Tag Archives: sundog

Sinister Sites: Slab City

If the Mojave is considered to be the cosmic graveyard of the West, then Slab City is the home to its unknown detritus, the potters field of the barrenlands and home to a bunch of lost souls that don’t even know that they’re dead yet. I had come here once before with Abi, venturing forth from the Los Angeles hinterlands, boiling alive in the middle of the desert with the stench of the Salton filling our nostrils. There was something intrinsically cool about it then, but maybe it was just some sort of hallucinatory side effect from our brains overheating inside of our skulls. I wanted to come back, to recoup after this great American voyage. The Last Free Place on earth, proclaims a painted concrete guard bunker upon one’s entrance to Slab City, an abandoned army base turned squatters’ haven laying just outside of Nihland California. This is Ground Zero of the middle of nowhere and the nexus of the American Dream. You could drop an atomic bomb out here and no one would notice or care.

I had to come back, it was preordained.

Part of the allure of this place comes from the fact that it’s free to stay here, or at least no one hassles you, which is great if you’re travelling on the cheap, or a drug addicted vagrant. The chocolate mountain gunnery range borders Slab City directly and provides a dramatic backdrop. Weird aircraft whip up the air sending thunderous and powerful vibrations in all directions and strange lights fill the night sky. The earth beats and shakes as bombs are dropped a million miles away. You can’t see but can feel them, exploding somewhere off in the Chocolate Mountains.

Look, freedom isn’t free anymore. You have to pay for it now with dollars and cents and tooths and nails. It becomes apparent after you’ve spent more than a day here that there’s no where to shit at Slab City, and there’s no water. I guess these people make do somehow, like animals. Savages in a savage and unforgiving land. You do what you got to do to make it, I guess. But where does all the shit go?

Stray Dogs roam the grounds at all hours of the day and night, settling into mean and lean packs, both wild and unforgiving. Their favorite hangout is the makeshift garbage dump and I ran into them there while searching for supplies to build a makeshift palapa. Don’t touch that discarded piece of plastic sheeting, it’s mine, snarled the alpha dog. I opened my swiss army knife. What was I to do? I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to gut this thing, or at least stab it repeatedly over and over again as it gnawed on my favorite arm. It was a tense standoff man, but luckily my Masters Degree in Psychology from Adelphi University paid off and I was able to calmly talk the dog out of mauling me. If that didn’t work, and I didn’t have my trusty blade, I would have had to do him chimp style and bite off his face. Then what? I would be stuck as some sort of hybrid human/alpha dog, forever roaming the wastelands and leading my newfound wolfpack across the desert and into Eden.

It had cooled down some since my last visit, yet the heat was still palpable. 100 degrees feels cool sometimes, like when you’ve been travelling through the desert for ages and you know that summer is winding down. I took it with little complaint, for I am the Sundog and the memory of Alaska and the North will always hold sway, but it was still hot; an uncomfortable heat that steals your prana and drains away all of your chi. There’s a weird and powerful energy that runs through the desert and Slab City is no exception, sitting out there in all its glory, the county seat in a terrible land that only God can appreciate, and only then with a great salty tear running down his cheek. All the negative vibrations from the city of Angels collect here as they drift towards the East, trapped in this gross basin well below sea level, where they can never ever escape.

Slab City. Take it. Leave it.

Cual quieres.

I would leave it in haste, in the dust, literally, as a massive sandstorm hastened my departure. But look, this is all old news (from several moons ago) and it is my duty to report it.

I’m not in Mexico anymore. I’m somewhere else, dreaming Mayan dreams of the American West…

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I am the Sundog

Buddha says that life is suffering.

I hear you dog.

It was time to forget Alaska, time to move on. I promised myself that upon my triumphant return to the real America that I would strike for the desert, immediately and hard. The memory of the rain and the cold would need to be banished from the mind forever, scorched into oblivion by the arid heat of the desert sun.

Summer.

What a bummer.

She passed me by man.

But in the desert summer reigns supreme,

always and forever.

Seek and you shall find.

Broiling alive.

The Oregonian high desert: Here again the road stretches into infinity. We’ve seen this before and there ain’t nothin’ out there. A man could dissapear out here and get lost forever. The farther east you go in Oregon the more desolate things become. Fantastic banded rock formations and sage scrub line the road for a hundred miles, and this is truly a land of unspeakable beauty. A tumbleweed blew across the road in front of the bike and I nearly wept, such was the division of scenes between the Alaskan nightmare and this new thing, so iconic of the American west. As you start coming out of the high desert and drop in altitude, so does the mercury rise. It is like desending into an oven. I’m cool with it though and would ride directly into the sun if I could. The mornings would now find me prostrating myself in worship before this God-king just like an Egyptian, and the afternoons might see me taking the roads shirtless at seventy miles per hour, screaming along next to an alkali flat and absorbing that precious vitamin-D into my naked flesh.

