Monday, May 7, 2018

Desert Trail: Mojave Desert Part 2

Maybe the bruised ankle bone was a blessing in disguise. I got to see my nephew take his first steps, spend some time with family, and prepare for the next long stretch of the Desert Trail even more especially with the impending heat. After 2 full days of resting and icing the ankle I embarked back out on route but not before placing 3 water caches at strategic highway crossings. I even dropped off 2 resupply boxes that otherwise I would have to mail out. All in all, it worked out.

As we were driving back out through the Mojave memories of a lifetime flooded in my head vision. I grew up in the big Mojave. The drives to and from LA to Las Vegas for family visits, riding in the back of a pick-up truck with my brother laying down hidden from view wrapped under blankets, riding in the back of my Granny's truck touring Death Valley in the summer and catching blisters on both my shins from the menacing heat, living in the town of Mojave and one day snapping my ankle jumping off a huge dirt mound and landing on a rock, and getting chased by 3 bullies through desert flats of creosote, the wind howling and a small pack of coyotes running along side flanking my strides. I even recalled my first memory of hearing about human powered travel and peregrinations. A family friend, Cade, rode his bike from LA to Las Vegas. I never forgot that. 

Cruising up Summit Wash, the Mojave Desert is in, always has been. Traces of burro and cow, piles of horse apples and cow pies littered the wash, hoofed trail ribboned up the channel. Near small pour-offs of water worn marble the burros had dug small mud pits in an attempt to reach ground water in saturated areas. Probably a month ago I bet some water reached or pooled near the surface. Near Summit Spring 2 bulls scattered away from me. Fire scarred the land side and pinyon totem stood ghostly watch over the basin. At the spring a cow carcass, picked a part clean of meat with patches of matted hair against bleached bone, the eye sockets black and hollow, the horns yellow like rotten toenails. The spring was a muddy seep with the only water standing in hoof holes. Little bees hovered around the water pockets and landed on the ridges of the hoof holes to slurp some shitty sludge-water.

At the crest I could see Wild Horse Mesa and the basin badlands below. The basin held thick groves of juniper and pinyons. Sage and other typical Mojave cacti and brush plotted thick in the washes and pleats below. I marveled at this basin form the pass as the sun set, a sight so hidden and reeking of wilderness. In the evening I camped on a ledge and as i sat on my sleeping pad I could hear burros descending and moving precariously loudly on the cliffs above. Their eyes glowed a golden yellow as I shined my light on them. Loose rock spilled and rattled like ice cubes in an ice chest.

The next morning on the mesa I found my first rattlesnake under a deep crimson boulder. The mesa looked like spring and the morning sun rays felt good as they brushed my legs. A green tinge glowed in the surrounding hill sides and mesas. I entered Banshee Canyon and the porous cliffs. A neat little trail went through here but at the campground all that illusion of cooler temps vanished and the heat soared. The basalt and pyroplastic rock told of a 18.5 million year old blast. Intense heat showed instantaneous cooling which pockmarked the cliffs and hoodoos. The heat now resembled that furnace with no cooling in site. I ambled on after filling my bladders and walked across the burnt high plains of juniper and pinyon. Cattle munched on the sporadic sprigs of green grass.

The spigots were turned off at Mid Hills Camp. This caught me by surprise and turned my waterless stretch into roughly 40m. I got a little stressed. The stressful part is that I carry and drink water in heat without necessarily knowing I have a confirmed source ahead unless it is something I have cached. This spring has been real dry. And without any confirmations I sometimes embark on these long stretches without knowing where I will get my water from. So, I started from the camp in dire need of water. I took a chance at Burro Spring. Only a dug out hole had been gouged out in the hillside. A decent sized tamarisk sat right plop in the center of the spring source. I bet that tamarisk has something to do with how dry this spring is, let alone the drought and dryness. I soberingly continued on.

Cima Dome looks like a giant mole rising in the horizon. You can see the rise from miles around. Finally climbing up it I found a veritable desert cactus garden. Huge stands of Joshua Trees held up the slopes with their pom-pom spiky florets and thick barked trunks. An occasional bouquet of white flowers sprouted at one end of one pom-pom, the lengthy arm resembling the slowed-up stages of a shooting star. At Cut Spring I was surprised to see not only the cottonwoods and the water trough present but a makeshift cabin with a hay spread out in front had a good sized herd of deer feeding. Quail rambled about and fluttered away at my arrival. The deer scattered but I could still see their burro type ears poking above the shrubs. Game and motion sensors were set up in places and I slugged down 2L of water right in plain sight. I couldn't pass this source up. I tanked up and headed for camp.

