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This story should be written in June. But June was too busy this year and my memories a little hazy so I’m writing it now after a recent trip to the scenes of the stories. Plural? Yeah, it’s a story about a story. (more…)

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Happy birthday to my dad. He has been gone for many years and would be 105 if he were alive, but this is still the anniversary of his birth, so my thoughts are for him as soon as I realize the date.

The warm glow from hiking that railroad bed yesterday and loving the desert views has both of us still in its grip. We’re not sure why…there was nothing spectacular about it, just a great day we both really enjoyed. I’ve even tried analyzing it and can’t come up with anything in particular.

Today we’re just puttering again. I decided to make a batch of oatmeal cookies and then remembered how difficult it is to cream sugar and butter together without a mixer. In my poor days I did it all the time but that was then and I’m spoiled now. So I worked a long time at getting the sugar all incorporated into the butter. The rest of it went together pretty fast. It is one of our favorite recipes and I add all sorts of stuff to the cookies. Al had mentioned that his favorites are oatmeal cookies with raisins so I separated out a goodly chunk of dough for him and put in raisins. Since I was a child, I’ve always considered raisins an abomination in cookies. Why ruin my favorite sweets with something nutritious?? But Al has been more than generous with his wifi, his gas, his water jugs, and his driving skills and the least I can do is pay him back with his favorite cookies.

After lunch we decided we really should do something with the rest of our day, so we drove to the Patton Museum at Chiriaco Summit on I-10, a good hour’s drive away. They have added quite a bit since the last time we were there but I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I was hoping for a map showing where he operated in the desert. There are plenty of maps showing his dozen or so camps but nothing indicating other operations he had going on during the year and a few months that the camps existed. While I was waiting for Larry to finish looking at all the guy stuff that doesn’t interest me, I asked the young man at the counter if there were any books on his other operations. The look in his eye said it all. With a grin he pulled out two well-worn volumes and suggested I copy down the ISBN and publisher’s info to see if I could obtain copies for myself. Together we tried to find anything specific on the fortifications we had found but they were not in the book. From my description, though, and from pictures of similar areas, there is no doubt that the “rock outcroppings” we found near the campground are indeed the work of the Desert Training Camp.

We got out of the museum in time to explore Eagle Mountain Iron Mine. The road going up there had a “not a through road” sign but how could that be? My beloved map shows it going to a small town and connecting with a county road which comes back down into Desert Center. The “mining railroad” is still there, tracks and all, so we should be good. We drove miles to the north on a paved road in good repair. Of course it should be in good repair. It wasn’t THAT long ago that Kaiser had its extensive iron mining operation up that road. All of us who lived in Southern California in the 60s know about the Kaiser Steel Mill between Route 66 (Foothill Blvd) and I-10. Kaiser was a major player in the economy of SoCal. But no more. The sign was right. It does not go through. It ends at a locked gate near a pumping station for the Colorado River Aqueduct (which fills the swimming pools of SoCal and deprives the farmers of Mexico of their fair share of water from the river.)

So we crossed the track where others have done so before us and wandered around till we finally reached a powerline road. The powerline road eventually crosses the paved county road we were looking for and goes to Desert Center, which isn’t there either. This is scary…ghost towns in my lifetime.

I am writing this on the morning of the 6th at the laundromat in Blythe. We gave the cookies to Al and Linda, listened to their adventures yesterday, and said our goodbyes. We dumped a few hundred pounds of gray water and black water at the dump station, then drove to town and Larry dropped me here. He went to fill up with fresh water and as soon as we are finished, we will leave California for Phoenix. We have friends and family to see there and new adventures await.

 

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The clock is ticking. We are about to leave this lovely place so it is time for at least one more adventure. But where? No more washed out roads, please. No more rocks…we don’t know enough to appreciate what we are seeing. And then there are the necessities…gotta go to Blythe again.

In Blythe we drop off some prescriptions and stop at a 60s-era-Denny’s that hasn’t been a Denny’s in a long time. There’s a taco salad special for lunch. Oh, what a yummy surprise. It seems they serve prime rib on the weekends and had more than usual left over this time. (Super Bowl might have had something to do with that!) So they seasoned up some prime rib for the taco salad and this was one happy Gringo. (Gringa??)

We had all noticed the big railroad crossing in town with the signals still in place, but no tracks. I’d seen the California and Arizona RR markings on the signals and wondered about it. There’s another thing to look up online sometime.

There are two main roads in Blythe and we took one of them north out of town. We kept expecting the pavement to end at any time and were surprised when it continued, even after all of town had been left behind. Even past the landfill the road is paved. Waaay out into the boondocks that road is paved. The Railroad That Isn’t Anymore runs right along with it. Then suddenly the pavement ends. So does the road. “Private Property” signs appear along with the usual “thou shalt nots”.

