Desert

(2009)

So you’re coming east on the 14 via Tehachapi and you want some sites? OK. You wanna see a beat up town try Mojave…. Tweeker heaven. Then down the 395 a tad in Rosamond you meet people–well, we met people–who own their own MIGs for fun and are building rocket ships and planning missions to Mars. It also has the Exotic Feline Breeding Compound, which is basically a zoo full of wild cats (tigers on down) kept unfriendly. They’re keeping the gene pool going and reintroducing to the wild. Not for petting. At night the panthers stare at you, growling and thinking of meat.

Another cool ride is the 138. Take it west of the 14 and we know where to find the best poppies without having to wait in line to get into the preserve. Spectacular, like a vast Impressionist canvas you can walk through. Keep an ear out for the Mojave Green (the most venomous rattler, potentially very nasty). Head east on the 138 and you’re on the Pearblossom Highway. Keep going past Little Rock (we always stop for date shakes at Charlie Brown Farms) and you can stump around the sad, spooky ruins of Llano, the old socialist commune. You can see them from the road, you could bounce a beer car off what’s left of the walls as you pass. Llano de Rio, they called it, though there was no river within a hundred miles. Amazingly historic and yet not officially a historic monument. No one in the desert wanted to memorialize collectivism, a shame. It deserves better. Head north several miles to Avenue M (all the east west streets are lettered in the Antelope Valley, it’s dull but practical) and there’s the Antelope Valley Indian Museum, built into the rock. Rocks–huge things, boulders and outcroppings–replace walls, floors, and make oddly shaped doorways. Very cool. Head straight up the 14 another 45 minutes and Red Rock Canyon looms up ahead, an enormous and crazily eroded mass of brilliant red sandstone. You’ve seen it in a million movies, from The Big Country to Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Take the Red Rock-Randsburg Road east-northeast ten miles to the old mining towns, Randsburg and Johannesburg. They call them ghost towns though they are still alive, just with a lot less people, and no one ever tore anything down. You can see how thousands of people once lived there. And died there. The cemetery in Jo’burg–no one actually calls it Johannesburg–still hangs with me, stark and unkempt and desolate. Many of the hundred year old headstones are wood, cracked and weathered and worn smooth by windblown sand, and the bones beneath them completely anonymous. It’s hard to be more forgotten.

Llano del Rio.

Llano del Rio.

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