Sunday, September 4, 2011

Boron, Edwards and Jetliners in Mothballs

As travellers between the two cities know, there is only one practical driving route between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Interstate 15 through the Cajon Pass. Under good conditions, which usually prevail, the ride is a little under four hours. However, at the start and end of holiday weekends like this, it can take twice that amount of time or longer as Angelenos queue to or from Vegas. Indeed last night we heard about somebody who took 11 hours to drive back from Las Vegas last month due to a combination of bad traffic and bad weather. We avoid Las Vegas if it is at all crowded, so when it once took a mere six hours due to highway construction I was rather upset at that extra travel time.

Before we headed back from Vegas to Los Angeles this past Friday afternoon I fortuitously noted a large smoke cloud in the distance to the north of Las Vegas. Grabbing my blackberry and searching "Las Vegas fire" I found out that it was a fire in the remote Sheep Valley, well out of the Las Vegas area. However, Google also picked up another item about a fire in the Cajon Pass that had closed I-15. Now since we were three hours away from the fire we pressed on, hoping that the highway would be open by the time we got there, but thinking about plans if it wasn't. Unfortunately I did not bring a California map with me so I had to visualize possible alternate routes. However, we were able to catch radio reports that described the best alternate routes. The reports also indicated that I-15 southbound would probably be closed overnight because the pavement had burned.

Arriving in Barstow after 5pm I headed straight for the California Welcome Center in the Tanger Outlet Mall. I was hoping they were still open so I could get a look at a highway map and see what our options were. The helpful clerk suggested a long route, Highway 58 to Mojave to Highway 14 through the Antelope Valley, or the shorter route of staying on I-15 and getting off at Pearblossom Highway, just before the closure point. Mrs. Chandavkl seemed dubious about the long way around, thinking that it would take us six hours to get home that way. (She doesn't have a very good sense of geography.) Also, southbound traffic on I-15 had been light through Barstow so while there would be a bottleneck approaching the closure point at I-395 the delay might not be longer than the extra time it took to detour on Highway 58, so I tentatively decided we would stick it out on I-15. However, before we left we stopped at the Van Heusen store. As we were leaving a woman comes in and starts talking to the clerk (who had advised us not to even try driving back to Los Angeles) that it had taken her hours to reach Barstow on northbound I-15, which had not been closed and that the southbound side was backed up for miles from the closure point. That made it easy to decide to take Highway 58. Mrs. Chandavkl freaked out, fretting we wouldn't get home until midnight because this route would also be clogged by drivers avoiding I-15. I assured her we'd get home at 9pm as most drivers wouldn't be aware of any problem until they got to Victorville, at which point Highway 58 would not be an option.

From my point of view, any time lost taking Highway 58 would be worth it as I had never travelled this portion of the highway before. While Highway 58 was generally flat and boring, we did pass Twenty Mule Team Highway, and drove by the town of Boron, where the raw material for Borax and boric acid was mined. We drove along the north edge of Edwards Air Force base, marveling at how many people would drive this far to see Space Shuttle landings in the middle of nowhere. And as we headed down Highway 14 we saw what looked like a large commercial airport, but which was really a parking spot for commercial airliners that have been removed from service.

As we headed through the Antelope Valley, where we hadn't been in probably a dozen years, we turned on the radio to hear that I-15 southbound had just been reopened. "See," Mrs. Chandavkl said. "We should have stayed on I-15." I told her we could have been delayed just as long by being stuck in traffic there, since the I-15 would still have been closed when we arrived there, though I don't think she bought that. The rest of the ride back was also interesting, too. Lancaster and Palmdale were modern communities with all of the amenities of urban living. We could not imagine how our neighbor's daughter would drive daily at 5am from the Antelope Valley to her mom's house to drop off her kids before she went to work in Shadow Hills. We arrived home a little after 8:45 pm, which I figured was an extra 45 mile drive taking an extra 40 minutes over normal traffic conditions. Certainly it paid for itself in an interesting ride and not having the uncertainty of being trapped in traffic.

As a post script I turned on the TV news at 10pm. There, standing on the freeway entrance to the southbound I-15 was a news reporter, showing that while traffic to Las Vegas on the northbound I-15 was flowing smoothly, the southbound I-15 was at a standstill, as the backup from the earlier closure had yet to clear out. I read in the newspaper the next morning about the traffic chaos at the I-15 southbound closure as there were no signs or directions of where to go. One driver said it took 2 hours to travel 20 miles. So if we stayed on I-15, we might not have gotten home until midnight.

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