Monday, March 28, 2005

A slow start for a Monday

I’m drinking the last of my Honduran coffee. It’s good and rich and I savor each sip since I’m not sure when I’ll be back down there. Maybe in the Fall, maybe not. When things are busy here, my vision of starting a basketball program at the school in some mountain village becomes more tempting.

Two weeks ago I got back from the desert. In my absence, winter departed. I know this is true for Orion is staked out on the western horizon right after dark. The snow is quickly melting. I’m having fewer fires in the hearth in the evenings. I need to cut some more wood. Until then, I’ll ration what I have, saving my remaining stash for the infrequent cold nights.

I’ve been reading a lot. Just finished Jim Harrison’s memoirs, Off to the Side. The first two third of this book was wonderful. But once he began writing about his success, I got tired of reading about his dinner engagements with people who from Hollywood. The last third of the book could have been a "Who’s Who" of Hollywood and I could have cared less. Yet, I enjoyed the first part of the book and felt the presence of a kindred soul as he talked about his journey through life. Last night I stared into a James Thurber’s collection of stories titled Thurber Country.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Death Valley

Death Valley isn’t living up to its reputation. At not at the present time. After years of extreme drought, the heavens have opened and a record amount of precipitation has fallen on the region this winter. There are places where fields of flowers cover the normally barren rock gardens. The lake in the bottom of the basin has expanded far beyond Badwater, stretching for miles on either side. From the shoreline up onto the sides of mountains, from 200 feet below sea level to the 2000-foot range, flowers are everywhere. Desert Golds are by far the most prominent flower on display now. But there are also significant numbers of phacelia, verbena, purple and yellow asters, desert five-spot (also known as Japanese lanterns), desert golden poppies, and desert dandelions. Even the greasewood (creosotebush) is putting on a display of its yellow blooms. The desert is in bloom. I’m glad to have caught what is said to be a once in a lifetime experience.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

rambling in the desert

Olga’s the first 94-year-old redhead I’ve met. I sure her hair has some artificial help; even so, it shows spunk. She gets around well and lives by herself. "I wouldn’t have it any other way," she confesses. She also still runs The Joint, pulling a regular shift, tending bar. The desert has been good to Olga. She and her husband brought the establishment back in 1955 and she had honest work ever since, in a town where tap water cost one cent a gallon in the 1940s.
The Joint is in the heart of Randsburg’s business district. Randsburg, a former mining boomtown, is today a sleepy community visited by tourist and weekend prospectors. The Joint is one of the original buildings in town. First a bakery, it was converted to a bar and pool hall in the 1930s. Today, the place is open Wednesday through Sunday. Closing time is listed on the door as "Not Busy." Today, as Ralph and I sit at the bar, Olga stops cleaning up long enough to sit down for a chat.
Sitting a few stools down at the bar is the proprietor of a saloon in Red Mountain. An attractive woman, she wears a barely amble halter that displays a more than amble chest, a short skirt and five inch heels. My first thought is that prostitution must once again be flourishes in Red Mountain. At one point in time, the town claim to fame was vice. The saloons with backroom gambling lined the west side of the street. On the east side were cribs, where the prostitutes who free-lanced in the bars, led their clients. It was a cozy arrangement and local authorities did little to discourage the business. But then, World War 2 came along and the Navy decided they needed a base on China Lake. After losing many sailors, who found they were unable to navigate the mountain roads home after a night on Red Mountain, the FBI came in and shut down the gaming establishments and ran off all the women.

After a while, her partner from Red Mountain joins us at the bar. He’s a scary sight. Wearing fancy cowboys with tight short pants, showing off his skinny legs and leaving less to the imagination than I’d like, I’m glad I’m not alone. Had he been the only one drinking, I’d taken the temperance pledge. After talking, he seems to be an okay guy. Maybe I should remember not to judge a book by its covers. However, the two are weird and unique.
We’re staying in Ridgecrest, a town built next to the Naval station at China Lake. Since China Lake is mostly dry, the navy doesn’t use this for ships but as a place to practice bombing and to test weapons. Ridgecrest should be known for it’s stop signs, for the town has more four-way tops than most states. The town also has a dollar store, where nothing is priced more than a dollar. In and of itself, that’s not unusual. But it also has a 99-cent store for those for who a dollar is just too much. And then, just down the road, is a 98-cent store, for those for who 99-cent is too much. And, as Dave Barry would say, "I'm not making this up."

Most of today was spent exploring the mining areas around Goler Gulch. The desert is in bloom. Tomorrow--Death Valley.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


A prominent escarpment, Turtlehead rises several thousand feet above Red Rock Canyon. The adventurous are given a panoramic view of the rock formations below as well as the snow-covered mountains to the north, Las Vegas to the east and even a glimpse of Lake Mead in the distance. A rough trail, 2.5 miles one way, leads around the formation and up to a saddle on the back side from where its an easy but steep hike to the top. From the parking lot, you climb 2000 feet.

We hit the trail at 9:30 AM. The weather was warm, promising to be in the upper 70s by mid-day. At first, we hiked along a wash and by sandstone formations, a blending of red and white rock, that lined both sides of the dry wash. This winter has been very wet for the Southwest. Grasses are out, but it’s still a bit early for too many flowers at this elevation. We spotted a few Indian paintbrushes, growing in the shade of some greasewoods. Plant-life here is typical Mojave: cactus, a few Joshua Trees, some hardy shrubs, yuccas and such. After making our way around the escarpment, we left the wash and climbed up a steep canyon. By far the most difficult section of the hike as there was plenty of climbing and rock scrambling and little hiking. Several times we stopped to catch our breath and to look at the desert landscape around us. Geologically, the rocks changed. In addition to the ubiquitous sandstone, there was evidence of volcanic activity from a long ago era. As we climbed higher, nearer to the saddle that connected Turtlehead to the ridges to the north, the plant-life also began to change. Junipers first appeared, then they were mixed with some pinion. The more hardy shrubs of the Mojave were replaced by sagebrush. At the saddle, we turned south and headed for the peak. Invigorated by the scenery, we quickly scrambled up, making it to the top in an hour and forty minutes.

The wind blew strong on the peak, cooling our sweat-soaked bodies, forcing P to quickly put on a jacket and me to done a long shelve shirt. We sat and enjoyed the view, taking pictures, eating a Cadberry Chocolate bar, and basking in the sun behind some rocks that shielded us from the wind. We had approximately 30 minutes on the top before two men who we’d passed about halfway up joined us. A few more joined us shortly afterwards. We stayed nearly an hour, before heading back down. It only took an hour for us to make it back to the car.

Back in the desert

I'm back in the desert--even if it's only for a bit over a week. But it feels good and this year, with so much rain in the Southwest, everything is green. I'll have to write more later...

Thursday, March 03, 2005

a prayer

Grant me, O lover of my soul
the wisdom to seek thee out,
the piety to challenge evil,
the capacity to embrace in reverent awe,
the fortitude to honor,

the compassion to cherish,
the empathy to love,
the loyalty to serve,
and the humility to receive.