As most of you know who follow my column each week, one of my hobbies is singing – particularly 4-part harmony in the Barbershop style. The fall convention for our Far Western District (FWD) was held in Mesa, Arizona (a suburb of Phoenix). Not feeling real excited about driving the route in one shot, we decided to break up the drive into two parts. Last Wednesday we packed the car and headed for our first day’s destination: Marine Corps Base at 29 Palms, California. This base is actually called MCAGCC (Marine Corps Air Ground Command Center). It’s in the desert and removed from most of what we call civilization.
We rolled easily down Hiway 99 to Bakersfield where we hung a left onto Hiway 58 toward Barstow. At the junction of 58 and 395, known as Kramer Junction, we stopped for gas at a Pilot station. It was late afternoon so I was quite surprised to smell fresh baked cinnamon buns when I walked into the convenience store. There, big as life, was a Cinnabon shop! Isaura and I showed great restraint by abstaining from succumbing to those tasty baked treats.
In Barstow we connected with Road 247 which angles southeast toward 29 Palms where we rolled onto Hiway 62 which took us to the base. In one of my chaplain reserve rolls I was the command chaplain for a Marine artillery battalion. This base was home for four successive summers in the mid-90s. Memories abound!
On the base is a delightful hotel called the Sleeping Tortoise. And across the street is DiCarlo’s Italian Café where we always have dinner. It is one of those quaint little places that feels like home. The food is delicious, too.
The next morning, after a good night’s rest, we went to the Marine Corps Exchange (MCX) where Isaura loves to shop. I went in search of the barbershop for a much needed haircut. Right next to the barber was a Starbuck’s. I could hardly believe it! When I was a Marine, there were never such nice places as Starbuck’s and DiCarlo’s. Heck, we didn’t even have a single fast food joint on base. You ate in the chow hall or nothing.
The remainder of the trip to Mesa took about six hours, of which about two hours of that was roadwork on Interstate 10, and then rush hour traffic in Phoenix. But what I found most unsettling was the drive across the desert around Joshua Tree National Park before connecting with Interstate 10. Clouds covered the sky all day. I’ve never been caught in a flash flood and I never want to be. I kept a wary eye on those clouds looking for rainfall. I was constantly figuring out possible high points or escape routes should a flash flood come our way. Thankfully, we avoided such a calamity. However, the next day we heard that there had been massive mud slides covering large sections of the highways and roads where we had been just hours before.
The past three days we have been fully engaged in the chorus and quartet competition, taking in all the wonderful talent of these singers. Some of these quartets and at least one chorus will be competing next summer at the International Competition in Nashville, Tennessee. There is where barbershoppers from around the world come to see if they can become the champions for 2016. It may not seem like such a big deal to those not involved in this fulfilling hobby but for those of us who sing the old songs, it is a slice of heaven on earth.
So tomorrow Isaura and I will begin our homeward trek. I’ll be checking with the Highway Patrol first to make sure the roads we plan to travel are clear of mud and debris. Yet, despite the clear danger associated with flash floods in desert regions, the beauty of the desert is simply exquisite. The various shades and hues of browns, tans, grays and greens is evidence of God’s handiwork. We witnessed a road runner in full form zipping along the road like he was being chased. I looked for Wiley Coyote, but he was nowhere to be seen.
If you’ve never traveled through the desert, you’re missing something special. The rock formations thrown up toward the sky along with a variety of small mountain ranges are fantastic in their design. Some of the names of these small ranges are comical: Old Woman Mountains; Chuckwalla Mountains; Chocolate Mountains; Big Maria Mountains; Turtle Mountains; Sheep Hole Mountains; Orocopia Mountains; Dome Rock Mountains; Eagletail Mountains; Big Horn Mountains; and Gila Bend Mountains, to name a few. And don’t forget the Grand Canyon. Wow!
Why not jump in your car and visit some of God’s amazing creation? You’ll love it!