The fourth day of our road trip vacation was all about relocation. After a relaxing few days staying with family in LA, it was time to head out of California and plonk ourselves in Arizona. It was going to be one of the longest days for driving on our trip so we made sure we were up with the larks (as we were most days of our vacation actually) and ready to set out early in the morning. It was indeed a long and tedious drive but it did not take long to leave urban sprawl in the rear-view mirror and find ourselves in open landscapes covered with serried rows of Joshua trees and massive trains of hundreds of stock cars, some stretching as far as the eye could see, pushed and pulled by multiple engines.
Our destination for the day was the Kelso Dunes, an area of the Mojave Desert. We all needed a rest break first of all, however, so we stopped into the Kelso Depot, which now serves as a National Park visitor centre. As its name suggests, this building was formally a railroad depot. It is a lovely building, mimicking the forms of Spanish Missions, and it seemed strange to see such a splendid example of architecture plonked in the absolute middle of nowhere. This depot, however, once served interstate passengers, cargo trains, and trains carrying ore from the area’s mines. Just outside the depot, there was an example of an old time jail cell that was simply a grid work of iron that must have – in the desert heat – burned and baked whichever poor soul was imprisoned within it. Indeed, what we most appreciated about our visit to the Depot was its air conditioning. It was like entering a life-saving oasis to walk out of the oppressive heat and into a cool, airy building.
Despite the stifling heat, we were determined to go and see the Kelso Dunes. The dunes are impressive in scale, spread across an area that was once lakes, and the wind caused the sand to ripple and gently shift in a way that was visually restful and pleasing. These dunes have a phenomenon known as “singing sands”. We read that if we were to walk the crest of a dune and then slide down it we would cause a rumble that would sound like a low booming noise. We were keen to give that a try. We parked the car at the trail head and began the hike towards the dunes. The sand was radiating heat, creating a shimmer of haze up to shin height. My youngest kids had hoped to spot some lizards or snakes but, a few snake tracks and some coyote scat aside, there was no wildlife whatsoever in evidence. Every sensible creature was in the shade somewhere. Evidently we were not sensible creatures. As the sand got deeper, it kicked over our feet and into our shoes. The sand was blistering hot. It was soon uncomfortable to walk. We were cooking from the feet upwards. No sooner would be take a gulp of water than our mouths would feel parched again. We reached the base of the dunes and looked at how much further we had to trek to reach the top. We all paused. I believe a couple of us sighed. Mr Pict checked his phone. The temperature was over 120 degrees. We all agreed it would be foolhardy to keep pushing on with the hike up the dunes, however much we wanted to experience the boom. We turned on our heels and dragged ourselves back to the car and its air conditioning.
We stopped for dinner in Needles, a small town on the California stretch of Route 66. Route 66 – The Mother Road – is legendary. I had driven a stretch of it in 2000 and someday I would actually like to travel its entire length. We thought it would be cool, therefore, if the boys could say they had eaten dinner on Route 66. Needles was founded because of the construction of the Aitchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad and it still has that frontier feeling to it. During the migration of the Great Depression, families escaping from the Dust Bowl along Route 66 would enter California, what they hoped was their final destination, at Needles. Lots of rich American history about the place then but we were really after grub as we were famished. We stopped in at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant, which dates from the 1950s and retains some of that old-fashioned feel to it. The service was great, the food was homely and filling, and the atmosphere was chilled. It was just what we needed as respite from driving and heat.
Replete with food, we embarked on the final leg of our journey. We had rented a house in the mountains above Flagstaff and we pulled in there as the sun was beginning to slip and the heat beginning to subside. The house turned out to be fantastic. It was spacious enough to give us all a break from each other, it had a well-stocked kitchen that allowed us to cook tasty meals, and it had laundry facilities. Travelling with six people – four of whom are messy kids – opportunities to do laundry are a must. Mr Pict doesn’t understand why I obsess about finding vacation rentals that have laundry facilities or why I google to find the closest launderette but it really is a necessity because there is no way we can pack enough clothes to last the duration of our trips. The property was also very child friendly. A cupboard was stocked with toys and games, there was a billiard table and dart board, and best of all there was a hot tub on one of the decks. The perfect way to unwind from each day’s activities, as far as they were concerned, was to plop themselves into the hot tub in the shade of the trees. At night, with the lights off, it was possible to float around in the tub and look up at the milky way. It was pretty idyllic.