Craziness and Cowardice in the Desert
Recently I read a story, in High Country News, about a campground in Colorado that was overrun by gun "enthusiasts". It sounded pretty bad and reminded me of a trip I took to Mojave a year or so ago.
I was camped in the site you see above at Hole-in-the-Wall campground. It was quiet and calm and fairly private. One late afternoon, while entering the trailer, I grabbed a small exterior handle to hoist myself inside and didn't see that a bee had decided to latch on to the back of handle. I felt a burning sensation and then - DAMMIT! I'd been stung. I saw the poor dying bee, sticking to the side of my hand, but felt little sympathy for the SOB. I went to the first aid kit and got the tweezers, pulled the stinger out of the side of my hand but it immediately started swelling. I took three aspirin, ate a pain filled dinner and iced up my hand.
At about 8:30 that night I decided I'd better turn in but, wimp that I am, my hand was hurting and continuing to swell and I couldn't fall asleep. I read and listened to the radio and finally, I'm guessing around 11:00 fell asleep.
At around midnight I awoke to a light, bright as day, shining in my trailer. I then heard the gunning of engines and went to open the door and my campsite was bathed in light from some jerk's spotlight that he had mounted on his Jeep. I was pissed. I decided to get dressed and have a word with my new neighbor. As I was getting my pants on I heard several more vehicles drive around the campground and started to get a little nervous. Still, I was mad and with adrenaline kicking in decided to confront these morons.
Charging out of my trailer I heard the "Pop-pop-pop" of gunfire. I stopped. Directly across from my campsite there were four or five men armed with rifles and shooting at something in the vast darkness.
OK - new plan.
I high-tailed it back to the trailer and locked the door (which I never do) and looked for my bear spray and machete. Yeah, that's me...I bring bear spray and jungle clearing implements to a gunfight.
The gunfire, now sporadic and accompanied by loud, drunken shouting continued for probably 20 minutes. I decided, at that very instant, to become a pacifist and not confront these "people". I tried to go back to sleep and the throbbing in my hand really kicked in (from the adrenaline kick I'd guess). I had the persistent thought that I might have to go to the emergency room, an hour away in Needles, if the swelling continued. After awhile the gunfire stopped completely although my campsite was still lit up like Fifth Avenue and 45th street. Around 3:30 or 4:00 AM, I eventually fell asleep.
I woke up the next morning to the racing of engines and more loud voices. I looked out the window and there were probably 6 or 7 Jeeps and maybe a dozen guys packing them up. I made coffee, fretted a bit about my hand, and stepped out into the sunlight. I heard these guys talking and discussing their plans for the day. They were talking about a route on the old Mojave Road. As they got ready to leave one guy, with a minor conscience, I suppose, walked over and said, "I'd tell ya I was sorry about the noise last night but we're all retired cops and we don't apologize- hahaha". I didn't say a word. I did give him a bad ass glare, however.
They were gone within 30 minutes. I jumped into my truck and drove to the nearest Ranger Station to report these community pillars.
It was closed and locked.
My hand got better.
After being away from the desert for several months I almost couldn't bear it anymore. I planned a trip to Mojave but the idiots in Washington DC were threatening another government shutdown which would essentially shut down the Mojave Preserve.
After kvetching about this online my friend and Desert Expert Extraordinaire, Lori Carey said, "just get up to Red Rock Canyon". So, I did. The above photo shows the spot that I was able to secure for several days of desert bliss. Red Rock Canyon is only two hours north of Los Angeles but it certainly seems as if you're in another state, or another planet. It is about 80 miles from Bakersfield and 25 miles from the town of Mojave. The State Park link is here.
There is not a lot of civilization nearby this piece of unusual rock formation. As a result, it's uncrowded and provides solitude despite its proximity to Los Angeles. Many old Westerns have used this as a filming locale and it does have it's own unique charm. One day I jumped in the truck and decided to check out the local towns. The highway and the railroad tracks were lonesome on a late autumn afternoon. Just the way I like them. Have you ever felt "in your element" too? I
The weather was terrific. Highs during the day reached the upper 60s. It did get chilly at night but I was nestled in my little home away from home.
