Day #2 Slab City

Last night we walked under the huge moon enjoying the desert air lush with the scent of creosote bush.

What is this? A coupon? Void after Xmas?

If you are unfamiliar with the creosote bush but are familiar with railroad ties, that might not sound appealing. Indeed the bush has a lovely aroma.  I find it more soothing than sage,  Burt’s favorite.  I would like a creosote bush perfume or candle.  So we walked in the bright moonlight and marveled at how much we like this place.

It is a bit of a wasteland and some squatters are living in squalid conditions.  There are refuse piles here and there and some clumps of vegetation teem with litter.  On the other hand there is the wide open sky and surrounding vistas of mountains in every direction.  There is a culture of found art and many homes are pleasing to the eye despite being made from trash.  This morning we rode our bikes for two hours with Elvis trotting alongside.

A mile or so out of “town” there were several apiaries.  Burt, the former apiarist cautioned me that many hives are Africanized in this are so we didn’t get to close.  It was cool zipping through the bee traffic as they made their ways from

Happy Mimi

hive to irrigation canal to collect water.  We went to the library (open 24/7) and I picked up two new books: Luncheonette and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  I can’t wait to read Jane Austen with ZOMBIES.  From there we went to the pet cemetery.  There were sweet memorials to folk’s traveling companions.  I can’t tell you how much more important Elvis and Mimi feel to us out here on the road.  It is a pleasure to look after them and make sure they have what they need to be comfortable.  I guess if they are happy then we are happy.

Yesterday Right before we went to Salvation Mountain we toured to beautifully painted concrete water tanks.  They secular versions of the God is Love theme.  One mural depicts all kinds of dinosaurs and monsters with an anti-war theme.  The other mural depicts sex acts in every imaginable position.  I was surprised to see it was all heterosexual, but there were some hilarious depictions of inter-species copulation.

We befriended our first full timer, Gene Goff, yesterday.  Gene is in his late 60s and has been on the road for over 20 years.  He’s lived on disability and Social Security.  He lost most of his left hand in an as yet undisclosed manner.  He has the conical base of his thumb and the palm heel.  The combination was surprisingly dexterous.  Anyway, Gene was full of helpful advice and gave us a ton of pamphlets on where to camp free in Texas and Arizona.  One is about public hunting lands in Texas.  Burt has already found a place with no limit on feral hogs and a limit of 25 on frogs.  Free camping and all the food we can eat.  Gene wants our trailer if we give up the road.  We want to pick his brain if we get in a tight spot.  His number is in our book under R for RVers.

Here’s a bunch of pictures.  Happy 2010, Everyone!!!


Moved but not Saved

Leonard and the gypsies

Here we are with the creator of Salvation Mountain.  Leonard is 86 years old.  Twenty-nine years ago he came out here to camp for a week and build a small homage to God.  He hasn’t left and he’s still creating.  Leonard is almost stone deaf, so we couldn’t chat but we got a tour.  He doesn’t proselytize rather he is still so excited about his art that he focuses on the work.  Flowers are fun to make because he get to goosh his hands into the wet adobe and Leonard likes the feeling.  The site was designated a National Folk Art treasure.  Burt and I were both overwhelmed by his friendliness and his gratitude that people “liked” what he made.  Below are some of my favorite pics from the tour.

Interior of Salvation Mountain
Leonard pointing out a flower
The Yellow Brick Road
Burt and Elvis on top of Salvation Mountain
God is Love

Slab City is where you’ll find me

We arrived at 4:00.  First impression:  we will never leave or we will never come back.  Its free free free.  The scenery is spectacular.  We are far from civilization but have better cell service than in Pasadena.  640 acres with squatters and RVers spawled all over.  Everyone has a dog.  Salvation Mountain.  More on that tomorrow. Live Music.  Our awning will be up and we’ll be playing outside in the morning.  Tonight it’s scallops and broccoli over angel hair pasta for dinner.


Leaving LA tomorrow

Hillary Mark and Me

Thanks to the Mark family we have enjoyed a great few days in the LA area.  It is time to get the heck out of here and see some emptiness.  Today we hiked up Eaton Canyon and Henninger Flats.  About 3.5 miles in and up a couple thousand feet.  Burt’s cousin’s daughter (anyone on the term?) Hillary went with us.  You can see her in the pic here.  I’m feeling pretty good with two days of hiking accomplished in the LA metro area.  I took my puffy feet to REI and got some new light hikers afterward.

