Daughter Katie in Austin had spring break coming up and wanted to get the hell out of Texas. Janene and I have driven Moby to Texas twice now, spent a lot of time in Texas, and can’t say we blame her for wanting to escape. So she suggested a rendezvous in Death Valley National Park. We left Boise, had a couple days to kill before picking her up in Las Vegas, so we wandered a bit on the way down.
Moby never hits the road without a fully stocked map library, and state Gazetteers are an essential item in the library. Gazetteers break each state down into scores of detailed maps, and the index has information and locations on things like recreation, history, and attractions.
Each gazetteer lists “Unique Natural Features” in the index, with the little compass rose symbol showing it on the map. These are usually obscure, often remote, but always interesting places. We have learned they are almost always worth checking out if you are not in a hurry to get on down the highway.
So I noticed a little compass rose labeled “Whitney Pockets” off our I-15 route toward Las Vegas. And it was near the Gold Butte Back Country Byway. I happened to know that President Obama had designated Gold Butte as a new National Monument last year. And the map key showed the road to Whitney Pockets was of the “=====” variety, which the gazetteer legend defines as “unimproved road”. All this added up to an irresistible call for a Moby investigation of the area.
So we left the freeway behind, drove through a little community called Bunkerville, found where the backcountry byway began, and stopped at a BLM information kiosk.
Bunkerville? Sounded familiar. Isn’t that where Cliven Bundy is from? The Nevada rancher famous for not paying his grazing fees and the focus of a big standoff with the law? And famous for saying that blacks were better off under slavery? The father of Ammon Bundy, leader of Oregon’s Malheur Refuge takeover? Just about the time I was thinking this over, up drove a local rancher about my age. Mr. Local Rancher got out of his rig and had that look in his eye I know so well: he wanted to talk about Moby and ask all kinds of questions.
But this happens to us all the time. Moby is not exactly a stealth machine. So many people want to ask about it.
Of course my previous vehicle, my beloved ’56 Chevy, got a lot of looks and questions as well. Janene, who prefers to remain out of the limelight, isn’t thrilled with such attention, but such is life when you drive the coolest rigs on the road. Driving such rigs is like being a movie star: everyone looks at you, wants to talk to you, and you get your picture taken all the time. This would not happen with a mere Porsche or BMW.
So Mr. Local Rancher and I discussed all of Moby’s fine features. Then I asked about the Bunkerville-Bundy connection. Sure enough, Mr. Local Rancher said the Bundy place was just down the road. This led to a discussion involving a variety of topics on which Mr. Local Rancher and I had differing views, including the politics of Trump vs. Obama (Trump good, Obama bad), environmental protection (too many regulations), conspiracy theories (i.e. Timothy McVeigh was framed in the Oklahoma City bombing). But he was knowledgeable, a well spoken guy, and it was interesting to speak with someone from another planet.
But my favorite part of the conversation was what Mr. Local Rancher had to say about old Cliven. He said Cliven really wasn’t such a bad guy, but that he was born in the wrong century, and just couldn’t adapt to modern times. “Not that Cliven isn’t a complete sociopath, mind you. Don’t get me wrong on that” said Mr. Local Rancher. “But not a bad guy.” This from someone who has known Cliven his whole life. I don’t think the Bundy legal defense team will be calling Mr. Local Rancher to the stand to testify as a character witness for Cliven at the upcoming trial.
Sure enough, just down the road was the Bundy place.
The Bundy ranch was pretty much a collection of run down buildings and broken down equipment scattered among some scrubby trees. Not exactly looking like the Ponderosa Ranch of TV fame, for those of you old enough to remember the Cartwright spread.
The rangeland adjacent to the Bundy place was pretty low on forage. Grazing on this sort of land is measured in how many acres it takes to support one cow, rather than how many cows can be supported on one acre.
The “Back Country Byway” designation means that most vehicles can travel there, but the roads are usually gravel. There will be no tourist services, and few residents nearby. “Scenic Byways” are paved, populated, and have businesses that hope to make money from travelers.
At last the road led us to the Whitney Pockets, the “Unique Natural Feature” listed in the gazetteer that led us here in the first place.
We set up camp with a nice view of the Whitney Pockets to our west. Whitney Pockets is basically just a big mound of eroded sandstone
The view to the north wasn’t too shabby either.
We set out to explore the Whitney Pockets. The Joshua trees were in bloom. Their blooms are huge, but they are a subtle greenish-white color that doesn’t really doesn’t stand out.
If Joshua Tree blooms were bright red or some other vibrant color people would make a huge deal about them. Sunset Magazine would run big photo spreads. Instead most people driving by a Joshua forest in bloom do not even realize what they are seeing.
As promised by the name, there were plenty of pockets in the sandstone monolith.
Lovely stripes in this sandstone made from ancient sand dunes.
More pockets of a different hue.
Sunset view from camp.
Breakfast cooked on the front bumper.
Moby’s front bumper is a perfect fit for my well used Colman stove. I bought the stove about 1985.
On the stove top is an even more well used toaster. It has made toast all over the West. Hand crafted from an old Folgers coffee can in the 1950’s, it was passed on to me from my parents when their camping days were over.
This Joshua tree would make a fine spar pole if they ever log this forest.
On our way back to the freeway we took a side detour to another rock formation that was reported to have some Native American petroglyphs. Petroglyphs are designs chipped into the rock, whereas pictographs are designs painted on the surface.
Looking for petroglyphs, we first found more coolly eroded rock.
We were looking for a place known as “Newspaper Rock,” a huge flat rock face covered with petroglyphs. Instead we found a flat rock face shot up by bullets. Mr. Local Rancher said the Bundy boys were hell raisers for sure, but that neither they nor other old school locals would shoot up signs or petroglyphs. He maintained that such damage was done by city folk.
We found this face carved with symbols. Archeologists generally have very little idea what the carved symbols mean. Did Native Americans come here to read the news? Perhaps Cliven Bundy came here and interpreted the designs to mean that the Indians wanted white settlers to take away their lands, and that the settlers’ descendents like Cliven did not need to pay fees to the BLM for grazing his cows on our public lands. In these days of alternative facts why not have alternative rock art interpretations?