Days one and two
Honestly what is interesting about driving non-stop through the center of California? Not much, you may say, but I found myself noticing little things here and there that provide a glimpse of other people’s reality. I wasn’t always able to get a picture of all of these things but they are worth mentioning.
Between Sacramento and Stockton we saw several toppled cars from a derailed train that had been abandoned in the mud. We imagined that it must be hard to recover them while the ground is so swampy.
Further into the valley we started to see the billboards and banners change from fast food and bail bonds to cleft pallet surgery, and percentage of people on medicare in the county, but mostly signs stating that growing food is not a waste of water. Farms in the region are a huge source of income and jobs as well as food (of course!). I won’t pretend to know a lot about the industry and politics, but I can tell you that it’s their livelihood.
We saw a talking Parrot at the Merced rest area, and Penny got to see grass that was acceptable to pee on. She was pretty happy.
When we stopped for lunch, we got our first taste if Jimmy Johns sandwiches. Indeed, they were fast as advertised, not that we were in a hurry. Penny was certain that the building had swallowed Ryan up and she was plastered to the window until he emerged victorious, food in hand. Then it was time to beg for food, which she would surely never see again.
We stopped in Bakersfield for the night. Yes, beautifully Bakersfield. On the outskirts of the city were humble farmers and old run down houses that people call home.
And for many, that’s the way they like it. Most homes had chain link fencing and the ability to park either in the driveway or on the lawn within the safety of the fencing. There were several convenience stores and specialized markets and most of them had signs in the language of their target consumer. I found it interesting to see how diverse the population is in the area.
That evening at the hotel I took Penny out for a potty trip. No sooner had I opened the door than she was on the offensive, barking at our neighbors smoking right outside. I apologized, saying she didn’t expect to see anyone there.
“Mhmmmm.” Said one of them, as though he didn’t believe me. No really, I don’t train my dog to bark at people smoking outside.
To make matters worse, my roommates locked the door behind me with a rather obvious click and I had to knock to get back in. Upon doing so Penny decided the porch smokers were decent people after all, and started sniffing and trying to be friends. Their countenance softened and I was grateful to find out the woman was also a dog owner.
After our first Motel 6 stay, we agreed that it was well worth the money, despite our racist dog terrorizing our neighbors, and continued on our way to pick up Aurora as the final member of our group.
So many stops at Walmart for random things we forgot or decided we needed! But we had a whole week, we could probably afford the time as long as we got a camping spot that night.
We made it to the beginning of our journey, Bullhead City in Arizona, and marveled at the many casinos over the river and the beautiful golf course marking the edge of the reservation, and the edge of the natural desert.
We got our first camp site, check around for snakes (Penny likes to play with snakes) and gratefully settled down for the night. Penny let us know how much she missed her couch at home (it’s my couch, and very small, but she likes to share). We of course had brought her a own chair to sit in, which she begrudgingly accepted.
We passed through some beautiful landscapes and deceivingly inviting cactus flowers. There was an abundance of flowers due to the extra rain this year, and it was hard to pass them up at first. But after a while they were all just random flowers inbetween sage and Joshua trees. As time went on the Joshua trees got bigger and more plentiful, making our previous photos seem like we were taking pictures of grass.
The Bus was our first stop, or “bus stop”, as it turned out to be. This old bus out in the middle of the desert and what do you think happened to it? Why it got rusted out and shot, of course! What else would you do with a bus? There was an old red car as well, but who cares about cars when you can see something 4x bigger?
We stayed there for a bit and let Penny drink water to her heart’s content as well as eat delicious sausage and crackers. Lunch, basically.
The next stop was the Petroglyphs. They appeared to be markings on an outcropping of rocks. Nobody really knows what they mean, but they are pretty darn cool. Penny saw stanky water and got really excited, but she wasn’t aloud to kill herself just yet. The boys proposed that the markings could just be the indians talking smack about each others’ moms. We think of them as so stoic, what if they were actually crude and humorous?
Next was the Penny Tree. There is a rusty can hanging from the Joshua tree that we, the travelers, were supposed to put pennies in. Supposedly it was/is a form of a toll road for which the penny’s help fund maintenance. Penny was not a fan of the Penny Tree. She found it kind of ridiculous that we wanted her picture in the middle of the road and so I am left with this picture of a more willing subject.
That evening when we camped, we found a great spot with red cactus flowers and plenty of aloe plants to stab us unsuspecting campers in the legs as we went about our business.
We saw one of the many stone cabins out there. Penny was less than impressed and quickly got a nasty sticker in her
paw. Yes Penny, we are staying for a few more days! The Cabin, like most things abandoned, had a few mostly destroyed appliances and pieces of furniture with open lids/drawers etc. And don’t forget the copious amounts of rat turds and nesting materials! This sounds nasty, but to us it is heaven! Just don’t touch anything.
And then next on the list was yet another stone cabin! But this one was well taken care of and all closed up. Near it was, dare I say, a glorious, heaven-sent bathroom! This cabin was built and occupied by Bert Smith, a WWI vet who had damage to his lungs and hoped that the desert climate would help. Apparently it did, because he lived another 25 years in the house and raised goats and other livestock. Later, an artist took up residence, Carl Faber lived there until 2003.
I was able to take some images through the screen so you can see a little bit of the inside. But it did have some fantastic views.
Next up was Government Holes. Basically watering holes that the government tried very hard to keep safe from mayhem so that thirsty travelers would not be like gazelle drinking next to alligators. What is there now, is a really cool windmill with a well that may or may not have dead rats in it, next to a tree with a large bird of prey nest and babies, and some water troughs that are still being used.