We took Aunt Carol and Uncle George to dinner tonight and came home and watched some TiVo Jeopardy.  I was amused Burt hadn’t heard of TiVo.  I do my best to keep him abreast of technological developments but we don’t have a TV so I guess I dropped the ball.

Tomorrow we hit a grocery store and head out to Slab City.  Slab City is an abandoned Marine base in the desert.  You can go there and squat for free.  Thousands of people live there in the winter.  We are going to check it out and report back.  There’s a talent show there on Saturday.  If we can hang that long maybe we’ll have a go.  My updates might be delayed.


Some people can’t help but be…you fill in the blank.

Burt took me to see his Grandma and Grandpa Nelson’s house in Glendora today.  The place still retains an air of redneck nobility perched up on its hill surrounded by newer and flashier homes.  I saw the oak tree where the bees lived in a hollow.  The hollow was still there but no bees today.  Burt’s grandparents rented from the owners who lived next door.  The landlords raised rattlesnakes and collected venom to make anti-venom when Burt was hanging around.  The houses had been surrounded by an orange grove but even now with all the new development open space is only about a block away so you can get a feel for what a wonderland  this must have been for him.

Then we drove up San Gabriel canyon and did a day hike along the West Fork of the San Gabriel River.  We noticed signs on the way up the canyon mentioning a parking permit but couldn’t figure out where we were supposed to get the permit.  Being wild and crazy people we didn’t try to find out.  I mean, come on, we followed the rules at Venice Beach, but pay to park in the National Forest?  Not if we could help it.

The hike was a closed and paved road leading to Cogswell Dam.  The first half mile was swarmed with families up from the city.  Rainbow trout are native to this stream and there were people trying to catch them.  I ignored the pavement and told myself we would out walk the people n 20 minutes and we did.  In about 25 minutes there was a bridge with a sign off to the side that mentioned the public lands were closed beyond “this” point.  The sign was off the road and at a 45 degree angle to the bridge.  There was no chain, no obstacle on the bridge so we decided it was ambiguous at best and perhaps referred to the land on the other side of the stream.  We really were unsure and I hesitated for a moment but I thought, if this road is closed why not a chain?  Or a sign in the road?  Or a notice at the trailhead?  Oh well, there’s nobody here anyway.

We walked on.  We saw a couple cyclists.  Two carrying fishing rods.  The land here is steeper than anything I’ve seen.  From the road the terrain heads up at about a 6o degree slope with thick vegetation.  Rock climbing would have been easier than walking anywhere other than the road.  Just shy of 3 miles in we found a magical water fall with a series of pools we could scramble to.  The cleft cut into the steep hills and just like in the Grand Canyon I wanted to see if I could get to the next pool.  I gave up at 3.  It was late and we had places to be.

We turned around at mile marker 3 and headed out.  Quickly a car coming from the trailhead pulled up to us.  In it was a middle aged man out with what I took to be his mother.  In an absurd display of bureacratic puffery he told us the area was closed and that we must leave at once.  Burt  and I both expressed our confusion which resulted in him telling us we would be fined $5000 if we were caught.  I have done less agregious things than walk on pavement in a National Forest for which I have felt much guiltier.  “Let them try,” I thought.  I turned to leave when I heard Burt mildly ask, “What are you doing here?”  “Well I work for the Forest Service,” was his response.  Then some mumbling from “mom” and our public servant explained to mom and Burt that well no, he didn’t give the tickets, the sheriff did, but by god the sheriff was around and he’d find us.  And by the way your dog has the be on a leash.  Now the last line, dear reader, is utter BS.  Yours truly is always looking to see what the doggie rules are everywhere we go.  There were no signs about dog leashes AND we had indeed passed the sheriff (on the unambiguously open portion of the road) with our dog running amok and there was no citation or warning issued.  All of which left this former public servant itching for a fight with the feds.  BECAUSE…what the hell was this moron doing DRIVING on a closed road on a Sunday, in a private car with his mother, telling us we weren’t allowed to walk on it? I think Burt was less pissed off than me.

We made it out without incident.  On our windshield was a parking ticket.  Pay $5 now or $100 later.  Pretty nice deal.  With real motivation we could see the parking permit kiosk and made our peace with Uncle Sam.


Venice Beach

Where to start?  We decided to go to Venice Beach and see what it was like to busk there.  First though we did a driving tour of the neighborhood where Burt spent most of his formative years.  Despite the obvious differences in environs between NJ and southern CA, it was apparent to both of us that we had grown up in similar socio-economic situations.  Here is how I see it:  We both grew up in working class neighborhoods surrounded by more affluent neighbors.  There used to be easy access to streams and woods.  The beach was close.   I think NJ was about 10 years behind CA in the cultural shifts of the 50s-70s so that accounts for our age differences.

