Creek Running North

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October 29, 2003


The smoke rolled in sometime last night. Mid-Hills is 150 miles from the nearest fire, but off-shore winds picked up and blew the accumulated smoke from all the south coast fires into the Mojave. At around three in the morning, I woke and wondered if my campfire embers had sparked a conflagration while I slept.

After light, the morning was eerily still. I made coffee, sat and drank it, smelling the oddly etiolated smoke. My neighbor across the way was walking his dogs. He looks like he could be Pancho Villa's grandson, dark with a broad smile and friendly eyes. He works the trains from Needles to Barstow. We stood and watched the sun, already high in the sky, behind the smoke. You could count the sunspots.

sun through thick smoke

So breakfast and packing and then I was off. Providence Mountains were higher up, in a thicker layer of smoke.

I hiked a bit through barrel cacti and Mojave yucca...

... and watched a flock of phainopeplas through the smoke, as did a hawk I was unable to identify, even through binoculars. Probably a red tail for just that reason.

And then the drive east through Fenner and Goffs and Needles, and - in a fit of needing to do something I haven't done before - across the bridge from downtown Needles into the Mojave Valley. Havasu National Wildlife Refuge looked oddly verdant under the thickening pall of smoke. And then Old Route 66 to Oatman.

I can't believe I've never gone that way before. What an amazingly different route from old I-40 through Arizona's Sacramento Valley. Black Mesa is astonishing and striking. If it were anywhere else, it would be a National Park. But hemmed in by Grand Canyon and Death Valley and Las Vegas and other distractions, the mesa doesn't rate much notice: a mere driver's advisory for those in trailers 40 feet or longer.

Oatman was briefly fun. An insistent burro mugged me for the bag of carrots I bought, head-butted me in the sternum as if to say, "C'mon, man..."

And then - highlight of the day - the Joshua trees along Pierce Ferry Road north of Dolan Springs. This might just be the most extensive and thick grove of Joshuas in the world.

It's certainly the longest straight-line drive I've ever made through a Yucca brevifolia forest - easily thirty miles, and I turned around to head back to Kingman before they petered out. I saw a looming row of hills to my east along the way that turned out to be the Grand Wash Cliffs. all but their profile was obscured by smoke.

And what smoke that was, all day. Nuclear winter smoke: the haze that killed the dinosaurs. Enough light filtered through to see by, but the temperature dropped by a good twenty degrees and the desert landscape wore an affect of looming thunderstorm. Which would help, come to think of it.

A lesson about hubris: I reflected on the coyote I saw yesterday, running across the road just before reaching the campsite, as I watched the sunspots crawl across the face of the sun. When I rolled the truck this year, and walked away uninjured, my friend Ron suggested my guardian angel was a coyote. "I'll save your life, after creating the situation that threatens it." Not such a bad prank for the trickster to play, I thought. Definitely throws a big monkey wrench into the trip, but not a bad story, and I get to sit here in the middle of the Mojave and drink coffee while watching sunspots on the move. Getting up to rinse out the coffee cup, I made a mental note of thanks to Coyote for playing such an easy trick on me. Then the spigot of the water jug broke off in my hand.

Posted at October 29, 2003 07:39 PM | TrackBack


it is magic, the way you do this. coyote is special to me too. he will not let you forget who you are. i lived a day like this two summers ago with the conflagration of the hayman fire. white ash fell from the air like snow. i am asthmatic. i thought i may truly die from the thick orange smoke that filled the air that day. may i have this one?

Posted by: Anne at September 2, 2004 10:52 AM

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