Monday, March 9, 2009

Desert Rats

I've been visiting the desert areas in southern California for a good many years. There are conventional towns and cities in the desert, and there are more remote areas where people tend to live more solitary lives. Those who choose to live the solitary life I have come to term "Desert Rats" and they often demonstrate a certain common mentality.

One of the common threads among the desert rat mentality is the desire to escape city life. Most of them were not born in desert locations, they migrated there from the city. Their desire was to escape from city life, to get away from it all. In my own observation, they often tend to be on the eccentric side. As voluntary refugees from city life, they are by definition individualists and non-conformists. They like their space, freedom, and privacy. It's only my opinion, but after while, they seem to become even more ideosyncratic. Maybe it's the isolation, or perhaps they've been in the sun too long. Another thing they seem to have in common is they all seem to be armed.

The desert rats are under siege these days. Back in the 1960's and 70's when I was roaming the wide open desert, there were still plenty of remote places that people just couldn't get or didn't want to go to. Hard-to-get-to places tended to stay that way. Nobody seemed to care what went on in the desert, either, and law enforcement was scarce -- another thing the desert rats found attractive.

Things have changed. Today, absolute floods of city people stream out into the desert every weekend in all sorts of vehicles. With them, they take along all sorts of noise-making accessories of society. One of these forms of invasion are the many off-road vehicles that seem to have proliferated. With these machines, no corner of the desert is too remote to receive visitors from the city. These vehicles consist of but are not limited to, dune buggies, ATV's, motorbikes of all descriptions, and four wheel drives of various kinds. The weekenders from the city also bring all nature of sound equipment to disturb nature. They camp wherever they want to, on public and private lands. They leave behind piles of trash generated during their visit.

The desert weekenders from the city do have one thing in common with the resident desert rats. They go to the desert to get away from the city, if only for a weekend. The desert rats left the city to get away from it all and find peace and quiet in the vast open spaces of the desert. The city weekenders bring the disturbance of the city with them to the desert. There is a certain amount of conflict that has arisen as a result of this clash of cultures; fist-fights and exchanged gunfire have erupted over noise and trespass issues.

The desert rats are under pressure from another source. That is government regulation. Much of the land in the desert belongs to the federal government in one form or another, and over the past three decades a flurry of laws have been enacted governing the use of the desert. Some it has to do with managing habitat and wildlife, and some of it is directed at controlling certain activities in certain areas, like off-roading. There has also been an increase in control over desert areas by local authorities. County enforcement officers drive around and issue tickets for people having too many trailers or shipping containers on their property. Used to be, nobody cared if a person had 100 old automobile bodies on his property; the nearest neighbor might be five miles away. Now, code enforcers use airplanes to overfly properties to see if they can find violations. It seems like city-like rules and regulations have come to the desert.

Oh well, I guess the desert is no longer the quiet, open space that it used to be.

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