Monday, January 26, 2009

The Sump Canyon paradise

The sump with bert 1/24/09

The word has a sound and a meaning that reverberates in my brain, a place, a concept and calls for an exploratory with bert. I hear too much from bert and katy about this place, and darcy the teacher at the local school wants to do a field trip with Katys class in the spring and this sounds ideal. Gotta check it out, another canyon, a bowl of canyons, petrified wood, opals, adventure close by. I gather maps, books, gear, forget the gps and return for that. Bert is game, after looking at maps and discussing the possibilities in the living/party trailer sinking into a soft couch, turning down a beer, that just happens to be sitting there, we forge out into the stormy, in and out day. Clouds, rain coming and going, the mts obscured, snow flurries on the northern basalt plateau, a rainbow, katy points out a double rainbow high in the mists, pot of gold in Montgomery canyon.

Bert brings his cane in case we have to walk, and hoists himself awkwardly in to the passenger seat, struggles with the safety belt and settles into the soft hand of the sheepskin seat cover. We cruise up queen valley, over the pass past the abandoned casino/cathouse and motel and down in to the outback of Nevada and fish lake valley. We pass the sign with an image of a horse, the wild horses of Montgomery pass are legendary, we hung with them above queen saddle last fall, 20 of them, beautiful and well fed, tiny grasses poking up thru the scrub at 10,000 feet. Past the diatomite mine, where berts dad used to work, and over the hill to the south into fish lake. This is a monster valley, a few ranches and a big real estate scam development, 20 ac for 80k, a deal for L.A. retirees, but no power, water, expensive to develop and a gamble.

We cut back on the Tonopah road about a mile and spot the road in, a seldom used track past a gravel pile on the right. I put the red rocket into 4wd and we fall off a steep bank into the wash and cruise on the solid ground into a narrowing canyon with promising glimpses of badlands ahead. The canyon narrows to a slot, with a tower of mudstone with a brilliant white cap on one side and I check it out:

volcanic ash bed, continuous, with small fragments of pumice, a white streak across the landscape ahead. The layers are tilted and eroded into millions of tiny canyons, badlands topograph y, it gets better and better as we go past a used campsite, clean, just a remains of a campfire.

The track goes right up the wash, and turns into cliffs, winding and bumping up over a ledge under an overhang, great little jumpup, the Tacoma handles it easily. Now for more, we find a pile of eroded layers and look closely, hcl fizzes, and I intone, Calcite, in man y forms, small crystals, etched surfaces of bladed forms, mineral heaven, kid heaven. We continue into the natural bowl, the sump, actually 2 different canyons with different aspects, to the left, a dipslope with a zillion little mini canyons, and to the right, a cliff with several slot canyons. I head for the biggest one, cross country, no roads, but the area has been molested by quads and dirt bikers, and is blm land, so no worries about environment. We park, Bert flops out of the car, and immediately stoops down on all fours, coming up with what looks like a weed, but is petrified, I test it on my teeth and sure enough, we got pwood. His has little stubs of branches, and is 4 cm long and less than 1 cm in diameter. I look up stream in the little gulley, and spy a layer with more wood chips in it, a perfect place to show source and deposit of a fossil.

Head up the right gully to a promising slot canyon, and enter, vertical walls soar to 50 m, exposing crossbedded dirty sandstones and I enter the sacred cathedral, and revel deep in the rock. Looking vertically, a jagged piece of sky is framed by dark rock, the path of erosion, must be a 50 m or so waterfall here in the rain.

We keep an eye on the clouds, flurrys obscuring the white mts to the west like cotton wads, we don’t want to be here in a downpour, but that doesn’t look likely at this time of year.

Bert is still crawling around, looking for more treasures, more wood, I pickup a piece and pocket it, no permit needed here. Cross-country back to the track down the wash more pictures of badlands, an angular unconformity with tilted layers under horizontal layer s perfectly exposed example of one of the major principles of geology, mountain building, erosion and exposure of the pages of geological history.

