Just the other week I was ass-deep in Death Valley sunshine, hiking around naked with a rum & Coke in one hand and the other firmly on the throttle of life. My truck had made it down the 50-mile washboard “bullshit filter” road to Saline Valley Hot Springs, I was with *both* my sisters (even the sister who never comes out for anything)… and everything was A-OK.
Then overnight, it changed.
I remember the exact moment: we were sitting in the Wizard Pool one night, shrooming out of our gourds. The moon was full, and cast an eerie light on the scene as sudden gusty winds rustled the palm trees, blowing in ominous scattered clouds from parts unknown. “Old Man Winter is a-knockin’ at the door,” I intoned shroomily. I may have been high….but I could still read the writing on the wall.
My Saline Valley sojourn was the last gasp of summer — a four day interlude of sunshine and nakedness with both my sisters at one of my all-time favorite spots: an ultra-remote natural hot springs oasis out in an extremely remote, barren valley on the western edge of Death Valley (for more info, click here). We were joined by our friend Dr. Kildare, who camped with us there last year around this time, and by the one friend from Vegas who actually came through and made the trip. Side note: my PET PEEVE is people who whine about wanting to go on an adventure with me, but then puss out when crunch time rolls around. I invited several people who claimed to be interested in this trip, but every single one of them flaked except for my wacky friend Lenny — an ex Bikram yoga instructor and BDSM enthusiast who works as a lighting tech at one of the titty revues on the Strip. He’s always a good time!
Anyway, as mentioned my truck made the 50-mile washboard road into Saline Valley just fine; I take the South Pass, and at the time of my trip that road was in excellent condition! How excellent? Well, I was able to travel at speeds up to 30mph on much of it; contrast that with my first time to Saline back in 2010, when it was so bad I could only go 5-10mph the entire 50 miles!!! (It rained in Death Valley right after I left, though, and I hear the road is bad again. Check before you go!)
In any event, it was really lucky for me that the road was so good, as unbeknownst to me I was riding on a tire with a slow leak the entire time! It’s basic dogma that Saline Valley Road should not be attempted without two cans of Fix-A-Flat and a full-size spare…but that whole fiasco with my truck getting bogged down in the mud right before my trip fucked things up so that I didn’t have time to take care of my tire situation before leaving to meet my sisters in Panamint Springs. I had intended to get my tires checked before leaving, but ended up having to just kinda keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best. I was following my one sister in her 4×4 anyway, so it’s not like I had zero backup…but still.
And as it happened, I was fine — at first. We met up with Dr. Kildare, who had already been at the springs for a few days, and commenced partying. One of the regulars at Saline, a sunbaked bosomy blonde named Florida, invited us over for a fish fry one night — she had just been fishing up near Yosemite and had caught a mess of ginormous, delicious trout which she was willing to share. YUM!!! She cooked it over a fire with just butter and salt — all of her other spices had been lost when a latch on her RV busted open coming down the North Pass Road — and OMG it was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. Granted, I was baked at the time (Dr. Kildare loves edibles, so I had brought a bunch)….but it really was fantastic.
We were joined at the fish fry by a couple of other boozy regulars, and they filled me in on some of the Saline Valley gossip that I never knew: apparently, there’s a sort of friendly schism between the regulars who camp at the Lower Springs and the regulars who camp at the Upper Springs. At the big Presidents’ Day weekend get-together every year (when hundreds of people show up at Saline), they even have a golf tournament and a softball game between the two factions. And the distinction between the two factions is very interesting!
The Lower Springs is the original oasis, where most of the trees are — there’s a nice shady lawn, a shaded pool for day soaking, a couple other tubs, an outdoor shower, a communal bonfire, a little kitchen area and even a lending library. The (un)official host of the springs, Lizard Lee, lives in a charmingly ramshackeldy compound down there, and according to my (admittedly boozy) source, the Lower Springs is where the old-timers like to camp — and the vibe can be a bit New Agey and sanctimonious. Either way, I’m a huge fan of the Lower Springs — it’s where I stayed the first time, and I just really dig the environment down there.
But Dr. Kildare prefers to camp out in the desert up closer to the Upper Springs, so that’s where we’ve stayed on my last two trips. The Upper Springs are fantastic, too — according to my source (and in keeping with my own observations) the crowd up there is slightly looser: boozier, slightly rowdier, friendlier. It actually makes perfect sense for me to camp there, because I am all of the above — and then some!
The other thing the Upper Springs has going for it is the Wizard Pool, which sits near a small grove of palm trees but has an unobstructed view of the nighttime sky, so you can look up at the moon and stars while you soak. It was built by a guy called the Wizard, who sort of broke off from the Lower Springs faction back in the day and started the whole schism. There’s a second pool up top as well, but the water isn’t as hot, so it’s better as a daytime soak…but in any event, both Upper and Lower springs are fantastically beautiful, and we spent plenty of time soaking at both.
