Road Trip 2017, Part 1, Stage 4: There’s No Place Like Home

Our travels through the fictional fractured former United States continue, hence the geographic references that may be unfamiliar to those readers who believe the Federation propaganda that the Republic still stands intact.  Our travels in this chapter take place in the countries of Greater California, Jefferson, and Cascadia, which extend up the Pacific coast from north of San Diego to Prince Rupert and east to the Sierras and Cascades in California, Jefferson, and the Oregon and Washington districts of Cascadia, and the Rockies in the Columbian District.  Free White Idaho extends from the Cascades to the Rockies south of the 49th Parallel.  Jefferson extends from north of Sonoma County, Gr. Cal., to the southern reach of the Willamette Valley.

[all photos by Judy unless otherwise noted]

Farm road, San Joachin Valley

Our trip became more normal with our return to the independent republics on the West Coast of North America, where Federation loyalist influence is much less, though still significant in the news.  Leaving Bakersfield, we head north through familiar place names: streets and highways named after popular country-western music artists of the mid-twentieth Century: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and others.  After our drive across the Mojave, the north-bound routes seem frantic and busy.  We soon turn off the old Highway 99 onto farm roads through the San Joaquin Valley, meandering between CA 99 and I-5, sometimes through potholed and muddy tracks  indistinguishable from the cattle feedlots that line them, as seen above.

Hills along CA 198 west of Coalinga

After a brief run up I-5, we turn off toward Coalinga, and over the mountains toward the coast, turning north up a verdant and quiet valley, joining US 101 and its heavy traffic for a run through Silicon Valley into San Francisco, where we will spend a few days site-seeing before continuing toward home.

Judy hadn’t spent time in downtown San Francisco before.  I had spent a 3-day pass from the U.S. Army there, 51 years ago in 1966, riding the cable cars, dining at Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown.  A return trip in 1983 was spent entirely at the Moscone Center in a computer conference devoted to the doomed 8-bit personal computer operating system CP/M  from Digital Research, which was supplanted by the 16-bit Microsoft knock-off MS-DOS within a few months.  We stayed a block from the China Gate and a couple blocks from Union Square this time, within walking distance of shopping and restaurants.

As we often do when visiting a large city, we bought a two-day bus tour package, and set off on a rainy morning.  The upper open deck on the buses was awash in the downpour, so we imagined the sights the guides described as we peered through the fogged-over and rain-smeared windows.  We changed buses at Fisherman’s Wharf, with a quick look around, then off to the Golden Gate Bridge, where we had a wet and blustery layover before catching the Sausalito bus.  We stopped briefly on the north end of the bridge, shrouded in mist before descending into the city by the bay for a 20-minute layover before returning over the bridge once more for another wet wait for the next bus.

Union Square, San Francisco (photo by Larye)

The next destination was Golden Gate Park and the Haight-Ashbury district, which, again, we glimpsed through the perforated sunscreens and film of rain on the bus windows.  After heading back downtown around City Hall, we disembarked at Union Square for lunch, then caught the alternate bus route back to Fisherman’s Wharf, where we toured on foot, catching the last bus back to Union Square.  On this route, the rain had stopped long enough to permit riding on the open deck, so we did get good views of Chinatown and the financial district on this tour.

Transamerica Pyramid (photo by Larye)

The next morning, we sat through the customary sales pitch at the condo office to get part of our parking fee validated.  We thought $40 a day was outrageous, but we noted that other nearby hotels charged upwards of $60 per day.  While waiting for the tour bus, we noted that most of the guests at that hotel used Uber for ground transportation.  Our hotel brochure warned against bringing a car into the city, but, being on tour, we didn’t have much choice.

A late start took us on a repeat of yesterday’s route, without the side trip across the bridge.  We had planned on taking in some of the gardens at the Golden Gate Park, but the heavy rain continued, so we declined to disembark.  Once again, we were confined to the limited view from the lower compartment in the bus, but had better seats, so we were able to see some of the attractions we missed the day before.   Back at Union Square, we marched off to the Mall, where we had lunch at the bistro in the Nordstrom department store, in solidarity with the Cascadia-based chain with which the Federation had started a trade war the day before, after the store had dropped the royal family’s clothing line.  Word from our contacts in Free White Idaho indicate that a major department store chain based in the Ozark District has taken up the slack and is enjoying exports of the royal line to the FWI as well as throughout the Federation.

