January drifts across the landscapes of the desert. The month’s diurnal agenda, stacked solid with sharp shivery bits of time, is just cause for us dwellers to whine. With the whining comes hurried shuffles from home to car, car to work, work to car and car to home. Nevertheless, the call to step out into its brumal embrace falls lucent through the windshield from time to time. And as the day’s end moves closer, my foot grows weighted against the pedal.
Sunrise on November 10, 2012.
The moments that trail the rain in the desert are fleeting and must be sought out expeditiously. Freshly bathed creosote exhibits its darkened hues of green, spread out across the landscapes, washed of the summers dust. Details in the rock are exposed, contrasting distinctly with the fathomless blues of the sky. White bursage, Nevada jointfir, spiny menodora and all the typical desert species of the Upper Sonoran Life Zone are reawakened with the surge of crisp and moisture filled air, laden with a bouquet of youthful aromas. Even the sun seems pleased to crack the day open, as am I, as it casts a vivid light over a seemingly young and polished earth.
On the 10th, 11th and 12th of October Las Vegas received an unusual storm, dropping upwards of an inch of rain. So on Friday morning I headed out to a spot that provides a sweeping view of the Red Rock Canyon NCA and took a picture of the breaking of the storm during sunrise. It’s a shot I have been waiting a long time to capture. The never-ending days of cloudless skies makes a moment like this very rare.
One random companionless cloud drifts indifferently over my plastered box, igniting a placid debate within my head. Over the Sheep Range, another cloud, this one thick with moisture and building towards the upper levels of the atmosphere prompts further discussion. Should I consider it a sign? Will the day mutate into something worthy of a blistering battle with the sun? I can’t help but be an optimist, so I grab my gear and melt into my 170° F car seat. The whine of a Dog Day Cicada, playing favorites with the tree in my yard, is muted once I slam the door and start the engine. I’ve left my sunglasses on the dash again and am left squinting angrily at the sun filled roadway, holding them in the cool air that blows from the vents. An iPod and an iced coffee rest to my right in the center console cup holders. The temperature reads 108° F and it is hot!
Relying on the weatherman in Las Vegas is akin to receiving advice from a baker on a pop quiz for a chemistry class. Come to think of it, perhaps a baker would be better suited as a weatherman here, seeing as we live in an oven. I will say, the one thing the Las Vegas weather folk tend to predict correctly is the wind. Bad predictions aside, I do rely heavily on the off chance of a thunderstorm to motivate me. There are few more awesome events during summer in the Mojave than a drenching of rain to chill the troposphere. I have seen the temperature drop from 110° F to the mid 60′s in a matter of minutes. The redolence the moisture provides creates an explosion of awe within the olfactory senses. And for just a few precious moments, it seems as if you can hear the collective sigh of all things lively within this roasting rock filled range.
Over the last few months I have done what I can to enjoy the Mojave. I have taken a few trips further abroad, such as in the mountains of Montana. But seeing as this blog tends towards a desert theme, I thought better to leave those out. So below are some images I have selected that reflect the more interesting moments I encountered over this years Mojave summer and thought I would just wrap it up before the active fall and winter months to come. I hope you enjoy them…
100 degrees and sunny, 100 degrees and sunny, 100 degrees and sunny. This is the usual forecast a desert dweller faces when they check their weather app and it is the one I confirmed this morning. Sometimes it seems as if this trend will never end and follows deep into the months of September and October. My eye twitches as I hastily toss my phone on the dresser. The hum of the air conditioner is a constant soundtrack to the slow hot moments of what should not be summer and that damn Dog Day Cicada is whining and clicking away. But alas, I can see the head of a cumulonimbus cloud peaking above the rooftop of the neighbors house. Maybe today won’t be such a bad day after all. No thanks to the weatherman anyways.
End Summer Begin Fall…please
I’m thinking these panoramas represent pretty well the stretch of time since my last post. No excuses, just a bump back into it. The summers heat should be fading soon. The lonely landscapes lie waiting and I’m fairly sure the internet does too.
End Downtime, Begin Countdown…
Stained dark and blunt with presence, bashed up over years of abuse. These rocks as they are, sit into the endless nights, wrestling with existence. Pushing their way into the searing days, sitting patiently through the drenching and the winds, only to reveal to the observer, the beauty of the universe in its most intimate state. Naked, narcissistic and new.
I am shy like the lizard. I too wish to stick my head in a bush and let the big meanies move on. So many times they wait for me to move, to open myself for observation. And so many times I lie motionless until they grow bored and leave.
It’s tough to explain the settled yet ever changing moments of dusk in the desert. Mostly it is silent, at least on the rare windless days, but even then it seems empty. Sat down in sweeping motions towards each horizon. Full of serene dispassion. The sense of place, like a child lying down with one eye on the carpet of the living room, is vast and stretching on towards forever.
