Friday, May 11, 2018

Desert Trail: Basin and Range Part 1

Up Cucomungo Canyon Joshua tree thrived, some really tall with one with one thick trunk with a bouquet of cacti florets up high. At the turn off and getting towards Cucomungo Spring I thought I could see a flicker or movement in the sun light, like water. My hopes went high but I kept that containment. As I neared two tanks, the algae-filled one feeding the clearer other one, both fed from a pipe, water glimmered in the sun. Nevada showing its promise with liquid. Purple lupine and sage dotted the open high desert meadow, the wind provided a cool respite as I guzzled water. The water was cold, so clean and cold down my gullet.

Up the faint jeep track I began laughing in a low cackle uncontrollably, just at the thought of a flowing spring and the relief of stress of not having water. I could almost dance with the bonanza of water, like miners at the sight of gold. One mountain range may hold water, the next dry, the state of the lean and the fat, and as much as I want to sing and dance I must maintain composure and not waste all my money once I cash the gold all in.

The dreams of the past two nights, I've been in such a deep sleep that I don't know where I am at, like directionally and in the physical sense, once I pop awake at night. I groggily look around at all the magnificent stars but I am confused, addled with sleep. This is somewhat not like me, especially a few weeks into trail. One dream even had me in a barren basin, real low in elevation and naked of vegetation. Everything was stripped and I felt in a globe of sorts under a glass orb in which wherever I looked felt the same. Eerie rock formations looked like Joshua trees silhouetted against the starry light. I couldn't see the moon nor the silhouettes of mountain ridge lines. I felt like I was misplaced on a cloudy day without having the sun for a reference and just walked in circles. It took me a couple wake-ups to come to and realize I was in Palmetto Wash on the north side of the Sylvania Mountains. I was exhausted, that must be it.

Across the Oasis Divide the views opened up dramatically. No longer was I within a very deep and long valley flanked by huge mountain ranges. I could see more, my inner compass in tact once again. After Big Spring I headed up Piper Peak. The climb wasn't terribly difficult and definitely less challenging than Last Chance Mountain. But maybe it was because I had water. The views from Piper Peak! Holy shit! At nearly 9500ft, the Desert Trail high point, I could gaze back onto the chain of ranges leading from Death Valley, the Inyos, the crests of the mighty and snow clad High Sierra and the White Mountains, and even into central Nevada and the two big ranges of Toiyabe and Arc Dome Peak, and the Alta Toquima. My bearings on point. On the northern summit two enormous basins had been cleaved from the limestone and basalt rock and fell steeply down to the basins below. One basin even looked like a massive crater. Pinyon and juniper forests blanketed the hillsides in a shaggy green rug as it appeared from up high, sage lined the summit slopes where I was at, and the wind howled, chilly to the core.

The descent was precariously steep and choked with sagebrush. I had to pick my way down deer paths that zigzagged abruptly over roots and loose rock. I moved quickly to get down towards the drainage floor, racing day light. I needed to find camp but the slopes didn't improve as they were choked with an impenetrable barrier of pinyon, mahogany, and downed dead trees. I weaved my way through the maze and finally got to Jeff Davis Spring, which trickled down a thin, grassy channel, the outer part which was brown and dry, the inner green. I suddenly had a spooky feeling. Maybe it was my focus that suddenly broke that had shunned the feeling now present, that mountain lion feeling. I am not sure, but I wouldn't ignore it. Small limestone caves yawned from the hillsides and everything, everything was just so thick with vegetation and plant life. Game evidence showed everywhere and I knew something would have a field day here just picking off game. So after over three weeks out here on trail I finally put up my shelter. But it didn't help me sleep any better for the wind howled through the night keeping me up. I am not sure what time I finally fell asleep but I woke up to chickadees singing their birdsong, my favorite morning noise.

The desert has changed from the Mojave to an even higher desert, or basin and range. The brush is different and cacti are hardly around. Indian paintbrush is more common. I saw a band of bighorn sheep, antelope, mule deer, wild horses, a large owl, and an enormous golden eagle. I also found the carcasses of a couple cows, a wild horse, a bighorn sheep, and a red fox.

I ended the section wandering through the colorful Volcanic Hills where I briefly wished I was a geologist. In the end, I am content simply being an observer. Creamy rhyolite, metallic hues on black basalt, cross country through sandy high sagebrush flats, an incised volcanic canyon, a plethora of pinks and oranges and reds and purples all a part of different rock formations and layers. I stuck a thumb out at Highway 6 in hopes for a 50m hitch into Tonopah for a well deserved rest day.

I got a ride from a sweet girl traveling across the country. The next day I just ate and napped. On my way out I got a ride from a dude who just left Amargosa, a small town outside of Death Valley. His job didn't pay him off as promised so he left. The conditions there sounded horrible and he knew his best bet was Reno. He had that tank of gas to get him there and no money. He drove me all the way back to where I needed to go. I gave him all the money in my wallet. He needed it more than I did.

