In The Desert
Content including photographs are Copyright © 2009 - Present - Don & Linda Gilmore
Contact us via E-mail
Bounder Blues, Part 1
by, David Taylor
First Time out with our new to us Bounder
"No," the little stranger stated flatly before I could finish my question. "And I must tell you, I am offended by the presence of this - monstrosity." The little old man with the Dutch accent and perfectly coifed white mustache snapped an accusing finger at the coach behind me.
:"Eric," the woman, who was frantically loading the faded blue van at Campsite 5, pleaded.
"…And I intend to file a formal complaint with the authorities against you, and I think you should leave. Now."
The little man gasped, as if he had released a great weight from his soul.
Welcome to the maiden voyage of my new-to-me Bounder, at Bow Willow, Campsite 7, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the day after Thanksgiving.
This is where I blew it. What I should've done is rushed back to my thirty-four foot monstrosity, grabbed pen, paper and, lacking a tape recorder, camcorder, and interviewed the guy; get the whowhatwherewhenhowandwhy of it. Instead, I felt the burn in my face, my eyes hardened.
"I find that statement," I said in a measured, stunned, cadence, "pathetic."
The little guy lit up.
"Nonetheless, I am doing it."
I nodded, broke eye contact, then turned back, posing my original purpose for approaching him.
"Do you have change for a…"
"I am going right now."
The woman, roughly the little guy's age, paused. Still struck dumb, I nodded again, and walked back up to the family, never to know the details of this man's outburst.
The day hadn't started out that way. We had pulled into the gas station on 2nd and Main in El Cajon, got lucky and pulled straight in. Alex, the 9 year-old, hopped out with the FRS and guided me up to align with the pump, then ran in to pre-pay for the gas. The guy filling his car on the other side stuck his hands in his pocket and looked up and down my '87 Bounder.
"That's a handsome rig y'got there," he offered. "Y'know I don't know the first thing about RVs, but I like the way this one looks, and I like the rear door. Seems safer that way."
A lady up the line called out jokingly about the sticker shock of filling it up.
"I know," the lady laughed, "I got a Winnebago."
We hit the freeway with Kellian and Nicholas, the three-year old twins, chanting "RV! RV!" me fiddling with the Gear Venders gear splitter, once again amazed at how much muscle this vehicle has. I found myself having to concentrate with all my effort to keep the Bounder within my lane. Though the suspension, alignment and steering are at least acceptable, I've just never driven anything this big. I find it a daunting task. Both the dogs tried to crawl up in my lap. This would be their first camping trip ever. We'd never had room for them before. Smith, a Doberman/German Shepherd mix, weighs in at ninety pounds, Thompson, a Doberman/Greyhound mix, a mere seventy
"Did you check the weather?" my better half asked.
"Wind advisory in the mountains, gusting up to thirty-five miles an hour," I answered, "Nothing in the desert." I smiled over at her. "We'll catch Olde Hiway 80 if it gets too bad."
We howled up 8 east, finally getting down to 55 when I got stuck behind some trucks. The first wind gusts hit at the Pine Valley bridge, and by Kitchen Creek we knew we had to get off the freeway. Meanwhile, though on occasion going downhill I was doing 70; rigs bigger than us with trailers were passing me. I was scared half to death, and was glad to get off the freeway, although the wind still kicked us around quite a bit. By the time we hit Jacumba, things looked good. I got back on the freeway, and started down one of the scariest pieces of freeway I know, Devils Canyon, a six per cent grade with enough twists and turns for a spy novel. The sign said 'Slow to 35', and I did, getting behind an old tractor-trailer that was riding his brakes and getting down to 30. I would've followed him all the way down, but people behind me were careening out of our lane to the left lane at such breakneck speeds that I decided it would be better to be in front of this guy than behind him. Let them rear-end him instead of us.
Down at the bottom, there was absolutely no wind, and we got off at Ocotillo, caught S-2 west, and cruised at 55 to Bow Willow.
