Sunday, December 20, 2009


This hodge podge of a story began with the SLABS but has expanded . I realized that two nearby communities--THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH and BOMBAY BEACH offer interesting contrast. The effects of SOCIALISM, CAPITALISM AND ANARCHY are(to some extent) illustrated in these three places. All three are located on the eastern shore of the Salton sea in southern, Ca. I begin with BOMBAY BEACH, a very unsightly town--soaked in government oversight and sustinence. Down and outers from a wide area migrate here for low cost living. Once established in a legal residence, the benefits kick in. Handouts of a hundred kinds become available--with spirit- killing consequences. Bombay Beach has become A POSTER CITY FOR THE ILL EFFECTS OF DO -GOODERISM AND RESCUE. (60 minutes did an expose) What is illustrated--I think--are the effects of generosity without freedom or expectation. Receipients of government largess become like tame rabbits in their fixed cages. Slab dwellers also often receive benefits but are not tied to legitimated addresses. I hope to illustrate the crucial difference that makes in creative ZIP.Photo below is of the beach---located outside a government provided, expensive, 8 foot retaining wall---Town pride has not mobilized to deal with the unsightly mess--of a long-ago high water situation, and I suspect it never will. Sensible folks would have moved elsewhere but like the New Orleanians they chose to whimper for their world to be made safe for them and damn the cost to the nations taxpayers.

An average street scene. I daresay all these dwellers receive welfare. What is missing is CREATIVITY---AND THE JOYS OF CREATIVE EFFORT. Slab dwellers as you will see also get welfare---but exhibit (sometimes) dazzling creativity. Both are "heartbreak hotel" ---last option---places. Why are the slabs so much more interesting?

Exhibit B--(below)That's FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH RV park over there----Capitalism produced and sustained---older folks with pensions, Social Security and such--living in great comfort and sociability--gated community---with old folks activities---safe but dull. I believe in my heart that deep creativity dies behind walls----not sure why---are they too safe? --too homogenized? Could Thoreau or Whitman live there? I believe they have won the battle but lost the war--for self actualization---for an autotelic personality.

NOW I'LL RESUME THE STORY I BEGAN TO TELL ABOUT THE SLABS: (the one too wierd to tell---instead must show)

---- PICTURES WILL HINT AT THE BIG DRAMA UNFOLDING HERE: FREEDOMS' LIMITS ARE BEING TESTED. And in such an environment an interesting creativity is fostered. I hope this becomes evident as I recount our group adventures here.
The lovely lady pictured below, Joanne, agreed to co-host with me, a gathering of 40 motorhome friends from WIN (Wandering Individuals Network) in this unlikely but exciting place. Behind her is one of many "art cars" scattered about. As I've done before (see entry entitled THE MOST FREE PLACE ON EARTH) I will try to waft the aroma of the situation to you via photographs and commentary. Here's one of Joanne's brightest ideas in action. It's called a STARWHEEL because we lie on tarps and sleeping bags in the configuration of a wheel to look at the stars---far more exciting than you'd think. (Maynard discovered a galaxy--we named it for him)
Each day we hiked to interesting aspects of this abandoned military base like its olympic sized swimming pool.
No zoning laws, property lines, taxes, or building codes required---just pick yourself a spot and construct-----whatever. Where else in the world could you own a home for less than $100?
Note the battery and satellite dish---two important items here.
And this guy's solar panel--almost as important here as water--it charges his battery, which powers tv, lights, radio, pump and even tools----sits atop a classic teardrop trailer. He lives inside there.
Acouple of young runaways live in the front, readying themselves for a new start in Mexico. (but he's broke and they won't let him in at the border) I wonder if they will still be here next year. Many drift here for a temporary stay and remain for years.

