Nighttime Thoughts in the Desert
The desert was the greatest place ever to view the nighttime sky. Without urban lights to interfere with and/or diminish the illumination of the sky, I could lay on my pad and sleeping bag and view, with wonderment, the magnificence of the heavenly spheres. Their majesty and brilliance never ceased to amaze me. As I lay there watching for shooting stars or the movements of satellites, several thoughts came to my mind.
The first was a cherished recollection of my father and I in 1957, standing in our backyard, scanning the nighttime sky looking for the blinking lights of the world’s first celestial object in space – Sputnik, and we spotted it. Today, one can see numerous space objects crisscrossing the skies, but in ’57, there was only one, and together we found it.
My second thought had to do with the Mayans and their cosmology beliefs. Without getting too specific, as I remember from my archaeological studies, they had a belief that the Milky Way represented a gigantic canoe in the form of a crocodile that carried its passengers to the underworld. The particular nighttime sky they were referring to can best be seen on August 13, three hours after midnight. Looking towards the south, you can see that the head of the Milky Way splits into two tongues, somewhat resembling the open jaws of a crocodile, and if you’re willing to stay up all night, I believe you will see the Milky Way move from a horizontal position to a straight up and down vertical position, with a portion ducking below the horizon, which to the Mayans signaled that the canoe with its passengers was descending into the underworld. (Auhenticmaya)
My third thought centered on an Internet article I read in the National Academy of Sciences that postulated the existence of upwards of forty billion planets in our universe. (Petiqura) I felt a tinge of modest satisfaction in reading this, as it tended to validate Mormon theological beliefs that God has created “worlds without number.” (Moses)
I was glad to have the Angeles National Forest behind me; it just seemed to be a never-ending walk through groves of pine trees and black oak trees, in and out of steep ravines and rocky gullies and tramping through the ever-present chaparral. I was ready for a change and the flat desert was going to be the change. A mile or so before reaching the level plain of the desert, a young female hiker passed me who went by the trail name of Goodall. When I asked her what her mother called her, she said, “Amelia.”
She was cute as a bug’s ear, small and petite, and a strong hiker. We didn’t have much of a conversation, and I couldn’t keep up with her to continue talking, but from other hikers, I learned that she was a college graduate and worked for a season as a baker in the Antarctic, and had the opportunity to visit the South Pole.
On the last switchback down the mountain, and just before hitting the long straightaway leading to Hiker Town, I was passed by a civilian, who looked like he was returning from a trial run camping trip. What caught my attention about this fellow was his hiking gear; part of it was civilian and another part was military-issued equipment, or items one could buy in any army navy surplus outlet. What was most intriguing about him was the length of the giant knife he was carrying on his military-style web belt.
I could never imagine why a camper would ever have need for that type of weapon on a simple camping trip, or in his case, maybe it was more than a simple camping trip. I wanted to ask him about the knife, but he moved too fast, and even overtook Goodall on the straight dirt road. She and I never saw him again. And speaking of never seeing someone again, once I left Hiker Town, I wouldn’t see Goodall again until just miles before crossing the Canadian border.
Hiker Town was not a town; it was just the name of an individual’s residence, and the home was in the middle of nowhere. Highway 138, which indirectly connects Lancaster, California, with the north-south running I-5 Interstate, runs in front of Hiker Town. The property belonged to a man called Richard who bought the land and buildings from the estate of Jack Fish who committed suicide in 2001, according to hiker OTC.
The Mayan sky, depicted on a bone carving. (Linda Schele)