A life of courage, joy and independence.
I’m going to tell you the way to a place where I’ve encountered The Great Indifference, though I suspect the very telling will spoil the way. If you follow my path you’ll likely find nothing but sand, and waste, and heat; all the composite bits of what you’re after without the substance of what’s not there. My guidance is the problem. The fact that you’ve followed me through my words to the place I found alone, and in a sense, lost. You’ll need that bit yourself before you’ll find the Indifference. Not to be lost, in fact, but instead to be indeterminate, and off course. When you’ve reached the point you’ve satisfied your curiosity about the way I once took, then ask yourself if you’re ready to step off the unseen marks of my past trespass, to embark in some way along new lines towards your own solitary waste and desolation. Once you’re ready, then put aside my maps and guidance. Stuff them deep into your pack. Tear them up perhaps if you’ve a mind to crush the empty promise of discovering anything of real value by retracing my footsteps exactly. Step now into the soft sand or across the hard and slippery granite. Do you have your GPS life beacon? Is it charged, armed, and ready to save your life? If not, are you willing to gamble deep and hard with your own soulless mortality for the chance to meet what isn’t there? If so, then you don’t need my words any longer. Go, and die today in the face of what is not, to live on and better as part of what really is.
6 miles round trip approximate, return is via a different route
No trail, flat terrain on slight incline, uneven surfaces with hard and slippery granite-like rhyolite slopes, periodic washes & gullies, one steep volcanic dome
BEST TIME TO HIKE:
November through April (avoid summer months)
Heat, exposure, snakes, spiders, rugged terrain, open mines, no help
REASONS TO GO:
Solitude, natural beauty, to encounter The Great Indifference
High chance of encounter
HIKE MAP (click to enlarge):
I’m haunted by something which does not exist. Something which does not drift across the desert sands, or linger in the cold night air, nor touch my heart, nor press my words. Still the words do come, arising from my own forceful optimism, drawn along in their emergence by the vacuum pull of a landscape which does not and can not care. The desert is indifferent to my ideas, my positions, my feelings and even my life. Though it can and will consume these, not through any action or intent on the part of nature, but by way of the landscape’s withering neglect and disregard, and the resulting loneliness and disconnect which is the bittersweet end I always seek and discover in such places, as well as the very torment even my bones must painlessly endure as they dry, bleach, and crack to sand under the inferno sun before desert winds scatter what’s left of me to oblivion.
A type of anxious motivation comes to me whenever I tread alone into a place which I sense is not just indifferent to my life and death, but incapable of even giving a damn about either. With some mischief I call this self-inspiration my Muse, and reckon it a she. Such poetic license… I do worry though that I’m only confusing matters by not speaking plainly that my muse does not really exist. She’s only a thing of my mind. A circumstance of place and time, and past experience, and disposition, and bias, and want.
The words I seek and which I attribute to my Muse come in fact from my own liberated senses. The experience is like the anxious freedom a child knows when they go past the limits prescribed by caring adults, to take thrilling risks which yield secret and suspect reward, and hold unknown and unforeseen consequences. The words which arrive to me in this state have more in common with fearful mad laughter than sane and sober sagacity. Perhaps this is the reason I must always go alone. For to share this experience with another must surely break the spell of relentless risk and introspection. And perhaps this fact can also explain a little why I so often fail in my efforts at entering the deep desert alone, and turn back, citing my family and responsibility and other worthy reasons to give up.
But hope is not lost for those who aim to find more than just my footsteps. All that’s needed to go beyond my path is to simply not stop looking; to continue past the lines I’ve marked in red upon on my map; to trespass the unknown and uncertain; to be ready to fail, ready to become lost, ready to never come back. And most importantly, to be ready to go alone.
I recommend this hike from November through April, when temperatures are manageable and not too dangerous. Though beware the precipitous nighttime cold which comes on fast as soon as the sun passes over the horizon. Even in summer you can chill deeply through the night due to the limited cloud cover, which fails to insulate the Earth, and allows the accumulated heat of the day to dissipate quickly away to space, as from a bare body on a bed without a sheet.