I had expected all the formal campgrounds to be full, since we'd gotten a late start on this four-day weekend. In the Anza-Borrego, you can camp anywhere, with reasonable rules and regulations, so I had no fear of finding something out there. At Bow Willow, though, we found plenty of good sites open. Specifically, Site 7. Having not really expected to find a spot open, I hadn't thought about the fourteen dollars you need to pay for two nights. I went asking around the other sites for change for a twenty, hence, my altercation with the little man with the Dutch accent.
The couple with the faded blue van left shortly after. I hid inside the Bounder until they were gone. They left a bad taste in my mouth that I'm still trying to spit out.
Still not familiar with everything, it took me several attempts to line the coach up so the RVA hydraulic levelers could get us flat enough for the refrigerator. Finally I found several large smooth rocks and put them under the right rear leveler to get it close enough. The rear tires dangled off the ground. I killed the engine, then looked back into our rolling motel room with at least some trepidation.
My wife and I don't come from a 'camping family' background. My wife's family just didn't, and the three times that I can remember my family going camping was under protest, in a trailer, in a campground, me and my siblings sitting around, bored to death while Dad read the newspaper. My Mom, the instigator of this camping experience, finally threw in the towel saying, "I can cook and wash dishes at home."
My wife and I decided to start camping because we were spending all our weekends and all our vacations driving out to the Anza-Borrego Desert. We'd load up early in the morning, drive out, spend the whole day exploring every little road, every canyon, then arrive back home in the dark. I drove, and it was exhausting, so I started campaigning for an alternative, like camping. Besides, I figured, we'd become so obsessed with the desert and being there all night as well as all day, seemed a natural extension.
I think I should mention this was about twenty years ago.
There are distinct styles of camping. Our first few years definitely had the flavor of a clandestine survivalist operation. We slept on the ground with the only luxury being a borrowed tent and old beat-up sleeping bags. We knew nothing, had nothing. No camp stove, no chairs, no lantern. Robin learned to cook over a campfire after tasting one, just one, military-style MRE (Meals Ready to Eat). We sat on rocks and plotted our next day with flashlights and topo maps. I remember those times as being both terrifying and adventurous, driving out to the desert to where we knew it was open camping, usually BLM land, finding a place where obviously others had camped, and setting up our meager provisions, not knowing what the hell we were doing. When the darkness closed in around our campfire, we surely knew how the pioneers felt. Despite our scanty equipment, or maybe because it was gear not really meant for camping, our loyal Bronco II always groaned under the weight.
Then I met a guy named Lloyd Smith. Lloyd and his wife were passionate campers, spending almost every weekend at this pursuit, but you wouldn't know it was the same past-time as ours. Lloyd meticulously packed his gear into their Subaru, making sure the crystal goblets and bottles of Merlot were cellar temperature. They luxuriated in foldout chairs around a fire ring in a place called a 'campground'. Lloyd, a gourmand, would prepare scrumptious meals on his crystal clean white-gas powered camp stove, favoring California nouveau recipes. The Smiths didn't look at all like Neanderthals who'd just discovered fire, nor did their late model vehicle look like an Oakies Model T fleeing the Dust Bowl. This style of camping suited the wife much, much better, and although she rejects to this day the idea of a 'campground' having anything to do with 'camping', we began gathering gear, like warm sleeping bags and, finally, air mattresses. Until recently, we struggled to rationalize the necessity of this decadence.
Also about this time, my wife, a working college student, started a club on campus that resulted in nothing less than 'followers'. Lots of them. All, except one, young man. They liked camping with us, and this turned into a weekly activity, little two-nighters that would have four vehicles packed with young people ready to hike, drive, march and explore any nook or cranny within climbing distance. Young men tend to favor the survivalist/Neanderthal camping style, so that our campsites looked like militia encampments. Hell, we were even buzzed a couple of times by black helicopters. This wasn't just a bunch of people camping in the same area, we were camping TOGETHER, with Robin the Grand Mamma cooking for all of them, huge meals with marinated steak, ranch-style beans and tortillas, or breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage links and gallons of strong coffee. Everybody brought a little bit of their families' camping styles, and both the size of our camping enclaves and these peoples' suggestion, influenced the gear that we gathered, and gear that was given us. With numerous vehicles and numerous drivers, the volume of gear was never a problem. In time, of course, all those young people with their great gobs of free time, moved on. We found that we needed to have two sets of gear, one for The large groups, and one that would fit in our one, quickly aging, Bronco II.
