Posts Tagged With: Desert

The last coyote

I had to be out in the North Ranges at 6am this morning for a lengthy inspection. I drove my little work ranger around the base of the hills, at the edge of the dry lakebed, and the sun rose copper red behind smoke from a fire in the North. The light was dim, but not dark.

As I drove slowly over an unfinished road re-pave, a coyote wondered out of the desert in front of my truck. I stopped. He stopped and sat down. We stared at each other for an eternity. It felt like he looked in to my soul. It felt like we were the only two beings left on Earth. The last man and the last coyote.

With a Yip, he finally stood up and walked away.

I drove on.

Categories: animals | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Prospector

The wind whipped his beard and the blowing sand stung his sun and wind leathered face as he kneeled down and picked up the rock. He looked see if it had the right color, a trace of a vein, a fleck of gold, anything to give him hope. It of course had nothing, but he knew this area had already played out.

He stood up and looked towards the setting sun, figuring that this was as good a place as any to set up camp for the night. He didn’t see the beauty of the sunset now, as he did when he was younger. Numb to the bright red, pink, and orange hues that the desert sunset gave, it was just a sunset now. He took the rope to Joseph, his old mule and tied it to a thick Creosote Bush, then tied a feed bag with the last of the oats on to Joseph’s head. He was careful to take care of Joseph, the cantankerous old beast carried all his provisions, including his water. If Joseph wondered off or was injured, he might not make it out of the desert alive.

As he settled down for the night, eating some old jerky and drinking warm, stale water, he thought about the next town he could get supplies and news. He would be there by the end of the next day and would see if their were any new strikes in the area. He didn’t hold out much hope though, he hadn’t heard of any new strikes in years. The big companies owned all the mines now and most everyone he knew had died or gone off to some hospital in the Southern cities.

This was all he knew, all he knew how to be, and he would keep doing it until the buzzards took him.

As he settled in for the evening, a plane went screaming overhead disturbing his reflections. Joseph brayed and bucked, but soon settled back down in to his oats. Jets he thought, last time he had been in town he had seen one streak overhead and asked the woman at the store what it was. She said it was a new type of plane being tested at over at Muroc, it was called a Jet.

He remembered when the Corum family first settled that area, it had been big news when they had brought the post office in. He thought about times gone by as he drifted off and 60 years of prospecting the desert rolled through his brain as he slept.

Categories: History, Stories | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Los Angeles, Owens Valley, and Water

My Maternal family came to the upper Mojave Desert in the 1950’s. During that time my grandfather started talking to the “old timers” as he called them. These were men and women that were in their 50’s -80’s back in the 1950’s. My grandfather tells one story in particular about a man who came to the Antelope Valley and Mojave area with his father when he was a young boy, sometime around the late 1890’s or 1900. The old man said that at the time this part of the Mojave Desert was a very different type of Desert, almost a grassland. There were still some antelope in the Antelope Valley (Lancaster/Palmdale area), and the area was lush with wildlife. The old man, as a boy, had to ride on a mule that his father led. His father wouldn’t let him walk across this high desert/grassland because their were so many rattlesnakes, it was dangerous. These days you have to try to find a snake.

When the Death Valley 49’ers eventually struggled out of Death Valley and Panamint Valley, they came to the Indian Wells Valley. The springs they found there, down along what is now Highway 14 and in to the Antelope Valley is what kept them alive long enough to reach Los Angeles. If you go out on remote parts of what is now Edwards Air Force Base you will find remnants of duck blinds, springs, and artesian wells. That area and in to the Antelope Valley was prime duck hunting through the 1920’s. The whole area had spread out farms and ranches that were irrigated with groundwater. Up through the late 1960′ and early 1970’s there was still just enough groundwater to have a large alfalfa ranch between Boron and California City.

What is now the upper Mojave Desert, from the Antelope Valley to Mojave, to Boron, North to around Ridgecrest, and even some ways east of Boron, wasn’t the desert we know today. Wondering what happened to it? What made it the way it is now? The easiest and most direct answer is this; Los Angeles.

LA was a small and dirty city at the turn of the last century, desperately in need of water. In contrast, the Owens Valley was a farming community and was becoming the fastest growing area in California. The Owens River flowed in to Owens Lake, which was 20 miles long, pretty darn wide, and had steam paddle boats that ferried people and mining products across. There were large farms and ranches in the area, all of which used irrigation farming, and wildlife, especially birds, were abundant. In 1904, two men, Fred Eaton and J.B. Lippincott traveled through the Owens Valley on a camping trip and marveled at the available water.  Fred Eaton was the former mayor of Los Angeles and had also worked as a supervisor for the water company. J.B. Lippincott worked for the Bureau of Reclamation, which was at the time looking at a public irrigation project in the Owens Valley which would have greatly helped out the farmers.