As for heat, there is little shade anywhere along this hike, so dress appropriately, with proper protective cover and sunscreen. The reason I didn’t include September and May in my recommended hiking months is that though the morning temps at these times are quite nice, the afternoon direct sun can be blistering given there is no escape. Particularly dangerous is the fact of occasionally, and surprisingly, very hot days during these months, which can easily kill anyone who goes too far and finds themselves trapped in the rising heat miles or hours from safety. Don’t let the blissful conditions of morning lure you so far into the desert that you can’t escape when the inferno turns on at around 11:00 AM. Death is easy here, and it sneaks up quickly upon the foolish and unprepared. Even with sufficient water you may not outlast the experience of prolonged direct exposure to the relentless sun and heat.
Siberia is easy to find. Just type “Siberia, California” into your navigation app and follow the way. There are no amenities in Siberia. It’s a desert ghost town after all. So be sure to fill up with whatever you need at the community of Needles, Twentynine Palms or Barstow, depending if you approach from the east, south or west. Don’t be fooled by the fact of Amboy. As of this writing there is really nothing there of much help.
You won’t need a four wheel drive vehicle to get to Siberia, as the only dirt section of road is short and passable by an average two wheel drive car. When your navigation app indicates you are close, you’ll see on the map that you have to turn from Route 66 onto a dirt road which leads a short distance into the desert to what’s left of Siberia. As you approach, look on the north side of Route 66 for a large tire propped up on a pole beside the entrance to the dirt road.
This big tire was placed here by railroad men who marked it with the words “West Siberia” (East Siberia is where the road crosses the railroad tracks) and who use the tire to help them easily find their way off Route 66 to the Siberia railroad crossing. I’ve also heard from the railroad men that the East and West designation are references to the direction of train travel on the railroad. Don’t be surprised if you see one or two big white railroad trucks drive by during your stay, as this important and active stretch of rail seems to require constant attention. The railroad men have never stopped to say anything to me during my visits here, and I don’t think they mind much my nondescript little camp, or the fact that I routinely park my car or motorcycle near the ghost town ruins. To be safe, I recommend against parking or camping too close to the railroad tracks, or especially the crossing or little signal shack, as this might indeed raise the attention of the railroad men, who must keep this line in continuous operation and secure. Please also keep in mind that the area around the Siberia ghost town is private property belonging to the railroad. Another landmark at the juncture of the dirt road is the enormous “Route 66” graffiti painted in white lettering directly on the ground where the Siberia road meets Route 66. However, don’t count on those painted words to be there in the future, as this stretch of Route 66 is long overdue for a repaving and I don’t expect the lettering to last should the California highway department come through with new asphalt.
When you near the big tire juncture, slow and then turn off Route 66 and onto the dirt road (watch out, as there’s a bit of a sandy spot just as you come off the highway). You are now entering the remains of the community called Siberia, which once served travelers moving on both the railroad and the highway, as well as miners who prospected and worked claims in the surrounding mountains. This ghost town formally began life in 1883 as one of several water stops for trains on the Santa Fe railroad. The steam locomotives of this time consumed water greedily as they climbed westbound up the Mojave Grade from Amboy through Bagdad, Siberia and Klondike (aka Ash Hill). Clearly, the names given these spots are suitably evocative of far and remote places, and harsh and hostile landscapes. And the names are appropriate. As you’ll discover when you visit.
When you arrive at Siberia you’ll find a single crumbling stone wall marks the current center of the ghost town. This wall, and the foundation upon which it stands, is all that remains of the railroad station at Siberia. Though you can drive right up to the ruins, I recommend instead that you park your vehicle some distance away, as the dirt and sand around the ruins is littered with rusty nails which can easily make your adventure more interesting with a flat tire. I usually park next to the eastern edge of the dirt road which I drove in on–roughly parallel the ruins–and then set up camp a little ways out in the open desert. If you look closely, you might even find signs of my camp which consist of a rectangle of large stones I used to hold down my tent ends, and a small wooden block with a metal grating on the top which I use as a table for my stove. Again, when setting up camp beware of old nails and broken glass in the sand which can easily puncture the bottom of a tent, sleeping bag or you.
If you arrive before sundown then I recommend spending some time exploring the desert around the Siberia ruins, where you’re sure to find many reminders of the town which once was. I suggest a walk through the desert along the dirt road leading back to Route 66, where, with a little luck, you’ll find the remains of a stone-lined footpath which someone created here decades ago. The narrow trail was created by careful placement of desert stones positioned one after another in two parallel lines leading from nowhere to nowhere. I find strolling this old path conducive to many empty thoughts which are a satisfying suggestion of the empty offerings you may find be lucky enough to find during your desert hike tomorrow.
