the sudden, quick tableau of a biker astride his Harley-Davidson Roadster waiting for the crossing light to turn green: His mouth agape yawning watching the cars speed through the intersection, as an old man with a cane attempts to cross the street in the crosswalk in front of him. The wide open space of still desert inspires a feeling of freedom; Stretching forth from the Chiriaco Summit at the eastern end of the valley all the way northward to Route 66 in the Mojave through the lonely city of Amboy: Gen. George Patton trained his troops here during World War II, the tanks tracks still unmistakable today in the open desert; The trails through the box canyons in the southeastern Mecca Hills and around the scenic shoreline of the Salton Sea offered adventure, as did the demanding "Palm to Pines" or "Skyline Trail" hike to the Mount San Jacinto summit from the desert floor, always beckoning; Someday I would answer the call and take up the challenge. I needed to get my toes fixed first. Staring out at the stately scene as I drove descending into the valley, I noticed a column of dust circling in the distance, spiraling skyward, the only thing disturbing the panoramic vista of this beautiful valley. This was my home; I was glad to be here.


message 2: by Stan (new)

Stan Morris (morriss003) Nice story. As a Californian, I've been to many of the places you've mentioned. I hated Route 66, and my 55 Chevy broke down not far from Amboy. Had to leave it.

One thing. When you do a post this long, add spaces between the paragraphs. Makes it easier to read. Goodreads won't do it for you.


Michael Hemingwayhero | 2 comments Thanks for reading, Stan; Appreciate it!


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