Face the Dawn

Matt is walking home from San Francisco

Cross-country traffic: the windy way to Nipton

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Nipton in the distanceDays 60-63, Mojave Desert
Excelsior Mine Road to Nipton, 19.5+16.4+10+0 miles
total miles traveled: 735.7

Mike and I had one more glorious half day before he had to get on with his life. We ate a breakfast of quesadillas (thanks to Lori for fresh avocados!) and walked a couple of stretches. Mike videolated a tarantula and a wily jackrabbit and we enjoyed the Mojave together. Mike has never been much of a desert person — he doesn’t deal that well with heat, he has a serious aversion to scorpions, and he has a true talent for finding tarantulas. But I think this bit of desert evangelism on my part plus some luck in hitting the Mojave at this point in his life changed his mind at least a little. It’s hard to argue with the Mojave in October — the weather is perfect and the Joshua tree forest is endlessly entertaining. While M!ke probably will not see the desert as a destination to scheme for, perhaps I will get him back out here if he’s in the Southwest.

M!ke driving awayHe left me where Kingston Road cuts off northeast towards Sandy Valley and on to Las Vegas, and I watched his dust trail recede up the road, then turned towards my next cache up the powerline road under the high peaks of the Clark Range. I got impatient with the direction the road was golng and took off cross-country in order to minimize the amount of time I actually spent under the lines. Meeting the road below the cache, I paused to listen to the menacing crackle of the wires and look at the How LA gets its powerglint of the sun on them as they lope off towards Los Angeles. I found the cache and took a brief break before heading uphill to Yates Well Road, which would take me through the Clark Range and across I-15. But after a few miles, the powerline road started to roll most unnecessarily, and I followed a fenceline cross-country looking for a more direct route that TAMI told me about. I found it just before sunset and camped in the Joshua tree forest with only 900ft to climb the next day and my harmonica to keep me occupied.

I spent most of the next day in one wash or another, slogging uphill through the sand or half-sliding down through it. At the top of the day’s climb was a large and nasty-looking mine site with a plastic-lined pond undoubtedly containing what Mike would call “bad pookie”. Some navigational confusion led me cross-country again until I hit a promising-looking wash and started down into the valley of I-15, following the cows and avoiding their inevitable by-product. About halfway down, I finally saw Mr. Rattlesnake, after so much care to avoid surprising him all the way from Panamint Springs. Actually, I heard him first:

Mr. Rattlesnake1) I hear a sound seemingly located above my head and to the right and think it’s a very loud cicada
2 ) Something about this sound makes me want to move away from its source
3) I jump-step a foot to my left, trying to be careful not to land on anything venomous
4) I realize it must be a rattlesnake and finally see it about 5 feet away to my right. It is not coiled to strike, but it is considering it

All this happens in the course of a second and a half, and I take another step away from the fat healthy snake and it begins to crawl up some rocks away from me, rattling as it goes. I was two miles down the canyon before I thought that should have recorded it …

Haven't seen one of these in a while ...As I came out of the canyon, I was running out of water and still miles from the next cache. TAMI told me there was a spring nearby, which I found guarded by a lone cow. The spring itself was heavily trampled and looked pretty contaminated, but I found a tank a little further downstream and then I had a liter of iodine-tasting water to get me down the hill. The wind picked up and it blew hard all the way down into the valley and across I-15 onto the shores of the Ivanpah Dry Lake.

I found a spot still protected by a bit of vegetation and made camp with the sound of the interstate and the blinking lights of nearby Primm, NV to color my dreams. The little creosote bush I was hiding behind proved key, since the wind died down at sunset but came back mad as hell at first light and I had it just abaft the port beam as I started directly across the playa towards the trees of Nipton. I went by the Mesquite Holes, home of some 4-foot anthills and began to break through the earth into small tunnels. I was thinking that it takes real guts to live underground, hearing the bigger creatures coming closer, never knowing when one will come crashing into your living room. Only when I arrived in Nipton (“Capital of Desert Tortoise Country”) did I realize that the walk across the playa was probably my best chance to see a desert tortoise. Well, I want to go back to the Mojave anyway …
Finally, I hit the dune country on the other side of the lake, crawled under a fence, crossed the tracks and walked into town on Nipton Desert Road.

Castle Peaks from NiptonI stayed in a comfortable tent cabin which contained both a swamp cooler and a woodstove. I used both. Nipton is less of a town than a modern caravanserai, with a cafe, store, small hotel, and campground. They have a very pleasant pond on the grounds and a house which seems to be available for use by artists working on local projects. I’m not sure whose genius is behind it, but they’ve made a real effort to create a great base from which to explore the Mojave in spite of the challenges of being situated precisely in the middle of nowhere.

Outside my cabin were some tall cottonwoods and I saw a hawk sitting on a high branch staring at a pair of ravens in a nearby tree, who were watching a smaller bird lying dead or wounded on the ground. A quail, I think. One of the ravens flew down and poked at it, and it screamed and thrashed around a little, then lay still. The raven flew back to its perch and I watched the smaller bird, wondering if that was the end of it. Presently it sat up and looked around, then flew straight towards me and the hawk came out of its tree in a perfect unhesitating attack and grabbed it in its talons just over my head. There was a single squawk and a hissing of large wings and then they were gone. I’d never seen the endgame of a raptor hunt before — it was impressive and sobering.

Nipton is not only the middle of nowhere, it’s actually the junction where the road to nowhere crosses the Great Nowhere Railroad. There are maybe 3-4 or up to ten trains a day through there and I had a lot of fun trying to get the definitive sound recording of an approaching, deafening, then receding train.

Since I arrived in the early afternoon, I actually got a rest day and a half in Nipton and I enjoyed it thoroughly. especially since the pause was spiced with anticipation of an imminent rendezvous with Lori.

Written by walkingman

February 6th, 2009 at 12:07 am

Posted in Desert

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