There are multiple hiking trails in the area. A highlight of the trip is the short Hagen Canyon Loop Trail. It's only a little over a mile but every bend leads off to another scenic spot which will tempt you into exploring. I spent an entire afternoon out there walking, wandering, resting, and making photographs. The geology is quite spectacular and there are some species of wildflowers that are only found here. It feels unique because it is...certainly no other place like it in California. At times, I found myself marveling at how much it looked like southern Utah.
My annual Death Valley Trip has been altered due to the Mesquite Spring Campground being closed from storm damage and I'm meeting my dear Bay Area family right back here in February. It certainly has on "Old West" feel. On the next trip I'll spend more time in the nearby El Paso Mountains and the Trona Pinnacles are just an hour away.
Thanks for joining me on this little Western getaway. We'll be back soon.
Most Americans are familiar with the great WWII general, George Patton. Certainly any student of that war can probably tell you, chapter and verse, of his exploits. There is no question he is one of the most colorful characters in American history.
My father's second cousin was General Omar Bradley, the "Soldier's General" and so we always felt that Bradley was the superior general on moral grounds alone but there is no question that Patton was a "genius for war". His daring leadership, especially of the 3rd Army as they roared through France and Germany, is legendary. He also possessed tremendous foresight and predicted that mechanized warfare would be decisive in the next major war after his service in WWI. He was, of course, right as his German counterpart, Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, would emphatically demonstrate at the outbreak of WWII in North Africa as well as the German onslaught of the European low countries. There is much to say about old George and if you're interested in reading more about him I recommend, "Patton: A Genius for War" by Carlo D'Este and "War As I Knew It" by Patton himself.
Patton grew up in San Gabriel and knew the Mojave Desert. The following is from the Wikipedia page about the Desert Training Center:
Major General George S. Patton Jr. came to Camp Young as the first commanding general of the DTC. As a native of southern California, Patton knew the area well from his youth and from having participated in army maneuvers in the Mojave Desert in the 1930s. His first orders were to select other areas within the desert that would be suitable for the large-scale maneuvers necessary to prepare American soldiers for combat against the German Afrika Korps in the North African desert.
As a WWII history aficionado I had known of the training ground and visited Camp Young and the Patton Museum near Chiriaco Summit in the desert but hadn't gone to any of the other "camps". Fortunately for me, the wonderful people at the Mojave Desert Land Trust sponsored a tour to two of the Desert Training Center Camps, Camp Iron Mountain and Camp Granite. We were met by a terrific BLM archaeologist who knew the area and its history quite well. This was the first spot we went to near Camp Iron Mountain. I was told by military personnel that this was probably an "OP" or observation post. Perhaps old Patton himself climbed the hill and looked over his troops from this vantage point?
The next spot we stopped was at Camp Iron Mountain at the foot of the Iron Mountains. I was fascinated by the remnants of the camp from, lo, those many years ago which included a spot for religious services. In particular the line wire and other debris left by our troops as they prepared to fight overseas and, for some, to experience an early death in sacrifice for not just our American freedom but for the freedom of the world.
A couple of desert creatures also caught my eye. I could write more about the gentle tarantula (the only spider I like!) but I'll save that for another post. Here is a big boy out looking for love and a well camouflaged lizard.
We ate a small and delicious lunch and visited our last stop at Granite Camp where the Desert Shrine was still beautifully intact. Apparently, the troops had to go miles to find the proper rock for the construction of these sanctuaries.
It was a beautiful desert day. The weather was perfect and a few clouds rolled in at the end of the day. I couldn't help but pull myself away for some landscape photos. The first is a panorama and then I made some black and whites that I hope you'll enjoy as they seem to capture some essence of the Mojave to me.
I also made some good old color photos too. In reviewing these photos I was reminded how easy it is to breathe and why I receive such solace in wide open spaces.
I had a wonderful time on this one day trip but it made me hunger for a longer stay. Next trip will be to the Mojave Preserve at the beginning of December. Thanks for coming along.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.
All content (C) Jeffrey C. Hubbard. No re-use without express written permission