It's still a bit strange writing my stories and sharing my photos on another publication. My trail reports are mostly over there now instead of here on my blog. I have to honor a 90-day embargo period (on the story, not the photos), so I'm cautious about sharing my trail stories here on my blog or on social media. Keeping a story within the designated word limits can be a challenge, too. There's always so much more I want to say, to share. My first draft is consistently 500+ words over the limit and I start ruthlessly slashing anything that isn't essential. "Just the facts ma'am.". That takes all of the character out, everything that makes it an adventure, and I often wonder if I shouldn't instead leave in the little vignettes of life on the trail, throw in some drama and leave out all of the boring facts, especially after I read someone else's blog post or a magazine article describing the drama and danger that goes into someone's photography or desert adventures and I realize that the things they describe are the things I take for granted.
What prompted these thoughts was coming across the blog of a young man who decided to channel his inner Chris McCandless by driving his Range Rover down from Portland to homestead in an abandoned cabin in the Mojave. He lasted three days. The drama and adventure of those three days provided enough fodder for many blog posts, culminating in many more posts about how he was sure he had been exposed to Hantavirus and was going to die any minute. He was a good writer and I found his posts entertaining, but I knew exactly where he had stayed. I knew that not half a mile from the cabin was a location that saw a steady stream of visitors on the weekends. And so I just had a hard time taking his daring adventure as seriously as he wanted. But he sure was good at writing drama and drama makes for an entertaining read.
The thing is, if you're going to venture out into the unknown in desolate areas, sooner or later shit is going to happen. It might be big shit or it might be little shit, but it's going to happen. If you venture out into the desert unprepared when it happens you're going to be miserable or you're going to die. Or you're going to die a miserable death. When you're prepared, mentally/physically/supplies, it doesn't seem like such a big thing. That's why I live by two mottos: "The only difference between an ordeal and an adventure is your attitude." and "Improvise, Adapt, Overcome". But acting as if it's no big deal doesn't make for a good story, so I think that going forward I need to start playing up the drama a bit more and convince you of how fearless and adventurous I really am!
In a couple days the story of my visit to the Crusty Bunny Ranch will be published on DrivingLine. What's left out of the story is that it rained the day before we left and apparently our firewood got wet (which somebody failed to mention when he packed it). Anyone who has been married any length of time will recognize the ensuing conversation that took place over the smoking wood which began with "Why didn't tell you me the wood was wet so we could pick up some dry wood?" and deteriorated down to "We're miles from civilization in the middle of nowhere in the desert and it's cold and we have no wood ^&%$$*" until an hour had been wasted watching him attempt to start a fire with wet wood. When you try to burn wet wood the only thing it does is smoke, a lot.
I didn't get to say that I then had the idea to check the cabin for firewood since there was a working fireplace inside and the cabin was somewhat cared for. Of course that job went to the person who packed the wet wood. By now it was pitch dark. There was a heavy cloud cover and no moon so it was really dark, desert dark. Off he went, flashlight in hand. I was certain that he would find dry wood somewhere near the cabin and our problem would be solved. He came back carrying one small piece and said he wasn't going near the cabin again. While he was inside something in the back room spooked him. This man has explored caves, mine shafts, abandoned cabins and ghost towns in the dark for years and has never once been spooked, but this time he got spooked. And he was so spooked that he got me spooked haha! We managed to get a small and very smokey fire going for a short while, it didn't last much longer than an hour, long enough to cook dinner, eat and clean up. The cloud cover was too heavy to see the Milky Way or many stars for night photography, so with nothing better to do we turned in early. And we promptly found out that his air mattress sprung a leak. A major leak. He spent a miserable night sleeping (trying to) on the ground.
It wasn't until the next morning that I took some time to read through the log books at the cabin.
I found the log entry of another intrepid desert traveler who also got spooked one night in the cabin. There was some joking that it was probably one of the wild burros in the area but they thought for sure it was Sasquatch. I later found their online blog post about this same incident, something obviously had them very spooked. There are no rumors of the Crusty Bunny Ranch being haunted but then again there isn't much info online about the cabin (or the mine) all, and I thought it weird that two people who were very used to this type of environment both got spooked here.
I didn't get to say that I had planned to do my holiday card shoot here. We had originally thought to string the lights on the cabin but we couldn't figure out a way that would work with the supplies we had on hand (having a ladder would've helped!) and so we diligently sought out a fine looking Joshua Tree in a scenic location that was close enough to the trail where we could run an extension cord to the inverter in the Jeep. We carefully (not carefully enough) strung the lights and waited for sunset. It was a bit cloudier than I would have liked but still colorful and I continued shooting until twilight ended, not entirely happy but hoping that something would be close enough to my vision. When we tried to take the lights down the Joshua Tree refused to give up its hold, so we decided we would get them in the morning before we headed out rather than fight with them in the dark.
