Creosote and Sandy Trail
Empty space tickles the catalogue of wonder, provokes my inner itch of curiosity. Big attraction to nowhere is that I find plenty that in other landscapes is smothered by overabundance. Until 1974 I had not had the chance to travel out into the midst of North America’s continental geophysical essence. First impressions were uninformed. I was not familiar with either the terrain or the flora and fauna of this region. I had grown up a creature of the urban world.
Crossing eastbound by highway the Mojave Desert appeared barren, defoliated, lifeless. The glaciated mountain peaks spilling from on high to lower elevations traveled with the help of gravity by avalanche chutes, the pulverized rubble spread out at lower elevations forming alluvial fans, gulches, ravines, and washes. I could see pieces of rock, dirt, sand, and creosote bush but I had not given much attention to any books that told the scientific story of how the Mojave Desert had been formed. I knew that such earth science forces such as uplift, subsidence, erosion and vulcanism were part of the story. At one time there were inland seas here, unfathomably deep now vanished oceans inundated where I stood. The tectonic plate beneath the Pacific Ocean pressing against continental North America has been thrusting the Sierra Nevada’s upward, and not by mere inches but after forty million years by more than two miles. Determined geologists working from theory finally confirmed that what they found down at the lowest elevations of the Mojave had originally been part of the highest mountain peaks. Depending on your mood and the heat geology and the miraculous are made visible in the Mojave.
Mountain and Valley
Then I spotted a desert tortoise and that was a clue. Gopherus agassizii has been around for the last 15-20 million years. The luckiest of these tortoises have a lifespan of between 50-80 years. The animal I found wasn’t likely to live so long, this one had wandered out of the desert and was too close to the highway. Picking the tortoise up I carried the animal out a dirt road, I figured if I took the animal a good mile out of harms way then releasing him back into the wild, that he’d have a stinking chance of surviving out here where he belonged. I think I did a good thing. I could not bear the thought of having this animal being run over out there on that highway. Researchers estimate the desert tortoise may move no more than 660 feet in a day. I figured the one I moved might find a mate out on the new turf, you know find a tortoise he’s attracted to, have a sex life, raise a family, find a burrow worth hibernating in, eat a fresh bloomed flower next spring. I hoped the tortoise might find all that and more. I’m still worried about that one animal.
Jumping between Northern California and Phoenix, Arizona I often stop for the night in the Mojave about an hour east of Barstow near Ludlow. This waystation was once a thriving concern and now is more of a name than anything else. Two gas stations, two convenience stores, Dairy Queen, Ludlow Café, two itty bitty motels, some sort of to hell and gone mobile home park, big rig parking space, and an Emergency Roadside Service operator account for what is found here. Further inventory I count one house, one abandoned building, pioneer cemetery and railway tracks for freight trains operated by Burlington Northern Santa Fe.
More or Less Most of Ludlow
Stopping over I parked a mile south out in the desert after dark and of all things the Northern Lights had kicked up and put on a show. Located at latitude 34’ North and all of 1800’ elevation far from any artificial lights I was in an ideal location to take in the celestial pyrotechnics. I turn on my AM radio the skip signal picked up stations near and far, some forlorn late night broadcaster mentioned there was this rare atmospheric occurrence visible to the naked eye and best location was out in the Mojave, that a truck driver parked in Ludlow had called in confirming the rare cosmic event. For one time and one time only, I was in the best possible spot to take advantage of this rare solar event.
I’ve got twenty or more Ludlow sleepovers in my logbook. If it’s warm, I cook. If it’s cold I’ll eat at the café, make small talk with the coffee shop waitress, even if the hired help is never the exact same person they are all desert tough and what you might call a hardboiled egg. After I’ll go out to my rig climb atop my bunk and curl up in my sleeping bag, read for a spell, before calling it quits, then laying my head atop my pillow right there in the middle of as close as I can locate myself to near as nowhere as can be found.