I collect some curious green sandstone, reduced iron, very dirty sands with all kinds of weird stuff in it. Tom and cathy would have a blast with this stuff, all kinds of weird geo stories to be told. This is a perfect field trip spot, Katy was right, and my intuition has paid off again. OK, no problem, a field trip in spring looks like a winner. The kids will really be impressed and can be safely left to wander and observe. I would treat it as a geologic field problem, whats going on the surface? What are the rocks, landforms and their history? I am excited at the prospect of another great place to take people, maybe combine with a trip to the hot springs in Fish lake. Just down the road a piece.

We follow a 4wd track out of the wash to the northwest, onto the shoulder with views into the canyons, and to the high point. Bert slides out and picks up a shiny piece, angular, hard: “Opal, not gem quality, but nonetheless, a crystal. Kids will love this” we have already seen samples the girls have collected, and I determine this is another place we should try to get to, an overview, down the canyons from above, maybe we can do a hike with some from bottom to here and have the cars drive around and meet us. Ill try that one out on Darlene on Thursday.

We cast a wary eye on the weather, but now we are on a dirt superhighway, leading to a relay tower for phone, tv etc at the far end of this ridge, a sparse power line leading out like a silver chain in the low sunlight. The white mts look like they are battling for dear life to emerge from swirling mists, and snow flurries, the sun dancing through the changing scene. We explore around and drive to the east ridge, looking down and seeing fish lake in the distance and the grandeur of the high desert valley stretching into the distance.

Back directly to the paved road, past a silver pickup and camper with a person in sleeping bag snoozing on the ground beside, “I wonder if he’s dead” I say, but the foot of the bag moves, and whatever is in there doesn’t seem in too bad shape. We gain the pavement, back to the main hiway with a blinking red light at the stop sign. I comment, “solar powered, a great thing for out here”. Bert responds with a story about how the hiway dept had discovered a pile of money at the end of the year, and had to spend it on something, or lose it, so now we have blinking red lights, solar powered, at all desert intersections. A good thing, you might miss the stop sign if blind or drunk, which half the people out here are anyways.

Past the diatomite mine, bert points out the old road that branches off to a ghost town back in the hills. His dad used to commute from Benton, and came down this road in the early morning to find an unexpected pile of gravel in the middle, crashing the old Plymouth sedan and busting the radiator in the process. He walked to work andcalled bert for rescue, and he came up in another truck, and sealed up the radiator, filled it with more fluids, and used bailing wire to fasten down the hood and fired her up. H could see that it was still leaking and heat rising as he headed up toward the pass. Pushing it to double nickels (100 mph) he is about to make it when the hood cuts loose and folds itself up over the roof. Bert sees it coming so his head goes out the window, just as the hood ornament, the masts and sails of the boat, penetrate the roof and jam down into the space where his head just was. “Death by hood ornament” is my comment as we marvel at the little weird things that happen, the near misses, in the desert.

Into the blinding setting sun poking with god rays through the cloud cover, down the hill, wave at the lady in the bug station, she recognizes us and doesn’t rip my vehicle apart looking for stray orange. Pull up to the junkyard, katy comes running out, What did you see? Whats up there? She is bubbling with enthusiasm. We do our best to throw a wet blanket over the bouncing girl “theres nothing there, they filled it in, part of a road construction project” she doesn’t believe us, but bert persists: “no really, we cant go back, theres no sump left.” Part of the banter, the way of approaching lifes events humorously, a dry funny off the wall way of relating, and I like that.

Copyright 2009, Terry Wright

Thursday, January 22, 2009

benton chronicles january 2009

Benton 1.19.09

Up early with the lightening of the sky, jagged ridges to the east and blessed quiet. A coyote howl interrupts the still, ripping a gash in the otherwise serene setting. Another perfect east sierra day, empty skies except for the occasional cotton smear of a jet contrail. They are short today showing there is no moisture up here, it hasn’t rained in 2.5 weeks, and people are talking about it. Mammoth has plenty of snow left over from December and will be a great mob scene this weekend, LA ski society moving enmass, prompted by MLK 3 day holiday.

