Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Dumont Dunes (Or How I Didn't Get My Hamburger)

When I arrived at the Dumont Dunes on Sunday, I was hungry and a little nervous. You've probably seen some Dumont regulars around Las Vegas: you know, all those pick-up driving, trailer-toting drivers with "Got Sand?" stickers in their rear windows. I do my best to stay out of their way around town, but the closer Highway 127 gets to the dunes, the harder that becomes. Dumont is one of the places ATVers travel to, along with thousands of their friends, to camp in a huge city that comes complete with law enforcement, medi-vac service, and the place I was most interested in, Hog Heaven, where a good, old-fashioned hamburger oozing with loads of fat, along with a yummy order of french fries, was just waiting to meet me. I had just finished a two-hour walk in the desert at China Ranch, and I was really, really hungry. Sadly, this is the story of how I never got my hamburger.

At the appointed rendezvous time of 2:00 p.m., I pulled to the side of the road to await my husband. He and our son were spending the day at the dunes, and I had come up with the idea to go hiking and then meet them out there. When I came up with this idea, I had no idea that getting to and from sand camp was such a pain in the rear. A long line of cars clogged the dirt road. Now, had I been thinking straight, I would have realized that this was going to throw off my original plans, which were for me to leave in plenty of time to drive home in the daylight. I had explained to my dear, loving husband that I cannot see well at night. (Did I mention the winding, two-lane highway?) However, as hungry as I was, I did not care. I figured it would all work out somehow.

Back at sand camp, my hubby's friend Mark was hard at work on his sand vehicle. All I heard was something about "double carburetors." I recall saying, "I would like a hamburger," but after about the third attempt, I gave up. "Would you like some fruit? Why don't you have some fruit?" offered Mark, which was very kind of him. (And in hindsight, I should have taken him up on the offer.) But after a two-hour hike in the desert, I didn't want fruit. I wanted a freakin' cheeseburger, which I kind of thought my husband should have figured out, especially after me saying, "I would like a hamburger" several times.

You cannot walk anywhere in sand camp, unless you want to be run over. I got as close to the dunes (on foot) as I dared. I wanted to get a picture of the vehicles crawling all over the dunes like ants in a giant's sandbox. Dumont is a great place if you are an ATV enthusiast. If you don't ride anything, like me, there's not much to do.

Late in the day, about two hours after I had planned to leave, we hit the road. Mark's sand thing never did get fixed. By the time we left, it was dark. I was ravenous. An ill-mannered pick-up truck driver tailgated me for about 40 miles down the two-lane Old Spanish Trail highway. By the time I got back to town, I hated all pick-up drivers.

And I stopped at Burger King and purchased one (1) hamburger before I went home.

China Ranch

On Sunday, I took a drive to China Ranch, which is just outside Tecopa, California. I took the Old Spanish Trail (which isn't on my Rand McNally, but, clever girl that I am, I have a detail map.) Follow the signs and you'll find yourself on a winding dirt road that takes you through the badlands and into a small valley. This is where the date farm is located, and you can stop in at the gift shop for a sample of dates and a trail guide. The grounds are quite pretty, and include a bed and breakfast, The Ranch House Inn.

But I was looking for something remote, something as far away from civilization as I could get. Walking around the grounds was nice, but I wanted a trail that would lead me away from all the nice people buying dates at the gift shop. I consulted my trail guide, but without any signage to guide me, I wasn't 100% sure about what trail I was on. I wound up on a trail that began just beyond where I'd parked my car. I think I was on the Crack Trail, but honestly, I'm not sure which trail it was. It was gorgeous, and beyond the first 300 yards, the only other beings I encountered were lizards, hawks, and birds.

This is the kind of landscape that makes me wish I were a poet, or a painter. Words can't convey the aching vastness of the desert. Pictures come closer.

I was supposed to meet my husband at the cutoff to the Dumont Dunes at 2:00, and at 12:30 I had reached the point in this last picture. As a hawk circled above me in the thermals, I decided I'd better head back to the car. I wished I had longer to explore the trail, which seemed to keep going for a good distance. All totalled, I spent about two hours exploring China Ranch. Had I been with a partner, I could have easily spent the entire day on the trails; I'm cautions when I'm alone.

At about 1:15, I headed toward the Dumont Dunes, the ATV city in the sand, to meet my husband. I was looking forward to a hamburger and some friendly conversation. The sky above was brilliant blue, the desert below just beginning to bloom for spring.
I left behind the serenity of China Ranch for the chaos of the Dumont Dunes, where walking is dangerous and the desert creatures are drinking beer and driving sand rails up the face of sand dunes. But that's another story.

St. Thomas and the Disappearing Lake

Before Hoover Dam was built, the town of St. Thomas sat just outside of the Valley of Fire. Then the waters rose, and St. Thomas was submerged beneath Lake Mead. But now that Lake Mead is shrinking, St. Thomas' ruins stand in silent testimony, but I'm not sure to what. What's scarier -- that man's work covered a city, or that nature's work uncovered it?

These first three pictures were taken along the new St. Thomas hiking trail; everything you see went underwater about 1938 and stayed that way until the current drought dropped the lake's level so drastically. Those aren't white rocks on the ground in the third picture - they're shells. Take a good look at the last picture. That's Lake Mead, way off in the distance; the only way to get a picture was with my zoom.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Adventures in Las Vegas

The Vegas Girl has been busy, busy, busy the past few weeks. Now that I'm homeschooling my son, whenever the weather is beautiful I use that vast classroom called the Mojave Desert. I snapped this photo last week at the Valley of Fire, Nevada's first state park. Personally, I think our state mammal, the big horn sheep, is far more interesting in person than taxidermied in a museum. I'll have more photos later today or tomorrow, but until then, take a tip from a native: get your camera, some lip balm and a bootle of water, and head outside. Go have an adventure!