Friday, April 20, 2018


…the things you don’t see from the air…

The subtle beauty of the Mohave Desert is too easily flown over en route to Chicago or New York from the West Coast.  That’s a tragedy.  Too frequently the arid landscape becomes ripe for mineral extraction because it’s easy to believe there’s nothing there.

We spent a week visiting this fly-over territory and came away realizing that it’s easy to believe a lot of things that are just plain wrong.  Here are some highlights:

I - Barstow

Most of Dad’s best stories about growing up seemed to center on his young life as a desert rat outside Barstow, California.  I may have visited there once.  That “may have” phrase prompted me to want visit for sure.  

Dad made Barstow sound far more enchanting than I happened to find it the day we dropped in.  The hills.  The trains.  The adventure.  Barstow High School – home of the Bulldogs – where he and his pal Ralphie Fairbanks hopped the fence the night prior to the dedication of the then-new pool to christen it with a moonlit skinny-dip.  The circa 1934 pool is long gone and the Bulldogs are now the Aztecs, but the old building stands.

Trains rumble through on the old AT&SF route.  The old depot has been converted into a train museum where one of the volunteer ladies behind the counter – a woman only a few ticks older that I – said that she, too, went to school with a Fairbanks.  “They’re everywhere in these parts.”

As high school grads, Dad and Ralphie tamped ties on the Tonopah and Tidewater, a mining railroad that left the mainline up the tracks at Ludlow but never quite made it all the way to Tonopah.  I never quite made it to Ludlow.  Perhaps next time.

II – Twenty-Nine Palms
Joshua Tree National Park

The enchantment Dad talked about wasn’t particularly evident in Barstow, but elsewhere it became clear.

Across the valley from our lodging rests the largest Marine base in the United States.

Our place looked as if it had been carved out of the mountainside.

Only minutes from Joshua Tree National Park, ample areas to stroll and hike are available.  April proved to be the perfect not-too-hot time for exploring.

Wind and water and eons carved the landscape.

The panoramas are magnificent, even if a bit shrouded, at times from haze blowing in from the LA Basin.

Rugged plants cling to an arid existence.

Signs warn us not to touch…

… but apparently “Bruce Wayne” didn’t get the memo.

III – Forty-Nine Palms Oasis
Joshua Tree National Park

I haven’t done as much hiking as of late, given trepidation about my gimpy right knee.  But a trailhead, close to the lodge, proved too great an adventure to ignore.

Along the way, we spot a denizen of the desert.

Cresting the ridge, we are rewarded with another great panorama.

Not to be lost are the cactus blooms that dotted the desolation.  Soon we realized things weren’t all that desolate.

Down the trail stood a grove of palms.  The oasis.

The water was non-potable for humans, but apparent ‘pote’-enough for this stand of trees.

From the oasis, a view down 49 Palms Canyon out to the 29 Palms area is pinched between two hillsides.

Dotted here and there are life forms foreign to those of us residing west of the Sierra, like this Barrel Cactus.

IV – Pioneertown

North and west of the full-service community of Yucca Valley rests the sound stage where, at any moment, James Arness might come staggering out of the saloon with Amanda Blake in tow.

Not so much an actual town but a Hollywoodification of the old west looked like, Pioneertown mimics history with its rustic facades…

…broken down artifacts…

…and out-of-service infrastructure of days gone by.

Perhaps most curious, however, came from the heavens this day as we spy something better suited for Area 51 hanging over the mercantile.

Spooky.  Very Spooky...

V – Parting Shot

If nothing else – and there is something else – the flora of the desert invites me back.

Next time, I’ll be sure to visit Ludlow.  Maybe I'll catch up with Dad and Ralphie.

© 2018
Church of the Open Road Press

1 comment:

  1. What a great trip. I wonder if Barstow was more enchanting when your Dad was young? To see it as it was back then from a child's eyes, it was probably amazing. Now the town has changed and aged, maybe not so much.

    Thank you for the beautiful dessert pictures. Those blooms are gorgeous.