JUAN CALDERÓN OREGEL

Yucca Valley, San Bernardion County, CaliforniaMarch 16 1988
 
CALIFORNIA: San Bernardino County
 
Off CA Hwy. 247 about 15 miles north of Yucca Valley

In Henry's rear, left wheel a bearing has gone out so at dawn I wipe the white salt from his windows and we grind northward looking for an auto-parts store. In Cathedral City, just south of Palm Springs, a NAPA with the bearing we need comes along. After pulling into a lot behind the store in order to replace the crunched part, I'm jacking up Henry when a young Mexican-looking man approaches and stands awkwardly not far away. I invite him to come over. He tries to fake some English but it's no good, so I speak in Spanish. Yes, he's illegal. Yes, everything here is so different, so pretty, but there's not much work. His name is Juan Calderón Oregel.

"I came over the mountain," he says, without telling which mountain. "It was very cold. For three days and nights I had nothing to eat. I'm from the state of Michoacán. It's very beautiful there, with pines in the hills."

Still feeling the aftereffects of having last night been a rotting tilapia with empty eye-sockets, I can't keep from seeing Juan as a good young man, very friendly, smart and helpful, but also just one more fish in a pool already overpopulated. He's managed to jump from one critically overstocked pool to another pool that is less overstocked, but one that nonetheless already has too many fish in it. Juan is painfully lonely and he yearns to return to Michoacán, and it pains me to simply let Henry down, shake Juan's hand, and drive away, but what else is there to do?

Between Thermal and Palm Springs it's hard to tell where one town begins and the other ends. Highways are wide and the lawns are perfectly manicured and greener than they need to be. Just north of Palm Springs, CA Hwy. l62 climbs so fast that I have to shift into third gear. Greenness ends abruptly exactly where the housing developments end. Now we're back into Creosote-bush and it feels good.

Higher and higher, and then along come Joshua-trees, Yucca brevifolia. They're twenty- to thirty-foot tall, much branched, tree-like yuccas. Here they dominate the vegetation almost as majestically as the Saguaros did in the Sonoran and the agaves did in the Chihuahuan. Some of these Joshua-trees take the branching theme almost to absurd ends. They remind me of someone who comes up with a good idea and becomes obsessed with it. Seeing one branching itself into a real confusion, I think of Leon Trotsky handing out pamphlets in Mexico City. Yes: With such thoughts, we enter our third desert, the Mojave.

Eventually we pull into an isolated cove about a mile off the road, on Bureau of Land Management land. Though this location is only about 3000 feet in elevation, for some reason it feels alpine. Dry, windy, sunny... In the sun and out of the wind, it feels hot; but in the shade or in the wind, it's cold. At 3:30 PM the thermometer on Henry's antenna reads 63º.

Elephantine sandstone boulders lie strewn all around us. Still feeling the effects of having just driven through such glossy, superficial excess, I can't escape the feeling that these boulders are just part of a theme park, that they must be plastic. The only manmade thing here is a gutted TV someone has placed atop a boulder.

Dear reader, if ever you go to Michoacán, look up Juan at Avenida Circuito Presidente #57, Colonia Adolfo López, in the town of Mateas Morelia, and tell him that on the Internet it's written that one day he befriended a gringo who managed to escape Cathedral City, too.

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