We’d been driving four hours and it was now 9:30 pm. The orange glow from the dash illuminated the interior and something was on the radio. An oldies station from Barstow maybe, on the AM dial – An old and moribund cowboy wished he’d lived a more full life. Outside, the night sky dotted with stars and planets faded from black to well polluted with light as it dropped west into the spoils of southern California. The Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, Mars and Jupiter, and many other celestial guideposts twinkled brightly.
“Light Bubble?” Sam broke his silence behind the wheel. “What are you talking about, light bubble?” He chewed a piece of dried mango. Sam was about my height, with a slender face and distinct nose that came to a point. A five-o-clock shadow was beginning to cover his strong jawline. His blond hair hung loosely across his face, ending near his blue eyes. He had a muscular yet lean frame, with broad shoulders – very active. As a climber, he spent a lot of his free time in the mountains and so he had an enormous appetite – he was always eating something.
“Well, ya know, LA, Vegas, Pahrump…All these big ass cities in the desert. When you are driving along at night, you can see their light bubbles for miles away. Beyond a mountain ridge or across a vast desert valley they radiate outward into the night sky.” I explained myself excitedly.
“Oh, I guess I see what you’re talking about.” Sam grinned slightly as he tried to see it in his mind. “Like a snow globe.” He tossed some roasted almonds in his mouth, chewing hastily.
“Yeah!” I turned excitedly in my seat and smiled. “ That is a perfect way to describe it.” Snow globe, light bubble, snow globe. I smiled as I turned the two over and over in my head.
“The bubbles, or globes…You only see them when you are out here, right?. You get closer and they get larger until, eventually, you become part of them, you know, and you can’t tell when you enter them, but you no longer see the stars like you saw them before. For all the light pollution, you may see part of the Big Dipper or Jupiter, but mostly the night sky fades away into the artificial glow of the city and you lose it all. And, then, you’re just part of the snow globe. I think I like outside the globe better.” I mentally traipsed on the concept as he attempted to stay interested.
Sam turned off I-15 and headed south on Harvard Road. None of the prestige, but every bit the exclusivity of its name twin, the road intersected the derelict channel of the Mojave River and continued south into the dust covered desert. Sand blew across as the road traversed the desiccated river bed; bedraggled salt cedar trees formed islands. Mesquite bosque lined the river channel. I rolled the window down as we slowed to a left turn onto a dirt road. The warm desert air rushed inside. Outside, the call of a poorwill haunted the darkness.
“Whoa, this is a shitty road.” Sam gassed the pedal as we fishtailed over a sandy patch in the road.
“Wouldn’t that be something, huh, get stuck out here in the dark, in a shit hole of sand. Hitch a ride and probably get picked up by a meth cook or something”. I laughed at the insanity of it as dust, illuminated by the headlamps, blew over the windshield. I quickly rolled the window back up.
The sign hung on a tilt as wind rapped it against a splintered post and the words, faded by the desert sun, were just visible – ‘Camp Cady’. We had arrived. Now, we’d emailed the caretaker, Ronald, the previous week about our arrival. But we never heard back to know if he got the message.
“Who is this Ronald, anyway?” Sam shifted the car into park and turned off the ignition.
“I think volunteer caretaker for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. It wasn’t made very clear on the website. Apparently he stays out here by himself most of the time.”
“You think he got the message we were coming?” Sam inquired as he began to pick something from his teeth with a flosser.
“Maybe. I think his wife calls him every few days to make sure he hasn’t died and to update him on his email messages.” I opened the car door.
It was now 10 pm. Long bellowing calls of bullfrogs filled the air, conceding the presence of ponds hidden in the darkness. To the east, a glow emanating from beyond a mountain ridge portended the gibbous moon. Buildings were visible in the headlights. Some dilapidated, others on the verge. A low mechanical rumbling drew my attention someplace behind a small house where I could just discern the faint profile of a tower shaped like a cone cast against the night sky. I hadn’t the slightest idea what it was – the eerie darkness of this unknown place would keep its secrets until morning.
We weren’t sure where we were welcome to pitch camp. Warm wind was blowing sand across the ground as we both recalled hearing something about a bunkhouse.
“The lights are on over at that little house. I am gonna go see if Ronald is around.” Sam started for the white house as he finished off his bag of dried mangos.
A faint glow was cast upon green shutters as diminutive points of light buzzed fiercely around the lamp post. A desert willow draped its long foliage over a fence surrounding the house. We stepped inside the gate, and oddly enough a sign directed patrons to the correct side of the lawn to relieve one’s pet. An assortment of cacti and other succulent plants lined the inside of the fence. A bird flushed from under the porch awning. Sam stepped up the to the door. I lingered down in the shadows, worried it was too late.
Sam knocked on the door. Through the window, I saw flashing lights dancing off the walls. The muffled voice of an excited gameshow host was followed by a buzz. Several moments passed as the only sound came from a woman’s voice responding to a question, followed by a ring and applause. Sam knocked again. This time I heard floors creaking and the shuffle of feet.