I knew returning from Baja would be like flying at 100 mph and slamming into a tree. Even though I could see it coming, there was no way to prepare but to brace for impact. I’ve had a bad case of the “Baja Blahs.”
For three days, I’ve been sitting in the Viejas Casino parking lot. I managed to move a whole 18 miles from Margie’s driveway, which was as far as I could muster. Sitting here like a wounded bird lying on the pavement, unable to move my wings, I tell Gayle when she asks when I might be thinking about moving, “I am stuck in the asphalt.” She writes back, “You gotta get off your asphalt!” It is the first time I’ve laughed in three days.
The Viejas Casino in Alpine, California offers a generous 72 hour stay in hopes that you will visit their casino and outlet malls often, spending copious amounts of money. They even run a shuttle bus that drives an annoying continuous loop in hopes that you will feel the urge to come bounding out of your rig and hail a ride. For three days, I leave the Winnie only once to walk over to the outlet mall for lunch. I stop in at Rubios and wince at the sight of the sign on their wall, “Baja in your own back yard!” An unfortunate choice on my part.
But the shuttle buses seem to be circling more frequently and closing in, and I wonder if they are trying to tell me something. So eventually, I do get rolling. A whopping 45 miles.
There are signs all along Interstate 8 leaving San Diego that warn of “Strong Winds, Next 24 Miles.” It is already an extraordinarily windy way, but now I have crosswinds to worry about. Soon, I find it difficult to hold the Winnie in my lane. I see dark clouds brewing behind me, and holding the steering wheel feels as challenging as walking a straight line after too many Baja margaritas. I have to get off the highway.
I see a sign for “Jacumba, Pop. 561.” I remember there is a hot springs there from my guide to Hot Springs in the Southwest. So I pull off the highway and follow the signs. By now, I am in a full fledged sand storm…A “beige out.” I start to turn around, but something compels me to keep going.
Soon, I reach the Jacumba Inn, a small hotel in the middle of nowhere but a dust storm. The woman behind the desk tells me I can park the Winnie in the lot overnight just for the cost of a day pass, $25. She gives me a tour of the Jacuzzi area, the only pool that is open currently because of the brisk winds and blowing sand. There are two women soaking in the hot tub, two sisters, one from Maine and the other, an RV full timer, both about my age. They tell me they have been coming to the springs for many years, and begin to describe the “healing properties” of the mineral water. I tell them “I could really use some healing! I’ll just get parked, grab my suit, and be right in!”
As I am paying at the front desk, I look down to notice a flyer of hikes in the area. There happens to be an organized hike tomorrow to “Valley of the Moon.” The hike is listed is “HARD!” (Capitalized emphasis is theirs.) I ask her if she knows anything about this hike, and she says “You’re in luck! Bill, the hike leader is in the bar.” I ask him “Can you please define ‘Hard?” He tells me it’s an 8 mile hike with about 500 ft elevation gain, and “we only go as fast as our slowest hiker.” I sign up and tell Bill that I will see him at 8am. Then I tell the woman behind the desk I would like to stay two nights, not one. My dust storm detour is turning into a weekend retreat! In a town with a population of only 561.
The mineral water in the Jacuzzi is perfect. I don’t like a really “hot” hot tub, and this one is around 98 degrees. The minerals make the water feel silky soft on my skin, and I am instantly beginning to relax. And yes, “heal.”
Judith and Deb, the two sisters ask me to join them for dinner. We meet in the hotel restaurant, the Tepary Southwest Grill. We all three order the chef’s recommendation, “Pollo del Suroeste” (Southwest Chicken), sautéed chicken breast in a tequila-lime-cream sauce with chorizo and shrimp. It’s one of the best meals I have had in a long time, Baja withstanding. In a town with a population of only 561.
Both of the sisters are employed in the field of holistic healing, which makes for some engaging conversation over dinner and well beyond our shared dessert of Triple Citrus Cheesecake. After a satisfying dinner, I go back to the hot tub for one last soak, then back to the Winnie where I sleep like the dead.
Nine hikers show up to do the Valley of the Moon hike the next day. We make a couple of stops along the way, my favorite being the “Carpeted Cave.” This opening up in the tower of rocks is quite an arduous climb that requires teamwork to ascend. The group is very kind to drag me along. Inside this hole in the rocks is a comfortable cave, complete with wall to wall carpeting. There are candles, an ammo box containing a lighter and replacement candles. It’s quite a comfortable cave!
I like this hiking group. They are nice people. Very inclusive. I join them later in the bar, and we swap stories of hiking adventures. I get many tips for places to hike in the area, while drinking a cold Stella on draft in a frosty tall glass to match. In a town with a population of only 561.
The day comes to an end with more soaking, more delicious meals from the Tepary Grill and stiff cocktails served poolside. I ponder the irony of getting off the road in a dust storm, while I contemplate staying a third night. But I start to feel like I need to move on, otherwise the population will soon be 562!
The entire visit is so surreal, from the gourmet restaurant to the healing waters to the organized hiking club. Everything I needed to get me moving again, all found in a town with a population of…
It wouldn’t surprise me if I were to return to Jacumba one day to find Rod Serling standing beside the dusty road leading to an abandoned ghost town, saying, “This highway leads to the shadowy tip of reality: you’re on a through route to the land of the different, the bizarre, the unexplainable…Go as far as you like on this road. Its limits are only those of mind itself. Ladies and Gentlemen, you’re entering the wondrous dimension of imagination. Next stop The Twilight Zone.”