Pahrump, Shoshone, and the China Ranch

no more saguaros, now Joshua trees and smell the sage! The drive from Laughlin up the hill to Highway 95 toward Vegas is steep, but not really very long and we rolled up the hill in the morning sunlight.  Another possible stop on our route was Boulder City, where a soil scientist friend had promised a cold drink and a copy of his presentation on the Spirit Mountains.  Again, it was not to be.  I only heard about the RV search at Hoover Dam after we had already decided to re-route around Las Vegas traffic as much as possible and skip the drive across the new bridge at the dam.

toward Las Vegas The drive to Pahrump was short, just under 160 miles, and the road was great.  We managed to skirt the worst of the Las Vegas traffic on the south side of the city, staring in awe at the miles and miles of low brown stucco homes covering the desert.  Highway 160, west from Las Vegas, is part of the Old Spanish Trail and winds through the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and crosses the beautiful Spirit Mountains at Mountain Springs.  Once through the pass, the wide desert vista of the Pahrump Valley opens up to the west. As Mo drove the smooth, even highway, I started checking out the Streets and Trips listings of Camp Club USA parks in Pahrump.  We called a couple of places, discovering that once again, no one had cable, but the Charleston Peak Winery RV Park was on our list, and had an opening for our club, 1/2 price at 20 bucks once more.

Laughlin to Pahrump (30) There are many RV parks in the area, and we toured around town checking them out the next day, but still were happy with our choice, especially at the price.  Once settled in on the high fan above town, with an unbroken view of Charleston Peak to the east, we were especially tickled.  The swimming pool was closed for the evening, but it was just a few hundred yards to the tasting room at the “only” or “first” winery in Nevada.  I am still not sure which, but I suppose I could look that up eventually.  The winery said one thing and the chamber said another, so which is true?.

sunset on Charleston Peak Seven tastings are offered for free, and even though they no longer grow their own grapes except for a very small vineyard, they made some award winning cabernet from Sonoma grapes. The original vineyards planted were destroyed a few years ago by wild horses.  Mo stayed with Abby and I enjoyed sitting in the unpretentious, intimate little tasting room with award winning wine while Mo settled for a glass of chardonnay in the MoHo. 

Laughlin to Pahrump (50) The evening was much cooler than any we have experienced in a couple of weeks, with a wild, blustery wind blowing across the desert.  I’m not quite sure why, but even in that wind our slide topper didn’t seem to flap too much.  Maybe it’s a different kind of construction than some.  So  far it hasn’t been a problem. Charleston Peak was brilliant snowy white against the dark cloudy skies to the east, with the western skies clear enough for a gorgeous sunset.

today's explorations Sunday was our day to relax and explore more of the area south and west of Pahrump.  When we traveled to Death Valley in 2004, we had a rented car, (pre MoHo days!) and spent a lot of time exploring the park.  It was time for something different, and with the help of the excellent Discover Pahrump brochure, we mapped out a route.

West of Pahrump, Highway 372 changes to 178 when you cross into California, crossing a small range of mountains and opening up to another valley.  The tiny community of Shoshone lies in the heart of the valley, a pleasant stop for folks traveling farther west or north into Death Valley.  It was a nice stop for us as well, and with the price of gas, we were glad we had filled up the tracker back in Nevada and a mere 3.69 per gallon.  Shoshone is full of crusty characters, and has a history of fascinating people.  The museum there is tiny, but wonderful, with a special section devoted to Death Valley Women, with photos, newspaper articles, and stories.  In the back of the museum are the collection of bones once thought to be mammoth bones, but later identified as several different animals probably washed into the Pleistocene lake from several different areas.

