Monthly Archives: August 2008

Letters from the desert: Pie

The mountains are a hell’s rainbow, greens and reds and blues in layers dredged up from some unfathomable depth. I watch them, imagine climbing from the pediment up into the folded and crenellated side canyons.

I stir my coffee absently, though I have added neither cream nor sugar.

In the booth behind me a woman berates a man in measured tones. I try not to listen in. The pauses between her sentences are long, freighted, her voice curling upward and inward like cigarette smoke. “So when did you start dating her?” He mumbles a reply.

“Is your coffee okay, hon?” It is, more or less. I smile at the proffered pot, at tired blue eyes. Two more hours’ drive ahead of me, and my eyes heavy-lidded against the desert sun. I consider pie, but the offerings look desiccated.

Cigarette smoke curls behind me. “Not even a week after we broke up.”

He answers more distinctly. “After you broke up with me.”


The pie crust peels, flakes of it wavering in the breeze of the kitchen fan. Layer on layer of apple dried in thin skins in the desert heat, peeled back. What was once sweet now seems inadvisable. I decide against pie.

“You told me I had to move on. I moved on.”

An old man who looks like he could have ridden with Zapata ambles over to the jukebox, puts in a few quarters, pushes a few buttons. “Good, some Norteño to drown out the misery next door,” I think, and am taken aback as Patsy Cline warbles decades’ old heartbreak from the box. Ah, well. Whatever works.

There are layers upon layers in the mountains across the way, old sweetness congealed in suffering. A million years of lakefloor sediment, one mortal heart’s cessation layered upon another a billion at a time and then hardened over, and then an age of infrequent rains began to wipe out all evidence of their lives bit by eroded bit.  I would lose myself in quiet joy to walk inside the clefts the rain has carved. I think sometimes that the only sure happiness is anchored fast in old heartbreak. The sharp happiness I have felt these last weeks grew in soil well-limed with sadness.

I get up check in hand, turn toward the register. In the booth behind me he sits alone and calm, gazing out the window at the mountains, part obscured now in the dust cloud from her car’s fishtailing out of the gravel lot.

Public Obfuscation

Those of you who went to the Southern Nevada Supplemental Airport Site to check out the Draft Alternatives Working Paper for the Environmental Impact Report for the proposed Ivanpah Airport, a few miles from my temporary digs here in Nipton, were likely surprised and discouraged by the nearly eighty associated PDF they expect the public to download.

Perhaps the most important of those many PDFs, the one mapping “terrain conflicts” with the Ivanpah Airport, weighed in at 233 megabytes, which represents approximately five hours and twenty minutes worth of downloading on a typical dialup connection. About 500 megs’ worth of documents in toto hardly amounts to public accessibility, especially when spread over 80 docs.

So I’ve taken most of the PDFs — the ones that contain figures for Chapters two and three of the Working Paper including the behemoth one — compressed them into some semblance of a reasonably downloadable size, and concatenated them into two documents. Chapter two is here, and Chapter three is here.

Nerdery: That behemoth one, when I optimized it in Acrobat by way of experiment, shrunk down to a reasonable 1.5 megs. I opened the original and did a space audit, which tells you how much of a document’s size is due to images, text, fonts, etc., and it turns out that “document overhead” accounted for the remaining 231.5 megs of PDF. Whether the document was deliberately inflated to discourage public participation or just prepared by careless contractors doesn’t really matter. The end result is the same: we are discouraged from making our voices heard.

Letters from the desert: The Jeep

My traveling around in the desert is made possible by a 1992 Jeep Cherokee, itself made possible by Diane and Sherwood Harrington, who gave me the thing for free to facilitate my writing. It’s a trusty beast. It has ghosts that have taken control of the electrical system, which means that sometimes the instrument panel lights will work and sometimes they won’t, and the cigar lighter draws enough juice to light a cigar but not enough to charge my phone. Every once in a while at freeway speeds the speedometer will fall asleep, dropping limply to “0.” I find this amusing. The periodic overheating is less amusing, but fixing that is a small price to pay for a Jeep so well-loved by its previous owners, and I plan to do that Real Soon Now.