We followed the Garmin GPS to Venice Beach and payed $9 to park.  We could have parked free on the street, but our instruments were in the truck and we wanted to check the place out before we decided if we wanted to play.  We walked north past the paddle tennis and basketball and weight lifting scenes.  The paddle tennis looked incredibly fun.  The mini-tennis courts were packed.  I think Burt and I could be a threat to each other in doubles.

There was a barker trying to lure people in to see a freak show.  I’ve always thought I would want to go if I had the chance but today I didn’t have the stomach for it.  I’m not sure if it was the human element or the bizarro animal stuff that gave me the willies.  The mental image of the rubber lady made me want to gag.  It was only $5 and I just kept walking.  Maybe under cover of darkness.  Once a friend of mine told me he saw a circus freak show in Great Falls (just a couple of years ago) and when he went in his 12 year old son refused and said it was demeaning to the “performers.”  I confessed my fascination and mentioned that I had read about how there  was a rich history and sense of pride among people that had chosen the line of work.  I asked how it was and he said, “creepy…the world’s smallest lady was just sitting down there in a little set…”  I think he said she was knitting and looked peevish.  He decided his son was right.  Sounded like a rip-off to me.  All that to say I need therapy before I see a real freak show.

Out on the boardwalk was a man in yellow pajamas doing an act with broken bottles.  We were drawn in by his idiosyncratic showmanship.  Soon we were drawn in because Burt was part of the show.  I cannot do it justice.  The video is up on Facebook.

The human spectacle on the boardwalk was not remarkable.  What was mind blowing was the abundance of people stoned out of their mind offering to get us our medical marijuana cards.  Every 5th shop was a medical marijuana dispensary with a “doctor” on duty to get you started.  You just need $100 and a claim that you suffer from any one of scores of eligible ailments and you can start smoking and growing.  California allows you to grow ninety (90!) plants for personal use.  It’s such a joke, I think they should just go ahead and legalize it.  Then we can (maybe) get a handle on the black market and all the ugliness associated with it.  The obviously easy access to pot leaves me with this question:  Who in god’s name is still buying the stuff illegally in California? And one more: Montana allows medical marijuana users six plants.  I head from people in the business that 6 is a lot more than most people need.  If so, what are people in California doing with the 84 extra plants?

While I pondered dope and freaks we watched the skate boarders.  There manner of sharing the park with each other had an indecipherable etiquette.  There were nods and looks and body language sorting out the right-of-way analogous to a pack of dogs.  Burt’s explained the system for surfing and I hope someday I’ll be good enough to try it out.  A surf wave is pretty straight forward; Everyone surfs in the same direction.  Skate boarders were crowded and going in seemingly random directions doing random tricks.  Beautiful.

We overheard some kids talking about finding a “spot” to play music.  We asked them if they knew the rules.  They had their medical marijuana cards and could not provide clear instruction.  We got the idea that it might be free and you might need a card from the police.  Burt and I decided to try to play by the rules so we wandered over to the conveniently located police station.  The very helpful guys there said we could play for free if we had nothing to sell.  Good thing we haven’t released our cd yet.  We also had to display a yellow card that said people were under no obligation to give us money.  They said we were supposed to play in a specific area along the boardwalk.  Burt asked, “Can we play in the grass?”  The officer said, “We discourage that, but you can.”  We probed a little more and each of us concluded that if you are white, middle aged and fairly clean, you can play in the grass.  Of course this was an unspoken conclusion that we shared with each other later.  We think the police of Venice Beach are hoping to attract more performers like us.

We took our yellow placard, collected Elvis and our instruments and went to find a “spot.”  We had left Elvis in the car to guard our instruments while we were on recon.  As usual he did an exemplary job.  Since we were slow in sussing everything out all free “spots.” were occupied.  We decided to play next to the basketball courts.  I think I liked the ambiance because I spent time on the side of a court watching my dad play when I was a kid.  I think these guys would have kicked my dad’s ass.  No offense dad.  So we tuned up and got playing.

