Road: Soundscapes, Mud Volcanoes and Hammertown

Art Journal, The Road

The freedom of leaving the camper behind and exploring really overtook us for a minute there. Slowed our roll over the weekend. What a novelty to not be the two-bodied wandering snail.

The things/thoughts/etc…

  • On Saturday the campground filled with people. For comparison the campgrounds in Texas were limiting capacity for social distancing in already spread out campsites down meandering roads. Joshua Tree National Park campsites are set up for efficient space use, not privacy.
  • It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to the sounds of people. I listed the noises. Acoustic guitar. Radio. Laughter. Stories. Campfire. Child talk. Child barking. The family calls the child chipmunk. Car doors shutting. Generators. I was pleasantly shocked to find it soothing. I’ve been so isolated for so long.
  • A nap. Those are always wonderful. One of life’s great joys.
  • Felt like picking up the paint brush. First time since the kitten tragedy.
  • On Monday we went in search of a cracked road. Found The Hammertown event in the middle of the desert. Superb. Just what I always wanted to find. It was over (thankfully) so we drove part of the course (maybe I shouldn’t of been so thankful, that was rough) looking for the cracked road. Passed a guy picking up vehicle particles. Turned out the fault line lied just out of reach on military property.
  • Tuesday. Another drive to the Salton Sea, to the south end. Looking for mud volcanoes, which had to be on private property. Other sites: apocalyptic seascape, obsidian outcrops, Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge, geothermal power plants.
  • Sunset at Keys Lookout. The sky, mountains and Salton Sea in the distance all shades of pink.
  • Wednesday travel day. Time to mosey on out of Joshua Tree.

Road: Peter and John Doe in Berdoo Canyon

Art Journal, The Road

We needed eggs so obviously we took a dusty dirt trail out of Joshua Tree National Park. Left the camper around 10:00 am and headed for the Geological Trail and then took the Berdoo Canyon Trail marked with a stern warning: 4×4 recommended, people die in the desert, towing costs as high as $1,000, make the right choice. That sounded absolutely perfect. Kurt did say he loved my sense of adventure this morning.
The first hint that the Berdoo section could get rough was a fluid trail (transmission? oil?) originating at a large rock sticking up in the road. Nothing Baby Grey Whale need worry about.
Around the next turn though things got rougher. Boulders tucked into the road created cliffs for vehicles. Kurt got out to walk the road. I was near the truck taking photos when around the corner appeared not Kurt, but a stranger, a young man.
Peter and his friend John Doe. Together we maintained that road section for traversing, I figure the County owes us all a good hour of labor for filling the crevices with rocks and sand. They nimbly took their Rav-4 through and then Kurt drove BGW across our rocky engineering. And, as though in a comedy, five dirt bikes and a jeep pulled up behind us. Of course.
At nearly 4:00pm made it back to the camper with zero eggs.

Road: Avoiding Humanity on Back Canyon Roads

Art Journal, The Road


The things:

  • Little Box Canyon a smaller version of Box Canyon and connected to it. Steep bright tan walls full of holes and nests. Looking closer at the cliff-like walls, a sandy texture containing a variety of smoothed rocks.
  • A noticeable section of canyon wall showcasing the forces of shearing when the earth moves.
  • Box Canyon. You can see the slow waves of the earth’s movement. You think she’s still compared to water, it’s just that we live such short lives.
  • Painted Canyon a more popular site. At the end of the psychedelic canyon drive a hiking trailhead with too many cars parked to be worth the look.
  • People masking in their own cars with the windows rolled up. A phenomenon on the spectrum of people reacting to Covid-19.
  • An orphan trail into Joshua Tree National Park. It does not connect with any of the other park roads. Crosses through an area that burned and up to a little mountain peak. We had the sunset all to ourselves.
  • A Great Horned Owl sitting upon the yellow line in the great vast darkness. Looked directly in the headlights before taking his silent flight into the desert night.

