on the border of the mojave and colorado deserts
we woke to a bright, wind-chilled morning near the military town of twenty-nine palms, ca. the campground’s name, indian cove, hinted at a safe haven, a shelter from the harsh elements, but on that night at least, it felt like we were camping in a wind tunnel. i’m pretty sure that if not for our combined weight anchoring the flapping, whistling tent, it would have blown clean away. the next morning we found tent stakes that had been securing the rain fly 10 feet away from where they had been driven into the hard packed earth. random items from who knows where — a sweatshirt, a towel, a sock, several empty cans of heineken — littered the campground.
under the comforting, warming glare of the desert sun, we made a leisurely breakfast and then headed into the town of joshua tree to restock on supplies and run some errands. as usual, things took longer than we had anticipated and by the time we made it into the park, it was already late afternoon. given the quickly fading light, we decided to hike out to barker dam and back.
the heart of the mojave desert
the next day, we left joshua tree, heading north towards las vegas. once again, we passed through the mojave national preserve , the magical place where i entered my 39th year of life . we had already visited the kelso depot twice on our crisscrossing travels through socal, but given tim’s love of all things train, a third visit was inevitable. it’s a charming, beautifully restored building and sitting at the restored lunch counter while freight trains thundered past on sun silvered rails, it was easy to imagine what kelso was like when it was a vibrant railroad boomtown.
an oasis in the mojave
north of tecopah, motorists pass several handpainted signs imploring them to stop and visit the china ranch date farm . it is such a harsh and desolate landscape, all horizon and disintegrating sierra, that it is easy to focus on some distant destination and ignore all potential distractions, especially one as seemingly incongruous as an asian themed date farm. but thanks to our lackadaisical traveling style and the recommendation of the woman we met in a campground in tecopah, we decided to follow the signs chop-suey lettering down side roads, ravines, and into a sheltered canyon that glowed green with life.
the date farm turned out to be a shining example of the entrepreneurial spirit. apart from the farm itself, the property also housed a bakery (which served date-based delicacies like chocolate chip date cookies and date bread), a cactus nursery, an antique store, a campground, and several hiking trails. they also served up a wicked date shake, an indulgence that we reluctantly passed on when we were visiting palm springs — really, people, $6 for a shake? — but that we happily and greedily slurped down in the sunny warmth of the mojave.
next time: fear and loathing of las vegas.
Posted by Wordmobi
in march of 2010, we commemorated two important milestones: on march one, we celebrated the one-year anniversary of this nomadic life. yup, one year chock-a-block full of camping, skiing, visiting old friends and family, driving, chasing ufos, trainspotting, swimming, practicing yoga, playing, rollerskating, laughing, eating delicious food, gaping in wonder, meeting new friends, dreaming, dancing, sailing, bickering, processing, and occassionally stressing out about the future. one year of traveling by truck, train, trolley, sailboat, subway, ferry, steam engine, canoe, taxicab, bicycle, quad skate, monorail, airplane and, oh yeah, on foot.
it is a remarkable thing, how easily a human being can adapt to new and challenging circumstances, and this past year has been a clear demonstration of this fact. we may not own a bed or a refrigerator; we may not have regular access to hot showers or flush toilets; our choices may have led us into surprising and sometimes frightening scenarios, but we have continued on, learning, healing, and expanding. i now know how to make apple turnovers over an open fire and how to rig a tarp that will survive 5 days of unceasing rain. i now know how to navigate portland’s bike lanes and washington dc’s metro. i can now feel, more strongly than ever, the web that connects me to each and every one of my friends, binding us together in a single swirling chaos of dance.
more than anything else, however, this past year has taught me to not simply live with uncertainty, but to actively embrace it. we have no way of predicting the future; we have no way to force our way into an imagined life. all thoughts and beliefs that tell us otherwise will ultimately disappoint. if you had asked me five years ago what my life would look like today — or at twenty-one, what my life would look like at twenty-six — my answer would have been laughably naive. to believe that my vision of where the next five years will lead me has any validity seems to me to be the definition of foolhardiness. and while this might be frightening or disorienting, there is not much i can do but to keep on following the path unfolding before me. there have been many days when tim and i had no idea where we were going to sleep or how we were going to get there, and whether we stressed out about it or not, whether we fought or disagreed or simply relaxed into it and had faith, somehow it always seemed to work out. as i have written before, we may have less, but we have been deprived of nothing. in fact, my life after one year on the road feels richer, more textured, and more vivid than ever. what a beautiful planet this is! what poignant creatures we are! i can’t wait to see what happens next!
on march 9, we reached another,more prosaic milestone. the odometer on tim’s truck, the loyal and dependable rainbow frontier, finally hit the 100,000 mile mark. thank you old girl; long may you rave.
