Day 7: Brawley to Niland, detour to Five Palms warm spring - Joshua Tree, Anza-Borrego, Imperial Valley 2016 - CycleBlaze

November 6, 2016

Day 7: Brawley to Niland, detour to Five Palms warm spring

Overnight the clock "fell" back 1 hour to Pacific Standard time. I'm at the far eastern edge of the time zone, so the sun rises and sets early. Sunrise at 6 AM. Sunset at 4:43 PM. So I got up at 6 instead of 7 to stay on the same "sun time". Otherwise I would have one hour less daylight.

Today is another flat easy day in the Imperial Valley. The highlight of the day is a detour to Five Palms Warm Spring for a long soak.

Post office in Brawley.
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Starting in Brawley I pedaled 15 miles east on highway 78. The miles went by quickly with a gentle tailwind. This area has more vegetable fields and fewer alfalfa fields.

I was passed by a steady stream of motor homes towing ATV trailers. All headed to Glamis dunes. Power boating was the main tourist draw in the 1950's and 60's. Since the 1980's, dune riding is pretty much the only activity that brings tourists to the Imperial Valley. They buy a lot of gasoline. Last night I watched a woman casually pay $300 cash to fill the fuel tanks in her RV and trailer. Probably enough for a weekend of fun in the sand, plus the 2 hour drive back to San Diego.

Always a canal nearby, but not always filled with water.
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The highway gently climbs to sea level. Slightly above sea level when I crossed the Highline Canal. It's a huge canal that probably waters half the Imperial Valley. To the south it connects to the All-American canal which is the mainline to the Colorado river, taking nearly all the water just before it flows into Mexico. East (uphill) of the canal is desert. West of the canal is farms.

The Highline canal supplies water to most of the Imperial Valley. Farms to the left, desert to the right.
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East of the canal highway 78 starts to climb more steadily towards the Glamis dunes. After half a mile I turned right onto a sand road to Five Palms Warm Spring. I had no trouble pedaling the road 4 years ago but since then it has become deep loose sand. Literally a sand trap. I pushed the bike 1.6 miles to the warm spring. It was hard work. My friend Mr. Kim Sturmer drove in from San Diego to join me for a soak. He knew to drive his truck on a different but longer route that has packed sand.

Five Palms Warm Spring was 91F/33C. Perfect when the air temperature is about the same.
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I arrived about 9:30. He arrived about 10:30 I think. Using a digital probe thermometer I measured the pool at 90F when I arrived and 91F when I left. We're both hot spring enthusiasts. We had communicated for 20 years online but never met in person until now.

The pool gets partial sun during the day but I soaked in the shade. The hot water flows in from a well casing in the middle of the pool. The floating table (top of a big cooler) is held in place by the geysering water. The geysering water makes an annoying noise when you remove the floating table.

Two ducks were already in the pool when I arrived. The ducks seem to be eating the algae. They didn't mind me nearby.

The ducks at Five Palms Warm Spring were not afraid of people.
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I didn't try very hard to take pictures of the warm spring. The photos don't really capture what a pleasant soak it is. The pool is about 2 feet deep with a sandy bottom. Water gushes out of the well pipe and bubbles occasionally out of the sand in other places. Enormous fan palms surround the pool. It truly is an oasis in the desert. Runoff from the soaking pool creates a small lush wetland. I usually prefer the water to be a few degrees hotter but in this hot environment a warm pool is perfect.

A palm oasis in the desert.
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We left the warm spring at about 2:30 PM. Kim drove me back to pavement to save time and energy. I got on the road again at 2:45 PM. Still 32 miles to Niland and sunset is 4:43 PM.

Orchard of some kind. The date palms are only on the perimeter.
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Promptly back in the farm zone, I pedaled north on an Imperial county road called Butters road. It was very rough. The honeycomb of big cracks slowed me down considerably. But I stuck with it until it ended at a T.

Giant roadside stacks of hay are common.
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During this tour I pedaled many miles on Imperial county roads and they all have awful pavement. State highway 115 would have been a better choice to get from Holtville to Calipatria. It has much smoother pavement and light traffic.I don't recommend riding any distance on highway 86. It has a wide shoulder but has way too many loud trucks to be a pleasant cycling route.

Flat field and craggy mountains.
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The field was recently watered. Still a bit of water standing in the trenches.
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Coming into Calipatria I was fascinated by a canal that had a small dam every 1/4 mile. I couldn't detect a grade but the elevation must have dropped 2 feet every quarter mile. I didn't see many dams in the canals elsewhere.

This irrigation canal has many small dams because the land slopes slightly.
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Eventually my county road joined smooth highway 115 and followed it into Calipatria. It was nearly dark when I got to Calipatria.

Calipatria has a supermarket and a motel. The main local industry is a prison. From a distance I saw the flagpole that they claim to be the world's tallest.

I need to continue 8 miles to the smaller town of Niland. Otherwise tomorrow will be too long.

The sun never sets inside California State Prison Calipatria.
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I put on the headlight and pedaled highway 111 from Calipatria to Niland. Flat and straight with a usable paved shoulder. Heavy traffic, but still reasonably safe when using a head light and tail light.

It seemed really late when I rolled into Niland long after dark but it was actually only 5:30 PM. I got a room at the only motel in town and had dinner at the only restaurant in town.

Twilight on the road to Niland.
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Niland is an impoverished little former farm town on the northern edge of the irrigated portion of the Imperial Valley. Not much farming going on in the area now, but many people go through Niland on their way to Slab City and Salvation Mountain. I will go there first thing in the morning.

The weather was sunny all day with a gentle southeast wind. Noticeably cooler than yesterday. Today's high was only 88F (31C). I'm still below sea level most of the time.

This was my second day of relentlessly flat terrain. One more flat (but longer) day to go...

Distance: 49.1 mi. (78.6 km)
Climbing: 291 ft. (88 m)
Average Speed: 10.4 mph (16.6 km/h)

Today's ride: 49 miles (79 km)
Total: 374 miles (602 km)

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