Thursday, January 31, 2008

Memories Of Red Mountain, California's "Desert Museum"

California highway 395 runs from Interstate 15, paralleling the eastern face of the Sierra Nevada range, until it finally crosses into Nevada somewhere north of Bridgeport. I've driven that road dozens and dozens of times on my visits to the Sierras and Death Valley, and it's probably my favorite highway in the United States. Not only do you get spectacular scenery, you also see interesting man-made sights, like the late, great "Desert Museum" in the semi-ghost town of Red Mountain, California.

Red Mountain is in the high desert at about 3500 feet, and is named for Red Mountain----an oxidized volcanic cone-----which looms another couple of thousand feet above it. It has scattered mobile homes for miners and a couple of abandoned stores and gas stations. And, until 2002, it was the home of the "Desert Museum."

I drove by this place for years until I finally stopped in 2001. There was no hint from the road that visitors were wanted, but I quickly learned I was welcome as long as I made a "donation" to help with expenses. I tossed $5 into the "tip jar" and was admitted to the wonders within.

The "docent" for the museum was a guy who looked to be in his late thirties; I was introduced to an elderly gentleman who was his father. I learned this "museum" was actually stuff his father and a friend had found abandoned/dumped in the desert regions of southern California. They had started taking the stuff back to their homes in Riverside (or was it San Bernardino??) but their wives eventually insisted they store it somewhere else. They found some land cheap in Red Mountain, and that land was actually in the desert. In short order, the "Desert Museum" was born!

Okay, so all the stuff there was junk------it suggested a yard sale in the post-apocalyptic world of those Mad Max movies-----but it was carefully and even lovingly arranged for display. And these photos are misleading, because it all started to make an odd sort of sense after a while. It was like looking at grains of salt through a microscope; the seeming chaos resolved itself into order and even beauty.

I was told that a couple of music groups had asked about shooting videos at the museum, and they got far more European and Asian visitors than American ones. I couldn't figure out whether all this was serious or a big put-on; were those European and Asian visitors possessed of superior aesthetic sensibilities or just suckers----a bunch of cultured rubes with exotic accents----for a con job pulled by a pair of grizzled desert coots? It didn't matter, because I got a kick out of two guys following their own demented passion to its (il)logical conclusion.

Driving by a couple of times in the fall of 2002, I noticed the "Desert Museum" sign had been replaced by a "No Trespassing" one and the gate was padlocked; many of the items seemed to be gone. In January, 2003, I drove by the site again and noticed a big new sign reading "Okie Ray's Desert Museum" out front. However, even more stuff seemed to be missing. My guess is that one or both of the elderly proprietors had either called it quits (or died), and the place was under new ownership/management. But it didn't seem the same. I haven't been back in the last five years, and I can't find any reference to it on Google. Maybe it still exists; maybe it doesn't. Sic transit gloria, which is Latin for "Gloria has motion sickness."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Petroglyphs Of Kelbaker Road, California

Baker, California is a godforsaken spot along Interstate 15 midway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Its raison d'etre is to serve as a place to grab some food, use a restroom, and pump a tank of gasoline while traveling from the City of the Angels to Sin City. (It was also the setting for the movie The Big Empty, but that's another story.) Baker happens to be the northern terminus of Kelbaker Road, which runs south through the Mojave National Preserve and the "town" of Kelso. And along Kelbaker Road are some nice petroglyphs and a couple of caves where the petroglyph makersonce lived.

This site is not listed in guidebooks, and I'm grateful to the rangers at the Barstow, California office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for cluing me in about it. The site is a little over thirteen miles south of Baker in the Mojave National Preserve. The basaltic rock outcropping below will be visible on your left when you're near the starting point for the hike to the site; a dry stream bed will also be obvious:

When you get to this location, you hike east-----that is, toward Las Vegas-----for about a mile. On your right will be dark basaltic cliffs like the ones below. The petroglyphs and caves are very obvious when you finally get to them.

You have to climb up the rocks to reach the petroglyphs and caves, but they should pose no problems; I did it without any climbing gear. When you do, you'll find two shallow caves with petroglyphs as well as separate petroglyph panels. Here are the two cave entrances:

The cave walls and rock panels have petroglyphs like these:

This is the view north from one of the caves. Interstate 15 runs parallel to those mountains in the distance. I wonder what the petroglyph makers would think if they could see this view at night; what would they think of those small moving lights in the distance? If they indeed possessed some special wisdom lost to modern man, does this mean they would not have been seduced by Mitt Romney's oily disingenuousness? Would they wish for a CB radio so they could talk to the long haul truckers zooming by on Interstate 15??

I do not have the answers to such questions.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Dodging Bullets, One At A Time

The news was relatively good from my surgery last week. Yes, I did have a new cancerous lymph node-----one as large as a walnut-----but there was no trace of cancer in the adjacent lymph nodes which were also removed. In fact, my doctors are now trying to decide whether there's any point in doing follow-up radiation treatments given how localized this new cancer was.

