Archive for February, 2009
After spending the previous day resting and exploring in the Ridgecrest area, it was time to move on. My goal was to arrive at our final destination in southeast Arizona on November 15th, so two more days of travel ahead of us. I can probably speak for Sabrina in saying that we were both tired of being on the road.
Before departing from Ridgecrest, we stopped to eat breakfast in a park on the east side of town. Almost as soon as we sat down in a tree-shaded area, we were accosted by an unkindness of ravens. In fact, all of the trees in the parks were filled with similar groups that croaked and kraaked at us. The boldest dropped down onto the nearby pedestal barbecues, or to the ground to march up to make their demands known. Clearly, they expected some form of tribute. Sabrina was slightly intimidated by their aggressive behaviour. She would turn her head to look elsewhere as they cocked their heads and ogled her from a few feet away. Unfortunately, that just encouraged them to move in closer. She would then quickly turn her head back to see how far they had advanced. The closest might hop back a step or two, but soon marched forward a few more paces.
I came across several references to Common Ravens in the Mojave region. Apparently, there has been a great increase in their numbers over the past couple of decades, with large numbers of birds hanging out in urban areas or around dump sites. There is concern over risk of raven predation on desert tortoises in the western Mojave Desert. They do seem both plentiful and aggressive, so I would think they could pose a threat to any small creature.
After breakfast, we packed up and headed south to catch 395, where we promptly hit a patch of road construction and sat in the van long enough to experience how quickly it could be transformed into a Mojave-style easy-bake oven. Continuing south, we passed through the village of Red Mountain, which seems to be home to an eclectic mix of found-art creatives. About the middle of town stands what I’m guessing to be a Yucca bearifolia.
Leaving Red Mountain behind, we continued south towards Kramer Junction where we would pick up Hwy 58 to head east toward Barstow. Just before that junction, there is a massive solar concentrator installation. It can’t really be photographed from the ground, so refer to the above link, or google “Kramer Junction solar concentrator”. As in my last two posts about the Searles Valley with its mineral extraction, and the military weapons ranges, etc.. at China Lake near Ridgecrest, it’s impossible to ignore how the deserts of the southwest are becoming a hotbed of industrial activity — without doubt, to the detriment of the considerable flora and fauna. For a more complete background on this topic, do check out this and other related posts on Chris Clarke’s Coyote Crossing.
To an outsider such as myself, it was somewhat jarring to find the ubiquitous assortment of service vehicles, filled with survey or work crews, scattered almost everywhere as I crossed the Mojave. I can’t help but wonder if all of this activity is flying under the radar screens of the many as….well….the common perception of the desert is that it is “just a big empty space, isn’t it?” I admit to having experienced a brief twinge of that notion during the first day of my first visit to Arizona about thirteen years ago. However, that illusion soon melted away as I began to appreciate the incredible biodiversity of the desert. In fact, after visiting the desert several times over the years, I can say without hesitation, that deserts are among the most fascinating and active places on earth — this from someone who has done quite a few surveys of flora and fauna, and a good deal of nature photography, in a wide range of vastly different habitats.
On this day, my plan was to drive through to stay at a motel in Lake Havasu. I would have preferred to camp the last leg of our trip to southeast Arizona, but Sabrina and I were really hitting the wall as far as energy was concerned. We were now reduced to just driving, sleeping and trying to find some kind of edibles to see us through to our final destination. Also, I was beginning to experience a lot of fatigue – both physical and psychological. One of the most difficult things to deal with was the growing sense of isolation that I felt while traveling. I have touched on this a bit in previous posts. Traveling alone with my dog, I couldn’t help but notice that almost everywhere I went, others traveled as pairs, or with friends. At rest stops, they would get out and wander around, picnic, switch drivers, and then carry on. The only solitary travelers seemed to be the long haul truckers, and even many of them were traveling with their spouses. At the above rest stop along I-40, a trucker climbed out of his cab, gave his wife a hand down, and then lifted their white toy poodle to the ground. Such was actually a fairly common sight throughout this trip.
No doubt, the following observations have to do with my overly sensitized state, but I seemed to encounter signs of “couple-dom” in every direction that I looked. At Trona Pinnacles, it was the message in stones. At this rest stop, it was a debarked tree trunk (above) upon which were scribbled countless proclamations of so-and-so loves so-and-so. Further along from this rest stop, there were many big cupid’s hearts and initials, formed of arrangements of black volcanic rock, on every little hillside facing the highway. Recently, I’ve read the writings of other bereaved men and women who have described much the same feeling — that after the death of a partner, it appears as though the world is the territory of couples and families, and not so much for those who must, or choose to, journey through life alone. Such does seem to be the case. I suppose that those of us who are forced to carry on alone, must search for our own icons and messages. Among all the tree graffiti, there was one that seemed meant to speak to every traveler.
From Lake Havasu, I traveled to Tucson, and then on to the southeast region of Arizona, where I have been spending the winter. My next few posts will be about some of the places I have hiked and photographed nature. In a few weeks, I’ll be leaving to gradually make my way back north to Ontario and then probably on to Nova Scotia. I’m hoping that the weather will be a little more cooperative. After a winter of good food and plenty of hiking, Sabrina is in much better condition and should be up to doing more hiking than on the trip south. More about southeast Arizona and my rather nebulous trip plans coming up very soon.
After our aborted attempt to visit to Trona Pinnacles, I turned the van north up Hwy 178 to continue our explorations. Just a little up the road, I could see the most amazing rock formation — massive gray plates of rock thrust vertically as they swarmed over a great lump of a hill, putting me in mind the dorsal plates of a Stegosaurus. I cruised slowly by, searching for a safe place to park so that I could photograph the formation. However, as happens so often when you find something of great interest, there was no turnout or even a slice of shoulder to pull onto. In fact, there were “no parking” signs all along the road for some distance. I never mind walking a mile or two for a photo, but with it being so hot, I didn’t want to leave Sabrina in the van while I hiked back, and felt the roadway was too dangerous to bring her along. I might have tried a “drive-by shooting” if I could have poked along and braked for a second or two, but the traffic along this stretch of road was, to put it mildly, a little nuts — big transport trucks and squads of fat white pick-ups zooming back and forth from points on the Searle Dry Lake flats (seen above), and one of a couple of plant installations (see below — click on images for larger views). Perhaps some day I’ll have a chance to revisit and photograph the formation on a quiet Sunday morning. In the meantime, you’ll have to imagine a rocky hill that resembles a great sleeping Stegosaurus.
I continued along the highway which skirts the west side of the lake bed, past processing plants, and the towns of Argus and Trona. At a rest area across from the above installation, I found a pavillion displaying a number of posters explaining the geology and extraction methods employed at the lake bed, and others of the mineral products processed at the plants. I can only say that the scale of these operations is huge, and yet my guess is that similar and probably much larger operations must exist in such deserts around the world. In any case, I found myself feeling like an alien life form, emerging from my land roving vehicle, into some place where I seemed invisible to the ant-like residents who tore back and forth between the colony and their food source.
While in the pavillion, I studied a large map of the Panamint Valley, thinking to continue north to explore further, but decided to turn back and take care of a few things back in Ridgecrest as Sabrina and I would be pushing onward to Arizona in the morning. On the way back south along 178, we passed areas of sculptured blue hills that resembled scaled-down versions of Blue Basin in John Day Fossil Beds. Once again, I was reminded of how all places, all thoughts, all objects, are connected, to one degree or another.