Eaton went back to LA and convinced William Mulholland, the head engineer for the water company, that the answer to LA’s water problem was the Owens Valley, over 250 miles away. Lippincott, working for the Bureau of Reclamation, went out and surveyed the Owens Valley, found out where the water flowed, how it flowed, how much of it their was, and where the key water rights and ranches were. Instead of giving this info to the Bureau, he gave it to Eaton and Mulholland. Eaton and other LA officials were able to pass a bond in LA to get enough cash to buy the key ranches to gain the water rights in the Owens Valley. In these days, news did not travel like it does now, and the Owens Valley had no clue LA was out for its water.

After the bond was passed,at the end of 1905, Eaton and Mulholland, using Eaton’s extensive political contacts, as well as dubious tactics such as bribery and deception, to acquire enough land and water rights in Owens Valley to block the irrigation project. Eaton posed as a rancher that was working for the Bureau of Reclamation. The Owens Valley thought that he was buying land for himself, to be a rancher, and buying land for the irrigation project. By the time they found out the truth, it was too late. by 1907 LA owned the key water rights and the irrigation project was blocked. At this point the rest of the water rights were obtained through bribery and coercion. In 1908 the LA aqueduct began to take life.

When the aqueduct was completed in 1913, the all of the water that had once flowed in to the lower Owens Valley, and Owens Lake, began to flow in to LA. A substantial portion of it was diverted in to the San Fernando Valley, a agricultural community that was not yet part of LA. It just so happens that all of the key players in the purchasing of water right in the Owens Valley and various high powered political and public figures had all recently purchased land in the SFV. The land values skyrocketed, surpassing the purchase prices.

After the aqueduct was completed in 1913, Lippincott immediately quit his job at the Bureau of Reclamation and went to work for the LA Water Department.

In the 1920s, the Owens Valley farmers that had not sold out were watching their farms drained of water, nearly every drop of which was pumped into the steadily growing San Fernando Valley. By the mid 1920’s the Owens Lake had become prematurely and totally dry. In 1924 and again in 1927, protesters blew up parts of the aqueduct. This period of time is known as the California Water Wars.

In the late 1930’s LA again needed more water, so the aqueduct was extended North through the rest of the Owens Valley, Long Valley, and in to the Mono Basin. It was completed by 1940.

It was also during this time that the Antelope Valley and the upper Mojave Desert started to become the desert that it is today. The Owens River and Owens Lake fed a multitude of underground rivers and streams and traveled many many miles South. When the river was diverted, and the lake dried up, the desert took on the form we know now.

What of the Owens Valley? With its giant lake drying up faster than nature intended, their was nothing to hold down the lake bottom and it became a giant unnatural salt flat. For many years it became the single worst source of dust pollution in the United States, it still may be. The wind will create alkali dust storms that that carry away as much as four million tons (3.6 million metric tons) of dust from the lakebed each year. The dust plumes can at times be seen from space, and will travel as far South as LA, can’t say I feel sorry for them though.

A decades long court battle ensued because of these dust storms, with the Owens Valley finally winning in the end. LA has to now put back just enough water to stop the dust storms and create some bird habitat.Not enough to restore Owens Valley. LA wasn’t exactly happy about having to give back water. Last year, they devised a way to till the land and cover it with giant dirt clods. In theory, the clods will hold the dust down and LA will only have to give 1/3  as much water as before. Only time will tell if this method actually works.

Today, NASA says that California only has one year left of water. It seems that in the end, LA raping the Owens Valley didn’t help it. Karma is coming, just too late to actually affect the men who legally stole the water in the first place.

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The Night

The road winds, twists and turns. It runs over hills, down valleys and cuts across the arid flats like a scalpel, two lanes bisecting the deserts sandy body. He looks out the car windshield, knowing where the road will take him but not the night. His only reassurances are the comforting weight of the .45 on his hip, and the sound of the modified V8 as it roars down the road, the car as black as the night it rips through.

The engine roars a little louder through the pipes as he presses down on the gas pedal.

The Ghost of Tom Joad comes through the speakers.

Leather on leather, his holster creaks against his gun belt.

He doesn’t know how the night will end, only that one it will end.

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You can’t go home again

The other evening I walked the silent streets of the neighborhood I grew up in. The streetlights gave a dull yellow light, throwing small anemic pools of light on each corner that brought the shadows in instead of driving them back. A few porch light’s tried to drive back the night that the street lights wouldn’t. They were fighting a losing battle, most of the houses stood dark and silent. Some families were away to celebrate the Thanksgiving weekend with family in other places, but most houses just sit empty. The former residents have either died or moved away. The only living things that I saw were a few dogs, guarding their owner’s yards from the increasing crime. The night was still and silent, no cars passed by, no television sets or radio’s carried their sounds from houses where there used to be life, to train rumble or horn; just an almost malevolent silence that followed me back to the warmth and glow of my grandparent’s home. A shrinking oasis of light in an ever increasing desert of dark.

