Neal Johns: The Man. The Myth. The Legend.
The Neal Johns Experience is always amazing and memorable, and more often than not, favorable. Here are a few pieces that might help explain our odd friend, how his mind works and what made him the character he is today. More dirt will follow in January ~ Editor
From the Baker Valley News, 1987:
West Edge of the East Mojave
Recently, it has come to my attention (from several sources) that the world should be protected from unknowingly joining my trips into the wilderness. Several areas of concern were men.tioned: my leadership, my appearance; my morals; my intelligence; etc.
No doubt these stories originate from lie-a-beds, rum runners, hot pool sitters and other such degenerates rather than true desert rats and other dedicated explorers of the far edges of the world.
However, in all fairness, I have decided to hold a contest for the best letter defining and discussing my alleged shortcomings. The contest will be judged by an anonymous group of my peers to be selected by the editors of this yellow rag. The winner will be published (anonymous, if desired). Anyone who has been on a trip led by me is eligible to enter. Send your entries to: Baker Valley, Baker, CA.
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SHORTCOMINGS OF NEAL JOHNS
April 6, 1987
I was very shocked at the “West Edge of the East Mojave” article Opportunity which appeared in the March 5, 1987 issue of the BVN. Neal Johns is a perfect leader. Hopefully his intimate lady friends are the only people aware of his “shortcomings.”
This opportunity should be used to discuss Mr. Johns’ many attributes rather than his meek appearance, loose morals or lack of intelligence. The first of Mr. Johns’ many attributes that come to mind is.............
Thank you very much for this opportunity.
- H. S. Mangler,
Canyon Lake, CA
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DEAR BAKER VALLEY NEWS:
Regarding the “Neal Johns Shortcomings” contest ann.ounced in the March 5th issued of BVN. We would like to throw in our modest opinions. First of all, we must establish our eligibility to enter the contest. As veterans of approximately 20 trips led by Mr. Johns, over a span of about 4 years (1978-1982) we feel competent to judge his leadership abilities.
We would like to make several points:
- 1. The abstinent Mr. Johns unscrupulously takes advantage of his beer-drinking buddies to con.vince them that he knows better camping places, even though the sun has set hours ago and it means traversing the back roads of Baja in pitch darkness. (This “expert” leadership had pre.dictable results.)
- 2. Mr. J. has proven to be a dishonest and conn.iving character. One of his buddies (a veteran of the above-mentioned expedition) has in his possession a sworn statement that Mr. Johns would sell his Land Cruiser and never go off.road again. (This was written after extraction from the predicament outlined above.) Obviously he has not kept his word.
- 3. His moral decay and degeneracy have made them.selves clearly evident in his constant leering and ogling, not to mention drooling all over his Indian Guide. She also reported being groped in the middle of the night by an in.truder in her tent. She identified the “groper’ by the Starburst candy and Mountain Dew on his breath. (These items are well know to be Mr. Johns’ dietary staples.)
- 4. Along this same line, what more can you say about a man who would sleep with your mother.-in-law?
- 5. His utter disregard for human life was made known to us when he lured three unsuspecting novice rock-climbers into a blind canyon and forced us to scale sheer cliffs, laughing maniacally all the while.
We feel that the above statements represent a good cross-section of Mr. Johns’ many shortcomings as a desert guide. It is high time that his displays of lechery and senility be brought to light, and we thank you for this opportunity.
We expect to be returning to California in the future, and look forward eagerly to confronting Mr. Johns and forcing him to lead us on another of his exciting and anything-but-ordinary expeditions!!!
Panama City, Forida
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Move to an up-scale neighborhood necessitates sale:
Wife - used but serviceable, one owner, can ply/fly broom, placid disposition some of the time, answers to Sue, healthy, maintained by professionals at mall, employed, comes with shoes, polished back, some grape juice stains on front which do not affect usability. In original packaging, no instruction book. Best offer.
Robert Phillip Jaussaud
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Potential Rendezvous Events:
Ugly spouse contest - This 1s something that everyone can enter! Spouse does not have to be your own. Think of the possibilities! ID of submitting person will not be checked.
Stick Lizard Story Contest - Everyone has run across/over the famous desert dweller, the Stick Lizard. Tell your favorite story about this lizard that carnes a sharp stick around, sticks it in the sand on hot days and then climbs up on it to keep its feet cool.
Montezuma Bush Race Contest - Contestants will run a 50 yard course, turn around a bush, bury a square of TP and return to Start. Points will be given for style.
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by Neal Johns
Long time Desert Explorers have heard about my Indian Guide ad nauseum but here it is for you newbies.
I grew up in the desert and explored it via two wheel vehicles but my first 4WD (an FJ-40 Landcruiser) was purchased in 1977. My first wife (a nice lady who understandably got fed up with me after 21 years) had dumped me and I retreated to the sand for healing. The Landcruiser was my only vehicle and it took the same route to work every day. Behold! Three blocks from my house a clone was parked on the curb. Same year, same color It was in front of an apartment house so the identity of the owner was unknown.
