October 27, 2012
Another flat tire early this morning, yesterday’s patch didn’t hold and is leaking. The route across the next stretch of desert can’t be managed in one day. After breakfast in the motel lobby with a middle-aged couple touring around on motorcycles, we plan on riding to a small town seventeen miles outside of Blythe, where we hope to hitch a ride to Glamis, thus shortening the distance to Brawley the next town with services.
The Palo Verde valley – is reminiscent of Holland without the heat and mountains – endless flat expanses of orderly canal-lined fields.
Thales, one of the ancient Greek Philosophers searching for the Essence of Being, held that Water was its source. The abundant growth of enormous fields sustained by the turquoise water of the Colorado River pumped through canals into irrigational systems transforms the barren desert into a green oasis, bringing his ideas to mind and proving his hypothesis.
Palo verde is a hamlet of a few houses, a gas station with a shop, a bar, and a trailer park. I position myself on the road outside the gas station, standing in the heat of the empty road, while Christof rests in the shade of the gas station. The locals immediately register our presence, probably the only excitement this sleepy nest has seen in days.
A woman, driving a new red pickup, stops in front of me to say that there is a huge sand storm in Glamis, with winds of thirty to forty mph, blowing sands across the road. She suggests we spend the night in the free trailer park, and I follow her arm gesturing towards an uninviting dilapidated looking site across the street. I can’t imagine spending the rest of the day there and say we would pay her if she could run us up to Glamis. She declines saying the truck belongs to the fire department, and is needed here for emergencies. I stand out on the roadside for another hour. The red fire truck moves down the road stopping in front of another pick up that has been watching us from the distance. Crowded with rough looking men, it now drives over to me:
– What’s a little lady like you doing hitch- hiking out here? asks the driver leaning out the window and leering at me.
Before I look away, I notice he has no teeth left in his mouth, although he is roughly my age.
– Something wrong with yer bike? he continues jeeringly, or jes’ too tired to ride?
I stutter something unintelligible about not being able to reach Brawley before nightfall.
– Ride to Glamis, people camp there all the time, and go on to Brawley tomorrow.
The advice sounds like our only option. No cars are passing by and the few people we speak to, are either not driving to Glamis or unwilling to give us a ride.
Once the river is behind us, the green fields are replaced by dusty dry desert. The only bright bits are pieces of broken glass that catch and reflect the sunshine.
A SUV has driven off road and a man sits inside with the motor idling, while a teenaged boy throws beer bottles at rocks, watching the glass splitter.
The terrain is like a roller coaster ride up and down steep hills. We race downhill pedaling in our highest gear coasting as far up the next hill as possible, before shifting down and eventually standing up in the lowest gear, to drag the weight of our bikes over the crest of the hill. We repeat the process again. And again. All afternoon long.
It is late and we have to make up for the time we spent standing around Palo Verde, if we want to reach the dunes before nightfall.
After hours of biking in the strenuous hills through the scorched-brown landscape, a mirage-like white apparition glitters in the distance. The sand dunes of Glamis! The hottest part of the day is behind us and a burst of energy enables us to pick up speed now that our goal is in sight.
The last bit of the journey is downhill on a newly paved road. Ten miles coasting past an immense open-pit gold mine.
Mining on land that is sacred to the Quechan Indians has been surrounded by controversy. For this reason no mining permits were allocated during the Clinton Administration, a decision reversed under Bush. Although the Canadian company Goldcorp, formerly Glamis Gold Ltd., extracts 100,000 ounces of gold annually, is trying to avoid paying the $50 million restrictions imposed on it by US environmental laws to defray the ecological costs of mining. Environmental groups, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Earthworks, and Public Citizen, are working to protect domestic rights. Goldcorp gained the lucrative mining claim on public property reserved for American companies by using a domestic subsidiary. Enormous profits are made on Bureau Of Land Management property, contracted at ridiculously low prices without any gain to the State of California. In fact Goldcorp is doing everything it can to escape backfilling the mines once the work is complete, preferring to leave those costs to American taxpayers.
The sand dunes are close now and covered by clouds of dust. Is the storm the locals in Palo Verde spoke of still raging? Odd, because no winds are blowing.
In Glamis we cross the railroad tracks, and are instantly stuck speechless by the sound and sight of hundreds and thousands of sand machines droning though the fine white sand, trailing clouds of dust and flags in their wake.
This is so different to the image we had of a quiet evening of star gazing in solitude. I can’t help breaking down in gales of laughter, at the unbelievable sight of thousands of drivers in suits and helmets, riding on dirt bikes, quads, buggies and gigantic trucks with oversized wheels. It’s too unbelievable! Like stumbling unexpectedly onto a film set portraying a scene you had no idea existed.
In the wooden general store, an old man tells us we can pitch our tent anywhere we like.
– I’m worried about being run over, I say expressing my fears.
– People get run over all the time, he says with an understanding nod. Go out to one of the washes, and set up your tent next to a clump of bushes for protection. People drink and drive all night long so accidents do happen.
We buy soda and potato chips, and sit down on a bench outside the store to consider our options. Christof wants to get out of here as fast as possible. I understand his feelings but realize that for better or for worse we are stuck. No one who has driven out here for the weekend will be leaving tonight.
People exhausted from driving in the hot dunes go into the store for cold drinks and snacks before relaxing at the tables outside. We make a stir with our bicycles.
– We’ve got the wrong vehicles for this venue, I say getting a few laughs.