Alvord Desert Hot Springs: There is some sort of “town” named Fields in Southeastern Oregon. It’s on the map, but you can’t always trust maps and you can’t always trust these “towns” to be anything more than a tight cluster of trailers out in the middle of nowhere. Fields is actually some sort of place in that you can get gasoline there and even a burger. But that’s it, just a gas station and burger joint in the same building with no town to speak of. With my brain boiling in the noontime heat I stopped in for a burger and some choice intel from the local sages regarding the Alvord Desert and its hot springs. The Alvord Desert is a big ol’ dry lake bed that looms out there in the wastelands. On its western shore geothermal activity and the ingenuity of man have resulted in an oasis of sorts for the weary traveller. I’m a sucker for these things man, and a trip to the hot springs in the searing 100° heat would be in order, although I wouldn’t be the only out there because the desert is full of weirdos. Much of the Alvord was covered in a slick film of water and mud, a resultant of the spring rains, and for the first time in twenty years too. People come out here with sailboats on wheels, landsailers, and zip along the playa. But because of the mud, none roamed the playa that day. A dissapointed chap, his landsailer strapped to the top of his van, noted that it was no matter really, because he would be headed to Burning Man next week and the flats of the Black Rock desert are next to none. My interest was piqued somewhat at the possibility of checking out Burning Man, what with it being so close and me so near, but this was only for a moment once it was revealed that tickets would cost somewhere around $250 and that they were already sold out anyway. I had always thought Burning Man was free. Where does the money go and what does it pay for? I guess everyone has their hands in your pockets these days. We’ll get to that at some point later on but for now listen up: the Alvord Desert hotsprings are free. My own rating system for hotsprings, really anything, always takes into account set and setting and the Alvord ranks highly on such a personal scale. Those were trying times up North and the moment had finally come where I was touching toes with an endless desert, baking in the sun, and experiencing the American West in my own selfish way. The playa would stretch to the horizon if it wasn’t interrupted somewhere out in the beyond by mountains rising from the earth. The springs are rustic at best, cordoned off into two separate bathing pools made from cinder blocks and poured concrete. There’s a wooden walkway to keep your feet from the sage and a little changing area under a hot tin roof. A pipe diverts the hot water from the spring into the first pool and you can regulate the temperature by moving the pipe around. It gets as hot as you want it really. Beautiful. The sun sets forever out on the playa and when it does the stars come out to play. The night is ablaze with a million of them, the milky way clearly visible above and also below as it is reflected in the ancient lake.

The state of Oregon bleeds into the state of Nevada and the desert reigns supreme as always, the landscape indiscernible between the two as we continue further south on this great voyage. More nothingness. The distances between “towns” increase and the heat becomes nearly unbearable. Fantastic. Make sure to meter your gas properly and bring extra water. You will die here if you get lost or breakdown, your bones bleached a sickening yellow like a Salton tilapia. This is beautiful and foreboding country. Hundreds of dirt roads stretch to nowhere in a land that is both beautiful and bizarre, magical and weird. Who were the ones that made these roads, to where and why, for what purpose? Follow them and they will take you to all sorts of weird things.

I stopped in Austin Nevada on America’s lonliest highway, Route 50, camping behind a Baptist church for the night. Just a small speck of nothingness in the Nevada desert, Austin tries to be a tourist trap but there are no tourists. A long time ago Life or Time magazine or something christened Route 50 as America’s lonliest road. There are lonlier roads out there and Austin seemed a bustling place as far I could tell. There are 3 bars in town. A PBR will cool a man off in this heat and pave the way for siphoning some top secret intel out of the locals. Seems Austin used to be some sort of happening place a million years ago. A huge mahogany barback runs the whole length of The Pub, brought over from England for $200,000 before the Panama Canal was built. It was shipped around Cape Horn to San Franciso and then on mule back to this absolute outpost. Something was going on down here and people knew how to drink back then, in style. I was also given coordinates to commune with the Ancients and take in some more hot springs, all accessible on the morrow via a dirt road which goes straight up into God’s mouth after the junction of Highways 50 and 376. A map was drawn on a knapkin and I was sent off into the night. In the morning I found the road exactly as described and set off in search of the toquima cave and the art of ancient man. A hot spring lay somewhere to the North but, mercury rising, I bothered with it not and set my eyes on those marvelous glyphs awaiting me at the top of the mountain. 8, 9, 10 miles in and the road got worse and I strained my eyes for the road to the summit so marked on the knapkin. At 20 miles I would be running out of gas on the return leg and would need to turn around. I really wanted to see those glyphs man so I pushed on and took a “road” to the left that quickly deterioted and just kept going up. It was all rutted and the bike was overheating, eventually stalling out and stopping upright within a rut. The kickstart would hit the side of the rut and it wouldn’t kick over. I left the bike and went on foot, hiking through the dwarf pines and ignoring a creeping thrist. No petroglyphs in sight. I would have to turn around and go back or risk running out of water and then gas in the wastelands where no one can hear you scream. Getting back to the bike I discovered that in my frenzied state I had left the key in the on position when I dismounted, lights on and battery draining. I mounted again, furiously pushing the bike up the hill and kickstarting it as we slid backwards into oblivion with the front brake locked. Already envisioning my death and the raven plucking my eyeballs from my not quite dead yet sockets the motorcycle Gods smiled upon their very own motostud and the CB started on the third attempt. There would be no petroglyphs on this go-round.