I patrol the realm, moving the hose to another decimated shrunken head of a tree, struggleing against the elements of harsh weather too little water and the voracious hunger of the local rabbit population. Linda and Chris removed all the cylindrical fencing I painstakingly set in place, working for days in sleet and sun, and constant wind, to prevent this smorgasboard of delicacies from the little monsters. Chris said they were not needed, boy was he wrong. Hes a landscaper and a local, and a quiet swiss, rugged features making him look a million years older than his mid 50s, shock of sandy hair, slow drawl. You have to drag conversation out of him, but he has a wealth of knowledge of plants and minerals, a regular at Tucson show. But now the battle of the trees has turned in favor of the elements, and the Arizona cypress I have labored over for 4 years are being beaten down again. I look around at Wins, my neighbors trees tall and strong and wonder what went wrong here.

Alone again, free to roam, my mind doing a do-si do around the possibilities, here I write, then I move the hose, then I get another cup of coffee, now finding the guitar humidifier in the sink where I left it yesterday to soak up the life blood from the tap, to fend off the low humidity that tends to destroy guitars. They crack and become brittle, as I found when I threw Mikes guitar out of the the camper with my usual wild abandon setting up camp at Crooked creek, and wondering what happenend when I opened the soft case and found it split into kindeling from the impact. Shit another destruction derby, Ive done it again, $1000 in damaged goods (broken dogs tail, zorched mixer and scratched cousins car) at Cathys the day before she left for spain for a year. Oh well, if you are going to feast off of my energy, youre gonna have to put up with a few glitches, flaws in crystals always occur, that has destroyed several relationships. I destroy things indiscriminitely mainly because I don’t think ahead about the consequences of my actions and how to prevent them before they happen. Some are a surprise, like the two kayak implosions, one from the roof of the camper, and one by falling from the ceiling of the garage from a broken hook. I obsess about that for a while, and let the bubbles I form in my mind to surround such intrusions in to sanity carry them away upward, away from my conciousness.

Back to business, yester day was filled with settleing in, Linda leaving, zoe the dog bouncing around, chasing rabbits and smiling. She is my old friend from way back in the early days of ssu geology teaching, and cares for me and my house like a mother hen. Now off to a 2-3 month dog sitting job in big pine, wont see much of her, c had blown up at her for cleaning up cat food tins with tootsies treats, licking the cans, with jagged edges for the last bit of moisture. “She was really angry with me for this little thing”, “I had the same experience several times, she is really unbalanced in her thinking, I m glad I don’t have to deal with her shit, mine is enough” I reply. She was the ideal person to hook up with, skiing, hiking, partying , but this aspect, and her narcissistic attachement to her dog were constant questions when would she blow? Put that in a bubble and let it drift off into the heavens, out out damn spot! King lear was obsessed also, im not alone.

To town to check in with the local notables, at the po there is berts mom, getting the mail and gossip from the new post lady. Marie had a stroke and a long stay in the hospital in reno, and may never come back, she is a great old local,full of stories and always glad to see me, a bright spot in the day if I needed one after taking in the viewscape of wall to wall mountains from the deck during my morning pee. “Would you like a ride in my shiny red pickup home?” She looks at me with a smile contorting the deep ridges and valleys of her face into synclines and anticlines, I always call her “young lady” and she likes that. She finishes up the conversation, I mail the fooseball to Shasta with a letter and a picture of me, and we mount the steed, buckle in and are off to the junkyard. I call it that, it really is …3 acres of assorted old cars, trucks, equpment, tires, anything you might throw way. Berts dad started collecting this stuff during the depression and its still here, and he is carrying on the tradition. I recognize a big white pickup full of old tires out front, Sam is in from Mina, he and bert are working on a car that has been parked in the front yard for a year or two, sitting next to a jeep with the hood up and head removed. They are in uniform, dirty torn coveralls, Sams dome shining in the sun, berts gray mane as unruly as an unmade bed, big dirty hands clutching various socket wrenches and talking their way through the task of getting an aging sedan back on the road. We meet and greet, banter starts, I tell of my new pacemaker, they rejoin about fixing the engine so Charlotte could have a new car. She only drives it to the cafĂ© and back for work and occasional Bishop trips, but it always looks like its on its last legs. Im forever in debt to him for mechanical expertise, no matter what it looks like or how bad the problem is he is like Leonardo da vinci with the situration. I have the defunct modem in my hand, and katy (now grown a couple more inches since fall) runs for Jennifer, who brings out her computer, same as mine, mac book and we plug it in, and still no power, this sucks, I remembered it this time, forgot last time and had to bum computer time from local friends or go to the library with a bunch of kids doing games and email and always cacophony, which I deal as well with as the chicken pox. The kids are bopping around, charlotte is mothering, trying to correct bad behavior, scuffing heels, feet up on chairs, doing homework, they are of age, Katy 12, Jennifer 15, bursting with kid energy and ready to rock and roll.

