“This Year Marks Our 10th Winter RV Trip”
If I leave here tomorrow, will you still remember me?
For I must be traveling on, there’s many places I’ve got to see!
Ronald Wayne Van Zant
Wednesday, January 24, 2018: Woke at Boulder Creek RV Park in Lone Pine, California to partly sunny skies and temperatures in the low 50’s. Today, Kit and I head south, but first we call brother Dan to wish him a 54th birthday…how did you get so darn old, so darn fast?
Climbing into the truck for the day’s drive, I spotted our traveling mascot, Mr. Bill.
Who has been a constant companion on these adventures for the past ten years. Our older readers will recognize Mr. Bill from the early days of Saturday Night Live. However, Mr. Bill also played a significant role in our retirement roast and even appeared in a few videos that showed the occasional ineptitude of his namesake.
Sad to leave as we had a very nice time in this area, but time to head down elevation to more warmer climes.
Kit and I have vowed to return to this region a bit closer to spring so we can further explore more of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and, also further north to Lake Tahoe.
On the road at 1110 hours and headed south on US Highway 395.
This will be a very short travel day, plan is to pull into the military campground near Ridgecrest, California and hunker down for a few days. You see, both Kit and I came down with a wicked case of the Bogaydus and need to recuperate.
By 1320 hours we pulled off the highway and made our way to the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station and set up camp in their nice new RV park.
Only three years old, and sparsely populated, we had our pick of RV sites.
A sunny, warm and relaxing place to get over our “couple’s colds”! Hope it doesn’t take too long!
Thursday, January 25 through Thursday, February 1, 2018: Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake, California. Yep, eight days…we originally signed up for three and then extended day by day until we both felt well enough to travel. Kit and I initially thought we may have had a touch of the flu, even though we both had received flu shots. However, it became apparent we were battling colds and the Dayquil/Nyquil regimen got us through! It’s no fun traveling while sick, and even worse is trying to stay clear of folks, so you don’t infect them…so we basically spent the down time getting caught up on some correspondence, enjoying daily walks, drinking tons of water and lying low for the most part.
Neither Kit nor I had ever been to this area, so once beginning to feel better, we decided to poke around a bit…first stop was the local museum.
Where we learned about the history of the area, and the development of the town. Amongst the artifacts of early desert living, there was a number of paintings from the towns favorite daughter, Sylvia Winslow…including the following, my personal favorite.
Alongside the painting was a framed poem she had composed to accompany her donation to the museum.
Some of the museums more interesting features were located outside and included a really neat Labyrinth.
This pathway was constructed of local stone as an Eagle Scout project and is the typical native style circuitous route that leads to a center alter. Along the way are signs indicating the sun and moon positions relative to the seasons. It was somewhat mesmerizing and fun, but took a bit of walking to follow the path.
The town of Ridgecrest is a pretty typical military town of 27,626 folks located in the Indian Wells Valley of south central California. Prior to the establishment of the base, the area was populated by less than 100 folks and was known as Crumville, named after the family that farmed the area.
The name was changed to Ridgecrest when a super-secret base, Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake, was developed during WWII to research, design, develop, build and test munitions for aircraft.
At 1,100,000 acres which by the way is bigger than the state of Rhode Island, NAWS China Lake is the largest single tract of land owned by the US Navy. Less than 5% of the area is developed, and most of that is the air field and support buildings…which is a base within a base. We could gain access to the base, where the administrative facilities are located as well as the commissary, exchange, military and civilian schools, family housing and of course, the RV Park. However, trying to venture out from this area into the furthest regions of the base one is confronted by these barriers.
And the patrolling of the fence line by armed guards amplified the point. As in many military installations, China Lake has an on base museum…So one day, I walked over to find out what made this Navy base so unusual.
Housed in the former Officers Club, the museum profiled many of the top-secret weapons projects that are now public. Supported by scientist and engineers from California Institute of Technology (CalTech), the base has seven times more civilian personal than military, and some of the former reside on base in housing alongside their military counterparts. During WWII, when the military was trying to develop guided missiles to affix onto aircraft of the day, a military/academic/industrial partnership was initially formed. One of their first products was the MK 57 BAT.
Named after the nocturnal animal that uses echo ranging to locate its prey, this anti- ship missile featured the very earliest application of Radar to detect a target. The electronics bay looked similar to the insides of an early television set.
As I stood and scrutinized this section of the missile, I was struck by how familiar the components were. Back in 1965, while stationed in Key West, Florida, I attended a military technical school that taught us how to operate, troubleshoot, and repair similar looking electronic equipment. Vacuum tube-based systems were very finicky and prone to malfunction due to heat and vibration…hard to believe this early version of a guided missile was durable enough to successfully make it to its target.
