Roundabout Tours Of Hell: Death Valley In A Day

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How often do you find yourself compelled to break free? To untether the bounds between yourself and the threads of civilization, if only for a short while.  This deep wish, was something that had been repeatedly refrained to me via E, as she grew more and more busy with her new responsibilities at work, alongside endless tasks maintaining a home almost three years in the tending. Even when besieged by an intense bout with the flu, there she was, peering at photographs of her intended destination. A place of often deep isolation, and desolation. A realm often seen as far too inhospitable for life to properly survive. A place who’s very name implies the end of everything we know and hold dear. And yet this place, is in many ways not far at all for both of us; Death Valley National Park.

 

                    After a few dozen conversations regarding this hypothetical trip to the badlands, it was quickly becoming apparent that this was to be the single most ambitious trek for some reliable old wheels. Enter E’s 1995 Honda CR-V. Often taking refuge in her garage, and only really used for particular tasks in lieu of Metro and a bicycle, this little four wheeler has granted my buddy over twenty years of dependable transport. A beautiful tin can on wheels, at last called upon for an epic journey. And with only a few precautions taken, there was always a mild curiosity as to how she would handle the four hour journey into the fringe. As it turns out, she was more than up to the task with a full tank, some well filled tires, and a pat of promise. We were rocketing toward our destination with all the resolve of your classic Yesh Productions call of c'est la vie, making it through a few miles of freeway under repair complete with traffic crawl.

 

We also encountered a number of oddball stops including Barstow, where their visitor’s center is smack in the center of a largely quiet but significant outlet store mall. Further into the desert, we also gazed in bemused, and occasionally melancholic manners at remnants of California’s promise and betrayal with stops such as Baker, which still simmered with an air of real estate gone sour. Many vintage motels, covered in dust as reminders of a time when small business owners saw potential riches as a rest stop, only to become casualties to the advent of freeways and strip malls. Scattered along the path were signs to even more ghost towns. Promise of more of the state’s checkered history along what is among some of the most unforgiving desert land this side of the Mojave. From real estate swindlers to religious charlatans claiming the term ZzyzX, was the last word in the english dictionary miles of abandoned structures, and abandoned mining establishments litter the path toward oblivion. Echoes of lives and loves lost on the boulevard of dreams.

 

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Upon passing Death Valley junction, which in itself featured an aged opera house, and a dozen of other beautifully weathered establishments, functioned as something of a warm reminder of what we would be leaving within a few short miles. Sure, there were some expected sights such as the visitor’s center, I found myself taken aback by what looked to be a resort under construction as well as a mobile home community within the park! Not something I envisioned for sure. These were sights that implied to me a resilience, and in some manners denial of the present surroundings. Having grown up in places where temperatures of 120 tend to happen in the dead of summer, this seemed to be flirting with sun exposed overkill.

 

And yet, the people still come.

 

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       We soon reach the fabled Zabriskie Point, and almost instantly, we are hit by a lingering aura of cultures lost. Amongst almost punishing 70-plus mile per hour winds, the once thriving mining colony now felt like a place where ghosts of the past continued to commiserate about the future they yearned for. Be it money to move their families to America, or to help reshape America by way of countercultural revolution. The winding ascension alone grants an almost monastic majesty to a simple view of endless rock formations into near infinity. In fact, we initially eschewed the well-paved walk upward for a more natural looking rock laden trailhead, which led us into a seemingly endless maze of canyons. At once foreboding, yet strangely inviting, the both of us denied ourselves the expedition as clouds began to rapidly cover the sun. Moments later, we chose to at last venture up the snake path to get a better glimpse of what must have been awe inspiring to Italian auteur, Michael Antonioni.


 

Courtesy of E.

Courtesy of E.

