For some reason we stayed at the Needles site up to check out at 11:00. I fiddled around at the campsite in the 98-degree heat while Mabel hunted the small birds that roamed the stretch of desert directly behind us. I was impressed with her technique as I always considered her a city dog. Our small back yard doesn’t offer a lot of chances for stalk and pounce hunting as the element of surprise is usually lost as soon as the back door is opened. Mabel and Evelyn storm off the back stoop, crashing through whatever plants have survived around our red maple and then a dash through the coverless back yard. Here she showed tremendous patience as five birds paraded by, with her holding cover slightly slinked behind the scrub that grows in such places. She let them get close before she let go of her stance, just not quick enough to be successful. I think she likes it here as I have let her off the lead all morning. At times she pushes the boundaries to a point where I can’t see her, a whistle most times bringing her back. Yes, Kim B, I have lost track of Mabel here as well. A lost Mabel has higher stakes as critters here are bigger or deadlier so I should be more aware of location. It’s just that she looks so happy when allowed to roam and I wonder if the trip is affecting her. She spends most of her time in the backseat and only sometimes rises to stare out the window. I open them for her and she likes the wind rushing through her jowls, her ears back either by choice or force. So, I like to give her opportunities to be a dog rather than a kidnap victim in the back seat.
We drive into Needles where it hurts to pony up at the pumps and spend $4.00 for a gallon of gas. But it is a necessity, no way am I hoofing it through the desert with a Gatorade bottle looking for gas. Today’s destination is Weldon, California, a small town near Lake Isabella at the beginning of the Sequoia National Forest. We will find refuge at the KOA and hope it has shade. I have been using KOA’s on this trip because I get a discount as a frequent traveler and like McDonalds, can rely on a certain amount of quality, regardless of the location. HWY 40 pulls us West where we will join 395 for the trip North (the turning of the corner) and then West again on HWY 178.
I see signs for Barstow and think back to another book I read when young and impressionable; Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Vegas. This book was like no other that I had read and I credit Rick Gainer, my future ghost roommate in the Air Force for its introduction. I last heard from Rick when we found out we were pregnant with Clayton and he had fallen on hard times. I liked Rick, we were both photo troops, brothers in arms you could say, and I hope his life is now good. Dr. Thompson wrote a tight story, the words coming off like machine gun fire, and at times the ride was an exhausting punch in the gut. He mentioned bats appearing as they approached Barstow, and I hoped I would be spared the same. There is not much out here, desert as far as you can see, but as of yet, no bats.
Jason Gustafson, a friend from Life Time, sent a Tom Petty CD to my folks and it had laid buried under the crap on my front seat. I have tried to practice good trip hygiene so the McDonald’s wrappers always find themselves in the garbage bag, but I do use the seat to store my map, camera, journal and a variety of other travel related utensils. Its songs were all about travelling and I liked it, the CD becoming my desert travel soundtrack.
Lots of trains out here, big and long, they must be carrying goods from the West to the East. I never really thought how those $79 Schwinns end up on the Target shelves in Ohio, but this must be the way. One train was using five engines, their power pulling loads of double-stacked, multicolored shipping containers that looked like Good & Fruity candies. Remember those, the cousin to Good & Plenty? The train looked to be a mile long, the shipping containers bearing names that all rang of the Far East.
Around 45 miles West of Barstow, the side of the road looked like there was a recent forest fire, the rocks a dark black. Upon closer inspection, as close as you can get as you speed down the highway, showed that it is a certain type of rock, fooling my eyes. I see more examples in other spots of the highway and have no idea what types of rocks they are.
