Large Boulder Picture of the Week

Nothing Arizona Sign
Nothing Arizona – Only a crooked sign and empty building shell are all that remains in Nothing

My generation is probably the last to have a love affair with automobiles. For us, cars defined who we were. They opened the country for us to explore. Now that we’re old, most of our recollections are car-centered, and I’m an example of that. Over my life, I’ve owned a varied stable of vehicles; from ones German engineered to station wagons that the Griswolds from Family Vacation would reject.

The car that still gives me the most angst was the Camaro that my parents gave as a wedding gift for my first marriage. It was special because it was the racecar version built for the original Trans-Am series. To qualify for the races, manufacturers had to produce at least 1,000 units, and they had to sell them through their dealer networks. Very few Americans knew they existed. I knew, because I read racing magazines, and after I got back from my overseas tour, I hunted one down. Their moniker came from the option package number—Z/28. After the first batch quickly sold out, Chevrolet offered them to the public.

It was British racing green with a pair of broad white stripes on the hood and trunk. Ours didn’t carry the familiar Z/28 badge on its nose; instead, it just had the numbers 302 which was its engine size. Trans-Am limited the displacement to 5 liters, and that meant that it was the smallest V8 that Chevrolet put into Camaros, but those engines were specially built and had more horsepower than the other power plants available. Since it was a high revving motor, you couldn’t get air conditioning or (gasp) power steering. Because I raced mine, I added 10” wide wheels and fat tires which made it near impossible for my wife to drive.

At the collector’s car auctions, 1968 Z/28s sometimes go for over a hundred grand, and because mine was a low chassis number, I believe it could’ve been more valuable if it were in pristine shape. But, I was living in a lot of turmoil and planned to move to Arizona where I would need an air-conditioned car, so I got a thousand dollars on trade for a Vega—possibly the worst purchase I ever made in my life.

It was mustard-yellow with a single black stripe. I wanted the GT version because it came with gauges instead of idiot lights. The dealer didn’t have one with air, so they installed an aftermarket unit, which was like bolting a cinder block to the side of the engine. Because of the weight and engine vibrations, the compressor fell off when the bolts sheered—twice. All of the gauges worked except for the water temperature, which I noted to the dealer while it was under warranty. They said they’d order one, but I don’t think that they ever did, and wound up rebuilding the engine after it seized from overheating.

My horrible decision meant that I gave away the impractical car that I loved, to buy the practical car that I hated, and that includes all the awful station wagons we’ve owned. Its gas mileage wasn’t any better than my hot rod, and with a nine-gallon tank, our gas stops doubled. The engine vibrations were so bad that I carried a screwdriver and wrench because, at each fill-up, I had to re-tighten the carburetor screws. The only fond memory I have of that car was besting the local legend—Don Roberts—at a Big Surf event. He drove a different Vega—a station wagon. That was a nice feather to have in my cap.

My second wife and I went to Las Vegas, Bullhead City, or one of those destinations involving Highway US 93. We packed the Vega—it never deserved a name—and headed north for the weekend. We planned gas stops in Wickenburg, Kingman, and Vegas—or wherever. However, because of the Vega’s limited range, we had to stop again after climbing the grade after the Santa Maria River—at Nothing, Arizona. I had to pay a buck-and-a-half for gas, which was highway robbery at the time. That makes me the only person in the world to have bought gas in this month’s featured destination—Nothing—population: 4.

The abandoned store in Nothing is at the top of the pass between the Poachie and Aquarius Mountain Ranges. Its elevation is 3700-feet, and the terrain is part of the granite boulder field that stretches from Prescott to Kingman. The store, as they tell it was, ”built by four drinking friends having nothing better to do.” It was open only a couple of years before being abandoned. I don’t remember this, but according to Wikipedia, in 2016, Century 21 ran a promotion for father’s day with the promotion line, “Give Dad Nothing for Father’s Day.” They sold 24-hour deeds to property in Nothing. The current property owner was in on the joke and buyers could download a gift card and a “Certificate of Nothing” valid on June 19, 2016, only.

Large Boulder
Large Boulder – The landscape in the Nothing Pass is a boulder field like this delivery-van sized example.

So for April, I will be trying to make something from Nothing—pun intended—like this week’s featured image—Large Boulder. There’s some pretty country in the pass between the Santa Maria River and Burro Creek. My job is to find enough to produce four images for April. Do you think I’m up to it?

You can see a larger version of Large Boulder on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and next week; we’ll show another featured image from Nothing.

Until next time — jw

P.S. You should see my grammar checker going nuts over Nothing.

P.P.S. Speaking of old Chevys—this week I sat through a show that Queen Anne likes. I think its called The Kids Are Alright. It’s about a Catholic family with a gaggle of boys. They’re struggling to make ends meet, so they drive an old station wagon—a ’66 Chevelle. As I watched, I had to pause the show and show Her Majesty the station wagon’s nose badge. It indicated that the car had a 396 motor, but it wasn’t an SS model. Very rare and valuable.

Los Algodones, Baja California

The Queen and I took time out of our busy schedule to make our quarterly dentist visit this week. Normally you’d think that would take maybe an hour or two at the most. For us, it’s more of a commitment than that. As seniors, our dental insurance is nil to none, so upon recommendation of a couple of friends, we found a good dentist in Algodones . . . Mexico, and that means an overnight journey to Yuma. Both of us got an addatoothtome, so on the first appointment was for a root canal and then an impression to send off to the lab overnight. The next day was for fitting the crown.

