Driving Through the Desert: A travelogue excerpt

What’s news?

The Imaginings was reviewed at Jamie O’Connell’s horror book review blog, To the Bone Reviews.  I was pleased with the three stars and his recommendation.  While it’s not as long as a few other blogger reviews, he has been kind enough to continue the dialogue with me via email.  To read the review, click here.

It works on so many levels

What does the future hold?

Speaking of The Imaginings, I recently realized that it was just about a year ago since I got serious about self-publishing.  The official release wasn’t until June of 2011, but I started the research, planning, formatting, designing, etc… last March.

What a year it’s been.  Next Friday, I’m going to talk a little about what I’ve learned and my feelings one year later as I am once again considering traditional (or at least small press) publishing.

But without further ado…

I had an interesting confluence of events in my life recently.  If you recall from last week, I had decided that I wanted (or rather a few readers wanted me) to post something else from my nonfiction writings.

Over the weekend, I gave one of the extra print copies I made for WHC of Free Five to my aunt and her husband, Bill, both of whom are fairly well-versed in writing and/or publishing.  Without really expecting a review, Bill had some very nice words and rather blunt critical ideas.  As someone who had never traveled west of Wisconsin, one thing he said that did resonate is to write about the unique area where I live.

Much of what he said applied specifically to my neighborhood of southern Utah, but the West itself is definitely rich in story and character.  However, I had put his comments on a backburner by the time I went looking for this week’s post.

Of the randomly named files of my various road trips (usually just by date of when I was traveling), the first one that I tried was “June 07 trip log.”  This was actually from a ten day trip through the Southwest my wife and I took on our first anniversary.  This particular excerpt is from the first couple of days.

So NOW without further ado…

There’s something about the setting of the Southwest that makes it perfect for storytelling.  For starters, just think about the great Westerns, with dusty boarded sidewalks, perspiring prostitutes and sun-hardened men meeting at high-noon.  The stories of adventure.  The West in general is rife with these simply because of its location on the continent.  It represents the wanderlust of man, discontentment with the status-quo, taking a chance in an environment where every living thing must fight to stay alive, including the plants and animals.

The wild still exists to some extent out here.  Tribes still practicing their magic.  Spirits walking the land.  Cowboys still battling with the elements to strike out a living.  Even aliens supposedly criss-crossing the skies (not necessarily “wild” but interesting when you consider that the western United States hosts 5 of the top 11 UFO sighting locations in the world).

In the eastern part of this country, people go to the mountains to vacation.  Out here, we go there to live.  Most people who spend any significant amount of time in their lives in the West have a difficult time leaving.

As for me, I could drive these roads endlessly, listening to the stories of the people along the way or just seeing their lives written on their faces, etched in their flesh by the desert heat and wind.  But it isn’t only the people who make the stories.  It is the land that makes the people and the land that makes the stories.  The two are inextricably bound, and you can’t talk about one without the other.

Thirty five miles south of Las Vegas, we enter California.  The sun makes imaginary water in the yellow-white sands of the distance, shimmering impossibly far away as I speed across the desert.  A hundred miles away from any major city, I see a few patches of houses.  Trailers and mobile homes actually.  They look almost as worn and weathered as the desert surrounding them.  As if the sands are wearing them down, breaking them into bite-sized bits which are slowly being digested into the shifting earth.

I wonder who lives out here in the middle of nowhere, the middle of the hot blazing desert.  There are mountains in the desert, but when I consider the miles of desolation in between them, those mountains might as well be on another planet.  I don’t see any movement outside these homes.  The people must have adapted, probably like other desert-living creatures, knowing that you don’t leave your dwelling in the hottest part of the day.  The only movement in this part of the world is that of the cars on the interstate, speeding by at 80 mph, heading somewhere better, and leaving these places to be devoured.

