BUDDHA's CAVE in KINGMAN ARIZONA

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Photo by Luke Laeser

Photo by Luke Laeser

Close your eyes. Can you picture Joshua Tree in the 1970's, before John Long and the Stonemasters moved in and scooped up many of the first accents? No traffic back then, just virgin rock.

I'm nursing a hernia as I write this story. My elbow hurts and my two-wheeled aluminum mule is about to throw a shoe. Que lastima. I am in a world of hurt, temporarily camped out in Kingman, Arizona, elevation 3,300 feet, Memorial Day Weekend.

It's Sunday evening, but this tall tale begins this morning. I'm an early riser, like traditional Navajos I like to wake up at 5AM and greet Dawn Boy, in my case see the Sun rise over Hualapai Mountain. The temperature by lunchtime will be hot enough to sizzle flap jacks on the desert varnish, that near black porcelain covering many rocks, Nature's mysterious coating concocted of airborne microscopic natural clays and minerals and __________ (too hard to explain, look it up on Wikipedia).

I am riding my mountain bike from Flagstaff, Arizona, toward the Pacific Ocean. My daughter Lauryn lives near Morro Bay, and I used to teach kayaking there. A little under a thousand miles to go to see my pal if I ride through Death Valley. Next on my journey is the Lower Colorado River — some good kayaking and natural history there. But right now I have to negotiate the Kingman Desert.

Where is Kingman? South of Las Vegas about a hundred miles on Hwy. 93, or about 50 miles east of the Colorado River at Bullhead City, Hwy. 68. I-40 goes through Kingman, Flagstaff is about a 150 miles east. Historic Route 66 and the BNSF Railroad line pass through. All roads lead to Kingman. Got your bearings? My bike needs bearings.

Kingman is a convergence zone for more than highways. Kingman is not one of the famous New Age harmonic sites like Mt. Shasta or Sedona, but nonetheless a powerful and, to a rock climber, attractive place to be.

Photo by Luke Laeser

Photo by Luke Laeser

Like a parabolic antenna that attracts and collects electro-something signals from out there, Kingman is akin to the little black transceiver on the TV satellite dish that has captured my attention. A sidebar to this tale: In this Little town, population 20,000 plus, I've observed many more ham radio antennas than any other city of comparable size. My dad was a ham operator so I have eyes to see such aerial displays. Hum.

Where I am camped out in the hills behind a certain truck stop, at the confluence of all the concrete and asphalt rivers, I see rugged terrain all around: to the northwest are the beautiful red Cerbat Mesas with hundred foot faces (Hwy. 68 and Coyote Pass run through these parts), north is the Silver Mountains, northeast the Peacock Range struts its feathers, southeast are the Hualapais with much exposed granite. 160 mile circumference, a ring of stone. This ain't Paracebo, but to a crag minded soul like me, I feel the vibes, good harmonics, electric.

I can almost see the Kingman area ancient Indian rock art glowing at night (better to see 1,000 year old petroglyphs hum and glimmer with cosmic radiation than the Vegas lights). Upon my arrival to Kingman a few weeks back I stumbled upon a superb basalt outcrop chock full of etched thunderbirds, deer, mazes, star bursts, Hopi friendship design, reptile images, and the unusual pictures as if the artist was out of this world on peyote, or mescaline, or . . .

My inquisitive nature wants to meet wild nature this morning, so I prep to explore. I know there are wadis south of me because I did a preliminary short search the other day ago. Time for real discovery. I eat a breakfast bar by Xyience (I have a hundred in my saddle bags), a spoon full of peanut butter by Skippy (I have a case), I slip on my mountain sandals by Keen (one pair), and I'm off, by God (no other)! I drink enough water for a camel but know it won't last in this blast furnace. I pack two more pints and start out.

Within a few minutes I'm at a volcanic gorge walking up the dry stream bed. During thunderstorm gully washers this would not be the place to be. I see weird geology: basaltic rock then a transition to granitic, purple (not pink), rough texture with phenocrysts of feldspar as big as my thumbnail. The coarse igneous rock reminds me of Joshua Tree.

