The October moon rose over the Funeral Mountains and shed its ghostly light upon Darkness. She was perched on a sun burnt spit of land above the salt pan, a dark angel ready for flight. Her black wings cast a long shadow on the tortured earth below, as did the two high ponytails of ebony hair streaked with crimson.
“The moon is almost full and midnight approaches,” she intoned as the wind blew through her ragged dark feathers on the Dúath of Darkness. “Let’s go down, even lower.”
The Goth goddess pointed at an eerie expanse of fractured salt that had been gnarled into hexagon ridges by Death Valley’s wicked weather. She stood over six feet in her black patent leather platform boots, spider web stockings creeping up to a lace and velvet black bodice with plunging neckline.
A cross dangled over Darkness’ pale décolletage that glowed in the moonlight. Her face was doll-like, with black lips and alabaster skin. Darkness was drop dead gorgeous; the ghoul of my dreams.
“Come,” she beckoned. “Come with me to bottom of time where we can see forever.”
I was doomed. Done, baked, cooked. Deep-six sexy, she slays me. When those black wings hover over me and she whispers incantations in my ear, I’m a goner. Darkness is hot as Hell.
Darkness, like all of Denise Anne’s 24 (and counting) personages, comes with multiple music soundtracks that are imbued with her personality and spirit. To say that Denise Anne’s creations are extravagantly produced is an understatement. Music plays a key role in the mode and modulation of her mischief.
The Darkness experience includes incredible dirges like Seraphim Shock’s “Little Gothic” and Tristania’s “Sequel of Decay.” Two of my favorites are Type O Negative’s “Love You to Death” and, of course, “Everyday is Halloween” by Ministry.
It may seem that it is Halloween everyday with Denise Anne but it is far more, and more far out, than that. This performance artist’s theatrical background, and richly creative mind and soul, breathe life into these alluring vixens. Soon, she will debut this bounty of characters in graphic novel and comic form with stories that are out of this world.
The gals go wherever Denise Anne goes, but in a ‘Bad Girls Unplugged’ sort of way. If we were to bring along the costumery, makeup and accessories, it would take a twenty-mule team like the ones that hauled borax 165 miles out of Death Valley to the desert town of Mojave. It takes that much to be that bad.
Darkness’ opposite, D’Light the Love Bug, also has wings which are as pink and inviting as this butterfly is. Dusty has all the gear you’d expect from a construction gal including a loaded toolbelt, hard hat and orange vest. Standing well over six feet tall in her knee-high boots and shock of pink-streaked white hair, punk rocker Die’s outfit is spiketacular. Dolly Deadline comes with a microphone and TV camera and has that helmet hair de rigueur with female news anchors.
It’s safe to say that I’ve got an embarrassment of britches.
We spent this past Halloween in Death Valley, our favorite escape from the more foul and frustrating aspects of life investigating environmental hazards. Denise Anne and I cherish this strange and wondrous land that we fell in love with three years ago and have returned many times since.
It just so happened that this All Hallows Eve was also a milestone for our peculiar paradise – it was the 15th anniversary of the California Desert Protection Act being signed into law, establishing Death Valley and Joshua Tree as national parks and creating the Mojave National Preserve. The bill, sponsored by senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and signed by President Bill Clinton, was the largest parks and wilderness legislation in the lower 48 states, affecting nearly 9.2 million acres of California desert.
Death Valley is the lowest, hottest, and driest place in North America – and quite possibly the most beautiful. It’s hard to do better than the National Park Service’s description of the park as “a superlative desert of streaming sand dunes, snow-capped mountains, multicolored rock layers, water-fluted canyons and 3 million acres of wilderness. Home to the Timbisha Shoshone and to plants and animals unique to the harshest desert.”
