Heading out of Los
Angeles on Interstate 15, It was a beautiful and sunny autumn day.
The temperature in the desert was only 35C. Comparatively warm to
temperatures in Canada this time of year which would have been
slightly below freezing.
Interstate roads in
the desert are completely different than in other areas of the
country. Firstly the speed limit is higher at 110km/h instead of
the usual 100km/h. This is mostly due to the massive flat expanses
of nothingness that surround you. There are hardly any hills, or
distractions. It’s not uncommon to not pass another car on the road
for hours at a time.
After a few hours travel,
I passed a very unique sign. It almost looked fake. The sign simply
read “ZZYZX Rd.” with an arrow. I had no idea where the road would
lead, although it was quite perplexing.
Wikipedia, The made-up name Zzyzx was given to the area in 1944 by
Curtis Howe Springer, claiming it to be the last word in the
English language. He established the “Zzyzx Mineral Springs and
Health Spa” in 1944 at the spot, which was federal land, after
filing mining for 49 square kilometres surrounding the springs.
Zzyzx is pronounced “zzy-zax” – Zzy like xylophone, then Zachs like
the name Zach.
Cruising along the highway
through the beautiful, flat, expanse of nothingness I would often
see groves of wild cactus at the side of the road. These are the
same cactus that in Canada people keep in their houses. As a person
from the north, this was quite a unique sight to see. Although I
love cactus, they certainly do not promote a barefoot friendly
environment for people like myself.
After some time
of cruising up the highway, I passed into the Mojave desert. Like
the entire Southern California environment, it was like nothing I
had ever experienced. The land was flat, it was blisteringly hot,
and everything was flat, with mountains off in the far distance.
The heat created a form of mirage on the road. It looked like the
road had large wet patches across it, until I got closer, then
realised it was just a trick of the light.
large hill lay before me, and I passed a most peculiar sign which
read “To avoid over heating, turn off air conditioner”.
This is where
my northern roots kick in. I had no idea that a sign like that
could be anything more than a suggestion. I have never had a car
over heat in the Canadian summers back home. In fact, I reached
over and turned the air-conditioning to “High” from “Medium” just
to spite the sign.
As my Jeep climbed the
hill, I noticed the vehicle was acting a little bit strange, and
seemed to buck and shake a little bit. As I looked down at the
instrument panel, I noticed the engine temperature had gone as far
into the red-zone as possible. The Jeep had over heated.
I saw a pull-off
area at the top of the hill, and pulled up beside another vehicle.
Strangely this car had Ontario license plates as well. I stepped
out onto the sand and could feel the searing heat on my bare feet .
I approached the small car, and the young man sitting in it. He
smiled at me and said “Did yours over heat as well?”
I responded with a half-grin “Yeah”.
“I’m from Canada” he said. “Cars don’t overheat where I’m
We both started laughing. The young man
was in school in Los Angeles and heading to Las Vegas for the
weekend. The poor guy had his cat with him, who was hiding under
the car – panting.
The heat in the Mojave
desert was so strong that I could feel the heat radiating from the
ground. Everything looked wet in the distance from the heat
distorting the air. With each breath, I could feel hot air entering
my nose. Not something I have ever experienced before. The sun was
so bright, I had to squint to see, even though I was wearing dark
The plant life which grows in the
desert was low to the ground, and very spikey. These spikes protect
their precious moisture from predators which may wish to eat
While standing over the small overheated
car of my fellow Canadian, the hot wind picked up and we both saw
something we never see in Canada – a tumbleweed!
Tumbleweeds are actually a non-native Russian thistle
which breaks off at the base, and forms and gets pushed by the
desert winds dispersing its seeds as it rolls on top of the
Seeing the tumbleweed blow by as we
were stranded in the desert, really made us both feel the
desolation of this place.
About an hour
of being stranded, and some interesting conversation with the young
law student, my Jeep had cooled off enough for me to continue my
journey. That sign’s warning ever burned into my mind by the hot
sun of the Mojave desert.
If you ever find
yourself cruising in the desert, and see a sign that reads “turn
off air conditioner” it may be in your best interest to do what it
requests, or prepare for an adventure.