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Day 4: Rock Spring and Government Holes

I woke at first light, before sunrise, and the west wind was roaring again. I was able to pick up NOAA weather radio on my tiny multi-band receiver - high wind warning til 8 p.m., with winds gusting to 45 mph, and a 20% chance of showers. I poked my head out of the bedroll. The sky was blue, but raggedy chunks of cloud were racing east. The sky was dark blue-gray on the western horizon.

The wind cheated me on coffee for the second day in a row. I decided to pack up and ride until I found a sheltered spot to kick back and brew some up.

I passed on the Mojave Road here - the loose sand, the slight grade, and the headwind would've exhausted me in no time. Instead I rode back south to Cedar Canyon Road, and turned west into the wind.

The desert wind is a miserable hateful gremlin bitch. Put a glove down, it takes off, like in zero gravity. The wind'll worry knots loose. It stirs up noxious caustic dust from the low desert, and it's tireless. It's like an evil spirit, pushing, slapping, making endless mischief.

I was on a good road, with a slight grade, but I was pushing into that wind like an old locomotive chugging over a mountain. I made a couple of miles across a desert plain without shelter, and got fed up. This time I did go with the flow, but only back to Lanfair Road, where I'd seen a big concrete water tank that'd give me some shelter from the wind. With the wind behind me I was immediately going too fast for the washboard road.

The derelict tank was a perfect windbreak - and not only that, but inside the tank I saw an old pot and some chicken wire I could use to make a controlled fire - and coffee!! I was in and out of that tank in a wink, with the goods, before you could say "venti americano".

Once my lust for caffeine was satisfied, I kicked back with another cup and thought about spending the day there, hiding out from the wind. Nope - tough as it was, I'd rather keep going. A little coffee works wonders, eh?

I headed west again, in the lowest gears with an effort I could maintain indefinitely. The sky was a slow-motion kaleidoscope of flying clouds, dark overcast, heavy distant showers, and patches of clear blue. I got hit with about three raindrops.

That's a desert storm - usuallly a swing and a miss. But when you do get hit, it's a gang-bang - nothing to do but curl up and wait for it to end. I was lucky that day.

I took a break out of the wind at an abandoned house with a couple of scraggly pine trees. The wind sounded like Niagara Falls, a loud steady roar. I saw two motorcyclists race past, both tucked into a tight crouch over the handlebars to get through the wind.

I crossed the Mojave Road at Road Mile 49.5, and followed it down a steep, whoopsy chute into Watson Wash, just a half mile from Rock Spring. The road was good - but the wash was deep, soft, churned-up sand that I had to push through.

There was a crowd of 50 or so at the spring - a field trip from Dana Hills High School in Orange County, CA. Believe it or not those OC chicks look even better in reality than they do on TV.

Some guy in a big hat was checking me out. I pointed to the little pond of green scum and said, "Is this all you left me?" That broke the ice.

But I was a lot more interested in the water source than the people, so clambered on up the rocks to check it out.

A little concrete dam was holding back a little lake of sand - but dig in the sand and you get water - clean, filtered, protected from the sunlight that causes evaporation and algae. That's a good desert waterhole.

Next job was a now-and-then shot. Back in the 1860s a roaming photographer named Rudolph d'Heureuse had taken a group shot in the wash. It showed the sand level several feet higher than it was when Dennis Casebier duplicated the shot in 1980. My shot in 2008 showed the sand higher than 1980, but still much lower than the 1860s. I'm guessing ranchers' water improvements reduced the power of flooding in Watson Wash, thus reducing the amount of sand backwashed into Rock Spring Wash. Could be now the ebb and flow are returning to what they were before the ranchers made their changes.

Curiosity satisfied, I spent some pleasant time chatting with a couple of people on the field trip, got my picture taken by a couple of others, then mounted up to ride on to Government Holes.

I went right past the left off Cedar Canyon Road and had to go back for it. The 2 miles of Mojave Road to Government Holes was excellent 2-track, but the wind kept pushing me off-track into the sand so I had to stop and re-mount several times. Gremlin bitch!

There's water at Government Holes, in a well below the windmill, reached by a metal ladder.

Back in 1925 there was a shack next to the cottonwood tree and windmill, wherein two cattle company gunslingers shot it out, killing each other. Nobody knows exactly how it started, but there was some tension between the two, and it's not hard for me to imagine the wind blowing the windmill a tad - "snick snick snick" - the sound of a revolver being cocked that both men would know well.

The day I passed through Government Holes the wind had those rusted old blades spinning madly.

I hid behind the water tank, but it's full of holes and the mad wind reached over, around, and through it. I soon had enough of it and rode on, finding a cutbank in Rock Spring wash that gave me a good windbreak, and there I camped.

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