We pass through what appears to be the Avawatz Mountains, at least that’s what the map shows them to be, and they are a welcome change after the desert. The desert is a big area of nothingness for as far as you can see. Open land with no houses, the road slicing through in a straight line until ancient landowner rights forces it to curve before becoming straight again. The curves are looping, a kind of lazy way to switch direction. There is no anger in a curve like this, the sharp curves are another story. I wonder who owns all of this and if it is a warmer version of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. I see big hills of what remind me of coffee beans or chocolate shavings like they use on that really good chocolate cake from Costco. The rocks are a deep, dark brown and lay on their sides giving the hills texture. We see cactus fields that look to be lifted from the pages of Dr. Seuss. They are tall but in a scraggy way and puffs of needles reach out from the branches’ ends. I wanted to take a picture but there was no place to pull off. I am constantly aware of the trailer and haven’t grown entirely comfortable with it even this late in the trip. It’s always in my mind that one bad pull-off and I have a flat tire. They looked really neat and the fields were large, the cactuses sandwiched between the mountains and the road.
There is a beauty to the desert. I feel you just have to look deep to find it and maybe even change your view on what constitutes beauty. The desert just seems to struggle at it more.
The road to Weldon is high and winding and I feel like we are in the middle of nowhere. I stop to let Mabel out at what looks to be a dirt road or ATV trailhead. It isn’t very nice, dried up grass and lots of trash so we don’t stay long. This has been one of the dirtiest areas I have seen on the trip and I don’t know if it is intentional or accidental.
We come down into a valley that looks lusher when compared to our previous scenery. Crops or grasses are being watered and daisy like flowers are everywhere. I need Sheri to help me with plant identification, maybe I should have paid more attention when she pointed out plants. There are horses in paddocks and it feels strange to see so much green nestled in between the mountains. Amazing how much better you feel when surrounded by color.
The KOA was close but at the end of the town which wasn’t very large and on the way to the lake. There was shade but I was nestled between two other campers who seemed nice. I liked the spot and the fact that there was a small pub in the welcome center. I take Mabel for a walk in the big open field next to the campground which is part of a native plant reclamation effort. The path leads us between fences. We eventually end up across the street in what was a bigger field that was the trailhead for ATV’s. She liked the openness even when restrained by the leash and I liked the mountain views. It was noticeably cooler than in Needles and the view better as well.
I walked over to the bar in the hopes of catching the NFL season opener. Two locals were there and hurricane coverage was on the tv until the host switched it for me. I listened as the locals talked, the older man offering to help the younger man, who was my age, to learn English.
They were nice to talk to and their stories interesting. Ernest was almost 80 years old and looked good. Could it be because he never married or had children? Nah….he had worked all over the country, including a stint in the California Prison System as a woodshop supervisor before retiring. It was neat to hear him talk about the region’s history as his family was originally from Arizona before it was part of the US. A relative of his was one of the first representatives for the territory.
Fernando had come to the US over 30 years ago and his entry didn’t sound official. He was a real cowboy as he helped local ranchers bring cattle up to the mountains to graze. He was scheduled to leave early the next morning to help bring them back down. I told him I would be sleeping when he was riding and as I am not a horse fan, sleeping sounded better to me. Ernest would help lead the conversation by dropping little factoids about Fernando. Like that he had eleven children, seven of them daughters, from four wives but was now single. Or that he had his own little ranch of 20 acres and slept outside to beat the heat, his dogs sleeping with him in a ring to keep the coyotes away. They were very well-trained dogs Ernest added. Through the conversation, Fernando would sip his Budweiser and smile wryly when I looked amazed at part of his story. He seemed happy, and I don’t think it was from the Budweiser, my life seemed boring compared to his. But I am not going to copy him in sleeping outdoors.
It was nice to escape from the road for a little bit, listen to their stories and tell mine. The beer was cold and the conversation was interesting, but I didn’t need to be a local. We sat talking and just enjoying each other’s company. This is the best part of the trip; connecting with people, either new or old, and enjoying the moment. I ended up staying too long and having too many beers, my laundry plans delayed until tomorrow. But that’s okay, I met a real live cowboy and got to buy him a beer.
Thankful I am in a cooler place.