Owls hooted at night and I could see the lights of Las Vegas to the northeast. I slept soundly in the cooler temps up on Cima Dome. I awoke to a purple sky, then pink, and then orange. I found a full trough of water at Deer Spring. I had my umbrella out and open for most of the day as I walked through volcanic lands toward Interstate 15, where I had a water cache waiting. At Halloran Summit I laid in the shade for 2 hours and lazed about drinking water. I left in the late afternoon as temps became cooler. I even saw a wild burro which snorted at me sounding like a burst of a jet engine. I found reliable Francis Spring. The water tainted by burro and cattle, mucky and reddish brown with a steer's skull and horns laid sidelong up on the salt grimed shoreline. I filled 2L and left for camp. I slept deeply that night in the big wide open Mojave Desert.

Long day again. Kingston Spring has overgrown willows, cattails and tamarisk, even coyote tunnels into the thickets with bones strewn about, but no water in sight. I had a long and hot crossing of the Valjean and Dumont Hills. The wind blew incessantly, annoyingly. No shade; hot as fuck. I crammed under a large creosote in a dune field, umbrella and all, my legs sticking to each other. I then found a shaded rocky outcrop that sheltered the sand but filtered it so well that a small dune abutted the outcrop. I forced down an energy bar even though I needed food. After hours of staggering through the desert heat I found the Amargosa River. And there was more water than I expected! A real river! And I was down to my last half liter and I was completely under saturated. I filled up with 2 gallons for the night after slugging 2L right then and there. I walked about a half mile and called it quits. I set up my ground sheet but couldn't get really anything done. I simply wanted to sit. I laid back against my backpack and propped up a knee and marveled at the humongous dark blue and purple sky, the shades between ending day and oncoming night. I drank another 2L and watched the bats flit about the dusky sky feasting on insects. I worked so hard all day, beaten down by the sun, the ups and downs mentally, no shade, just fucking plastered, simply to get to this moment. I chuckled and said aloud to myself: you're a fucking idiot.

The constant sun; nothing is as ubiquitous as the sun. Even at night here in the desert. I am cramping, my finger nails glow with an eerie bio-luminescence, sun drenched, and the night inhales before the cauldron is open to flame again. From 6am-11am things are tolerable. I push with ease while starting slow and pursing on my water attentively. Then, the rage begins. I battle with a lion's heart only to fall to inner turmoil and guilt. I desperately seek shade while trying not to obsess about my water situation, or lack of or uncertainty or surplus of it. If I get shade, I tell myself, I will sleep for a few hours. That helps. But then times merely have no shade, the sun high noon, directly overhead, its apogee of terror, the mindfuck. I keep at it, trying to eat something, my belly bloated from water mixed with electrolytes. So positive minded in the morning only to be crushed by the heat. I get trapped by the head and I start to think about things, like ancient childhood things and my relationship with my family, how guilty I feel I am as a person, within the deep recesses of eroded beds of my heart. I begin to doubt myself while just believing it will subside by late afternoon. I peel back up after a brief spell of shady rest,even though my calorie intake is minimal. I am able to force down a bar but only by muscling it down. I keep going. All day. At 5pm, it is the worse. The sun is angled perfectly to wreak havoc on my brain and face. The umbrella isn't helping anymore. The incessant sun is making me mercurial, vacillating between morbid and positive thoughts. Back and forth. I keep at it. Plodding along. The a trickle of sweta ruins it all. Down my forehead, through the quad-wrinkles between my brow that shows when I am focused or intense, the squint that intimidates people, at the bridge of my nose, an awkward nose, the drop goes left on a protrusion on my bone and slowly weaves its way to the corner of my eye until the salty bead plunges right in stinging my eye. And I blink and I blink to get it out, to absorb the stinging, all to no avail. I rub my eye fervently. I use my index finger and it just makes it worse, even smearing my sunglasses, staining everything with salt. Salt is everywhere. I am stale with salt, aged. The mirage in the mind is becoming clearer while getting blurrier at the same time. Only the narrow focus of water, of finding water, of sometimes the exaggerated discovery of water, of a cold fucking soda, of pouring water over my head, dunking my shirt. And when I get there, I guzzle. So much so, the cistern in my belly is jiggling, no, swishing with water. My belly is protruded, extended with the beautiful liquid, no matter the color. Shitty, muck-tainted, pissy, green algae tinted, stained with decaying flesh and bone; it's all mine.

Then, it's dusk. I forget all that has happened. The day a dream, fuzzy. It's all unknown, all of it, the epitome of ignorance. Just unknowing. I find myself in a small town. I'm shy, shell shocked from the desert blasting. I speak my order to the waitress and feel the cool air on my neck. I shake my head of the mirage.


  1. Gotta love shitty/pissy water haha

  2. A captivating and incredible narrative.

  3. "I chuckled and said aloud to myself: you're a fucking idiot."

    Also a fucking bada$$. Keep on inspiring us all.

    1. Well thanks for the words. I’ll keep trying