What is this? The map says it is Midland, as if it were a town. It even shows some cross streets. There are a few mobile homes, well-weathered, mostly unoccupied, several slabs that used to have houses on them, a few piles of rubble, some signs of mining, but nothing to clarify why a paved road runs all the way out there and then stops at nothing.

We backtrack to the “hat tree”…a skeletal desert tree with a wild assortment of hats and caps attached all over it and discover one of those ever-so-helpful BLM road signs indicating that we are free to enjoy our public lands. There is also a warning that the road we are about to embark upon is a sandy desert road (DUH!) and that we should have plenty of water, oil, food, etc.  We have no oil, a couple of bottles of water, no food. Nice weather, mid-70s, and we know where this one ends. Or at least where it is supposed to end. The BLM sign says it is the Midland-Rice Road. We’ve been to what’s left of Rice, several times, and even remember when there was something there. It’s been a long time. Do we really want to go there now? We’ll see.

We take some pictures of the railroad that is now a road, complete with old crossing signs and try to figure out where it goes. We know where the map says but reality doesn’t seem to agree with the map. So on we go, up the hill. And suddenly we are at the top. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that much desert in one place in my life. The remarkable thing is that we know where we are and what we are seeing. It’s old familiar territory from a new perspective.

But what happened to the railroad? We get sidetracked again, finally find a road up to a cut that “has” to be the old railroad grade and hike up there. Yep, that’s the old road bed. There is debris down the hill from where the track was. Was there a small building there at one time? We spent close to an hour hiking around the end of the cut to see where the track went down to the desert and trying to figure out what all the debris was that we saw. We didn’t come to any real conclusions about what might have been there. Yet another research project!

We decided to head down to Rice and then decide which way to go. We have driven a lot of desert roads in the past month but I can’t remember enjoying one any more than this one. There was nothing in particular to see but the sheer joy of being in a beautiful place on a gorgeous day.

It is sad to see nothing but ruins at Rice. We decided not to go west. We knew that would take us to two or three of Patton’s Desert Training Camps, but it would be too late to go exploring and we’d already done a thorough job of exploring one of them many years ago. So we went east, checked out the desert training camp at Rice, then down to Blythe, picked up the prescriptions, some groceries, and hit the Burger King for dessert and wifi.

One thing we did manage to research was Midland. It was a company town for a large gypsum mine from the 1920s until 1966. Ghost towns are supposed to be from back in the olden days. How can a ghost town have been a going concern when I was in college???

All of my other questions will have to wait for that magical day when I have nothing to do but wander around Google all day!

 

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This started out as a puttering day. One of the blessings of being retired is being able to do whatever you want without having to answer to anybody else’s schedule. Part of that blessing is being able to do nothing at all if that’s what you want to do. So we puttered. A little of this, a little of that. Check the weather station, recharge the computer battery, read, soak up sunshine, think. We did nothing memorable, then decided that with our time running out here, maybe we should do something.

I wanted to see just what we’d missed coming home on Milpitas Wash Road the other night but wasn’t about to insist on going very far down there. (I really wasn’t about to put in two sessions as Lowly Navigator!) We started down the road and got sidetracked. Let’s hear it for sidetracks. There are LOTS of them here in the desert…literally. We passed the road for the Hauser Geode Beds but figured maybe the whole mountain was full of geodes. It isn’t. There are lots of neat rocks there, though. We puttered around, smacking a few rocks against other rocks, not finding anything worthwhile.

As always, we had binoculars with us. We had both noticed the long lines of rock outcroppings on a hill across the wash from us. The rocks there must have lots of iron in them because they are shiny black with desert varnish. Some even have a metallic ping to them when struck with another rock. The outcroppings run in a straight line around the end of the hill and I casually wondered why they were sticking out and what made them different. The more Larry looked at them with the binoculars, the more convinced he was that they were not natural. He had to hike up there to see.

I could not see whatever made him think they were manmade. I was not really in the mood for scrambling down into a sandy wash and up a rocky hillside, so I stayed behind, tracked some large critter that had left copious droppings and a lot of tracks, checked out what’s starting to bloom, and waited. And waited. Eventually Larry returned with lots of pictures and an “I told you so” look. “That wall is absolutely man-made. There are shelters there, almost like foxholes. I wonder if the Indians made them.”