Anyway, everything was going great until Tuesday morning, when Lenny rolled in…and pointed out that one of my tires was totally flat!! I hadn’t noticed, what with all the boozing and getting baked…so now of course I went into panic mode: YIKES OMG WTF HOW AM I GOING TO GET OUT OF HERE ALIVE?!?!?! I’d been so busy, I hadn’t had time to get a full-size spare, and all I had with me was my emergency donut…and that wasn’t likely to get me very far — certainly not down 50 miles of rugged washboard:/ Thankfully, earlier this year Dr. Kildare had given me one of those air compressors you plug into your car battery; we hooked it up and filled the tire, hoping the leak was slow enough that I’d be able to get out on it….and then with the aid of shrooms, pot and booze, I was able to more or less forget about it and resume partying.
So I ran, did some writing, took a few hikes, and even did Bikram yoga on the lawn down by the Lower Springs….and all in all, it was such a great few days that none of us ever wanted to leave. The weather was warm and kind of overcast most of the time, sort of blanketing the valley in an eerie stillness broken only by the screaming afterburners of the occasional F-18 fighter jet (Saline Valley is a designated low-level flight corridor, and Navy pilots buzz the hot springs all the time, sometimes coming down really low) (probably to perv on all the naked people out there).
But on the last night of the trip, as we sat around our campfire eating Frito Pie, an ill wind blew in from the west. It got so gusty that I had to drop everything and pack up most of my camp ahead of time — Old Man Winter had arrived, bringing with him chilly temperatures and even a few drops of rain. It was actually kind of fortuitous, because the change in the weather made it easier to leave — in fact it was so windy the following morning that we were actually glad to go!
Meanwhile, my tire had lost a little bit of its air since we’d filled it…but I just topped it off again and took ‘er easy on the road, and was able to get back to town just fine. (It turned out I had a nail dead-center in the tread, which was easily plugged when I got home.) But ironically, one of Dr. Kildare’s all-terrain tires blew out and was totally shredded on the way out!! Luckily he did have a full size spare with him, though, so we managed to get out OK, and celebrate over burgers at the Panamint Springs cafe. Yum!!!
From there, Dr. Kildare went on his way back toward Georgia, and my sisters and I headed back to my place in Vegas for Halloween. We had planned to go downtown to the annual Las Vegas Halloween Parade, which is normally a big affair full of Burning Man art cars and tens of thousands of people partying…but for whatever reason it was cancelled this year, so instead we just took mushrooms and went down to the perennial shit show that is the Fremont Street Experience, and walked around looking at all the freaks. OMG, it was epic! That has to be one of THE greatest places to shroom, hands down; we had a blast!
Unfortunately, however, that was the last night you would have been able to have that amazing experience; the very next day, the city enacted some bullshit new regulations regarding the buskers (a/k/a street performers). If you’ve been to downtown Vegas in the last few years, you probably noticed the proliferation of freaks and weirdos in costumes, standing around posing for photos with tourists in exchange for tips — everything from Rick James and Mr. T look-a-likes to contortionists, drummers and the occasional half-naked fat-ass in a nun’s wimple or Cupid costume. I personally loved it; I felt the buskers added quite a bit of outlandish ambiance to depressing-ass Fremont Street with its shitty old smoky-smelling casinos and crappy kiosks selling overpriced plastic tchotchkes.
But apparently, people complained about the buskers “ruining” the “family-friendly” experience (?!?!?!?!), so the city enacted new regulations that took effect Nov. 1st, limiting the number of performers and the types of performances, and also requiring that all buskers register for a permit. So now all that’s left are a few assholes, a bunch of sad alcoholics and the usual gaggles of ghetto-ass hookers. LAME!!! (Fortunately, the Strip has no such regulations….so if you’re looking for a shit show, you can probably find all the evicted buskers down on the sidewalk in front of Planet Hollywood or Bellagio.)
Anyway, my sisters and I were lucky enough to enjoy the last night of magic down there, and it really was something special. The weather was even fairly mild; Old Man Winter was apparently still hanging around Saline Valley, and hadn’t made his way out to Vegas yet. But all that changed a couple days later, after my sisters left — a cold front blew in with a vengeance, and I’ve been chilled to the bone ever since. I had to go out and buy a bunch of jeans, hoodies and boots, and even then I froze my ass off; you can’t exactly wear jeans, a hoodie and boots at a nude photo shoot 🙁
So the weather is turning, and it’s a real bummer…but I’m trying to be positive about it, and instead of cursing Old Man Winter, I’m trying to embrace him — or at least just live with him. I have a camping trip planned to the Manson Family’s old hideout in Death Valley tomorrow, and even though the overnight lows are projected to be
in the 20s (!!!!!@%^&$#!!!!), I’m packing up my Hot Hands, my peppermint schnapps and my down jacket, and heading out anyway. I’ll tell you all about it soon — if I don’t freeze my ass off, first.