Remember how I was bragging about all the outdoor shoots I’ve been doing lately, as the weather is perfect this time of year? Well, apparently “perfect” is too strong a term. We may get 350 days of sunshine out here in the desert…but guess what? It also rains sometimes. And when it rains…it pours!
When a big rain falls in the desert, the dry, parched earth is unable to soak up all that water, which ends up rushing down through the canyons and washes toward Lake Mead, the lowest geographical point in the region. Along the way, the flash floods wreak all kinds of havoc: cars are washed away, trees are torn up by their roots, and backcountry roads can get washed out. Water also pools up in the center of our beautifully cracked dry lake beds…and they become actual temporary lakes.
This type of weather is most common in the summer monsoon season (July-September), but apparently, while I was zonked out of my brains in San Diego in mid-October, it rained fairly heavily out here. The weather had mostly cleared by the time I got back on Sunday, so I figured I’d be good to go for my next photo shoot, which wasn’t until Thursday.
Now, this was one of my all-day desert adventure tour specials, where I pick the photographer up in the morning and drag him all over the desert from fabulous location to fabulous location, posing nude along the way. Sometimes we take the photographer’s car and I just navigate…but sometimes the photographer doesn’t have a car, so we take my trusty Ford Ranger pickup truck. This was one of those occasions.
My client this time was a tall, taciturn Texan who was staying at one of the hotels in downtown Vegas; I picked him up, he somehow folded his 6’7″ frame into my passenger seat, and we were off. Like I said he was the strong, silent type and didn’t talk much…but thankfully, I never run out of shit to blather on about, so the drive to our first location passed quickly. We shot out at my favorite red sandstone location, and it was fantastic: there were big, fluffy white clouds leftover from the rains earlier in the week, adding texture to the normally solid-blue desert sky, and the temperature was absolutely perfect.
The photographer had brought along a decent amount of lighting equipment, including a strobe flash and battery pack, and I was curious as to what the hell he was doing with all that gear on a blindingly sunny day. Well, I’ll tell you what he was doing: shooting bad ass shit!! I don’t know what he did technically, but the effect was very dramatic…and the results were unlike anything else I’ve gotten at that location. That’s one of the things I love so much about that location, though — no matter how often I shoot there, each photographer’s eye is different, and the results are always unique!
Anyway, after getting some amazing shots at the red rocks area, we climbed back into my truck to continue on our way. But before we headed back into town to shoot some nighttime stuff with the neon lights, Tex also wanted to shoot sunset at a dry lake bed.
Now, the lakebed I usually shoot at is the El Dorado Dry Lake just outside Boulder City — it’s close to town, and generally the most convenient. But I knew it had recently rained, and when it rains, the rednecks like to go out there in their 4x4s and go “muddin’;” i.e. drive around in circles tearing up the pristine surface of the lakebed, so that when the rainwater eventually dries, the ground is scarred and rutted with redneck tracks. So I figured a better bet would be Apex Dry Lake, since it’s farther from town, and was more or less on the way back to Vegas.
Apex Dry Lake is north of Vegas, off I-15 where it intersects with U.S. 93. I hadn’t shot out there in a few years, but from past experience I knew it to be a huge, mostly unmarred lakebed accessed via a severely rutted dirt utility road. I’ve seen people drive low-clearance sedans and stuff out there, and it had certainly never been a problem in my pickup. As we approached the lakebed, I could see from miles away that it was filled with water to an astonishing degree, and had become a lake — but I also saw that the northern reaches had already dried out, providing a small area where we could shoot. So I pointed my truck in that direction, and we made our way out to the dry area.
We got out there just in time to bang out some amazing sunset images, the kind with super long shadows and beautiful warm golden light. Then the sun went behind the clouds for awhile, so we sat on my tailgate waiting for it to pop back out. We had a brief window between the time the sun dipped below the clouds and before it dipped below the horizon — maybe 15 minutes max — but again, Tex really knew what he was doing. He had a very methodical, measured approach, and when the sunlight came back out he was able to get the precise shot he wanted, with little fuss. I really have great respect for that man’s skill!!
Well, I wish the same could be said for my own dumb ass :-/
After we got the shot Tex wanted, we climbed back in my truck for the 37-minute drive back into downtown Vegas, and I headed back across the lakebed surface toward the dirt utility road that would take us back to the pavement. But somehow, I veered off course from the way I’d come in — I thought I might find a smoother path, I guess, by veering slightly south. Unfortunately for Tex and me, I ended up veering too far south…and drove straight onto a not-so-dry part of the dry lakebed. And before I could steer back over to a dry patch, I found my truck tires mired in soft, mucky mud. We were stuck!!!
