Jun 30, 2014

Far from home

I don't really know how to explain how strange the 212 mile desert drive between Rachel and Hawthorne is. It's a drive through the desert, open range cattle, dry lake beds and near zero traffic. There are 5 towns marked on our atlas, though only 2 are recognizable as actual towns...and I was a bit frightened to stop in either one. Instead, we were headed for Whiskey Flats RV park in Mineral County, just on the edge of another very small town CDP, Hawthorne. With a full hook-up, the most immaculate showering facilities, a reasonable rate, and an admirable attempt at growing trees along the property line, we were pretty content. But even before entering the city limits, things seemed strange.

As you roll into town on 95, you see miles and miles of underground bunkers, all arranged in a perfect grid across the valley. Hawthorne is built next to the Hawthorne Army Depot, the world's largest depot. This is where we store our ammo. As such, we have a lot, A LOT of leftovers. This is the reason that Hawthorne exists today, most of the residents are/were employed here. Look up this town on google maps, it's a peculiar sight from overhead. There are bomb casings everywhere, they're used as parking blocks, in landscaping, it's just all over. 

These bomb flowers in the park are my favorite. Wind power made from old artillery??? Problem solved! I found a striking message in this radical art, I wonder if it was intended, and is it lost on most people? I posted a video on my instagram showing them spin.

The first day of our stay, we went for a walk towards the mountains to the west. Pretty soon into our stroll, we noticed how strange our surroundings were. We were walking on a road with overgrown sidewalks on either side. We were passing adjacent streets, fire hydrants, your typical infrastructure, except there was nothing else there. We came upon a small parking lot and two large foundations...the sun was getting low and suddenly we felt the urge to GTFO lest we expose ourselves to anymore radiation or influence of whatever the heck happened here!

Turns out, we were walking through the former town of Babbit. A government housing facility used from the Cold War on up to the 60's when Day & Zimmerman Inc. "got rid of it" and sold off everything. It was once a CCC facility! 

Looking out over Babbit toward Walker lake. Watch out! We can't keep track of all our ammo, we've found some live mines in that lake, and assume there is more.

We found a few geocaches in Babbit, and it's a good place to fly kites! We did some stargazing out there (not too far out, it's really creepy at night) the first night of the Camelopardalids meteor shower. The first night was a dud, but we came out again the next night and saw a bunch of meteors.

Aside from other military services (such as demilitarization), from what we gathered in our two week stay, the main objective of the depot is to get rid of old outdated ammo. This ammo goes all the way back to World War II. This is done by taking it apart, or just exploding it somewhere out in the desert. Something, something, tax dollars...grumble grumble. Oddly, this seems to align with the story of another serviceman we met in Indian Springs, way down on the south side of this same test site in 2010. (“So what do you do on the base?” “I get rid of old bombs” “how do you do that?” “I don't know, hit it with a shovel?” lol, ok man. Not quite sure when that came up - we were buying each other drinks all night, and didn't question it)

So yeah, I'm just going to say it. Hawthorne is a weird weird weird odd place. It is full of very nice friendly people, and it is the weirdest town I've ever seen. The area has so much strange history, I can't even attempt to share all that we learned about this place and it's people. I've found some information online here, some neat photos here and an interesting interview here, though it hardly scratches the surface of this old wild-west-turned-military town.

This museum was great - could have spent all day looking around in there

Back in Indiana, we use charming old farm machines and tools as art in our landscaping. Out here, you see mining carts and stuff like this in people's yards - guess it makes sense!

 Poor guy looks like he's been stuck in this diorama for awhile now.

"Cafe dishwasher attemped managers ending, 1943"

 Old evidence from the old courthouse. Told you it was the wild west!

Hawthorne began as a mining town, and has experienced a number of boom-and-busts over the years. Presently, Hawthorne is home to the largest Army depot in the world, run by private government contractor Day & Zimmerman Inc.

Day & Zimmerman Inc. is ranked by Forbes as one of the largest privately held companies in the United States, yet Hawthorn has been experiencing a major bust ever since the first Day & Zimmerman contract.

So, there's your trickle down economics.

We first learned of this company from a Vietnam veteran we met after attending a Memorial Day service in Veteran's Park. We got to talk with him for quite some time. He thanked us for attending the service, and shared with us a bit of his history and travels, along with all the dirty (and I mean lowdown dirty) details about this private government contractor and their shameless corruption since day 1.

* * *

We've noticed that we tend to seek out a Checkerboard equivalent in every town we stop in. Joe's tavern seemed to fit the bill. The drinks are unbelievably cheap! Food is pretty pricey in the grocery stores, but the booze is more than affordable around here.

The whole town is painted red white and blue!

Most advertising in town is geared toward enlisted military personnel. And I quote a building advertising an apartment for rent: “HEY GUYS! Your girlfriend or wife would love to live here! Heck, there's even room for both!” cringe, cringe, cringe.

The El Capitan is right across the street from Joe's. There's a crosswalk connecting them door to door. This place gives you all the free drinks you want if you're playing the slot machines...it's a trap

This neon sign was restored and re-located to the Veteran's Park It even has this plaque placed below, explaining it's history. Finally, neon getting the praise it deserves!

 Pretty sunsets every night.

The Hawthorne Ordnance Museum is another fascinating stop in town.


That white one was an atom bomb. It's filled with cement now.

I forget what this one was called, we used it in the Korean War to shoot at the waves of oncoming foot soldiers. It's a bomb full of little nail-darts. The gentleman who gave us a tour of this place stated that "nothing in here was made to make anyone happy."

This is part of a computer used to control our drones in Vietnam. I didn't even know we had drones in Vietnam.

Here's our little campsite, on an an old Cold War radar station. This is where one my worst RV nightmares came true. There was snake. In our engine. That snake is now dead.
Buy me a drink (or five) and will tell you the whole story.

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