Round Trip

I’ve just got back to New York after a brief visit to San Diego to visit my father, and no matter how often I make the trip I still find it startling how utterly different the two corners of the continent are, and how easily we flit back and forth. It was a breezy 10° F. or so at dawn on Friday when I headed for JFK, and a sunny 70° at Lindbergh field when I blew in. Now, back in Brooklyn, though it’s warmed up quite a bit, it’s still snowing wetly.

My dad lives in San Marcos, a small town in northern San Diego County, and on Saturday I took him for a drive in my rented Ford Taurus. I like to get away from the cities when I go out there, so we headed east — inland — out through the town of Escondido, heading for the mountains and the desert.

After a while we arrived at the mountain town of Julian, an old gold-mining village tucked away high up in the forests and chaparral; an attractive and rustic spot. We moseyed around briefly, had a delightful lunch at a local eatery, and got back on the road.

Heading east from Julian, Route 78 quickly descends into the rain shadow of the mountains, and the trees and high grassland give way quite abruptly to the starkness of the Sonoran Desert. We wound our way through narrow passes among boulder-strewn hills — very dramatic and beautiful — as the landscape grew more and more forbidding. When we got to state route 23, we turned left and climbed quickly, heading for Yaqui Pass.

After a few twisting miles we overtopped the ridge and found ourselves looking down on a breathtaking prospect — a vast basin, rimmed on three sides by barren and lofty mountains, and opening to the east into what seemed a limitless distance, as if it were the edge of the world. In the middle of the valley were the scattered buildings and sparse network of roads that constitute the parched and isolated town of Borrego Springs, but from our vantage, high on the slope of the encircling escarpment, the tiny human presence was utterly dwarfed by the immense and timeless grandeur of this pitilessly beautiful setting. We stopped the car, and I got out to take it all in. There was not the slightest breath of wind, and not a sound to be heard — just a titanic, staggering silence. And despite the scene’s ungraspable scale, the details came right up to us: all about us, lambent in the warm glow of the setting sun, was a fantastic world of desert plants, stretching endlessly away on all sides.

We stayed there for about twenty minutes or so. I had no camera with me other than the nearly-worthless one in my cell phone, but I did snap a few shots. Here are three of them:

Soon afterwards, the sun slipped behind the mountains, and we headed back to San Marcos. And this morning I said goodbye to my father, spent another timeless interval on the plane, and now I’m back in Gotham, where it is snowing, wetly.

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