remnants of a different era in Shoshone, CAShoshone lies at the edge of the ancient lake, and the area is riddled with soft sediments from the old lake bed, then uplifted and eroded into washes and gorges and mesas, surrounded by more wild volcanics, ash flow tuffs, and even obsidian. Suddenly in the cliffs, we saw caves that were obviously man made, and got out to explore.  Later, the museum volunteer pointed me up a  dirt road west of Shoshone to view more of these man made caves.  Near town, in addition to a very strange and wacky looking cemetery, we found what was left of hand carved homes inhabited by desert dwellers in the 20’s and 30’s.  They looked ever so much like homes carved out of the volcanic tuffs in the Cappadocia region in Turkey.  Certainly not as old, and not as artistic, but the idea was the same.  Carve out a safe home, warm in winter, cool in summer, using what is available.

apartments in the desert Apartments carved in stone in the desert near Shoshone, maybe a little over 80 years old?

click here for many more photos of the area around Shoshone and the cave homes.

DSCN8382 Apartments carved in stone in Cappadocia, maybe over 1200 years old? 

Click here for more photos of the fantastic home in the Cappadoccia region of Turkey

After exploring the cave apartments, we continued up the wash toward the volcanic hills.  The road ended after a few miles, but yielded a wonderful array of blooming wildflowers.

Yes, Mo and I did plenty of tent camping before we got the first MoHo in 2005

P1010019 Back on the highway, we continued south toward the small community of Tecopa, site of several hot springs resorts.  I say “resort” with tongue in cheek, because these places were not fancy in the least, just dusty campgrounds with faded signs that said “hot mineral baths” or “massage”. The springs are known for their healing properties, and have been used by humans for centuries, but they didn’t look all that tempting to me.  My favorite spring is still up in the mountains of eastern Oregon, in the middle of a meadow at Hart Mountain.  But that’s another story, prior to MoHo days, when Mo and I tent camped up there.

Road to China Date Farm Beyond Tecopa to the south and east on the Spanish Trail, is the desert oasis of China Ranch. The road into the valley is twisting and winds between fantastical apparitions of the badlands.  Once through the tiny canyon, the small valley opens up, green and lush with date palms and irrigation.  It wasn’t very clear about where to go, and we followed a dirt road and a sign that pointed to the gift shop.  The parking lot was almost full, but the gift shop was very small and didn’t seem to be near the date palms at all.  There were a few signs pointing to the river, but we really had no idea where to go, and of course with Abby, we needed to check on the dog friendly areas, if they existed.

nice walk on a hot day I went into the tiny, crowded gift shop, where one person was busy making date shakes, and no one else seemed to be around.  I finally asked a customer if they had any idea of what you were supposed to do in this place and she gave me the 50 cent trail brochure.  Ahha!!  No restrictions on dogs!  We didn’t even see a leash sign, but kept Abby on her leash anyway.  The maps on the brochure were fairly primitive, and even as a map maker I had a hard time figuring out where to go.  We ambled up the lane toward the date palms, trying to find a circular route which eluded us, and trying to avoid the hot badlands which didn’t sound all that great on this hot mid afternoon.

Shoshone and Tecopa (79) The palms were beautiful, graceful and gentle in the desert.  Each variety had an informative sign explaining it’s origin, something we had seen at the Oasis in Indio, but of course here everything was much more rustic and casual.  After hiking an hour or so, we walked back to the shop for a cold drink.  I kept thinking I wanted a date shake, but every time I would slip inside the line was too long, and the poor guy was still doing everything by himself.  Mo and I settled for a cold diet pepsi and some time on the shady bench outside the store.

Our trip home followed the original path of the Old Spanish Trail back to Highway 160 south of Pahrump.  There are great signs about the trail in two places, but each of them comes up suddenly with no warning, so you have to be ready to whip in or turn around to read them. It was sobering to stand in that wide open, hot, dry desert basin, with range after range of rugged mountains in every direction and envision hardy travelers following this path from Abiquiu, New Mexico to Los Angeles in 1829.   John C Fremont, another hero of mine, passed on this trail in 1844.  In 2002 it was designated by Congress as a National Historic Trail.  Our circular route back to Pahrump followed much of this path, and even I-15 follows along the historic trail for some distance in Nevada.