Kelso Depot, an old train station, is now a museum and visitor center. Complete with, yes, bathrooms. We took turns watching Penny outside while the other checked out the inside. Unfortunately there was no food to be found (we had an ice chest full of food, but somehow a Deli sounded nice), but we did acquire something cold to drink. Penny got more water. And then more water. And more water again. She was sick of water after some time. She also promptly pooped on the nice, manicured lawn, and I had to squint my eyes and hold my breath with a used ziplock bag, trying to scrape the last of it off the blades of grass. Later, Penny and I sat and watched other dogs pass by and check out her spot. She looked proud.
There was also a jail at the depot, which was just a giant cage. Penny doesn’t like cages, and was outa there quicker than you can snap your fingers.
After filling our water bottles again, we went back to the trail. Our first stop back was The Mail Box. Apparently the way the mail box works is the traveler takes something from it, if needed, and puts something else inside. There were some pretty cool things in there, like a tobacco pipe, and also some very practical things, like tampons and electrical tape.
Near the mailbox are various displays of toys and decorations. Each display is something travelers add to, and they are kept separate. There were frogs, nomes, bobble heads, jeeps toys, and barbies (of which there were maybe 3). My Grandma adores frogs, so I spent a lot of time taking images here.
We camped near the Lava Tubes and took some long exposures that night. There wasn’t much in the way of cover, but darkness came on quick enough and there were plenty of bushes. Also, there were some forms of wildlife, one of which snorted (or something) near me and I all the sudden didn’t have to pee that bad. But it gave the guys an excuse to patrol area as manly protectors.
The lava tubes were really just that. Tubes through which lava would flow. But thankfully not anymore. They probably were also full of muddy water earlier in the year. The main tube has a latter leading down into it and goes for a bit into a cave with some light filtering through it from some holes. Penny tried to tell us it was a bad idea, or at least that the stairs were a bad idea, but she ended up being carried down into the abyss. We found some little muskrat bones on the way out and Penny told us again that we were idiots.
We saw some mine shafts and tailings on the way to Soda Lake and explored those for a while too. As it turns out, lower elevations are actually quite warm (go figure!) and Penny was soon on the hunt for shade, which we found near a very nice rock outcropping from which she surveyed the valley before expressing her disdain at our admiration for hot, dusty climates. But she did make some great friends with our friends and got plenty of butt scratches.
Soda Lake was not exactly a lake, although perhaps earlier this year it had a layer of water on it. Instead it was a huge, slightly muddy salt flat with plenty of opportunities to fool around or just speed out to the middle of it. Later, we knew, we would be washing the underside of the 80 to keep it from rusting.
The middle of Soda Lake is the Traveler’s Monument. The monument is nestled between many stones that have been gathered from around Mojave and brought here. Travelers are supposed to place their stone in the pile and climb to the top to read the inscription on the monument. No person who has told another what the inscription says has lived longer than another 5 years.
Just kidding. But I’m still not telling you what it says.
Wind in the “lake” brought salt up and blasted our legs with luxurious spa-like qualities. If a spa could sand blast salt and minerals into you, this is what it would be like. and it was awesome. Penny did not agree.
Further along and out of Soda Lake we encountered another old mine site and found yet another mailbox with some random items inside. The wind had picked up even more and we were looking for some shelter to eat lunch without eating our hair as well. The passage ways between parts of the mine were sheltered, but the guys went to hunt further while Aurora and Penny and I went to explore a little.
We had learned a new curse word on this trip, and I don’t think I can say it correctly or remember what it means, but it sounded a lot like “doormat”, and so we went with that. I envision that this is how Penny was feeling much of the time.
After lunch, and much traveling through sands and wondering exactly which sandy road led to the right place, we made it to the Mojave river and followed it down to the canyons. Apparently the river still runs underground, which is pretty cool. We forded the water to get to the end of our run and the campground.
The campground was spectacular, all things considered. The wind died down for a time and allowed us to roast marshmallows and heat up Smores Poptarts. Does having these poptarts make us lazy, or pioneers of the campfire? I don’t really care, they were so amazing to eat!
Once again, Penny reminded us that her place was no longer in the dirt, or in her chair, but in the 80, where she pouted most of the evening. She emerged to go on a walk with me and survey the land, and then it was back to you-know-where.
That night the wind picked back up again, and our rooftop tent was flapping very hard, and flexing a bit. It should hold up in the wind but it was pretty loud, so we packed it up and tried out sleeping in the 80. We discovered that night exactly how short the sleeping area is and resolved to next time take out the back seats.
We groggily got up the next morning and packed everything up for the last time. After vehicle checks we began to start moving. Well, two of us. Dom’s truck had a been through the whole trail and decided that today it was tired. He couldn’t get it into gear and so we pulled him to the highway, thinking we could get parts or a tow someplace. On the way to the highway the truck was working again, so no parts or tows needed!
We split off perhaps prematurely, because the truck again decided it had had enough of our shenanigans and eventually the water pump went out. As Ryan and I turned around to go see if we could help him, we made some calls. Some to relatives in Fresno, in case we had to stay the night, and one to AAA. We didn’t have enough miles to get him home and turns out each mile extra is usually $10-25. Dom called his car insurance and was elated to find that he could get a tow for 150 miles. He lived only 147 miles away. Perfect! He didn’t need us to come back so we pressed on home.
That night, or morning, was the best shower in a long time! Penny was not excited about her own bath later, but for now she was enjoying bed. Our bed, of course.