Obscurity is night’s super power. Except in comparison to what it seems to hide, it is boundless and truly eye opening. Every lonesome second in the desert’s witching hour resonates up from the cremated soil, through the soles of your feet, wrapping the beating tissues of your heart and then finally gushing forth from the fully dilated pupils of your eyes.
End Desert Begin City…
I took an early walk this morning to catch the sun in its advance. In the desert we can move beneath it only with respect, the power of it looms harder as the day goes on, until finally showing mercy as the earth turns a shy shoulder from its gaze. Today, however, the crafty moon will step in, blocking its rays from the surface of the earth.
“Where are we going tomorrow Dad?” asked Ash.
“We are going backpacking in Grapevine Canyon!” I said.
“So we are going camping?” Ash replied. He wrapped his Angry Birds blanket tighter around himself.
“Yes, but not how we normally do.” I responded.
“Ya,” said Aaron from the top bunk. “It’s like camping, except we have to hike first.”
“Exactly,” I said. “Now get some sleep. We have a big day tomorrow.”
The wind picked up and rustled the blinds on the window as I shut off the light. Walking down the steps I heard one of them say “I can’t wait till the morning.” I smiled and went to finish packing.
The Next Day
Mumford & Sons blasted on the car stereo as we finished the last of the packing in the parking area by the trailhead. I filled a couple of Nalgenes, trimmed the dogs nails, locked up the truck and then we headed down into the wash. It was sandy and loose as are most washes out in the Mojave Desert. The boys were ripe with excitement however and didn’t miss a beat.
“How far are we going?” huffed Ash.
“Bout 2 or 3 miles,” I replied. “Depends on where we find water.”
“Oh ok,” he said as he rushed to catch up with his brother.
Grapevine Canyon was a spiritual gathering place for the Mohave People, who used it for ritual purposes including an event during the summer solstice. There are over 700 petroglyphs on the rocks near the entrance to canyon. A spring runs pretty much year around, which is why I choose this place. Having to carry water with kids after you are already loaded down more than usual is a burden I’d prefer to avoid.
“Whoa!” exclaimed Aaron. “They are everywhere.”
“Look at these ones,” Ash called out as he ran up to the rock walls.
We were now at the mouth of the canyon where the majority of the petroglyphs are found. The glyphs were created between 1100 and 1900 AD.
Fun Fact: In March 2010, David R. Smith, accompanied by two other individuals, defaced 30 areas of petroglyphs by shooting them with an automatic paintball gun. He was sentenced to serve time in federal prison and pay almost $10,000 in restitution. Ok, maybe not so fun :/
“Come on Dad,” scolded Ash. “That’s enough pictures.”
“Ok ok,” I said. “I’m coming.”
“Don’t get too far ahead,” I called out. “You guys need to keep an eye out for snakes.”
“Ok,” they yelled back. Their pace remaining the same.
“Wait up!” I said sternly this time.
“OK!” came the response.
After catching up, it began to close in even more around us and we were forced to climb up and over a section of rock. Once on the other side the canyon opened up a bit and the grapevines were thick and green.
“I feel like I’m in Jurassic Park,” said Aaron. Pushing his way through the thick foliage and acting out scenes from the movie.
“This is so cool,” remarked Ash. Following the lead of his older brother.
“I’m hungry,” Ash said with a face full of brush.
‘Me too,” came a call from Aaron up ahead.
“Alright,” I conceded. “Let’s stop at the next open area.”
The next open area happened to be just perfect. A large sloping slab of rock with a pretty good view.
“What do you guy’s think so far,” I asked. “Is it too hard?”
“Nah,” answered Aaron. “My feet hurt a little, but it’s fun.”
“Yea,” said Ash. “It’s so fun!”
“Cool,” I said with a grunt while putting the full weight of my backpack back on. “Let’s head up and see if we can find some water. If not we may have to turn around.”
“Ok.” they both said while moving to hoist their backpacks back on too.
We moved up the canyon, checking out every possible spot for water but none were found. After a mile or so of this we decided to turn back and camp near the last spot we saw water. Soon we were there and ready to find a spot for the tent.
The Camp Spot
“Alright little dudes,” I spoke out. “We need to find a flat spot for this tent.”
“How about over here,” spouted Ash
“Or what about this one,” suggested Aaron.
“We need a little bigger space than that I think,” I said. Motioning them to check up on the apex of a small hill. “Go check out that spot.”
They ran up the hill.
“Ya,” said Ash with enthusiasm. “This looks perfect!”
“Yup,” came Aaron’s response. “I think this one will work.”
“Great!” I said. “Then that’s the spot.”
Time to Explore
With the camp all setup, now comes the best part of the day. Good light, exploration and bourbon.