Spurred on by the realization of diminishing daylight, we soon leapt back into the vehicle, and darted toward Artist’s Palette, where our journey took a turn into the magically surreal. A rocky range composed of colorful giant rock formations borne from great volcanic activity roughly 5 million years ago. A grand rabble of cemented gravel, debris, and playa, the strangely toned array looks not unlike a rocky sculpture attempting to recapture the disorienting funhouse hue scheme of spumoni. Signs nearby let us in on lingering while viewing the formation as the sun continued downward, which allows the eyes to capture new and even more unusual color patterns from the solidified mica. The peak from which we viewed this, in itself was a hard contrasting grey, and littered with smaller broken pieces of volcanic rock, further evidence of a cataclysmic event long ago. I took a few shots of the surrounding area, and it never stopped feeling like a combination of a most violent natural event, and the most psychedelic landscapes this side of a vintage Disney attraction. An eye-befuddling gift from the Miocene era.

 

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But again, we had to carry on with purpose as the clouds above guaranteed a troubling journey out of the park. And with no stars or moon to help guide us, it was time to venture deep into the legendary Badwater Basin; the other planet on Earth. Upon finding the parking spot for the almost mythical dried sea, we stepped out onto the wooden platform, heeded the signs reminding everyone to stay on the path (the basin is a long, mostly dried aquatic environment that is surrounded by tons upon tons of salted, partially watered pockets that must not be disturbed in the hopes of a return) while we wandered deeper and deeper into what would lead to the lowest elevation in North America. This was a void. A true, natural void welcomed us as we venture further and further into what felt like a hike into a netherworld realm where humans are simply never meant to journey lest they had a gift for the serpent that lay at the belly of the sea. Sure, we saw a few families ahead of us. And we even glimpsed a model and photographer, indignantly working off the path. Despite this, there was a wholly unearthly feel the entire near mile walk toward the center. Taking a quick turn back, I could see the parking lot looking like no more than a speck through my glasses. And above, the clouds had enveloped enough of the sunlight, as to be covered in a silken sheet of almost martian pink. We were within the gargantuan maw of a god, and without proper illumination.

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For my impressions of this unique landscape in sound form, listen here..

Knowing we had but a few minutes left of sunlight, we made it to the center just in time to see teens and family members running past us, toward the parking lot. Even so, we began to stroll back at a slightly quicker pace than the way we had arrived. More kids running past us. Family members, aware of the situation, reminding me of a village ritual. It was a town that feared the coming of night, and we were walking, unsure whether or not we too should begin to sprint toward the car.

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And this is where a pair of young Japanese men came our way, walking toward the sea despite the dying of the sky, “Excuse me. Do you know how to drive from here to Vegas?” We tried to explain that the best way was back the way they came. E, being the kind soul she is offered to show them our homemade paper map. But we had to return to the car to show them. One of the two men, seemed to be more eager to explore the basin than head back with us. And immediately, concern began to form via my face muscles. These two guys were about to go it alone in a deep dry sea, with no real flashlights apparent, and no map to get themselves out of the park. They politely declined our map, and chose to move on. We waved good luck after reminding them to head out the way they came, and continued to the CR-V. Mere yards from the array of cars, the lack of light was now so pronounced, that a simple break light from a departing vehicle, now resembled an intense flame. We were now leaving the lair of the old ones, wondering if anyone left ever made it to Vegas alive.

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Needless to say, we took a bit longer than expected to hit the road home. And the ensuing drive out of Death Valley as winds began to pick up, was every bit as disconcerting as I had anticipated. It was so dark along those roads that it felt like being on the inside of a squash ball. Rarely did we ever encounter any other drivers along the way. And five feet beyond the car’s front or back felt like a void, simply waiting to swallow anyone up who dared walk beyond. But it ultimately wasn’t too long before we were welcomed by the lights of the earlier mentioned ghost stops. Strangely warm reminders of the civilization that was ready to welcome us back should we be willing to return.

 

And return we did.

 

But still, there is something to be said about stopping by the end of the world. Even if it were for a mere series of whistle stops. The other side certainly has plenty of room for souls who are willing to venture inward.

