Monday, December 29, 2008

Exploring the Mojave National Preserve

With the holidays approaching, Arienne and I decided to load up our van and explore the desert for a few days before joining her family for Christmas in Las Vegas. We didn't really have a solid plan but headed toward Barstow on Hwy 58. Going through the outskirts of Mojave you start seeing the quirkiness of desert life and the effects of downsizing at Edwards Air Force Base.
When we got to Baker on I-15, we followed signs south to an area we had never visited, the Mojave National Preserve. I'd seen some great photos Jack Dykinga had made in the preserve, so thought we'd take a look and headed down Kelbaker Road toward Kelso, an old railroad stop. The Kelso Depot has been freshly renovated and looked more like a suburban Vegas clubhouse than something out of the old west. Fortunately the old post office had retained its "charm."

Tracks at Kelso

Next, we headed out to the expansive Kelso dunes and went for a hike. The dunes were amazing, with signs of wildlife everywhere and remnants of the spring wildflower bloom. We'll have to come back to see that.
Just to the south we could see high granite spires sticking over the horizon so went that way and found a campsite where I could get out and photograph at sunrise while Arienne slept in.

There was a storm rolling in and despite my hopes for a great sunrise, the clouds blocked the good light. It was bitter cold with strong wind, so before long I crawled back in the van and made a second cup of coffee. Arienne was ready to face the world and we went on a nice walk through the unworldly gardens of cactus, yucca, and joshua trees. I can only imagine what it will be like in March or April when everything is blooming!

With a bit of time left we explored some dirt roads near Cima where we found what is apparently the thickest forest of joshua trees in existence. 

Off in the distance I saw an odd wooden structure and figured it could only be the remnant of an old mine. Piles of old tailings were a good clue. We followed a dirt road right to it and spent the better part of the day crawling down inside dark abandoned mine shafts. It was cool to see, and I think we found a gold nugget (fools gold most likely!).

So thats wraps up our first trip to the Mojave Preserve but you can bet we'll be back and next time we'll bring a 4wd so we can really get off the beaten path. If you have any favorite spots to see petroglyphs, wildlife, flowers, etc, I appreciate your input. 
As always, your comments are welcome, and each of the image are available as fine art prints. 

-Jerry Dodrill

Easy Street

As a rock climber of many years, I've endured numerous lectures from well intentioned folks about how dangerous climbing is. "Do you have a death wish? How can you justify such unnecessary risks?" These are age old questions that I continually fail to answer convincingly. A death wish? No. You've never felt more alive than when you're on the edge. But rather than describe the unexplainable about an activity which must be experienced to fully appreciate, I generally ramble on about the odd fact that statistically speaking, rock climbing is quite safe, and that the most dangerous part of climbing is the drive to and from the crag. Strangely, this is true. 
Climbing is indeed a high risk environment, and as a result, we learn redundant systems and methods of communication to mitigate risk. Its heads-up all the time, and because of the inherent risks, we're on our guard and are actually being relatively safe. But at the end of the day, its all too easy to load up your gear, fasten the safety belt, crank the tunes, and blast home. I've never fallen asleep while climbing, but like many of us, I've caught myself nodding behind the wheel more times than I'd like to admit. RedBull and Starbucks have kept me going many hours late at night when I should have stopped and crawled in the back seat. 

Having used this argument over and over to rationalize the risks involved in climbing, I at some point became aware of the staggering number of roadside memorials. One day I was driving along the levees over in the Sacramento Delta and began stopping to photograph them. It was immediately apparent how dangerous our roads are. The memorials are where they are for good reason. Each one was intriguing, unique, tragic, and packed with emotion. Personal items belonging to the deceased, religious icons, newspaper clippings, notes, ornately carved crosses, portraits, plastic flowers, wreaths and statues are left at the place of passing, often mixed with broken glass, bits of rubber and chrome. The weather decomposes everything, adding drama to these impromptu shrines. 

I've made a point to watch for the memorials during my travels and climbing trips, and stop when I can to make photos of the interesting ones. My mind wants to know the story; What happened? Where were they going? Who were they? Just another traveller at the wrong place/wrong time? With so many variables and high rates of speed, anything can happen and there is little time to react. It could be any one of us.

The images here were made this past week out in the desolate Mojave Desert. At some point I'll figure out what to do with this growing body of work. Until then I'll just quote a warning from the Grateful Dead: "When life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door." 

You've lived another year. Congrats, and be safe!

-Jerry Dodrill