The bright and terrible desert

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“There’s California just over the river, and a pretty town to start it. Needles, on the river.”

— John Steinbeck

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Top: 66 Motel, Needles, Calif. Above: El Garces Hotel, “Crown Jewel of the Desert,” Needles.

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The Palms Apartments, Needles.

“But the river is a stranger in this place. Up from Needles and over a burned range, and there’s the desert. And 66 goes on over the terrible desert, where the distance shimmers and the black center mountains hang unbearably in the distance.”

— John Steinbeck

(Much more below the fold — please click over.)

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Study the past: Goffs Schoolhouse and nature trail, Goffs, Calif.

“Highway 66 is the main migrant road. 66 — the long concrete path across the country, waving gently up and down on the map, from the Mississippi to Bakersfield — over the red lands and the gray lands, twisting up into the mountains, crossing the Divide and down into the bright and terrible desert.”

— John Steinbeck

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Renaissance in progress: Roy’s, Amboy, Calif.

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Amboy Crater, just off 66 west of Roy’s.

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A few cell phone images from Amboy Crater: View of the inside of a volcano (my presence gives you a sense of scale); climbing out of the cone; a juvenile horned toad seeks shelter under a bramble.

I don’t know where it came from, this affinity I have for Steinbeck’s “bright and terrible desert,” but it’s been there since the first time I laid eyes on the striking, lonely expanse that lies just west of Needles. For all my love of bees and flowers and summer storms and homegrown tomatoes fresh off the vine and wild pink-orange Oklahoma sunsets, I know, deep down, that if Ron ever said, “Let’s chuck it all and go live in the Mojave,” I would pile the dogs and the cat and a tube of SPF 50 into the truck and head into the Mojave without a backward glance, because something about that weirdly beautiful desolation whispers to me — the heat and the vastness and the strange barren landscape, all sand and lava rock and creosote bushes and danger, always danger, breathing softly just under the surface, hiding in the crevices between rocks and undulating over the pavement in soft silver waves, daring the audacious to try their luck against its thousand threats….

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Big as a whale: Ludlow, Calif.

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A beacon in the darkness and an oasis in the desert: Ludlow, Calif.

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Remnants of Cadiz Summit Service.

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Adaptive reuse: Restaurant-turned-residence, Daggett, Calif.

Tune in next time to watch a forest rise from the arid landscape just east of Victorville….

Emily

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