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: Digging for Ancient Cockroaches in the Marble Mountains

Art Journal, The Road

By cockroaches I mean trilobites. You cannot tell me it didn’t cross your mind. As usual there was an easy blacktop way to get to this place, Mojave Trails National Monument Marble Mountains Fossil Bed, and there was the way Kurt brought us.

First off we drove away from Joshua Tree National Park by highway, then corner-less desert road, valley lined with pink-purple mountains and creosote bushes. Then drove down a washboard dirt road running along a train track line. There was a crushed car with bullet holes abandoned. An isolated salt mine operation. A defunct mine operation, the derelict buildings graffitied and a foundation suspiciously fixed up with a tin roof. One-hundred percent sure someone is squatting there.
Social Distancing at its best, we had the site to ourselves. Trilobites were not laying around ready to be plucked off the ground like daisies. Fantasy popped. We climbed around near cliff edge. (Yes, this is/was/always a bad idea for me. I can’t trust my own feet to stay under me on flat ground). One question led to another idea, which guided our feet up higher on the site of rocks and shale piled up by decades of diggers. (Belly flips, higher, don’t look down).
As the sun lowered we found a spot that produced. We sat in shards of desaturated grey-green shale and picked out pieces from the mountain side and opened the layers of shale like oysters, looking for our strange pearls. The color of the shale reminded me of the clay sludge I escaped from at Bombay Beach on the Salton Sea.
I felt the light change in an instant. The Mountains glowed softly pink. I looked up to a sky illuminated in pinks and reds. Kurt and I climbed down and as we left the sky deepened to an implausibly redder shade, the kind that cameras can never capture.

Road: Salt River Wild Horses

Art Journal, The Road

There is still joy to be found in the world.

This was a heavy year, 2020. It is 8:06 pm on New Year’s Eve, here in these last glowing embers of the year I’ve shrugged off the worst of my grief. I’ve pulled myself back together (for now), remembered how to find joy and magic in the world. A heavy year indeed, but I’d rather not talk about the year or our collective struggles. I want to talk about feeling magic again.
Where is the magic in this world? Everywhere. I thought my overgrown black tomcat Mister was magic. As was our bond. Finding a little ginger kitten (born near the time Mister died) with a giant personality: magic. My marriage to someone who compliments my personality: magic. The chance to spend so much time being right where I want to be: also magic.
That brings me to when we (my husband and I) were both getting the blues. Social distancing has its price. That price is culture. Many places we wanted to see are closed to us. Many we avoided out of social responsibility. Some states we drove through were lax in their handling of masking and we didn’t want to linger. Some states had too many restrictions for convenient rv traveling.
Without adventures… we were feeling… lost.

Which brings me to the Salt River Wild Horses, but all I knew about them were:

a. Wild

b. Lived on a river

One day I thought we were packing up to refill the water tank, but my very talkative spouse had really decided it was time to drive north to check out the horses. Except. He was piecing information from a random blog?
Look. We made this entirely harder than it needed to be. We attempted to enter at two different points as far from the Salt River as you can. Slowly. Because the roads were not good for truck pulling a trailer. What could of been a one day drive from outside of Tucson, we made a two day event.
I’d love to say I took the camping advice I received from an Instagrammer, but no. We camped in the Bulldog Canyon ohv area (fee and code required).
First impressions… We arrived Christmas Day. Just in time for ALL the new motorized toys. (Things have settled since).

What was I expecting: We’d walk down to the river from our campsite and I’d take amazing photographs of wild horses playing in the water at dawn and dusk. Because. That. Is. What. I. Read.
What I found out was the walk “to” the river was fine. The walk “back” was steep and I should’ve brought my stick and also, *maybe* walked a few times this fall. Which was all extra disappointing when there were zero horses. It was pretty though.

First Encounter:

2020. Area along Salt River

How did I get to see my first band of wild horses, you ask? They sauntered by the camper. And I went out there. Then they sorta started to follow me. And I kept backing up. And I was trying to maintain that space (50 ft I read) between us… because I’m honestly a little afraid of them. (ok a lot afraid of them).

2020. Eel Grass covering river rock.

Second encounter:

Just one. One horse on a mission. Walked by the camper. I followed him hoping to get a good, clear shot. He turned and looked at me once, then headed off to do horse business. Now, I thought for sure he was heading for that river. I had them this time. I went to gather things, as one does, before rushing gleefully down the trail to the river. First, you must be so excited your ankle folds, and you sprawl out in the dirt in front of the camper. Then! Then you get yourself down to that disappointingly horseless river.

2020. Salt River Wild Horse

Third encounter:

We checked out the Coon Bluff area of the Salt River and met a member of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group. They were a fountain of information about the Horses and tipped us off where a band was that morning. I do recommend checking out their social media. They are doing great work keeping the Horses free.
After my quick lesson on wild horses we moved on to locate the band. Seventeen. They weren’t interacting with each other as much as the previous band. All business. Eating. But then I learned on the Management Group’s social media the drought is hitting the area hard and they are supplementing their feed. Not that lay people should because they are using weed free feed and horses are mysteriously delicate creatures. Good intentions can turn deadly with well intentioned food. (Hint: Donate money to the Management Group)

They may be scrappy little mustangs that have survived on this land for centuries or they may be feral horses occupying land that could be used for steer (yes, many people want to squash what is beautiful, wild and free for possible profits) but to me they may as well be unicorns for the magic they bring into the world.

2021. Reflections.

Fourth encounter:

After a week we needed to have a business day. Dump the camper, fill the camper, supply run… etc… Had this idea we’d try out a different camping location. Coon Bluff was only open to camping on Friday’s and Saturday’s so we looked into a different dispersed camping area. This was not going to work. We found this area to be even busier with orv traffic. And then there was the apocalyptic landscape. This area burned recently. Back to Bulldog Canyon ohv.
The next evening we took our cue from the sun and headed to the river. We started following a path starting at the Goldfield Recreation Area heading towards the Coon Bluff Recreation Area.
The path followed the cliff above the river, more or less. We were able to see see up and down the river well. Soon enough we found fresh signs of horse activity. Fresh tracks and dung. Then a band appeared from the desert and headed gingerly down the path to the river.

2021. Great Egret.
2021. Salt River

My husband held my impulsive self back to let them do their thing. Then we followed them down and settled on the bank of the Salt River to watch wild horses be wild.
I’m going to say right now, this was certainly one of my favorite experiences. The light, the innocence. Perfect.

2021. Unshod hoof prints.

Then a buzzing. Louder. I couldn’t see where the noise came from. The horses became agitated, then behind me I heard my husband say they didn’t like the drone. Drone. Drone? DRONE? Sassy tails and plucky footwork. Those horses headed for the cover of the trees while the drone hovered over us. Waiting. I may have popped out of the tree line to use an ancient Americana symbol to communicate all of our communal displeasure.
At least that wasn’t the end of the day right there. While walking back we caught sight of the band again. And in the glowing light of the setting sun.

Final encounter:

One last go at a chance for river magic. We headed for the same stretch of river as yesterday. Odds seemed good we’d catch a band there. We hiked in further than previously, but ended up following the sounds of hooves on rocks. We arrived in time to see a scuffle of dust and hooves peeking under the thick tree branches. Then the band appeared one by one out of the trees and headed into the desert at a brisk pace. We had no hope of following their pace. We walked the horse trails back to our truck. No further sightings.