Craig Childs likes to go to places other people stay away from. Places like missile ranges.
But to his credit his last trek across a missile range was because he couldn't tell where the boundaries were. Nothing deliberate, he says.
Rotarians of the North Fork Valley Club listened in December with delighted attention to Childs' stories of his adventures. Most of us are not that brave or crazy to attempt to do what he does as a matter of course. That's why people love to hear him share about his travels, what he has learned, the people he met if any, the wonders he discovered.
When he spoke about the tracks of mammoths and other large animals in the dunes of White Sands, New Mexico, he took the Rotarians back to the Ice Age when the huge creatures walked the earth. The mammoths' tracks were preserved because the sand was wet when they traveled through.
"I'm a traveler and an author. I sometimes live a scary life, but I am in motion all the time," said Childs, who had recently returned from a seven-day backpacking trip in the dunes.
"White Sands is an area of these brilliant snow colored dunes. It looks like you're walking across an arctic landscape. It's just dune after dune after dune. My interest down there is because I'm writing about Ice Age people in North America, about how people came to this continent," He said.
"For the last eight months I have been working with the military and the White Sands National Monument to get out and see these [mammoth] tracks."
Intriguingly, White Sands is in the middle of the White Sands Missile Range. The tracks are on the missile range.
"After months and months of trying to get out there and getting permission, I was finally denied right before I left on this trip."
True to form, Childs went anyway. The Rotarians chuckled. Who hasn't wanted to buck authority at least once in their life?
"Walking around a missile range, is there a problem?" he joked. "When I was younger and didn't have children, I used to travel somewhat extensively on the bombing range of southwest Arizona. I would drive down there and put a camouflage tarp over my truck so I wouldn't be mistaken for a target. I'd just head off into the desert and I'd get on top of mountains and figure out where they would do troop movements and where they were testing explosives and then I'd go the other way. Because I'm interested in that kind of wilderness, nobody is out there, except where they are blowing things up, and so I would travel in these remote areas where really nobody ever goes.
As we went on this last trip I told everyone in this group that I am not going on the missile range just to let you know because I can't be arrested. I can't die from a missile explosion. None of that can happen." But ...
"You know you are out there and you're walking and you don't know where the boundary is and you just keep going. All of a sudden you realize you are in the middle of a missile range," he explained.
Childs was there with George Schevene, who was documenting the whole thing with his camera in case they got caught. "We could prove we were there," Childs said.
Also in his group was a mountain guide named Charlotte and Nick, a good friend of his who was a bomb diffuser in Iraq and Afghanistan. "He was handy to have along. We would see things lying on the ground and I remember at one point, Charlotte, the mountaineer, saw something large in front of us. She said, 'Nick should you go first?' [He replied,] 'No, no. We should all die together.' "
For Childs, seeing the tracks of the mammoths alive 20,000 years ago was amazing. "You not only see the mammoths you can see the track of another large animal coming through. So you are basically being transported back to the Ice Age," Childs said.
Thankfully there were no explosions. "We made it back to the dunes just fine." They were worried about being tracked by satellite, but Nick reassured the others, "You have to radio into the tower for them to know we are here. They would never notice we are out here."
"I'm interested in places off the map, places where people don't go. Those are the blank parts, the nowhere. I travel around the world but mostly in the southwest looking for those places, for the canyons, the dunes, for the mesa tops where you put on a cap and just disappear into it. This last week was just incredible. The wind never stopped blowing. It's this fine, gypsum sand that just gets into everything," he said. He then removed his shoes and poured out sand to show the Rotarians what he was talking about. He had a lot of sand in his shoes.
"You can see how really clean this sand is," Childs said. At times he was knee deep in the sand which is like flour. "You're just drifting through it." He saw dust devils rising to 400 feet.
"There is something about being in these elemental landscapes that reduces everything to just this pure white sand, blue sky, wind blowing. You don't worry about all the bits and pieces of your life until you get back home, and then it all comes caving back in again," he said. "I could walk there for months."
For the winter solstice, Childs put on a multi-media presentation, "Dark Night," at the Paradise Theatre Dec. 20-21. "It's the start of the depth of winter and I think a lot of us change in the winter. It's darker and colder and we live different lives than we do in the summer. This is a way of celebrating getting the blood pumping and not staying at home, but coming out and doing something in a time of year when you'd be more apt to curl up into a ball and disappear into the winter," Childs said.blog comments powered by Disqus