Winter 2013-14 Panamint & Home


08 February 2013


The forecast weather arrives on schedule, minus any precipitation (rain or snow). Last night’s winds blow in a substantial amount of cloud cover, and this morning’s temperature is down from yesterday’s 61F to a much chillier 45F.

Most folks feel that the big threat in the desert is its legendary heat – – and that may well be true. But for pure menace, there’s nothing like winter in the desert. The life-giving moisture-laden clouds soak up all but the most gloomy light. The deep, artistic pastels of the Panamints fade to a sullen gray plainness, and the entire landscape assumes a worn dull sepia cast. “There is no joy in Leadville”, as the old poem goes. Mighty Casey (the Sun) has struck out.


The morning jet sorties are not only undeterred by the crappy weather, they are (likely) encouraged by it. Real combat situations are often in dreadfully imperfect weather, and the opportunity to train under adverse flying weather conditions is a boon to squadrons whose only metric is readiness.

Jet after jet flies by, often at pretty low altitudes, punching out of the low cloud deck and rocketing down the valley. The extensive array of electronics in our modern fighters makes flying through buildups and low weather a matter of switching on the forward-looking infrared, ground-proximity radar, terrain-awareness warnings, and – – paying really close attention. Steep, 7G turns are the norm. As usual, they are on and past me before I can grab the camera, and only very poor photos result. Their speeds are up near the speed of sound, so they can’t even be heard until they are nearly abeam my camp.

Running a Resort


Besides the visible stuff, there are hundreds of background tasks to be attended to in keeping a desert oasis running. Building an outside structure here requires, among other things, screening the under space to prevent rodent, snake, and bird infestations.

The nearest hardware stores are 50 miles (Trona) and 70 miles (Ridgecrest) away from Panamint Springs. clip_image008

Last night, one of Tim’s sons made a run for materials, and woke up this morning to find that his trailer had disintegrated a tire on the way home – – without his being aware. RV owners take note!! Run a TPMS! (Tire Pressure Monitor System).

Tim commutes regularly to Panamint from San Jose, helping with all the myriad chores and projects. He travels when possible by private plane (the Resort has its own airstrip), and sometimes by highway; 2 hours vs. 7 in each direction. Today’s weather is not reliable, and Tim has a must-be-there Saturday schedule. Like any wise (and alive) pilot, he chooses to drive back to San Jose today.


One thing I’ve missed is the (usually) ever-present roadrunner that frequents the Resort. He’s not tame, but he sure doesn’t mind people, within about 20 feet anyway. These are wonderful, charismatic, unique birds and I hope to get a shot of one before I leave. The only one I’ve seen yet is the icon on the Resort billboard.

Next Step

As for traveling, I will linger here for one more day (with improving weather), and then begin the longer drive (for Howie and Ralph) back home. Instead of Tehachapi, my usual stopover, I’ll stay down out of the cold in Jawbone canyon, just for a night. It’s been a real joy to do so much less traveling, stay in one place for several days, and just relax and enjoy living in Howie and the local environment for a while.

Traveling Solo – – Alone, Lonely, Lonesome


These words probably have their official Webster’s meanings (no Internet to check), but I’ll tell you what they signify to me. This is a very subjective, and maybe even silly, elaboration. But here I sit, alone in Howie, with bad weather outside, and what else do I have to do? :o)

Alone is simple, uncluttered with any emotion – – it simply means without company. Typically human company. There are potential emotional undercurrents, depending on what alone-ness means to any individual. But basically, alone means there’s no-one else around. There can be subtleties involved. One can be surrounded by strangers and still feel and be very much alone. So maybe I should have said “no-one else of consequence around”. Alone can be enjoyable, or it can be a real negative for some. A boon or a blessing, as it were. Of course, there’s a big difference between being alone in the bathroom, and alone at the top of Mt. Whitney. But this magnitude of alone-ness (or perhaps the readiness of any available remedy) leads to….

Lonely starts to enter into emotional encumbrance. Lonely means alone, and not happy about it. There are, of course, different depths of loneliness, for different people. Lonely means that the joy of alone-ness (if there ever was any) is gone, and a remedy would be nice.

Lonesome is, for me, the deepest of the alone emotions. Lonesome is a longing, sometimes even a desperate one, for human company. In “The Castaway”, Tom Hanks had to conjure up Wilson to assuage his lonesomeness. But, in its most profound sense, lonesome is almost always a longing for some particular human company – – just anyone won’t do, that’s probably just Lonely. Joe Bloe at the gas station (and I’m sure he’s a fine human being in his own right) just doesn’t cut it.