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A Hidden Place Beyond The Hills (Ojai 2.0)

With this post, I have invited E to join in as we share impressions of this hot springs journey we just recently returned from. This includes visualized memories as the place we visited made it very clear that no photos were to be taken, nor social media could be used as part of a waiver we both had to sign. Quite in tune with the grittiness of the land and the approach, what was experienced demanded that we grant our memories a more raw, shared form of documentation.

With this in mind, let's get into it!

E

 

After more than a couple years, Michael and I headed back to Ojai, and this time, to the {REDACTED}  hot springs.

 

As we drove up the undulating roads of the 150 towards Ojai and passed familiar landmarks, Michael longed to secure residence in those parts one day. I quipped that he was a Dry Hills Hobbit finding escape from too much civilization, a sanctuary nestled among dry-stack stone walls and overgrown chaparral brush. I could imagine him intently baking his loaves of fresh bread in an home-built outdoor oven. He agreed whole-heartedly.

 

We drove up and up and down and down sun-baking sinuous mountain roads. The intensifying smell of sulphur signaled that we were approaching the correct location. {REDACTED}’s first sign was one of a series of hand-painted letters with wispy ascenders on found wooden panels beckoning us to proceed to a small trailer that served multivariously as sentry, residence, and office. Those greeting us were lean, tan, and spry, true workers on the land.

The initial impressions of the place were that of an ongoing, ambitious botanical process.

The initial impressions of the place were that of an ongoing, ambitious botanical process.

 

The minimalism of infrastructure echoed across the tented common area, outdoor dining facilities of split wood trunks, and in the mobile bathroom facilities, embellished with potted succulent cuttings. All over, the hardiest of outdoor plants struggled against the ubiquitous sunrays: mammoth sunflowers, nasturtium, winter squash vines, fig, lavender, aloe vera, sages, firestick plants, and tomato vines. Planters were fashioned out of common construction scrap material and logs. A lot of work was done and more was in progress. Having a backyard myself, I could imagine the amount of work employed and how much left to go. This was an ambitious permaculture project.

 

The hot springs were an effective means of fundraising, at $20 per person for two hours of soaking. (It could still be considered a poor man’s spa, as the other day spas of Ojai cost upwards of $150 and in pools encased in ceramic or concrete.) Connected to the parking lot with carefully constructed river stone pathways, the sulphur hot springs were in a series of five. What they all shared in common was algae growth and fine black particles in the very warm water. The pools themselves were in a very natural state, though it was evident that the placement of large stones demarcated them more clearly than nature’s design. The pools cascaded into one another, with the last one being particularly slimey and characterized by feathery strands of white algae, that repulsed Michael. He took one look at the lower pools and the facial expression he bore may be equivalent to those that confronted E.Boli for the first time. There was no way he was going into, what he called White Mucous Springs. Afterwards, I found out on the interwebs that their presence in sulphur hot springs was quite normal and there was no mention of harmful effects.

 

These hot springs are supposed to be good for blood circulation and skin problems, like my eczema. Soaking in them restores minerals that strengthen these bodily systems. As we both sat in the shade of overhanging trees and leaned back on boulders in the water, we soaked and talked. The combined heat of the water and the day was a bit much but we took it like medicine.

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There were other bathers before and after us. A clothing-optional couple seemed to have no qualms about the heat, opting to wade in a pool that was directly under the sun. A young couple felt hesitant and squeamish among the dark, slippery algae. A stalwart Russian man covered with tattoos and his buxom girlfriend with long, bleached blond hair tested each pool rapidly, with equally fast exchanges of comments.

 

Two young Armenian teenage girls followed us as we finally ventured towards Cold Creek. A steady flow of water studded with minnows was sheltered by a canopy of foliage. The touch of the water lived up to its name. Each person that got in released a squeal or yelp at the frigidity, particularly in contrast to the warmth of the baths.