If you overnight here, then be prepared for strong wind, cold air, brilliant stars and the frequent low rumble and groan of trains passing nearby. Most will be slow-moving freight trains, numbering dozens of cars, with three to five powerful locomotives at the head, and a single locomotive pushing from the rear. At least once in the night you can spot a fast-moving Amtrak passenger train speeding by with brilliant lights flooding from every compartment. The sight of this peopled conveyance is a bit surreal in this lonesome and dead-of-humanity place, like the passing of a bright, lively mortal through the dull and gray land of the dead. Each and every train which passes will sound its horn four times as they approach the crossing where the dirt road goes over the tracks, and where crossing bells and lights announce the approaching train to the empty, indifferent desert. Each train will issue four blasts; three long and one short: blaaaaaaare, blaaaaaaare, blare, blaaaaaaare. A similar blast of four will be heard again as the train passes far off through Klondike to the west and where the railroad crosses Route 66 to the east. Very few cars will pass on Route 66 during the day or the night. If you are very lucky, and visit between the months of July and September, then you’ll experience the distant rumble and flash of lightening upon the distant peaks, though it’s very unlikely any rain will fall where you are at in Siberia, being one of the driest places anywhere in North America.
Don’t be surprised if you sense something watching you in the night. Desert fox emerge from their den at sundown to hunt in the dark, and their natural curiosity may lead them to pause and watch you from some distance out. If you’re very lucky you might catch sight of their eyes gazing at you from the dark just after sundown. How suspect, strange and alien we must seem to them. Do they wonder at our motives? Ask themselves why we are there? If only you could reassure the fox that you’ve no intent to leave or take anything besides your own complacent certitude and weak dependence.
Beginning in Siberia you’ll want to start your hike early in the morning by heading out towards the North-East. If you must, then use a compass. If you can, then consider the art of dead reckoning. Though, if you are not possessed of a good sense of direction then please don’t try this, as the desert here is no place to become lost. Just remember that if you are ever in a pinch and can’t remember your way out then simply head south and you’ll eventually run into the railroad and then the highway. Another simple solution to escape this particular region of desert is to simply follow the apparent course which water would take. Since all rivers in this immediate area drain to an enormous lake basin to the south, you will eventually arrive at the railroad if you simply pretend to be water and follow the watercourse down.
After you begin walking from the Siberia ruins you’ll soon cross the railroad tracks. After the tracks, you’ll arrive at a large earthen berm. This berm was formed by the railroad using bulldozers in an effort to protect the tracks from flash floods. You’ll probably see some railroad debris such as old tracks and ties between the tracks and the berm, as well as older items such as rusted cans and broken glass, though after the berm you’ll only rarely spot anything made by humans, beside periodic Mylar balloons which float out here from birthdays and surprise parties in Los Angeles to become tangled and entwined in the limbs of creosote and burro bush. Please consider collecting these intruders and taking them out of the desert with you when you go.
When you reach the earthen berm, climb carefully to the top and look towards the north east. From here you should see a large and ominous black mountain standing alone like a dead sentinel. This mountain is your destination. It’s about two and a half miles away as the crow flies, and will serve as a reliable beacon for the next hour or so of hiking.
When you descend from the berm you’ll be stepping onto the most current page of a long and fascinating geologic story. The hard, yet sandy soil beneath your feet extends downward to depths of dozens or hundreds of feet before reaching bedrock. Further out to the south the depth of sand grows steadily deeper, and may be many hundreds or thousands of feet deep to a maximal depth of over ten thousand feet of accumulated sand. That’s because the place where you stand is the outer edge of a vast valley between the hills and low mountains of the Bristol range to the north, and the much larger Bullion Mountains to the south. The Bullion’s are those large peaks you can see when you look south from Siberia. Those mountains are very far away. Long ago the mountains on both sides of the valley were enormous, and the space between them vast and deep. However, this ancient valley has been filled in over a vast expanses of time by the steady and gradual erosion of the mountains on either side. If we could magically make all the sand which fills the valley suddenly disappear, then you would find yourself wishing you had a parachute as you begin falling towards the valley floor far below. The illustration below helps provide some idea of what the geology here is like. Notice the mountain range on the right side of the image, and the deep valley–filled with sand–at the left. When you are standing atop the berm near Siberia, you are in fact standing atop a vast pile of sand, and the hills you will soon walk to are nothing more than the worn-down tops of giant mountains, whose stony bodies were turned to sand, and used to fill in the landscape. Imagine all the time which must have been required to fill this enormous valley with sand. Imaging all the wind and all the rain necessary to complete this feat. This fact is still more startling when you consider that nearly all of this sand arrived via intermittent flash floods which, just once or twice a year, pour from the mountains to add another layer of sediment to this long story of sand.
