Sharing the Wealth
(Another Glorious Thanksgiving on the Salinas Outer Dune)
November 28-30, 2003
With access to the playa re-established in the last two visits and an insatiable thirst for solitude continuing from the past fifteen months away, one more pilgrimage to the Sea makes sense before we are overtaken by winter.
D-- has just returned from Australia about six weeks ago, and arrived in town for a visit on Monday night. We had planned a lazy four days on the beach over Thanksgiving, but at the last minute my soul mate realized she would have to work on Friday, so everyone elected to leave Friday afternoon, instead.
Being in town for the holiday, we had dual celebrations with family, and while attending the first I drew a map to guide V-- and J-- to the Outer Dune if they left early. This caused enough distraction that before we were through my 90-year old mother announced her intentions to go with us on a spring excursion, something I have wished she would do for a very long time.
Against a backdrop of two successful Thanksgiving celebrations we prepare for a Friday departure. Me--, D--'s friend, flies in about 11:00 am, and they and V-- & J-- depart for the playa around 1:30 pm with the detailed map I provided. I pick up gas, ice, and my soul mate, but due largely to the rush hour we don't actually leave town until about 5:30 pm.
The gruesome foursome, loaded somehow with a complete compliment of fully self-sufficient camping regalia in addition to themselves, clear immigration around 5:30 pm and arrive to use the home-made map of the unimproved roads mostly in the dark. It's touch-and-go for a few moments while they're looking for the blue gate, for which I had understated the distance by 0.4 mile. There is a chorus of groans when the fence disappears, but a celebratory shout when it reappears, prominently featuring the blue gate. Although the portion of the journey labeled "straight road" does have two or three turns, these do not appear to be important to the directions, and the party reaches the playa in high fashion around 8:00 pm.
Picking up the rear a couple of hours later, my soul mate and I are tooling through Organ Pipe National Monument. The road features a confusing series of "slow" and "reduced speed" signs, mostly following the ongoing segments of construction rather than announcing them. It eventually detours around a bridge that is under construction, with a properly labeled 25 mph speed limit -- at least from our direction. But we meet a truck in the detour. Careening down on us from the opposite direction, he crosses the centerline by at least two feet in the narrow lane, going about fifty to sixty mph. If we hadn't been well to the right of our lane he would have hit us head-on. It is a dangerous area, partly due to the aggressive nature of most Mexico-traveling gringos who frequent the stretch, but also due in part to the poor labeling of real and imagined construction areas along the way by the highway department. We're told later that something similar happened to the gruesome foursome who preceded us on this excursion.
We gas up at the Pemex station just past the Caborca cutoff. Gasoline is priced at 5.76 pesos/litre, or over 2.00/gallon; $10.00 didn't quite fill a five-gallon can.
Mileage from the Pemex station to Coloņia Coahuila:
|2.0||2.0||Cutoff highway - Laguna del Sol to the north, Caborca to the south|
|43.0||41.0||Est. El Saguaro and beginning of elevated highway|
|49.0||6.0||Coloņia Coahuila; we leave pavement|
We reach the surf at around 11:30 pm on a nearly half-moon. Incredibly, the whale of just over five weeks ago has shrunk to about a third its previous height (how that is possible, I don't know; maybe the bones have collapsed into a pile or something), and is already melting into the ground, more or less. We disturb three coyotes in passing. There are no vultures around after dark, but dozens will be there during daylight hours.
For a few moments as we reach our campsite it looks as if there are several extra vehicles, but we are relieved to find that it is only because J-- has set up a fancy beacon to draw our attention (although there is no way we could have missed them on the narrow playa). The gruesome foursome are already sacked out due to the cold weather. Me-- comes out and bids us hello, then D--, and V-- briefly. We set up as quickly as possible, using the air mattress we brought instead of cots so that we could get two cans of gas into the vehicle instead of one (since V-- and J-- had no space for extra gas).
It takes us a long time to settle in after we finally make it into bed, at perhaps 2:00 am. While we sleep, the tide approaches to much higher than we had expected -- maybe within 2.5 feet, vertically, of the tent. The surf is extra loud despite the mild breeze, and it is great sleeping from that standpoint. It is a very cold night, though. The sleeping bags are just barely adequate. My soul mate is cold all night, but I am luckier (that's not to say that I enjoy it; the air seems to be irritatingly cold on my face when it is exposed). It appears that she has come down with something like a bad cold, but with more congestion. It hurts when she coughs1, and I'm afraid she may have a touch of pneumonia.
Despite continued illness my soul mate cooks a fantastic breakfast of eggbeaters, ham, hash browns and toast. It's one of the many things that make her my better half. While devouring the feast I scoff at family members chewing on the boot leather they've brought along in the name of food.
D-- and Me-- have apparently frozen out overnight. It was so cold in the tent, they declare, that they came outside and sat. Go figure the logic in that. . . We develop a partial solution for them for tonight, offering to move the sunshade over their tent and put up the sidewalls, like a tent over a tent.
- Plaid jacket
- Gas can cheater bar
- Tinfoil for cooking
- Scouring pad for cooking pots
- Portable radio
Things running out:
- Propane gas
It looks like we're camped about 3/4-mile short of our usual campsite, or about the same distance south of the vultures pulling at "old burlap" as we usually are north. It seems to be a nice place, with plenty of dunes behind for private jobs.