The matriarch of a family crew, here with her her husband, both children, their spouses and grandchildren, proudly shares the fact that her children have been driving since they were three! Imagine three-year-olds on quads! We take a photo before they leave to prepare supper.
The old man comes out of the store again.
– Have you decided where you’re going to sleep? he asks.
– I don’t want to camp next to a bush with people driving around us all night, I answer.
– Yeah, he answers, they’re crazy alright. You never can tell what’ll happen on a Saturday night. Halloween is the opening weekend of the season, but this is nothing compared to the crowds that come in on Thanksgiving weekend! You could sleep here, he says patting a table in front of the store, nothing can happen to you here. In fact bicyclists have slept here before.
I feel a huge weight fall off of my shoulders. That’s it! It may not be restful, but it will be safe.
When the store closes at 5:00, we go upstairs to the bar for a beer.
I kick off my shoes and lay my tired feet on an empty chair, settling in to write my blog, when a loud voice pierces through the conversations:
– Where’d you start riding this morning?
Christof has gone to the restroom and because we just got here, I don’t realize this overture is directed at me.
– Hey you, trying to ignore me? the voice persists.
If I was, the rest of the barroom isn’t.
– Were you speaking to me? I ask clapping my iPad shut, and pushing my glasses up onto my head, turning to look at the speaker. He is a handsome blond man who came in a few minutes earlier, with two large tattooed men at his heels. Slamming a thermos can onto the bar, he ordered the bartender to
– Fill’er up.
He saw us ride in and wants to know how many miles we do a day.
Every pair of eyes in the room follows our exchange. I feel as though the two of us are on stage, performing for an attentive audience.
Joe slides down from his bar stool and comes over to my table for a private conversation.
– Where are you spending the night? he asks getting right down to the point.
– I’m not really sure, I hedge wondering how to get out of this.
Can I tell him we’re going to sleep on the tables in front of the store?
He then invites me to sleep on the free double bed in his trailer!
– We’re a crowd of guys, but you’ll be ok because we‘re all nice! he claims.
Hm, awkward, doesn’t feel nearly as safe as the picnic tables.
– Come here, he commands, I’ll show you my trailer.
I follow him in my socks to the window of the restaurant, looking out at a space covered with RV’s standing in the sand turning orange and pink in the sunset, but unable to locate the trailer which he describes and points to with pride. Luckily Christof returns and I tell him that we’ve been invited to spend the night.
There is no time to access the situation, because Joe and his crew are ready to leave, assuming we have accepted their invitation. They are waiting to take us back to camp with their truck. We ‘go for it’, hoping we won’t regret the decision later. One of the guys hops into a huge black pick-up hauling up the bicycles with the panniers still on them, with one hand. At the campsite he unloads them, neatly stacking everything on a tarp next to the trailer so they won’t get covered with sand.
Joe hands us a beer, and after giving orders for the others to clean up the trailer, invites me to use the shower. Since I don’t feel comfortable here I decline, preferring to stay close to Christof.
Joe insists I shower, saying I will feel better and fresher after showering, which I do.
Joe, is the boss and grill master, and divides the tasks for dinner preparation amongst the three fellows that work for him.
One of the guys takes us for a stroll through camp, a provisional town set up in the sand. Stands lining a heavily trafficked strip on which adults and children in Halloween costumes in vehicles parade back and forth, typically Saturday night on main street; the stands sell items used in camp, firewood, beer, drinks, and flags.
Joe pulls pork loin and beef out of the cooler and places large marinated pieces of meat on a hot grill.
While dinner is cooking he takes a photo of us to send to his wife, showing us a photo of her.
– You’d never guess she is forty-eight would you? he asks proudly holding out his cell. His wife, a body builder, stands sideways in a tiny bikini flexing her unbelievably large muscles.
– No, we answer swallowing our surprise at her appearance.
He says the body building scene is ‘definitely different’. The athletes have to be on a stringent diet of lean protein, mostly boiled chicken or fish. Before competitions they dehydrate on purpose so their veins pop through their skin, slathering it with brown body paint to intensify the look.
Joe loves healthy food, and raises chickens and vegetables on his farm. He hunts and fishes, and has taught his two daughters to hunt, and to drive sand machines, which they are better at than their mother, who is too fearful to be a good driver.
After delicious meal of salad, Mexican fish, pork, beef and potatoes, we collapse around the fire. Joe talks, while the other guys drift off into the dark.
He drove a sand buggy to school as a teenager, and has been in the sand-toy business ever since. He builds sand limousines and is a professional driver – there are videos of Joe Fab, for Fabulous, doing wheelies in the dunes on You Tube.
He opened a repair shop in Glamis five seasons ago. People who come here for the weekend are serious about driving, and when their vehicles break down, it doesn’t matter what it costs, they want to get back into the sand. Hundreds of dollars change hands for a few minutes of work.
– The Arabs are craziest drivers ever and wild about the custom made limousines we build.
Joe travels to Dubai to sell them to the Sheikh and his friends, doing 60% of his business there.
One of the guys returns and empties some white powder into the fire and the flames flare up turning brilliant blue and turquoise.
– What is that? I ask.
– Magic, he answers.
The magic is pesticides sold in small packets to color bonfires for a moment.
Joe thanks us repeatedly for spending the evening with him. We thank him equally often, a small competition in ‘good manners’ erupts, for the hospitality he and his crew showed us. We take leave of one another before going to bed, because Joe will leave at 4:00 in the morning to return to Apache Junction, to go hunting with his daughters.
We fall asleep in the air conditioned trailer and can hardly hear the steady hum of the motor engines roaring through the night by the light of the Halloween moon.