The End Of The Line

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Like, wow…I can’t believe we’re in California.

What a magical and special state this is.  It’s no wonder that all the famous people live here.  It’s the “land of opportunity”, where an anybody like me can become a somebody like…George Clooney.  We weren’t here an hour when I drove to a service station to get a bag of ice and fill the tank.  On a whim, I bought two $2.00 scratch-off lottery tickets.  Would you believe I won $25.00 from those two tickets?  I was elated and felt that my time had come, until I paid for the gas.  When we filled up the tank one afternoon back in Tucson, AZ, it cost me $1.43/gal.  I nearly spilled my Starbucks Latte when I saw the California price (at this particular station) was $2.79/gal.  I thought there were oil wells out here??  I think I saw a Clark Gable movie once and he got soaked from the gushing crude from a well.

Maybe that was Texas…I can’t remember.

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[This probably isn’t legal to post winning lottery tickets online, but I’m from New York…]

This is as far west as our journey is taking us.  If you’re a faithful reader and you’ve paid attention and taken notes, pick up that Rand McNally Atlas that’s sitting on your coffee table…the one with coffee stains and rings left by the condensation of the Bud Lite cans during the Super Bowl.  Turn to page 15 (I’m using the 2013 edition).  We are at the Emerald RV Resort located on the map page at coordinates “15/SJ”.

I feel so…so important being here in the Golden State.  Our RV Resort is located on Frank Sinatra Drive, which is separated from Dinah Shore Drive by Gerald Ford Drive.  (If you don’t believe all this, just Google this place).

We had a long hard drive behind us today.  We left Yuma in the late morning warmth of 88 F.  We sped past the western part of the city and I glanced at the Yuma Territorial Prison…the topic of my last blog.  Ok, maybe misery, murder, death and forgotten graves may not have been the best choice for a Valentine’s Day post, but we were having WiFi issues and I needed to get something out before things got worse.  Note to those planning on RV’ing any serious distance all: Whatever the Resort tells you about how strong their signal is, don’t believe it.  There are some days you can forget email…you’d be better off mailing a letter through the USPS.  Nearly all my posts were composed and posted from Starbucks or McDonald’s (say what you want about the Double Cheese Macs, their WiFi smokes!).

We attended a real rodeo while we were in Yuma and I intended to write something about how excited I was to finally see one in person, for real.  I have to admit that it was impressive.  I’m including a few photos just to prove that we were really there.

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[This guy rode like the wind.]

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[In case you’re confused: The Happy Camper is on the left and the bored Miss Sonoran Deserts Queen is on the right.]

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[Woman rider]

Just across the California-Arizona state line were the Imperial Sand Dunes.  I parked in a kind of base camp for the dune buggy people.  I took a picture of one of the beautiful dunes and made it even more stark and raw by filtering it through my Instagram app.

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[A lonely bush in the Imperial Sand Dune National Recreational Area]

After a few miles along I-8, we turned north on Rte. 86 and drove through some of the agricultural (and highly irrigated) parts of Southern California.  We passed truck loads of carrots, groves of date palms and vineyards.  I also caught glimpses of the smiling happy faces of the migrant workers as they leisurely picked cabbage and turnips.  They were so fortunate to have such jobs, out in the open fresh air, getting a tan…instead of being stuck inside some awful office building or factory.  I was tempted to stop and pick a bushel or two just to get the exercise, but we had places to go and I couldn’t see any convenient parking places.

So, is this the end of our trip?  Have we reached the farthest point from our home?  Well, no and yes.  The eastern slopes of the Rockies are still between us and home.  The prairies of Kansas are still ahead of us. (The last state in the Lower 48 I have yet to visit).  We still have to get home…and there is a place I must visit.  It’s not far from here and it is the magical and mythical destination of the trip…for me, anyway.

I’ve been dropping hints about this place since I first started posting these blogs.  It’s a real place.  Thousands of people came there to get healed…to get clean…to wash away sins, ancient and recent, that have darkened souls that were pure as snow at birth.

Water has been a healer for thousands of years.  Spas and hot springs have saved the lives and repaired the souls of countless individuals.

Now, it’s my turn.  Sometime next week, I will arrive at this strange place that has a strange name…and see if anything remains of the healing waters of seventy-five years ago.

Will I find sage and tumble weed and cracked concrete in the old pools.   Or, will the ghosts of those who came to find succor still roam about in the weedy driveways and dying palms?  If the spirits are walking around the now-empty fountain, will they take a moment to tell me their stories?

I’ll tell them mine.

The Big Empty: Where Nothing Is Everything

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If you have a mind to go someplace where you can think without distraction, pray without a preacher, sin without a society to judge, see the night sky in its true black star-filled glory, see a snake, an ant, a spider or a bird…then come to The Big Empty.  One thing you may not see, is another human, perhaps for days at a time…unless that person is seeking what you are seeking.

Solitude.