Charleston Peak east of Pahrump in the distanceOnce home again in the late afternoon, we settled in to reading and relaxing before our planned outing to the Pahrump Nugget Steakhouse for their highly touted best steaks around.  Sometimes Mo and I skip lunch entirely and eat a very early supper, but again, this time we were considering Abby and our opportunity to eat out required dark night skies. The casino was fairly quiet on a Sunday night, but the restaurant was full to the brim with a big bunch of bikers who were staying in a nearby hotel.  At first we though the whole idea might have been a mistake when the waitress said there would be an hour wait.  The restaurant didn’t even look full, but all the wait staff was in the back room with the bikers.  We said we would be happy to sit in the bar, actually just a couple of tables next to the restaurant, and settled in to watch all the frustration of the employees trying to deal with a lot of people with not a lot of staff.  Finally we managed to get a couple glasses of wine and then a sweet young man, who turned out to be the off duty chef, came over and took our order.  Once they figured out that someone needed to wait on us, everything went great.  My steak was perfect, and I have 3/4 of it left for our dinner tonight..  Once back home, we felt like it was a perfectly lovely day and we were ready to settle in to the slight evening breeze. 

Apr 3 Shoshone and Tecopa Our trip is coming to a close.  As I was writing this entry, the wild crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains opened up to the west, and the snow capped ranges of western Nevada are framing my view to the north as we approach Walker Lake.  Not sure yet where we will stop tonight, but I do hope it is on a big alluvial fan somewhere in the Nevada desert, with a view for miles and no lights to be seen.

Day 15 Returning Home

Time is really a weird concept when you are flying around the world. While in Turkey, I could keep track of what time it was at home so I didn’t call the kids at 2am, and what time it was where I was. But at the moment I am flying in an airplane that is traveling west at something like half the speed of the planet and time makes no sense whatsoever. I just know that it is passing. We are over Greenland, and the sky is dark except for a thin red line on the southern horizon outside my window. According to Mo’s watch, it is 10:00 AM in San Francisco, and we will land there at 5:00PM this afternoon. We left Frankfurt at 4 in the afternoon, same day, and yet time is passing. I am not sure why it is night here, because it isn’t even nighttime here according to the time zone we are supposedly in, but I guess we are so far north that at this time of year it is always night anyway. It’s all crazy.

At 4am this morning, Istanbul was vibrant with street life. We rode the bus through the city to the airport amazed at all the activities going on there. People coming out of bars, standing on corners, buying cigarettes and groceries, doing the Turkish man thing of standing around shooting the breeze. Except it was 4am. Amazing.

I fell in love with Germany today, somewhere between Switzerland and Munich. The Alps were covered with snow and the plains around Munich are like something in a fairy tale. The fields are still green, and a magical patchwork of angles of varying shades of green, with patches of dark forest, dotted with perfect little villages of white with red roofs. The roads looked nearly empty, with traffic moving along the major highways smoothly. The sunlight was coming over the magnificent snow covered mountains to the south and angled across the green fields and forests in a way that made me think of what life must be like in a small German village, and suddenly I wanted very badly to experience Germany.

The airport at Munich was clean and full of bustling activity, with great shops and clothes and wonderful smelling food. It made me laugh at how I felt about Germany at the beginning of this trip and it made Mo happy that I decided I really liked Germany after all. She has many happy memories of traveling in this country. I hope I get to do that someday. Guess it’s a good thing that I am learning to drink beer.

Now the red line changed to a deep deep blue, and in a matter of moments back to the faintest hint of orange again. Maybe we are going towards some kind of daylight?

The trip is very nearly over, the final travels are ending, and the integration of all I learned and experienced is waiting in the wings. I am sure that more will come to me, the deeper part of Turkey as a cradle of civilization in the world, and the blessing of traveling to a place never thought of much and learning about it in a way you can never do without being there. This fluorescent thin blue line on the dark horizon is a great symbol of the end of this trip. Too bad I can’t take a picture of it. I guess it’s another one of those experiences that can’t be caught and just has to be felt.

