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October 28, 2003

Wild Horse Canyon Road

Heading south this morning along Kelbaker Road, I slowly awoke to the fact that I was finally in the Mojave. No one else was on the road. The whole 30-odd miles between Baker and Kelso I had the road to myself, listening to reactionary commenters on AM radio and watching the low sun glint through the Yuccas.

Kelso was a comparative beehive of activity. Renovation is proceeding on the old depot, and at least three dozen people in hardhats milled purposefully around the site. I'd planned to take a look at the new paint job, but the whole depot was fenced off and heavy equipment occupied every potential parking space.

So I went on to Cima - decrepit as always - and up to Sunrise Rock, my habitual campsite of the last seven years. It was much as I left it. I parked, walked past the controversial Sunrise Cross - encumbered with a box on court order, and looking for all the world as if it was wearing a brown paper bag over its head - and headed up the trail to Teutonia Peak.

Joshua tree on Cima Dome

It was, apparently, Xantusia vigilis day. I've been camping on Cima Dome in October for almost a decade, and never saw a single night lizard. Today I saw at least fifty of them. Cute little things, with their black-to-tan bodies and tan-to-blue spots. Most of them couldn't have been more than an inch from shoulder to hip: I guess they really are the smallest lizards in North America.

While trying to avoid stepping on the microbasilisks, I managed to see and hear a few birds. I thought I heard a couple of Scott's orioles, but then realized there must be someone else up there who warbles in iambic pentameter. Scott's on Cima this late would be unusual: they tend to head south in August. There were abundant black-chinned and black-throated sparrows - a pair of males of the latter species providing a fine display of agonic behavior over possession of a hoard of Yucca baccata seedpods. They flew seemingly vertically together, beaks and talons extended and intermingled, until one flew off.

I also saw a flicker or two and spooked a cottontail, and the antelope ground squirrels were especially active near my old campsite. But mainly what I did was hike about a mile up the trail, find a nice flat rock a hundred yards off the trail, and sit and listen.

The first thing I heard was my breathing, and then the buzzing of the little yellow and black flies attracted to my shirt, and the "zrrbits" of the local grasshoppers. Then I heard the wind, soft and melodic through the Joshua trees and junipers. Then came the sound of the blood in my ears, which threatened to drown everything else out.

I spent so much time at Cima Dome over the years, drinking too much coffee, getting antsy and impatient and unsure of myself, missing Becky and wishing for a phone. When I am less thoroughly caffeinated, it's a much calmer, more varied place. It felt good to spend that hour or so sitting, doing nothing. At least I think it was an hour.

But then I left. Came up the hill to Mid-Hills, rattling my poor truck to pieces. Startled a flat-out beautiful coyote along Wild Horse Canyon Road. Found an exquisite campsite among single-needle pines and Utah juniper, notably cooler than the valley floor below. I'm at 5600 feet here, solidly in the range of the good old Xeric Conifer Woodland, and the air smells of resin and oxygen. I left the Joshua trees behind about 300 feet downslope, but there are banana yuccas and Mojave mound cacti and lots of Ephedra. Picked out a space with a view to the north - in case of aurora - headed over to Hole In The Wall to leave a message for Becky, and then came back via Wild Horse Canyon Road, the back way. Sat and had a beer: was visited by a very calm and methodical scrub jay. Made eye contact, headed over to the fire ring to look for food, and then left before I could be tempted to feed him. What an immaculate bird.

This campsite has one of the best views I've ever enjoyed. Northward across the Cima-Kelso Valley, over the dome, on past Kessler Peak and Clark and I think I can actually see the Spring Mountains and Mount Charleston from here. Until, that is, the sun set. The west-facing hills turned from khaki to pink and then to olive drab. A pale, pale white sky glowed for a time to the north, over Death Valley and Pahrump.

And now the stars. How long has it been since I saw the Milky Way? A satellite zipped overhead not long ago; a spark of reflected sunlight heading from the zenith to the horizon in a minute and a half.

I sit burning fragrant juniper firewood - a casual gift from my mother a year ago - and ruminate. Dinner is eaten, dishes cleaned, tent ready for me in a few hours.

I miss Becky and Zeke. Cassiopeia smiles sweetly at brilliant Mars.

Posted at October 28, 2003 07:38 PM | TrackBack


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