I’m on a road trip.  I’m only passing through this odd and bewildering moonscape of the desert Southwest.  We were driving from Tucson to Yuma along I-8.  I had a vague idea about the land we were traveling through.  That’s unusual for me, normally I like to prepare my self…immerse myself in the country I will be sleeping and walking in.  I had finally obtained a copy of American Nomads by Richard Grant.  This amazing book is a history, as the cover states, of travels with mountain men, cowboys, Indians, hoboes and truckers.  I was learning as I went, a page ahead or a page or two too late.

We stopped at one of the few gas stations on this section of I-8.  I looked around.  I saw the closest thing to nothing I had seen in my two cross-country road trips.  I wandered a few hundred yards through the sage and sand and scrub brush.  It was early February, so I had little chance of dropping from dehydration and heat stroke.  I’m Irish.  I’m prone to heat strokes when the mercury climbs above 81 F.  I drink plenty of water as a rule of life.  When I was a teacher, I constantly sipped from my Poland Springs bottle to keep my throat wet and prevent that Bill Clinton raspiness.

I stood and looked at the blue and gray mountains in the distance.  I turned a full circle.  In nearly all directions, there were mountains.  Before I left the car, I had seen that I was on the edge of the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range.  The town we had just passed was Gila Bend.  The last sign I saw was Dateland.  (It sounded like the name of a 1962 Roller Rink).  But, here I was alone.

Truly alone.  I thought about whether or not I could live in an RV out here.  Bottled water.  An outdoor privy.  The constant awareness of snakes (I don’t do snakes, if I haven’t mentioned that before).

Mariam was back in a cool diner, sipping coffee and checking her email.  Oddly, the WiFi signal was strong out here…out here in The Big Empty.  (It must be because of all the military installations in this part of the country.  Why else erect towers to serve the twenty-seven people who made their homes out here?

I closed my eyes and tried to feel the emptiness of this Great Void.  I heard the distant trucks on the highway.  But, filtering that out, there was…nothing.

It was almost like being lost at sea.  A survivor sits in a life boat and floats, thinking they can be seen, visible and blatant, like a circus balloon, from a rescue plane flying 1,000 feet above the water.  But, in reality, they are a mere ripple, a white cap, a dark splotch in a vast expanse of blue.

I tried to imagine myself lost out here in The Big Empty…I tried to see myself from above.  High above, where the planes and helicopters flew, and I realized I would be mistaken for a dead cactus or a thick sage brush.  No, I was only visible to the Ancient Gods of the Desert, the spirits of the Hopi, the Comanche, the Apache…the Mother Goddess of the Earth.  I was nothing to any human…out there.  To paraphrase Dylan, I could die out there and be just another accident statistic.

What I felt was humbling without being degrading.  It was similar to the feelings I get when I stand in the nave of a Gothic cathedral, like Salisbury or Winchester.

Out in The Big Empty you’re nothing and you’re everything.  In those few minutes I was alone, I understood more clearly the Native Americans relationship with Nature and the totems, spirit guides and memories of the Ancients.  You mean little to the land itself, but your respect and reverence to the sand and burnt rocks, means a great deal to the gods that oversee the wanderings of a mere mortal.

It is a land that doesn’t allow for ego.  Ego can kill you in a place like Yuma, where the average yearly rainfall is 3.36″.  Ego can kill you when the average temperature in July is 107 F.

If, when you read these words, you find that I have not described the land in proper clarity, then do yourself a favor.  Don’t go to a prayer-book and read about the Sinai Desert.  Open an atlas of the United States and find the pages that cover west Arizona and Southern California.  Run you fingers along the blue line of the Colorado River.  Trace the Smoke Tree Wash.  Locate the Mohawk Valley, the Castle Dome Plain, the Chocolate Mountains, the Kofa Mountains, the Gila Mountains, the Yuma Desert and the Picacho Peak Wilderness.  Say these names out loud, like chanting a prayer or reading a poem.

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Something evocative will happen.  You don’t have to be standing in the sand to feel this ancient earth and hear the ghosts ride behind you.  Another amazing thought: All of you who read this, at one time sat in a classroom that was covered by a map of the United States, all 48 of them (back in the 1950’s).  I confess that I would let the nun’s lesson on the past participles fade away while I roamed the map…I knew the coasts, the odd finger of Florida, the large blue oddly shaped Great Lakes, the Great Divider of the Mississippi River…but I never paid a lot of attention to that lower left corner of the map.  I did read the names of Arizona, Texas and New Mexico but they were simply “out west” somewhere.  In that land of the cactus and Indians.  My greatest possession as a child was a rotating night-light.  It had a western scene of Saguaro and cowboys chasing Indians.  Skulls of Long-Horned steer.  Coiled snakes.  The heat of the light bulb would pass through a louvered top and the convection would make the illustrated plastic scenery spin slowly around my room. I fell asleep every night of my childhood to that scene…the specters circling my room like a dervish.  These lamps are very hard to find these days.  Couple that drama played out on my bedroom wall, with the night train passing through Owego, NY on its way to Chicago or New York City, the clicking and clacking of the steel wheels on the seams of the rails…is it a wonder that right now I feel like I’m living in a childhood dream?

It’s a land of contradictions.  It’s imaginary and dreamy, but it’s as real as a sunburn or a grain of wind-blown dust in your eye.

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