Later at home:
I am discovering some of the things that I appreciate much more after traveling in a foreign country! toilet paper, light bulbs that are actually bright enough to see, electricity that works steadily all the time, lots of clean clothes to choose from, good brewed coffee, not Turkish and not NesCafe! and the ability to buy aspirin or cough drops at the grocery store without having to find a pharmacy!

Day 14 returning to Istanbul

Some of the people on the tour decided to do the ballooning over Cappadocia thing this morning, so when I looked out the window and saw sunny if frosty skies I was glad for them. I couldn’t see the worth of 30 minutes in a very cold balloon over that brown landscape for 150 USD so decided that having a relaxing morning was the best plan. Especially since this day included our afternoon flight to Istanbul.

We left the hotel at 9:30 and Mo and I opted out of an underground city tour and instead sat by a warm fire and drank Turkish tea, and then did a little bit of last day shopping in a small village. Lunch was back in the town at a different restaurant, and turned out to be the best yet. Finally, after 2 weeks in Turkey, I found the manti Jeanne told me about. Perfect little pasta dumplings with some meat filling swimming in a tangy yogurt tomato sauce, with big puffy breads. Yum.

After lunch we took our time driving to the airport in Kayseri, and saw how dismal this central part of Turkey can be. Once you leave the chimneys and mountain views, things get very polluted, gray and old looking. The air was dark with coal smoke and haze and there was a lot of garbage around and very tattered looking apartments. This part of Turkey looked more like what I imagine this part of the world to look like, unlike the Turkey we have seen up until now.

The flight to Istanbul on the Turkish Airlines was smooth and lovely, with a gorgeous sunset. As I watched the Black Sea and the lights of Istanbul appear in the dark I realized how truly lucky I was to have been in this country. Later, after landing at the clean, efficient Attaturk airport, we loaded back into a different bus with a different driver and headed for the Lion Hotel in the Taksim Square section of town.

I realized also just how much I loved Istanbul. In the dark, all the mosques were lit and shining against the sky, of course you could see the Blue Mosque and the Suleyman Mosque, but there are so many others. The city is beautiful and rich and full of antiquities and energy. The water of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn reflected all the lights as we wound through the hills to get to our hotel. Istanbul is such a wonderful city, I could spend time there just exploring it’s rich history and culture and hidden streets. There was so much there that we didn’t see in our short visit, but on the way through the city for the last time, I really wished for more.

Our room at the Lion this time was higher and more open, and I decided that indeed it wasn’t the worst hotel on the trip. We had a view of the city lights this time, and in our short sleep time before the 3am wakeup call we were serenaded through the open window by the busy night street life going on below us.

Day 13 Cappadocia and the Goreme Open Air Museum

Today was the first day since I have been in this country that I didn’t see it as similar to somewhere else I have been back in the US. Today, Turkey was only Turkey, Turkiye’ as it is called here. Today we woke to fog in Urgup, in the central part of the Cappadocia region, but by the time we began our explorations, the fog began to lift. This place is surreal, like no other. I know I am behind, it is midnight right now after a day that started at 6am, and no, I haven’t had time to keep up with the stories. But I do have the photos, and the stories will have to fill in later. For now, just check out this magical landscape and these amazing chapels in the carved out caves of Cappadocia.
Ten million years ago, volcanic eruptions from Mt. Erciyes and Mt. Hasan blanketed this limestone plateau in central Turkey with ash and lava. When they mixed with water, the result was a mud-like substance that slowly hardened into a soft rock called tufa or here in the west we call it tuff.

Centuries of erosion from rain, wind, and flooding from the Kizilirmak River shaped this tufa into a striking, surreal moonscape of cone-shaped pinnacles and towers, all in a variety of lovely hues. One of the region’s most unusual geological features, the peribacalari (fairy chimneys), formed when boulders of hard basalt trapped on the surface shielded the soft underlying tufa from erosion.

