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I continue on corrugated gravel track across the desert. The road is being worked on as I ride and the surface is deep and loose. The men working in the graders stare at me, as if I might be a mirage, as I pass.

I’m so glad I chose to struggle across the rough dirt tracks to experience the vast emptiness of the desert away from the highway and traffic. Soft sand clutching at my wheels, washboard corrugations rattling my bones – it’s all a gift and I am very reluctant to leave. It is rare to find a wild place where you can sit a whole day and not see a trace of human presence, where so few people come there is no litter at all.

The first night I was here in the valley I stood far from my tent in the middle of the silent desert and turned a complete circle. Not a single human light to be seen and a silence that made me wonder what are all the sounds that I usually hear – running water, birds, insects, the wind in trees – there is none of that here. Even when the wind rose during the night, the only sound I could hear was the flapping of the tent.

Gravel road on the left, tarmac to the right. Which would you choose?

The junction gravel road on the left, tarmac to the right. Which would you have choosen?

At the end of the sandy road, where I rejoin Highway 127, I rest for a few minutes. I am surprised by the mysterious appearance of a flock of six birds that settle in the middle of the road. They are stately and tall, long legged, white with black wings. They look like wading birds, oyster catchers with long beaks. Their cries are reedy and thin. They stand in the middle of the tarmac strip running through the desert and stare about them before stalking gracefully up the hill. I stand and they are startled, flying off but they circle the sky before returning to the same spot, sentinels of the intersection, perhaps? They are distinctly elegant birds and they look like waders – incongruous in the desert, testament to its hidden waters.

Regretfully, I take off towards Baker on the smooth tarmac surface of Highway 127.

I had toyed with the idea of passing through Los Vegas but when I arrive in Baker, a strip town of maybe one hundred and thirty people, it is enough of shock to the system after a week in the desert. Who knows Baker’s reason for being, it consists of half a dozen stores, a few gas stations, a restaurant called the Mad Greek with the sadly exaggerated claim of selling the world’s best gyros.

The Mad Greeks in Baker. Bright lights after a week in the desert.

The Mad Greeks in Baker. Bright lights after a week in the desert.

Sadly not the world

Sadly, not the world's best gyros.

A constant flow of cars traverses the highway and people stop for an ice-cream and a cold drink.  Everybody in the place looks like they are on tranquillizers – disinterested, vacant, slow. It is hard to attract anyone’s attention for long enough to finish a sentence. Wanted posters on the window of the store sit alongside a list of rules and regulations for the use of the local recreational area in the dunes which suggest discharging firearms and explosives are inappropriate behaviour. The people emerging from the passing cars are the kind of people I have only ever seen on TV before; a blonde women with gigantic silicone implants in ridiculously high heels totters past, a snappily dressed African-American with a huge diamond encrusted pendant proclaiming his name – Ray – peruses my bicycle.

It is almost nightfall and Will’s Fargo is a roadside motel that looks picturesque enough for me to enquire if they would give me a special deal for the night. White and blue with a swimming pool advertised – I could imagine myself in a road movie. The man lounging in reception staring vacantly at the TV is clearly unimpressed by my proposal and so my hopes are dashed.

I retreat to the desert, to an area which I hope is not the local recreation area where people are probably discharging firearms and explosives, and set up my tent. Cars stream away on the interstate towards Vegas through the night. I watch from afar the moving lights sucked relentlessly toward the brooding red glow in the night sky to the east.

I retreat to the desert to comtemplate the sky.

I retreat to the desert to comtemplate the sky.

Car lights on the interstate - a constant stream rushing towards Vegas.

Car lights on the interstate - a constant stream rushing towards Vegas.

{ 4 } Comments

  1. Dror | November 28, 2009 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    Well done Anna for choosing the dirt road! I’m sure I wouldn’t have resisted the temptation of the tarmac. I even got pissed off in Latvia when I had to cycle a few kilometres on gravel road. Happy and safe journey!

  2. Christopher | June 17, 2013 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    Awesome photo of the stream of headlights rushing away from the last blush of sunset…

  3. Christopher | June 17, 2013 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Unless of course that blush of sunset is actually artificial and is simply LA. I don’t know.

  4. anna | June 19, 2013 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    My guess it that it is Las Vegas.

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