Last week our COO Carlos Pelaez and I met up with our videographer/editor, Wes Marsala, and headed for the Mojave. We needed new footage of the desert for our upcoming fundraising campaign, and Wes has both the skills and equipment to do the Mojave justice. We loaded the film gear in the back of the truck and made our escape from Los Angeles.
The plan was to get to California State - Fullerton's Desert Studies Center at Zzyzx by 5ish, and then drive down to the Kelso Sand Dunes for some sunset footage. As we were driving out towards the desert, we spotted a pretty intense rainstorm in the direction of our field area. We stopped the truck and got a few shots before continuing on. We made it successfully to the Desert Studies Center and stepped outside into the desert's version of a sauna. It was definitely over 90°F, and the humidity in the air made it feel as if we were inside a giant, obscenely hot mouth. Yuck. All of us were sweating within about 10 seconds. Definitely unusual.
After checking in with the DSC's management, we jumped back in the truck in a bid to get to the Dunes in time for the golden hour before we lost the sun. As we approached the town of Baker, we noticed huge lakes of water beside the freeway, in the typically dry lake bed of Soda Lake. We turned onto Kelbaker Road and were met by two California Highway Patrol officers and a series of barricades. They advised us that Kelbaker Road, the only road that would allow us access to the Dunes (and the Mission Mojave field area) was partially washed out, and would be closed indefinitely. Damn. Ok, so we'd just driven 2.5 hours from L.A. with a ton of film equipment only to be shot down due to a massive amount of rain in one of the world's driest places. Didn't Alanis Morissette make a song about this?
Thinking quickly, I directed our group just north of Baker and just outside of the Mojave National Preserve. This area is home to Silver Dry Lake, and the Silurian Hills (where I've previously done field work with Dr. Kim Bishop of California State - Los Angeles). Sure enough, Silver Dry Lake was anything but dry. Let me paint a clearer picture using, well, pictures:
While this image wouldn't spring to mind as typical of the desert, these rainstorms are actually common during the summer months. Remember, a desert isn't a place that's completely devoid of rain...it just doesn't get much. What rain does fall is used to the utmost by the desert's inhabitants, some of whom have incredible adaptations for maximizing this scarcest of resources. At any rate, our Plan B yielded what will hopefully be some great shots on our first night. We also darted over to Afton Canyon and got some nice timelapse footage of the sunset on the canyon that will hopefully look good in the final video.
The next morning, we set out to find a back way into the Preserve. Kelbaker Road was barricaded from the south as well as the north, so we took an offroading jaunt across Cima Dome to get into the areas of the Preserve where we wanted to film. We made it to a few of the locations on our "must film" list, and then were able to catch the Kelso Dunes and Granite Mountains on our way out.
That was certainly not the way we expected the trip to play out, and we had better success catching geology, hydrology, and atmosphere on camera than biology this time out. Still, the ability to form new plans when confronted with pretty significant obstacles is the hallmark of a good adventurer, and Blueprint Earth is happy to report that our spirit of adventure is very much intact. These lessons in flexibility are ones we're intimately familiar with, and any startup entrepreneur or scientist in the field can relate! While in the field conducting research on active volcanoes I've had the pleasure of fixing a Jeep tire with chewing gum, a Bic pen, and duct tape. That's a story for another time, but I'll leave you with this shot of Wes in his videography element.