I think I am becoming a Desert Rat. Like many of those who call the desert home, I’ve fallen in love with the dry desolation the Mohave offers. I find relaxation in the solitude, where your eyes can search the horizon in vain for another human being. This expansiveness captured my attention on my first trip to the Mohave, but my most recent trip introduced me to the world found at the opposite end of the spectrum: the minuscule. Early Saturday morning I returned to the Mohave Desert to enjoy both the large and the small of it. I would end up visiting the most desolate place I’ve been in my life.
The last major civilization is Twentynine Palms, CA. Although it is home of the world’s largest Marine Base, the desert community consists of people from many ways of life. As like a waterhole in the African Serengeti where all sorts of animals can make an appearance, so is the case at a Twentynine Palms’ pub. I noticed one across from the gas station I stopped at; motocross bikes and horses were tethered to the railing. If I had more time, I would have gone in to grab a beer with the desert rats to hear some of their stories.
I headed east out of Twentynine Palms and the city was soon in my rear view mirror. Soon all I could see was miles of tough land with a few tough people living on it. Some of these houses looked identical to any house in the suburbs, as if they fell from the sky like in The Wizard of Oz. Outside the city, services were scarce for visitor and citizen alike. Old power lines draped next to the two-lane paved road, but stray far and not only do the power lines disappear, but so does the pavement. Side streets are nothing more than sandy paths carved into the desert, their identification handcrafted by those living on them. Some street signs included the names of all the residents.
Eastbound eventually became northbound, and I crossed into the Cadiz Valley. If one could define the solitude of a place by how much information can be found about it on Wikipedia, Cadiz Valley might possibly be the loneliness place in the US. There’s nothing on Cadiz Valley, nor the Bristol Mountains to the north in the online Encyclopedia. The US Census Bureau reported in 2000 that just 23 souls called this 424 square miles of land home.
But this wasn’t always the case. Amboy used to be a main rest stop for those traveling east on Route 66. By 1940, over 2.5 million people had left their homes in the midwest to try to find a better life. Of those, 200,000 moved to California and had most likely traveled through this area.
I’m sure the people who still live here have to create their own recreational activities. I wandered onto what must be their television shooting range out on Bristol Dry Lake.
Bristol Dry Lake was once not so dry, and I tried picturing how the area looked when it was filled with water and life millions of years ago. Now, the lake is a major source of the country’s table salt. Mining has been going strong here since they started operations in 1910. They say there’s 60 million tons still in the ground, so we’ll have salt on the table for centuries to come.
This water-filled trench is man made. According to Cargill Salt, salt is created by solar evaporation:
“Solar salt is produced through the natural evaporation of sea water or other naturally occurring brine. Salt water is captured in shallow ponds and allowed to evaporate by means of the sun and wind. During the process, a salt bed forms on the bottom of the pond. The salt is harvested, washed, screened and packaged. The typical solar “crop” takes from one to five years to produce.”
I was there after hours on a Saturday, so everything that might have been active was not. I wouldn’t be surprised if most most of the area’s residents work at this mine. Either way, the 200 census reports that the average household income of these 23 residents was $127K a year, so something in the area is paying the bills.
I reached Amboy Crater just as the sunlight faded over the horizon. Many Southern Californians would be surprised to hear that they could take a day trip to climb a volcano. The volcano has been extinct for a while and the crater was created about 6,000 years ago, leaving behind one of the the most symmetrical volcanic cinder cones.
I watched the silhouette of the crater – which stands about 250 feet above the desert floor – fade into the landscape as the sun set and the stars came out. Another trip would be needed to explore the volcano more closely, so I headed back to Joshua Tree National Park to take a few long exposure photographs before heading home.