It’s been an abnormally wet year for us here in the desert, so when we left Monday at daybreak under a cloudless blue sky, we felt as if we were wasting a good work day. The rains kept us cooped up all weekend while we have outside projects we’ve put off for dry weather. Instead, we were on the road for three hours for an appointment at 11:00 am.

As the sun came up we saw patches of fog, something we rarely get. The evening breeze pushed the ground fog to the base of the low ranges like they were door-stops. The dark hills popped out of the strands of white. South of Quartzsite I couldn’t take it anymore and pulled off the road to snap a shot as we passed through the KOFA (King of Arizona) Wildlife Refuge. Even so, we made it with time for breakfast before our appointments.

Ground Fog and KOFA Range
A rare sight in the desert is ground fog, but after a cold rain it collects at the feet of the low ranges. Here a ocotillo is foreground to the fog at the KOFA Range

Los Algodones is a retirees’ equivalent of Disneyland. The downtown commerce area is an eight block square along the east bank of the Colorado River. It’s an extremely tiny border town when compared to Juarez, Nogales, Tijuana or even Mexicali; sixty miles to the west, yet it’s still a Class A border crossing. That’s because of the large amount of foot traffic. There is some vehicular traffic crossing there, but most people pay the six dollars to the Quechan tribe to park in their huge parking lot and walk across.

The dominant feature is a multi-story steel beam structure like an unfinished building. It’s been unfinished since we first visited some twenty-five years ago and most likely won’t be different in the next twenty-five. Then there are the hustlers. Unlike Tijuana, they’re not trying to get you into one of the girly clubs (of which there are none); they’re working for the dentists, eye doctors, pharmacies or liquor stores. That’s right; the doctors got pimps. After you wander the town a bit, you realize the town is a medical amusement park. Within a block you can get glasses, a tooth implant, new hearing aids, a sombrero, and have a margarita for lunch while you’re waiting for the lab.

As a younger man, I never would have gone to a doctor in Mexico. I had heard the horror stories of shoddy work and surgery disasters, so why the change of heart now? It’s a combination of economics, a referral and desperation. We need dental work, but couldn’t pay what the local dentists where charging . . . even with insurance. So, if I had a problem with a tooth, out it came. After retiring and hanging out with other like-minded geezers, we heard some good stories and then got a couple of strong referrals.

On our summer trip, I broke two crowns, so when we got back, we scheduled an appointment to investigate. As we sat in the tiny waiting room, people our age surrounded us claiming our dentist was the best. The first exam was simple consisting of digital x-rays, tiny cameras, and some poking and prodding. Within fifteen minutes they printed out a chart of my mouth showing the work that I needed including the cost by tooth. Then they went over the x-rays and photos so I could clearly see what they were talking about. After that, they cleaned my teeth and then I was done . . . $25.00. When we left the office, we both had our charts and it was our decision about which teeth to work on and when to do it. All of the prices were less than what our co-pay would be in the States.

As always, the devil must have his due. What you save in money, you pay with time. I already pointed out, the waiting room is crowded with patients that are loyal . . . to a fault. Your 11:00 am appointment only means you’ll be seen sometime after that. If you need to see a specialist, they call an escort to take you there, where you can sit in another waiting room that always has one less chair than people. If you’re lucky, the TV has Discovery Chanel in Spanish, otherwise it will be CNN. If your visit requires replacement parts, the lab will have them ready tomorrow, always tomorrow. If you count on getting back on the road at a decent hour, give it up. You will only have enough time to grab a Big Mac at the Yuma Mickey D’s before the three-hour drive home in the dark.

Western Arizona is one of the weirdest places on earth. It’s all low-lying Sonoran Desert dominated by creosote bushes, Palo Verde trees, and an odd saguaro here and there. It also gently slopes downhill towards Yuma, the lowest place in the state. It’s also the warmest and driest part of the state, both winter and summer. No one lives there.

Yuma Crossing
All of the historical travel routes crossed the Colorado River within 300 yards of this spot. That includes the ferry, railroad, the first Ocean to Ocean Highway (US 80) and the current freeway (Interstate 8).

While driving to Yuma in September, we counted twenty-five empty RV parks along the road. Quartzsite, the halfway point of the trip, was a ghost town with most of the stores closed. On Monday’s trip they were all packed to the brim with people from Montana, Alberta, Idaho, Saskatchewan, Washington and British Columbia. They all come down to the warm desert and camp out under the stars. Except for an occasional Costco run, they never go into Phoenix and the Phoenicians aren’t aware that these people are out there. After all, who goes to Quartzsite? The campers also go to Algodones for doctors, prescriptions and booze.

On the Immigration Service Website, it says that the Algodones Customs Station averages over two thousand pedestrians a day. I’ve been there on days where you could walk right into the custom-house and be on your way two minutes later. This week there were over four thousand people waiting in line to cross the border. The line curled back from the custom-house and several blocks down the street. For over an hour we marched a step or two at a time, while chatting with our neighbors and carrying one bag of prescriptions and another containing one bottle of Kahlua or tequila.

Towards day’s end, the street vendors grab an armload of goods, abandon their stalls and make their way to the line waiting at customs. They form a gauntlet imploring you to buy a poncho, sombrero or a giant carved wooden turtle. On your other side, old women dressed in black hold a swaddled infant and offer Chiclets for spare change. They move on if you smile and softly say, “No. Thank you.” If you dare feel the lace or try on a hat, you’re dead meat until you agree on a price. Being a Baby Boomer, I can tell you that they’d really make a fortune selling street tacos and Margaritas to-go along that exit line.

Till then . . .