I headed out of Keeler on the east side of the wasteland that is all that is left of once beautiful and pristine Owens Lake. A quarter mile down the highway I turned onto rocky soil and put my jeep into four-wheel drive, just in case. A sign read “Private Property.” I drove on. Long ago Jody had said this wanderer of the desert was welcome anytime at her mountain sanctuary.
I thought of my first journey nearly 40 years ago to Cerro Gordo, a ghost town hidden deep in the Inyo Mountains at 8,000 feet. Then, the narrow, twisting climb out of Owens Valley could leave the imprint of your passenger’s fingernails on the dashboard. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, one’s passenger could not get out of the door to see the view because it usually was too close to the mountainside to open. On the return trip down to the valley he could manage to open the door, but one step out would result in a plunge of a few thousand feet.
Today, as I bounced along through a narrow canyon, ever climbing, it seemed almost a cruise. The road had been widened in the worst places, and it was easy to forget about the once-treacherous trail and remember past adventures, escapades, parties and laughter in the old town.
The first few journeys to solitude at Cerro Gordo in the early 1970s usually ended with me snuggled in my sleeping bag watching the shadows of the Sierras run across Owens Lake toward this meditating soul until the glowing red orb disappeared somewhere behind Mount Whitney. The next morning I would wait in my bag while the now-golden glow of sunrise slowly raised the curtain on God’s gift of another day...