Darkness reigns in Death Valley. She speaks tenderly of her scorched domain:
“Here harkens eternity. Here, you may be assured that whatever ill fate should befall your species – famine, disease, economic collapse, rioting, war, nuclear disaster, climate change, earthquakes, floods, fire, volcanic eruptions, coronal mass ejections – but I go on – this land will remain, perhaps becoming even more achingly beautiful.
“Gaze upon miles of saline jewels that lie abandoned by a dehydrated prehistoric lake. Witness the monstrous mountains born of tectonic clash and striped with volcanic ash. Behold the wind, ice and rain sculpted stones bound together by searing molten heat. Regard the breath-taking alluvial fans descending from the erosion of rocks on high, flowing steady like water that never comes. Such glorious misery.”
But despite Darkness’s fatalistic attitude toward the planet, she is determined to defend it. “Woe to those who would dare poison this sacred realm!” she declares. “For we have come!”
Darkness’s half-empty glass can lead to a world full of adventure. Not on the first leg of this journey, however, when my companion is a bit more sporting.
Dawn Wilde, a patriotic rock and roller who hails from the Mojave town of Trona and lives in an American flag-painted trailer, is a natural for any stretch of desert as long as it’s headed for a good time (see “Dawn in Desert Wonderland” and “Hell’s Belles.”)
We make a customary stop on Dawn Road off of California State Route 14 outside of Rosamond, 58 miles north of Los Angeles.
“You know why they named this road after me and put it way out here in the middle of nowhere,” Dawn said swinging around the Dawn Road sign poll. “Because it’d be too dangerous to have it in town, with all the fellahs watching me and such, that’s what.” She had that right. We had our customary tailgate party and were on our way.
‘I Envy the Dead’
While the fastest route to Death Valley would take us through Trona, we opted to continue on U.S. Highway 395 and save that special treat for the way back. Our destination was Lone Pine, where we were chasing part of a long investigation that is about, in great part, water. And what better place to talk to locals about water in Southern California than Lone Pine.
Lone Pine is a small picturesque town in the heart of the Owens Valley, at the foot of the majestic Sierra Mountains and adjacent to the strange and otherworldly Alabama Hills. The town’s economy is largely based on tourism since it’s near several major attractions including Mount Whitney, Death Valley National Park, Sequoia National Park, Mammoth Mountain, and Yosemite National Park.
Lone Pine is also Los Angeles Department of Water and Power territory. The largest utility in the country owns 25% of the Owens Valley floor. DWP’s presence in Owens Valley was crucial to the development of Los Angeles but not so good for Lone Pine and the valley.
LA grew on eastern Sierra water with the acquisition of water rights and taking control of Owens and Mono lakes. William Mulholland, who built the aqueduct to bring the water to the city in the early part of last century, began a series of water department schemes and blunders which has left scars in relations between Los Angeles and Lone Pine to this day.
Mulholland bribed and bought enough water rights in Owens Valley that by 1905 he could begin building the aqueduct to Los Angeles. When it opened eight years later, DWP ordered homesteaders to only use what little water they had left for drinking and not for irrigation. By 1928, 100 square miles of Owens Lake was drained dry precipitating the California Water Wars which had farmers dynamiting the aqueduct.
This so incensed Mulholland that he supposedly said that he “half-regretted the demise of so many of the valley’s orchard trees, because now there were no longer enough trees to hang all the troublemakers who live there.”
Mulholland ended up dying a broken man as I wrote about in “I Envy the Dead.” A dam built by Mulholland collapsed near Santa Clarita soon after the architect had assured that the dam was safe in a storm pounding the Southland. It wasn’t. When the St. Francis Dam gave way, a wall of water 78 feet high came roaring down the canyon killing hundreds as 12 billion gallons flooded through Ventura County to the ocean.
Only the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 was deadlier in the state’s history. The scandalous story behind DWP’s early days is the basis for the classic 1974 film “Chinatown” starring Jack Nicholson.
But what about the DWP nowadays? With a $4.19 billion budget, and the department’s oft-times dubious history, there would seem to be no end of stories about the DWP.