I tried backing up, but my rear wheels spun uselessly in the thick muck, unable to get any traction whatsoever. Shit!!! I tried going forward, and it was the same story. I was bogged the fuck down!
As it happened, I had a bunch of sawed-up firewood logs in my truckbed…so at first I got out and tried to wedge some of the smaller ones under the rear tires, to give them something to grip. It was no use, and all I ended up doing in the process was sinking my flip-flops ankle-deep into thick playa mud and making a terrible fucking mess! Fortunately, I had a pair of cowboy boots in my suitcase (I always bring a suitcase full of props and wardrobe with me to shoots), so I was able to clean off my feet and put on the boots before becoming a complete disaster.
So I got back into my truck, where 6’7″ Tex was jackknifed into the passenger seat, eyeing me sidelong with a very skeptical look. “I’ll just call my emergency road service,” I assured him. I’d been towed out of the sand at the Five Palms Warm Well down near Brawley, and also at Walker Lake up near Hawthorne…and neither time had been a big deal. I figured they’d send someone out and we’d be on our way in an hour or two.
First of all, I was more than 50 feet from a paved road, so my emergency assistance refused to cover the tow — apparently most tow trucks’ tow lines are 50′ long, so for safety’s sake that’s the limit. Arrrgh!!!! I remember the same thing happened to me in Brawley, but the tow truck driver only charged me $150 in exchange for my taking a photo with him. I didn’t want to shell out $150 again…but I figured I had no choice, if I was to salvage this photo shoot.
But come to find out, none of the tow companies in town could even be bothered to come get me — they all refused to go onto the dry lake bed at all, regardless of the price!! Finally one company said they could send someone out, but for safety’s sake it wouldn’t be until morning. D’OH!!!!
Meanwhile, the sun had gone down and it was getting gloomier and gloomier in the cab of my truck. Poor Tex was still sitting there all crumpled up, because the mud on his side of the car was super soft and thick, and if he’d gotten out he’d have sunk down to his ankles. I’m sure he was wondering what the fuck he was doing stranded way out in the middle of nowhere with this ninny nude model, but to his credit, he didn’t complain. He just sat there quietly as I made a series of frantic Facebook posts asking for help.
You see, I have all these badass desert-explorer friends who are always commenting on my photos, advising me on offroad driving and offering to help me with shit…so I figured now was their big chance to ride to my rescue and save the day. Surely someone had a Jeep and a winch, and could come tow my sorry ass out of there! But timing is everything — no one with the necessary equipment was available and able to come out and get me just then :-/ One guy advised me to go to the airport and rent a 4×4 to tow myself out! Another guy advised me to call the police — surely they would find a tow company willing to come get me, although the bill would probably be at least $900.
Finally, I called this one friend of mine who has a huge F350 and a tow strap — and he offered to come out and try to save me. Yay!!!! This was another photographer friend of mine, a guy I used to shoot with all the time back when I first started modeling in 2008 and 2009; we’ll call him Wayne. I hadn’t spoken to him in years, but he had randomly texted me a week or so previously, and we’d started talking again. He’s one of those backcountry types who really knows the desert, so I figured if anyone could help me, it was him.
So Tex and I sat in the dark, gloomy cab of my pickup truck, waiting for Wayne to come save us. Poor Tex didn’t say more than 100 words the whole time, and I was acutely embarrassed and apologetic. I kept fiddling with Facebook, reading all these horror stories people were posting about the times they got stuck in the mud, and had to pay $1,000 or even $5,000 to be towed out!! I was really freaking out, let me tell you.
Finally after an hour or so, I heard the rumbling of Wayne’s Diesel engine and saw his headlights bumping along the utility road, coming towards us. He stopped a good distance away, and I ran over to meet him — the mud on my side of the truck was pretty firm. I figured I only needed to be yanked out about 10 feet, and I’d be back on solid ground (I literally fucked up by only a few feet :-/).
Well, Wayne looked around with his hi-beam flashlight and determined that the mud was too patchy and unpredictable to attempt a rescue in the dark — he was afraid his truck would get bogged down, too, if he got any closer to me :-/ He offered to give me and Tex a ride back into town, and I could come back in the morning and try to get out then.
Arrrrgh!!! I hated to cut the photo shoot short, but by then it was already almost 9pm, and the dream was over. Worse, I had full-day shoots the following day AND the day after that, so I wouldn’t even be able to come back out and get my truck for almost three days!! I’d have to leave it sitting out there in the middle of the mud, in the middle of nowhere, and hope no meddlesome rednecks came out to shoot it up in the meantime.
