Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reminiscing about the Mojave Desert

I was just thinking about my last (and first and only) visit to the Mojave desert, just about this time of year in 1980. How long was I there? Hmmmm, six weeks? No, too long; but at least four weeks. Gallant Eagle `80 it was. 121st signal battalion, the Big Red One, First Infantry Division.

You know, the desert is a place you gotta experience if you have the chance. The scale of it is so hard to gauge on first experience that it's just amazing. Looking out across the floor of a valley between two mountains, it's so easy to think that the distant mountain is only two or three miles away, when in fact it's 20. While there, me and a buddy were at a point where we could see the Goldstone observatory to the west and at a lower elevation than we were, and we decided to hike closer to get a better look. Well, 1/2 hour of fast hiking later brought us no closer to it than when we started.

Also, dispel any preconceptions you may have of the desert being dry and parched. Down on the floor it can be 80 during the day, but up on a 5000 foot mountain, you're liable to get snow. At least in January.

I remember just coming in to town and this is where I learned of Bon Scott's death--saw it on the front page of a local paper. May he R.I.P.

After concluding the games, and cleaning and loading our equipment onto train cars (yes, flatbed train cars) for the trip back to Kansas, we had some time to waste as we waited for our stick to go out. Our first sergeant told us not to get into any trouble and warned us that there would be hell to pay if we found some. Well, being 19 and full of piss and vinegar, sure `nuff we made our way over to the PX and found some in the form of two grocery bags of good vinegar and other spirits. We proceeded to spend the afternoon in the barracks squirreled away in a corner with the wall lockers encircling us like the Great Wall, drinking and playing Spades.

You know, things couldn't get much better than this, right?

They did.

Here comes the first sergeant, striding cockily, short, with something to prove, regulation moustache not lower than or past the edge of the upper lip, making his rounds to check on things, and he finds us holed up in the back. Standing over us, he takes one look at us sitting down low on our duffle bags, then at the cards, and then at the bottles which we weren't fast enough to spirit away. And then, like Moses himself come forward to the 20th century, down from the Mountain, the sunlight forming a halo behind him, he picks up the bottles, looks at the labels, shouts: ``I told you guys no drinking!'' raises them over his head and in one swift motion smashes them to floor where they shatter into a hundred pieces. We were speechless. ``You guys just earned yourself the last stick back to Kansas after you load all the gear onto pallets and then all the pallets onto the planes.'' And we had to do just that before we could step onto and sit down on a plane and go back.

But it was worth it.

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