The holy grottoes of Cappadocia once housed the largest community of Christian monks in Asia Minor. From here missionaries spread the Christian faith as far as Ethiopia. Some 300 beautifully frescoed churches and dwellings for 30,000 people were carved from the soft volcanic pinnacles between the 4th and 14th centuries. I was awestruck by the maze of cones, windows, and chimneys built directly into the malleable rock. Beneath these fanciful shapes lie even more wonders—underground chambers, even entire villages, some 14 stories deep!

Residents fashioned bedrooms, churches, and storerooms from the rock, connecting it all with an elaborate labyrinth of passageways. We saw a host of churches carved more than 1,300 years ago, still boasting lovely frescoes. Some of the houses remain occupied today, and some of the ancient storehouses still provide shelter for grapes harvested from local vineyards.

Waking up in the Perissia Hotel was a delight, even though the morning was foggy. This was my favorite hotel, even though it wasn’t as new or as fancy as the suite we had it Antalya, it was charming and roomy, with pale lemon colored walls with rose accents, lots of windows with dark mahogany woodwork, and antique porcelain fixtures. We could see the dry brown landscape of Cappadocia through the fog, but had no real clue as to the wonders that awaited us on this day.

I have seen photos of this place, read a lot about it, looked at websites describing it, but again there is nothing that can really begin to describe what it feels like to be in a world of houses carved out of rock. It’s like some kind of fairy land, or something you might have dreamed once. It is the reason why travel can never be replaced by writing or talking or looking at the pictures. You just have to be there.

We explored the Pigeon Valley, and took photos of some of the amazing shapes formed by the erosion of the volcanic tuff with the volcano that made all this ash looming above the landscape. As the fog cleared we made several stops at viewpoints a long the way for short hikes and more photos, and for some of us, more jewelry shopping. Then on to Goreme’, the outdoor museum of churches and chapels that were carved into the stone. The caves have existed for a few thousand years, but in the time between the 6th and 13th century they were used as chapels for the early Christian church. The paintings from the earlier periods are primitive, mainly done in a terra cotta red, but as the caves became more sophisticated, the art developed as well, and the Byzantine and Iconoclastic frescoes painted in the interiors of these caves was incredible.

I have said this before, but again I am discovering why I am not a professional travel writer. I am completely out of adjectives. This trip has drained my skills completely dry. I walk around trying to remember to keep my jaw from dropping all the time, and just am at a loss for words. Cappadocia has to be experienced. Nothing else will do.

We had a decent supper in the hotel before going out in the evening to a remote location where a large restaurant was carved into the rock, mainly for the tourist busses I am sure, but it was still fun. The folklore show was interesting, but because there were so many visitors from so many countries there weren’t any kind of announcements about where the different dances were from, which was a bit disappointing. The men were the stars of the show in this case, with some amazing feats of dancing, including that Russian looking thing where they kick their feet out from a sitting position. I still don’t know for sure if that is really a Turkish thing or a Russion thing. The women were demure and certainly outdone my the men in these traditional dances, but they did perform one tribal belly dance that was fun because I knew all the moves from my belly dancing days. Later in the evening we had a cabaret style Egyptian belly dancer who was really quite good, with some top notch shimmies and belly rolls. She wore very high heels though, which was also a bit strange, but I guess it’s to please the men.

We ended this long day winding in the very dark landscape in a very big bus with a bunch of tired people back to the hotel via some weird short cut. Getting in after midnight made us really glad that the next day was going to be a late one.

Day 12 Antalya to Urgup over the Taurus Mountains again

Our day began with the call to prayer in the dark over Antalya. It was to be an early day since we were traveling a long distance over the Taurus Mountains to the Cappadocia Region. For a long time after we left the city, I had great knitting time, with long wide 4 lane highways going through a rich agricultural landscape that looked a lot like Southern California, wide valley surrounded by mountains and bordered by the sea. I am beginning to think of my knitting project as my “turkey sweater” and I’m becoming very fond of it as I knit along the roads watching the scenery. It really does make the miles flow along when things are less than exciting.