The downside of freedom! No legal force exist here to prevent or correct such messes. (an
estimated dozen sites like it exist within the one square mile boundary of the Slabs.) Moral force---disapproving words and signs--is tried, but to no avail. What has actually happened in its 30 year existence is that the group occupied areas are kept very clean and where individualism reins--trash proliferates.. THOSE WHO RAIL AGAINST COLLECTIVISM AND PRAISE EXTREME INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM FROM THE MOB AND FROM GOVERNMENT OWE US AN ANSWER TO THIS SORDID SCENE.
Container Charlie---perhaps the slabs most interesting character--updates us on his latest project. He has reclaimed a trashy acre, building a home in a container and a museum/park beside it. Visitors flock to see his creations---he's become semi-famous. Like Thoreau's cabin, the world has beat a path to his door. (google him---at his place----called East Jesus)
Charlie's living room.
This bus is famous for something but I forgot what--At the end of its travels they memoralized it in this quirky manner---burying it angled in the sand then reconfiguring its interior to be level so that it serves as guest quarters for Charlie's guest. The cute lady is Diana, my ex---she smiles--no doubt remembering 10 golden years with me. For her take on the Slabs click here:
The Slabs library---Diana tells the story and has better pictures. The lady pictured is Karin--longtime friend and famous in traveling circles for her monthly medical column.
Surely the world's most unique library reading room. It astounds me that one guy, for no pay, has maintained this free library for many years.
Someone else built this unique 18 hole desert golf course, stretching far into the distance. The "greens" were surprisingly puttable---I lend a hand dragging the smoother around a bit.
The Slabs most famous character--Leonard Knight---folk artist--creator of SALVATION MOUNTAIN---worked on it for 25 years---and still works every day. (see him in the movie INTO THE WILD)
His creation seen from the top---note the paint buckets---also, bottom right a young assistant.
A mind-boggling adaptation---Guy sees this concrete tank with roof---decides to move into it---despite its previous function as sewage holder. But how to gain access?
Here's how: With chisel and hammer and hacksaw he made a hole and built a door. Amuses himself with art projects such as -------(Note the dog's nose at the bottom---the sign says: private residence--year round.)
Nearby he keeps a lonely rooster in a deep tank.
I have an audience---and a pedestal----time to orate---did Hamlet's TO BE OR NOT TO BE speech.
Is the point I'm driving at too obscure? Let me put it this way: Which of these three places would you rather live in? Here's my answer: I'd take the $6,ooo I'd save by not living at the Fountain of Youth---and spend it traveling here and there to places such as the slabs.
AND OH YES: I think extreme freedom calls forth creativity better than extreme security which is deadly.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Sand dunes charm me---I'm drawn to them as others are drawn to the ocean. So when darkness overtakes me near the Great Imperial Dunes, I make my way into their heart to spend the night. I've been here before---many years ago I woke to find Stevie Wonder's bus parked beside me. We chatted briefly as his assistants walked him about and he seemed pleased to hear my southern drawl. I stayed to watch him perform---his piano perched high on that tallest dune there, making a video---great backdrop eh? I learned that desert movies are often shot here--two of the most famous being THE SHEIK starring Valentino and FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX starring James Stewart. (If you're puzzled by the blue type---so am I. Sometimes, for mysterious reasons my typing turns blue--then it will suddenly go away----Oh well!) See my rig down there? To the left about a mile is Mexico and not surprisingly a Border Patrol station is nearby. The numerous crisscrossing tracks are made by dune buggies and motorcycles who leave Sunday night, giving me sole possession of the "sandbox" for a time.
I show you this map shot to validate my sub-title: CROSSROAD OF HISTORY. I am camped just to the west and south of exit 159, approximately where the rest area symbol is. The dunes extend a few miles into Mexico and THAT is why this particular spot is so historic. Do you see the Colorado river on the right of the dunes and the coachella canal on the left of the dunes? (That canal carries 90% plus of the rivers' water to the rich, but dry farmlands of the Imperial valley producing 10% of the entire nations' vegetables.) The challenge was how to get the water across the dunes. EARLY BUILDERS JUST COULDN'T DO IT! So they dug their first canal six miles into Mexico and went AROUND the dunes. Well and good---for awhile---but they worried and they worried about all that precious water in Mexican hands---vulnerable to theft and god knows what.
In 1905 mother Nature played a huge prank on us with a super wet year. The river burst through the canal banks and surged north to fill up a dry lake bed we now call the Salton Sea. Things returned to normal---but still we worried----all that precious water---all those thirsty, (thieving?) Mexicans. Finally in the 1940's we "bit the bullet" and dug a canal ACROSS THE DUNES ON THE AMERICAN SIDE and we gave it the eponymous name of-----ALL AMERICAN CANAL.
Precious water entering the dunes-----but guess what? jillions of gallons were lost by seepage and still made its way to Mexico via the underground aquifer. Damn! Those people over there are still getting OUR water. So we thought and we thought---like the Grinch looking resentfully down on whoville----how can we keep the whole damn river to ourselves. Finally we got a brilliant idea---let's line the canal with concrete---stop all that seepage and keep all our cool clear water. Well yeah--we send a splash or two south for humanitarian purposes.
NEW CANAL===OLD CANAL----Mexicans are raising hell---but what do we care. We want what we want when we want it! And Oh by the way--see all that vegetation that once lined the canal giving habitat and food to wildlife--kiss that goodbye too.
An Astronaut took this shot from space recently for Wikipedia showing the progress of the relining project. I think I'll go to that tiny gap to record for you the canal version of a golden spike moment when the eastern and western relining teams connect.
AND HEEEEERE IT IS ! East meets West. Notice the clever way they did their work without intefering with the flow of water: That steel plate wall will be removed when the relining section is done.
Now that my work here is done---I'm going to Paradise--will report from there.---Randy--King Of Kodgers.
P.S. Just for the record, I approve of this ingenious but expensive water saving project, paid for, I've heard by SanDiego, who for its money, gets the water that is saved.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


"Bagdad Cafe" is perhaps my favorite movie--the story of a hapless tourist who stumbles into a small desert truck stop---experiencing transformation---and causing transformation. I'm ever on the alert for such a place--to remake myself AND make myself felt. Borrego Springs calls to me though I have not yet answered. Could it be your "Bagdad Cafe?" (note the Salton Sea in the distance) A glance at the map will reveal a unique feature; It is completely surrounded by the Anza-Borrego State park---California's largest--and thus cannot expand its city limits.

