Dad's Dream Home
While I was having my adventure, Dad traded the family motorhome for a secluded ranch in the desert, north of California City, but just southeast of Jaw Bone Canyon. He then quit his job at Southdown and we moved to the Mojave. It was my dad's dream come true, completely off the grid, no wires of any kind connecting us to civilization.
We put quite a bit of effort into fixing up the old place. We wrapped the house in new siding and replaced the roof. We repaired one of the generators and rebuilt the other, in addition to the corral and horse stalls. We fenced about an acre in front of the house and planted an almond, pistachio, and pomegranate orchard, with underground irrigation lines and drip emitters for each tree. We also cleared a runway for Dad's airplane.
We replaced floor boards on the porch that were weather damaged, and secured every floor board in the house that made the slightest squeak. We did everything we could to make it as nice as possible so my mom would like it. But she didn't like it. She wanted to be in town, in California City, where my sisters and my brother all lived with their families.
Mom liked to watch her soap operas every afternoon, and there was little to no TV signal out on the ranch. Sometimes you could pick up one Bakersfield TV station, but it wasn't the one with Mom's soap operas. Plus, you could usually only get reception from that station in the evenings. Dad did everything he could do to try to get Mom to like the ranch, and she tried to like it, but we could all tell it wasn't going to work. It was just a matter of time until Mom would have her way and Dad would get rid of that ranch.
The Mojave, So Beautiful And So Angry
This is a good time in the narrative to mention my explorations of the Mojave Desert. It'll help you to understanding some of the things that I'll be telling you about in the next section of this book.
As stated earlier, when my dad moved his construction business out of Kentucky in the mid-1970s our first landing spot was California City, on the western edge of the Mojave Desert. My brother Roy and my sister Judy, both lived in California City with their families at the time. For about ten years, California City was the hub that my immediate family circled around. We branched up to Coalinga and Avenel from time to time, and I spent my summer on the beaches that one year, but everything returned to California City, and that meant everything returned to the Mojave.
California City is at the southern edge of the legendary Rand Mining District. Since the 1860s, the area has been producing gold, silver, and tungsten, among other products such as boron. The Rand Mining District produced over $20 million in gold from 1865 to 1940, and that was when gold was only $20 an ounce.
From almost the first day we arrived in California City from Kentucky in 1974, I became fascinated with the desert. Every moment that I had free, I wanted to wander the Mojave and learn her secrets. Many people talk about the enchanted circle around Taos, New Mexico, and having been there I won't dispute that claim. However, far fewer of us have spent time out in the vastness of the Mojave. I can tell you that whatever may or may not enchant Taos, breaths at night in the Mojave. If you think Taos is magic, but you've never seen the sunrise on Mono Lake, you need to shut your silly mouth and go back to whatever New York City sewer hole you crawled out of. Until you spend the night listening to the coyotes sing and watching the sun rise over the salt peaks of Mono, you have no authority on the topic of enchanted deserts.
Mono Lake. [Wikipedia](https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mono_Lake_from_Mount_Dana_(1).jpg)
During the day time, the Mojave sits quietly and observes, waiting for the stupid to arrive so she can strike them down and extract their fluids to give them to her children. But, at night, her spirit rises and she walks the basins and the dry lake beds. It's hard to describe the Mojave without resorting to the spiritual side. This is one of the places Jim Morrison would go for inspiration. Furthermore, this the home of the lake used by Pink Floyd in their "Wish You Were Here" album cover, and it's the location of one of Charlie Manson's hideouts. There are old tales of characters like Pancho Barnes, Burro Schmidt, and the real Seldom Seen Sam, that still echo in the mine shafts that dot her body like the scars on a small pox survivor. She's been beaten and abused, had her body wrapped with barbed wire, and she has been cut full of holes, but she lives and will outlive all of us. When the time of man has retreated from memory, she will still abide.
In those days, I would ride out into the desert, in or on whatever mode of transportation I had at the time, and spend as much time as I had available, listening and looking at the Mojave. I sought out every abandoned mining camp and ghost town I could find and I climbed every butte that I could, seeking to know the Mojave as intimately as possible. She captivated my imagination like nothing else.
There are places in the Mojave where you can see the scar of the ancient shore line, up on the east side of the Sierras Nevada mountains, where waves crashed almost 30,000 years ago. In the early morning hours, if you sit very still and listen, and if the Mojave accepts you, you can still hear those waves whispering through time, calling to you. Or maybe it was the LSD.