Except that we forgot about them the next morning (until we were twenty miles away) so they are still there. My home will have a few less strands of light this year but maybe somebody else can enjoy them. If you happen to visit the Crusty Bunny look from the cabin toward the beautiful scene of sand dunes and snow-topped mountains. Find the large Joshua Tree closest to the trail you took in, it's not very far, maybe a half mile. If you have an inverter go ahead and plug in the lights and enjoy. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, Happy New Day, Happy Beautiful World!
I also didn't get to mention that our adventure was cut short when the shutter failed on my camera on the second day. After winding our way through the Kingston Range Wilderness, the North Mesquite Wilderness and then the Mesquite Wilderness and trying to decide where we wanted to spend the night, I decided I wanted to swing by to visit the Mojave Cross in the Cima region of the Mojave National Preserve. The last time I had visited it was still covered in plywood, and now with the legalities finally settled the cross was standing tall in all it's glory. I hadn't taken two shots before I got the error message and nothing I tried would clear it. I had my backup camera set up as Jeep Cam 1 for another project and hadn't intended to use it as my primary. With no dry wood for a campfire, a busted air mattress, little sleep the night before, the sun dropping low in the sky and now a non-functioning camera we decided it would probably be best to head for home. I don't mind a few challenges but sometimes you have to decide that it might not be smart to keep pressing your luck.
My final thoughts when I got back home and started going through my photos was how much damage seems to be taking place recently to places and properties in remote locations. Vandalism has always been a problem but lately it seems to be escalating. Blog posts and trail reports on the Crusty Bunny just a few years ago show it in much better shape. A friend had photographed this rocking horse a few years ago and I had hoped to use it as a subject for night photography, but I found it almost completely destroyed, smashed to pieces. I picked it up, put it back where it belonged and tried to piece it together the best I could. The log book in the cabin indicated that the windows had only recently been broken. A fellow traveler kindly took the time to board them up to prevent damage to the interior of the cabin from the elements. I was surprised at how many people cared enough to put some work into maintaining the place. So it's just an old abandoned miner's cabin...well it's stood in place unharmed for many (60+?) years, it's part of our cultural (mining) history and it provides safe haven for anyone traveling through the area who might need some shelter. I think about the recent tagging at remote locations in Joshua Tree in California and at Red Rock Canyon in Nevada, the damage at Death Valley's Racetrack from people walking on it when it's wet and stealing the stones, the toppling of a 200-million year old rock formation at Utah's Goblin State Park, and the graffiti I found on the tufa at Trona Pinnacles a few months ago. I don't understand people who damage and destroy just for the sake of doing so.
Photographers have notoriously been reluctant to share the exact location of special places and it's always disturbed me a bit because I think everyone should be able to enjoy special places. I think that my eight years of blog posts about these places is proof of how much I care about them. None of these places is truly secret, the information is there for those who are willing to seek it out. But I do believe that the internet and social media has made information more accessible, and that's a good thing and a bad thing. National Park Service records show that 9,000 landmarks have been vandalized since 2009, and that only accounts for park property. Media reports blame it on social media and people bragging about their "accomplishments" but I think that accessibility of location information plays a major role. I don't want to be part of the problem by making locations too easy to find for those who don't deserve the privilege. The Crusty Bunny Ranch is located in a wilderness area that is one of the most ecologically diverse regions of the Mojave and it is incredibly beautiful, easily one of my most favorite locations. I hate the thought that hoards of people in SUVs might travel out there with no respect for the environment. And I found myself reluctant to name to the trail in my article for DrivingLine or even name the specific area of the Mojave. There are enough hints that anyone could find the information if they wanted. The main trail is public information but it's not that easy to find when you're out there. The directions/coordinates to the spur trail that leads to the cabin is not quite as easy to find, but it's out there for those who know where to look. I've been thinking about exactly how much information I want to share and that maybe I'll just let others provide specific locations and directions if they are inclined to do so. Sadly it's even making me rethink my image keywording and captioning, as I often find myself thinking that I don't want specific location information in the metadata, especially when I'm sharing on social media. I have never and will never embed gps coordinates in my photos. I will always be eternally grateful to the people who do share and make it easier for me to find interesting places to visit, I love reading their blogs and trail reports and I hope they don't stop. But I think that enough people are sharing the info that maybe I don't need to add to it.