“You guys wanna go explore around,” I asked. I cracked the top of the flask and poured a nip into an aluminum cup from the 50′s.
“Sure!” was their response.
“So this water can make us sick if we don’t clean it?” asked Ash.
“Yup,” I said. “It can give you giardia. Which makes you throw up and have diarrhea.”
“Can you die?” asked Ash.
“Most likely not,” I responded. “But you will have to go to the hospital.”
“That sucks.” said Ash.
“Yup.” I laughed.
We headed back to the tent. The sun was dropping fast and we needed to get a fire ready.
“Why don’t you guys dig a fire pit,” I mentioned. Instructing them to dig a hole and pile the dirt up on the sides. That way when we are done, we just bury the fire under dirt and no one will know it was there.
Now that the fire pit is done we need to go gather wood.
“We need some bark, twigs, branches and a few bigger logs,” I said. The sound of wood cracking and snapping now filled the air as we went to work collecting fuel.
“I’m King Kong” said Aaron triumphantly while hoisting a branch up into the air.
Eat and Relax
With the wood gathered and the sun setting behind the mountains, we got ready to enjoy a hearty meal and a warm spell by the fire. I showed the boys how to start a fire with a magnesium fire starter, which ended up with me falling over as the shredded bark went up like a bomb. Then listened as an ornery owl sent his hoots over the canyon and watched as the full moon rose into the starry night.
“Dad,” Ash said seriously.
“Yes?” I responded.
”Can we eat?” he questioned.
“I love you too, son.” I said smiling as I stood up to get the cooking kit.
End Desert Begin City…
Info on the Grapevine Canyon hike here.
Listen to “Harm and Boom” by Balmorhea
Daydreaming is central to the explorer mindset. Here at the desk I often drift off through the window, imagining myself perched up on the summit of some mountain sipping bourbon. Other times I put myself in the unkempt transitions and erased spaces that lie at the end of cities so that they should not be forgotten or discredited. Then move past into the bellowing real estate that has, in the short term, avoided the clawing consumption of municipal monstrosities.
In these forlorn lands we must tend to the views that sit in front of millions, days on end, with no preference to be seen, saved or damaged. We should move up above the congested air and breathe deep in the knowledge that, for at least a moment, you alone sit above it all. All the tragedy and loss. All the jealousy and ignorance. All the greed and destruction. Then while up there glaring out over the city you should allow your thoughts to state “Let them swim in the foul muck. Let them pretend that purpose is preserved in the concrete, asphalt and stucco. Let them squint and amuse themselves with wonderment over your whatfor on this lofty abode”.
Strolling along mountain ridges so close to the city is an amusing activity. The disparity between expectation and reality is bold and complete. Barking dogs, throaty engines and sirens drift up to become odd and off kilter to the ears as they interweave with wispy winds, gleeful birds and shuffling feet. Barrel Cactus, Yucca, Creosote and Limestone all play their role in the desert scene while the roads, homes, cars and buildings furnish a human element. Look to one side for an expanse of peaks, ridges and canyons stretching to the horizon. Then shift your gaze to the other and an urban landscape is dumped in front of you.
The glassy sharp Limestone found around the Las Vegas Valley was formed horizontally at the bottom of ancient seas some 600-250 million years ago. It is made up mostly from the bits and pieces of plankton, precipitates, and suspended sediment. Also to a lesser degree, out of dead fish, seaweeds and shells. It is a common form of grey and gritty earth found stuck and stout in the desert panoramas and while primarily not, it can contain fossiliferous material. Surprisingly, here on Cheyenne Mountain, fossils are found in abundance consisting of corals and mollusks.
We humans must touch everything. We feel inclined in every aspect of our lives to meddle and tinker with our surroundings. To leave it as is must mean we have been defeated by nature, tortured by time and embarrassed by fate. Even here up on this insignificant summit someone was inclined to build a substantial rock wall to hide behind. Whoever was inspired to do this, I must say I am impressed with your fortitude.
Today just had that feel to it, kind of drab and dull. The skies were flat and low, the air still and the sounds muted. It took a bit of internal debate to get going this morning and after the last cup of coffee I was finally inclined. All said, it was the perfect atmosphere for an urban themed adventure. Attached and infused with metropolitan presence. Tinged with ancient insignia and soured by the mustering of men.
The deeds of men are entombed with sin, preset and determined by time. Evidence of which comes trampled and ripe with death. It’s as if clowns have roamed uncouth and haphazardly through the edges of towns laying their reeking breath upon the ground. So much are the edges of this city ruined by gold trimmed assholes born from ignorance that I come to expect the dissatisfaction of my fellow man as commonplace. More so, it is the acceptance of my own opinion that worries me the most.
End Desert Begin City…