May 30th, 2017
“We were somewhere around Barstow at the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like, ‘I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive…’ And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all sweeping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going at least one hundred miles an hour with the top down.” – Hunter S. Thompson
Karin and I stayed overnight in Barstow, the armpit of the Mojave. Actually, we were thrilled to get to Barstow. The trip to there from Flagstaff was at one point rather stressful. Most of the ride was okay. We barreled down I-40 after we had visited the Grand Canyon. Everything was going well until we hit the California border. Then, about one hundred miles east of Barstow, traffic stopped. It just stopped.
There was no obvious reason for the delay. Karin and I couldn’t see any evidence of an accident. There didn’t seem to be any construction activity. It was almost 6:00 PM, so any road work should have been completed for the day. However, neither lane of traffic was moving. At best, we creeped along the highway. We got a good look at the creosote bushes that lined the road. Karin was driving, and she never got out of first gear. For one and a half hours, we inched along I-40. We covered only seven miles during that entire period.
This is the sort of thing that makes a person edgy. One begins to wonder if traffic will ever move again. How hot is it outside? Will we spend all night in this desert? Will we burn out the clutch before we get to Barstow? How much gas do we have? Do we have any water?
At last things loosened up. I-40 had narrowed down to one lane for maybe a mile or so. That, and only that, had caused this back up. Once past the bottleneck, everybody floored it, and the race was on. We just kept going faster and faster. We sure as hell weren’t going to see any cops. None of those guys were around when we had been stuck in a seven mile long parking lot in the desert. No donut shops out here. Just get to Barstow. People wanted to make up for lost time.
We pulled off I-40 at Ludlow to use the bathrooms at the gas station. Everybody else heading west did the same thing. The line for the women’s restroom extended out of the building. I filled up the tank and waited for Karin. Karin drove the final stretch to Barstow. We did get to see a gorgeous sunset.
I’m not entirely sure why Barstow exists. I don’t think it has any natural resources. There is no water and no agriculture. It doesn’t provide venues for immoral activities like Las Vegas. Even the scenery sucks. However, Barstow has a unique geographical location. It lies equidistant between other, more hospitable locations. It is apparently a transportation hub, for both rail and vehicular traffic. It is also surrounded by military bases: China Lake, Fort Irwin, Edwards AFB. The sole purpose of these installations is to make the desert even more of a wasteland than it already is. Most of the military population is transient. So, Barstow is essentially a modern caravan stop, much like Samarkand was in the days of the old Silk Road through Central Asia.
People don’t go to Barstow. People go through it.