En Fuego

We broke camp this morning, wonderfully refreshed after a weekend of soaking in hot mineral springs. My back, injured just a week ago, felt almost like new. After leisurely loading our vehicles, we ventured back out onto the dry expanse of Laguna Salada and headed back toward the border.

Not long after ascending back through "Dead Car Canyon" and mounting the Rumorosa plateau, we caught sight of a plume of smoke on the far horizon. It rose directly in front of us, in the direction of our destination. As we got closer to the border, it became evident this was no ordinary plume of smoke, unless you'd call the explosion from Mount St. Helens a "plume." We tuned in San Diego news on the AM radio as soon as we could, but by that time we already knew disaster was afoot.

We got across the border at Tecate with but the shortest of waits, but we'd barely traveled a mile before the CHP and Border Patrol stopped us, redirecting traffic to the east. Smoke and flames blocked our only avenue home, westbound Highway 94. We debated our options: remain in the U.S. and head east on the 94, hoping to wait out the closure of the westbound Interstate 8; or go back across the border and cross over to Tijuana. We chose the latter.

Picking our way through Tecate, we found the expensive toll road that led to Tijuana's Otay Mesa border crossing. Before long, black clouds descended upon us as we entered the domain of the fire. The sun faded from a bright yellow to a burnished orange and finally to a deep blood red. Our road took us within a mile or two of the U.S. border, through a mountain range that straddled the demarcation. Fire knows no political boundaries, however. Down the mountainside the flames bounded, right for our road. At one point, the fire had jumped the road, and we found ourselves surrounded by the inferno. We had at least some inkling of what some of our fellow San Diegans were experiencing as we outran the fire and made for the border.

Two hours later, we finally recrossed the border and returned once again to the U.S. We could see flames crowning the nearby hills as we continued northward. Arriving home at last, our nostrils were filled with the fume of the inferno. It'll be days before we get rid of the smell, and probably as long before we see the sun again.

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