Day 6: Ocotillo to Brawley - Joshua Tree, Anza-Borrego, Imperial Valley 2016 - CycleBlaze

November 5, 2016

Day 6: Ocotillo to Brawley

Today is flat and easy so I don't need to get an early start. Good thing because the restaurant doesn't open until 8. I called my wife after breakfast and finally got on the road at 9:30.

Looking back at Ocotillo from Evan Hewes highway.
Heart 0 Comment 0

The first 20 miles is on Evan Hewes highway. It was the main highway 60 years ago but is long ago bypassed by I-8 which runs parallel to the south. The pavement is terrible. I figured it would be because it was also awful 4 years ago farther east towards Yuma. Traffic is so light that I can wander anywhere in the road. But even so my speed is much slower than it would be on smooth pavement.

The Plaster City OHV area sign is severely worn by sun and blowing sand.
Heart 0 Comment 0

The Plaster City OHV area is a place where hundreds of motor homes towing ATV trailers go every weekend. They come in groups and usually park the motor homes in a big circle to establish a secure private area and to reduce blowing sand.

The motor home people come in groups and stay the weekend.
Heart 0 Comment 0

It's rare to see a party that didn't bring a motor home.

These people are probably in the dunes for only a few hours.
Heart 0 Comment 0

A few miles past the Plaster City OHV area is the real Plaster City. No houses or stores. Just a big U.S. Gypsum wall board factory.

The real Plaster City is a U.S. Gypsum plant that manufactures wall board. The badlands to the west must be rich in calcium sulfate.
Heart 0 Comment 0

A couple miles east of the U.S Gypsum plant is the Westside Main canal. Things change dramatically when I cross the canal. From barren desert to irrigated farms, with trees in some areas. It's hard comprehend how abruptly it changes. West (uphill) of the canal is totally barren sand. East (downhill) of the canal is farms. I will stay in the irrigation zone for the next two days. The desert has been displaced thanks to the intervention of man. The Imperial Valley has 1700 miles of canals fed by the giant All-American canal that taps into the Colorado river near Yuma and flows 82 miles west to the Imperial Valley.

Westside main canal. Not lined with concrete. Desert on the right. Farms on the left.
Heart 0 Comment 0

The western edge of the farm zone does not look prosperous. Many abandoned farm houses and other buildings. Like most all of North America, family farms have been replaced by much larger corporate farms. The few houses that remain are fairly nice.

After crossing the canal I enter the irrigated zone and see abandoned houses.
Heart 0 Comment 0
Flood irrigating the front yard trees. Note the canal in front.
Heart 0 Comment 0

I was surprised to see that most of the irrigated land is used to grow a low-value crop, alfalfa. I thought that more of the land was used to grow high value crops such as fruits and vegetables.

Growing alfalfa in one of the hottest deserts on earth is incredibly wasteful. It takes something like a million pounds of water to produce one pound of beef. I hope that soon the water will be too costly to use for growing alfalfa.

A bit of stacked alfalfa in front of a field of freshly planted alfalfa.
Heart 0 Comment 0

A couple miles east of the canal I crossed the tiny New River. It flows north into the valley from Mexico, through the big city of Mexicali. Extremely polluted. Stay away.

The tiny New River is the only perennial river to flow into the Imperial Valley.
Heart 0 Comment 0

The Imperial Valley has several large manufacturing plants and it seems like every plant has a large photovoltaic array. That's great! The investment pays off well in the Imperial Valley where it's almost never cloudy.

Every factory has a large solar array. The Imperial Valley is ideal for solar power.
Heart 1 Comment 0

Overall, I was disappointed that the Imperial Valley doesn't seem to have a strong culture of water conservation. Most of the irrigation is done with inefficient flood irrigation, where you trench the fields and periodically flood the trenches.

In El Centro nearly every house has a green lawn. I know it makes the temperature somewhat more hospitable, but 100% of the water is imported from the Colorado river. It's a limited resource.

Rotor sprinkler irrigation at mid-day. Half the water evaporates before touching the ground but it's more efficient than flood irrigation.
Heart 0 Comment 0

I expected El Centro to be kind of a third-world city but it was more prosperous than I imagined. Population is 40,000. It's the county seat and the headquarters of a billion dollar agriculture industry. The west side of town has business parks, luxury apartments, and shopping centers. The east side of town isn't nearly as nice, though.

In general the Imperial Valley and Imperial County have been economically struggling for decades. Unemployment is very high. Farm jobs are declining. Nearly 100% of the population is Latino. Imperial county is much poorer than neighboring San Diego county.

Imperial County Courthouse wisely has the main entrance on the shady north side.
Heart 0 Comment 0

Downtown El Centro is struggling because many stores moved north of town to be near Wal-Mart. Both sides of Main street have covered sidewalks. That makes it somewhat more comfortable to walk the sidewalks on a typical 110F/42C day.

Downtown El Centro has 6 blocks of storefronts with concrete shade structures covering the sidewalks.
Heart 0 Comment 0

In El Centro the Mexican restaurants are all called "Taco Shop". Apparently the phrase "Mexican restaurant" doesn't really make sense when nearly 100% of the population is Mexican-American.

Bike shop in downtown El Centro.
Heart 0 Comment 0

I continued east of El Centro on highway 115 which is a 4-lane divided highway with light traffic. My plan was to stay in a motel in Holtville. After the temperature cooled down I plan to pedal a few miles east of town to the Holtville hot spring.

Unfortunately I couldn't find a place to stay in Holtville. The big motel is closed. A trailer park has cottage rentals but the manager is not available on weekends. No chance to get a cottage for this Saturday night. So I continued on to Brawley which has many motels.

The alfalfa goes to feedlots like this.
Heart 0 Comment 0

I went straight north from Holtville on Holt road, a county road. A couple miles out of town the pavement became extremely rough. I'm starting to learn that nearly every Imperial county road is totally cracked up. I was tempted to cut over to highway 115 but I stuck with the county road. I eventually connected to highway 78 and turned west towards Brawley. Now I have smooth pavement but much more traffic and little or no shoulder. At least it was faster. Humidity increased noticeably as I got closer to the Salton Sea (maybe from 10% to 15%).

The Imperial Valley is an incredibly productive agricultural region because it can grow 3 crops per year. It's warm and sunny year-round.

Irrigation water running out of a field. The goal is to have as little water as possible flow out.
Heart 0 Comment 0

It was past sunset when I arrived in Brawley. Got a $59 room at Townhouse Inn, very nice.

One nice thing about being in the irrigation zone is that shade is easy to find. Nearly every road is alongside a canal and there are scattered tamarisk and palm trees adjacent to the canals.

Today had a high of 92F in El Centro. About normal for this time of year.

The county roads have essentially no traffic today, Saturday. They surely have more farm truck traffic on weekdays.

Distance: 63.4 mi. (101 km)
Climbing: 287 ft. (87 m)
Average Speed: 11.5 mph (18.4 km/h)

Today's ride: 63 miles (101 km)
Total: 325 miles (523 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 0
Comment on this entry Comment 0