Trona has to be one of the scariest places I've been. It just feels evil, or sick, or wrong. The desert is usually a very peaceful, contemplative place. In trona, it seems like its hiding something, like there is something churning under the salt lake. In fact, the lake literally belches sulphur, and the town usually smells like rotten eggs, or just like Hell.

I came into the Trona area one summer afternoon, one of those days that no animal would be caught dead outside.. and that anything caught outside might possibly end up dead. The thermometer in the car read 120, on the dot, but the sand had to be hotter. We had come to the base of a canyon, which apparently once held a spring, which cascaded down a polished rock chute into a pleasant pool below. Instead, there was a wash issuing from the canyon, totally dry but obviously torn to bits by a recent flood. I was left sitting on a rock, with one of my friends, while everyone else was trying to dig a SUV out of the sand where it had gotten stuck. Up the canyon where we were, nothing made a sound.

The place just seemed to emit evil and foreboding. The rounded rocks seemed to glare down with an evil look at us... and it wasnt hard to tell why. Some group of rednecks, or meth-heads, or other such miscreants had trashed the place. Shotgun shells, drug paraphanalia, and even dirty underwear were scattered around the canyon. I suddenly realized that this place had been tarnished, that what may have once been beautiful was ruined. It was like dumping garbage in a cathedral. The spring seemed to have turned itself off, denying water to those undeserving, sacreligious, small people who had ruined this place. All that was allowed to seep from the canyon walls was a green film of algae. I didn't think it was possible to have chills run down my spine in 120 degree weather. It is...

That night the feeling of basic wrongness intensified. Usually I am the only one who can feel things like that, except for my friend Dave, who wasn't there. But that evening, in the lengthening shadows, I wasn't the only one who felt it. Something was strange. For one thing, it wasnt cooling off. It had dropped to 110 degrees, but a strange humidity was filling the valley, something almost unheard of in the desert. The normal, obligitory line of distant thunderstorms formed the east sky, but somehow they seemed angrier, as if they were glowing. As the sun set behind the angry canyon walls, we discovered why. They WERE glowing. The thunderheads were literally lit up like strobe lights, throwing lightning at each other. Apparently, it was so bright that in broad daylight, we somehow subconciously detected the flickering on the canyon walls. Once the sun set, it never really got dark. The sky turned an electric blue. I've seen lightning in the desert... I've seen it pounding the ground, churning in clouds, every few seconds. But id never seen lightning like this. It seemed angry.

It soon became obvious that the storm was coming closer. The storm was eating up ridges in the distance. The Panimaint range soon disappeared in its shroud, but not before Telescope Peak was pounded at least 15 times by direct lightning. We were lucky.. the night before we had been camped on that very ridge. As the storm kept coming, the light reflected on the rocks. It reflected on the shotgun shells, the beer bottles, the dirty underwear. It made everyone realize that although the place was trashed, it was not dead. The storm could scour this place.. send a wall of water down the little canyon, and remove all the pathetic little artifacts of a dying culture. It had happened before, more times than people knew. It would happen again.

As if on cue, the gust front hit. It was first heard on the hills, whistling through the creosote and mesquite. Once it hit the canyon bottom it nearly knocked me off my feet. The tents were torn out of the ground, and sand filled the air. We knew we werent wanted here.. we knew we had to leave. No one argued when we decided to get away, as fast as we could. For the first few miles, we had to drive towards the storm, and just as we left the alluvial fan, the rain started splashing on the window. The lightning, now almost overhead, was different than any i had seen before. It was curled in strange angles, lost, exiting and returning to the same place in the cloud.

We had to stop in Trona, a mile or two down the road, before we left the area. We were in a gas station.. the town was lit up with blue light, angry abandoned buildings still defying the wind. A preying mantis sat on the light over the bathroom, grabbing the moths that were lured nearby, eating their juicy bodies, and droping their wings on a pile on the ground, before the wind swept them away. Never before had i realized so clearly that everything we had built here was completely seperate from nature, was somehow wrong. It seemed as if the storm could completely wipe the little town off the map, and no one would ever know.

I still wonder about that storm. I know that the El Niño of that year had probably paid a part in it. And now i hear that the recent scientific consensus on 'greenhouse warming' is that the extra energy entering the system is causing El Nino to be more frequent and more powerful. Before the 70s, summer flooding in the owens valley was almost unknown. Now it is common, and many of the roads are destroyed, and never rebuilt. It is as if the desert is reclaiming itself. For all I know, Trona was wiped off the map by that storm. I never went back, and if i can help it, I never will.

Tro"na (?), n. [Of Egyptian or North African origin.] Chem. & Min.

A native double salt, consisting of a combination of neutral and acid sodium carbonate, Na2CO3.2HNaCO3.2H2O, occurring as a white crystalline fibrous deposit from certain soda brine springs and lakes; -- called also urao, and by the ancients nitrum.


© Webster 1913.

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