The sands upon which you stand are a mixture of many types of rock grains, from beach-like grains, to pebbles, to stones and even boulders, all of which were laid down by flash floods, which periodically spilled across the land from the mountains over many thousands or millions of years. Those mountains which surround you now were once much bigger, their materials worn down from solid rock to sand, and moved from mountainside into the open desert. Just take that in for a moment… Try and imagine the countless successive floods which spilled from the mountains out onto the open plains, emerging from narrow and winding canyon onto broad slopes of sand; waters mixed and churning with mud, rocks, boulders, sticks, logs as well as dead plants and animals. Upon emerging from the mountains these floods would spread into myriad braided channels, which diverge, meet and separate again over the course of many miles before at last sinking into the landlocked desert basin. These violent flash floods are infrequent and intermittent; rarely re-visiting the same open desert courses twice, as the new deposits of debris tend to push subsequent floods to either side of the last course. This is the process which, over many hundreds and thousands of years, produces the geologic features of alluvial fans and bajeda which are distinct features of deserts, being made all the more visible due to the lack of trees and extensive ground cover. The image immediately below (click to enlarge) shows many braided flash flood channels over the surface of the alluvial fan upon which the ghost town of Siberia sits, and across which you must hike to reach the dark mountain. The red line identifies the path you may take across this landscape. There is no trail, and no marker along the way, as my marks on the map are simply rough guides and suggestions.
The desert near Siberia consist of rock and sand of dark and light coloration which you can see in the photo above. I refer to the darker material as “tongues of rock”. Both types of rock are volcanic in origin, having come to the surface of the Earth at different times, to flow and cool after exposure to the atmosphere. The dark colored rock in this photo is from an earlier eruption, and consists of magma rich in iron which oxidized as it flowed over the surface of the Earth before solidifying. The red color of these rocks is literally due to rust from their exposure to the Earth’s atmosphere millions of years ago. The light colored material between the dark streaks are the eroded sands of a later eruption which flowed over and covered much of the first eruption. Erosion has worn away material from the second eruption to reveal the older fingers of dark rock which now resemble mile long teardrops of hard stone. The lighter color of the secondary flow tells us that these rocks contain less iron and more silicon than the first flow. The low iron content means less oxidation and a reduction in red color. Walking across this landscape is as pleasurable an experience as reading a book of ancient history, as ever mile reveals a new and interesting chapter in the story of the Earth.
I hope you’ll enjoy your long trek across the open desert from the berm to the tongues of rock. Just keep your eyes on the dark black mountain which is your destination. But be careful to not confuse the mountain you are after with the large black volcanic cinder cone which can be seen further out and to the south east. If you find yourself running roughly parallel to the railroad while steering towards this more distant black mountain then you are probably hiking towards the wrong peak. The mountain you want is the smaller one to the north, which stands alone and looks something like a rounded dome, and for which walking towards will gradually direct you further and further from the railroad.
About the time you reach the tongues of rock you will begin to lose sight of the black mountain which has slowly dropped over the horizon due to the rising terrain before you. If you are not good at dead reckoning then it might be a good idea to bring a GPS unit or compass and a proper map, as this isn’t a good place to get lost or turned around in, and it’s worthwhile to come with proper navigation equipment and skills if you believe you need them. I’m pretty good at just finding my way around and back and so when I lose sight of the black mountain I just continue walking in the same direction. Eventually, if you keep walking in the same direction you are going now, the landscape will level off and you will again spot the black mountain, though much closer than when you first lost sight of it.
