The Evolving World
Burning Man 2009
I forget exactly what woke me up Tuesday morning. It was right at 4
AM. I figure I slept for 8 or 9 hours, a good night’s sleep. I took a hot
shower, changed into my cleanest dirty clothes and pulled out of the RV
I thought the right front tire was looking a little low. The previous
evening, the RV park owner said I could air it up at a 24-hour tire place
down the road. I found the tire place, but evidently they didn’t mean 24
hours all in a row. I decided to take my chances and just keep going. There’s
bound to be some other place along the way, I figured. The highway pointed
off into the night. For the first half hour I was the only person on the
road. Then, a black car, covered in playa dust, zoomed past me and disappeared
ahead. I waved. The waning Moon dominated the night sky. Above, a shooting
star flamed across the heavens, and was gone in an instant. I could see
lights from Armagosa Valley off to the side.
Ahead, a truck stop appeared. I drove around to the back and found
the air hoses, but they were broken. The hose was next to a chain link
fence, which surrounded a short, cinder block building. It turned out to
be a brothel, the Cherry Patch Ranch. Two black cats were squaring off
against each other next to the fence. When I shone my flashlight on them,
they looked at me like they were saying Do you mind?!? The tire
didn’t look that bad after all. Back in the car, I found the plucky little
blinky I got on burn night, still glowing in different colors.
The eastern sky began to appear less dark. The road turned down a valley,
and all around me mountains appeared in silhouette, like brooding, hooded
justices, contemplating my fate. The eastern sky was awash in yellows as
I kept putting more miles behind me. Nobody can say the summer Sun doesn’t
give you plenty of warning that it’s coming. The sky was a dusky blue when
I got to Indian Springs, where the speed limit was 35. I pulled off the
road and got some gas at a station called Sol’s.
Ahead, a beam of sunlight snuck in between a pair of mountains to let me
know daytime had arrived. The Sun crawled up over the mountains, bright
and powerful. A scan of the radio dial found several Spanish language stations.
It was 77 degrees when I got to Las Vegas, and the morning Sun was blinding
as I tried to read the westward-facing traffic signs. I came over one rise
and found a sea of red lights ahead of me. I braked quickly to avoid smashing
into all the other stopped cars. I listened to a Las Vegas call-in show,
where they talked about “barguments”—arguments that only sound reasonable
after a third shot of tequila, such as, who would win in a fight: the guys
from “Gilligan’s Island” or all the boys from “The Brady Bunch?” (Personally,
I figured the Skipper could beat the crap out of all of them.) At 7:30
I turned south on Highway 95.
|As I was leaving, I spotted a dark scratch in the sky. It was moving
slow, and I thought it was a glider, but it seemed too small… then I realized:
it was a Predator Drone! Someone had been training on a Predator
Drone at the military base, and was bringing it in for a landing. I scrambled
for my digital camera and waited and waited for it to turn on. I actually
pointed it back out the window, over my shoulder, to take a picture. I
didn’t know until way later I actually captured it in mid-air. Wow!
The broad, 4-lane road descended into a wide, sweeping basin. The view
was like many impossibly-large Nevada vistas, except it was surprisingly
green. The green grasses and bushes added a new dimension to the vast landscape.
Just then, I got a call on my cellphone. It was the Red Cross, wanting
me to come in to donate again. At 8 AM I passed the turnoff for “Grandpa’s
The town of Searchlight, which straddles Doherty Mountain, was small,
but gas was a lot cheaper there than in Las Vegas. Down the road was the
tiny hamlet of Cal-Nev-Ari, named after the closest states. Road construction
slowed down traffic to 55 MPH. About an hour after leaving Vegas, the road
suddenly narrowed to two lanes as the highway crossed the California border.
The road suddenly turned very lonely. Green grass alongside the road turned
brown, and the highway became uneven and hilly. There were a couple of
cars ahead of me when we all stopped at a train crossing, waiting for a
freight train. Buildings appeared ahead, and Highway 95 ended in an overpass
on-ramp for Interstate 40. The interstate was a welcome change from the
claustrophobic 2-lane. It was another 27 miles to my turn-off.
The ground was very dry when I got to Needles, elevation 482 feet. At a
quarter after 9, I crossed over into Arizona, where the speed limit rose
to 75 MPH. Harsh, jagged mountains loomed over the Colorado River. Exit
9 was what I wanted, turning south on Highway 95. I stopped at the truck
stop to get some gas and to splurge on a #8 breakfast from Wendy’s. In
the parking lot, a local guy in a pith helmet drove away on a Yamaha Grizzly
4-wheeler. Bikers wore black and yellow “Soldiers for Jesus” colors. Down
the highway, the landscape looked rough and uninviting. Winding through
jagged mountains, the road descends into the broad Colorado River valley.
Civilization appeared in the form of Penny’s and Wal-Mart. I had found
Lake Havasu City. Housing additions filled with big, expensive homes lined
the highway. Lake Havasu is proud of its biggest tourist attraction, the
original London Bridge, brought all the way from England brick by brick.
There were British names everywhere, such as Hyde Park Road and Windsor
Beach. Strip malls were adorned with castle turrets.
I pulled into the big parking lot next to London Bridge, and it was indeed
huge. It’s still used by cars to drive over to a little island. I got a
postcard and a refrigerator magnet, then found a penny crushing machine.
I made a LiveJournal voice post from London Bridge itself. The neat thing
was, just a couple of years before, I went on a boat ride on the Thames
in London and went under the New London Bridge. I thought it was clever
how they got London Bridge over the water the way they did. When they brought
the pieces over, they assembled it next to the river, then dug a trench
under the completed bridge, re-routing the water. They didn't build the
bridge over water-- they built the water under the bridge. I headed south
and out of town. Gullies and dry washes on both sides of the road were
cris-crossed with motorcycle tracks.