the one year anniversary of the wonder caravan found us in los angeles, ca, just about as far from northampton, ma as you can possibly be while still in the continental u.s. on the way to socal, we passed through new hampshire, vermont, maine, new york, massachusetts, pennsylvania, ohio, michigan, indiana, illinois, missouri, kansas, colorado, new mexico, utah, idaho, montana, wyoming, oregon, washington, nocal, nevada, nebraska, iowa, virginia, west virginia, maryland, kentucky, wisconsin, minnesota, and north dakota.
apart from the railfan extravaganza that brought us from martinez, ca to washington dc, the past year was spent heading west, towards the pacific and the setting sun. it makes a kind of sense, then, that the beginning of our second year on the road marks a literal turning point. we’ve stitched our way down the western coast, from washington’s san juan islands to santa monica, ca. we’ve walked along the edge of the continent and seen land give way to endless hecatombs of ocean. now it’s time to turn our faces to the rising springtime sun and head east.
the beginning of our eastward journey began with a return to hemet, ca, where my auntie made us a delicious dinner of arroz caldo.
and for desert, purple yam! we stayed at her place for a few days, decompressing from los angeles and waiting out some cold, rainy weather, and then made our triumphant return to joshua tree national park.
it is always a joy to sleep out in our tent, especially after an extended visit to the big city. there is something re-grounding — comforting, even — in being completely surrounded by the natural world, even when the nights are cold and the spring winds are blowing hard enough to bend tent poles and send aluminum stakes flying. every task, from cooking breakfast to building a fire, to filling our water jugs, feels strangely empowering; if we can survive and thrive with just these basic tools, we’re capable of handling just about anything!
next time: stories from the road to las vegas.
Posted by Wordmobi
when tim watches trains, he sees engine models, car configurations and railroad history. when i watch trains, i see graffiti.
joshua tree’s only arch formation can be found a short hike from the white tank campground . we found it just as the strange and beautiful rock formations were catching fire in the setting sun and we wandered through hidden canyons and labyrinthine passes, entranced.
the cholla forest that has found a foothold smack dab in the middle of the park, is a mysterious and magical landscape. the longer you walk among these beguiling creatures, the more you begin to see strange, surprised, muppet-like faces staring back at you.
the high-modern desert oasis that was palm springs has succumbed to the borg-like blight of urban sprawl. downtown is a sad patchwork of empty storefronts and local businesses struggling under the weight of big box stores in neighboring “towns.” for my 39th birthday, tim and i spent a couple of days in a hotel in palm desert, a town composed almost entirely of chain stores. we lounged by the pool, ate continental breakfast with the snowbird set, and warmed our chilly bones in the desert sun.
my auntie nanay and cousin karen live in hemet, ca, just a short drive from palm springs. we camped nearby and visited with them for a couple of days, slowly gathering our strength before the descent into the heart of southern california: the cadillac desert of los angeles.
the journey goes on.
Posted by Wordmobi
death valley had lulled us into a false sense of security. the weather had been beautiful there, all sun-baked days and cool, delicious nights. it was the first time we’d camped since mid-november and it was wonderful. we splayed out in the tent, unencumbered by layers of wool blankets and sleeping bags, happy to be out in the open air. even though months had passed since our last campground stay, the routines of our nomadic life returned easily. we were flush with supplies, and despite the fact that we had forgotten our percolator in fresno, our time spent camping in death valley was as easy as pie.
so as we drove south, heading towards the mojave desert and joshua tree, we were blissfully unaware that the temperate climate that prevailed in death valley did not extend much beyond the park’s boundaries. as we left death valley, we climbed several hundred feet in altitude. the temperatures dropped and the intermittent breeze became a constant, biting wind.
by the time we reached our destination , just a few miles outside of the park, the air had turned cold and the wind had settled into a consistent 25mph nuisance. the shorts and cotton t-shirts that felt so comfortable in death valley began to feel dangerously insufficient. battling the wind and the hard-packed, salt-stained ground, we set up our tent beneath a small stand of trees in a nearly empty section of the campground, prepped some stuff for making dinner, and then beelined it for the hot springs.
we spent about an hour submerged in piping hot water, me trying to finish a horrible book , tim doing his best to make small talk with some of the other bathers. it is at times like this that i am most thankful for tim’s good nature and easy sociability. thanks to tim, i was able to enjoy the hot springs in relative silence and solitude. tim, on the other hand, was subjected to a seemingly endless series of lectures on real estate, things to avoid in las vegas, and long-distance road trips. poor thing.
when we got back to our campsite, i made a big pot of navratan korma , one of the more complicated dishes in our camp repertoire. the lingering warmth of the hot springs and the spice of the curry fortified us against the cold, battering wind. afterwards, we cleaned up, put the kitchen back in the truck, and bundled up for bed. and let me tell you, it was no death valley. the wind howled and blustered, buffeting the tent and rattling the palm’s fronds. tim fell asleep almost instantly (that’s him snoring in the following recording), but i stayed awake for a while, listening to the ruckus.
we woke the next morning to clear blue skies and sunshine, believing the worst to be over. little did we know what awaited us in mojave.
Posted by Wordmobi