We weren’t in quite the right area for our type of music.  Most of the bball watchers kept their headphones on.  Nevertheless we had some diehard fans.  Right off a young guy hears us doing Wagonwheel and stops to listen and sing along.  He had a rough night.  He either fell on his head or was bludgeoned.  There were 6 stitches over his left eyebrow and a gold ball sized swelling on his cheekbone.  His clothes were ragged and his hair dirty but his smile was sweet.  He waved over another street kid and said listen, listen this is a great song.   When it was over he sincerely thanked us and started to head on.  He turned around dug in his pocket and gave us a quarter.  I teared up.  The officer that helped us out swung by gave a nod and turned to watch the basketball.

An Asian man listened for quite a while and also thanked us for playing and threw in a couple of bucks.  Another street kid dumped in all her change.  Most people smiled or waved.  I really enjoyed mindlessly playing fiddle tunes and watching the crowd.  The songs were more difficult because of the activity.  During Put the Blame on Mame a flock of seagulls (not the band) came in low, cackled and pooped right on me.  I’m sure it was a compliment.  After 2 hours of playing we had seen what we wanted to see and we had $4 in the case, it was time to go home.


Recovering from the Xmas Party

Elvis can hardly stand up and Burt and I aren’t much better.  At 10:30 the Mark Clan started to arrive and by 11:00 it was champagne and breakfast.  We had to run the table kitty corner through the dining room so everyone could sit down.  Carol and George have 3 sons around the same ages as Burt and his brothers.  They all grew up together.  Burt was the main instigator.  As if that wouldn’t be obvious to anybody who knows Burt.  They came to the party with wives and kids in tow.  There were 14 of us around the table.  Things moved along pretty sedately until the white wine and champagne took hold.  Next thing I knew presents had been opened and Uncle George was dancing with a USC blanket worn as a cape while we played Tzigane.  I hear there’s a video.  I really had to dig deep to play the tune while I had one eye on the fancy footwork.  He tottered and spun, careening about with his eyes half open, droning along with the tune.

We played some more songs and yakked for a while before retiring to the kitchen for an all female, multi-generational game of 3 to 13.  I learned some more family history and got a bunch of laughs.  The talking got so good the game fell apart when some one said they were in the mood for salami and I was able to produce the great handmade stuff we got in the Napa Valley.  Cards ended and eating started back up.  What are the odds a person could fulfill a craving as easily as that?   It was meant to be.

Elvis played all day with two doggie cousins.  A canine love fest.  We are up to 2 days with no new tick discoveries.  Word from the readers is to try a lavender spray.  Sounds humiliating, but if the ticks show up again we are going to give it a try.  He’s already on that yucky systemic insecticide stuff so we can’t use any more registered pesticides.

Tomorrow Burt and I plan to see Venice Beach.  I hope it’s a full on freak show.


Carpinteria and a road called “Good Enough”

Hi Everyone!

The view to the ocean from Sespe Wilderness

We’ve stopped looking for ticks.  They’ll have to finish dining and get out on their own.  We’ve been in Carpinteria for 2 days.  Yesterday we were instructed to repark our vehicle because (this is no exaggeration) one inch of one tire was off the pavement.  Welcome to California!  Otherwise its a great spot.  We saw some harbor seals on a bike ride, enjoyed some sushi and took a nice walk just yesterday.

Today we headed into the Sespe Wilderness to hike in the California Condor Refuge.  Burt used to come here when he was a kid.  On one trip his grandpa hiked with a homemade PVC frame pack at age 72.  It took an us an hour to drive the 10 miles into the trail head.  The road was named “Good Enough.”  I guess it was, we got there and back.  You can see it on the map above. The road was a steep windy one lane that appeared to be built on scree.

On the trail Elvis continued his efforts to acquire every tick in his vicinity and flushed several coveys of Quail.   We were sans shotguns so its Huevos Rancheros for dinner.  We saw some condors off in the sky and got up high enough to see to see the ocean 25 miles away.  You can’t do that everyday.  After our 5 mile hike we had some leftover spicy edamame.  It was better cold, but maybe that was because we ordered too much food last night.  Anyone with advice on how not to order too much sushi, please get in touch.

Sespe Wilderness
Sespe Wilderness

We hit Fillmore for some propane and 2 condors flew right over our heads while we were at the gas station.  This canyon had the last known wild condors and in the late 80s they were all captured and put into a captive breeding program.  Talk about your last ditch effort.  Astoundingly the breeding program was successful.  Birds were re-released in the early 90s back into Sespe and then the Grand Canyon and most recently Baja, Mexico.  This spring we saw some in the Grand Canyon.  Wild California Condors are now breeding in the wild.  Yahoo.