I return to the truck, and replace the modem and other things, remembering the tequila, I fish it out of the back of the pickup, a 1/2 gallon of cuervo, and present it, my usual Christmas present to these guys, imprinted with “merry merry from terry” in black marker. Berts eyes light up and calls for shot glasses. Charlotte brings them but it is early yet, no one feels like getting hammered just yet but the decks are cleared for the occasion. Work to do, I kick back with Charlotte and we catch up on our lives, bert and sam clanking in the background, well mostly Sam, he seems to have taken over the bulk of the job alternately his big bulk leaning over to sort tools from 3 or 4 tool boxes, and back to the beatenup sedan. . Bert shuffles vehicles, brings a battery from sams truck and I hear the throaty roar of the 47 ford pickup and see a blue flash as he pulls it out onto the hiway to make room for more.

I talk to sam “I was through mina yesterday, and that boat restaurant looks open! Whats the deal?”. “Ya that’s a great place, cheaper and better than the stores frozen burritos, great burgers.The lady is a good cook, great coleslaw, u know, not the sweet kind, most has too much sugar, this is fresh and vinegary, and the burgers are a full 1/4 pound and good and greasy”/ I gag just thinking about the fat and cholesterol hes injesting. But it sounds like a trip, to go there for lunch then on to Berlin-Ichthyasaur park to see the fossils, left in the ground under cover, for all to see. It is past mina a ways into the wilds of central Nevada, but would be a great excursion. The boat is a 50’ cabin cruiser that has been sitting there beside hiwy 95 for many years, and now has come into another life as the center of culinary excellence in the decrepit collection of broken houses and sheds that is mina, an old mining town south of hawthorn on 95 and just 40 minutes from Benton.


first alone night is lonely, but I have talks on the phone with rob and he has my picture framed and ready to go, a spectacular image of rising sun on granite spires, a picket fence of peaks, from the sierra. I gave him the money last spring after he worked for me for a day, helping bob pave the entrance to the driveway to cover the countys requirement that I have an encroachment permit to connect to their road. They still hold 500$ of mine in escrow for the job. All I have to do is call harrys boss and tell him the job is done, and ill get return.

Now to greet the new day, sun over the mts at 8:15, and getting earlier all the time, thank you sun for your gift of life. Putter around unable to concentrate, obsessing and practicing deep breathing and bubbles carrying away thoughts in a warm clear sea. It helps to visualize, but I get stuck in a thought of bad-assed shit in my past, that I cant do anything about now, but still it gnaws at me, like catch the demon in Practical Demonkeeping, the book I read before sleep catches me unawares.

I do the exercise routine, realize I haven’t eaten and its almost noon, after a tuna sandwich, I snooze briefly and then head off for the ski country, the nearest pass with snow. It hasn’t snowed for 2 weeks up here even so everthing is crusty, icy, and not good for xc, but I gotta try out my new boards, metal edge xc skiis with sidecut and fishscales, warm boots, new poles from black diamond, a xmas gift to me, to replace my battered and outdated gear from the early 90s. turning off the road past wildrose summit I plough through low drifts, crunching like bones in a demons mouth under the fat off road tires with triple sidewalls to fend off anything that might slice. Drive to the end of navigable road and a stretch of white beckons, somewhat continuous, a ribbon of joy leading to the adventure of the ridge above.

