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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Extreme Environment - Any Way You Want It

The brochures, the website and Wikipedia will tell you it consists of 1.6 million acres lying between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Its guardianship has passed through the hands of several government agencies, and this month is its 15-year anniversary under the auspices of the National Park Service. Of course, the government has no money, so there is little upkeep of this wonderful natural resource. If one visits frequently enough and returns to familiar spots, erosion and human vandalism can be easily spotted. The 4-wheelers tear the desert floor to shreds, leaving gouges that can be seen from a jetliner. In all the years we have visited there, we have seen a ranger twice.

In the Mojave Preserve, one will find singing sand dunes, volcanic cinder cones, vast meadows of wildflowers, the world's largest Joshua tree forests, mountain ranges, canyons and mesas. The area has been heavily mined, homesteaded and ranched. An abandoned rock-walled military outpost, a defunct railroad depot and ghost town, countless mining sites, and many deserted ranches can be found. However, all that is spread over the 1.6 million acres, so it will seem logical that there are also vast expanses of what some would call "nothing". I call it a rich landscape of countless treasures.

Elevations range from 7,929' at the top of Clark Mountain (I was nearly blown off the top of that mountain once!) to 880' above sea level on the desert floor near Baker. It is increbily hot in the summer months, with no shade available in most locations. Snow is not uncommon in the winter. Rainfall varies from 3" per year near Baker to almost 9" in the mountains. Almost 25% of the rainfall comes from summer thunderstorms and the skies are almost always dramatic. The wind can howl through the preserve in a way that will be told later in this post.

A few paved roads criss-cross the miles, but most travel in the preserve on jeep trails. I have been privileged to explore much of it on foot, having first come in on the jeep trails. There are so many diverse habitats in this beloved place that no two trips there seem the same. Shall we go high and try to keep cooler, or down to the flats in January? Do we wish to hike in mountainous terrain or on sandy washes? Many of the spots we love have names bestowed upon them in the distant past: Cow Cove, Cima Dome, The Cinder Cones, Fort Paiute, Coyote Springs, Hole in the Wall. Some of them we named ourselves: The Garden of the Gods I, II and III and others that don't bear repeating.

That recitation was as dry as a mouthful of desert sand, but I needed to establish what it is like and where this glorious locale could be found. Nothing in the hard, cold facts tells of the beauty to be taken in and the fun to be shared and the situations that help one understand how strong, or quick-thinking one is. And now I will tell my first desert tale. There will be more to come.

The forecast for the Presidents' Day weekend was dismal for Las Vegas and southern California. Wind, heavy rain, cold. We decided to go anyway. It did not bode well for us that on the trails we had traveled many times before, we took a wrong turn in the fog and took a 10-mile donut detour. Arriving at the edge of Paiute Gorge, we could barely see each other through the pea soup and marveled out loud that we hadn't driven right over the edge into the gorge.

We're pretty intrepid, and while this wasn't the best camping trip ever, we stayed. The skies were so flat he did not get one photograph. We ate dinner at 4:30 p.m. because we needed to be inside the tent by early evening - it was far too cold to sit outside in camp chairs. In the morning, the water for coffee was ice. Hiking was miserable because we had to layer so many clothes. There is an unflattering picture of me bundled up and looking like the Michelin man with all the clothes creasing at the elbows and knees.

But for all of that, on this trip the wind was the story. I couldn't tell what time it was by the position of the moon. Maybe 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. The wind howled sufficiently to blow the tent's staked-down corners up and my body was being slightly lifted by it. Various camping equipment was being blown across the desert - I heard one of the chairs slam into a yucca. The noise was incredible! He slept on. Incredibly, it began to blow harder. The tent flapped and I thought of going to the XTerra, but I didn't know how I would fare on the walk from the tent to the car. Finally, I began to choke and tear up. I wasn't going to be polite any longer. I elbowed him in the ribs. "Wake up. Talk to me for a minute. Have you ever been in anything like it?" Of course, I fully expected him to say this was nothing - that he'd experienced far worse. Instead, he sat bolt upright and said, "WTF! I've never heard anything like it! This is really terrible." I plunged to the depths. "Try to go to sleep, Limes. We can't take down camp in the gale. It probably can't actually move the 275 pounds of us." OK. I tried to sleep.

Who knows how much later I felt something silky come across my face, covering my mouth and nose? I didn't care for it much. Using my hands to explore, I learned that the wind had arced one tentpole downward and it was tent fabric covering my head. I elbowed him in the ribs again. "The tent's collapsing on us! I thought an intruder was chloroforming me, but it's the tent caving in on my face." We flipped the tentpoles back to their proper configuration. That lasted for about a minute . . . . it would not be correct to say we "woke up" in the morning. It was more like finally unwinding from the miles of folds of tent because there was finally daylight. It was not a pleasant breaking up of the camp.

He has a good curious mind. He knows how to learn things. He is a grand researcher. Logical and analytical. He'd checked the National Weather Service and other sources. He'd plotted our exact location on his mapping software. The e-mail announced itself with the little chirp Yahoo Messenger makes. "Limes, being conservative, I'd say we spent 6 hours in winds gusting at 75 miles an hour. I've got the data to support that."

Those tent poles are permanently damaged. Aluminum poles bent by blowing wind.

In my ears right now: It would still have to be Against the Wind.

Something that charmed me: I returned to work on the Tuesday after that weekend. "Hey, Limes, how was your long weekend? You guys didn't go camping in that weather, did you?" "Yes, we did, actually." "Oh, man, did you have fun?" "I did, homes!" And I meant it, too.

Some photo credits: J. D. Morehouse


  1. You mentioned Hole-In-The-Wall. I believe that's where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hid out.

  2. VERY good, Mr. Movies! Wrong state, though. Butch and Sundance holed up in the wall in Utah. This one is in SoCal. When we went there, however, I did sing Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head.

  3. There's more than one Hole-In-The-Wall? Someone should have copyrighted it.

  4. Well, the Utah/Butch/Sundance one is the big gun. Ours truly is just a hole in a wall. lower case letters. It's such a creative, flowery designation, don't you think? Hole. Wall.

  5. Limes, you paint such a beautiful picture of the Mojave. I'm ready to visit, but no camping.

  6. Oh, Tag, thanks for saying so. It's the most beautiful place in the world. And if primitive camping is not for you, there are plenty of wonderful day trips. All within 2 hours from home! I'll be writing much more about it.