Call me a geek but I always get excited the first time I travel a highway that I have never traveled before. There is something invigorating about cruising past sights my eyes have never seen and not knowing what to expect around the next bend. I research my route and take mental note of landmarks to look for and cities that we will cruise through along the way. This time it was Interstate 8. Yes, I got exciting about an interstate. I have driven to Tucson on Interstate 10 but never on Interstate 8! I stared at my route on the map and read about Interstate 8 history. I became giddy knowing I would drive on the lowest part of the interstate system at -52 below sea level near Seeley, CA and that I would be within 2 miles of the border while driving through Imperial County. I know this isn't the kind of thing that sends everyone's heart a flutter but it certainly does make an 8 hour drive more interesting.
The highway did not disappoint. It starts in San Diego near Mission Bay and crosses over the rocky In-Ko-Pah Mountains. As you climb in elevation there are boulders, boulders, everywhere. I felt like I wanted to jump out the window and start climbing. There is something about the rocky desert that I have always loved. I think in some ways it reminds me of Simi Valley where I grew up.
The closer the interstate creeps towards the border the more you start to notice the overwhelming presence of US Border Patrol. We went through quite a few checkpoints and at almost every one I noticed somebody pulled off to the side of the road for questioning. Pretty impressive considering the road was only sparsely dotted with vehicles. At one checkpoint there was a sign that stated in 2008 over 1700 illegal immigrant arrests were made at that one location along with plenty of drugs busts. I can't remember the exact statistics but it was enough to get a "wow" out of Paul and I. As I was driving along I noticed a large black fence in the distance. It was the border fence. I woke Paul from his nap so he could see it because I thought it was quite exciting. He probably didn't feel it was worthy of being woken from a nap but he indulged me. I am not sure what I was expecting but I have to say there was something ominous about that fence. I couldn't help but think about the millions who have tried to cross and their stories, both good and bad. I fully support border security but I also understand why people want to sneak across the border and have a better life.
There is a stretch of desert near the border that is nothing but sand dunes. You begin to feel as if you are in the Saharan Desert instead of the Sonoran Desert. The light hitting the dunes at sunset paints the sand pastel shades of pink and blue. Oh yeah, and they also look like a blast to roll down!
We crossed over the Colorado River (which was nothing more than a trickle by the time it got that far south) and into Yuma, AZ aka: RV central. Holy cow, I have never seen to many RVs. RV dealerships , RV resorts, RVs on the highway. What was the reason for so many RVs out in the middle of nowhere? Old people. Yes. Old people. Evidently the population of Yuma triples in the winter due to snowbirds. They gather in the dry heat of the desert and play canasta and golf far away from their snow covered homes in the northern portion of the country. I completely understand the desire to flee the frost but Yuma? Maybe because its cheap? I don't get it...
The final stretches of Interstate 8 are desert, desert, and more desert. Saguaro cacti start popping up along side the road and a more traditional southwestern desert landscape takes hold. Towns are few and far between (including Dateland, home of the world famous date shake) and the occasional cattle ranch permeates the air. Finally Interstate 8 ends as it merges with Interstate 10. It may not most popular route or the prettiest but it does have its charm. I encourage you to take a road you haven't taken before and to stay tuned as I tell you more about the fun you can have in Tucson with kids!
PS- Don't forget to enter my Ski and Stay giveaway here!