On the first flush of the morning our port-a-potty squirts its flush nozzle down through the black hole and into the holding tank. One spring is recovered in the bowl, for what it's worth, but we don't have any idea how it is made or how many parts went down the drain. We'll have to devise a means of straining them out when we get home; meanwhile, fresh water splatters up out of the bowl every time it is flushed.
D-- has determined that the whale on the beach is not a Sperm whale, but might be a Blue. He says many whales have that scouring on their undersides from the mouth down. I've decided it's a Humpback.
Early afternoon, and the gruesome foursome are off down the beach to photograph the whale remains. After that theyll go over to Salinas proper and look around -- show J-- and Me-- the maximum angle dune, etc. They leave the dogs with us, Shadow and La Fem Nikita. I offer the dogs a nibble of thanksgiving turkey to distract them as their family leaves. They immediately return the favor by marking the proximity of our camp as their own.
2:00 pm -- We laze in the warmth of the afternoon sun. My soul mate takes a leisurely stroll on the beach. The dogs have settled into a vigil at their own tent-step, awaiting return of their family.
3:00 pm -- My soul mate withdraws to the elevated temperatures of the tent for a rest. I idly snap a few pictures of the gruesome foursome homestead and third-full milk crate of shells and shell fragments that have already been collected. La Fem Nikita returns to keep me company while Shadow sprawls across the doorway to her own tent.
4:00 pm -- The warmth of the day is receding fast with the strength of the sun weakened by a late afternoon wisp of cloud. I spy our wanderers returning down the beach. They bring treasures, booty of the beach. Firewood in heaps and tangles of cactus root and skeleton, a six or seven foot natural pole some two inches in diameter, a two foot natural club of driftwood covered with barnacles. Ouch! And a small cactus boot affixed to four skeleton runners some 2.5 feet in length; very decorative. With the addition of one cactus stump of substantial size, a fire ought to last some five to ten minutes -- quite a collection for this part of the Sonoran playa!
While my soul mate continues nursing her cold in the tent, V-- and J-- also quickly disappear inside theirs to prepare for the oncoming night-time. D-- and Me-- go for a long walk on the beach and return after dark. By this time J-- has a warm fire going.
Saturday at Dusk
As the sun drops behind Bird Island, my soul mate arises to prepare supper, but her illness is overtaking her.
With a fire going, J-- grills a pair of fat salmon steaks. It looks like he's one up on us tonight; we're heating canned soup -- chili for me and vegetable for my soul mate. As always, our supper is so good that it's hard to imagine how the grilled salmon might have tasted. My soul mate fights going to bed for a short time and then collapses into it like she hasn't slept in a week. The rest of us sit around the fire until we we're done eating, then I too move into the tent for warmth.
D-- is walking around looking like a Cylon, with a miner's lamp attached to his forehead. I don't know how he does it, but since returning from his remote tour he goes barefoot so much of the time that I suspect he spent July and August in Tierra del Fuego. He reports that while inspecting the whale, he stepped on a "hollow" spot in the sand that apparently contained decaying meat, because it gave like a sponge.
The moon is still above the horizon, but since it's a half moon a lot of stars are also visible. Me-- says the sky over Australia shares the Orion constellation with us.
Preparing for a cold night, I break open our sunshade components. It turns out that we have only two opaque sides rather than four. We put them up, along with two layers of mosquito netting to cover the third and fourth sides. The cotton ties on the netting are so completely rotten that some of them tear when we're tying the knot. Drat! It's never been used in the well over five years since we bought it. Once everything is in place we put the whole frame over D-- and Me--'s tent in hopes of minimizing air movement during the night. I then stake it down with rope to prevent its blowing away overnight.
Things broken or worn out:
- Mosquito netting ties
- Several tent ropes from my first life
We awaken late again. The temperatures felt a bit warmer to us during the night, but my soul mate was still cold, no doubt because she is sick. D-- and Me-- did much better with the sunshade and walls over their tent.
We abbreviate breakfast to oatmeal, juice and coffee, and it's still delicious. Everybody packs as expediently as possible. I notice that someone has packaged up all of the shells and shell fragments that were collected, and is bringing them home. There is no room for the treasure we buried during our last visit; we'll have to get it another time.
The gruesome foursome leave about 12:30 pm. I get a couple of group shots of the happy campers before everybody disburses. We leave the campsite around 1:30 and start pumping up our tires where the inbound road meets the fence at around 2:15. The power pump appears to be pumping more slowly than it used to and may need to be replaced; the 5 year warranty has long since expired.
Foliage along the route around the estuary out of the Salinas Outer Dune, and along the highway north is still exceedingly green; it's hard not overdoing on photographs. Going through Sonoita, we contribute a few cents to the charities and receive a Sonoita map in return -- the first ever. We clear the border at 6:00 pm with only a five-minute wait and gas up at Why Not, holding our cans until we get home to save time. All in all, it is a quiet return trip, and we arrive late, at 9:00 pm.
Not much happened this weekend. It was another perfect outing on the lonely Sonoran playa.
November 28-30, 2003
1It's no wonder my soul mate was cold; in fact, she had a temperature all weekend. We somehow did not figure this out until we were home. Once we brought her temperature down on Sunday night, she began feeling much better.
Copyright (c) 2003-2011
Larry K. Fox
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