About 45 minutes out from the berm the desert will change from the relatively soft alluvial sediment consisting of a great diversity of rocks, to the harder and more irregular tongues of rock. The rocks here are quite interesting, as they are mostly volcanic with many of the surface rocks resting on the ground in interesting tableau, almost as though they’d been positioned here by the landscape designer at a Japanese Zen temple. If you look closely at many of these stones you’ll note that they are covered with a deep and rich patina. This dark coloration is quite evident when you pick up one of the stones and examine it’s underside, which is likely much lighter in color than the surfaces which are exposed to the open air. This phenomenon is called “desert patina” or “desert varnish” and there are several explanations for it’s origin.
One explanation for desert varnish is the gradual accumulation of impurities which are deposited on the rocks from rain water. Another idea is that bacteria are the source of the varnish, leaving the dark stains as a by-product of their metabolism. In either case, the varnish appears to develop on the rocks at a known rate which is helpful to researchers who can use this information to date how long a stone has been left exposed in the open by noting the relative accumulation of varnish. Another useful function of this knowledge is in determining how long ago human rock art was inscribed on desert stones. This is done again by measuring the amount of desert varnish which has accumulated on the stones since that time.
The stones which you will find resting so nicely upon the tongues of rock are some of the best examples I’ve ever seen of desert varnish, and I highly recommend you take a break from your trek to examine the stones here. Just be careful to replace the stones in the same spot and position where you found them for the sake of future passerby to enjoy.
When you can see the black mountain again you are now very near a major landmark on this hike. At the end of the tongues of rock you will suddenly come upon a small bluff overlooking a large sandy arroyo called “Siberia Wash”. The wash is always dry save for the times when sudden and violent flash floods come through. You’ll be safe crossing, though definitely check the weather before your hike, as a forecast of rain should keep you on the alert for the sudden appearance in the wash of a churning wall of water. Though the chances of encountering a flash flood are slight, the risk is real and the chances of death should you become caught up in the flood are quite high. As an added precaution, please remember to never set up camp in a sandy wash basin, as this is just asking for trouble. Keep in mind that one the leading causes of accidental death in the desert is drowning due to setting up camp in the soft sands of a flash flood arroyo. Desert floods can appear suddenly and without warning under a cloudless sky due to localized cloudbursts occurring out of sight higher up the mountains.
From the bluff overlooking Siberia Wash, you can now easily see the black mountain directly ahead. If you look a bit to the right you’ll see a smaller peak with something at the top which I call “the watcher” due to the fact that it looks like a human figure standing on the top of the hill looking back at you. This watcher will follow your movements from now until you pass beyond the north-west edge of the black mountain. Before you move down off the bluff and into the sandy wash you’ll want to see if you can spot another small wash leading up and out of the larger wash on the other side of the arroyo. This is a good landmark and destination if you want to discover the jeep tracks which are the next section of this guide. It’s alright if you don’t find the small wash though, as your overall destination is still the black mountain which you can likely easily see from where you are.
Descend carefully down the side of the bluff and into the sandy wash. Be careful here as the decent is deceptively dangerous with loose and slippery footing and many narrow slots and crevasses where you could easy catch your foot.
After you cross the Siberia Wash you’ll encounter a short yet steep climb up and onto the tongue of rock on the far side. As before, watch out as the crumbly rock surface could cause a nasty slip and fall. Once you’re up on top you’ll find it easy going along the flat surface which inclines very gradually upward in the direction of the black mountain. This area is curious for its very flat and even surface, and if you look closely you might spot some old jeep tracks running in the same direction you are walking. I imagine these tracks were laid down many decades ago by miners, though they remain quite distinct for the fact that there is very little rain to wear them away, and though the wind is strong and nearly constant here, it is rarely powerful enough to move the small stones which form the outline of the jeep tracks. Keep a lookout here for fine examples of a phenomenon called “desert pavement” which is the seemingly delicate arrangement of tiny pebbles into a mosaic of inlaid stones upon the flat surface of the desert. The process which produces this pavement requires many years of wind, rain and gravity to bring the stones into just the right places.
Keep the black mountain directly ahead of you and just a little to your right as you proceed and you will soon encounter a second wash, only a little smaller than the first. From the edge of the tongue of rock you’ll want to carefully survey the black mountain which is now just across the wash. You’ll find several small ridges coming off the side of the mountain. There’s a ridge at the near edge with a small canyon on either side. Make your way to the north-side little canyon and begin making your way up this little canyon.
