I could hear the slight rumble from my engine as I stood next to the car. Actually, it was more of a feeling. The vibrations of the idling engine were pushing heat against my hand as I stood and wondered what exactly I was looking at. The stacks from the larger buildings pushed against the black sky, and the yellow lights spat cold light in every direction lower, partially illuminating the mountains and valley. I knew it was a factory. I could hear it grumbling and rumbling as it did something with the sounds of industry. What was odd, though, was that I didn’t see any people. It was like something out of a post-apocalyptic novel, in which the denizens of the town around the factory were consumed by the machines, or where the survivors gathered to hold off hordes of enemies. It was also cold. I shuddered, climbed back into my car, and made a mental note that I’d come back later.
A year later, I was in my car under the cold skies of late spring driving across the Searles Valley when I remembered that mental note. Oh yeah, this was the place I saw that weird factory. For a second, I chalked it up to some sort of midnight mirage – I had been driving too long, and had been too tired, and imagined the whole thing. Then, I saw it again. Not only it, but all of its attendant buildings. The town of Trona. I stopped again. Pulled over my car, and stared. It was 2:14 p.m. There were no sounds of people, but only machines. The wind whistled around me. I looked at the dull bits of the factory; the stripped paint of older buildings; and where people had repaired and built newer structures. It seemed a bit more reasonable, but still – off. I considered walking into the town, strolling between buildings, looking for people, but decided that such an action was first a little weird, and second, maybe a little rude. After all, people definitely lived here – probably liked it (hopefully), and they didn’t need some person poking around their alleys just because he had an overactive imagination. Also, I decided against looking around because I had visions of undead residents chasing me down hard packed empty streets.
Later, I did the research, and found out that Trona has always been a mining town – mining borax and other salts – was a company town, and might still be considered one today. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trona,_California, http://www.trona-ca.com/). And, as far as anyone knew, there were no zombies there, or, apparently, green grass on the football field. Certainly, to me it serves to illustrate that even in the remote corners of the world, man and his work lurks, for good or evil. The drive from Trona, through the Searles valley, in my mind is also pretty as the neighboring ranges sprout up from the ground in brown and granite walls. Certainly, as you drive into the Panamint Valley, the road sports some very interesting scenery.
Back in April, my view was obscured by swirling high clouds that clung to the peaks as the last remnants of a spring storm blew through. As I pulled into Death Valley National Park through the Wildrose Road/Pass, the clouds were clearing, and I could see snow in the Panamint Range. This goes to illustrate a second point about deserts: while you might expect deserts to be dry, arid places, at times, they can receive all sorts of interesting weather. I’ve been on both Wildrose and Telescope Peak in scorching weather, but never had I seen the amount of snow on these peaks like I had after the storm. It was such a sight that I had to stop and stare at the snow covered fields, with visions of ice axes, crampons, and glissade descents in my head before realizing that I had been planning on hiking a certain canyon that day, and daylight was fleeing. Sometimes, there’s just not enough time for all the adventures, mental, or otherwise, one wants to do. With that, I snapped my mental pictures, and continued on.