Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March 15: Phoenix to San Diego, CA

We (Alan, Dan & I) awoke at 5 AM to get ready to leave for San Diego.  Alan was coming along to pick up a car from someone in San Diego to drive back to Phoenix.  The previous evening I remembered that when crossing into California, there are checks at the border to see if you are carrying in any plant life.  The chili peppers.  The 2 strands of chili peppers.  Devotees will recall that I had previously spent almost $40 on 2 strands of chili peppers while in Taos, New Mexico.  Now, I was assuming that if we crossed the border with them, particularly with a strand dangling in the rear passenger window, things would not go well.  I imagined the border check guards starved of their one favorite food, the chili pepper.  I then imagined them taking 2 $20 bills from my pocket and lighting them on fire in front of my face.  Something had to be done.  I spoke to Alan about this and he mentioned he could pack them up and UPS them to Iowa.  Plan A had been devised.  In the morning, the first steps were executed (i.e. leaving the chili peppers with Alan, whose apartment now sports a distinctly Taosian flare as they are hanging off his balcony).  

We departed at 6 AM.  The drive across Arizona (taking I-10 west to Highway 85 south to Gila Bend, then I-8 West to San Diego) is relatively boring.  One writer described the area (really the entire area known as "basin and range" which stretches through southern New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona) from the sky as the appearance of a number of spaced out catepillars attempting to flee Mexico.  In essence, this means long stretches of flat ground with a distant mountain in view.  Once you have reached the mountain, rinse and repeat.  

We entered California at around 8 AM; as we approached the fruit/plant check point, we were waved on by the guard on duty.  The chili peppers were to have breathed California air as it turned out; either way, they will now be shipped.  Following this, we had to go through 2 border checks - yes, border checks - as if we had left the country.  Fortunately, we were waved on through both of these, though search and seizure was clearly in order.  As a side note, I received a text message from Alan today (3/16) stating that he did get searched on the way back into Arizona (roughly 15 minutes, according to first hand reports).  Additionally, during the drive we were easily able to view "The Fence" - i.e. the border fence between the U.S. and Mexico.  Atop one mountain, we spotted a U.S. Border Patrol van overlooking the area surrounding the fence.  

After about 5-5.5 hours, we arrived in San Diego, dropped Alan off at "Mike's" - the possessor of the car - and drove to Balboa Park for, I hoped, lunch at The Prado restaurant and some museum viewing.  The place (Balboa Park) was packed.  We were able to find a parking spot fairly easily, but there were a number of people scoping out the park and the museums.  Situated just east of downtown, Balboa Park is a wonderful example of public park space.  The parklands were put in reserve in 1835 by newly elected San Diego city officials from the Mexican government took office.  This makes it one of the oldest land areas set aside specifically for public recreational use in the United States.  When we dropped Alan off to get the car, Mike stated that in 5 1/2 years, he had never visited Balboa Park; a sin in San Diego indeed.  Much of the park's appearance today is due to the 1915 Panama-California exposition, which celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914 and touted San Diego as passing ships' first port of call.  The park is home to a number of museums (including the San Diego Museum of Man, the San Diego Art Museum, the Timkin Art Museum, and the Museum of Photographic Arts), an outdoor performance pavilion, and a Shakespeare troupe which performs at 1 of 3 theaters (2 outdoors, 1 indoor replica of Shakespeare's original Globe theater) - which is well, well worth the price of admission - and, of course, the San Diego Zoo (which, in addition to being the most loved zoo in America, is featured on the cover of the Beach Boys' 1966 seminal album Pet Sounds - which I personally have never cared for (the photo), but the music is quite inspired) all in all, Balboa Park is a beautiful expanse; a visit is required if one is to visit San Diego.  We arrived at the entrance to The Prado around noon.  Based on the number of people waiting in the open-air courtyard, I assumed it would be difficult to get in; I was wrong.  We were seated immediately, which I felt was quite amazing, for this restaurant has been voted "best outdoor restaurant" in 5 different polls in the last 4 years.  Once seated, I ordered a glass of wine, the aptly named "Evolution #9" (after the Beatles' song "Revolution #9) and waited for a very tasty, though $16, burger put forth (I'm guessing unwillingly) from organic-fed cows on the Moon or some equally impressive feat.  Dan and I agreed our meals were quite tasty; we alighted full and pleased of our first experience in San Diego.  Following this, we toured a few museums, took in a few minutes of a pipe organ concert performed by an apparently studied organist named Carol.  

Following this excursion, we returned to Alan who was to follow us to La Jolla Cove and the rocky, sandstone outcrops that make up much of the beach footing in the area (this is specific to La Jolla, as there are certainly all-sand beaches in San Diego).  We parted ways at around 4 PM, as Dan & I proceeded to the luxurious Tower 23 hotel (website).  From here, we ate dinner at one of the number of local restaurants present along the strip near the hotel, this one interestingly posing itself as "Home of the Iowa Hawkeyes".  Following dinner, we arrived back at the hotel and went to sleep at around 9 PM which was to be my first full night of sleep of the trip.  

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