I mentioned her children. The children of the Mojave are the wide variety of creatures that call this strange, dry place home. There's actually more water here than meets the eye. And by that I don't mean active rivers, lakes, or streams. The water is in the living things. And, other than plants, most living beings got their water from eating another living thing.
A common story that you hear every couple years goes something like this: A person driving down one of the highways that goes through the Mojave decides to take a side route, and look for some specific site, or maybe they just wanted to drive around and see the desert. Something happens to their car; it overheats, a tire blows, or something, and they don't want to just sit on the road because someone may come along and smash into them. Furthermore, there is no shoulder, but there's a dirt road that leads away from the paved road. They take the dirt road for a dozen yards or so and stop. They check their phone, and sure enough, they're in a dead zone. So they decide to just wait for another car to pass and they'll just flag it down. But no car passes. It's so hot in the sun, and it quickly becomes unbearable inside the car. There is no shade around, so they sit on the ground beside their car as the best alternative. They have no water with them, but they have some beer in a cooler. They drink it to cool off, but beer doesn't cool you off when it's this hot. It actually makes you hotter. Eventually, they pass out and never wake up. No one finds them for days, maybe even weeks. All that time, the ravens and other critters feast on them. The Mojave takes their precious body fluids and feeds them to her children. This is why road kill doesn't last very long on the highways. It never has a chance to rot. The Mojave is efficient and wastes nothing.
One other thing before we return to the main body of the narrative. Early in this book, I mentioned cutting the head off of a sidewinder with my knife. I didn't make it a habit to kill predators in the Mojave. Normally, if I killed, it was for food and I always left some for the others. But snakes fit into a different classification. So long as I encountered them out in the wilds of the Mojave, I was on their territory and I left them alone, just like they left me alone. But in town was a different matter. Children live in towns, and children usually don't have the experience to deal with poisonous snakes, so I killed every rattlesnake I found while in town.
The Mojave is home to Sidewinders, Speckled Rattlesnakes, Western Diamondbacks, and the Mojave Green, along with sixteen other kinds of snakes. At the time, antivenin for the Mojave Green was rare and expensive. The wait to have it flown to you by helicopter, or you to it by helicopter, was usually a death sentence. Known for its potent neurotoxic-hemotoxic venom, it is considered the world's most potent rattlesnake. And Mojave Greens are abundant in the western part of the Mojave. They are also delicious. Their meat is like a combination of the most delicate chicken you have ever eaten, with a hint of watermelon. Sautéed with butter, salt, pepper, and just a touch of garlic, they are to die for, almost. Once I ate my first Green, I killed and ate every one of them I found. But that's not so for other snakes. Outside of towns, I left them alone and I respected their role in the maintenance of the Mojave.
Mojave Green. Wikipedia
Mojave High School
My junior year in high school involved three schools. I started at Avenel High School, transferred to Desert High School on Edwards Air Force base, and then finished at Mojave High School. Mojave was the newest school building I ever attended. It was a sort of prototype for the new super-max style schools that are now beginning to dominate the suburbs. It was single level, mostly a continuous building with a massive new gym. All surrounded by a tall chain link fence topped with nine strands of barbed wire. All gates were locked and all foot traffic into and out of the compound was through a single controlled point in the main office. If you wanted to go off the school grounds at any time for any reason, including lunch, you had to get a permission slip from the office. If you were caught off the school grounds at any time the school was in attendance, and you were found lacking the precious permission slip, you would be taken to the sheriff's substation to be held until a truant officer and a parent arrived. Or, at least that's what the school threatened would happen. Much like my statement about the Vietnam War, there is nothing positive I could say about Mojave High School, other than I made it out alive and without being arrested. No, it wasn't as bad in degree as Vietnam, but it was the same in kind. More on the difference between "degree" and "kind" later.
Upon my return to Mojave High as a senior the following September, I found out I already had all the credits required by the State of California to graduate, except one. I needed one semester of physical education (PE or gym) to graduate. Had I possessed this little jewel of information the year before, I could have taken that class then and would already have graduated. This news didn't improve my opinion of government schools and the Vogons that operate them.
I was also informed by my captors that I couldn't take just one class. I had to be a "full time student" for at least a full semester. So I took the stupid PE class, a wood shop class, an art class, and an auto shop class. If they were going to keep me captive for half a year, I was going to use as much of their equipment and supplies as possible, because I knew even then that school attendance is all about money.
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