My doctors are now admitting what I've suspected: my cancer is really anomalous (as my surgeon said yesterday in my post-op visit, "your cancer isn't acting like it should"). All three of the tumors I've had removed have grown at an explosive rate------for example, the latest one I had removed didn't show up at all on the CT scan I had in late July of last year-----but have not invaded nearby tissues and organs. In fact, what had previously looked like a clear case of metastatic colorectal cancer may instead be a case of three separate, independent cancers (colorectal, liver, and lymphatic) breaking out within a few months of each other.

My liver tumor also has my doctors stumped. There was no trace of it in the full-body PET scan done in July, 2006 before my first surgery for the colorectal tumor. It then appeared in a September, 2006 CT scan, and was removed with RF ablation treatment in December, 2006. I underwent chemo from February to July, 2007 intended to prevent its recurrence. But in August, 2007 another CT scan showed the liver tumor had returned and was back to its original size (about as big as a golf ball). And since chemotherapy was ended last July, my liver tumor has. . . . . . . done nothing. It hasn't grown, and it has not metastasized to other organs. It's just sitting there, and it's not supposed to be doing that----it's supposed to be growing rapidly. And no one has a clue why it's behaving that way.

I've never been "typical" in my life, so it's no surprise my cancer isn't "typical" either.

Oh well, I've feel like a car that just received its 30,000 mile major service-----I'm good to go for a lot more miles. The open road beckons! We now return you to our scheduled programming. . . . .

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Trona Pinnacles: Like A Visit To Another Planet

You have probably seen the Trona Pinnacles in several science fiction movies, like the 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes and numerous episodes of the old Twilight Zone TV series. It is a truly surreal landscape and one I always tried to visit on my trips to Death Valley. They are reached from California route 178, which connects California Highway 395 (the Eastern Sierra highway) with the Panamint Springs entrance to Death Valley National Park.

The "town" of Trona is the very definition of the adjective bleak. It consists of a huge dry lake bed----that of old Searles Lake----which is now mined (or maybe "scooped" is a better word) for minerals, mainly potash. A mineral processing plant in Trona belches out a foul smell that fills the entire town. Other than the processing plant, the only surviving businesses appear to be a couple of gas stations, a small grocery store, two small short-order restaurants, and a hardware store. Several homes and businesses are abandoned, while most others are in serious disrepair. Trona seems to be a ghost town in the making; it is difficult to describe what a grim, depressing place it is.

But just before arriving in Trona, there is a clearly marked dirt road to the right which leads to the Trona Pinnacles. Until a little over 10,000 years ago, the Trona area was underwater----the old Lake Searles-----and the area was geothermally active; the bottom of Lake Searles had many hot, mineral-rich springs. As the hot spring water cooled after being released, the minerals (mainly calcium carbonate) precipitated and collected around the vents, accumulating in some cases to heights over 100 feet. When the climate changed and Lake Searles evaporated, the Trona Pinnacles were left behind.

There are three separate regions of the Pinnacles, based on their age. The newest ones----some only 10,000 years old----are also the biggest and highest:

Depending on the lighting and time of the day, the views of the Pinnacles can be especially dramatic:

While most of the Pinnacles occur in groups, there are some "lone wolves" like the one below. The dirt road at its base gives you some idea of how large it is:

The Middle Pinnacles were formed about 50,000 years ago. Because of erosion, they are not as high or spectacular as the younger ones:

The Old Pinnacles were formed as much as 100,000 years ago and are heavily eroded as a result, as you can see in the two photos below:

The road through the Pinnacles is kept well-graded and shouldn't pose a problem for most 2WD vehicles, except in wet weather. The view below represents my vision of paradise; a road leading to places I've never been and plenty of gas in my 4Runner to get me there! Some of my happiest times have been spent on roads like the one below, consulting my USGS maps and GPS receiver to find the hidden treasures-----not buried gold, but historical and geological sites----in the deserts of the American southwest:

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Slice And Dice Time Again

At 8:00 am tomorrow, I'm scheduled to undergo surgery in Austin to remove a new cancerous lymph node and surrounding tissue. Depending on how much of me is sliced away, I could be home tomorrow night or hospitalized until Sunday. (Ah, the joys of having your fate entirely out of your hands!) At least I'll come home with some painkillers that would make Elvis green with envy, so my posts next week should be more entertaining than usual.

This new operation is actually routine as far as cancers go. Once cancer gets into the lymphatic system-----as mine has----you're going to be putting out "brush fires" like this for as long as you live. At least that golf ball-sized tumor on my liver is sleeping peacefully for the moment, so things could be a lot worse. . . . . . a lot worse. I'm feeling no pain, my weight has stabilized, and I'm again able to do things like stack bales of hay five-high in our horse barn. And Di is being a rock for me; I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have her in my life.

And this is for all my relatives back in South Carolina: if you really love me, you won't let Hillary beat Obama. I'm depending on all of you.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Ghost Town Of Candelaria, Nevada

Candelaria, Nevada is a terrific ghost town. It's very isolated----meaning it gets few visitors----and there are some great buildings and ruins scattered about the site. Candelaria is located in Nye county near the border with California, almost due east of Mono Lake in California. It is located along a dirt road between Nevada highways 95 and 360 south of Mina; when I drove it, the dirt road definitely required a high clearance 4WD vehicle like my 4Runner. The elevation is a little over 5000 feet, meaning summer days are often cool here and heavy snows are common in the winter.

