If you ever find yourself on vehicular cruise control floating across the simmering heat waves on the rather isolated (and deadly, according to California accident statistics) stretch of State Route 62 between Twentynine Palms and Parker, through the Mohave Desert, stop, wake yourself up, and pay humble homage to these two unusual monuments to human creativity, boredom, and excess…
First, the “Iron Mountain Sign Pole” at the intersection of Route 62 (Rice Road) and Iron Mountain Road:
The Roadtrip America website has what appears to be a legit explanation of the origin, evolution, burning of, then the re-evolution of this telephone pole cum signpost. It seems the credit goes to an Aussie couple who, for God-knows-what-insane-reason traveled the road “extensively”, back in the day. So, it was Steve and Wendy Page who nailed up the first mileage marker in 1993 or 1994, which read, “Perth, Australia, 9,469 miles, 15,246? kms” (it is no longer there–casualty of fire?).
You can read their personal letter to Roadtrip America, with all the details, HERE.
A bit farther east, punch off the cruise control once again and pull over with your camera at the intersection of SR 62 and the Rice-Blythe (or Midland) 4WD road–on which, by the way, on this particular day, I ran face-to-face into a full-sized semi-truck and trailer rig, stopped and stuck deep in the sand at a narrow wash crossing. He claimed that his GPS made him do it. Once committed, just out of Blythe, he had nowhere to turn the rig around, so it was onward to the north and hope for the best! He said the cavalry (with his boss) was on its way, it was cool out (70s), and he had plenty of water, so I turned my dusty rental car around and retraced some 13 miles of desert track back to Route 62, from whence I had bounced and sand-surfed.
ANYway…The Shoe Tree and The Shoe Fence (amazingly, the latter marked on the all-knowing Google Maps with a camera icon) will be found here.
Here is an image of the current Tree. The old one was apparently an actual semi-alive tamarisk on the opposite side of the road, so this is a modern version that has sprung up after the demise of both the original tree and this service station:
Here is what Wikipedia currently says about the origins of The Shoe Tree/Shoe Fence:
“Rice became noted for its Shoe Tree, originally an underwear tree, a lone tamarisk on a turnout just south of the highway, adjacent to the main entrance to Rice Army Airfield. This hallmark for a trailer-based business that catered to personnel at what is now the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, customers passing on Highway 62 (also known as Rice Road) to and from the Colorado River would toss a pair of underwear in the tree’s branches. After a fire burned most of the tree and all the underwear, the custom changed and the tree’s burned husk became a collection point for old shoes. The tree was featured on California’s Gold, a PBSprogram hosted by Huell Howser. The tree burned flush to the ground in 2003 after which a ‘shoe garden’ replaced it; a fence on which people hang shoes. Also in the immediate area, travelers occasionally stop to spell their names and initials on the nearby Arizona and California Railroad right-of-way with the multi-colored volcanic rock used as track ballast. Hand-assembled graffiti lines the railroad for the entire distance that it parallels Highway 62.”
So, carve out a personal mileage sign and bring an old pair of shoes with you on this stretch of desert highway! Leave your mark!