The next morning, we headed north in sunshine, making sure to drive through some of the areas we had toured, but not seen, from the bus.  We had intended to head east to visit with an old friend, but the bad weather had made the roads unreliable.  Indeed, by the end of the weekend, hundreds of thousands of people living between us and them were being evacuated as the flood waters overflowed the largest reservoir to the east and threatened to breach the dam due to erosion on the spillways.  So, we headed across the bridge through Sausalito once more, finally outrunning the city traffic north of Santa Rosa as we crossed over into the Republic of Jefferson.

Palace of Fine Arts, Panama-Pacific Exhibition, 1915, a simpler but more elegant time.  I once owned a Sonora Phonograph, which won a Gold Medal at this exhibition for quality and sound, and which was a beautiful piece of furniture as well.   Sonora was taken over by its investors in 1929 and failed in 1930, a victim more of hostile takeover than the Great Depression. (photo by Larye)

We spent the night in Eureka, then headed inland at Crescent City to Rogue River for lunch with my cousin and her husband before continuing north over the mountains into our home territory of Cascadia, arriving in Eugene along the Willamette River for the next night.  We headed north on old Highway 99 in the morning in dense fog, which lifted near Junction City.  We took the west branch of 99 through Corvallis and McMinnville, then winding back roads to Hillsboro and Scappoose, then up Highway 30 to Rainier, where we crossed the Columbia and then the Cowlitz to continue home on I-5.

Avenue of the Giants, scenic route through the redwood forest.

So ended the first road tour of 2017, covering about 8000 km in three weeks.  We plan a trip to Victoria in June and an extended tour to Minnesota and Eastern Canada in September.  We may venture into the FWI sometime this summer if the borders stay open, as we still have family and close friends in the Mission and Bitterroot valleys.  We took Maximillian, our hybrid crossover vehicle, on this trip because we needed extra seating, and it was easy on fuel without the bicycle on top, burning about 6 liters per 100 km when we stuck to the lower-speed roads.  For the rest of the trips, we plan to drive the White Knight, which burns about 14 liters per 100 km, but we can camp in it and take our bicycle, and it blends in better when traveling in the interior republics.  We’ve been careful in this divided age not to display any political insignia, which may in itself raise suspicion in some districts, where patriotic displays of the majority’s ideological symbols are common and expected.  The environmental statement the hybrid vehicle makes may attract unwanted attention in those districts by itself, so the older, nondescript work vehicle may be the best choice, even if it isn’t the most efficient.

Road Trip 2017, Part 1, Stage 3: The Southwest Zones

We continue with our travelogue of adventures in a fictional parallel universe where everything is familiar, except the United States has split into six major separate countries and several smaller independent city-states, the result of an insurmountable divide between left and right with the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as President of what is left of the USA, predominantly red states united in a loose federation. The independent states consist of three culturally and economically diverse nations on the West Coast, and two states in the Rocky Mountain West, based on religious conservatism on the one hand and extreme right-wing ideology on the other. Islands of blue across the eastern two-thirds of the country comprise most of the city-states, with a few in the west that don’t fit well with the surrounding territory.  We also see increased independence in the indigenous peoples’ territories. Meanwhile, we enjoy visits with family, whether or not they agree with our politics, and travel through regions where we might be considered “foreigners” in a fractured country.  And, we hope, present the reader with some thought-provoking questions about what it means to be an American: whether we are a diverse unity or moving toward a uniformity intolerant of diversity that strains our constitution to the breaking point.

Border Patrol Checkpoint between Las Cruces and Hatch — inside the borders of the old Republic, and which has existed throughout this century and perhaps for nearly 50 years.  Records are vague, but the authority for such checkpoints dates back as far as 1953,

Leaving Greater California, we crossed over into the Mountain Time Zone and into the patchwork Federation, putting up for the night in Eloy, a desolate stop with minimal services midway through the Arpaio Protectorate. We ate from our travel stash and the meager breakfast offerings at the hotel the next morning, driving 60 km to the nearest Starbucks for our morning coffee.

Old Town Bisbee

Figuring we might not have freedom to travel in the future, and eager to see places we’ve read about in books, we veered off the I-10 at Benson, driving through Bisbee, where fictional Sheriff Joanna Brady keeps the peace in the series of novels by J.A. Jance.  (We’ve also stayed at the B&B in Ashland, old Oregon, where fictional detective J.P. Beaumont stayed during one of his cases.)  Old Town was much more colorful than portrayed in the novels, which mostly take place in the more sedate new part of town and the surrounding desert.  Moving on through Douglas, we passed under the shadow of the tall prison walls that rise ominously near the Mexican border that separates Douglas from Agua Prieta, foreshadowing the rise of the Trump Wall.

