Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
Showing posts with label Trona. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Trona. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


I wasn’t planning to go to Trona at the weekend, but there I was in Ridgecrest, and Trona is just 24 miles down the road, and I couldn’t resist. 

It’s hard to say exactly what Trona is.   Officially it’s designated as an “unincorporated community” but that doesn’t tell you much.  It’s not a desert ghost town (though it kind of looks like one) because it has a thriving industry – mineral processing – which has been there in some form, booming and busting, since the late 19th century. Today Searles Valley Minerals run the show, extracting soda ash, sodium sulfate, and various kinds of borax and salt from the not quite dry lakebed.

Not a lot of people live there.  Most of the workers at the processing plant commute from Ridgecrest, but there is a small resident population; maybe a couple of thousand.  There’s something oddly suburban about the layout of Trona, a grid of neat streets, individual houses on small plots of land.  Some of the houses are abandoned, some are broken down, a few surprisingly intact. The one below is for sale - priced to move.  

I wouldn’t say that people were necessary proud of their gardens but a certain amount of ingenuity goes into some of them. Like this rock garden:

On a Saturday afternoon in November there were one or two people going in and out of the pizza joint, but otherwise the streets were pretty much deserted: a couple of kids playing football in the middle of the road, and one man walking along unsteadily in the direction of the general store.
      Some citizens had definitely embraced that whole “desert weirdness” thing, sometimes with their hood ornament:

And sometimes with their yard decorations; skeletons still in place even though Halloween was some way behind us:

As you walk around the empty streets you hear dogs barking at you, lots of them.  Sometimes they’re behind wooden fences so you can’t see them, though others are behind chain link and you definitely can.  Sometimes they’re small and yappy, sometimes they're large, angry and drooling.  In some cases their bark may be worse than their bite but I wouldn’t want to put it to the test.

And finally there were cats. I saw a couple of strays walking the streets, timid but free in a way that those dogs weren’t, and as long as the cats stayed out of the canine-infested yards they had the run of the place.  And you remember that thing in Spalding Grey’s Swimming To Cambodia where he can’t bring himself to leave Thailand until he’s had his perfect, transcendent moment? 

Well, in general I’m pretty skeptical about the need to expect, much less force, an epiphany, but I had just such a moment in Trona. 

          I saw just one cat at first, sitting on top of an air conditioner, and then one peering round the side, and then I finally spotted the third, looking out from inside the house, finally the whole trio looking out at me, looking in at them. About as good as it gets.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


 ONE: The Trona Pinnacles are one of the most exotic yet most seen bits of landscape in America.  They look truly extraordinary but they regularly appear in car commercials and have been in all manner of SF movies, not least Lost in Space and the Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes.

We went walking there and for several hours were pretty much the only people around for several hours although there was one terrible moment when we first arrived and I’d parked in what I thought was a nice isolated spot, when a minivan pulled up about ten yards away.  Since the area covers nearly 4000 acres this seemed an unnecessary intrusion, but perhaps the driver saw me, thought there’s a desert hound who obviously knows the perfect spot and decided to join me.  Fortunately not for long.  In this case, the passenger, a pleasant enough middle-aged woman got out of the car, raised her camera, took a single photograph and got back in the car and drove away. The woman’s desert walk had covered maybe twelve feet.

But then at sunset three or four cars arrived, each one driven by a single man, and every one of them got out, walked to an isolated spot and sat there silently and alone till the sun went down.  These are the kind of desert walkers one appreciates.

TWO:  I drive a Jeep, not because I want to prove myself in some manly way by cresting rocks and swamps, but because I want to go walking in places an ordinary saloon won’t take me.  I know that in Death Valley people thrash their saloon cars over some nightmarish terrain, but I assume these are rental cars.  And I was certainly glad to have a four wheel drive on the road to the ghost town of Skidoo where the below picture is taken. 

Skidoo was once a mining town and although there’s not much sign of a town anymore, the hills are scattered with mining debris and open shafts, their entrances fenced, but I’m sure you could fall in if you were really determined.

I always find it strangely satisfying to walk a couple of miles into the hills and look then back the way I’ve come and to say to whoever’s with me, “Hey, I can see my car from here.”  There it is on the far left, with the arrow.

Of course I always some anxiety that I’ll look down and see some bad seed has arrived, broken into the car and is now stealing my stuff.  So far this has never happened, but there’s always a first time.


THREE: And speaking of feral furniture, we did of course find some wrecked TVs and sofas on our desert travels – in some cases they were inside trailers that had themselves been wrecked.  The picture above is taken in Trona.

And the one below was the best score of all – also in Trona – a wrecked house the railway line and the chemical factory, and inside along with a derelict sofa and  fridge, there was a piano (or at least half a piano.). Here is a picture of my desert walking companion, walking on a piano. Does it ever really get any better than this?