Panic in the Desert • 7/25/18

 I learned something new during today's travels: hot springs, by law, cannot be open to the public at temperatures above 1o4 degrees Fahrenheit. That's why the resorts that revolve around them close up in the summer, because the water comes out at 118 degrees. At least it does in Tecopa Hot Springs, on the edge of Death Valley. How did I learn this? Read on, and you'll see.

Though yesterday's blog was called "Leaving California," we didn’t leave. Well, we left Torrance, but we didn’t get out of California.

The plan for day one was to reach Monroe, UT, where we'd spend the night at a funky hippie campground with bathtubs full of natural hot spring water. I don't know if the water was too hot to be open there, too, because we didn't make it nearly that far.

Here's a tip for those of you who slavishly follow your navigation app of choice: hit the button that shows you the steps in the navigation before you obey those turn-by-turn directions.  If I'd done that, I would have seen that for some inexplicable reason my Google Maps was taking me straight into the desert. 

Coming out of Baker, I was directed onto Death Valley Road. Another tip: if your GPS wants to put you on a road with the word "Death" in its name, maybe don't do it. Smart phones are smart, but there's a lot they don't know. Like that it's 127 degrees out there, everything is closed up tight in the desert in July, and you have no AC. Somehow I thought it was just the name of the road, not the place it was going to, and I was convinced (though I have no idea why) that it would connect with a big, populated freeway on the other end. The Death Valley Road portion of the trip was listed as 49 miles long. That didn't seem un-doable. What I didn't know was I'd be turning onto an even smaller road.

By the time we were halfway down Death Valley Road, the electronics had begun to fail, with the iPhone saying it needed to cool down, despite the fact that it was in a shaded part of the bus, not direct sun. If non-animate objects can’t function, you have to wonder about the living creatures. The ice I'd bought to put under and in Cowboy's bed had melted, and the fan was only blowing hot air at him. He looked awful. He was my main concern at this point.

The bus performed like a champ, didn't even come close to overheating or anything, but we were still miles from anything at all. I wasn't entirely sure I could make it back to Baker with the diesel on hand if I reversed direction. The GPS could no longer update, but I figured we were still a good 20 miles from the next turn, which I remembered had said “Old Spanish Road” or something like that. I actually tried calling 911 to see if I was near any kind of service, but the call kept disconnecting due to the phone’s heat, and then I reached a zone where I had no service whatsoever.

Finally, there was Old Spanish Road. A sign told me there was food and shelter and campgrounds at the upcoming Tecopa Hot Springs, so I turned to follow the sign. There were campgrounds all right - but none of them were open. There was no one in sight. Every place had a sign on the door saying they were closed for the season. 

I saw a man walking on the grounds of Petersen’s Tecopa Palms R.V. Park. I drove toward the office. There was no “closed for the season” sign: instead there was a big one that said "Welcome."  Through the screen door I could hear a woman’s voice. The woman turned out to be Maria, in the office on the telephone. I burst into tears and told her I was lost. She asked me where I was trying to get to. I blurted out, “Massachusetts” and she, astonished, told the person on the line she would have to call them back.

 Maria told me it was too late in the day to drive anywhere. The heat was not abating in the least, and it wouldn’t be safe. So she invited me to pull the bus up close to the building in the tiny sliver of shade there, and welcomed me, and more importantly Cowboy, who was truly suffering, into the clubhouse of her closed RV park. She informed me all the parks were closed, by the way, because of that overheated water thing I mentioned earlier.

A big swamp cooler and multiple fans took the edge off and Cowboy and I actually fell asleep for a while, until Mike, Maria’s husband, came in to look at the atlas with me and figure out a route to get out of the heat. His first suggestion was that I not drive at all, that I go back to L.A. and catch a bus or fly. When I told him that wasn’t going to happen, that I had a bus full of stuff that had to make its way to Boston with me, he suggested I hit the road at 2AM so I would miss the height of the heat, and that I stay on the interstate. No more desert detours! He was gently nudging me toward Route 40, but I still had dreams of getting back to my original itinerary, and the stops I'd planned were along route 70.  Mike pointed out that there was a lot of climbing involved in the Denver area, but it seems to me you're going to have to climb anywhere, since there's no way to avoid the Rockies. I have confidence in Buster; he may be old but he's a super strong bus. (*note added 7/31/18: this is what's known as "dramatic foreshadowing.")

Mike and Maria have owned the RV park for going on 20 years, but recently sold so they can travel the country in their own RV. They’ve been married 55 years. Their hospitality, and the simple fact that they were actually THERE, saved us. I honestly don’t know what I would have done had we not found them. I had no directions to follow, no idea where I was, and no way to get out of the sun. Score another one for friendly Californians helping each other out.

We’re going to snooze a bit here in the clubhouse, then head out, as suggested, at 2AM. I hope we get beyond this heat early enough in the day. I don’t know if the Walmart camping plan will work if not, since it relies on us staying in the bus. The bus is  full to  overflow with boxes, and there's no way to open the murphy bed, so we'd be crashing on the floor in the aisle, which is what we've been doing in our last Torrance days. But it's been nowhere near this hot in Torrance.  So... Day One... not even 300 miles covered. But we’re safe.

I still have zero idea where Google Maps was taking us, or why. When I map out Torrance to Monroe now, the app keeps me on the 15 through Nevada and Arizona, into Utah to pick up the 70. Maybe Google is trying to kill me.  Guess I outsmarted the smart phone this time.