The boots and skiis are mounted easily, great to have modern new equipment that works, and head off alternately skimming over frozen shadow protected snow, and deeper sugar, sinking in to my ankles. The wide skiis keep me up tho and I head up the trail. I start to think, what would happen if something fucked up? If I broke a leg and couldn’t make it back to the truck? No one knows im up here, a mile off the road. I determine to get a cell phone that works here so I have at least some backup, and a system to tell people where im going, so they know where to look for the body at least. Well, adventure calls, so I push on, bubbling more obsessive thoughts away and concentrating on the beauty of the high desert forest, pinons studding the white blanket of snow, all smooth and inviting. But the snow is awful, like walking on railroad ties, alternately sliding over frozen and then plowing into deep, and it is a patchwork quilt of dirt and snow, not bad going up, but coming back worries me, sliding downhill with no control, the new bindings and boots will help me turn, but with the narrow trail, bumpy and varied snow conditions, it will be a challenge.

I look ahead at inviting meadows but realize that the snow has melted on the sage bushes so there is no clear path to just take off across country. Stick to the road, interesting contorted tree patterns, Gloria artist forms like in an art gallery. I stop often, breathing hard with the altitude, didn’t check the gps altimeter, but it is at least 7000 feet, and the air is thin, my chf-stricken heart flopping around trying to get the ejection fraction above 35% (normal is 60%), gotta lose weight, strengthen heart muscle, get out there. This is a perfect way to do it combined with discovering new treasure of areas unknown to all but me. After a mile, im thinking of finding out what its going to be like going downhill. I kick around and start gliding, but the snow is grabbing and sliding every few meters, and I end up falling on my butt after trying a turn to slow down. Now to get up, this is like lifting lead weight, and I finally struggle upright, bending one of my new poles in the process. Shit, new equipment, destroyed already, I m at it again. I try some more and make it 100 meters before I fall again. This time kick the skiis off and get up and walk back to the truck, enough of this bulls, I don’t want to hurt myself and end up shivering to death, the sun is shining, I didn’t bring a pack, and no water, no survival stuff, id be fued if something happened and I know that s happens out here all the time and sneaks up on you when least expected.

Back at the truck, I drive to a sunny spot, set up a chair and snack down, hb egg and date bar, more water. The temp is warm so I relax for bit and think about the rest of the plan. I determine to drop by joys place and meet her formally, she is a wildlife biologist, works for blm and has a nice log cabin modular behind the Benton hot springs museum, consisting of old ranching equipment lying around and rusting because rust never sleeps. I see vehicles and pull in slowly. A voice greets me from the yard “Im looking for Joy, are you her?”, “I am” comes the reply and she stands, working with a boy on metal frame for a greenhouse.. introducing myself and struck by the image of fit woman tshirt shorts, bicyclist sunglasses and billed hat and toothy smile. We meet and greet, I help with a mechanical problem and we talk about our lives. Her son is there, computer geek from Berkeley, to help assemble a greenhouse she bot many years a go and has been lying fallow in the yard, not growing anything. Put it to good use. I invite her for Friday night potluck, she seems good for it, doesn’t get out much, must be lonely out here. I hear her ex lives across the street in the marble block house, but is gone a lot putting on pyrotechnics shows. She wants to pump me about geology, but im on my way to pats computer internet connection to catch up on mail and other chores. I show her my macbook, she is a graphic artist also,so we talk about the east sierra cross-section graphic, and agree to look at it . I slide off graciously, she obviously wants to get as much done before dark while the weather is good. Another interesting person tucked away in Benton, boy did I hit the jackpot for people up here, and I am becoming the catalyst to get them together.