On each side of the arroyo are bluffs with fine faces and cracks. I boulder up a few. I'm not here to rock climb, I want to find ancient relics of people of the past, or participate in the natural history today.

Photo by Luke Laeser

Photo by Luke Laeser

I walk past a dozen species of cactus in bloom. Prickly pear, cholla, big barrel cactus all in sexual display. Ocitillos, too. A yucca is sending up its fantastic array as pretty as any orchid. I step through hundreds of delicate little blue flowers, red scrophularia (paint brush) that the hummingbirds love, yellow asters attract the bees. I am in tortoise terrain. I hear a croak in a bush and see the earth ruffle — a toad? Roadrunner, cactus wren, horn lizard, other lizards of remarkable dexterity. We are lizard people. I ponder no rock art, no signs of archaic habitation (pot shards absent, I do find a Calvary uniform brass button from the 1880's). I don't meet a solitary soul. No nada persona.

I see caves in the rock. Lots of caves, of all dimensions from fist size deeper than a century plant stalk (I find out later) to bigger than a house front porch (I see that now). I'm feeling so lonely I picture aboriginals at the entrance of their stone casa waving at me. I want to view who, or what is in these portals, but it is still early in the morning. I figure to walk up the gorge I'm in, take in the side canyons, then on my way back peek in the many holes in the walls.

The dry zephyr is blowing up the barranca. There is an ancient Aramaic word for desert, translated "to speak." Therefor we must listen. Being alone in the outback allows me to think about my journey — little cash and no bank account, no job or unemployment insurance, nix food stamps for the time being. Lauryn a long way away. Just enough energy bars, peanut butter, free water, occasional part time work when I can find it, handouts along my course. Like when Forest Gump first started running to find his life, we all need a solo once in a while.

I am stunned by two outstanding features to the landscape: A granite rostrum about two pitches in length stares down at me from the skyline. At first glance the pulpit reminds me of Joshua Tree and South Astro Dome, Solid Gold Wall in its virginal state. I was pretty sure no route had been put up. Yet. I run up to near the base. My hernia and aching elbow are miraculously healed. No more eco-tourist site seeing for me!

Below this Purple Pillar of Nature's Power is a big — BIG — boulder the size of Columbia Boulder in Yosemite. A years worth of cragging right here. I spend an hour in rapt attention. Where'd it fall from up there? Time to see. In a minute I scramble up talus and scree and I'm at the wall.

I caressed her crystalline skin. She felt solid though in places there is much exfoliation ready to detach and make more gravel at the base. A dozen cracks and corners all look five star, 5.7 to 5.10. One face is a shorter version of Gold Wall in J.Tree No bolts. Yet. And overhangs, wo. All this excitement an hour walk from a gas stop you've probably fueled up at on your way to or from some Las Vegas area stone mecca like Mt. Charleston or Red Rocks or Virgin River Gorge, all these locales with probable huge crowds. Pick a number and wait in line. Not where I'm at, a short walk from Kingman, I'm telling ya.

It's mid afternoon and I am out of water. My inner flower is wilting fast, urine looking like weak coffee, mouth as dry as a pebble. The xeric climate is hotter than a pizza oven. Salas puedos, time to get out of here and find some cerveza. I say adios to Purple Pillar. For now. I begin to cross the slope investigating the caves.

In some caverns I see mountain lion sign and deer bones. Scat nearby. Another natural culvert has an eagles nest. More bones. I boulder up to a head size eye socket and an owl winks at me. One cleft houses a massive bee hive, another a bat cave with enough guano to fertilize a major league baseball outfield.

I'm in my field of dreams. I scurried up a box canyon and ¡Que' Pues!? The mother lode of cave entrances as startling as a sand storm in the Sahara is right in front of me. In thirty years of exploring our planet I have never seen it's like.

I enter with a true sense of awe and reverence. I see a mattress.

I think of Buddha's cave.