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Down at the swimming hole, by Bo Keely

On one of the hotter days, one of the bigger beetles in Sand Valley crawls under my trailer. I place a lid of water next to the four-inch (with antennae) body and dash for a bug book. The Giant Palm Boring Beetle (Dinapate wrightii) swigs without lifting a chin for four minutes, and about-faces to thrust it s thorax into the lid. I get an idea.

Three hours later, I arrive by foot at a rock pool in a secret nook. Formed by cloudburst water rushing over a fifteen-foot cliff, the pool is one week old and will last another two. Right now it s at its largest in decades 20 wide and 5 deep.

It s an ephemeral treasure, like life. Bird and animal tracks lead to the edge and, dropping my pack and drawers, I add my own. The sun swings overhead and maybe I doze.

A Dodge pickup backs to the water edge and out hop the Quicks. Ma tosses her pony tail and bawls, Who's in my swimmin hole? Boy Quick leaps and plants a blue umbrella in the pool center. Daughter Lilly-of-the-Valley gropes for the shore churned by two Weiner dogs. Beach Boys oldies blare from the radio.

It s just me, Ma! I retort. Everyone defers to her 76-years and as the remaining original in the Valley. We'll, that s all right then. The Quick s escaped society to Sand Valley twenty-five years ago. They lived under a parachute shagged from an adjacent bombing range for the first six months. Then they raked the range for recyclable bomb fins and helicopter shells to buy two used trailers that were knocked together for a common living area. Dozens of dogs, cats, pet rats, snakes, turtles and birds live uncaged under one roof, plus a green-and-red Macaw that pulls a cord connected to a fan to cool the family. This has been called the most comfortable home in the Valley . The big bird must have struck today to launch them to the swimming hole.

I guess you ain't heard the news, Ma cracks her wrinkles under the umbrella. No, I didn't, I admit. About the old Chevy pickup, she continues. It was a vintage model a quarter-century ago on first shipping the family into the Valley.

One week ago we d be sittin here in dry sand, but the family was in the old Chevy on the way home from a town run. Pa wheeled into Sand Valley in the late afternoon without a cloud above us. Uh, oh! he gulped and jammed it into reverse. A three-foot wall of water chased us down the road!

It struck the truck head-on. Water swept around the sides. I've done laps but desert-born Lilly screamed I can t swim! The truck was in the road center that s a wash, but we hadn't heard about the cloudburst to the West. The river ran 20mph and mounted the doors. We rolled down the windows when it rose to them and one-at-a-time crawled onto the roof. The sun went down.

The roof shook every few minutes as the current undermined the front tires. The nose sank in the sand and water reached the windshield. It rained scorpions an mice. The three of us sat on the roof for three hours until the tide ebbed, and then waded 100 yards to the county road. We hailed a Border Patrol truck at midnight to take us to my sisters in town.

The next mornin, inserts Boy Quick, I went for the truck. The hood ornament was under sand. A shovel and come-along got it out four hours later, and I towed it leaking water all the way to Auntie Quick's. Tomorrow I m going back to get it runnin .

I raise my brow. I'll hose the engine and front seat, change the oil, and put in new plugs. It'll run like new, he claims.

Our attention turns to the sunshine and the oldies from the battered Dodge. It dawns on me that my shorts are ashore. Ma swims over to where I m neck deep in water and murmurs, Watch out for wildcats. Lilly-of-the-Valley myopically closes to study my face. Boy don s goofy yellow goggles and dives. A screech interrupts the moment as the dogs fly. We interrupt this program, a deep voice begins, for an emergency broadcast from the national weather service. I repeat

Ma Quick brings a finger to her lips and we wait silently. This is an emergency watch for California Imperial County. A storm with golf ball-size hail and 60mph winds is approaching from the southwest. I repeat

Sand Valley lies in the heart of Imperial County. Boy scales the pool cliff without removing the goggles and yells down, It sure is dark over there! It s all the more remarkable for the sky above is clear and blue.

They pack up the umbrella and dogs, turn off the radio, and leave. I walk from the pool home to the bug. The cloudburst bypasses by and tomorrow dawns bright and sunny in the Valley of surprises.

How dry I am, by Bo Keely

I thought it smart to explore a pedestrian route out of Sand Valley given the summer flashfloods that are tossing roads and miring vehicles left and right. Yesterday at the swimming hole, the Quick family related how they sat on their pickup roof for hours as a three-foot wall of water struck. This morning they'll drive a sub-truck to town to get the Chevy clean and running. I pop the idea to them of being dropped in the distant town to hike home.

It will not drop below 95 F as I hit a mid-morning stride in a cooling wind. I carry two gallons of water, a loaf of raison bread, compass and penlight. The route covers sandy tracks, animal trails and bushwhacking through the flats and hills of the California Sonora.

The desert is an ocean with its life underground and the perfect disguise above, the band America sang. I see few lizards, scant birds and a pink dragonfly, but mostly rocks, cactus and things to ponder. All else aestivates in summer. It wasn t dry as a bone a week ago when the biggest cloudburst of the decade bashed this region. Water enough if captured - to irrigate the land for a year flash flooded the washes for five hours and sank into the sands. Now it s dry again with wider and deeper cuts where the foliage shows a rare forest green.

An inveterate quantifier, I measure the two gallons by the mile so that from sunrise to sunset I drink the last drop while cresting the mountain ring around Sand Valley. Theoretically, its all downhill from here. Stars twinkle one-by-one into view as unseen things skitter the ground. Hours later, the moon displays a desert floor crisscrossed by unfamiliar new washes rich with rodents.

In truth, I'm addled.

Tramping for hours on hopes and hunches, I get scared. My tongue clogs the oral cavity like a horsetail and I'd drink urine if there was some. The moon disappears, the big dipper falls behind a mountain, and the compass case cracks during a fumble and spills liquid. Its as unreliable as my skull. Landmarks catch the eye that I know by heart but don t stick on the brain. The hike becomes surreal.

The night grows fascinating. A sidewinder says hello at my feet on raised black pavement whereas usually they course the washes where I shine the penlight. Up and down these washes I climb for hours before lying back to figure how to breathe around the swollen tongue. I discover that moisture can be captured via a temperature gradient between the oral surfaces and ambient air. In fifteen minutes, there's enough saliva to swallow for the first time in miles. I doze with a promise.

If I survive I'll not gauge but drink ad libitum the rest of my days.

A kit fox sniffs my knee shortly and awakens me. Inspired, I resume the crazy zigzag about the 100-square mile basin. Tired after hours, I stretch out again. A deer gazes down and rouses me with a snort. Encouraged, I wander the dark until water must be found.

I climb the nearest and rockiest slope to a narrowing wash and up that for two hours to a tiny mirror of stars in the rock a pothole! Animal tracks circle ten stagnant gallons from which I draw one to a jug. I gulp a pint and descend the hills for twenty minutes without ill effect before allowing a second pint. The oath to drink freely waits till sunrise.

Sand Valley at first light takes on clarity. The sun, peaks, and tall trees point the direction. I pour the remaining water on my head pollywogs and all, and vow never to hike to town to escape the Valley. I'm home on strong legs after the 24-hour match.

Today the Quicks rattle proudly by in the old Chevy as I sip ice tea and Sand Valley bakes without protest.