In Baker, we stop at the Alien Fresh Jerky store.  How could I not stop?  The signs talk about the multitudes of UFO sightings in the area.  It must be the heat.  The 134 foot-tall thermometer has the temperature at 104 degrees, and it’s only June.  But who knows?  Maybe it’s something more.  I’ve always believed in the possibility of aliens, wanted to believe in their existence, but somewhat akin to the idea of God, I’m still waiting for my proof.

I’ve driven through parts of New Mexico on other trips, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, and I watched the skies almost as much as I watched the road, but nothing.  The closest I’ve ever come to seeing an UFO was driving another desert road at night.  In the distance, a single light approached with a strange shimmering glow underneath.  I kept my foot on the pedal of my truck, heading determinedly into an unknown fate.

Turned out to just be another truck with only one headlight reflecting off the blacktop of a road which still held the heat of the day.  I don’t know what I expected, but I was a little disappointed.

Ninety miles out of San Diego, traffic comes to a stop.  Shit.  Much as I tried to get out of Las Vegas early, it’s still creeping up on Friday rush hour as I’m coming into this city of 1.3 million people.  1.3 million.  I lived in Montana for seven years.  The whole state of Montana just barely broke the 1 million mark.  And to think I had considered moving to San Diego.

Ah, California.  It really could be almost another country.  If nothing else, they should split it up into two different states, North and South California.  While North California still tries to some extent to live in harmony with the nature surrounding it, with the exception of the beaches, South California almost seems to be at battle with the desert.  The cities are spreading out in every direction, eating the sand and spitting out sprawling cookie-cutter houses with carefully constructed climate-control systems to keep its citizens from acknowledging where they actually live.  The rolling blackouts of a few years back must have been a real wake-up call.

I think about all of these things as I crawl along the interstate at 10 mph.  At this rate, it will take me 9 more hours to get into San Diego.  I think that this can’t be just Friday traffic.  There must’ve been an accident, right?  Forty-five minutes later, my suspicions are confirmed, but not how I expected.  There was indeed an accident which had been slowing traffic, but it was on the other side of the interstate.

Amazing.  People had slowed that much to rubberneck at the tragedy going the other way.  I’ve seen this behavior before in the animal kingdom, prey watching from afar, from a safe distance, as one of their own is devoured by a predator.

We’re still animals really, regardless of our fancy cars.

– end of excerpt

What do I want from you?

Where are some places where you find inspiration?  Or at least fascination?

Any good alien encounter stories?  (I should probably be careful what I wish for, right?)

As always, links to your own blogs or sites are generally welcome.  I’m serious now.  Don’t assume people know how to find you, so make it easy on them.

Finally, don’t forget to check back next Friday for my “one year later” report.

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16 responses to “Driving Through the Desert: A travelogue excerpt

  1. I love this entry. It really speaks to some of what I’ve talked about in my own experiences on the road, even if I haven’t yet been to the West (soon, very soon – this post got me even more excited). I think we’ve discussed it before, but I find inspiration in the open road, and in thinking about the sort of things you discuss here: what is it like to live in those desolate places? How do you eke out a living, and what sort of oddities do you see on a regular basis?

    Never seen an alien, though. I’ve seen plenty of UFOs but I live in an area with insanely high air traffic so I never really think twice about them.

    Very interested to see next week’s post.

    • Thanks, Jonathan. I thought you might like it. I know we had spoken about this topic (and I still have a backburner post in the works on the allure of the road). I didn’t realize until I revisited this excerpt that it was probably this draw and fascination that made me enjoy Jeff Mariotte’s The Slab.

      So have you ever wondered if some of that air traffic was of an extraterrestrial nature?

  2. Pingback: The #TESSpecFic Weekly: Time Flying | Shaggin the Muse

  3. Erik Gustafson

    Driving down those endless stretches of road does stir the imagination! I lived in Iceland for a year and I will tell you that is one ispiring place. Everyone lives around the edges of the island, not much human life very far inland but man oh man the wonder of mother nature is thirving there…. deep lava tubes, glaciers, volcanos, waterfalls and hot springs. Very easy to get lost in the beauty of it all.

