From One World to Another
Last Saturday we pulled into Shady Lane RV Camp just north of Barstow looking for the road to Fort Irwin.
This was just one of the moments on this trip when I wondered why we had left the blue skies and cool ocean breezes of Laguna to take on a desert adventure that probably even Huell Howser would not have considered.
Fort Irwin is at the end of a 50-mile road to nowhere else, south of Death Valley, three hours from Vegas, and three hours from the coast. But we were looking for that Fort Irwin road so that Alfredo could see his 1964 army post again.
The Shady Lane RV Camp office could have been a movie set in “Bagdad Café.” Curved top 1940s trailer, white on top, gold on the bottom, with a stenciled OFFICE sign on the front, a lightweight metal canopy over the door, and a neon OPEN sign. A large half-sheet plywood size hand-lettered sign was attended by a multi-colored carved Indian sculpture with a painted wood headdress of blue, red and gold feathers.
“Please wait to be parked,” the sign read, followed by the names of the owners, manager and the “Sup.” “Founded after 1977.”
Politely we were given a map and directions to Irwin Road. “This place is so cute!” I said. “Thanks, it’s been in our family for 41 years,” he responded proudly.
After miles of desert, creosote bush, dry lake and mountains, there was the guarded entrance to the Fort.
“There is always some problem at the gate,” our nephew who is stationed there told us, even though he had tried to process the paperwork in advance. Eventually, after he was summoned to escort us, we were admitted to the sprawling facility. Part of it is built to looks like a normal town, with schools, parks, a theater, subdivision-like streets and stucco houses, even a Starbucks.
The military training part of the installation is industrial, with large warehouses and dusty holding areas for giant military vehicles, each group with a different purpose—one for ice, many for fuel and equipment. Rows of them were heading out for a training exercise in the miles of barren territory out of site from the main complex. Visiting units of soldiers would be learning how to deal with an enemy in this harsh environment.
Amid all this are herds of burros that are allowed to roam freely through the complex, grazing and cavorting as they wish. Another world.
It was so refreshing to be greeted with familiar hugs and cool air as we were welcomed into his family’s home.
As we chatted, snacked and enjoyed the kids enjoying themselves, my phone began to ding ding ding. Ruben Flores was sending photos of a fire at home–near Top of the World school. One after another, each one more alarming than the last.
“Why do they not wet down the slopes? No preventive water goes down?” he asked. “It’s just half way between valley and school.” “Where are the planes?” I wrote, thinking of the delayed aircraft response in the 1993 Laguna fire. He responded with a photo of a plane and then the swaths of red retardant sweeping across the screen.
“Creeping up big toward Soka too. Wow!” Soon Mayor Kelly Boyd was part of the conversation. “Sounds like it’s moving away from our homes,” he texted. Then from Ruben, “New big flames on our side. Good helicopter drop just helped. Two helicopters, one or two planes intermittent.” “There is supposed to be a fixed wing airplane in the area soon, KELLY” Smoke and planes and flames, more smoke and red retardant.
Here I was, over three hours away, in a setting that could have been on the other side of the globe, another way of life unfolding as if in a film—and yet I was in minute to minute touch with my town, and it was on fire.
As we knew more we saw that neighborhoods had been safely evacuated and the fire seemed to be getting under control. How grateful we all were for the effective fire response. Still I could not rest until we were back at home, seeing all our neighbors were safe for the night, even though the firefighters tough work continued on and on.
As we enjoy this peace and loveliness that is our town, there are the soldiers struggling and strengthening in the desert, and the firefighters committed to keeping danger at bay. It was a time to be reminded of our important protectors.
Christoph is a landscape architect and former city council member.