Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Lure of the Desert

Living as close to the desert as I do, I end up spending a lot of time out in it. This wasn't always the case. Growing up in Orange County, we were about an hour and a half, perhaps two hours drive from the desert. My father is more of a mountain man, and so we very rarely went to the desert. I can remember on spring spent at Death Valley and another spring when we camped near the Salton Sea. But for the most part, I think it was a two fold reason why we didn't go there on the weekends.

One, our friends owned a cabin near Big Bear Lake up in the mountains and we pretty much had carte blanche access to that place. Long weekends were spent up there enjoying the mountain air. The second reason was my dad usually liked to put a full day's drive in whenever we would go camping and thus the desert always got bypassed in favor of more mountainous climes, like Sequoia or Yosemite. Now, I wouldn't trade those camping trips at all and I really didn't know what I was missing, having not visited the desert a lot, but the first place I took my daughter to when she was old enough to camp for a long period of time was Joshua Tree National Monument in the desert. Having a kangaroo rat dancing around your feet while sitting around a campfire is something that everyone should enjoy at least once in their lifetime.

There are all sorts of things about the desert that are intriguing in my opinion. Because it's so dry, many things are in a state of arrested decay. Things don't fall apart readily, so once something is placed out in the desert, it tends to stay there for a long time. When was the last time you remember seeing glass insulators atop telephone polls? Most of the insulators I see usually are found in antique stores, sold as collector's items, yet it was just this past March that I saw several on top of a telephone pole out in the desert near a cache site.

Desert rats, that stock of people who enjoy living out in the harsh climes, away from most civilization, are another breed of people as well. The "make do" attitude of people who live out in the desert is still amazing to me. Having been born and raised a city boy, I can't conceive of living in a spot where there isn't a paved road right up to my front door. Yet, out in the desert you can always find homes that most people would describe as out in the middle of no where, without a paved road for miles.

Back in March, I visited a cache where people had literally dug into the hillside and created their houses in the side of a cliff. Today, this would be described as "going green" and the homeowner would be lauded for saving energy costs by using the landscape to help cool their house. And yet people have been doing this for centuries. It's now become a trendy thing to do. I'm not sure I could build a house underground. The lack of a great amount of windows would probably do me in. I like to be able to look out.

No doubt about it, the desert is a harsh landscape. The plants are few and far between, the flowers small and very seasonal. But when evening comes, it gets quiet. There is not a lot of bustle from nearby freeways. In fact, it's much easier to get away from it all in the desert than it is in the city. Out in the desert, you can see the Milky Way on a regular basis. That's becoming hard to do in our mountainous playgrounds because of all the lights we tend to bring to make our lives more comfortable when we're staying there. People out in the desert still tend to use minimal lighting. That's a good thing. We need places like this, to reconnect with the past, to look into the heavens and see the stars at night and to perhaps enjoy that kangaroo rat's dance.

Pictures were taken at or near the following geocaches:
5150 Desert Cache #1 - by SirSneakalot
The Shortline That Is No More - by Lake Tecopa Yacht Club
4960 - by Mr. and Mrs. Wisearse
Dublins Tin Can Alley - by mtngirls

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RDOwens said...

I recall glass insulators on the poles as a youngster. We used to gather them when the poles were changed out.

I have a shutterspot that involves insulators.

Webfoot said...

I have an old photograph that I took probably 30 years ago of the telephone pole in my parent's back yard. I should try and find it, dig it out of the photo box to see what kind of insulators were on it at the time. I would be willing to bet they weren't glass even back then.