 

When I got in, I could sense myself losing sensation in my legs, and I quickly raced towards a large boulder to climb onto for solace. In the meanwhile, Michael and the others gradually sat down into the water and even dunked their whole heads. I could not believe their endurance! Michael says he can take cold water over hot on any day. He is a true creature of the desert furnace.

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Getting out of the chilled bath, our bodies felt significantly loosened and relaxed. Nearby outdoor showers, with smooth flattened rocks and feet beds, were the final phase of this bath therapy. It was wonderful! The views of the surrounds as water rained down from sunflower showerheads bestowed us with a sense of serenity.

 

Walking back towards the parking lot, we decided to explore the permaculture terraces some more. In observing its extent, we realized that {REDACTED} was not just a hot springs and a garden but a conscientious philosophical approach to a way of life in which human life thrives more symbiotically with nature.

 

I take its ideas back with me to downtown Los Angeles and to my own backyard. How can we recreate this at home? This is a big and fascinating feat, and one that is likely worth the effort.

 

Michael was not so sure!

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As we drove the two hours back to LA, he was more keen on the LED sign that said, “30 Minutes To Downtown” and the proximity of Halloween. He was also keen on succumbing to the sleep that his loosened body craved.

 

But when I reached his home to drop him off, he looked sad. He said he was bummed out that our adventurous day arrived at its end so soon.

 

Fantastic moments pass too quickly. We relive them through our notes.




 

M

 

Time to clear throat for a moment. Yes. My throat comprised of pulsing blood through my arms, ultimately leading to my digits, allowing me to better type out my thoughts in a concise, and hopefully droll enough manner to best encapsulate my take on this shared experience. With Eileen at the helm of this unique return to the hills north of L.A., there was a part of me that remains utterly curious about the capabilities of the fringe, natural world just on the ragged edge of city life. Eileen, knows this about me quite well. Particularly my own anxieties about that edge, and what might cause me to better evolve. Yes, this involves forcing me out of comfort zones, leaving me to flail endlessly into the oblivion of potential metamorphosis. And since this is Halloween, it felt only right to take the plunge as it were, and see these hot springs for what they truly are, scary or not.

 

And her impressions are largely spot-on, as the venue is a remote, almost compound-like endeavor, complete with and in progress feel, uninstalled lights, improvised garden batch setups, open domes, and pots of to inevitably become residential greens, crops, and flowers. Dirt paths, and dusty all-terrain vehicles being the larger mode of transport for the work allowing for the proprietors to go about their business as visitors tend to their bodies with the rejuvenating waters nearby.

 

It’s true, there is and likely will always be a part of me that appreciates the counterculture, but considering a frame and body type that is more about mental capacity over that of a busybody, my role tends to be more of a supporting one. Permaculture, is certainly something to both be admired, and adopted. But a cubicle dweller like myself, is a lot more at ease delving into a more hybrid approach, as opposed to these incredibly dedicated souls, all granting their hands, skin, and drive toward what is an almost all-consuming lifestyle. Which is also a reflection of how nascent, and more community based much of today’s more conservation-centric culture truly is.

 

This is reflected in the venue’s overtures for helping hands, which will pay in free trips to the springs.

 

For the two of us paying visitors, we were allotted two hours to immerse into whatever of the several pools that were within, including the Cold Creek. Adopting the Goldilocks approach seemed best. Beginning with the initial pool, where we experienced our first instances of casual nudity. And to be honest, the revelation was perhaps something of a well-prepared one on my part, because my initial impressions were not unlike that of walking out into a public beach, and everyone is on towels, and in their bathing suit best, It was more remarkable thinking about just how ordinary it felt. And while neither of us were willing to go quite that far spring-side, it was a welcome feeling that such social restrictions simply did not exist this corner of the hills. And on such a sun drenched day, this was doubly so.