Chatting with several locals---all from elsewhere---suggest it was their transformation place. Pictures of the town itself would only distract from my intent---instead, I'll show you this one distant shot, two of its setting and finally, the artwork of one of its citizens making himself felt.

Down there is the town sleeping in a gloriously dry valley. Beneath is a vast reservoir of fossil water---much fought over, because when it's gone--the city is gone. Citrus farmers, given free rein would use it up quickly. (I love and respect farmers but they are notoriously irresponsible regarding water use--especially here where there should be no farming at all.) Only legal force can make the water supply sustainable----but I digress.

Just outside town, at "Pegleg Smiths" campsite, my friends and I settle in for a quiet Thanksgiving.

A side trip to the nearby Salton Sea where the King of Kodgers displays his Barrymore-like profile.

Here's the Borrego Springs Badlands with the Salton sea in the distance.

Now here's how a local citizen is making himself felt---in a very big way. He has the money to comission a hundred sculptures such as these and to purchase extensive desert tracts on which to display them. Furthermore, he allows campers to stay for 3 days free anywhere nearby. Tourist are flocking in to drive around enjoying them---spread as they are over several miles.

An incredible variety of creatures, extinct and extant---Here's an ancient elephant ancestor.

With its descendent a few miles away. (I'm 5 foot 10 inches tall)

Borrego rams poised to clash---the ladies they seek to win are just downhill.
You can google Borrego Springs sculptures for the full story.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


Jim Reeves old song, "Shifting, Whispering Sands" tells the story of discovering a desert valley where people have mysteriously vanished, leaving their possessions more or less intact: "How the cattle roamed the valley; happy people worked the land--and now everything is covered by the shifting whispering sand......"If you want to learn their secret, wander through this quiet land and I'm sure you'll hear the story of the shifting, whispering sands. WELL! I heard a story of just such a place--an old depression era homestead destroyed by shifting sand. A homestead far out in the desert, across a dry lake bed. When settled, this homestead was 45 miles from a grocery store. Across that dry lake bed to that tiny patch of trees, legally inaccessible by vehicle. One must trudge 3 miles to reach it--a dangerous solo trip, so I recruited 4 adventurous friends and one very happy dog to accompany me
Once in the lake bed you see that it really is barren and estimated distances seem to double. Also we walked into a strong, cold wind.
We are nearing the rumored scene of dramatic demise.
Not here! This seemed to be a first crude beginning shelter while drilling a well. (on right)
Hardly any drama here---Interesting with a touch of artistic whimsey in the indian cutout.
Surely this is not the fabled shifting sands homestead.
long abandoned---I've seen lots of similar scenes---not the shifting sands drama we are looking for.
Here's a small mystery we encountered in some bushes. Stolen vehicle, stripped of its goodies?
Another surprise...a slow, clumbsy, vulnerable tarantula. People in the West rarely harm them---regard them with affection and leave them alone---as we do.
AH HA! Here's a clue to our quest, written on the back porch of the house. It says: "My grampa homesteded here & built this house!! Had to....SAND DUNE COVERED HIS 1ST HOUSE, WHERE THE FIREPLACE IS AT. He was Gilbert R Rock!"
Now we know where to look and what to look for---in the dunes--for a fireplace. So this house was the replacement for the shifting sand house.
Taking a break in the dunes--which have now been invaded---and incidentally stabilized by tamerisk trees--an invasive--non fruit bearing---big time water using species almost impossible to eradicate. Somewhere near here is the scene of the drama. From left to right, my companions are Cody the little dog, Darlene, Taz, Claire and Dodie---each absorbed with their cameras--ready to record the scene of the drama.
BINGO!!! The scene of the drama so long ago: Shifting sand slowly crept against his wall like a heavy snowfall that would not melt. Then higher and higher till the front door would not open. Shoveling it away proved futile as the prevailing southwest breeze pushed it ever back and higher---then into his front room---higher--into the windows. He no doubt retreated to the kitchen to live--but it followed---then onto the roof till one day it collapsed, forcing him to build another house. Will global warming creep up on us like this---or overpopulation?