Thursday, March 24, 2005

First Impressions of Ridgecrest

OK I called this Ridgecrest Blog without a lot of justification other than I live in Ridgecrest.

So what/where is Ridgecrest California?

If you want the almanac description of Ridgecrest you can find it here. This link will tell you that the population according to the 2000 census is 24,927 people as well as all sorts of demographic and climatic information. But those are just numbers. So I'll try and tell you a little about what it means to live in Ridgecrest. Since I have lived here almost 20 years, relating my impressions will take a while, so I'll split it up over several posts. First up - Always make a good first impression.

I first came to Ridgecrst in July of 1985 for a job interview. I landed at Los Angeles International Airport at 10 PM. I picked up my rental car, pulled out onto the 405 and headed north. My driving directions were concise - 405 north to the 14. Take 14 north to Mojave. Turn right in Mojave (still on the 14) and continue north. Exit east on the 178 and there's Ridgecrest.

Initially the drive was fantastic. Even the nightly LA traffic on the 405 didn't bother me. I got to see signs and exits for places that I had only seen in the movies or on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The most exciting part of the drive was to see that they really was a Slauson Exit. I was tempted to take it and look for the cutoff that Carson always talked about.

Three plus hours later I was driving north on Highway 14. Mojave was 30 miles behind me and I was convinced that I had to have taken a wrong turn. There was nothing out there! I had decided to give myself 10 more miles and if I didn't see some human habitation I was turning around. I had learned to drive in Wyoming where you can drive for an hour on the interstate and never see another car. But for some reason driving into the middle of the California desert un-nerved me.

Finally cresting the hill north of Red Rock Canyon I spotted off in the distance what appeared to be a fairly good sized community.

Well perceptions can be deceiving. That good sized community turned out to be a small town. Now being a small town is not a bad thing. I was born in a town of 5000. Until I moved to Amarillo TX after graduating from college, I had never lived in a town with a population bigger than 50,000. I had gotten the feeling that Amarillo with it's over 100,000 people was just too big. That plus my disillusion with my job there, is what had led me to start looking for a change. Hense my trip to Ridgecrest.

I drove down Hwy 178 and into Inyokern Ca. My first thought was "Damn, this place looked a lot bigger from up on the highway." Suddenly realizing that I wasn't in Ridgecrest yet I continued on. As I drove into Ridgecrest there was nothing to the north of me, and only occasional buildings on the south. Eventually I drove up to the front gate of what was then called the Naval Warfare Center - China Lake. The guard there gave me directions to my friends house where I was going to stay.

I finally arrived at my best friend's house at about 3 AM. I stepped out of the car and was surprised to find that it was about 75 degrees outside. I remember thinking "Wow, this is kind of nice."

Late the next morning I was awakened by my then three year old "niece" who couldn't wait to show her "Unka Dave" around her backyard. So I dressed quickly and followed her out the patio door.

The house I walked through was dark and cool. The patio I stepped out onto was quite the opposite. My entry into the raw, midmorning, mid-July, Ridgecrest climate felt a lot like being tossed into an oven to check the doneness of a batch of cookies.


10 AM and and it was already 107 degrees. I thought I was going to die. I tried to inhale deeply and I almost chocked on the air. I could feel the moisture being sucked out of my lungs as I struggled to inhale. I've lived in dry climates before, or so I thought. The air here wasn't dry, it was parched. The air felt so dry and hot that I imagined that it was abrading my throat as it passed in and out.

Standing there in awe that anyone could survive in this environment, my friend walked out the door and told me "Come on in and get some breakfast. Then Dave's going to give you the tour of the town before it gets hot."

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