Onward to Pat chambers’ modular on 42 acres off the highway south of town, turn past the sign advertising modular homes and lots starting at 299k$, a hastily stenciled notation over the original price of 350, added a year ago as things havnt been moving very fast out here. Thank god, there is a 30 home subdivision in the planning process 1 street over from me, and it is dead in the water also, the bad economy is protecting the land like a gentle glove here. Benton is a little too far out for most people, only 30 minutes at most to bishop, where there is everything, but fortunately few are willing to move that far. The locals and I love it, insulation from the seething mass of outdoor fanatic yuppies with thousands in gear who want a foothold out here in mountain wonderland.

Pat and Helen emigrated from Hawaii, he an artist and she a phd in psychology. I enter their modular weaving through a perfectly laid out stonework fence and grand staircase up to the door. Lots of shouting inside and I come in to find their daughter, her chicano husband and 4 boys of various sizes playing video games and generally bouncing off the walls. Helen sets up her computer for me, has to reboot, uh oh, windows machine, I hate these things, so unintuitive, oh well, at least I can get email. The crowd is eating cake and celebrating pats bday, I pass, and get to task. Nothing earthshaking in news, a few notes about Tucson, where I go in a week for the gem show, and others catching up to me. I download the driver for the modem from robotics, but cant figure out the windows way of putting it on a cd, I left the thumb drive at home, so after fooling around for too long, I give up. The kids have left, quiet reigns, we get mellow and talk of Hawaii, Benton, great stories, weaving back and forth following strings of subject matter weaving an entertaining web. Pat shows a dvd program of pictures of his great grandfather in the western movies, as an Indian, cowboy, all the trappings of the old west.

I move on into the night, remembering I had told cathy id drop by, find the dirt drive and out to the yellow submarine, her house on the lot I had made an offer on in 02. the people were holding out, and didn’t want to sell, and I found this place with 10 acres and that was it. The house is a wreck, stuff, boxes strewn all over the place, no order. She is leaving next week for Michigan, fed up with the lack of opportunity here, and headed for a job a chiropracter in the town she grew up in with her parents. She’s the one who crashed on mothers day drunk in the morning, and came back looking like the bride of Frankenstein, 60 stitches in forehead quite shaken by the affair. I find no one there, room to cluttered room, a frenzy of packing. They must be at terry and gerrys next door at their house, built on the other 4 acre lot I had looked at in 02. I hear noise out side and its cathy, coming to fetch me, “we are partying over at t and js, burritos, bad wine and locals” so I follow and find a great gathering of the neighborhood, with a few kids and chalfanters thrown in. I drink bad wine from a box, and talk to cathy about her transition. She is going to take over a chiropractic practice from a dr she knew in Michigan, who now has a debilitating disease and cant use his hands and body to do the work. She’s upbeat about the change, but her kids look lost, a major change and adaptation for them. Lynn ex Hill is there too, working now at the bug station, she checked me in at the hospital in 02 when I had chf, we have a nice conversation and then she heads off to work the graveyard shift. 1 burrito is delicious and enough, we banter some more with gerry and a young very cowboy lookin dude from chalfant, married to a young teacher from the local school, we exchange stories, and gerry rambles into one of his long monologs about his great grandfather who was in the westerns also, he has seen pats dvd and is impressed. Finally leaving, gentle hugs and back pats all around, firm handshakes from the cowboys, and im off into the night, another day done in beautiful far out Benton. Copyright 2009 terry wright

Copyright 2009, terry wright

Sunday, January 11, 2009

more hawaii

ok to be short, we hadda great thanksgiving with paul and dennis and friend roland, west point grad. and a small gather of locals, next day to the airport to pick up the jeep, and then out to green sand beach, waipio valley, mauna kea, and other points. 2 nights at a funky chicken b and b in hawi with a ditzy lady, but quiet after the planer stopped and the kids turned down the stereo. to hapuna beach on the way home. one last night at mangolay, then the long flight home. arriveing at
shannons late, and next day thru eileens moms place and thru sf and home to forestvillle for the hollerdaze