About halfway up the small canyon you can begin carefully climbing up the side towards the ridge above. About halfway up the side stop and look around. If you’re lucky (and in the right spot) you might make out the very faint outline of an animal trail which crosses this hillside. Follow the trail towards the black mountain until you reach the side of this ominous peak. And now that you have reached the mountain, look up. That’s pretty impressive, huh? When I reached this same point I quickly gave up any idea of climbing the black mountain. There’s something about the steepness of the sides, the fact that I was alone, the strong wind blowing here, the startling sunlight, and the condition of my body which was already protesting the hike with fatigue and the whispering voice of caution which is a steadily more familiar and present companion to my advancing old age.
Climb now along the very edge of the Black Mountain where it meets the little canyon and up to the ridge which extends out from the side of the mountain. Walk out on the ridge and find a nice spot for a sit, to look back in the direction of Siberia. The Black Mountain is now behind you. A small canyon falling away on your either side. Looking left you can see “The Watcher” upon his distant perch, watching you still. To the right the second wash you crossed disappears soon around a bend and into the badlands, the place you are headed next. In there can be found The Sandman’s Bed. If you’re lucky now the wind is blowing. Blowing hard perhaps. Looking far directly ahead you can see many, many miles to the distant Buillion Mountains beyond. So far. So impossibly far.
This is the point when the fear first struck me on this hike. A real anxiety rising from the immensity of the vista before me. The solitude. The uncaring wind. My own growing sense of my body’s failing functions and frail durability. How easy it would be to stumble and twist a leg on the decent from this place. Somewhere where nobody knows where I am. Someplace I’d not likely ever be found. Sure, someone could find my car back at Siberia. But what could lead them here to me across the trackless desert? With so many other places to look. Yes. Here I am vulnerable, and weak, and getting old. The Indifference becomes apparent at this point. Especially when I look over my right shoulder at the badlands to the north. Towards The Sandman’s Bed.
Look behind you from Windy Point. If you came here alone could you climb to the top of that Black Mountain at your back? This challenge proved too much for me, and I found myself dismissing the thought outright, with vehemence, with such conviction that I found myself startled by my own willingness, eagerness almost, to give up. How could this be? As climbing black mountain was the very reason I’d come here. Now all I could think to do was retreat. And I couldn’t escape fast enough…
If you’re resolve is greater than mine then climb the Black Mountain and hazard a glimpse of deeper indifference than my courage or resolve could muster. When you’re done–or if you gave up like me–then make your way back down the side of Windy Point the way you arrived. Though don’t go back along the animal trail, and instead simply go directly to the bottom of the little canyon, and then up the other side. Below you now are the badlands. Make your way carefully down, and then skirt east along the base of Black Mountain until you can see another black volcano in the distance to the south east. Turn now to the north and move straight into the badlands. Note how the wind suddenly stops here. Where did this silence come from? And suddenly the fear is gone, or nearly gone.
Wander a bit to the north into the hard and irregular landscape here. Attempt to get lost a little and perhaps forget the reason you came. Within a few minutes the land will dip down and to the left at what is the start of a small drainage. Go down into the drainage and follow it as the water would flow, back in the direction of Siberia. You’ve just passed the furthest point of this journey and will be making a roundabout course on your way back.
The little watercourse you’re on will grow slightly larger with each step. When I came this way the anxiety I felt up there on the Windy Point was vanished by this point, and replaced instead with a confidence which grew in proportion to the erosion of the landscape where I now walked. I believe that the cause of this change was due to the cessation of the wind, which blew hard up on the ridge, unsettling my nerves with a reminder of these fierce natural circumstances and the implicit threat of such solitude. The quiet now of this meandering dry gully hushed my nerves, but perhaps only as much as any illusion of security the mind can invent in dangerous places and compromised circumstance.