Road: The Spectacular Joshua Trees

Art Journal, The Road

On the road the individual seizes the opportunity presented by staying in one place for a known number of days. We had our mail sent to the local post office in city of Joshua Tree. A precarious choice using the post office these days. Since the last parcel sent out didn’t reach its destination going on three weeks now.
We meandered across Joshua Tree Park enjoying the first warm day we’d seen in awhile. Mild, blissful blue skies washed with wisps of clouds.
Our package surprisingly arrived and Kurt wanted to find a fault line from an earthquake. Could not locate this dirt road that was shifted from the quake and other landmarks appeared repaired. Note: ideas like these are brought to you by books. Geology books.
Meanwhile we intersected with the very busy local police several times. Our first police chase in the California wilds. They were after a purple haired woman in a sport utility vehicle.
To be continued…

Road: “Here Kitty, Kitty” Doesn’t Work On Bobcats

Art Journal

Today we (Kurt) drove that famed road less taken, away from from the scores of tourists filling up the roadside parking lots with their matching masks and selfie sticks. Joshua Tree National Park via 4×4 only trail. Not one other person. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

We started off near the Cottonwood Ranger Station flushing silly quail down a wash. Watched them zig and zag around each other with their little tassels bobbing.
There was a choice between two canyon washes with official marked trails. Kurt chose the canyon to the right, I couldn’t tell you the name.

What we saw:

  • A bobcat making its way towards a pass between two hills. I was able to get it in my camera frame and I yelled out “here kitty kitty.” Don’t ask me why. The confounded look Kurt gave me with the churlish “really?” was enough.
  • A rabbit. Which solved the mystery of what was making the colony of nests in the clay.
  • A large hawk that wanted nothing to do with having a a portrait.
  • Hummingbirds! We stopped by a flowering creosote bush and became aware that a female hummingbird was guarding her property fiercely from another. (Costa’s Hummingbird we believe)
  • A pair of Ravens.
  • Many Phainopepla.
  • A smaller hawk who did want their portrait even after I kicked a cholla part and bellowed in agony before and after removing the spike from my foot. (Wear boots in the desert Taryn).


After such a giving day did we leave well enough alone? No. Kurt eyeballed the path leading up the wash we didn’t take. Sure why not. Five minutes in the truck was nearly hung up, but no one took the hint to turn back. We kept losing the officially marked trail. Doubled back a few times because of boulders. In the end we didn’t make it through and turned back.


Road: Quick Sand, Smelly Water and Other Life Lessons

Art Journal, The Road

Our first full day in Joshua Tree National Park and I immediately wanted to go for a ride outside of it. Let me explain. The Salton Sea is just to the south and I was intrigued by the the textures of the “sand” last year. Since then I now work with textures. I felt it was worth the drive and the smell to collect a bit of texture.

2021. Salton Sea Recreation Area. You Pay for the Privilege of This Sensory Experience.

The Salton is a man-made mess. An old dried up sea bed that people accidentally filled up with water from the Colorado River in the early 1900’s. But the area being fertile from its geological past made it ideal for farming and all that runoff went directly into the Salton. Which in recent years wasn’t being fed fresh sources of water and was shrinking in size so concentrating in both salt content and farm runoff. That’s my very short version of events. You can open Wikipedia for a more accurate depiction (maybe).
All I could think, while approaching ever closer to the water, is about what sort of crazed lunatic kayaks or swims in this body of water. As soon as you get close to it the smell makes you roll up your windows. Today I even gagged walking back to the truck and it isn’t even baking in the summer sun.
Wait there’s more. We also explored the weird of Bombay. A grid town of tin trailer homes from the atomic age. Majestic configurations of camper mansions. Pack rat yards and art installations.

Then we went to the dried up marina. I walked up to the waters edge captivated by a swing set in the Sea. I was angling to get as close as I could when suddenly I sank a full foot and a half into the clay while it belched rotting sea smells into the air. I couldn’t lift my feet out. They were being sucked in further. So I struggled out of my shoes and while protecting my camera in one hand, crouched on the clay, I dislodged each shoe from their near grave and tossed them to safety. Then I had to backtrack to safety. I looked around, no one else was within six feet of the waters edge. This must be quick sand because it was quick and it could be called sand. Kurt saw nothing. He was on dry land taking a panorama, oblivious.
I experienced this feeling before, of having the ground suck you inward, when I was a child growing up alongside what we called a cranberry bog. It was January in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and I was decked out in my 90’s purple and pink nylon windbreaker ready to take on a winter adventure.

At that time of year the lake and bog should’ve been completely frozen. I watched as my cat walked out onto obviously thin ice. I had to get him off. I don’t know why, ask eleven year old me what the impulse was. I called to him and yelled at him, and he looked at me as cats do. So I cautiously tested the surface. It didn’t give. I tested again and again. My cat walked off the thin spot just in time for me to go crashing through. It wasn’t the biting cold that I remember, it was the mud sucking me hungrily down while my cat impassively watched and I clung to the edge. For a moment I wanted to yell out for my Mother, I could see the house. Odds were no one was going to come to save me however loud I howled. I found strength to pull myself out and trudge home covered in swamp mud during the coldest time of the year in Northern Michigan.