October 16, 2012
A statue honoring the Veterans of the Korean War stood watch over a lone Dodge at the county park. Across from the empty jungle gym, unidentifiable country music from a Central Oregon radio station hummed through the ‘lowered windows. The west wind bent the top of the pine trees and wafted over-heated coolant from the front grill of the truck. A girl’s legs hung from the passenger window and a shirtless teenager slouched in the bench seat. It was late summer 2012 in The Dalles.
“Should we tell them their engine overheated?” My mom said, leading her Irish Terrier, Lucy, down the sidewalk.
“No, Mom… let them be,” I said, taking the leash from my mom’s hand and continuing along.
It’s hard to predict which moments come to identify a specific place or time, often it’s the most seemingly trivial ones that capture my imagination and spark my sense of nostalgia.
Here are some more links,
West Wind (Facebook).
May 29, 2012
We followed US 89 out of the east end of Flagstaff as the lengthening afternoon shadows and dropping temperatures signaled the eminence of the high desert sunset.
“How far do you think we should make it tonight?” I asked Tim as he peered at the Gazeter of Arizona.
“Ehhh it all depends…”
“Just pick a place, and we’ll head there. All this,” I motioned out the windshield towards the expanse of sage and sandstone, “is government land. God’s country. We can camp where-ever-the-fuck-we-want.”
“I know, but we’re getting close to Navajo Nation. I feel weird for camping in their land.”
“Are you serious? This shit is abandoned. There’s a gazilion dirt roads leading off into the middle of nowhere.”
“I still feel strange about it. If I were them, I wouldn’t want a bunch of gringos camping on my land,” Tim said, as if addressing the possibility of Sasquatch.
“Alright, alright. Let’s head towards a monument then. I want to be within striking distance of Four Corners tomorrow. I can’t do any more of this interstate highway shit,” I said, alluding to the hours spent tracking east out of LA on the 40.
Nodding in agreement, Tim flipped to the page, searching for suitable monument or national park. ” Navajo National Monument is….less than 100 miles from here. Lets head there.”
“The Dude Abides.”
Rolling down the window, the warm desert air masked the smell of sweat and dirt has amassed in the Syncro over the last nine months. With a destination picked, my angst settled and I stuck my hand out of the open window. Flowing like a sine wave, I hummed the melody of a familiar Warren Zevon song. The miles ticked by.
My brother Tim has a photo blog called Cairn Culture. Take a look.
Yours truly looking over the edge. Timer.
The Clan of the Van.
Burning the last rares of daylight, we pulled off the empty two lane highway and headed towards the Monument. Judging by the suns position, hovering a few degrees over the horizon to the west, we hand less than an hour before the first stars would dot the unpolluted sky.
“I wonder what’s at the Navajo National Monument,” I mused, half to my brother, half to my sleepy self.
“We’ll see first thing in the morning.”
Pulling off on a packed dirt road with scraps of spring grass growing in the middle, we headed half a mile towards a canyon. Periodic slabs of sandstone broke broke the ground, sending the Syncro on a trail that resembled a centerfold of an off road magazine. Arriving on one such sandstone bulge, I rolled to a stop.
“This looks about as good a place as any.”
Pulling the parking break, I slipped into second gear and released the clutch. Popping my seat belt, I opened the door and jumped down to the still warm sand stone. Stiff from the hours of driving, I spread my arms and arched my back.
“Home is where you park it!” I laughed.
Here are some more links,
Four Corners (Facebook).
March 22, 2012
The Last Free Place
“Want to go explore this place?” I asked Jason as I flicked a piece of gravel from a scrape on my elbow caused by a slam in the deep end of an abandoned pool.
“Yah, I’m over skating this spot.” Jason said leaning against the wall in the shallow end.
“Which way do you want to head?” Looking around in a 180-degree motion, the occasional satellite dish on an RV punctuated the otherwise unremarkable deserted landscape. In the distance a two-stroke engine, presumably from a motorcycle, whined.
“That stage looked really cool,” Jason nodded west towards the main road.
“Yah, ‘check that out. I spotted some pretty neat campers too.”
Leaving our skateboards by the van, we headed back along a dirt road towards the center of an abandoned military base base in the California desert known as Slab City.
Following the road a half mile back towards the pull off, we passed a dozen or so makeshift camps composed of a vehicle and a structure of sorts, usually an awning or tent. Each winter, thousands of snowbirds, travelers and vagabonds pass through the Slab City. These “slabbers” as they are called avoid rent and other obligations known to the majority of society by camping on abandoned building foundations or slabs. An entire community has developed with a church, a barter-based internet cafe, post office, communal water source and a music venue, the Range.
