An afternoon storm heaps sand and cuts streamlets in our roads, scouring them into non-recognition. Ive become lost twice driving to my own property. Drivers marooned by a downpour wait until the rain stops, the sand sucks the water rapidly, and they peel out over where flowers grow a week later. Hardly a car per day bumps along the dry dirt road past my spread, so on a wet day its an occasion. Boy Quick rolls in his off-road “rail” (homemade superstructure of steel tubing, VW engine and oversized tires) and exclaims, “The washes are runnin!” He’s just come from one where there was a roar followed by a tide of water up to the hubs. Risking being swept away, he leaped from the driver’s seat, hooked a line to an Ironwood tree and winched the rail to the bank.

The Chocolate Mountains

Two elderly ladies five miles down the lane lived off their fat for two weeks after the recent rains destroyed their entryway. TJ happened to check on them and was welcomed. He’s called the Ace of Spades because he scrapes the tracks with a 42 grader dragged by a 44 military “six-by” truck. You can’t roller-skate on the result but many suspensions are saved. He’s a scrappy, two-tour Nam vet who spent 26 months in a POW 4X4X4 bamboo “tiger cage”. “I can cut your throat while I eat a sandwich,” he said early on and I replied, “What kind?” We’ve broken bread often since. The summer sun plus the engine heat melted an inch-deep impression of the accelerator pedal into his sole.

The road openers and water curators are local royalty and to balance power yesterday the Quicks started dragging the routes with an iron pipe sliced longitudinally, plus weighted bed springs trailed by a set t of tractor tires ingeniously arranged in a triangle like tenpins. I seen their dust, heard their motor and ran to offer gas money. Residents are power conscious without being power hungry and strive to avoid obligation within the big financial circle.

Sand Valleys laced by roads, all dirt and private. No driver’s license, plate nor registration is required and the fleet appears out of “Road Warriors” and draws attention. A sheriff badgered Paiute for a license and hot words ensued. “You know who I am, fat boy?” yelled Paiute. “I’m a fat boy fuckah. Get off my property, fat boy.” A second officer gasped and pointed a shotgun at Paiute who began to stalk him, “Pull the trigger, bean head and see what becomes of you.” “Put the gun down!” interjected the sheriff “I’ve checked him out and he was an army ranger!” The same obese sheriff drove over my property plants one time and gruffly demanded an ID. I was bullied into silence and produced it, but am discovering backbone from others.

I keep to myself and don’t keep politics. Liberty means responsibility and men generally dread it, but a small group here once elected a mayor, sheriff and other officials. There’s not been a peep for some time so probably they’ve disbanded. On another front, a while back a local pamphleteer returned home after distributing anti-military leaflets to find his roof riddled by helicopter bullets. He sued the government and won a settlement. Horseman etiquette in the early west had that approaching mounted cowboys keep course and pass a friendly word. To veer silently hinted furtiveness and they’d look over their shoulders. Similarly, today motorists slow, wave and may stop to chat. I traveled for months meeting no one on the roads, and computed that traffic heads to the city in the morning and returns in the evening.  So, I reversed the schedule and met the people in the valley.

The Sand Valley “Phantom” rose out of the dust on the main road one morning and leveled a shotgun at a military convoy passing to the Gunnery range. “Your crummy drivin’ is wreckin’ this private road. About face!” The amazed contingent withdrew and a follow-up investigation revealed nothing about the phantom who vanished back into the dust. I’ve heard enough reports including one from the sheriff about this unsolved episode to believe it and that guts and gun make hard barter.

A smooth road didn’t help Old Mary when the sun got in her eyes the other afternoon and her 75 pickup went over the berm and into the sand. It required two trucks to tow her out and now the turns dubbed Mary’s Curve”.