– Checking out an old gold mine, a few thoughts about symmetry, and recalling a dramatic car break down –
Late October 2008
The mountains had already received their snow cover, the first frost had chilled our bones, and the weather forecast promised more rain when we left home.
The first day all the way to the Rogue River in southern Oregon is a bit of a torture, but there we know a fabulous place high above the river in complete solitude. While we sat in silence and recovered, Elena showed up, a river rat, still wet from shooting the rapids below; we chatted and shared the spectacular view. She was deeply frustrated about America and had little hope for the upcoming election. I told her, and I say this often to Americans, that the rest of the world has not given up on America, that people all over the globe know how to distinguish between a government and a people, between Bush and America and that they are very excited about Obama. In a way, we are all Americans and soooo ready for change. The dark times will be over soon.
Next day a last shopping in Grants Pass (no sales tax in Oregon!). We manage to get it behind us in one hour and sail on south. Close to Susanville we have crossed the Sierra and spend the night with a fire somewhere in a forest clearing. The moon is almost full, the wilderness whispers to us, and we listen in deep reverence. Next day, close to Mammoth Lakes, we sit in a hot spring:
It is in the 20s in the morning, but what a pleasure to slip into 100 degree water, see the first light gradually spread out over the sky, and receive the day in peaceful tranquility. There is ice on our hair when we walk home to have breakfast, but an hour after sunrise we sit outside and bask in the sun.
Soon we reach Joshua Tree N.P.
and look down on the windmill farms of Palm Springs on the crazy Salton Sea. This body of water came into existence only fairly recently by accident or rather by negligence. Farmers irrigating without ever bothering where all that water would eventually drain to.
In Joshua Tree, of course, some old climbing routes need to be re-inspected:
And this time we take the bike ride and following hike to the Lost Horse Mine.
An old gold mine far out in the desert, once found, claimed, and built with almost inconceivable effort, then run, off and on, for less than 10 years in the early 1900s and abandoned. It is said to have produced merely 9000 ounces of gold. No one got ever rich, many died. Today it’s a scar left behind, a wound in the earth, and a relic of human greed as well as human ingenuity, stories of suffering and stories of dreams.
This amazing machine was mainly an array of hammers that crushed the ore to dust. This dust was then mixed with water, pumped from a far away well, and then smaller and heavier particles, that sometimes turned out to be gold, were separated in the usual way.
This is the antique diesel engine with belt transmission. More beautiful algae than rust on the 100 year old steel. I can’t help to see a captivating beauty in the geometry of this somehow timeless machinery. Functional aesthetic – I’m sure not only an engineer can detect it. I used to design things like that (on a much smaller scale) and secretly always felt a kinship to the attitude of an artist. Personally, I see an engineer as an artist, but in our times they clearly have evolved to another species.
There is a simple symmetry in this old machinery, obviously dictated by rather unsophisticated production processes: round wheels, straight shafts, evenly distributed spokes etc. And there is hidden symmetry, only revealed to the informed eye in the context of function. In fact, while looking at these mechanical parts, I was tempted to follow the miracle of symmetry all the way down to the fabric of subatomic matter. Our entire universe is woven in mysterious symmetry. Not only the mirror-resemblance of geometric shapes, not only geometry, not only visible symmetry. There is symmetry everywhere. Up and down, big and small, fast and slow; beautiful and ugly, man and woman, day and night, warm and cold. And there is also happiness and misery. Both by no means the same and yet in a mysterious way profoundly related. One complementary to the other. No matter how trivial, when we perceive symmetry we may be in touch with one of the most basic phenomena of the universe. It’s not the things in the world that matter, it’s our relationship to them. And it’s the relationship between them.
Just by extrapolating already known facts about symmetry many physicists predict fantastic new milestone-discoveries from the new super collider at CERN in Switzerland. Matter and anti matter. Existence and non-existence. Finite and infinite.
We wouldn’t be what we are if there wouldn’t be something we are not.
It’s a unique pleasure to see all this in an antique piece of straight forward very basic machinery.
For logistical reasons the static structure of this ore crusher was natural timber – available and easy to transport. But this construction is also excellent to absorb the enormous vibration and temperature expansion in such an environment. See the antique square nuts as opposed to the hexagonal shaped ones used today; they work better with low quality steel.
There are many mining sights and early engineering objects in most Natural Parks. What will be the next celebrated sights of human endeavor in some future National Park? The relics of vast oil refineries in Texas and Louisiana? Bizarre, incredibly complicated machinery to extract wealth out of the earth; almost certainly considered crazy from future points of view. Was the greed for wealth the motive or was it the fantastic idea of driving around with cars? Did we ever need cars? Did we ever need oil? Did we ever need gold? What is need? Is there any? Will we again see human greed portrayed, camouflaged behind wonderful ingenuity? Or – maybe – are we going to see a newly planted forest over re-naturalized earth?
Further down the Baja peninsula we check out the old wreck on the beach of Pabelon:
What’s symmetric to entropy?
Some say Life is, however this is still hotly debated among the experts.
Somewhere north of Cataviña is a little turn out – in more civilized areas one would call it a parking. It’s far, far away from everything, somewhere where the road is crossing the mountains for the first time, the back bone of the Baja peninsula. One of the most desolate places, where the loneliness of this damned road has made your mind gradually go blank. We always rest here for a little while and look down on the vastness.
And it was here that we one time – years ago – broke down really bad, in fact so bad that it had all the ingredients of the worst nightmare ever for a lonely traveler out there in the brutal desert: We had just parked for an hour, had some tea, and felt refreshed to take off again, when I turned the key and nothing happened. I mean nothing! No electricity anywhere in the entire vehicle. The usual quick checks revealed some mysterious interruption deep inside, completely hidden and inaccessible behind the fire wall. After half an hour I looked Parvin in the eye and said: “this is it, I’m at the end of my wits!” I think I’m mostly pretty good at repairing things, no matter what, but here I had no clue what so ever. Again, we were as far away from help as I could imagine. I was devastated. “Come on, fix it!” said Parvin. She is so used to get things done by me, she didn’t believe me. And here is what happened next and how this ultimate disaster evolved: Parvin took the Tracker and drove 30 miles to the next tiny little village. 2 hours later she showed up again with the most beaten up, totally rusted little pickup truck with one fender missing and one front tire of a completely wrong size. A cheerful young Mexican got out. “Mucho problemas, eh?” he laughed and tried to turn the key himself, in vein. “Muy malo!” But his facial expression was as if he was just having the greatest fun. And then he leaned under the hood and – I will never forget this scene – stood there for one minute, thinking, and pulled out a wire. One of hundreds, apparently totally random. “Aha!”he beamed and showed it to me. Completely corroded and rotten through. In 15 minutes he had found the other side of the interrupted wire, and led a new wire around. The interruption itself was invisible and completely inaccessible. The problem was fixed, he drove off with 50 bucks, and I felt as if I had witnessed a miracle. How could he have known this so quickly? How could he be so efficient without much systematic analysis? What a fantastic feeling to see that the ultimate catastrophe was only a little entertainment in the afternoon.
Ever since we stop here and celebrate, And my heart still stops just for a millisecond when I turn the key again.
* * * * *
It’s still almost unbearably HOT and humid after all the rain of the last hurricane.
Mosquitoes are muy malo!
Not the time of pure pleasure right now,
but there is symmetry!
Klaus end of October 2008