Sunday, March 1, 2015

Photo Monday: East Mojave National Preserve

 Since my story from the last two weeks (here and here) landed in the East Mojave among the Joshua Trees, I was inspired to do a post on that area, one I love and hope to be visiting in a few weeks.

The national parks get all the press--who hasn't heard of Death Valley? and thanks to U2 even Joshua Tree is vaguely familiar to most people. But "East Mojave National Preserve" lacks both a sexy name and a high-profile iconic element. That's okay. I like it uncrowded. But still--it's worth a closer look. At 1.6 million acres, it sits out in the middle of nowhere in SE California, between Interstate 15 and Interstate 40. Remember the movie "Baghdad Cafe"? It was more or less set, and filmed, in Amboy, just on the south side of the park.

The variety of landscapes in the Preserve is amazing--though all is desert, it ranges from the Kelso Dunes (at about 2200', among the lowest parts of the park) to the Midhills Campground at 5500' in the Providence Mountains, to the Joshua Tree forest on the Cima Dome (around 5000'). Then there are the mountains--rough, rugged, and tall enough to have forests and water in the high reaches, if you can get there. We've been all over (except the mountains--we lack 4WD, and we go in the spring, when it's cold enough at 5000 feet). Here are some of my highlights.

First the map. The kids in the story the last two weeks walked from somewhere up on the Cima Dome down to where the "town" of Cima is now.

The Kelso Dunes are the #1 attraction, and over the years we have watched them get discovered. So far, park management has kept them from getting trashed.  In 2008, we arrived at the right time for the most amazing bloom of the desert primrose, a flower that looks far too delicate for the environment. Each blossom lasts just a night, and by the end of the next day is a little pink rag. We returned the following year, but there were few or no flowers--the desert only blooms when the rains come just right.
Early morning at the dunes--the best time to climb them is before sunrise. We were slowed by the flowers!
The next year, the flowers have dried and formed a "birdcage".
Providence Mountains from the informal camp area at the base of the dunes.

Looking north toward the Kelso Mountains from the top of the dunes.
Not far from the dunes you find the historic Kelso Depot. The trains still go through, but don't stop, and the building is now the Visitor's Center and houses some great historical displays as well as an art gallery. The diner has been restored to 1930s style, and when we last visited (2009) was serving burgers and shakes again. My husband remembers stopping there as a kid, when you drove in over 50 miles of dirt road, and a shake or ice cream cone was the best thing in the world!
Kelso Depot, now the Visitor's Center
NE along Kelbaker Road you find an unassuming hole in the ground. It's surrounded by cinder cones and is, in fact a lava tube--a cave formed when hot lava flowed on out from under a hardened crust.

Down inside, the floor is dusty, and the roof full of holes, making this less cool and pleasant than some lava tubes I've known, but also making for great photos!

Returning to the mother ship.

Over in the Providence Mountains, the Hole in the Rock Trail is otherworldly as well, for those willing to do a little scrambling, or at least climb down a series of rings set in the rocks.

Entering the Hole in the Rock from below, after hiking down from Midhills Campground.

Meanwhile, surrounded by the National Preserve, Mitchell Caverns State Park offers an easy cave walk in a limestone cave, with great formations.
Inside Mitchell Caverns, accessible only on ranger-led tours.
And, of course, I can't leave without a shot of the Joshua Trees.
The Joshua tree grows only in the Mojave Desert, and only between about 1300 and 5900' elevation (it's very temperature dependent, so the outlier elevations are limited). It is a type of yucca, and not a tree at all.
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday Fiction: Swords of the Desert, Part II

Four kids from another world have landed themselves in the Mojave desert, just in time to be caught up in Jake Stone's troubles. Read the beginning of the story here; this really is just a single story divided in two.

I got really carried away with this one, and will be working more with the characters and the story. But I pruned it to about 2200 words total, to keep it to two posts. The longer version will show up somewhere, sometime...probably in that anthology I keep saying I'll assemble!

