Trona

Ballarat

Ballarat

One of the most desolate stretches of highway in California is the section of road on Highway 178 from Ridgecrest to Highway 190. To the North are the uninhabited regions of China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station and the Coso Wilderness. To the East are the high peaks of the Panamint Mountain range, and not one, but two salt flat laden valleys, the Searles Valley, and the Panamint Valley. There is only one “town” – in this area, and that is Trona, and it has seen better days. There is no cellular service on this stretch of highway, and during the summer, temperatures regularly exceed 115 degrees. The area is wild, and beautiful in a desolate, endless desert type of way. Along with the town of Trona, the area is also littered with places and things that time has forgotten, like the Trona Pinnacles, and various old mines and mining claims.

Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

In Southwestern Nevada, there’s a place where some of the purest, clearest, cleanest and most pristine water bubbles to the surface. Shocked? You shouldn’t be. As I’ve discussed before, large swathes of Eastern California used to be glacial lakes, such as where present day Trona and the Trona Pinnacles are located. There’s also an oasis in the former town of Zzyzx, and groundwater at Salt Creek in Death Valley and Badwater. Even cooler, Death Valley has salt pools that randomly appear and disappear across the Valley floor proper in random locations (one of the more accessible pools is currently located by the Devil’s Golf Course, but it is closing – slowly!). When you look at it like this, through the lens of time, geologic change, as well as the interconnected nature of the environment, crystal clear desert oases really aren’t that surprising.

Eureka Mine, Death Valley - Likely Closed for Exploration

Yep, those bars look pretty solid, which means the Eureka Mine is closed. (September 2012)

Yep, those bars look pretty solid, which means the Eureka Mine is closed. (September 2012)

Back in February, I was talking about a place off of Wildrose Road, the Eureka Mine, which you used to be able to explore (or so I was led to believe). (Article here). A couple weeks ago, after I passed through Trona, I stopped by, because I wanted to check it out as it was closed in February. I stopped by one entrance, and then another, and then another, and found the same thing you can see in all of the pictures: the mine entrances were blocked off. At this point, I stopped, and had a good think. Those metal bars blocking the mine entrances? Fairly permanent. And by fairly permanent, I mean, actually permanent.  I'll admit that I didn't have time to talk to a NPS Ranger about this, since I was on my way to 20 Mule Team Canyon, but at this point, after visiting twice at two completely separate times in the year, I can only conclude the mine is closed for good at this point. It is, however, still a really cool spot to visit, and after all, the mine is probably closed to protect the public from Morlocks, and that's a good thing!

Trona Pinnacles

Trona Pinnacles

Everything has its time.-Dr. Who. Think about that for a second – everything has its time. It’s simple, elegant, and true. Everything – no matter what it is, has its time. There are songs that had meanings in life that you forgot but instantly remember when you hear them again; there’s foods that comfort you when you need them; and there’s smells that have the power to drag you to ancient epochs past. This is to say nothing of people, things, places, and pretty much every tangible and intangible thing in life. Everything has its time. The practical application of this phrase, however, is present in Trona, California, where the Trona Pinnacles currently stand.

The unexpected lurks everywhere in the desert, from factories in Trona, to snow in Death Valley.

An expected desert view, hot, dry, and dusty atop Wildrose Peak

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.

Snow atop the above pictured peaks during the winter/spring season.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.