Soon your little course will merge into a larger gully with steeper sides and a sandy bottom. How much water and rain were required to make this sand from solid volcanic rock? Was this done during this current epoch of desert, or perhaps during an earlier period of geologic time, when then landscape wasn’t desert, and rain fell and flowed here sufficient to produce a perennial stream, with fish, and insects, and birds, brush, trees and an entire green ecosystem. Was this small stream basin carved from the stone by the constant attention of a bursting biome of purpose and action? Am I seeing this now in the absence of such seeming purposeful force? Is this thing which is lacking the cause of the Indifference I feel? Is this why I can only best comprehend such Indifference in deserts? And only after I’ve wandered far from somewhere into a nowhere where memory remains visible only upon the face of stones and the piles and swirls of sand. My steps begin to slow and falter here. The sandman’s spell begins with comfort and deep wonder.
After a short distance the larger gully will widen and the turn gently to the right. The Black Mountain is now near at hand directly to the South East. It blocks and protects us from discovery. To the east, west and north there’s only waste and empty. This place is nearly as good as you could hope to find for quiet introspection. I recommend stopping somewhere here in the sand. Take off your pack. lay in aside. Sit down in the sand. Pull off your shoes. Then your socks. Lay these aside to let them dry a bit in the still, sunny air. Take off your shirt. Lay down in the sand. Close your eyes now with your head facing upstream and your feet towards the somewhere where you are headed. Your feet should always face in the direction of your somewhere.
Close your eyes and let the sun blaze. Warmth rises now on your exposed limbs. Feel your skin beginning to heat. Does the sand feel good under your back? It should be soft and surprisingly comfortable. Let your mind wander. Note how it doesn’t wander far. There’s anxiety again now as you lay exposed and vulnerable in the wilderness. What danger might come of this? What animal could be watching us now from above the gully? What might come padding up or down the wash towards us? What small things might now be crawling across the sand towards us? Did I stay too long out here? Do I have enough water to make it back to Siberia safely? Do I know the way? I’m already on a path which is different than the one I used to get here? Do I have enough time to make it back? Will I die today here in the desert? Have I already made some fatal mistake?
Note how the thoughts above are different from those on the Windy Ridge? Did you have any such practical thoughts on the ridge? Looking out at the impossible landscape, feeling and hearing the wind, tracing your mortality across some few decades of your life to this moment? Asking yourself how much more to come, and what–if anything–might follow? These were the impressions on the hill. Not fear, but frightful awe, and an awesome comprehension of irrelevance to the lack of any comprehensible meaning, intent or purpose in the greater scheme of nature. This is the difference between the naked and raw exposure to Indifference and the mere fear of being alone someplace far and alien.
When you’ve had your rest at the Sandman’s Bed put your shirt and shoes back on, hoist your pack and continue walking downstream until you spill out into a larger wash. Turn right and go up this wash a short distance before turning sharply to the left and heading up and over the ridge. Now you cross the badlands. You might cross through another couple of washes now as you move steady west. Now’s the time to get lost and lose your way to the next stop in our journey. If you do get lost then don’t panic. Just head downstream with the next dry wash you encounter. Go back to the last wash if you must. Following any wash now to the south will eventually take you out into the open desert where you should be able to regain your orientation. And even if you don’t, if you continue south now you will certainly encounter the railroad and route 66 eventually. But again, don’t come here or follow this course unless you can accept the chance that you might make a mistake and find yourself truly lost, with night coming soon, little water left, and absolutely no idea where to go.
Click here to see a video of the badlands as I cross to the sandman’s bed.
At this point in the hike I’ve rather left you on your own and am now providing only rough guidance to get you from one place to another. This is both deliberate and a consequence of the fact that as I type this I can’t really think of a good way to guide you along a route that is largely trackless and without good landmarks. All I can say is that you need to continue west through the badlands until you again encounter the Siberia Wash. But don’t let the fact of your journey now distract you from the much worthwhile value of each step through the badlands. In hindsight now, if there’s anyplace I wish I’d lingered more on this hike it’s here. There isn’t much to be found in this waste which is precisely its attraction. And the uneven up and down of the landscape, somewhat slippery underfoot, gives good traction to the type of reflection my dead muse does so often engender. In fact, I’m a little suspicious that these badlands are where the corpse-like inspiration I call my muse first found me, and then followed me back home.
When you reach the eastern edge of the Siberia Wash then stop. Look across the wash for a dark line of rock stretching across the far edge of the wash. This is a dyke of lava which stands in the midst of the wash very close to the far edge. There are two additional lava chunks in the wash here, closer islets of stone. Move now towards these rocks, visit each if you can, though your destination is the larger dyke. When you arrive note the fact of shade here. Something you can’t easily find out here. Use it if you need to, though beware black widow spiders along the edge of the black stone.
