Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Class of Brenda High Yearbook

Wow, what a week it was. Sorry it has to come to an end so quickly. Here is the 2009 Class of Brenda High. Not high school. I'm talking about high on life. This high energy, always on the go, outwardly friendly and slightly raucous and irreverent gang of desert lovers made us welcome and took us out to play in the desert here just about each and every day we were here. We learned a lot. We laughed a lot. And once again we met a whole slew of people who we will surely look forward to seeing again. What brought us here was the hope of visiting with friends made in Alaska. Lynn and Judy were great hosts and their friends are across the board great folks who treated us like family. It comes as no surprise to us that most of them have also been to Alaska and think of it as one of the truly great destinations in this world of ours. We couldn't agree more. So from the get-go we had a lot in common.

Now about the masks- desert ATV riding is dusty riding. We keep a safe distance between us, lay back at a turnoff 'til the guy behind sees where we're headed, and just generally keep an eye out for everyone's well being. But desert dust is known to carry something they refer to as Valley Fever. It's a fungal infection that CAN be very problematic whenever the soil is disturbed in any desert region. I put a link to Mayo Clinic's definition and a brief discussion of "the fever" if you are interested. I spent the better part of one day mostly without a mask and that was a mistake I won't repeat. I could feel the dust in my lungs that night and it made for some uncomfortable coughing I could have done without. Now about that Class Photo:

We did and saw a lot more this week than I have time to put into this post. But here are some images from the Brenda High album with commentary...

WELCOME CENTER: It wasn't the Chamber of Commerce for the Desert. It was just an old stone building used at one of the old gold mines in the area. It is still in remarkable condition all things considered. And riders of the desert make this one of the number one ATV tourist attractions around. Complete with a guest register and a bed, a flag, and a weather station (which is a rock hanging on a wire- if it's moving, it's windy; if it's wet, it's raining; and if its dry, well, its dry) people ride out here and leave something of interest for the next person to happen along. There were a couple bottles of beer (very warm beer), a couple cigarettes, a pen and pencil, a knife, some business cards, even a brochure or two, hence the name. The caretakers sit just outside under the eve to welcome weary travelers. And "Old Moe," the guy that used to mine the place- he's buried off to the side. As you can clearly see from his tomb stone, "Moe is no moe..."

The desert was greening up a bit early this year. Not much rain, but more than usual this time of year has things a little "bass ackwards." Even the first few blooms are showing up, something more likely to occur in February or March. But even a little rain renders images of a dry desert. Dust gets wet, then dries to form a floor that looks like this: crusty on the top, dusty just below.

Hey! Who called the desert doctor for the "spinal" tap? Quick. Oxygen for my tire!

Is this what they mean by "reach out and touch someone?" Choya cactus are seemingly so aggressive that they will just jump off their own plant to get a piece of anyone who happens to get too close. Using your hand to pull them off, however carefully, is a mistake you will make only once. I promise.

It occurs to me that in the ongoing life discussion of whether or not size matters, some things are more obvious than others. While it may or may not, as the discussion goes, really matter, size is often impressive and compare-and-contrast photos help us to keep that in mind. When I tell you a Saguaro cactus can get pretty big, this will give you some idea of that what I'm talking about:

A few of the trails we have been riding all week are well worn and maintained to the point that even those with novice ratings traverse them fairly well. We got into more and more challenging situations as the week progressed. There are some very steep hills (they go UP and DOWN, don't ya know) and some very sharp turns. The rocks are not the only obstacle to the course. Cactus is everywhere and only too happy to remind you of that should you venture too close. In this series, our new buddy Don picks and chooses a path down one of the dry river beds. Don is an experienced driver. A good driver. A bold driver. A brave driver. A fearless driver. Marilyn thinks he must surely have driven a tank for the military at some point in time, maybe for the ROTC program at Brenda High. But Don drives a side by side ATV and should remember that his passenger is at his side when he passes the next cactus. Or he may be taking IT for a ride too....all the way back to camp.