Jake thought maybe he should lay off the whiskey. He had to be hallucinating. Nothing about the kids looked right, not for white kids, not for Indians. Especially not the one with the tail. Jake refused to think about that.

Hallucination or not, they couldn’t stay where they were. Jake knew he’d been followed into the desert, and the men behind him would kill a kid without a moment’s thought. Jake slid down off the horse, and stood still until the children stopped cringing.

“Well, I guess you can’t understand me, and I can’t understand you, but come on, let’s get you somewhere safe.” Jake held out his water flask to the girl who seemed to be in charge, mentally figuring how long it would last and how far it was to the spring at Cima. They’d make it, though they might be thirsty.

Then he looked back. The outlaws’ dust was closer. “We’d better skedaddle.” They didn’t understand his words, but the tallest girl looked where he looked, and seemed to understand the situation.

I couldn’t understand his speech, but the stranger’s meaning was clear enough. Someone was coming after him, and not in a nice way. We knew about that sort of thing, and since he seemed willing to help us find our way out of this bizarre desert, we got up and went along. He noticed right off that Lessa was hurt, and wanted her to sit up on the giant animal.

Lessa was scared of the beast, but she was weak. The wound wasn’t bad, but she’d lost some blood, and she couldn’t keep up. She let him lift her to its back.

Wherever the Sphinx had landed us this time, at least they drank water. There was that one time…

The kids were quick, Jake saw, and they were tough. Even the one with the bloody bandage was game. He could see old Buck scared her silly—and what kind of kids had never seen a horse, anyway?—but when the boss girl told her to, she rode him.

Trouble was, they might make it to the wells at Cima, but what then? If he’d been alone, he’d have run for it. But with five of them and only one horse, they couldn’t even think about it.

Jake looked back again at the line of youngsters trotting along behind the horse. They looked tough, and one of them had a bow and quiver. That puzzled him, too. Not that bows were unusual in the area, but the bow wasn’t like any he’d ever seen. These kids were different. Jake shrugged. They were his responsibility now, whatever they were.

We trotted along for an hour or so, following the man and the big creature. Lessa was pale and squirming with discomfort when the man suddenly ducked aside into a clump of trees, and there was a little pool of water in the middle of them. He made a bunch more of his strange noises and lifted Lessa down from the beast.

He set to piling rocks and things to make some defenses, and we set to helping him. I had a thought.

“Joc, you climb up that tree thing and keep a lookout.”

A while later Joc slid down from the tree and said, “Someone’s coming.”

I tugged the man’s arm, and Joc pointed. The man couldn’t understand us, but he got the message. Now we could all see the dust cloud, and mounted men in it. I drew my sword, and Joc strung his bow. I wished we all had them. The man didn’t seem to be armed, though he had a long metal and wood stick that he laid carefully over the rocks. He handled it like a weapon, but it just looked like a club, which wouldn’t do much good, especially if whoever was after us had bows.

Jake glanced at the children. They looked calm. Did they understand what was about to happen? The one with the bow had strung it, and while it didn’t look like any bow Jake had seen before, it looked serviceable. The swords would be no use against guns.

Jake smiled grimly. He’d expected to die violently. He just never would have guessed he’d be defending the strangest bunch of kids he’d ever seen, against the meanest outlaws he’d ever met.

The attackers came on fast. I could hear the pounding of the great riding-beasts’ hooves, and then some kind of explosion. I guessed we hadn’t hidden too well, or they knew the spring, because they came right at us. Something hit a rock and showered us with stone chips.

We huddled lower. There were weapons here that we didn’t understand, and I felt really afraid for the first time. This was starting to look too much like the battle we’d escaped when the Sphinx brought us here: a lost cause.