The Candelaria Hills had pleasant desert walking through the Columbus basin surrounded by small, colorful ranges. Up higher the wind blew through the sagebrush and the gravel beneath each step crunched. I walked into an enchanting sunset entranced by the beautiful beacon like the light at the end of a tunnel. I felt to be at the end of life as I was so nostalgic and mesmerized by the sunset. I watched the shapes and colors of the clouds change, the layering of the sky as the sun sunk, the collapse of color and the envelopment of darkness on the surrounding cones. I wanted to say sorry to so many people I care for and have cared for. I wanted to say sorry to myself. However, I also wanted to say nothing, not sorry for being me. At the same time I wanted to tell everyone that I have loved or have shared experiences and adventures with that I love them and value the time that I shared with them. And that I like being lonesome, alone. I gazed into that sunset recognizing I am a difficult person to deal with, complicated, and all I want to do is walk to the end of where this sun goes, where the color diminishes and fades out. I just think differently than what people believe I am capable of. I felt a peaceful and a weird feeling of remorsefully justified, pensive and less mechanistic, a line lessened in hardness, more brightened and colored by my faults, emboldened by my insecurities, a catharsis and release of pain. I gave the day all that I got like I always do out here, only in what I believe I am, or want to be, capable of. I almost fell into that sunset just doing what I have always dreamed of. It is the end of something and it is beautiful. I kept chasing the sun until I found camp in a wash; this is all I think about, that sunset. All the time.

This is my drive, my singular obsession. And I slept comfortably. That night the stars never shone so bright. I awoke at one point to rest on my elbows to enjoy the night's show. This moment held me over until my quest to dive into the next sunset arose all over again.

Through sage country I went. At German Spring I rested under a small canopy of a sagebrush after filling two water bottles of briny water from shallow, murky pools. I watched an antelope approach the fence line of the large enclosure. She scoped out the area not seeing me in the shrubs. I could see her raise her nose and sniff the air. She flanked around and came up from downwind to get any smell or noise that she may sense. Still unawares of me, she grazed in the small meadow on shoots of grass. Doves drank near her and I could hear their cooing. I could even see the neck of the antelope guzzling the water, the muscles pumping the water up. About 75ft away she would occasionally, yet timed, pop her head up to inspect her surroundings. Her neck hair stood on end ruffled in orange fur and I wondered what wasn't right. I didn't want to move yet to startle her, so I waited for the antelope to feed and drink for about 25 minutes. Then I got up and she bolted away. In seconds she was gone from sight. I stood and turned around only to see 4 burros and a foal nearby. This is what had the antelope spooked.

Through the hills I could see white alkali stains in draws and on flat knobs. In one spring outcrop water dripped and oozed through tiny ravines. Huge piles of burro shit laid in the middle of trodden paths. I pushed on, but on another knob, with bones scattered about, lush grass and muddy pools with clear water came out of the earth at this strange spot. I took another two liters despite the briny and livestock smell. In fact, most of the water that I could find that day was briny. But really, I merely was content at the opportunity to find and drink water. To be honest, I have never been more thankful for anything in my life than finding a good water source. I cannot feel that type to survive, to sustain life, in the other world. Out here, water is everything.

Teels Marsh is a very large basin with a soggy depression in the middle, all surrounded by decent sized mountain ranges. Burros are everywhere. At one spring in the marsh about 40 burros munched on the green grass and slurped briny water. A lone coyote, a small one, ran from the burros who were running too, all to get away from me. The wind whipped their dust up in the air signaling a retreat to anyone around.

Up in the Excelsiors, I found an old mine shaft that had been plugged. A spring now seeped up and pooled in the crevice. Moss lined the walls in the cool cave. Such wonderful tasting water after all that salty shit earlier. Then, up on top, in a narrow swale filled with sage, I found a dead wild horse. I came upon it head first. The eyes were empty black sockets, the mouth agape with teeth that looked like pieces of ivory, tiles of dominoes, while the tongue looked like overcooked liver. I looked towards the rear as it looked like that was where the scavengers had been feasting upon. Over the large and swollen body, across the sorrel coloring, the anus look exploded from the eruption of gas build up. Puddles of blood still lingered in the carcass's rear cavity between the black hairy legs. I walked around to get a better look and stumbled on a smaller skull, bare of fur with most of the meat gone except for some gristle. I could tell it was a foal skull and it looked rather recently gnawed at. I tied two and two together and looked at the erupted rear of the horse. Smaller legs poked out of her rear. The mare had been pregnant. The foal must have came out with the front legs and head together. Complications happened that I knew not. But the foal must have passed in the rear clutches of mom, maybe choked to death. Either way, the vultures, the coyotes, whatever opportunists are out here, must have picked apart the foal's head until it split from the neck. I imagine the vultures or coyotes played tug-o-war with it, flinging the skull around. I heard that's where the good meat is.

