So, something fun. We took a week and did a retreat to the desert. Well, not so much a retreat as a frontal assault, but the point is, we left the rainy Northwest and ended up in the desert.
Some of you may remember that the desert and I don’t get along so well. I’m career Army, and like many soldiers with multiple tours, the desert and I have a contentious relationship.
My “It’s Complicated” status with the desert, though, began when I attended the French Forces Desert Warfare School at Arta Plage in the Horn of Africa, training beside the 13e DBLE, the 13th Demi-Brigade of the French Foreign Legion, in their wonderfully named Aguerissement Zone Desertique (“Desert Hardening”) course, most of which happens in the Danakil Desert including a fun jaunt through the Ghouubet Fault. THe Ghoubbet fault is a place so hideously dangerous and deeply unlikeable that La Legion nicknamed it La Cul Diable, literally, “The Devil’s Asshole.” It is every bit as charming as it sounds. It makes Mordor look like Glacier National Park. Arta Plage is home to some of the toughest military training in the world.
I went through Aguerissement Zone Desertique back when it was cool; before the implementation of U.S. military safety standards, and when more Americans had been to space than had successfully completed it. Our class sustained nearly 60% casualties before it was over, because you can’t have everything. A SEAL officer in our class had to be medevac’d the first night. Of 40 people in our class, 23 were injured badly enough to be evacuated by chopper.
Suck it, Ranger School.
What’s humbling about the desert is that it is waiting to kill you, and will strike the exact moment you stop paying attention. What’s sobering about the desert is how fast it can kill you. A few goddamned shitsucking hours from the end of this course, I literally blinked and woke up in a hospital in Texas a week in the future, surrounded by my wife and parents and a handful of very concerned officers.
More on that another time, but the short of it is that being critically injured and damned near killed doing cool-guy stuff is why we have Dragon’s Trail, and probably why you’re reading this. Plus, I passed all of the physical events and field tests at Arta Plage, which means I know more about camels, cobras, and vintage rifles than any modern soldier should; knowledge I still use to this day. So it all worked out in the end.
Anyway. I know a couple of things about the desert. And I have a thing for weird spaces and a deeply rooted love of the arcane.
Best Beloved and I headed to the desert last week. As we do. Because there was something that I wanted to see. As I do. And because research is a thing, and I make it a point to do all my characters’ stunts.
Specifically, I wanted to see this:
Seriously. This exists.
This is a dead lake in the Colorado Desert, 270′ below sea level—the same elevation as Death Valley. It’s an ancient Native American power center, a place of immense medicine and intense spiritual energy. In the late ‘60s, before the lake died, it attracted a commune of artists, society dropouts, and free-thinkers, who built shit like this:
The lake began to recede about 30 years ago, and is now considered a disaster area. The land around this ancient medicine center is now a salt-crusted post-apocalyptic hellscape, replete with noxious and even poisonous dust clouds, bubbling mud pits, mud volcanoes–which probably keep the afternoons interesting–and even quicksand. A bad step will sink you up to your knee or higher in retch-inducing necrotic muck. Imagine a pile of shit squeezed from a dog that died two weeks ago. Now imagine a smell worse than that. The beach itself is entirely composed of tiny dead shells, which float over the mud and quicksand (and, for bonus points, over the goddamn mud volcanoes), rendering it all invisible. Which made for some great times.
Treading on the corpses of the Old Ones is not advisable, but at times unavoidable.
I came, I saw, I scraped that shit off my boots before I got back in the rental.
Now, in 2020, the artist’s colony is down to around 300 people. The art still stands, however. Including this:
Cool place. Great story fodder, smack in the middle of nowhere, and yet a pretty easy drive if you know where to look.
Note to Ford: an F1 McLaren will suffice as compensation for this advertising shot. Sarah Hershman is my agent. She’ll set it up.
What makes this really fun is that in the 1970’s, the USGS did a survey of the area, and determined that the entire lakebed is home to a snakes’ nest of geo-magnetic fuckery. There are huge magnetic anomalies that no one can account for, and they’re big enough and powerful enough that the government wrote papers on them.
Stick with me, because this gets really cool.
If you’re like me, and you can feel where north is, you’ll find your brain buzzing slightly as soon as you get out of the car and walk onto the beach. Fifty feet from the vehicle, my ears were ringing and I felt like my feet were on crooked. I can completely see why the indigenous peoples determined this lake to be a power center. There is, to use scientific terms, some wack shit going on if you’re even remotely sensitive to magnetic fields. I would assess with high confidence that this is why the whole mophead madtropolis sprung up here in the first place.
At the nexus of the two major magnetic anomalies, each of which are miles-wide and powerful enough that USGS could map them from an airplane in the goddamn ‘70s, someone built this:
“Honey, get in the car. We’re doing a thing.”
I’m not going to tell you this is a portal to another dimension. If it was, I would neither confirm nor deny.
I can tell you that if there’s a portal to another dimension in the continental U.S. and it’s not a literal door to nowhere at the juncture of two massive fields of instability on an abandoned Native American medicine ground in the very nutsack of a post-apocalyptic hellscape inhabited by crystal-wielding Summer of Love throwbacks, I don’t know where else to look.
The skull of an Eldritch Horror. As far as you know.