Tyler Mummar impersonating a local.
Haven is trailer in the California desert.
“You guys just get here?” A kid in his 2o’s said sitting next to a Chevy Astro van, some twenty feet from the road.
“Yea, just a few hours ago. We are just passing through.”
“This place is pretty wild,” I said excitedly. ”How long have you been here?”
“Oh, two or three weeks. I come through a few times a year,” He said, kicking a beat-up tennis ball across the road for golden retriever.
“Ever been here in the summer?”
“Hell no. It gets to 120 in the shade. You’re not consider a true “Slabber” around here until you spend at least two summers camped out.”
“Yah..No thanks, that sounds miserable.”
“When are you hitting the road again?” Jason asked.
“Soon, real soon. I’m feeling restless. Maybe two or three days.”
Nodding in agreement, Jason and I continued down the road towards a group of RV’s pulled together in a semi circle. The golden retriever followed for fifty feet or so before being called back to the Astro.
“People lose track of time here.”
“They sure do. Did you hear that guy? He said he was leaving real soon, ‘…. two or three days.’ Real soon for me is ten minutes. Maybe fifteen.”
“Haha. When life’s cheap, things move slowly I guess.”
“They do call it, ‘the last free place on earth,’” I joked.
Here are some more links,
The Last Free Place (Facebook).
March 20, 2012
“Could I start you gentlemen off with some drinks?” the waitress at an empty steakhouse in Deming, New Mexico inquired.
“Sure, I’ll have a Tecate,” Ed, a staff photographer from a skateboard magazine, replied before the rest of us had the time to respond.
“What about you?” she asked me, moving around the table clockwise.
Startled, I looked up from my phone, “uhhh, I’ll have another Dos Equis.”
“Me to0,” Jason added, draining the remnants of the round of beer we had ordered at the bar.
Before the rest of the contingent of our group could select their flavor of cheap beer, she blurted, “I have to ask, are you guys in a band?”
Laughter broke out amongst the six of us. Earlier that day at a Denny’s outside of Tucson, our waiter had asked a similar question.
“No. we are skateboarders,” Mike said smiling.
“Ohh my son is a really into skateboarding. What are you doing in Deming?” she let slip with a hint of booze in her manner.
“We are on a road trip looking for abandoned pools and ditches.”
”Are you guys pros?!
“Thats’ Mike Vallely,” Tyler slurred after a day of drinking Tecates in the back of the Elephant van.
Everyone except for Tyler and the waitress cringed.
“Would you be interested in signing your autograph for him? He’d be thrilled.”
“Of course, I’d be happy too. Do you have a Sharpie? We’ll all sign it for him,” Mike said turning towards the rest of us sitting at the booth.
Three days earlier, I left my Syncro in LA and met up with Mike and the Elephant Skate crew for a week-long trip toeing the Mexican border through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. On the search for abandoned pools and street spots, we explored floundering housing developments and drainage ditches throughout the desert. Dusting off my skateboard, I tagged along with a crew of veteran skaters and filmmakers, hearing their stories from years on the road.
No vacancy and no maintenance.
After the shot.
The New Mexico prairie.
Jason and Tyler watching.
Mike ripping the hook.
Ed Dominick and Mark Nisbit capturing.
Close to the border.
Mike sweeping out a pool.
Road rash in the making.
Tyler Mummar doing a layback.
Red, White and Blue #vanlife.
Jason Adams taking a breather.
Our trusty Ford E series Van.
Ready to rip.
A minute after I took this photo, a large pit bull chased Ed and Tyler over the fence.
As promised, the waitress reappeared after the steaks and burgers were finished with a medium sized Sharpie and a printout of Mike airing on a quarter pipe. Standing in excitement, she watched as the print and Sharpie made its way around the table.
Ed handed me the paper and Sharpie and I nervously contemplated my signature. Cursive or print? Looking over the photo for some free real-estate, I took a moment to read the signatures. Tyler, Jason Adams and Mike Vallely’s signatures were well-honed, but on the verge of legible. Mark’s resembled a check signature with every character clearly scribed. Where was Ed’s? A large printed name offered a hint.
Looking over at Ed, I burst out laughing.
“What? I always sign this shit as Peter North.”
Here are some links,
Desert Cement (Facebook),