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The sun was up in the clear and bright blue sky, hanging over the Eastern hills and warming the morning. What was probably the last of the sporadic cold winter storms had moved through the day before, and and a mist hung above the desert floor. It enveloped the base of the hills and stretched across the dry lake bed, giving everything a dreamy quality, almost like something you would see in a movie or read in a book.

He looked at the road out of town. Normally it seemed like it stretched endlessly across the empty desert, but now it disappeared in to the haze. He looked back at his car, his only possession. and new it was just a matter of time. 

Okay dear reader, I’m not sure where this came from, but it came. It popped in my head this morning as I was driving home from my girlfriends and saw the mist that was caused from yesterdays rain evaporating. I kinda like it, seems to be the opening of a story. Maybe more will come later. 

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Moments of Beauty

Ever have those moments that stick with you? Ones of incredible beauty?  The ones that take your breath away because they are so beautiful. I have been lucky enough to have a handful in my short life, and I would like to share a few of them with you.

The earliest one I can remember is a sunset. I don’t know how old I was, I just know I was very young and it was in the summer time. Desert sunsets and sunrises can be things of beauty, and this particular sunset has always topped them all for me. Their were clouds in the sky, but it wasn’t totally overcast, and as I said it was summer, so it was hot. That sun was mostly down, and it turned the whole sky a shade of red I can’t even describe. The clouds became a deeper red, almost scarlet. I have never witnessed one like that again.

The next one I can remember, was somewhere in the Mid West, but I do not remember where. I went on a road trip with my dad the week after high school graduation to Michigan, and then to Washington D.C. My dad has a tendency to drive as much as possible, and only sleep in the car at rest stations. At one point in the evening I fell asleep, when I woke up I looked out the car window I saw a big field that went on for a long time until it became trees. Firefly’s where dancing all across this field, while lighting was flickering in the background. I will never forget it.

The next moment came not too many years ago, at a bonfire on the beach in San Diego. I remember looking at the stars over the water, the fire, and some of my closest friends around the fire, and just feeling that it was a thing of beauty.

The wedding of djmatticus and his lovely wife.

The first time I realized I was in love, not falling in love, not what I thought was love, but actually in Love.

Which leads me in to this; the first time I saw love in my beautiful Jennifer. I saw it in her face one day, the depth of her feelings….and it and she, was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

Categories: General, Uncategorized, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The heater mystery

I work what we call a Flex or RDO (Regular Day Off) schedule. I get every other Friday off, work Monday through Thursday 6/630 AM to around 4:30 PM, Working Fridays are an hour off earlier. It’s a nice schedule having a three day weekend, every other weekend. Especially around the holidays 🙂 

Anyway, I woke up this morning around 8:00, and I was freezing. Freezing is not a state of being that this desert rat likes to be in.* I remembered turning my heater down as normal when I stumbled to bed at 1am, after getting drunk on HALO 4 multi-player, but not down enough to freeze….and why was my heater running but not heating anything up? I didn’t want to get out of bed to find out, but the pressure in my bladder compelled me to do so. So after a quick bathroom stop, I looked at my thermostat. My thermostat tells me that it is 45 degrees in my apartment, and a quick check of the vest tells me that the heater is blowing cold air. Awesome. 

Now, I’m single (as in unmarried) and I am male. Single males are not always lazy, but we can be very lazy. Today I feel like being lazy. I turned my thermostat off, threw on yesterdays clothes, a hat, my trusty boots, my beat up leather jacket, a quick teeth brushing, and went to a warm diner for breakfast. Too cold to shower or dilly dally looking for fresh clothes….but I will brush my teeth so not to offend the waitress. 

After a leisurely breakfast and a few chapters of the newest Tom Clancy novel over about a pot of coffee I decided it would be time to drive home and talk to the landlord about the heater. Then I realized I should probably pay him the rent, or he may not be to inclined to do anything about the heater. Not that he is ever inclined to fix anything, he is old, lazy and cheap. I tend to fix things around here myself.

So I come home, check the heater, and LO AND BEHOLD IT WORKS!!!I have never heard of a heater doing this, they either work or don’t work, non of this intermittent nonsense. Must be a gremlin in the system, the apartment is full of gremlins. 

Guess I should take that shower now that my apartment is warm 🙂


*If your thinking the desert can’t get freezing you are mistaken. when I go to work in the morning it has been around 13 degrees outside. It gets very cold. Land of extremes. 

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