Saturday, November 23, 2002

Coso Junction Jam - Mike Maul

The weekend of Nov. 9 started off with rain throughout California - much needed rain but not what you want for a ride weekend. Los Angeles had a record 1.84 inches for the day which allowed the reopening of the national forests for other rides. In the case of the PS Coso Junction ride - put on by Sue and Mike Benson with Head Vet Dr. Fred Beasom - it rained Friday and during the night but the 2 days of the ride were clear but very windy the first and excellent the second.
Ridecamp is at the Coso Junction rest area 24 miles north of Ridgecrest on Highway 395 and has an unusual setting for a ridecamp. There's a small store and a Taco Bell next door for those not wanting the standard dinner at ridecamp. The camp is at 3300 ft with the trail reaching 4800 ft above the South Haiwee reservoir. We're in a valley surrounded by mountains that we can't see because of the rain. Wind shakes the trailer throughout the evening and night with starlit skies alternating with rain and clouds.
Saturday dawns clear overhead but with dark rain on each horizon. Attendance is down due to riders thinking about rain. It turns out to be good riding the first day with 35 starting the 50 and 8 starting the 30 mile LD. The trails are a combination of single track, jeep trails, and cross country over desert administrated by the BLM and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
The weather makes this day of the ride interesting - it's sun, very windy in spots, quiet in others, and rain out of a sunny sky all mixed together. The flat desert is our start - then up into gently rounded foothills - followed by jumbles of rocks covering the hills - through saddle areas - by a working pumice quarry and back into basecamp.
It's windy - really windy - at times. When we are heading into the wind - it feels like you are climbing a hill even though it's flat. When the wind is coming from the side - all the horses out in front of me turn into weathervanes. All the tails are streaming out parallel to the ground and indicating the wind direction. The gusts reached 65 mph according to the weather reports. In one spot - we could hear a noise approaching like a freight train - then a blast of wind hit - then the gust raced on by with the noise so localized that you could track it's progress over the desert as it left us. In other sheltered spots - nothing but the sounds of our horses hooves disturbed the silence of the desert.
The occasional rain came down as little pellets driven hard by the wind but in a sunny sky. In some sections of our country - rain and sun together are called "the devil beating his wife". A web lookup says the 'The devil beating his wife', which originated in Hungary, is actually only one of many proverbs that describe rain and sunshine happening at the same time. Some of the others include "foxes are on a marriage parade," "witches are doing their wash," and "a tailor is going to hell". However it's described - the weather is interesting and different on our ride.
The rain in the distance provides spectacular rainbows stretching across the foothills to the distant mountains - sometimes with a faint second one outside the first. We can see easily across the desert and the bright jackets of red, yellow, green, and blue on riders ahead form another rainbow of colors beneath the one arching into the sky.
After the ride in camp - the winds picked up again and went on throughout the evening. One of the people at the ride had a Jack Russell puppy in a pet carrier that the wind picked up and sent tumbling down the parking lot with the owner in pursuit. At least it was clear - with deep blue skies overhead and lighter pale blue where the sky met the snowcapped peaks in the distance. At night the half moon sinks toward the mountain peaks and shines brightly thru a cleft before disappearing - leaving us with the sharp bright stars of winter.
The second day of the ride took us out across the desert again headed towards the mountains. We detour around a small lake that 2 days earlier was a dry lake bed with the trail going straight thru. It was a beautiful day with no sign of rain or wind. We crest a sharp climb and below us are two reservoirs reflecting the snow capped mountains in the far distance. It's a absolutely spectacular view out over the valley with the white covered mountains in the background.
This view has a lot of history in it for the people of southern California. We're looking down at the Owens Valley - part of the plot for the 1974 Academy award winning movie "Chinatown" set in the 1930's starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston.
The story backdrop for the movie is that in 1906, Los Angeles went through a scandal known as "The Rape of the Owens Valley." Los Angeles was essentially built on a desert, and as the city started to expand in the early years of this century, water was in short supply Soon enough, a full-fledged drought was in effect. City planners needed to get water from a source other than Los Angeles and the closest body of water they found (besides the Pacific Ocean) was the Owens River, about 250 miles north of the city. Prospectors, politicians and others decided to buy up the rights to the river, and the land outside of L.A. (the San Fernando Valley) and create a lush, green oasis in the valley, meanwhile leaving the city to dry up. They would later propose a bond to the Los Angeles city council to feed the river into the city via aqueduct, in turn selling off the irrigated San Fernando land at enormous profit. Until the bond was passed, the prospectors virtually man-made the drought by pumping excess water from the river out to the ocean, knowing that when the bond passed, they would make a fortune. Taking the water away to LA killed the agricultural community that the Owens valley had then. Today more than 70% of Los Angeles’ water has passed through the Haiwee reservoir. Once the water leaves the reservoir it passes through conduit, tunnel and pipe, never seeing open air and light, all the way to Los Angeles. In the past - and now too - control of water in the west is power and that was a part of what Chinatown was about.
None of this goes through our minds as we jog the long winding muddy downhill into the valley and admire the huge reflection pools for the distant mountains but it's nice to think about it after we're done and about the history we've passed by on this ride. There's an eagle nest somewhere along this downhill but we just focus on staying upright in the muddy terrain.
Of the 35 starting the first day 50 - 29 complete. On the second day - 31 of 36 complete the 50. Seven of 8 on the first day and 10 of 11 complete the second day LD. The first day 50 is won by Ernie Lohman whose horse also took BC. The second day is won by Charlene Lewis Stueve with Lisa Belser in second. A longtime endurance rider says that this would have been her 9,000 mile mark today but she pulls 16 miles out and hand walks her horse in. He just doesn't seem right. The completion awards are very nice for a first time ride - a folding chair for the first day and a folding table for the second day with the ride name and logo as well.
Sue and Mike Benson have put on several rides this year. They put on Fire Mountain earlier in the year with the first time Coso Junction closing out the ride year for them. They've put on an excellent ride with well marked trails, nice volunteers, good vets, and great scenery.
The weather made this a smaller ride than it could have been but hopefully Sue and Mike will be putting it on next year with Mike still out on the trails during the ride on his little motorcycle with the license AERC MC.
A very nice first ride for Coso Junction and I'm assured the pre-ride weather will be better next year. See you then.

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