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Looking back at the entire session, it was that initial dip into the first pool that left the most powerful dents into the layers of my mind. A sensation reaching toward every conceivable corner of one’s corporeal form. Every nerve attenuated to the feeling of an almost amniotic embrace. Not unlike William Hurt’s isolation chamber in Altered States, there for a moment, was this feeling like being straddled firmly between earth and deep space. And while it was the second to hottest pool of the bunch, a part of me laments leaving it to test the others as they progressively either grew hotter, cooler, and with varying levels of soot and bacteria. There’s just something alienating to be about immersing onesself in a hyper natural pool rife with not only algae, but rock clinging organisms undisturbed to the point where entirely new heat-dwelling microorganisms could thrive. Having been in an onsen a decade back where the rocks tend to be brushed regularly, the sight of white algae swaying in the current, unveiled to me certain personal limitations. And the cold creek, while a rush to experience alongside Eileen, and several young people, all daring each other to dive with more determination these shallow waters of possibly 35 degrees celsius, was also a hotbed of parasitic life that made me squirm just a smidge.

 

Needless to say, I might have panicked a little.

                                                                   E                                             

                                             Don't worry, Michael. It's natural.

                                                                   M

                                                        Ebola, is natural!

 

 

But those outdoor showers. What a treat.

We're hobbits!

We're hobbits!

 

Which is to bring us back to the beginning; yes, this little journey was not only about escape, health, or relaxation, it was equally another in an ever growing number of small voyages, centered on discovering as much about the natural world, as it is the self with confronted with the organic new. Like so many others, I have often lived life on a specially selected parameter of rails that allows for a sense of consistency and safety, knowing full well that this is in many ways the antithesis of life itself. Conversely, these little trips with E often represent that break free from these self-imposed confines. Not a vacation per se, but a means to challenge the more amoebic elements of body and mind. A week ago, i knew nothing of this place. Nothing of the lives that nurture it, and nothing of the unpredictable elements that surround it. The opportunity to share these moments is of peak value. And despite my tendency to jerk and evade, there will always be an invisible force, ever compelling me to experience. Much like the intense waters of these springs, may such journeys propose greater changes, and in turn, challenge the me that was days before the confrontation. And this go round, was as rewarding as ever.   

Thanks, E.

 


 

 

 

 

"Laura Is The One" - Peaks Nine and Ten Tighten The Screws

In what could only be called a deliberate speed bump for the series, the last two episodes following the heels of one of Lynch's finest, most bewildering career moments, ease down with enough supplemental plot and character information to fill several episodes. We of course, catch up with the left for dead Evil Coop, who meets cohorts, Hutch and Chantal at a remote farmhouse. Eventually having his wounds taken care of, and with new phone and firearm, sets off to finish the job, possibly up north. Meanwhile, activity brews in earnest as Gordon, Tammy, Albert, and an ever crabby Diane, surprise land in Buckhorne, to see the alleged body of the late Garland Briggs. Soon brought up to date with the headless corpse, and the utterly baffling questions that come with it, not to mention being informed about the escape of "Cooper"from prison, matters at last seem to be pointing toward Vegas. But not before even more complications stall matters for Cooper/Dougie, still recovering from the incident with Ike The Spike.

As episodes, the duo feel very much like a much needed rest stop after the mind melting experience of Part 8, and to reinforce this, they are among the funnier episodes thus far. While it may feel strange to head in this direction after such unrelenting darkness, one must remember the original series, and it's occasional tendency to camp it up. Thankfully, the jokey nature of these installments never overshadow, nor undedcut the tension that has been steadily building since Part 1. But experiencing more of Diane, her powerful pantsuit, and dwindling patience with the whole affair leads to some standout laughs, and later deep suspicion, as it could be possible that our friends have been taken for a ride. Never one to avoid a risky curveball, Lynch keeps us guessing, and seems patiently hellbent on doing so. 

