Read more Mad Dog
on the Road!
from the desert
by Mad Dog
The "Secret Sex Life of the Date"
turns out to be that they have trouble pollinating by themselves and need human
intervention. Big deal, so did Melissa Ethridge.
|| All you have to
do is spend a few hours in the desert to realize that things just aint right there.
You might say theyre a bit wacky. Go ahead and say it, youll feel better if
It might be the heat. It
could be the isolation. Of course it could just be the people it attracts. Case in point:
I was there.
I get to Joshua Tree National Park late in
the afternoon. The well-scrubbed park ranger is in a hurry to close up and doesnt
care whether I pay my $10 or not. Neither do I. Since its late, he recommends I hike
to the top of Mastodon Peak to watch the sun set over the desert. Theres a couple
walking 50 yards behind me the entire way. They make it to the peak and sit a bit away
from me. I watch them snap a few thousand pictures of each other, taking turns framing the
other against the beautiful boulder-covered mountains. As I leave I ask if they'd like me
to take a picture of the two of them with the gorgeous red-streaked sky and the dramatic
rocks behind them.
"No thanks," they say.
That night I stay in Indio, California,
which is the date capital of the world, yet I dont see a single personals ad
anywhere. There are a lot of date trees, though. And date shakes. And date candy.
The signs and postcards trumpet the "Secret Sex Life of the Date", which turns
out to be that they have trouble pollinating by themselves and need human intervention.
Big deal, so did Melissa Ethridge. The date trees have ladders permanently attached at the
top, but they stop halfway down. This, I guess, is supposed to stop the date rustlers.
With the strange Secret Sex Life they have, date rape must be a bigger problem than
The next day as I drive through the park
heading north I find a very cool modern rock radio station. One of the better ones
Ive heard. When the announcer comes on hes speaking Spanish. The commercials
are all in Spanish. But the music is English. At least its better than when it
finally fades away and all I can get is an AM station broadcasting Rush Limbaugh. Like
there isnt enough hot air in the desert as it is. I make a mental note to contact
the Park Service and recommend that they broadcast U2s Joshua Tree album in an
endless loop so you can hear it throughout the park. I decide to let them have the idea
You learn a lot about how things get named
in the desert. The Mormon settlers thought the big yuccas looked like Joshua raising his
arms to the sky so they called them Joshua trees. Motel 6 got its name because the room
next to you always has six kids who scream for six hours and wake up at 6 am. But the town
of 29 Palms is an exceptionI don't think there are a dozen palm trees here.
There are ways to spot a good place to eat
when youre on the road. A line of people standing at the take-out window of a
nondescript cinder block building buying tamales is one. An old beat-up restaurant with
the front sign blown out and a cooker out front sending up mesquite smoke signals is
another. Who needs 29 palm trees when youve got Dons American BBQ?
The ribs are heavenly. The picnic table
atmosphere is just what it should be. They even have a menu section called "Epicurean
DelightsExotic Entrees", which includes buffalo, caribou, kangaroo, alligator,
smoked duck in orange sauce, rattlesnake, and rabbit. In the land of scorpions and
tarantulas, duck lorange is exotic. The next day I go back, stick my neck out, and
have an ostrich burger. Surprisingly ostrich is one of the few exotic foods that
doesnt taste like chicken. It tastes like a hamburger.
I have yet to see the first coyote, wily or otherwise. When I get back to the motel I
check the Yellow Pages. There's no Acme Dynamite Company listed. What a gyp.
|| I hike to 49
Palms, an oasis which I figure will be 50% more interesting than 29 Palms. The guidebook
says it's a 1.5-mile hike but they lie. It's at least 15 miles each way. You go up a
mountain, across a ridge, and down into a canyon, dodging lizards and wondering about the
cacti that look like fire hydrants, imagining what would happen if a dog were to think the
same thing. I come across the oasis. A real live oasis just like in the moviesa
stand of palm trees and a small spring. Except theres no way there are 49 of them. I
make a note to talk to my lawyer about suing the desert for false advertising. As I sit
among the cool calm of the trees I can't get the song "Midnight at the Oasis"
out of my mind. Or during the 20-mile hike back. I never did like that song.
When Im leaving the falsely billed
oasiswhich I consider proposing as the new name for the place when I make my U2
suggestion to the Park ServiceI hear a frog. At least it sounds like a frog. But
what do I know? The name's not Mad Muir, you know.
I whistle to it. It croaks. I whistle
again. Another one croaks in the distance. I whistle twice. One of them croaks twice. I
consider saying "Bud" and seeing if they know enough to say "Wise" and
"Er". Or maybe yell "Marco" and hope they say "Polo". But I
dont. We play the whistle and croak game for a good ten minutes until I get bored
with it. They don't. It must get lonely out there in the desert.
On the hike back I see roadrunners all over
the place. Not a one of them says beep-beep. At least not to me. I have yet to see the
first coyote, wily or otherwise. When I get back to the motel I check the Yellow Pages.
There's no Acme Dynamite Company listed. What a gyp.
The next morning Im on my way to the
Mojave National Preserve, which varies from a national park in that its free. I
drive through Wonder Valley, where all the roads off the main one are dirt roads, yet they
each have a big street sign with a name. At each intersection, as it were, is between 10
and 20 mailboxes, yet there are no houses in sight. I make a note to contact the Wonder
Valley Chamber of Commerce when I get back and offer to let them use the slogan,
"Wonder ValleyWe wonder where everyone is."
At the edge of the Mojave Preserve
theres one final sign of civilizationan Easter egg tree. Youve seen
them, theyre the new suburban tradition where you hang brightly colored Easter eggs
on a tree like baby piñatas.
There was more on the way home. There was the Calico Early Man Archeological Site, which
doesnt show any artifacts but is, literally, the pits.
|| The Mojave is more
desolate than Joshua Tree National Park. It also seems to have a bigger grove of Joshua
trees than Joshua Tree. This is akin to finding more yellow stones in Yosemite than in
Yellowstone. It just shouldnt be that way.
At the northern end of the Mojave is Baker, California, a truck stop masquerading as
a town that lures people in with the slogan, "The Gateway to Death Valley."
Obviously "Last Chance Humanity" was taken. I get a room at the Bun Boy Motel,
which is behind the Bun Boy restaurant. In Baker it works. In San Francisco it would get
more than a few snickers.
Not 50 yards away from the motel is the
Worlds Largest Thermometer, 134 feet tall and covered with 4,943 lights. Its
there to commemorate the highest temperature ever recorded in the continental United
States, something that happened not in Baker, but in Death Valley. If you cant put
up a monument at the gateway, where can you?
There was more on the way home. There was
the Calico Early Man Archeological Site, which doesnt show any artifacts but is,
literally, the pits. There was Rainbow Basin, the ancient lake bed with the signs that
say, "Turtles Crossing, next 5 miles". And there was Exotic World, billed as the
Burlesque Hall of Fame and Museum, in Helendale, with hundreds of photographs of exotic
dancers, many of them autographed to owner Dixie Lee Evans, who would have given me a
guided tour except she had to get to the bank and I had to get back on the road.
Did I mention that things are just a wee
bit wacky in the desert?
©1998 Mad Dog
Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country. They
make great reading on long road trips..