Heat, Haboob, and Hissing – a Tale of Vacation Mayhem


Heat, Haboob, and Hissing – a Tale of Vacation Mayhem

Have you seen that insurance commercial where the narrator is “Mayhem” and shows all the catastrophes awaiting you and your life? Well, my personality type (A Six on the Enneagram scale, for those of you know what that means) can’t help but worry about worse-case scenarios.  My mind immediately goes to the “what ifs” in any situation, which works if you’re trying to look at a possible plan from all angles and avoid pitfalls. My middle name is definitely not “Spontaneous.”

Which is why God apparently thought I needed a push in that direction over our family’s two week vacation in July. For the third summer in a row, we did a long road trip. This summer, the plan was to drive to San Diego (where we used to live) and visit our friends and my sister and brother-in-law who recently had their first baby (the cutest nephew there ever was, by the way). The plan was to spend a week there and enjoy some ocean air and fellowship and a few days of meetings for my husband.


I mean, my nephew’s the cutest, right?

Our beach vacation time was relaxing, and we filled our tanks with people and time on the sand. The plan for the second week was that I would drive the kids by myself from San Diego to Tucson, Arizona, to visit the grandparents. My husband had to work, so I dropped him off at the San Diego airport at 8 am on that Sunday morning. The kids and I were headed straight from the airport to begin the six hour drive to my parents’ house.  A little back story: I had initially wanted to drive the kids from Waco to Tucson before our San Diego vacation week so that they could have extra time there. My husband said he wasn’t comfortable with me doing that fourteen hour drive alone – it’s a pretty desolate drive with patchy cell reception.  So me driving this San Diego to Tucson stretch instead was a bit of a compromise.

So the drive out of San Diego begins with a stretch through a rocky mountain area that is dotted with various pullouts for runaway trucks and for water (reflective of a time when car radiators used to overheat in that stretch). It was supposed to be near 115 degrees in the desert that day, which is why we were trying to hit the road as early as possible.  At exactly the one hour mark, the a/c in our 2009 CRV stopped blowing cold. It was at this moment that I decided to be wild and daring and keep driving.  The “worst-case scenario” in me should have turned around ASAP and headed back to San Diego.  We had some a/c trouble the month before and had taken the car to the mechanic, expecting the worst. They said all seemed good but the freon was recharged. But here we were now. Driving in a hot mountainous stretch headed into a hotter desert stretch with no cold air and no husband. Speaking of whom, he called right at this moment because his plane was about to take off. He was so concerned but both of us hoped it would kick back in once we got out of the hills (it had done so before). Did I mention his personality type? He’s a 2 or a Helper. So he got on the plane’s wi-fi and continued to communicate with us. An hour later, I arrived in the next town of El Centro. We were roasting as the hot air was now being recycled within our black car driving in 90+ degree temperatures. My husband had texted the address of the Honda dealership that on Google Maps claimed to be open (on a Sunday). It was not.  There was a salesman in the parking lot who suggested I try the nearby Autozone to find out what places might be open on a Sunday. We sat in a Jack-in-the-Box to keep cool while I waited on the bad news. Long story short, we discovered that the compressor would have to be replaced and that it couldn’t be done by either of the 2 places that were open. So I had to make a decision – on the fly – I could either spend the night in El Centro and get it fixed on Monday, or we could push through and get to my parents’ house which was now five hours away. I chose the latter. We spent that afternoon in El Centro at the movie theater after we had prayed over the car and texted a handful of friends and family to pray for our situation. We loaded up with water bottles, bandanas, and a battery-operated spray bottle fan and got on the road around 5pm with the temperature gauge reading 112 degrees but with the sun at our back. We made it to Yuma with the windows down by keeping the wet bandanas around our necks and misting our faces constantly.

Storms in the distance

I forced us to eat something even though we didn’t have appetites and grabbed gatorades at the gas station. Then we hit the road again for the worst stretch of the trip. The 8 freeway from Yuma until you hit the 10 (yes “the” 10, that’s how people on the West Coast and Southwest say it) is desolate and flat and randomly stinky. The worst part is just past Gila Bend where you keep thinking “we should be there by now, right?” My kids were such troopers. They dozed and took turns keeping my bandana wet while I steered in the direction of distant sky-to-ground lightning. I should mention that summer in the desert means monsoon season. I grew up with summer monsoons, so I knew what the lightning in the distance meant – could be heavy rain and winds. Just after dark, I got an emergency alert text. I asked my son to read it:

Dust storm ahead.  Be cautious.  Remember to pull over, turn off your lights and stay alive.  

Or that was the general gist of it.  As a reminder, we were driving with no a/c and the windows were down. I looked out the window and saw an outline in the darkness.  I wanted to believe it was a mountain, but at that same moment I acknowledged it was the edge of the dust storm, my daughter said, “Moooom…” 

“I know, baby.  I see it.”

So I rolled up the windows and we entered the Haboob.  Yup, that’s what it’s called.  It’s a high wind desert storm, blowing sand in such powerful gusts it’s like fog. But worse. I crept along because I could still see ok – and we had no a/c.  I couldn’t pull over and let my kids and I suffocate for however long it lasted. My husband called. He was on speaker and asked, “why does the map show what looks like a bunch of stopped cars ahead of you?” I very calmly stated, “Um, we’re in a dust storm, and there are cars pulled over to the side of the road, but a handful of us are creeping along.”  Well, I’m sure he wanted to jump through the phone at that moment and rescue us. (He was also probably thinking for the 100th time that day that he NEVER should have let me drive this alone.) He hung up with a “Be careful; I’m praying; let me know when you’re out of it.” Then a giant roll of what looked like carpet came rolling at us on the road, and I swerved! The kids screamed, but I managed to avoid hitting it. Fifteen minutes later, we were clear of the dust and suddenly it was cooler outside. We hit a little rain but nothing terrible and made it to my parents at 11pm, exhausted and grateful our six-hour-turned-fifteen-hour trip was over.

The rest of that week included the expensive car repair, learning our dog had bit someone badly (she was with my sister in Arizona while we were in California), my period starting and the dog deciding to drag the contents of the bathroom trash across the guest house floor, a rattlesnake encounter on same guest house porch (I almost stepped on it), and a flash flood situation while visiting my in-laws on our last morning.  I told my mother-in-law that if we got stuck because of the rain, I was never coming back to Arizona again. I would consider it a sign from God.  

Speaking of God, He was good to us. We survived all of it. I hope my kids think I’m a stronger mom because of how I handled it. I’m still not sure what to make of the whole week. It felt a bit like the plagues on Egypt. Was I missing the point? What’s next? I’m listening, God. 

“Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you…” Psalm 55:22a


  1. Good job, Mary! You made me tear up at the end of that haboob story! We had a similar experience when Nikki was a baby and were traveling from East to West coast in summer. The car broke down twice and we had two cats with us that when the a/c went out (in the desert of course) we had to throw water on to keep them cool. Rick had a motorcycle in a trailer but the trailer broke down right before the a/c quit so I had to drive the big car by myself while he trailed. It was a long, hot affair until we hit the mountains of Calif. Then, the scent of sweet citrus led us into a cooler atmosphere the rest of the way. And back then we had desert bags, which were ice bags added to the radiator of cars to keep them cool. And in our case the car actually overheated so we had to turn the heater on to keep the engine from further overheating.There’s nothing like seeing that red needle go all the way to the right when you’ve got a baby and two kitties, no a/c and of course there was zero communication unless you could stop to look at a map. Good old days?

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