One of the first things I did when I finally got out to Nipton with the Jeep was to go investigate the back end of Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness, which is just ten miles up the road. A stone’s throw, really, in local miles. I drive past the wilderness to get to the nearest gas station, in Searchlight. It’s a small wilderness circumscribed by a Jeep road. What better vehicle, I reasoned, to explore a Jeep road, than, well, a bicycle? But my bicycle is in the storage locker in Barstow, so I took the Jeep.

The Wee Thump road is pretty good for a couple miles, with only one washout crooked enough to make me get out and look before attempting it. (Ever since I rolled my Nissan pickup a couple years ago I have gotten antsy when my vehicle gets too far diagonal to the Earth’s local tangent plane, and I have to swallow hard and act brave as I traverse the scary ten degree slope.) Toward the back of the wilderness, up by the beginning of the Highland Range, a couple washes running across the road made me consider whether the sand might be deep enough to merit a bit of consideration, but I was across them already by the time I figured out whether I needed to worry about it. All around, cactus wrens sang in old Joshua trees. Happy sweat poured down my back.

Soon came an intersection with a powerline access road, through which I plowed unhesitating. The obvious course lay straight ahead toward the McCullough Range, decorated in its upper reaches with pretty junipers. After a few feet, though, the road became significantly less obvious, with football-sized cobbles and encroaching foliage and much climbing and descending of low ridges that got increasingly less low as I got farther up into the range.

Pretty soon I realized I may have made some sort of error in navigation, given that the course the road was following was pointing more and more away from the pavement along both the X and Y axes, and I resolved to turn around as soon as the road allowed it.

This did not happen for some time.

Finally, in a spot with a wonderful view, I came to a wide “Y” junction and stopped. I stretched my legs for a bit as I consulted the map. Sure enough, the road I’d remembered from looking at the map some months earlier, the one that delineated the west edge of the Wee Thump wilderness and led back to the asphalt, was clearly labeled “Powerline Road.” I berated myself for a time and then got back behind the wheel.

The powerline road had looked a little rough, and to get there I had to go down a hill that had been mildly worrisome coming up. “It’s time to see whether this thing actually works,” I thought to myself, and pulled the lever to engage four wheel drive.

I was glad I did so. The Jeep seemed almost to drive itself back down Wrong Way Road, negotiating the slippery sand and cobbles with sure if metaphorical feet. I got to the powerline and turned right, and the road almost immediately began plunging into and climbing out of steep gullies. After the first two or three I stopped clenching my teeth. “Thank Coyote for four-wheel drive,” I thought. “This is actually a pleasure.” Despite its following an arrow-straight powerline the powerline road was a twisty affair, routed around outcroppings and hills it would have been inconvenient to blast through, scaling and then descending narrow ridges, and jumping over the divides between washes. More than once I said to myself that I’d have been hopelessly sand-mired a ways back had I tried the road in two-wheel drive.

At length I descended a long sloping ridgetop and got to pavement. I stopped for a moment, patted the Jeep on its dashboard gratefully. “Thank you,” I said. “That was a great ride.” I reached down to pull the lever back into two-wheel drive before setting out down the paved road, and then just stopped.

I hadn’t actually pulled the lever to begin with, it turns out. I’d been in two-wheel the whole time.

It’s a great Jeep.

The Jeep

The den of the Coyote

I’ve been happy with the writing focus of this new joint, but I’ve missed the chat the old site’s comments held. And thus I’ve meant for the last few weeks to get a discussion area up and running here.

I finally did so this afternoon. I’d intended to give it a few days of beta testing and such, and then Larry Hogue up and tells me that the Ivanpah Airport project is on the march again, with public comment due October 3. The airport would utterly destroy the wildness hereabouts, and it’s a massive project with the force of Harry Reid and Nevada Developers and the gaming industry behind it.

And the discussion thingie seemed a good way to share information about the project and ways a person can get involved.

So here’s the Coyote Den, a place where regulars and new readers and former cobloggers and such can spend a little time discussing the writing here, or anything else that seems of interest. Join a thread or start your own, as I did here to discuss the Ivanpah Airport. Which is a really, really bad idea.