But the railroad was built to Mojave, where trains could easily be routed southward toward Los Angeles, or over the Tehachapis, then north to San Francisco. The Hesperia investment languished and then was passed on to others. The railroad came through much later, but it was not so much of a big deal then.
The following was written and recorded by E.C. Jaeger in 1922. I believe, although dated over 80 years ago, this behavior is just as relevant today as it was then, however scaled down from our increasing intrusion into their ever-shrinking habitat.
If a female road-runner is approached when on the nest, she generally remains quiet until the intruder is right upon her; then she slips over the back of the nest and flies a short distance to safety, but where she can still see the unwelcome caller. At times she has been known to permit herself to be caught rather than forsake her young.
A member of the Cooper Ornithological Club (Mr. J. R. Pemberton) gives a most interesting report concerning the actions of a female roadrunner whose nest he found some ten feet above ground in a sycamore tree. As the observer began climbing up to the nest, the bird hopped to the ground.
“Immediately,” says Mr. Pemberton, “it began to squirm, scramble, and drag itself away across an open space and in full view. The bird was simulating a broken leg instead of a broken wing! The bird held its wings closed throughout the demonstration, though frequently falling over on its side in its enthusiasm. The whole performance was kept entirely in my view, the bird gradually working away from the tree until it was some thirty-five feet distant, when it immediately ran back to the base of the tree and repeated the whole show. I had been so interested up to now that I had failed to examine the nest, which, when looked into, contained five young probably a week old. When I got to the ground the bird continued its ‘stunt’ rather more frantically than before, and in order to encourage the bird I followed, and was pleased to see it remain highly consistent until I was decoyed to a point well outside the grove. Here the bird ran suddenly away at full speed and in a direction still away from the nest.”
Indians living in harmony with nature is an idealization to say the least. Life was hard and often got harder as evidenced by Olive Oatman’s observations of the Mojave Indians in the 1850s.
“One day I was out gathering. Chottatoe, when I was suddenly surprised and frightened by running upon one of the victims of this stupid, barbarous inhumanity. He was a tall, bony Indian of about thirty years. His eye was rather sunken, his visage marred, as if he had passed through extreme hardships. He was lying upon the ground, moaning and rolling from side to side in agony the most acute and intense. I looked upon him, and my heart was moved with pity. Little Mary said, ‘I will go up and find out what ails him.’ On inquiry we soon found that he had been for some time ill, but not so as to become utterly helpless. And not until one of their number is entirely disabled, do they seem to manifest any feeling or concern for him. The physician was called, and soon decided that he was not in the least diseased. He told Mary that nothing ailed him save the want of food ; said that he had been unable for some time to procure his food ; that his friends devoured any that was brought into camp without dividing it with him ; that he had been gradually running down, and now he wanted to die. O there was such dejection, such a forlorn, despairing look written upon his countenance as made an impression upon my mind which is yet vivid and mournful.”
~ Olive Oatman
Clouds fall over the mountains onto the desert as if they were a tidal wave in slow motion. Rather than crash on the sand, pieces tear themselves away rising to the sky to make a silent escape.
I first went to the desert to experience what I thought would be sensory deprivation–after all, there was nothing there. It wasn’t like that though. I saw the wild geology, plants of all different kinds, animals fitting every niche, and human history, then even further back in time to the people without names. The closer I looked, the more I saw, and it all connected. These experiences filled my senses; to see the subdued pastels, to hear the cooing mourning doves, to smell the creosote, feel the rocky earth, and even taste the gritty wax the dry heat of the desert left thick on my lips. Blazing days, frozen nights, campfires cooking up damned strong coffee. Red sunrises, hallowed and silent sunsets. A person could spend a very good lifetime out here.
Sometimes the scenery appears to be the same– It looks like that here and there and over there. Look closer–this sameness is the differences. There are no gradual changes or blending. Everything is this or that. Hard contrast. Then, instead of becoming this faceless hole in our memory, we can become aware of our attachment to common reality.
I suppose the good news is, is that I got this photo of a shack in the little ghost town of Dolomite. I suppose the bad news is that I shot it in 2001 with a low resolution camera. Then again, some good news is that I doubled the size of it and cleaned up a few rough spots on it with my fancy software. And I suppose the bad news is, is that for all my efforts, Dolomite isn’t an authentic ghost town. I’m finding out that it was built for a movie set. It is a bit of good news that the movie was Nevada Smith starring Steve McQueen, one of my favorite movies. The bad news is that I won’t e able to reshoot it because of circumstances beyond my control at the moment. That’s good because it was on private property. It could have been worse when I was caught trespassing the first time. The owner chased me down and started giving me hell for being on his property. So it was a good thing I told him I came in a few miles over and followed the base of the mountain shooting some other ruins while I went along. It was another good thing when he laughed at my little truck and said, “I wouldn’t think you could make it through there in that.” I told him I was just taking some pictures. He told me to “Have at it.”
At least I didn’t get shot.