They call it "dry washing." It's a method of capturing and recovering placer gold deposits from dry dirt and sand by running it through a classifying hopper and passing it over a vibrating sluice. No water is used in the process (at least not until cleanup). They should not, however, call it "washing" as this is much more about getting dusty and dirty (note the flying clouds of dust and the face masks) than it is about washing anything. Still, it works once you know what you are doing and we got some great hands on training....with the end results of actually finding, as Tom Massey says, " a goodly amount of gold." "Goodly amount" translates into not really enough to weigh, not big enough to hold in an open hand if the wind is blowing, and not enough to take into town to sell or spend - BUT, enough so you don't work all day and go home feeling like a "loser." Some prospectors say they prospect for the fun. Some for the exercise. Some so they don't have to pay dues down at the gym. Horsefeathers! If you didn't fully intend to find some gold you wouldn't be out there in the first place, so don't give me that "I'm just enjoying the day" crap (even though I ALWAYS do!)

Class of Brenda High Varsity Sports:
Ken and Linda, Mark and Alita, pay attention! Those of you (and I am not one among you) who fancy the game of golf and believe that the true goal of life is to play every course of interest that ever there was, simply must play the 18 hole (yes, it is full size) golf course that starts just out the back trail of Desert Gold Campground. I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. I don't know if you actually pay for a round or not (it might be free with a campground stay- not sure) but whatever the case, you can be sure the greens fees are really really low because there aren't any (greens, that is). And those that have played a round or two assure me that even a great shot can go haywire if it hits one of those big old rocks near the hole. The desert is hard here, not sandy, so there are hazards other than sand traps, and I am relatively sure that my photographic illustration of this particular hazards is one of a kind.

Oh Rats! I know it's going to be hard to see in this photo. I tried this whole week to get a good picture of the nest of the desert rats. It's not an easy thing to photograph because it blends right in with its surroundings, which is EXACTLY what it is intended to do. That, and to protect the entrance to the rat tunnels by using lots and lots of Choya cactus pups. You cannot (well you can, but you BETTER NOT) pick up even one of those cactus pups. They grab on and don't let go. They are downright mean! Which is why I suppose there are so many rats in the desert. Ain't no one going in the hole after them; if they make it home before the coyote or the hawk or the owl grabs 'em - they slide in to home "Safe!" Note the carefully maintained and circular path in to the hole- most noticeable across the bottom of the photo where the spiral "in" begins.

Desert Pot Holes: You think your town has big bad pot holes. Look what shows up every now and again right in the middle of the old trails past the old mining areas. Most have some rocks or barb wire marking them but keeping your eye on the road is just as important out here as it is on the regular highway. Mine shafts are surely the deepest pot holes in the world.

Chrysocolla is often mistaken for turquoise because of the similarity of color in some instances. Actually, it is hydrated copper silicate that forms in the oxidation zones of copper ore bodies. I provided a link above so you could take a look at the gem quality version of the mineral if you wished. It's a beautiful blue to green in its most concentrated form and in that form is highly valued. We found "crusted" versions of the mineral remaining in the veins and tailings piles of the old mines we explored. Not terribly valuable- but beautiful none-the-less.

"Arteries and Veins" is what I'm calling this shot. It was fascinating to look at the old mine shafts, especially those we could get close enough to, or even in far enough, to see where the main shaft was traveling and where the veins themselves branched off and flowed elsewhere.

If you thought the Can-Can was about dancing girls and saloons, better take a closer look at where that expression really comes from...look closely now.

Rock formations are among the most interesting features of the desert. Sometimes it gets hot enough out there in the desert that they start to look like people you know....but I'm sure it's just the heat! You be the judge.

While there are seemingly limitless trails to take you sightseeing and adventuring in the desert, there ARE some boundaries. Wildlife authorities maintain Wilderness Areas that are off limits to the disturbances that could occur to nature and wildlife if the areas were to be opened. So special habitat and other important areas and features are protected. Reasonable land management provides for use by people and animals and assures that we preserve what needs preserving without removing our own ability to get out there and appreciate what we have. Preservation, hunting, mining, recreation, exploring, studying- all add value to our lives and none should exist at the total exclusion of all others. Areas that are "Wilderness Preservation Areas" are well marked and taken very seriously.

We haven't visited the real Grand Canyon yet, though it is on our "to do" list. So for now, our visit to "The Little Grand Canyon" in the desert at Brenda will have to do. Sure was pretty!

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