Modoc Rangeland Vision
By Mingus O'Bannon, Apr 12, 2013
Woke at 6AM to the alarm. Air in the trailer is cold and tight. No time to piddle around at this site. At great pains the night before I hunted and pecked my way up a riddled two-track. Oh so slow one drives when pulling a 51 year old travel trailer across boulder and crater and rut. The landscape is short grasses and rocky rangeland. Well fit for livestock. Small pockets of snow recline in shade. Few trees left in this area of Modoc National Forest after tremendous burns in recent years. But it's coming back and thousands of newly planted tiny pines grow in protective sheaths.
On a dirt road three miles off US-395 is Ramhorn campground. Losing daylight I wanted to camp before full dark. I prefer strange lonesome lands, but campgrounds work in a pinch when finding a place to lay a head unmolested is iffy. I don't fret over bears or cops in these nether regions, it's the ranchers and rednecks who register concern. It's the ranch hand who notices a wrong set of tracks in the dirt. The redneck who, occasionally Budweiser fueled, seeks out interlopers with a few pals packed three and four abreast in a 4X4. They wrap a wicked wrath on your cabin door at any hour of night. Appeals to reason or pity tend to fall short. Only the full self-immolation of groveling and tail-tucked immediate retreat will appease the righteous land lease holder or his minion.
With that in mind, I drive past a postage stamp of land in the middle of a million acre National Forest. This is Ramhorn campground. A stingy, hemmed in spot with a rough dozen rustic campsites. Campers muddle about their sites. A few in tents. An old guy with a beat cargo van sits in a camp chair decidedly gazing away from the others and possibly at the coming dusk. All seem to be in an active state of ignorance toward neighbors to left and right. Most have Coleman gear spread across picnic tables in varied states of food preparation. By law nothing kindles in their fire rings. I drive on.
Eight miles past Ramhorn the landscape ripens dark and desolate. I pass a few shiggies leading off the washboard. It's always a guess where they go, a gamble how rough they'll be, and a risk if there's a turn around for my rig if things get sketchy.
True dusk presses in. I mark a well defined two-track twisting north behind raised folds of land. If the trailer will take take the trail, this promises cover from random cars and the prospect of peaceful sleep.
Though rough, the trailer makes it up the trail, leaving the rockiest places for the sometimes smoother open range in spots. Beyond the rise is a small area thick with grass and enough room to turn around. Facing out and ready, leave trailer on hitch and chock the wheels. Camp is made.
The site sits between two rangelands at a gap in barbed wire. There's a running well and sizable round stock tank. Rose is happy to be off the road and tucked into an Eden of new smells. She runs up and back pealing off bands of wound energy. I light two oil lamps in the trailer and straighten our space. Water heats on a single bare burner. Once boiling the water turns a cup-o-soup into dinner.
After eating, Rose and I wander the range hills about camp. Stars punch through the thick tarpline of sky and oscillate sharp colors. Only a thumbnail moon, stars dominate and light the landscape--so profuse they're like strings of Christmas lights tangled in a box and plugged-in. There is a beautiful desolation to this land.
We hike until I'm cold. In the trailer I transform a few square feet of eating, working, sitting, and tabled area, into a few square feet of sleeping area with just enough floor to stand in place or open a cupboard.
The land is slanted and rough, so the trailer rests at a decline toward a front corner. There is a sense of laying on a low pitched roof. I scrunch into the upper corner of my bunk and sleep. Rose is in her bed, tucked into an afghan crocheted from my mother's own hand, next to my feet. Nothing outside but a soothing wind and silence in the breaks. I wake a few times from cold to kick on the heater and slip back to cozy rest.
Perfect silence is broken by my alarm. I'm well rested and need to be off before any cowhands ride by to check stock or tank. Outside the morning is crystal. Rose rises slowly from her bed, stretching and looking to laze awhile longer. I start water for coffee and make for leaving. Rose, now alert and exploring, follows her nose and makes notes on another place we'll likely never see again.
I look down the cleavage of a close valley and see shapes. Cowboys on horses moving up the valley toward us. I call to Rose and tuck her in the Jeep. I'm about to jump in myself and make for the highway, when I look down valley again and see it's only horses. No square-jawed wranglers or ranchers.
Four feral horses come in to drink long at the stock tank and show us their crooked teeth. These are possibly the famous wild horses of that old Spanish lost stock that roam Oregon and California. Rose is quite interested in them. I'm sure their only response to her would be flung hooves and snapping reproofs.
In the better light of morning the shiggy back to the washboard is easier to manage. I push toward US-395. As I pass the campground tenters are still in their tents, while the old man with the van sits looking west in the absent gaze of contemplation or blindness.