We found a little used “road” around the end of that mountain and drove up yet another track until we were close enough to hike to several other “outcroppings”, all parallel to the first, and higher up the hill. The lack of desert varnish on the rocks which had been overturned made me doubt the Indian theory. If Indians had somehow fortified that mountain, it would probably have been several hundred years ago and there would have been time for the exposed undersides to have developed at least some darkening. “It’s more likely something Patton left behind. The ‘foxhole’ things are probably exactly that. We’ll have to research it online.”

There it is…one more example of assuming I can look up something online. Geez…if we ever get to an RV park with electrical hookups and really good wifi, don’t be surprised if one day I write “I spent the whole day online. Had a wonderful time!”

By the time we got through trying to figure out what all we were seeing, it was too late to wander down the road we’d already covered in the dark. We were only a very few miles from the campground, so we headed home again, still talking about what we’d found.

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When Larry went next door to borrow Al’s water jugs, they offered to take us to their favorite gold mine later in the day and show us where they got their incredibly beautiful rocks with lots of quartz veins in them. They said it was nearby, so there would be plenty of time for us to get water first.

So off we went to Blythe for the umpteenth time. By now we know exactly where the town park is with potable water and we have the drill down pat. Then back up the road to the fast food joint with wifi, where we also make a few phone calls while we have cell coverage, and head back home. The “drill” once again is a royal pain, but it gets four 48-pound jugs of water into the fresh water tank. As soon as our arms quit hurting and trembling, we’re good to go.

We pile into Al’s car and head back out on the Bradshaw Trail, just a quarter mile or so south of the campground. Eventually we can guess where we are headed…the only obvious mine on the south facing side of the Mule Mountains. Up and up a rough trail which Al has obviously driven more than once. Enthusiastically he proclaims this Roosevelt mine their favorite and one that is quite safe to enter.

I know what my standards are for old mines but I haven’t had reason to distrust Al yet. Turns out we have the same safety concerns. Like the only other gold mine we’ve ever entered, this one is blasted out of reasonably solid rock. (If it were solid, there would be no vein of anything in it!) There is no shoring to crumble if we bump into it, there is little or no rock debris on the floor, and there are two vertical shafts coming down from higher up the mountain which provide plenty of light and fresh air.

This mine was active until the 1940s, according to something I managed to find online, but the ore was low-grade and not likely to have any visible nuggets. But Al and Linda have a fair amount of equipment and are content to take back to camp a couple of buckets of likely looking rocks to crush, then pan out whatever small flakes of gold there may be.

If we ever come back to this part of the desert, I will have to do a lot of studying on rocks first to have any idea of what I’m looking at. Even here, where I expected to learn eagerly anything they were willing to teach me, I was more interested in two other things: the plants and the history. I can recognize many of the desert plants and came closer to confirming my suspicion that barrel cacti are more likely to thrive on hillsides which receive either early morning or late afternoon shade. Historically, I was looking for other mine shafts, roads, veins that look the same as here but weren’t mined, etc.

A third fascination comes to mind and I know exactly when it hit my consciousness. More than a decade ago, we were sitting on a beach in Florida with the sun setting behind us. We had watched plenty of sunsets into the ocean but this was our first time this way. Suddenly, just before the sun slipped over the horizon, the waves were turned to liquid gold and I heard a voice in my head “That’s what I meant by watching for the light”. The voice was that of a dear friend’s wife who had died recently. Barbara had been an artist and had tried to explain to me about light and color.

Since that day I have been fascinated with the play of light on whatever landscape is handy. This desert landscape, with its incredible textures and unobstructed views, comes to life in late afternoon as the sun and shadows play across its floor.

Being up on the side of a mountain with all that beauty in front of me was just too much for me to be able to focus on rocks. This is not to say anything disparaging about rocks. They are endlessly fascinating to many people and I’m sure they could become my next addiction if I lived near these deserts.

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Friday…it is Friday, isn’t it?? Hm, our 2 weeks for $40 runs out on Sunday. Do we stay or go? Do we rush to see all the stuff we haven’t seen yet, give it up, go see friends in Arizona, or just flip a coin? Decisions, decisions. Too much pressure! Gotta get away from it all.

So we took off for Blythe. We’re getting to know that town pretty well by now. Thanks to our good friend Mal back home and the USPS, we had a big packet of mail waiting for us at General Delivery. (more…)

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January 29, 2013

The morning had a good head start on us before we got anything more done than housekeeping chores. Fortunately the nice young man from the BLM was doing his and stopped to empty the trash can nearest us. Ten minutes later I had a new map and the latest word on which passes we could navigate with our long truck.

The little road marked “Charcoal Kiln Road” isn’t very far down the Bradshaw Trail and it was calling to us so we packed a lunch and headed down there, (more…)

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