I had been surprised to find what I had found. I felt sad, but I also recognized the brutality of life in the desert. I walked around to the rear front side to get an even closer look. My curiosity had taken over. I was investigating the scene looking for trauma and/or cause of death. I leaned in close. The wind seemed unnoticeable until I leaned in closer. As non-existent as the wind appeared to be the smell of the carcasses went straight up my nose and into my stomach. I could taste it. Quite repulse and overwhelmed with the rottenness, my curiosity vanished. I turned and walked away. I said, 'I'm sorry,' out lout as I left.

I navigated through Lion Canyon rather easily. I felt full of water from the mine shaft spring but I became concerned on my next water source. Having that good source blinded my reasoning and gave me a false sense of security. I had one shot or else I would have a 40m waterless finish before trying to hitch to town. At Pepper tasting water on trail. The most well taken care of spring, actually, even had the most powerful flow. I felt relieved and filled my bottles and a bladder. Fuck, the water tasted so amazing. Again, it's so odd how I feel when I find water like this. And I am not sure people understand that, or at least they don't because ,pst jsut turn the faucet on and drink or buy a bottled water. But finding water after having very little sign of fresh and tasty water...well, it is like finding fucking gold. Maybe, also, it was because of all the shitty water I had drank all morning and the afternoon. Eitehr way I sat on the rock wall and relished over the notion that I could keep filling my bottle, a glutton, then drink it all, over and over again.

The next morning I couldn't get the mare and the foal scene out of my head. I kept thinking about it with my imagination going to the moments of retching, the moans and wails, the throes of death and heartache, of life having the chance of being existent, then gone. Of the decay, the rotting of flesh that drew the scavengers in; the tussling of the foal's skull once it was freed from the body inside the mare's womb. When I stumbled upon the scene it was so quiet that I had a hard time fathoming the deathly event. But I know that it happened. Because I cannot see her eyes. And because the head was gone. It is only a short matter of time before the desert pulverizes and vanishes meat and bone.

In the Garfield Hills, I found an exposed old mine with the shafts booming deep into the colorful hillside. Copper, a deep crimson, and yellowish and golden rock crumbled from the slopes. Inside the shafts I could see support beams and thick cable strands. I bet the Chinese were hired to dig this out. Huge tailings piled down the gulch and erosion kept the rock tailing sluicing down the canyon far below. This mine seemed well over a 100 years old, easy. I looked around and felt the spooky haunt of times past, of something that flourished that was now dust and specks and rust, of how hard a life it must have been out here to hardly get paid, or the ones that did would possibly blow it all in town. This mine was yet another symbol of desert harshness.

Down the canyon in a limestone twist I almost stepped on top of a very young bighorn lamb. The lamb was lying in a sliver of shade that would be gone in less than an hour. The lamb blended in so good that I literally almost stepped on it and when it didn't jump away I immediately thought something was wrong with it. I quickly looked up to look for the others, the band. But, there were no others. This lamb was alone. I looked back and I could see the lamb was breathing heavy, almost panting. Although the lamb's eyes were partially closed, more like a deep squint, I could see the eye sand build up, a thick black gunk spackled in the corner of its eyes. I said, 'What's wrong little guy?' Everything just felt off. The lamb looked invalid. The lamb did a double take at the sound of my voice and nonchalantly turned to glance at me, turned away, and on the second take jumped from its seated position and bolted up the hillside. The lamb moved awkwardly, like it might have been injured and stopped about 30ft from me and looked back. I kept talking to it. Something felt off. I don't think the lamb had been orphaned but a separation must have occurred, unless it was sick or injured. Seconds later I lost sight of the lamb as it scurried off blending in through the sage on the steep hillside.

Sometimes you never get a chance, other times you do and you're dealt shit. And then, there's the life of seeking sunsets doing whatever you want. Sometimes life flourishes and it is beautiful. And life can be precious from birth to death. Or it can be taken away, stolen, in an instant. Sometimes you can just dig a fucking tunnel for scant pay in horrid conditions just for a slurp of water or a bowl of slop. But the sun sets each day and the desert makes everything invisible, takes everything away yo just a whisper of wind. Nothing is spared or saved, just broken down. In reality, and in truth, the desert doesn't care.


  1. Great read, Ryan! I felt all the emotions with both the horse and lamb! Stay safe!

  2. Amazing! So glad to see you following through with this project sine you told me about it through the high sierra in 2014!

    So glad to see you living the life! You're an inspiration!

    -Salt Shaker

    1. Duuude. Salt Shaker! What is up. Thx meng. Much appreciated. Where the heck are you these days??

  3. Really enjoyed this writing and am enjoying reading about this entire adventure from start to finish. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thanks for reading and the kind words. I think of this trail/route so fondly. Cheers!