    Never seen a UFO yet, but I keep hoping. I want to go home.

    • Ha ha. The mothership is running late, eh?

      Iceland sounds great. Sounds similar to what I said in the post… in certain places, the landscape is so striking, you can’t really separate it from the people, and the people are often who they are because of the landscape. I’m sure this would be similar thinking to Michener when he wrote Alaska and Hawaii.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • hahaha, “I want to go home.” That’s awesome. 🙂

  4. I do have an alien encounter story, three of them really, and all happened when I was living on military bases (once in RI, twice in MD, and all within a year of one another). The details make me sound crazier than I actually am, so I’m not going to recount them except to say the aliens were tall, moved very quietly, and did not speak. To be honest, I don’t remember if they even had mouths. The MD events were witnessed by two different friends who were with me…. and pre-teens imagining things never happens, right??

    And no, I don’t remember being abducted, probed, or any of the other stuff people always say happens. I just remember seeing them in my house. One of my friends thought the Bible would protect us, so we took my Bible and slept in the kitchen because… ha, who knows why the kitchen seemed safe!

    Since Paul’s invited me to do so, here’s a link to my blog for those interested in more crazy talk: http://anikocarmean.wordpress.com .

    • Why am I not surprised that you have an alien story? 🙂

      I gotta stop posting these questions because then you guys put out some great ideas, and I have to respect your commenting intellectual property and not write about the story of the military bases where aliens roamed.

      We’re going to really have to meet and talk about this over a drink someday.

      And thanks for leaving a link. People are so weird about that. I figure if you leave a decent comment (which you always do), you can leave a link. It just supports one another. Even though I always try to say something worthwhile and significant, I’m sure there are bloggers out there who don’t like the fact that I always leave a signature.

      • I’ve never minded you leaving a signature. I can’t imagine why anyone would be bothered by that. Now, I guess if that’s all you left, that would be different, but you do always also write something interesting and well-phrased, so the signature is just that: you, signing the end of your thought.

        When I read this post, I thought, “Oh, geez. I’ve admitted to seeing ghosts, and now aliens… Paul & his readers are going to think I’m absolutely bonkers.” Didn’t stop me from commenting, though! And you’re so nice, not only did you not block my account, you even wrote back!

        Happy Saturday evening to you!

        http://anikocarmean.wordpress.com

  5. I loved this weeks post. I have driven many a deserted highway and have been fascinated with the landscape and people. I once rescued a French man stranded in Skull Valley east of Great Basin National Park. He was almost in tears when he told me he thought he was going to die in the desert. Speaking of fascinating places for me, I would have to say Great Basin is at the top. Desert, arches, a glacier, old gnarled bristlecone pines, and a wonderous cave system all rolled into one.
    Sorry to say I have not had any alien encounters or viewed any UFO’s. My mom claimed to have seen several UFO’s, but alas not I.
    Thanks for the great post Paul.

    • A French man stranded in Skull Valley. There has to be a story there somewhere 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by, Kodi. I think as we have much of the same stomping grounds, we are inspired by many of the same things.

      Glad you enjoyed the post.

  6. My brother, the same one who drank like a fish, did his best to keep the drug dealers in fancy duds, and who saw many aliens(in New Jersey), told me I should return to church. Right. I live in Wyoming. We don’t have any aliens here. They wouldn’t stand a chance what with everyone except me packing weapons of every kind.

    Have any of your Mormon friends ever mentioned aliens with you? Some of mine have. Fascinating discussions.

    May the force be with you!

    Blaze

    • ha ha. Aliens in New Jersey, eh? That would make sense.

      And I think you’ve hit the nail on the head for why there haven’t been many sightings in Montana either 🙂

      I haven’t actually had any discussions with the Mormons about aliens. Most of my close friends either aren’t LDS or aren’t really anymore. But it sounds like they’ve got some interesting viewpoints. I’ll have to go find one.

      And may the force be with you, as well. Amen.

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