And speaking of Vegas, pieces are now undoutedly moving. The orders coming down from Evil Coop, eager to tie up all loose ends, have grown accelerated. The targets on the backs of both Dougie Jones, and Warden Murphy, have grown large, all while the still quite adrift Good Coop remains only slightly lucid. A car accident, is apparently the real reason his bosses and wife seem to be so nonplussed by his bizarre behavior.  "Answers" that only seem to arrive in mere nuggets of familiarity. Wilder still, is the revelation that nothing on Jones predates the late 1990s! Which does stand to reason that Dougie as decoy countermeasure has been in motion long enough for matters to slip. The notion that Dougie, was a plant that somehow became a lowly insurance salesman with a bit of a gambling problem, among others remains both funny and tragic. An empty vessel in a mostly empty town. Possibly quite strategic of Evil Coop. And let's not forget Janey E, and her newly rediscovered lust for this new improved husband of hers. 

Oh boy. 

But the true revelatory moments between these episodes  involves what at last feels like a long gestating full arc for a character. The very idea that Bobby Briggs, of all the original cast, would be one who would go a near full 180 from the punk kid we knew decades ago, to the dutiful boy scout he is now, cannot help but redeem him. The very moment his mother imparts him and our friends with his dad's secrets, it's like a moment of complete exaltation. His attempts to open what would contain a cryptic message for everyone is hard one for me, an old series fan to shake. The kind of redemptive moment that has been quite rare throughout these mostly foggier chapters. 

Jack Rabbit's Palace. Dirt. Two Dates.

Two Coopers.

Couple this with Tammy's questioning of Bill Hastings, who at last reveals his and Ruth's encounter with another plane of existence. Possibly even seeing Major Briggs at the time of his death. Further weaving together the show's more fringy world building with it's larger American vision. Something Frost has been the core vault master of since the original. With a scene that is equal parts sad, hysterical, and compulsively eerie. 

 

Scooba-diving.  

What follows with Ben Horne, possibly too freaked out by the combination of his brothers, Jerry's chemically induced adventures, or the accident suffered by his long ignored son, Johnny, is surprisingly not as eager to fall into Beverly's arms. But for how long? And then there's the pair at the Roadhouse, and one of the most disconcerting bits of dermatological discomfort ever filmed. Fragments, ever falling slowly into place.

That tone again. Anything like the tone of the metal tube that Bobby opened? Perhaps music is key toward opening the gateway? Is there truly some form of time travel at work? 

And..then there's this Richard Horne problem. 

I was merely speculating about what he/who he is, and Part 10 makes some very blunt moves toward clarifying my fears. Not only do we at last see him in action beyond his already detestable acts of violence against strangers. This time, it's upon people he knows, and there seems to be no end to his monstrosity, even if he is but a wannabe. Going out of his way to kill an informant, intercept information from within the sheriff's station, and later perpetrating something so heinous to me, it almost feels like some form of extreme ritual. The ferryman asks a pretty penny these days. A compulsion to find oneself so hateful, that only demons will welcome you. But the greatest tragedy, is perhaps his origin. I still don't want to believe who he really is. But if true, it's the kind of seismic attack that could fracture the Peaks many of us have known and loved. 

Strangely, the themes of family pervade as far as the infamous Mitchum Brothers, who's connections to so much of what has been transpiring in Vegas and beyond, is at last explored. Primarily through the perpetually aloof, Candie. One of the previously featured casino girls, with her often hopeless tendency to be distracted, and life increasingly on a thread, is also strangely cared about by these men who seem to grant an air of classic Vegas mob menace. Now being maneuvered to take out Dougie once and for all, the boys seem to further embrace the show's notion of such a town as the center of American culture; strangely caring, yet brutal, gaudy, and almost all bluster. 

And what a note to end this pair on; Magaret's message. Could it be that the teens of Twin Peaks past may indeed be the heroes we have long waited for? There is a truly romantic notion at work should James at last find his footing in this series. "Laura is the one.." As if hinting at her being the ultimate anti-BOB.

All signs leading in the same direction. 

And with the return of Rebekah Del Rio, the rest stop is complete. It might be time to buckle up again.

No Hay Estrella.