Other weapons that were developed or tested at this sprawling base included the Sidewinder.
With a tailfin apparatus called a Rolleron.
This freewheeling, simple and inexpensive device, kept the missile from excessively rolling while in flight.
Also, some surface strike weapons were flight tested here, such as the Tomahawk Cruise Missile.
And anti-air missiles like the SM-2.
This Standard Missile, a surface to air weapon, is used extensively by the Aegis Weapons System onboard Navy warships built at Bath Iron Works in Maine.
In addition to ordnance, the base also develops and tests, unmanned aircraft…such as the X-47A shown below.
Which is the first large scale UAV (drone) to take off and land on an aircraft carrier.
And ejection seat development, refinement and testing are accomplished here as well.
Even though the base airfield is many miles away and off limits to everyone but authorized personnel, one can still see military aircraft in the skies above. The primary Navy aircraft assigned to the base for R & D work is the F/A-18 Hornet.
This decommissioned example of the Hornet, festooned with missiles tested here, sits in front of command headquarters.
The vast base also protects thousands of acres of archaeological sites, including the highest concentration of Petroglyphs in the hemisphere…some of which have been documented as older than 16,000 years! In addition, due to the restricted access, there are thousands of clay pot chards, tools, and spear points, lying undisturbed where early native peoples had left them.
Since the region is a seismically active area (think Andres Fault), the base hosts an experimental geothermal electric generating plant that can supply enough power for over 378,000 households!
Currently, it is not feasible to produce at that level, but does provide clean unlimited power to the base complex.
With this extra time sitting in one place, Kit and I decided to enjoy some more common activities. Our daughter Kim had highly recommended a new movie playing in the theaters, so one afternoon we headed a short distance into town and enjoyed, “The Greatest Showman”.
This film, staring Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron, is loosely based on the life of circus pioneer, PT Barnum, and is a must see if you enjoy high energy and uplifting stories!
Then there was the inevitable Wal*mart session of retail therapy. I declined to participate and spent time fueling up the truck and making a quick stop at Home Depot…a much more time worthy endeavor. Arriving back in the WM parking lot, I waited for Kit to emerge, then we made our way back to the camper. After putting away her purchases, and while I sat at the table hammering out some of this journal, this object was ceremoniously placed in front of me.
Suddenly I was immersed in a cold chill, as my mind raced trying to figure what this rather ghastly looking object might be…other than the obvious. Needless to say, I’m a bit concerned, and have been on my best behavior ever since.
Near the end of our stay, which by the way coincided with the two of us feeling much better, we traveled about an hour south and visited the historic town of Randsburg, California.
Formerly a ghost town, which has more recently been discovered by counter-culture folks, the town is now billed as a “Living Ghost Town”…which sounds like one of those Ox Morons to me.
Randsburg has been partially repopulated, and some of the old storefronts have been repurposed into retail establishment which cater to the tourist trade.
Other structures are the way they were when shuttered long ago.
Including the Opera House.
And an establishment called a Floozy House.
Note the weirdo taking a photograph through the window!
Then to offset all the debauchery, there is a church which appears to be hold services on a regular basis.
Even though, as you can see, the outside walls must be supported by sturdy poles.
Our visit coincided with a weekday so most everything was closed, and there were very few towns people about.
Remnants of the mill that once sustained the community can be found west of Randsburg, and a short distance up a dirt road.
When operational, the ore was extracted from the earth and carted to a “Stamp Mill”.
Which contain hammers, operated by a crankshaft device, to pulverize the stone.
Then the desired minerals were extracted and shipped off to market.
I like to poke around old ghost towns and have enjoyed many over the years. Even though this one is partially inhabited, we really enjoyed the visit.
Back at the campsite, we turned in early to be alert for the Super-Blue-Blood-Moon event at 0530 in the morning…which was interesting to see from this clear sky desert location, but my weenie camera doesn’t really do it justice.
However, looking through the binoculars, it was an amazing site!
Kit’s Bit’s: Well, this hasn’t been the most exciting place to be, especially for nine days and being sick. Fortunately, we were able to take a few days to rest some before we continued our journey. For me, the big issue was the Laundry Center. Brand new, nice and clean, there were 4 washers and 8 dryers. However, only one washer worked properly! And, due to Govt. Rules & Regs, the local Maintenance man was not allowed to fix the 3 other washers! It had to wait for someone from DC, I suppose! With all the campers vying for the one washer, it was quite a feat to get through a weeks’ worth of laundry, especially being down with a bad cold. Enough said!