It was a raw, rugged country… and the way the road twisted and turned,
I thought I was lost. I stopped at a small general store for a Dr. Pepper.
It was scorching hot out, and it wasn’t even noon yet. I passed Parker
Dam and the entrance for Buckskin Mountain State Park. I could see lots
of fancy riverside houses lined up on the far banks. I took a detour which
got me on Indian Route 1. On all sides were green, irrigated fields. This
was the land of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, where I saw lush farmland
and stacks of hay that would fill a warehouse. The detour took me down
Agnes Wilson Road. When most people think of a detour, they think of a
route that takes you around something that’s going on, and then gets you
back on track again. This didn’t. This route took me past farmland, over
irrigation channels and way across the river to dry, barren land.
The road turned south, and I found myself on Highway 95—California
Highway 95, not to be confused with Arizona Highway 95 about 15 miles to
the east. A sign declared the road was being improved with government stimulus
money, which was good for them, but left me still lost. There were no houses
on the road. Side roads led to tiny RV parks and campgrounds huddled next
to the river, the only pleasant areas around. I had to remind myself that
it was into this rugged land that thousands of Japanese Americans were
moved into "internment camps" during World War II.
It took me about a half hour to get back to a major highway, Interstate
10 at Blythe. There was a business there called Steaks & Cakes. Crossing
back over into Arizona, I stopped at the Exit 4 rest area to catch my breath.
Cactus dotted the land. As I recall, the water from the water fountain
was hot— and undrinkable. It was a good thing I took that five gallons
of water from that burner! I couldn't find any radio stations, and my MP3
player malfunctioned, so that left me with only the stark beauty of the
Sonoran Desert to keep me company.
One of the highway overpasses was set up with a camel motif, as a memorial
to the U.S. Army experiment with camels in the 1800's. There was a memorial
grave to one of the camels in Quartzsite, but it was inside the fence of
a closed museum. Dotted along the road were little crosses-- memorials
to loved ones who had perished in highway accidents. About mile marker
40, I passed an elaborate one built into a hillside cave. I stopped at
the Exit 52 rest area to give Satori a break and to refil my water bottles.
Just after 2:30 I passed the exit for Tonopah (Arizona), just up the road
from Old Camp Wash. Exit 98 led people to the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating
Station, the largest nuclear power plant in America.More buildings appeared
as I got closer and closer to Phoenix. I don't think I ever saw a sign
that specifically said I was in Phoenix, I was just there. Traffic
slowed ahead at exit 121. It took a mile of bumper-to-bumper driving to
find out why. A truck moving a house accidently let it tip over.
It lay on its side in the median as drivers from both directions slowed
down to take a look.
At a quarter to four, I pulled off the highway and found my way to the
Pueblo Grande Museum. Pueblo Grande was a huge Hohokam village that was
abandoned back in the 15th century. Now, the site is completely surrounded
by the city of Phoenix. The inside of the museum was gloriously air conditioned.
Since it was so late in the day, they suggested I look through the ruins
before browsing the museum. People were living there before the Roman Empire
fell. The central mound was huge, the size of a football field. Hundreds
of people must have scratched out a living in the harsh Arizona desert.
Abandoned for centuries, the town's adobe structures had mostly melted
back into the Earth. The park had modern reconstructions to show what the
homes must have looked like. Inside the museum, I liked looking through
the artifacts. I got some souveniers, then looked to head out. I wanted
to find a Wal-Mart before going to my campsite. the very nice lady at the
desk went on the Internet and printed me out directions to a store that
was on my way. She also gave me vital driving directions for getting back
on the interstate: "They're not gonna want to let you go," she said. "Just
go!" That was very nice of her.
It was, of course, rush hour in Phoenix, but following the directions
I found where I needed to go. I got some supplies, then got back on the
highway, headed east. There was an angry thunderstorm in the distance,
but it looked like it was heading away from me. I hoped. I followed the
Superstition Freeway to exit 197, where I took Tomahawk Road to the Apache
Trail. Just down the road was the Lost Dutchman State Park. I arrived right
at sunset. Paying my fee at the closed ranger station, I found the bathrooms
and then looked for a nearby campsite. Each little campsite had a place
to park and a space with a picnic table. I parked under a giant saguaro
cactus, at the foot of Superstition Mountain.
|Lost Dutchman State Park was also where they filmed the picnic scene
in one of my favorite movies, "Raising Arizona." You can see Superstition
Mountain there in the background.
Darkness was on its way, so I had my priorities: food was first. I set
up the propane stove and cooked up a meal with ingredients I'd brought:
rice, a chicken bouillon cube, and a can of chicken breast. I boiled some
water with the bouillon cube and cooked rice with it, so that the rice
would taste like chicken. When I opened the can of chicken, to mix with
the rice, I noticed that nowhere on the can did it say the chicken was
cooked. I figured it was, but just to be on the safe side I sort
of stir-fried the mixture over the fire. I thought, if it kills me,
I just won't post the recipe.
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||Supper turned out delicious. As I was eating, I noticed a dozen or
so quail marching defiantly under my van. Rabbits hopped through
my campsite. I washed up in the restroom, and ended up smelling much better.
By then night had mostly fallen.
To the east, the thunderstorm flashed with lightning, and it seemed
to be getting closer. The wind picked up as I curled up in the back of
the van, and Satori rocked back and forth under its force. Lying in the
darkness, I could hear coyotes howl. I could tell they were very, very