We turned left towards Trona and, after a few minutes, passed a recreation vehicle area. This is an area where people who want to come to the desert to rip the shit out of it with their motorcycles and 4x4s – known as off road vehicles (ORV) – can just drive around. I don’t know the details, but the rules seem to be that you can drive anywhere with anything.
Giving both the TreeHuggers and ORVs separate playgrounds is one of those things that the government really seems to do well. Everybody is pretty happy playing in the desert. Speaking of which, when people think desert plants, they think cactus, but most plants in the desert are not cactus. The preferred survival strategy seems to be Wait around for rain, bloom and produce seeds as soon as possible, get the seeds dispersed, and wait around for the next rain. Which is why, after a couple of well timed rains, the desert will be filled with carpets of flowers. Cactus, and alot of other plants, honker down and sort of hibernate between rains. So, while they can take harsh conditions, they can’t take really harsh conditions like annuals.
Further down the road, on the way to Trona, is the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake at Ridgecrest. China Lake is a misnomer, there is no lake there – atleast not what we would call a lake. I guess it is called a lake to sort of justify having a Navy Base in the middle of the desert. I am not sure why the Navy has a base there except that it is left over from WWII when the military grabbed every piece of available land and, now, they don’t want to let go.
Trona, on the other hand is actually on a lake, Searles Lake. The lake sits in a shallow basin and is usually very shallow although it used to be over 600 feet deep. Now what is left is a couple of hundred feet deep lake bed of dried salts and minerals that are being mined by the Searles Valley Minerals Company and Trona is, more or less, it’s company town.
I would like to be snarky about Trona but over the years, I have become sort of protectively fond of it. When I first saw Trona, the mine – factory? – was run by Kerr-McKee and it was, by far, the worst place I have ever seen. As an aside; I hold the position that Kerr-McGee is the most evil company in the world and that was before I saw Silkwood. Kerr-McGee sort of makes the PG&E of Erin Brockovitch look like the Red Cross; end aside.
It seemed, then, that Kerr-McGee dug up the dried salts and minerals and blew them in the air – apparently for the fun of it. The whole area was covered with a gray layer of salt and mineral fallout. Everything, the rundown buildings, the dirt football field at the highschool, the road and all the trucks on them, everything. Now, with Searles Valley Minerals Company replacing Kerr-McGee, Trona is close to infinitely better than it used to be.
Sure, the football field is still dirt but the school buildings are newly painted and, most importantly, the dust is gone. Cars are shinny, buildings are clean, and there is a nifty shinny pipey thing across the dried lake. The town looks alive. It is also worth keeping in mind that, without the Tronas of the world, we wouldn’t have computers or iPhones or the Hubble telescope.
The rest stop looks pretty dismal, but not if you had seen the old Trona; and the new information kiosk has a good map of the area and real information. Although, I have to admit, the Biocarb® is a little creepy.
From Trona – at the upper left of the map below – our plan was to drive to Death Valley via a couple of old, dirt – rock? – roads over, first, the Slate Range, and, then, the Panamint Range ending near the small blue square at the bottom mid-right of the Google map. Double click to get it large enough to read.