We stopped for lunch in Lordsburg, where we needed to make the choice between “red, green, or Christmas” chile that is the essential part of every meal in this region.  Moving on, we find the effects of the new order fairly pronounced in the *real* universe.  Our B&B hostess in Mesilla, a transplanted Australian, was trying to sell, having lost her job and fearful of expulsion or worse as the wave of xenophobia sweeps over the land.

We spent a day in the old city of El Paso, visiting historical sites and museums with our granddaughter and son, and a few more days visiting with children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren in Las Cruces before heading north for more family visits.  [The cultural diversity of the region makes it impossible to consider closing the border here, hence we find it logical to assume our alternative universe provides an extended city-state composed of two American counties in two states and a Mexican city that is surrounded by a new border, which, in many ways, already exists, and has for decades.]

Choosing the old road along the Rio Grande was perhaps not wise, as we endured a bit more grilling at the border crossing between the El Paso/Doña Ana Free State and the Southern Exclusion Zone than we probably would have traveling on the Interstate, where traffic moves through the checkpoint more rapidly. (See photo at beginning of this post.) Fortunately, we still have passports issued by the former United States, which got us through, with acceptable answers to questions about our itinerary and choice of  routing.

Lunch at Truth or Consequences (known as Hot Springs in early 20th Century maps of the old United States, before it was renamed to become the mail drop for a 1950s television quiz show) just up the road reminded us that the northern region’s cuisine has crept in, confining the southern style to the Free State to the south, where culinary influences remain influenced by Texas and Chihuahua.

Little seems changed in New Spain: Albuquerque continues to expand up the mountain and spill out west of the river, as well as grow inexorably toward the capital to the north.  At lunch the next day, I had a southern version of the Québécois poutine: hash browns smothered in chile and cheese and topped with a fried egg.

After celebrating a great-grandson’s 4th birthday with an evening at the local roller rink, we headed west on our long journey home.  The pueblo regions define the area outside the modern city.  The indigenous people stand to lose even more than they already have under a regime with no regard for the environment, so they band even stronger.  In Gallup, a mosque stands at the edge of town, as yet not burned to the ground, thanks to the strong indigenous presence, and at the west edge of town, a series of hogans built with modern materials mark the core of a native religious academy.

The Raven stands watch over the ancient petrified forest.

At the western boundary of the Navajo-Hopi confederacy stands the Ryan Zinke Mineral Reserve, which we tour.  While the petrified wood formations in the reserve still stand, the town of Holbrook is surrounded by acres of stone yards stacked high with the gem-like remains of ancient trees.  We overnight in Flagstaff, where it is winter, with icy streets and piles of snow in the corners of parking lots.

The Crystal Forest

The next morning, we head westward, clearly back in the Arpaio Protectorate, noted by the broken asphalt and potholes in the main roads so common in the Federation heartlands.  Squads of police from several local jurisdictions cluster in the highway median crossovers, possibly looking for non-patriots, this far north of the Southern Exclusion Zone.  Unwilling to take a chance on being detained for scrutiny, we turn off onto the old highway, through indigenous lands once more.

Near Kingman, the largest northwestern city in the Protectorate, we drive past gated communities and full RV parks, a sprawling city not on the maps, no doubt filled with refugees from the liberal states to the west and more moderate loyalists from the north.  We continue on the deteriorating old road, which rolls up and down across the desert arroyos, fortunately dry this week, but bearing marks of recent flash floods.  The narrow track winds across the mountains, with few guard rails, through old mines and the steep main street of Oatman, sometimes blocked by wild burros.

Driving through dust storm, Mojave Desert

Finally, we reach the Colorado River and cross into Greater California, where our clearly Cascadian appearance (old Washington registration plates on a hybrid vehicle) gets us a perfunctory wave through customs at the border.  Having last filled the tank in the Navajo territory at $0.56/liter, we fill up, shocked at the $0.95/liter prices.  The difference in price is the tax burden, between countries that don’t care about the environmental impact of fossil fuels and those that do.  The price also reflects the contribution to highway maintenance from fuel taxes.  We cross the Mojave Desert and over the mountains, past wind farms to Bakersfield for the night.