Crossing the Taurus Mountains was gorgeous, and we were especially lucky since Suleyman told us that often on this tour the mountains have snow and sometimes the bus has to chain up. Not a fun thought, and today as we drove through brilliant sunlight I was especially appreciative.

Note to self: always always always bring the extra long lasting batteries from the US for the camera, the ones I pay 10 bucks for 4 usually last at least a few days in my camera. I ran out, and sure enough, the 5 Lira batteries that said they were extra long lasting digital batteries blew out after a couple of photos. Not a good thing. I did know better, but didn’t plan properly. I think I have spent a large part of my petty cash on batteries now!

We drove over the pass at more than 6000 feet elevation and headed down toward the city of Konya and the Konya Plain. Our one stop for this long travel day was the museum in Konya where the famous Sufi mystic, originator, and poet Mavlana Rumi is entombed. As we rode along in the bus, Suleyman treated us to folk stories of Hoagi, a mythical character somewhat like Coyote, and the story of Rumi and the Whirling Dervishes. My friend Shera loved Rumi, and when I first met her, she introduced me to some of the Sufi mystical concepts, but I somehow never quite put it all together, Islam, Sufism, Rumi, and the Dervishes. Now with Suleyman’s help it is all coming together. In fact tonight, a bit later, we will be going to see the whirling ritual, something that means a lot more to me after hearing Suleyman’s explanation of the whole thing.

Mevlana Rumi was a Turk born in Afghanistan in the early 13th century. The poetry of Rumi is considered to be the second most important piece of literature in the Islamic world next to the Koran.

In this mystical tradition, they believe that all humans are created by god and we each keep a piece of God within us, but we have been separated from this godlike nature by living in the world. Sound familiar? The spiritual goal is that one should try to get rid of all distractions and be reunited with God. Interesting tidbit, in Islam there are 90 different adjectives for Allah, God, and looking at something beautiful is a way to appreciate God.

There is a flute made of reeds called the Ney that the Dervishes use in their rituals. According to tradition Reed says “Once I was growing in the marsh. I was alive I was connected with my roots to the earth, but someone came and cut me off so I was separated the way the human beings got separated from the One. This is the reason I am mourning, why my sound is so sad.”

The whirling dervish order is one of hundreds of different orders within Islam. In Islam there a many paths to find the truth, and one has the choice to follow any of the many different paths and still be a good Muslim. Mavlana Rumi was a mystic and a teacher and was the first one who whirled.

The white costume represents the shroud and the tall red fez represents the tombstone, one hand open to the skies and the other hand down, receiving from god, and giving to others. To the question “why do you whirl?” The answer is that many religions have a method to get rid of all distractions, a form of centering or meditation and prayer. The Dervishes know that everything whirls, the world spins, the microcosmos spins, electrons whirl, water whirls in the sink. To them, whirling is being in harmony with the world.

There is no translation in English for the word Dervish, although “monk” is similar, but dervishes can marry and lead normal lives. The closest translation for the Tekke is monestary. Once admitted to the tekke, the task for the initiate was to try to learn the secret. The elders ask tricky questions in order to find out if you have light within you or not. Some people have the light and others don’t. In the first couple of years you are treated very badly, if you make it you move to the second step. You learn the Koran, then the different philosophical approaches to the Koran. Finally, if you have the light and are worthy, you attain the 7th step where you then learn the truth, the secret.

Usually this secret isn’t divulged but Suleyman says he has a Dervish friend who told him that the Secret was to say, “I am God”.

After Attaturk formed the secular state in 1923, all the Tekke’s were outlawed, even the whirling dervishes. Now they are here in the name of cultural associations, and supposedly they are no longer a religious sect or order because of the secular requirements for Turkey. Today we saw the tomb of Mavlana, a holy place that is now just a museum, with many manuscripts and also Mohammed’s beard in a box. Ha.