I heard the man grunt, a kind of muffled sound as though it had been forced out of him. Something had torn a hole right through his shoulder, and blood soaked his shirt. He was still upright and his long stick was making explosions, but he was pale as water and I knew that shock and blood loss could kill him fast. Behind me I could hear the Sphinx whimpering.

I crawled over to the man and cut a strip from my shirt. When I touched the wound, the man flinched, but he went on firing his strange weapon.

I heard the Sphinx cry out again, and I knew what was coming. Well, just like last time, I thought. The Sphinx’s random transfers were better than staying where we were.

Jake knew he was hit hard. This was it, then. When he’d lost enough blood, he’d pass out, and Barlow would charge in.

When the girl began to bandage his wound, Jake was startled, but kept firing. That was the important thing. He doubted he’d make it, but he’d do his best for the kids. The older boy, the one with the bow, shot too. Jake saw an arrow go through one of the outlaws, who tumbled from the saddle and lay still. Jake whistled softly. That was some bow, and some shooting.

There were too many of them. There wasn’t time to reload the rifle, even if he could have with one arm useless. Jake dropped the long weapon and pulled out his six-gun. His vision was blurring. He would pass out, and then they’d all die. “Sorry, kids,” he whispered, and the world spun to black.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015
The sort of country the children walk through.

And, just for fun--the post office/store at Cima, probably built not long after they were there :)  I'm not actually certain there's a spring there--but there pretty much had to be, anywhere people set down and tried to live. The cottonwood tree certainly suggests it.
 Looking at this...I think the next photo essay will have to be about the Eastern Mojave and the Cima Dome, where this story takes place!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Review: The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse


Title: The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse
Author: Robert Rankin
Publisher: Gollancz/ Orion Publishing Co. 2002.  342 pages.
Source: Library

Summary: (going with the publisher's summary here. This one's a little hard to sum up!).
Once upon a time Jack set out to find his fortune in the big city. But the big city is Toy City, formerly known as Toy Town, and it has grown considerably since the good old days and isn't all that jolly any more. And there is a serial killer loose on the streets. The old, rich nursery rhyme characters are being slaughtered one by one and the Toy City police are getting nowhere in their investigations. Meanwhile, Private Eye Bill Winkie has gone missing, leaving behind his sidekick Eddie Bear to take care of things. Eddie may be a battered teddy with an identity crisis, but someone's got to stop the killer. When he teams up with Jack, the two are ready for the challenge. Not to mention the heavy drinking, bad behaviour, car chases, gratuitous sex and violence, toy fetishism and all-round grossness along the way. It's going to be an epic adventure!

First off, as you can guess if you read the summary, this is not a children's book, despite the use of nursery-rhyme characters (or, as they prefer to be called,  PPPs, or Preadolescent Poetic Personalities). What this is, or should be, is an absurdist romp through a world were toys and PPPs are real, living, and even mostly sentient. It has the potential to be a seriously funny story.

Again, you can see where this is going. Maybe I'm just not the right audience, but I found very little of the book funny. Occasionally there were jokes that got a smile, but not many. And certainly the overall premise wasn't exactly a knee-slapper. I might attribute this to it being British humour and me being, well, not-British. But I like a lot of British humour. I love P.G. Wodehouse. I also got a hoot out of the books I've read by Will Macmillan Jones (this, and also this), and those are current (lest you think maybe I only like old British humour).

No, the book just wasn't for me. But I will say that the story holds together pretty well, and the author throws a good twist or two into the plot as we near the end--enough that by the last 80 pages or so I did get engaged enough to read on through (the only reason I got that far, though, is that it was a book club read). I didn't hate the book, and I kept thinking that I ought to be really liking it. I mean, the title alone is enough to predispose me to like it--I do enjoy the absurd! But, alas, it just didn't light my fire.

Hard to say. Fans of off-beat Brit humour, those who already know and love Rankin, and maybe those who like mysteries that are more than a little out of the ordinary, may really love this book! If you have read it and liked it, leave me a note!

Full Disclosure: I checked The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."