Being January, the need to ride pushed us south to get out of the cold and snow. It worked last year when we rode south from St. George to the rim of the Grand Canyon.
This year we decided to stay in Mesquite, Nevada, and look for adventure in the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument from the west. Dressed for a cool morning, we headed south on Bunkerville Road ,where we staged to the left after crossing the Virgin River Bridge.
We began our ride on Lime Kiln Road heading southeast. The sun was bright and the sky was a deep azure blue as we ventured out into the Mojave Desert. Few desert plants pique my interest like the barrel cactus and the Joshua tree.
We were headed for Pakoon Springs and our route took us through a section of the desert dotted with Joshua trees. Growing in some cases as high as 49 feet, they can live for hundreds of years.
For practical purposes, they are no good to lean up against — it is not tempting to spread a blanket under one for a picnic. When it comes to shade, they are pretty much worthless. However, the signature of a Joshua tree against the desert sky is remarkable.
To find a dead tree lying on the ground was a bit of a surprise. I could see that it was a Joshua tree by its shape, but I was not prepared for the smooth, sun-bleached grey “bones” look of the once-green plant. It looked like the bones of a very large prehistoric animal.
Barrel cactus fascinate me because of where they choose to grow. Well, of course in the desert; but when riding in the desert and I see one, I start looking for more of them.
They just seem to stand out to me, and why here or there? We rode past a large rock outcropping that was covered with them, while they were less noticeable in the area around it.
Arriving at Pakoon Springs, we circled the wagons and broke out our lunches. By now we were in shirt sleeves, having been warmed by the desert sun.
Some in our group remembered to bring camp chairs. Note to self: Put camp chair on packing list. I am tired of looking for soft rocks.
It goes without saying that finding a spring in the desert is a life or death matter to the traveler. It was here that I learned about an alligator that lived for some 18 years in the pools of this spring.
Brought in a shoebox in the back of a station wagon as a gift in 1987 from the swamps of the Deep South, this little gator was named Clem. Released into the pool at the spring, few believed that he could survive the extreme heat of the day and cold of the desert nights.
Fed by the spring, the pool remained a constant 78 degrees, and survive he did. Clem hid in his pond and rarely came out. He was as fierce and grumpy as you would expect a gator to be.
During some fires in the late 1980s, water from the springs was used by the firefighters. Clem had to do his best to avoid being scooped up in a helicopter bucket used to take water from the spring. However, when the operation was over Clem was still there.
As the gator grew, respect for him also grew. A ranch hand was working under a truck when he turned his head and saw a very large Clem waddling by close to the truck. Nothing happened, but I am sure the guy was never the same after that.
The ranching stopped when the ranch was sold to the government with the agreement that no harm would come to Clem. Previously fed rabbits and chickens by the rancher to supplement his diet, food became scarce when the rancher left and Clem was forced to live off bull frogs and slow rabbits.
When they finally fished him out in 2005, he was a skinny 130 pounds. Clem now resides at the Phoenix Herpetological Society in Scottsdale, Arizona, at a plump 600 pounds and growing.
Plump from lunch, we were ready to continue our ride in this amazing desert country. When you go, take plenty of water, keep the rubber side down and read more about Clem by typing “Pakoon Springs” into your browser.