A backroads road trip with a surprise ending

Sunday was a beautiful day in the desert, and after brunch my friend Bret and I decided to go for a drive up Whitewater canyon.

The sun was bright and warm, compensating for the temperature still hovering below 70° in the early afternoon. A few wispy white clouds stood in sharp contrast to the clear, brilliant blue of the sky. In short, it was the kind of day that virtually compels one to do something — anything — to get out and about.

The road to Whitewater leads off highway 111 close to the junction with I-10, where the windmill plantation is located. There are acres and acres of windmills of several different types, happily generating electricity from the near constant winds that blow through the pass as it opens into the Coachella Valley. The winds in this area can be fierce, but on this day they were appropriately gentle.

As the road began to wind gently up into the canyon, the flat desert floor gave way to the low rocky walls of the foothills. The vegetation became a lot more plentiful and green, albeit a muted green.

Hello! What's this? We first noticed a very low-flying helicopter sweeping back and forth and then, as we rounded a curve, a cluster of emergency vehicles with orange-vested people milling about. Decals on the SUVs read "Riverside County Search and Rescue" and "Riverside County Disaster Recovery."

The mind raced: Perhaps someone is lost. No, that can't be, they're searching too close to the road. Perhaps they're looking for a body, thinking it's been tossed by the road. Yes, that must be it!

But wait! There's another helicopter sweeping the other side of the canyon. And another cluster of SUVs and orange people. The plot thickens.

However, none of them made any attempt to stop us, causing us to doubt the validity of our sordid conjectures.

A bit farther along the road we noticed an area with several stone structures that looked like chimneys of abandoned, destroyed cabins, as if it were the site of a small village at one time.

A tree in the yard of a current house is painted blue from the ground to the tips of the smallest branches. Clearly this took some care and planning to reach the uppermost branches. Clearly not the result of drunken exhuberance; someone wanted to paint the tree blue. Go figure.

Soon signs along the road took on an unfriendly tone. No trespassing. Private. Keep out. No parking.

Eventually we came to the end of the road, where there was only one way to go — into the parking lot of the Whitewater Trout Company! Who could have guessed? Here up at the end of the road, nestled below the canyon wall, was a full-fledged tourist attraction.

The facility had all the requisites for fishing available, from bait, to fishing poles, to nets. There was a nice shaded area with picnic tables, a small store (among the treasures for sale: a collection of Hardy Boys books), snack bar, and even parking for buses and RVs.

Several families lined the banks of two ponds, fishing poles in hand. Hardly would they cast their line into the water but they would pull it out again with a big, floppy trout at the end of it.

Looking down into the water, it was easy to see why this was so — the ponds were teeming with big, fat trout swimming about, lurking just below the surface looking for lunch. Little did they realize, obviously, that they themselves were about to become lunch.

For the paltry sum of 25¢, they would even clean the fish for you. Now that's my kind of fishing!