But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made — the shoots I had on the following two days were with a photographer who was bringing his own car, so I wouldn’t really need my truck anyway….and even better, the forecast was for 80 degrees and sunny all week, so by the time I finally had time to go back out there, the mud would likely be dry enough anyway that I could just drive out FOR FREE!!! Duhhhhhhhh!!!!! And there I’d been, seriously contemplating a $1,000 tow bill. Pshaw!!!!
So my friend Wayne drove us back into Vegas. We dropped off poor Tex at his hotel, and then I took Wayne out for a drink to thank him, and to catch up on what he’d been up to since I’d last seen him a few years ago. I mean, we used to be really tight friends…so it was nice to hang out again…even though in the back of my mind I was acutely aware of the fact that I had to get up early for my shoot the next morning, and really needed to get my ass home to bed. No rest for the wicked…or the desert dumbasses!
Anyway, Wayne finally drove me home and I passed the fuck out. Don’t ask me how I was able to sleep at all, worrying about my poor truck stuck way out there in the mud, all alone…but somehow I did. I got up early and plastered on makeup and a smile, ready to do it allllllll over again with the next photographer — a really nice, accomplished guy from the Seattle area with whom I’d shot in the forest last summer, on my Pacific NW modeling tour.
This photographer had brought another model along: his muse, Kimber Collins, who turned out to be a really cool, bad-ass chick. The three of us got along really well, and for the next two days, I basically shot non-stop with them: first we hit the ancient bristlecone forest in the Spring Mountains, and then we shot at Big Dune, out by Amargosa Valley, at sunset. We didn’t get back into town til 9pm, so I had no time to worry about my truck — I basically had to go straight to bed, so that I could be up and at ’em for our sunrise shoot the following day!
The following day, they picked me up at 6am and we headed back out, hitting an old silver mine near Searchlight, a Joshua tree forest, my favorite red sandstone spot and that fantastic abandoned industrial site I just blogged about — which come to find out is an old cement plant. It was a long ass day, and we were all pretty well wiped out by the end of it. I wanted nothing more than to just go home, take a shower and pass the fuck out…but there was still the little matter of my bogged-down pickup truck.
So instead of going home to crash, I had the photographer drop me off at the Love’s truck stop at the intersection of I-15 and U.S.93, out by Apex “Dry” Lake, where my friend Randy had agreed to meet me and help get my truck out (the photographer I was riding with had a Mustang, which might not have been able to navigate the utility road). I probably could have just hiked out and gotten the truck myself, but Randy was nice enough to come out and drive me to it in his Jeep — and he even dug out some of the mud around the tires to make sure I could get out 🙂
Then it was time for the moment of truth: would it work??? The mud was definitely drier than it had been, but it was still pretty mucky and soft out there. I was really hoping I’d get out, as I was supposed to meet my sisters in Death Valley the following day for a trip out to Saline Valley Hot Springs. Both my sisters were coming out for it, and I really didn’t want to miss any of the fun! I got in the cab, stepped on the gas……..
And I was free!!!!! FREE AT LAST, FREE AT LAST! THANK DOG ALMIGHTY, I’M FREE AT LAST!!!!! I’ve never been so euphoric in all my life, I tell you. It was incredible.
To thank Randy, I stripped off my clothes and hopped up on my truck for a few cellphone nudies….and then I got the fuck off that motherfucking lakebed, very carefully!!!!! It was actually a pretty simple matter of avoiding wet patches, and the road out wasn’t that bad at all. But when my tires rolled back onto the pavement, it was a sweet, sweet moment of relief 😀
Anyway, that’s the story of how I got mired down in the muck. Fortunately for me it ended up having a happy ending: I drove home, got cleaned up, packed for Death Valley, and made it all the way to Saline Hot Springs and back despite the fact that I had a nail in my tire the whole time all this was happening! I didn’t have enough fucking time to get it fixed before heading out in the morning, but thankfully, my friend Dr. Kildare had given me one of those air compressors powered by your car battery, and since it was just a slow leak, I was able to just keep filling it up as needed….and it got me there and back safely, so I was able to enjoy a fabulous week naked in the sunshine with my sisters — about which I will blog later. But after that, the first fucking thing I did upon returning to Vegas was get my tire plugged — at my friend Randy’s tire shop, no less 🙂
So now I’m plugged up, out of the muck, and ready to roll again. Bring it on!!!