Growing up on the left coast of the United States, it used to be that everything was supposedly bigger in Texas.
Maybe that was before we learned about a place called China. Nowadays, it’s ALL about China.
Beyond the enormity of the real estate and the gazillions of inhabitants, they now seem to have much of the world’s money and likely location as the epicenter for economic growth in the foreseeable future.
Apparently, even their storms are of epic proportions.
The headline this week in my local newspaper was striking: “MASSIVE SANDSTORM STRIKES CHINA”
You could find different versions of the same Associated Press report by Cara Anna, but the basic details were the same. This event seemed to be of a true cataclysmic scale.
“The latest sandstorm hit the regions of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia and the provinces of Shanxi, Shaanxi and Hebei, affecting about 250 million people over an area of 312,000 square miles (810,000 square kilometers), the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.”
In case you missed the salient point there, this particular sandstorm affected “about 250 million people over an area of 312,000 square miles.” That is almost enough sand to fill up all of Donald Trump’s swimming pools.
As to the cause and effect—especially to me, personally,
“China’s expanding deserts now cover one-third of the country because of overgrazing, deforestation, urban sprawl and drought. The shifting sands have led to a sharp increase in sandstorms – the grit from which can travel as far as the western United States.”
This could be considered kind of a human and climate-caused China Syndrome, except in this case, it’s sand not nuclear material and it goes the long way around the planet to get to the U.S.
So, how does the official Chinese government deal with a chocking sandstorm of biblical magnitude?
“Air quality is "very bad for the health," China’s national weather bureau warned. It said people should cover their mouths when outside.”
Thanks; I’ll keep that in mind.
I just looked outside and I have yet to see the impending dust cloud winging in on the jet stream over the horizon from the west. But the story did remind me of one particular camping trip out to the desert north of Death Valley, on the east side of the Sierras. We used to take an annual springtime trip out to the remote, and sometimes difficult to access, Saline Valley.
If you like to really get away and be totally dependent on your ability to get around and survive in the desert, we considered this to be a special place.
In the early years when we ventured out over either the so-called North Pass or South Pass entrances the area was pretty much without adult supervision. (You really need to research, and understand, the particulars of those routes, as your life could depend on the wrong decision)
Other than spectacular desert scenery and amazing aerial dog fights with low flying fighters that literally would kick up sand off the desert floor, the big attraction for many were the hot springs soaking pools. These were developed and maintained over the years by volunteers, or in other words, those who used them.
They were kept relatively clean and germ free by user-cleanings on a regular basis. Repeat visitors knew enough to bring jugs of chlorine for the task—as well as bringing toilet paper rolls, a shovel and lime for bathroom duties.
We used to carry a 5-gallon paint bucket with no bottom and an old toilet seat with small wooden blocks screwed in to keep it in place. The real trick was not falling off, as the low-flying jet fighters would buzz the hot springs looking for busty sexy, young women sitting up in the soaking pools.
Truth be known, there was very little of that and a lot more of unattractive pudgy old farts lounging around.
(Wait, I resemble that remark.)
I do know some things have changed since our last trip.
The area became part of Death Valley National Park, which everyone assumed would be the end of the unofficial clothing-optional status. But, at last check, the Park Service has kept a Don’t Ask, Don’t Complain management strategy.
One change I did not mind is the Park Service prohibition to firearms—and ostensibly homemade missile launchers.
There was once this guy who sat stark naked in a lawn chair firing off homemade missiles with little cardboard fins though a tube using gun powder he was emptying from ammunition. The problem was this dude was obviously not a rocket scientist: often the mini-missiles would curve back into the camping area, causing some consternation and scurrying among the other people in various states of dress.
Also, the Park Service installed pit toilets, and unless you like pooping out in the open while sitting on a tippy bucket, it was almost like staying in a five-star Hilton. Almost.
I even read that a few years ago, at least some of the hot springs stopped flowing. The bottom line is that you’d be best to get online and research the many forums that discuss road conditions and other pertinent information on a daily basis. You probably won’t learn much on the official Park Service website with their aforementioned Don’t Ask, and We Won’t Arrest attitude.
But, anyone who has spent any time out in the desert knows that on occasion you get blowing sand. Ask Burning Man attendees if they have ever experienced a little sandstorm out on the playa of the Black Rock Desert in northwest Nevada.
We got the sandblasting treatment on one of our Saline Valley road trips. We used to travel with more than one vehicle (HIGHLY ADVISED) and our unimproved desert campsite consisted of parking two tall vehicles with roof racks parallel: between, we would hang two tarps—one over the other (we learned in the scorching afternoon heat, that second one made a world of difference)—and then we would set out lawn chairs and ice chests.
One day we happened to notice what looked like a brownish cloud off in the far distance, towards the southwest—in the general direction of Owens Valley (hint: read the history).
As the day wore on, we realized that it was coming our way and it was big.
Some people reacted by hastily packing up their camp and tearing out of the remote valley. We considered that a poor option, should we get caught “part way” out. It is hard enough to stay on the barely established roadways when it is clear. Drive off into the soft sand, and learn the definition of being really stuck.
We chose to batten down the hatches, so to speak, by taking down our shade tarps and placing anything lightweight under the vehicles. The kids took playing cards into their tents and the adults took the booze into ours.
It did get ugly. The wind was bad enough; the blowing sand felt like 60-grid sandpaper.
We had one of those silly folding picnic tables with the integrated chairs, which folds up into a “suitcase-like” case. I noticed that it was starting to get picked up in the wind, so I went out—risking my nubile, tender flesh—to fold it up.
Anyone having struggled to get the various hinges to bend in the appropriate direction and in the correct sequence, will know that it is a pain in the ass without the stinging, semi-blinding sand going into every orifice of your body, whether covered in clothing, or not.
I almost got it done. Almost.
With no more effort than it takes to fall off a bar stool, I somehow got the tip of one finger between a folding this and a crimping that. Having the profile of the table surface catch the wind like a sail only added to the force of the folding injury.
I spent the next few hours nursing my fingertip. Even holding the bandaged digit above my head, I could feel the pulse of my heart at every beat. Oh, mamma.
How did I deal with the darkening cloud of blowing sand that came across the mountains and lay over Saline Valley as a stifling, stinging blanket, while watching my life’s blood that would seep out through the bandage in a mocking rhythmic beat?
I used the time-tested method of liquid self-medication.
There is nothing like a handle of the blue bottle to dull the pain and nothing like a good friend to share the misery.
I could almost ignore the blood soaked gauze and throbbing finger. Almost.