I didn't really do anything for my birthday this year, in part because I just wanted some downtime (rather than go to Pantheacon I stayed in a hotel and caught up on my reading, and later on went on a coffee shop crawl) and in part because my birthday gift this was a a road trip to Joshua Tree, California for a long weekend in March. It's been a long time since I was last in the high desert and, even though it didn't seem like it at the time I was looking forward to both the road trip as well as a couple of blessed days in the middle of nowhere in a rented AirBnB flat. Even though we were in the middle of the desert, I was most certainly not off the grid. I didn't expect to have strong cellular connectivity there, though DSL bandwidth was bobbins.
We didn't drive ten hours to the high desert to goof off online, though.
The first time I was in the high desert, I was there on assignment. When driving to the flat we'd rented we drove past Edwards AFB, and it felt like I was coming home. There are few places that I've ever really felt at home, and the high desert is one of them. I felt welcome someplace for the first time in a long while, and took full advantage of it by spending a good four or five hours a day hiking and rock climbing in the desert of Joshua Tree, exploring the desert, following some trails, taking pictures, and discovering that I haven't been climbing in a long time indeed (causing my knees and lower back to complain mightily for a couple of days). We made a couple of trips to Joshua Tree Outfitters to pick up a few things, and while I was there the owner was nice enough to repair one of the seams of the backpack I was using on this trip. I didn't bring any of my radios with me (probably unwise) so I didn't spend any time working local repeaters.
I haven't seen that many stars in the sky since I used to go camping at Four Quarters Farm back east. There was practically no light pollution that far out, and we could hear the wind almost the entire time. I felt a little regret packing up at the end of the long weekend to go home, when fate threw a spanner into our plans.
After packing up the TARDIS and getting ourselves settled in, the first thing we did was turn on the air conditioning... and a curious thumping, fluttering sound filled the passenger cabin, swiftly followed by a strange, almost acrid scent.
"Oh, shit. Did something climb into the engine compartment and get shredded when the engine turned over?"
The next couple of hours was spent searching for a garage in the vicinity that could work on a fairly recent hybrid, by way of a stop for breakfast to both get our blood sugar up and give whatever it was that might be inside the engine compartment a chance to either climb or fall out. Ultimately, we were only partially correct, much to our relief. The mechanic we saw informed us that, in the high desert it is not uncommon for local mammalian wildlife, including kangaroo rats to climb into the engine compartments of vehicles from below to stay warm overnight. Of course, they also tend to bring food with them, and we found a couple of seedpods cached here and there inside the engine compartment. We were also shown a nontrivial amount of leaf litter and assorted cruft that had accumulated atop the cabin air vents beneath the hood that probably wound up inside the ventilation ducts. In short, no dead critters, just some amount of plant matter that was dislodged and fell inside the ductwork. It's a fairly straightforward fix, but one that we can't do ourselves.
Since I last worked on this article a couple of days ago, the TARDIS was taken in for maintenance. I'm sorry to say that the initial assessment was incorrect; there is, in fact, a dead desert rat trapped in the environment control system. It sounds as if the air circulation fan didn't do in the critter because none of the usual adjectives were used to describe the situation (shredded, chipped, pureed, liquified, needs a squeegie). It also didn't sound like it was a very large desert rat because, we were informed, if it was bigger it would smell a lot worse than it does now. So, in addition to sundry repairs and tune-ups, the environment control system is being dismantled, cleaned out, and rebuilt, to the tune of $1200us.
Anyway, enough of my rambling. Here are the pictures I took while I was out hiking and rock climbing.