Maybe you’ve already noticed now that you are at the dyke, but there’s a wooden structure standing alone just a few dozen yards to the west of the dyke. This is “Campo #1” which is a long-abandoned mining camp. The site of Campo #1 is an outstanding desert camp site on the south end of an island in the wash, protected from the floods and protected from the winds. It’s a good place to overnight. I’ll leave the rest for you to discover on your own, as there’s not much here that isn’t worth finding any other way than alone.
When you are finished at El Campo #1 you can head south down Siberia Wash. Do you feel that subtle relief of being homeward bound? Are you tempted as you walk through the sand by the sight of deep and long canyons extending off to your right? Do you see the colors in those hills? Do you want to go and see? I did the same thing, though I resisted for awhile which was a good thing, as the first few of those canyons will take you too far out of your way, up and into a place I call Deep Water. I recommend saving your swim into Deep Water for another hike. I’ve been there. That place deserves a fresh start, and more importantly, fresh recognizance and an understanding of the area that comes from first successfully completing the Anxiety Hike.
Do you sing? I found the walk along the wash from El Campo #1 to the abandoned mine shaft a good place to sing. Just about the time you’re starting to get into it you should see a large pile of dirt atop a small embankment to the right. This pile marks the site of a vertical shaft dug straight down into the Earth. Approach carefully as falling in would be very bad. There’s a large wooden beam across the hole. Throw a rock in and wonder at the depth.
This hike is almost over. At least in terms of what I can tell you. The last part is a bit of a risk as it consists of a freeform walk into the near edge of deep water and a somewhat challenging push out through the edge of deep water, up and over a landscape which is truly a bit dangerous, will likely provoke some panic, and may lead you to become truly lost if you are not careful. Perhaps it’s better you skip the edge of deep water and just continue down the Siberia Wash towards the railroad. You’ll find your way back. It’s the smart thing to do.
As I type these words I feel like I’m being overly melodramatic at this point in the story. However, I’ve been to the edge of deep water three times, and every time I felt the same. It’s a scary place, largely due to the fact of exposure, and heat, and distance, and the sense that time is running out. It’s not like the Indifference I sensed on the Windy Ridge, or the unseen threat I pondered at the Sandman’s Bed. There’s something more real about what I feel every time I go the Edge of Deep Water. A sense that the clock is ticking. A mild panic that arises as I begin to race back to safety.
From the abandoned mine shaft, continue past the hole and into the small canyon which cuts into the place I call Deep Water. Walk and walk. To the left, and then the right, as the canyon twists and turns. Admire the color in the walls. Admire the plants. After a bit things will open up to the right, revealing a very interesting and different type of badlands. Rolling hills and deeply faulted canyons. On your extreme right side a small mountain rises to a high point. About halfway up there’s an Old Miner squatting and watching, taking over your surveillance where the watcher of Siberia Wash left off.
Some distance further you’ll need to make a sharp left and strike for the low and very near hills to the south. Though the climb isn’t too difficult I do think it’s dangerous. The ground here consists of slippery rhyolite and very narrow channels in the crevices where feet could easily slip, get caught or meet a rattlesnake. care now. Make your way safely to the top.
When you arrive at the summit you’ve reached the edge of deep water, from which you’ve also just emerged. Though in fact your encounter with the deep water wilderness was only passing and fleeting. Turn now and look back. Take in that view. Don’t you want to go deeper? Take off your pack and sit down for a bit. Let the wind press from behind. Look over your shoulder towards Siberia. You’re almost safe again. All you need to do is make it down through the hills, out over the tongues of rock, onto the alluvium, and out across the open.
Click here to see a video from The Edge of Deep Water.
Reference List and links
My name is Kurt Bell and I am delighted that you have taken some time to share a little of The Good Life with me. I’m available on social media at the links below and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
My book is available here:
Going Alone is an independent approach to living, uncovering what is real, and making peace with the facts of what is true no matter how the truth makes us feel. I upload at least one video a week for this series on my YouTube channel.
The Good Life is a formulated plan of objectives and principals designed to help us live a more virtuous life in accord with sound reasoning. I upload at least one video a month for this series.
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