Candelaria roared into being with a silver strike in 1879. Water had to be transported by wagon from a spring located nine miles away and sold for $1 a gallon-----whiskey was a cheaper (and more popular) drink. The "waterless mining" techniques produced fine dust which eventually killed many miners and other residents of Candelaria. Despite the water shortages, by 1893 Candelaria had a population of approximately 3000 and boasted two hotels, three doctors, several stores, and numerous saloons. But 1893 also marked the peak of silver production, which went into rapid decline. By 1900, the mines had closed, so had the post office, and most of the population had moved on. By the end of World War I, Candelaria was abandoned. However, there has been a revival of mining activity in the area. When I visited in 2002, there was a mining camp along the road, but this time miners are living in mobile homes. When that mine plays out, I expect those trailers will just move on to the next strike.

This is the first building you see when you arrive in Candelaria from the west. There's even some glass remaining in those front doors:

A surprising number of wood structures remain at Candelaria, although most are slowly collapsing like this one:

Many of the commercial structures at Candelaria had a stone foundation and walls and a wooden roof, like this one:

I wonder what this substantial looking structure was. It looks like it may have been a bank, but I could find no evidence of a reinforced vault area like those in other ghost town banks. Maybe it was the mining office or something of comparable importance:

This was the Main Street of Candelaria. I have no idea what the crumbling stone foundation once was, but the sagging wood structure seems to have been some sort of stable or barn for horses or other livestock:

I wonder how a realtor would've described this cabin if it was for sale: cozy little house with big backyard and view of mountains. . . . .

My visit to Candelaria was a marvelous experience. I dropped by on a glorious late August day when there was not a cloud in the sky, the wind was still, and the humidity seemed to be zero. It was so quiet I was aware of my own breathing and heartbeats. It was as if I could feel the history of those buildings, hear the voices of its former residents, and for a few moments grasp the past in my hands. It's sad to think the desert will one day reclaim Candelaria and this wonderful outdoor historical museum will be lost forever. I'm glad I got to experience it.

Monday, January 7, 2008

More Visual Weirdness

More strange .JPEGs I found hiding somewhere on my hard drive. . . .

It's good to know school administrators in Sandy Valley, NV have their priorities straight when it comes to attracting students:

At this gas station on Interstate 20 near the Louisiana/Mississippi state line, I noted Jerry Garcia's solution to petroleum shortages:

As some of you know, I have a weakness-----much like others have for alcohol or junk food-----for Mexican "lucha libre" movies. These movies star actual masked Mexican wrestlers; when they're not battling sundry would-be usurpers of their wrestling belts, they battle werewolves, Aztec mummies, space aliens, vampires, etc. One of the biggest stars of lucha libre movies is Mil Mascaras. "Mil Mascaras" means "1000 masks" in the Se Habla language; Mil would enter the ring wearing one mask and dramatically remove it to reveal another mask underneath. After (naturally!) defeating his scummy opponent, Mil would give the first mask he wore to some child (usually handicapped) siting near ringside; he would never wear the first mask again. (This is in stark contrast to American politicians, who repeatedly wear the same mask in public.) My favorite film starring Mil is Los Campeones Justicieros, in which Mil and other masked wrestlers (including Blue Demon, another of my faves) battle a team of super-powered midgets from outer space; it's the Godfather Part II of lucha libre movies.

In 2000, I was lucky enough to meet Mil in San Francisco; the documentary proof is below. Note the expression on my face. It is not one of hip, ironic detachment but instead pure, boyish delight. I'll admit it: I was thrilled to shake Mil's hand!

I've been to the Louvre a couple of times, but I never stopped by Pahrump, NV's "brothel art museum." When I consider I will go to my grave without having seen it, I am filled with this deep, abiding sadness. . . .

Pearsonville, CA has an odd claim to fame:

And if you're ever midway between Las Vegas and Los Angeles on Interstate 15, the Bun Boy Restaurant and Motel beckons! I've never stayed in the motel, but I've ate there a few times and the food isn't too bad; it's like an upscale Denny's. (Is he being serious or sarcastic??)

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy 2008!

2006 was a bitch of a year----the worst in my life to that point-----and 2007 was even worse for me. But life goes on and is still very worthwhile and good, and that's why I wish all my family and friends the very best for this new year. I hope on this day in 2009 you will be able to look back on 2008 and say, without exaggeration, that it was a very good year for you.

I've never been big on making resolutions, and I'm even less so since I now have such limited control over the major factors impacting my life. However, I have resolved to be more like the cartoon character Gumby in 2008. He's very flexible, and he's always smiling. There's a lesson in there somewhere.

Di and I had our traditional New Year's Eve film festival last night, enjoying DVDs of Repo Man, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, the "Red Zone Cuba" episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and Blue Velvet. Throw in some cheap but serviceable champagne, and a good time was had by all.