October 27, 2008 — We got up a little earlier this morning to give ourselves plenty of time to reach Santa Barbara. The GPS originally thought it would take us 8 hours, but once we got underway, it adjusted and it took closer to 7 hours.
One of the things that I’m realizing is that when you see a a bunch of mountain ranges in the distance, that between each range is a valley. So, to leave the valley, means to climb up a mountain range and to descend down. As logical as this all is, I must admit that living on the east coast all my life, I hadn’t really thought about this. Anyway, the best part about this driving to the top of the mountains is the surprises that we discover when we get to the top. Looking down is always rewarding. This morning’s first ascent/descent was no less rewarding.
Today’s ride took us through a lot of different places. We passed the Ballarat Ghost Town — which is really just a marker on the road, well two markers on the road — and one for Panamint City. Since all three markers are in one place, they must have been near each other.
Ballarat was established in 1897 and had 3 hotels and 7 saloons and a Wells Fargo Station. It had a population of 500 people. It declined after the Rackcliff Mine closed in 1905 and became a ghost town in 1917 when the post office closed.
A bit later, still going down 178, the air got really, really smelly. We discovered Trona — a very poor looking town that starts off as just a large junkyard, and then as it does get more populated it seems that half the houses are abandoned and those that aren’t, are not well kept. Then you come to the reason for the town’s existance — and smell — a mineral processor. I looked up Trona in Wikipedia and turns out the town is named after the mineral that is mined a the Searles Lake. As I suspected from the very large white piles near the the West End plant, they produce borax as well as boric acid, soda ash, salt cake and salt. I suspect the smell was from a chemical needed in the production.
We passed through Red Rock Canyon, which was red, but after seeing the red rocks earlier in our trip — it wasn’t all that “red.” We then went down 14, into Mohave. This was of interest to us since we learned yesterday that the 20 Mule Team brought the Borax to two places: Mohave and Daggett. It took 10 days.
We continued down 14 for some time going through lots of little towns. I hate to say it — we’ve had so much stimulation visually, that I was a little bored during this stretch! Then, suddenly the traffic picked up speed as we got closer to the L.A. A little much after all our scenic driving for the past few weeks! But that was brief because the GPS took us through a short cut over to Santa Clarita to get to I-5N. We were on I-5 for basically one exit and then we picked up 126. This was a road that Carl knew well from when he lived in Santa Barbara — but the road had changed a lot. Whereas it had been a slow road with lots of farms and farm stands, it has since been expanded to more lanes and the farms now grow trees and sell “plant pot” trees. We did see some orange trees, but not many. I guess landscaping is more profitable than growing food.
We arrived in Santa Barbara around 4:00 in the afternoon. We were too tired to really explore. Actually, it is not officially exploring. Carl lived here for about 4 years before moving east (so that we could meet :). So really this is an opportunity for Carl to show me about his life here until he moved east fifteen and half years ago. So when we arrived, we went to the condo that he had lived in and then we went to his favorite beach spot with his favorite beach front restaurant. He was dismayed to see that his favorite restaurant has been “fancified,” not that he didn’t expect change… Anyway we drove around a bit and ended up taking a Best Western in Goleta, which is just outside Santa Barbara. Carl worked in Goleta, so this is actually part of the official tour.
I think it was a bit overwhelming for Carl — he really hadn’t ever thought he’d be here again. And he was also “fuzzy” tired from driving all day. And amazed at how much he didn’t remember about getting around. Though it had been over 15 years since he was here. As for me, it was great to finally put a real image to all the places that Carl has told me about for the past 15 years! I look forward to tomorrow’s explorations.