Then something new got thrown into the mix about ten years ago. Children. Three of them. Indeed, the last major camping trip we took to the Mojave, (http://explorehistoricalif.tripod.com/xplorhistcal/id49.html) made it pretty clear we were faced with a dilemma: If we didn't come up with a better way, we weren't going camping anymore. At least one trip had to be cancelled because, as I prepared to load the new full-sized Bronco with all the gear necessary for my little herd, I looked back the see my progeny undoing all my work. Finding someone to watch the dogs had always been a hassle, and their loyalty to my wife is only outdone by Robin's loyalty to them. Thank God the children have me. The answer we came up with was a Motor Home, an RV, a coach.
What continues to pique my imagination, and which no one else seems even to give a nod to, is just how many systems are layered onto this mode of recreation to make it possible, even opulent. Propulsion, suspension, environmental conditioning, whether it be heating or cooling, water, refrigeration, sanitation, cooking capabilities, water heating. Then the extras, a shower, for pity's sake, a microwave and sound system, Kwikee steps, not one but two televisions with all the accommodating wiring for an antennae that cranks up, and VCR. (In time I know I'm going to have to upgrade to a DVD and a satellite dish, but only to keep up with the Jones's) And then the things necessary to integrate these myriad functions; hydraulic levelers, deep cycle batteries, a generator, water pump, water filter, knife valves. Getting all of it to work at once, and reliably, makes this potentially the downfall of the whole idea. Not that you can't get it all to work, but like the audiophile that spends all his time and money hunting the better player, the new speakers, installing the improved amplifier, I don't want to forget about the music. I don't want to forget, and I want my children to know, why we go camping.
As I unloaded firewood, bikes, camp chairs, I reconnoitered our position. We had a sharp rise behind the camp, campsites to the east and west, and a spectacular view of the Carizzo Badlands to the north. Ocotillo sprouted across the open high ground, creosote and burro bush were all in bloom. I noted that Buckhorn, Silver and Teddy Bear Cholla cactus all lived in close proximity to each other, somewhat unusual. The campsite to our east, #9, was vacant except for a pile of chairs, obviously claimed.
"Daddy!" Nick bellowed, pointing to a trail that climbed up the steep ridge behind us. "Up! UUUP!"
"No," I told him. "Too steep. Later, when we've got hiking boots on you."
I looked around for Robin. Alex was hauling his GI Joe Jeeps and such out of the RV. I looked back up at Nick. He was halfway up the hill. He looked back with skree slipping out from underneath his tennis shoes, and he started to cry. I dashed up to grab him before he could do the nose-dive he has become so famous for. When I reached him, though, he promptly started dragging me up the hill. There was no way I could safely pick him up.
"Hey, Dad," Alex bellowed. "Where ya' going?"
"Ask Nick, " I shot back. Alex pursued. Nick and I crested the rise. A large rugged valley opened up to the south. I spotted several potential mining digs off to the southwest.
"Hey Dad, what's that?"
I looked down at the ground where Alex pointed, then stepped back.
Alex and I stood silent for a second. There was a substantial pile of stones at one end, making this a somewhat unique grave in the desert. An attempt at a headstone?
"It's so small."
"Infant's grave," I answered, glanced over to Nick, who had started coughing and hacking, "Maybe a small child." I looked around to the east, and spotted a second grave, this one adult size. I looked up. The Carrizo Badlands filled the north and northeast, Carrizo Wash, Canyon Sin Nombre, Aroyo Seco Del Diablo. Not a bad view for eternity. Were the two graves mother and child at childbirth? To come way up here to dig a grave suggested to me that they weren't just rolling through on the stagecoach line nearby. Probably homesteaders in this desolate beautiful place.
"How old?" Alex asked clinically. The stones' tops had desert varnish. I shook my head.
Somehow I managed to haul my children back down the hill without killing them or myself. Nick's cough wasn't getting better.
It was about lunchtime. Robin made Digiorno Pizza in the Magic Chef oven.
"Do you want to eat on the picnic table or in here?" Robin asked the children.
"In the RV!" Alex cheered.
Bounder Blues Continued -------