I’ve been without my wife, my partner, my sweetheart, Karin, for more than two weeks now. I have experienced, in depth, all three of the above situations – – sometimes exquisitely, sometimes painfully. I’ve found company in fellow campers, and I’ve found utter isolation surrounded by people in a restaurant. I’ve been wonderfully alone, and loved it – – and I’ve been terribly alone, and couldn’t wait for it to end. There are few times in my life that I’ve found the calm, peace, and beauty of absolute solitude, as I have on this trip. And, in what might seem a contradictory sense, I will find (again) the profound joy of absolute togetherness – – with Karin, when I see her a few days from now.

Life’s not simple – – but it’s definitely entertaining.

The Old Mine


Despite the weather, I elect to go out into the desert for one last exploration today. To the northwest, a rough dirt road leads to a rougher rock road, which leads to a vague track which should not really be dignified by the term “road”. Near the end of the track is an ancient mine, marked by desert-aged rusty iron structures.

The end of the rocky track is marked by a “Wilderness Boundary” stake, and any further excursion of the pathway is impeded by giant boulders placed by the Park Service to help preserve the landscape. No matter, Ralph could not have progressed more than 100 yards into the amazingly inhospitable rock slope leading to the mine.


I start to walk up to the old leavings, and soon find that the broken rocks, mine tailings, and mixed talus are very rough walking. It would take over two hours just to climb up there and back, which would put the return trip in the dark. So it’s a no-go, and I shoot a couple of telephoto snapshots of the distant ruins.

As I struggle with the terrain, it strikes me (as it has so often before) how rugged the lives were for our forebears. The people who worked this mine walked up that torturous slope, as I had attempted, every day. And after the strenuous climb, their work was just begun. This was their commute! Then, they scrabbled in the rocks and cliffs all day to scrape together enough ore to try to trade for real dollars. And climbed back down to go home to a wood shack, and get up again to do it all over again the next day.

I remember things like this when I find myself thinking that my life is tough. Today, we no longer know what ‘tough’ is.

09 February 2013


Surprise Ending

Well, I thought I was going to wander on home, lingering in the desert and then exploring a bit of the California coast. Ummm, not so much. Some things developed back home, and it turned out to be a really good idea for me to be there.


At first, I planned to make it a two-day trip, over-nighting in either Jawbone (pretty close) or Tehachapi (pretty cold). But when I checked out the distances (thank you Microsoft Streets and Trips), it seemed like just one long day wouldn’t be so bad. And it wasn’t.


As I hooked up Ralph to Howie and got ready to go, I finally got a chance at the roadrunner. He was quite shy, probably a different fellow from the tame dude I had encountered earlier at the restaurant. He seemed to always want his back to me, and he was also back-lighted; I just couldn’t creep around to the sunward side of him. But he was still a pretty cool sighting, and I had fun trying to get a good shot.

Before I left, I took one last view from the veranda at the Resort restaurant. You can just see Howie at the right-hand side, 200 yards away at the far edge of the camp area.


The cruise home was fairly uneventful, except for that point where I found out that Ralph’s tow rig was about to disconnect. The clever locking cross-bolt had sheared its threads, and the locking mechanism had been forced into failure. When I checked it (at a gas stop), the bolt was working its way out of the main hitch receiver. Dang…. I guess that’s why safety chains are mandatory. Thing is, if your safety chains every really come into play, it’s gonna mess up the rear of the tow and the front of the toad as they bang together until you get stopped. Bad day. I put a spare hitch pin in, and off we went.


As we buzz up the last segment of I-5, the seemingly endless orchards of the central valley present their winter-dead corpses, row after infinite row. It’s hard to believe sometimes that within mere weeks, these gray ghosts will start producing brilliant white blossoms and nearly iridescent green buds and leaves. Harbingers of a Spring forthcoming, they are, and of Life springing eternal.

The last, and sadly too-memorable, view before the setting sun turns everything to dark formlessness, is the dismal expanse of Kettleman city. This is the I-5-adjacent massive stockyard/feedlot where market cattle are penned until slaughter. Thousands of acres of fetlock-deep manure-layered paddocks house filthy, miserable cattle standing listlessly about.


They are streaked and spotted with mud and cow manure. This scenario is worse than the movie “Food, Inc.” or the book “Omnivore’s Dilemma” could ever adequately describe.

The stench is absolutely overpowering, and the ammonia content of the fumes makes my eyes water and my nose burn for several miles of highway. I know that I can’t open a window, or do anything to abate the abuse, and I simply drive on until I’m out of the main flow of air across the desolation.

I remind myself that these are the beasts who find their way into normal supermarket beef sales, and I resolve once again to try to stick to bison, grass-fed beef, and other alternatives to these mass-produced meat products.

Home is a long way and a long day, and it is also a blink of an eye. It’s familiar, and it’s strange (compared to life in Howie). But my Karin is there, and she is smiling to see me, and all is, indeed, well in the world.

Until the next trip,




Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s