Hippies, Date Palms and Mud Mites


For thanksgiving we explored corners of the desert we had not been to before. Our five day road trip started in the depths of the Mojave, took us over arid mountains and into Death Valley. We finished our trip by popping out by the eastern Sierra.

I realize I write an awful lot about the desert, after all it is my backyard. The deserts of the US are some of the last unspoiled sectors of America. The land is inhospitable and in some cases uninhabitable. Mineral resources are often exploited but these situations are often boom and bust and just as soon as the miners hang up their hats the desert sun and sand recapture the scars on the land.

There are island of habitation where the people are of a different breed. To quote my favorite episode of New Girl “These people are really deserty.” Tecopa California is one of these places. Tecopa can be found north of the Dumont sand dune- where road warriors charge their rigs over waves of sand and build temporary cities from extra long RVs. Tecopa is inhabited by snowbirds, veterans, and desert rats. They seek similar things; solitude, warmth and maybe a slightly loser interpretation of American law and justice. Tecopa is built over geothermal hot springs. The healing water attracts visitors from all around. There are natural pools North of town but beware the mud mites! I did not detect any of these creatures but they can leave a rash on those with sensitive skin. We stayed at a campground which had a private bathhouse with access to the springs. The bathhouses have blue stucco walls and ceramic tubs filled with skin tingling hot water. Unlike the natural hot spring; which bubbles to the surface in an algae covered pond, the bathhouse at Tecopa makes me think of a Turkish bath; enclosed, dark and warm like a womb. Blissfully the bathhouse was also mud mite free.

Just south of Tecopa is the China Ranch date farm, an oasis in the middle of an arid landscape. The ranch was originally formed sometime in the late 1800s. A Chinese man started farming the area but was replaced, or more likely forced out by a man named Morrison. The name China Ranch stuck though. In the 1920s the first date trees were planted and now the ranch houses a gift shop and store with yummy date shakes. China Ranch is feed by willow springs and sits in the heart of the Amargosa River in the few mile stretch where the river rises out of the bedrock. It is the only river in the Mojave that flows year round. Water is what brought people to this place years ago and what keeps them here today.

Millennials would like to think they invented the nomadic minimalist lifestyle but communities in the desert have been living the vagabond life as early as the 1900s. An example is a place called Dublin Gulch in the town of Shoshone. Miners and prospectors started to dig homes out the volcanic rock close to town. The caves were rent free, cool in the summer and warm in the winter. As time went on the caves were expanded; some even had ice chests and were multi story. This cave community housed residents into the 1970s. The proud tradition of the simple life is well alive today. Tecopa and Shoshone both have many options for trailer hook ups and long term camping. These self sustained communities are the perfect place to leave your truck to rust and live out the rest of your days in a shiny Airstream trailer or retrofitted school bus. As much as we would have loved to park our truck and stay on a permanent hot spring vacation in Tecopa it was time to move on to Nevada and Death Valley.

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To be continued…

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