6th May: I’m the first to admit I’m not much good when it comes to household repairs, car maintenance, working the DVD or plugging a leak … but this is getting ridiculous. Today I can’t even turn on the shower. Because circumstances dictate that we need a motel room for the night, I’m now standing naked in this bathtub, twisting a plastic handle first to the left and then to the right, followed by a vigorous pulling and pushing. No matter what I try absolutely nada is pouring forth, except a heap of expletives; any minute now this handle is going to snap off in my hand. Has this something to do with California’s record-breaking drought, I’m beginning to wonder. Have Best Western turned off their taps? According to a recent newspaper report a NASA scientist has declared that California has just one year’s worth of water left. California governor Jerry Brown has urged citizens to go easy on the showers and let the lawns turn brown. But some say this is all a load of nonsense: the drought has nothing to do with the showers, the irrigation systems, the car washes or the swimming pools. Take a look at the agricultural industry, they cry. Apparently 80% of California’s water is consumed in the production of beef, and especially the feed crops such as forage and alfalfa. It’s said that the cost in water of producing a pound of meat is an incredible 1,800 gallons, meaning that a single hamburger equates to about two months worth of showers. That puts it in perspective. I fail to see how a quick shower before our 7.30 am rendezvous can be described as overly extravagant. I call out to the VOR, “Christine, this f****** shower doesn’t work!’ Even she fails to coax anything more than a drip from it. ‘This is ridiculous,’ I growl, snatching the phone and dialling zero. For the first time in my life I mumble to the voice at the other end, ‘I can’t turn on the shower.’ There’s a hollow silence. ‘Pull the handle away from the wall,’ says the receptionist. Right about now I imagine she’s covering the mouthpiece and whispering to her colleague, ‘Oh, jeez, we gotta another one o’ those wierdos in room 36.’ ‘If I pull the handle any harder,’ I tell her, ‘I’ll tear it off the wall.’ ‘Pull it and turn it,’ she says. Pull it and turn it? Duh! Why can’t they put up a sign.
Here’s a thought that might help alleviate the drought problem: why doesn’t California stop building cities in a desert.
JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
8th May: Inspired by this desert location the rock band U2 produced The Joshua Tree, an album which went on to sell more than 25 million copies (one of the world’s best selling albums) and propelled them “from heroes to superstars”. So what was it about this place that so turned them on? Time to strap on our boots and go for a wander. The park covers 794,000 acres and lies at a point where the Mojave and Colorado deserts converge. As we’ve absolutely no intention of walking 794,000 acres in order to get a feel for this place, we’ve chosen a 6 mile hike named the Lost Horse Mine Trail, which we hope will maximise the views with the minimum of effort. At an altitude of 1,600 metres it doesn’t take long before the steady incline has us short of breath. Though already I understand what Bono saw when he came here. This land is stark, uncluttered and the vistas seemingly endless. It clears the mind – sort of. Like all desert environments Joshua can be physically and spiritually challenging, for unless you’re one of those creatures that slithers, flies or skitters it’s actually quite difficult to exist out here. Though some folks once did. As the take from the gold mines in the sierras depleted the prospectors dispersed into these hostile desert regions to try their luck. With little water and virtually no decent wood, compounded by the cost and difficulty of bringing in supplies, it’s easy to grasp how so few mines ever succeeded. One that did however was the Lost Horse Mine. In 1890 Johnny Lang and his father drove their herd of cattle into the Lost Horse Valley, when there was “nothing but cattle and Indians”. But Johnny had good reason to come out here, for his brother and six other cowboys had been gunned down in New Mexico. One night, whilst camped in the Lost Horse Valley Johnny lost all his horses. He set off on foot to find them. According to local legend he came across the McHaney gang, a ruthless bunch of horse rustlers. They told him they didn’t have his horses and to get lost. Johnny then met a man called “Dutch” Frank who claimed he’d discovered a rich seam of gold, though didn’t dare develop it because he feared the McHaney’s might pinch it all. Johnny bought the rights to the mine off Dutch for $1,000 dollars. To avoid being killed by the McHaney gang he bought an arsenal of guns and took on three other partners. Soon enough they were ready to begin the business of mining the gold. Between 1894 and 1931 The Lost Horse mine is said to have produced 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver, which was apparently worth some $5 million dollars in today’s money. That’s a pretty neat investment.
ROUTE 66: THE MOTHER ROAD
11th May: In the Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck writes of those dispossessed families travelling west along Highway 66, escaping the ravages of the Great Depression and a period of savage drought known as the Dust Bowl. He describes the Mother Road as, “The main migrant road … waving gently up and down on the map … over the red lands, twisting up into the mountains …” Established in November 1926, the 2,448 mile Route 66, stretching from Chicago to Los Angeles, served as a major east-west passage until 1985, when it was officially removed from the United States Highway system, having been replaced by the Interstate Highway. As the travellers dried up so many of the businesses lining the route closed their doors and the towns declined. Though the travelling horde might have departed, the reputation could never die. In recent years there has been something of a revival, a wish to promote the spirit of Route 66, icon of that Great American Road Trip. For us it’s getting late in the day, following a long drive from the Mojave Desert. I’m staring at the map for inspiration and more particularly a place to overnight. I notice that if we follow the 93 south, along the Big Sandy River, we’d shortly reach a town by the name of … Nothing. Uninspired we press on. So it is purely by accident we end up on Route 66, in the kitsch town of Seligman. Seligman is known as “The Birthplace of Historic Route 66” because it is the birthplace of its rejuvenation as a historic highway. In one of the tourist shops we buy a local cookbook to learn about such delights as Elk Meatloaf, Peavine Jones’ Cowboy Chili, Owen’s Deep Pit Taters, Venison Front Shoulder Roast Sandwiches (the mind boggles at this one), 7-8-9 Can Soup and that rare delicacy Elephant Ears. If anybody wants a recipe drop us a line.
13th May: In Sedona I go to a barber shop run by two old fellows. There’s the traditional red and white striped pole outside the door. These two have been cutting hair for a combined period of 100 years. The oldest of them is 87. He moves pretty well round the shop for a guy of his age. Very upright. And a keen look to his eyes. There’s nothing wrong with his eyes. He gives the kid next to me a neat cut with a buzz and a few snips of the scissors, no nicks, no blood, no tears. I get the younger guy. I never heard his name. He says his brother-in-law drives a Mustang and has a pretty neat job, but he doesn’t care because he’s never happier than when he’s cutting hair. ‘Cutting hair doesn’t pay too well,’ he says. ‘But I’m happy.’ When he’s finished he raises a mirror to the back of my head so I can see what kind of a job he’s done. ‘And you’ve come all the way from Argentina in that rig?’ I tell him it’s taken us three years to get to Sedona. ‘Well it’s mighty nice to meet ya,’ he says.
OVERLAND EXPO – FLAGSTAFF, ARIZONA
15th/16th/17th May: By day one the camp-ground is already a quagmire. Strong winds, rain and now snow mean that in the last two weeks we’ve gone from dust to deluge. It’s over 2,000 metres altitude here, so it’s pretty cold when that wind blows. The Overland Expo is billed as the world’s most unique event for do-it-yourself adventure travel enthusiasts and it’s plain to see that you need every ounce of enthusiasm to even reach the exhibition area. By day two many of the campers in their fancy jeeps are clearing off. Maybe there’s a message in this foul weather. In any case it’s a great occasion to meet friends from the road, share a few stories and study the latest kit for extracting you from a swamp. By Sunday the sun is shining.