Holly, Molly, Barb and Ana
It’s a good lesbian story. My wife and I introduced our exes, they fell in love and we all became besties. That was eight or nine years ago and since then we have been living in different places but we try to visit when we can. Ana and Barb (we call them Barbana) have recently established a new home base in the desert town of Hesperia, California where they’ve fallen in with a subculture of rock hounders and gold miners centered on a rock and mining shop owned by their friends and next door neighbors Cyndy and Lois.
We wanted to get down there before the desert heat set in and so we saddled up our orange Prius, Lucita Papayita, for an April trip on Highway 99 all the way to near the terminus of the old Route 66.
Holly did most of the driving (thanks darling) and we arrived in the midst of a dust storm that had me wearing a dust mask even in the car. The iconic vegetation in this part of the Mojave Desert is the Joshua tree, an endangered species that will in time succumb to global warming. Temperatures here in the summer routinely reach 120 degrees now and continue to rise. Relentless building of freeways and suburban housing adds to the stress on the Joshuas. The new developments–many are gated communities, many with green lawns–back up to the wild desert in oxymoronic juxtaposition.
Weather the next day was calmer and we drove into the neighboring town of Victorville to the Route 66 museum. We were the only visitors and the volunteer docents overwhelmed us, each wanting to tell his stories. Holly and Ana rode the VW love bus and learned to drive a Model T (it’s not so easy) before we beat a retreat. Still I continued singing “get your kicks on route 66” because it’s such a great song and I know all the words.
We knew we were arriving just in time for the big poppy bloom at Antelope Valley, only a short distance away. We drove back toward the Tehachapi Mountains past acres of solar and wind farms out into the desert. The Joshua trees fell away to treeless scrub and grassland but the anticipated orange poppy wonderland evaded us. It just wasn’t a good poppy year said the park ranger, too cold and dry. From the trail at the crest of a hill we could see the snowy mountains above a valley strewn with goldfields (flowers, not gold) whose bloom had peaked. We were warned to watch for rattlesnakes, said to be angry at the unseasonable weather, but we saw none. But desert lizards greeted us, and we discovered a tiny horned toad.
Barbana had visited the Rio Tinto borax mine with the local Women in Mining group and so they got to go into the processing plant. Many women work at the mine in nontraditional jobs including driving the gigantic loader trucks. We couldn’t wrangle an invitation so had to be content with the view from on top of the visitors center. Still, the plant and the adjacent mine–a contoured pit so deep we couldn’t see the bottom–was impressive. The guide, a woman of a certain age, knew the answers to all our questions. I didn’t ask her if the workers were union, but I later learned that they are organized by the ILWU, which won a 105-day lockout in 2010. See the story by Peter Olney here: http://newlaborforum.cuny.edu/2011/03/04/battle-in-the-mojave-lessons-from-the-rio-tinto-lockout/.
Here is something we know about our exes: they both love walking around looking at the ground. We first introduced them at Thanksgiving dinner and afterward all took a walk on the spectacular Sonoma Coast. While Holly and I gazed at the ocean waves, the whales and the birds, Barbana looked for beach glass. Since then we have visited many beautiful places and have pictures of the two of them focused on their feet with wondrous backdrops.
Our exes took us to a secret location on BLM land where they knew we could find chalcedony, a kind of quartz. It can be many different colors, but in this part of the desert it is pink. Especially prized are rocks with druse, or crystals, on the surface. Ana and Holly explored the desert floor while Barb and I walked up a draw to the top of a hill. This was so much fun, partly because we scored! We found several fine pieces of the mineral. And we now have more pictures of Barbana looking down.
Ana and Barb are talented jewelry makers. They take the rocks and glass they find and make beautiful pieces (check out their work on their facebook page Barbana’s Jewelry Designs). They also teach classes at the rock shop. Ana picked out a little piece of chalcedony with druse and polished it to a shine. Then she wove silver wire around it and quickly turned it into a lovely necklace given to Holly. I think the lizard T-shirt she wears it with is particularly appropriate.
Life in Hesperia has changed in the last few years, according to Lois and Cyndy, who have lived here since the 60s. It was a sleepy community of desert rats and miners where you could buy a house for little and live for less until it started turning into a bedroom suburb of San Bernardino, a long 35 miles away, and the LA basin beyond. They call it “going down the hill” from high desert to low. Only one highway connects the two cities so if there’s an accident or a backup there is no alternative. Lois worked as a teacher in San Bernardino for a time and told us she sometimes was not able to get home. Since then the traffic down the hill has only worsened.
On the way home we saw the construction of the high-speed train (hey, California, how about a train from Hesperia to San Bernardino! And while you’re at it we’d like one from Santa Rosa to Hesperia or just Santa Rosa to the East Bay. Please help us get out of our cars!).
We loved our desert adventure and we were also glad to return home to Santa Rosa. As we drove back into Sonoma County we couldn’t believe how lush and green it looked after only a few days in the desert. Of course, spring is the greenest time of the year here, after the rainy season when the soil warms, trees leaf out and plants flourish. But as Kate Wolf reminded us, even in northern California the hills turn brown in the summertime.