Nov 22 - Chasing Patton's Tanks

I generally wake up thereabouts 4 or 5 in the morning... don't think I'll explain why... just happens when you're in your 50s or 60s.  When the sky is clear, as it's been almost every night we've been here at Camp Solitude, there, right there, through the window next to my head, is the constellation Orion, as bright and bold as I've ever seen him... his belt cinched tight, sword and shield ready for action, his companion Canis Major at his side, keeping a close watch on the not-to-be-trusted and altogether too close constellation Taurus (the bull). Occasionally, if you're very perceptive, and patient, Taurus starts moving furtively closer to our hero Orion... who, if you watch carefully, actually raises his sword and shield... urging the rogue bull back to it's place in the heavens.

Hey, it's better than counting sheep.

Yesterday, Tuesday (I think), Dar and I wandered off into the desert to the south, chasing General George Patton's tanks. We had known that Patton had a number of training bases all around this area back in 1942 and 1943... to prepare troops for the Africa Campaign during WWII. If you're going to fight in the desert, it'd probably make sense to train in a desert, right?.

So that was almost 70 years ago and it really never occurred to me that, aside from some camp ruins here and there, there'd be any visible evidence of all that activity. I mean... it was 70 years ago! But it turns out evidence does indeed remain... and it's all over the desert near our camp... as close as a mere hundred feet from our fire ring.

Last year, during our first visit to Camp Solitude, I saw and wondered about a set of tracks that angled past our camp. It wasn't that the tracks existed that got me curious... it was that they were a very consistent 9 feet wide... much wider than tracks made by jeeps or cars or pickup trucks, and wider than most of the largest trucks. Why were these tracks so wide? I wondered... and then we left on new explorations and I put the question aside.

But then this year, during my chat with author Brian Gore, he told me that those tracks were indeed made by Patton's tanks. He said that if you know what you're looking for, they're all over the desert around here. I also talked with a BLM ranger who confirmed what Brian said.

The desert is a place where things change very slowly. There are broad long areas of hard pan that appear almost like gravel parking areas, but they're totally natural and completely devoid of plants. What plant life that exists around here is confined closer to "washes" -- slightly lower areas that collect and channel water during the rains of the monsoon season. We're camped on one of those hard pan parking areas, and right next to a wash.

The surface of these hard pan areas is covered with very dark colored rocks... dark brown, bronze, almost black... some as big as your fist, but most smaller and embedded in the desert floor. Just below those dark rocks is a very light colored material... soil, sand, dust, whatever. Left undisturbed, nothing changes... for centuries. But have a bunch of young soldiers, high-spirited kids really, run a string of 30 ton tracked vehicles through it, compacting the desert floor, skidding as they turn, grinding away at the dark colored rocks on the surface and digging up the lighter colored soil beneath... well, now there's a track... and there's evidence that will last for many years. And that, apparently, is what we have running close to our fire pit, and what's threaded all throughout the surrounding desert.

Close examination of some tracks showed the telltale marks of steel against stone on the larger embedded rocks... the ones that were surely there then, and had been for probably thousands of years before that. The 70 years that have passed since those marks were made, those tracks laid down, those kids went off to war, is but a single breath in the geologic history of this rock we call earth.

Things change slowly here.

9 feet wide... what made this?

skidding turn of tracked vehicle

steel on stone