Saturday, March 7, 2015

Salt Mines of Amboy

Joshua Tree, CA, #3

I selected a table near a pleasant looking man. It was a funky restaurant, on Joshua Tree's main-street, offering gluten-free, home baked goods, wraps and salads. Open from 7:00 to 7:00. It was busy. The gathering place of the non-donut-eating crowd. Good coffee. Good food. Fast internet. Fit folks.

As I sat down, he smiled and said, "Hi, I'm Dave." held out his hand and asked me my name. I smiled and replied, "Fran." and shook his hand. He continued with "I'm from the salt mines." I thought, hum, I've never met anyone from the salt mines before, although on our way to Joshua Tree, a couple of days earlier, we had gone by a salt mining operation, near the town of Amboy.

Interested, I probed a bit. Dave told me his parents had been employed at the salt mines all their lives. "I worked at the mines for about five years, and then decided to move on. Kids of mine workers always have mine jobs," he said, "it's tradition." Dave is now employed as a caretaker for a woman who owns a large desert home. He is divorced and has four children, although his only son died. He didn't elaborate on how, and I didn't ask. "I'm at peace with his death, and my life, but I'm changed," he volunteered, "Now I keep my life simple and uncomplicated." Smiling with pride, he showed me photographs of his twin daughters.

The salt mine was started in 1909, and is run by Cargill, Inc. on Brisol Lake. The nearby town, Amboy, initially existed because of the salt mines, then the railroad, with the final hoorah being Route 66. This tiny town is made up of a post office, an historic restaurant, a Route 66 tourist shop, a tiny train depot, and the salt mines. At its peak, Amboy had 65 residents. Now it's at four.

Driving past the mines we puzzled over the strange, geometric rows of sand hills. Then we spotted long channels of water, as well as channels of salt brine. It's in these channels where the water is being evaporated for salt harvesting. Crane operators move the earth making the channels, and then they harvest the salt. Dave had mentioned during our conversation that his dad had been a crane operator.

My research disclosed that there is an estimated 60 million tons of salt in reserve at Brisol Dry Lake, which is 12 miles by 14 miles, with no outlet. The runoff from the surrounding mountains has left huge deposits of salt. Dave had asked, during our conversation, if I was familiar with Leslie table salt, as it came from this mine. I do remember Leslie Salt, and I even remember the last line from one of Leslie's commercials, "I thank you, Leslie thanks you."

I don't know why Dave began the conversation the way he did, but it was an interesting opening for an engaging conversation. Dave is a man with no rancor with life. Although he expressed concern with this country's consumer culture, especially in relation to his kids, he, himself, had learned to avoid the "madness" as he called it. He's hopeful his college-age kids will learn, at a younger age than he, the too-much-stuff trap.

"When two people meet, each one is changed by the other so you've got two new people."
- John Steinbeck

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