Monday, June 6, 2011

Star Struck

The view from our campsite

Last week, I talked about my idyllic camping trip to Star Struck, a 10-acre campground in Yucca Valley. The surrounding landscape is breath taking, wild and relatively untouched by man. Yeah, there are houses dotting the landscape but for the most part, it is untouched.

Steven, my camping buddy, and I pitched the tent on flat piece of ground a bit removed from Sun Struck’s infrastructure. We had a wide-open view of the surrounding mountains and could see for miles and miles. There was only one Sun Struck structure visible from our camp sight. We count our blessings.

After our simple lunch of turkey sandwiches, potato salad and chips, we decided it was time to head out into the countryside. We had pitched our tent along the pathway down to the valley below. Our tent became the reference point for our hike: if we can see our tent, we know where we are. And at times, the tent was several miles away.

Walking down into the wash, I felt as if I was walking back in time. There were no telephone poles. No roads. No tire tracks anywhere we could see. We could see our tent off in the distance but there were few other traces of man. OK, you cannot ever get away from the jet contrails. There were contrails.

We followed animal trails through the brush. We watched jackrabbits nibbling flowers. We frightened a bevy of quail: two adults and about 15 chicks. We watched Red Tailed Hawks circling overhead. We did not see Rattler Snakes, thankfully!

The desert is in full bloom this time of year. The creosote bushes were covered in yellow blossoms and the honeybees were in full attendance. Steven is allergic to honey bee stings. We retreated. I carefully avoided stepping on any of the plants blanketing the desert floor. At times, it was impossible.

After about two hours hiking in the sun, we were ready to head back to base camp. We could still see our tent off across the arroyo. We set our course and began the return trek. If you have ever hiked in the wide-open deserts of California or Arizona, you will know that it is impossible to walk in a straight line to that point off in the distance. There are just too many impediments in your way.

The hike back was nearly as long as the hike out. Sounds like a no brainer…. However, on the hike out, you’re meandering up the hill, smelling the flowers, backtracking, photographing one other, the rock formations and the plants. On the hike back you’re making a straight line for camp. Screw this meandering crap! You want to get back to camp and a martini.

That “straight line” back to camp slogs through the erosion gullies, cholla cactus patches, steep hills and cats claw shrubs. The Cholla cactus and cats claw shrubs should warn you off if the unstable terrain doesn’t. Especially if you are hiking textile free. We took the meander trail back to base camp.

We loved the hike. It was stunningly beautiful. It was sunny and warm. It was exhausting. I needed a drink.

It was too early for dinner so we grabbed a bottle of wine, chips, salsa, a deck of cards and headed to the multi-purpose room. The tent site was hot with no shade and the wind was kicking up. The communal kitchen was being used and we figured the dinning room would be occupied soon after. The multi-purpose room was cool and it was empty.

Empty is a relative term. There were tables and counters and couches and bookcases. Every horizontal surface of the multi-purpose room was covered with…. I don’t know what it was covered with…. dreck? It was just junk; bits of this and bits of that. Ok, it was trash. One could have swept it all into the trash can and no one would have been the wiser.

We cleared off a 3 ft by 6 ft folding table. We washed the surface of the table. We washed it again. We set out our chips & dip and cracked the bottle of wine. Steven dealt the first hand of Gin Rummy after we’d spend 20 minutes talking about how to play the damned game. That settled, we talked, laughed, drank and munched on those corn chips & dip. We had a grand time. And we played Gin Rummy not keeping score or worrying about who was winning.

At about 8:00 PM we realized we’d not prepared our dinner. Back to the tent, we trekked. We gathered up our dinner “stuff” and headed back to the multi-purpose room. Steven had prepared an incredible meal of basil pesto chicken, herb sautéed green beans and salad. Camp may have been squalor, our meal was not. It was yummy.

We dined, drank the third bottle of wine and cleaned up after ourselves leaving no trace – other than an unusually clean and empty table. We headed back to camp. The wind was howling and the air temperature had dropped about 30 degrees.

We had another embarrassing moment walking past our closest neighbor’s window. We’ll not go there,.

The tent was a welcoming sight. We dove through the tent flap & zipped up the windows and doors, sealing ourselves in for the night. We turned on our lanterns, which gave a warm, diffused light. We crawled into bed snuggling down into the warmth of down & flannel. And then we talked into the wee hours of the night. No horror stories, though.

Thank you for listening

Jerry L. Hanson

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