One day, there was a pair of feet sticking out from under the clone. Landcruiser owners are a clannish breed who stick together against Jeep People (a lesser breed) so I took the opportunity to meet this kindred soul. First, to get his attention, I kicked the bottom of his foot and said “Sir, this is the ugliest Jeep I have ever seen! Would you mind parking it off the street where people can’t see it?” Well, that got his attention all right , he came boiling out from underneath the vehicle and glared down at me from his six foot three height, so just before he killed me I grinned and pointed over my shoulder at my identical Landcruiser and all was well. It turned out he was new in town (a Southern boy in the Navy) and they (Sam Daniels and his wife Bobbie) were interested in exploring the desert. The Daniels became friends and we indeed saw a lot of desert together.
What does this have to do with Indian Guides? When I got my 4WD m 1977, I was ahead of the rest of the world. There were no 4WD mini-pickups carpeting the desert so it was hard to find someone to go out with. At work when an invitation to go in my passenger seat was given out they would yawn and walk away. But things change.
Bobbie’s mother came out to visit her in California and we all took her to the desert for show and tell. It was a nice sunny day so when Bobbie said “Mr. Johns, (I hate it when young people call me Mr.) would it be alright if I took my top off to get a tan?” Well, everyone knows I’m not one to stand in the way of a good tan, and knowing that she worked her way to her Art Degree by modeling for the Art classes, and her husband and her mother were there and well what could I do but say All Righhtttt!
Being mterested in Photography (note the capital P) I strolled over nonchalantly and asked if it was OK to take her picture sitting there on the rock wearing a headband and panties. OK was the answer and luckily the camera had film in it. Well then, is it OK to show it to the boys at work? “Sure”, came the answer.
Next week an 8x10 Photo (note the capital P) appeared on my desk. It didn’t take long to attract a crowd all askmg who that was. “Oh her? That’s just my Indian Guide; you know I go to the desert a lot and the only way to find the waterholes and scenic spots are to have an Indian Guide.” The cries of “When do we go?” were music to my ears!
My IG is livmg in the desert with Sam near Kingman and still has great lungs. ~ Neal
Assorted works, critiques and biographical material. Part Two
Part Two: More dirt on and from Neal. As previously noted, the Neal Johns Experience is always amazing and memorable, and more often than not, favorable. Here are a few more pieces that might help explain our odd friend, how his mind works and what made him the character he is today. ~ Editor
Text musings from 1970:
Birth of a Killer
Johns, R. N.
Scientific & Technical Writing
I started my life in the world of missiles about 15 years ago as a young Electronic Technician assigned to the Naval Ordnance Testing Station, China Lake. China Lake was a small pond surrounded by a hundred miles of sand and rock over which (hopefully) missiles would daily fly. A developmental model of a missile system resided among the rocks and was manned by a Navy crew. I was part of a new crew sent to relieve the men who had just put two years into developing the prototype missiles. The old crew gave a quick one-hour briefing for the newly-arrived men and retired to an air conditioned trailer to continue their “Acey-Deucy” game. This entrance into the missile game was somewhat faster than desired.
A special missile firing designed to impress an Admiral was scheduled in two weeks. The need for more money to continue the program and the availability of a large, lumbering B-17 Bomber were two facts that happily coincided at that time. Thought was also given to the assumption that no missile could possibly miss an aircraft large enough to furnish shad to half the jackrabbit population and further, that to an Admiral, one airplane looks like another. Pleas to the old crew to “do their thing” just one more time were lost in the noise of the trailer’s air conditioner. Thus I became an instant expert in the preparation of a missile guidance radar for firing.
Added to the problems of ignorant personnel and equipment with poor reliability, was the existence of practical jokers in the old crew. On firing day, the new computer operator was somewhat unnerved by the appearance of a three-foot gopher snake in the middle of his machinery. There was reason to believe that something more substantial than the wind had placed it there.
Firing day came, the missile flew, the B-17 fell out of the sky and the Admiral showered money onto the sand and rocks. Larger and faster missiles sprang from the ground, and like the old crew, I became familiar with the equipment and started to think of other things.
After marrying one of the “other things,” I succeeded in getting her a job at another part of the base. It therefore became necessary to demonstrate to her what a fine weapons system we had developed by allowing her to attend a firing. The missile left the launcher, immediately turned sideways and broke into two parts. Since I had claimed a major portion of the credit for develping the missile system, it was difficult to convince her that another man had put the missile wing on improperly.
Soon it became apparent to me that the missile system would become effective in spite of my presence in the military, and I left to join the other half of the “military industrial complex.” It was not difficult to convince the missile manufacturer that my many and large mistakes were really the by-product of my vast experience and energy. This led to nine years employment as a civilian in the missile business before the urge to move on became unbearable. I had noticed that the Missile Engineering Station had its fair share of ex- China Lake people. One of the men I had worked for at China Lake was head of the Training Department. It seems likely that observing me in action made it apparent to him that something needed changing. Another ex- China Lake man got himself put in charge of the weapons systems hardware to try to make it idiot-proof. When asked about my fit into his pattern of operation, he was always a little vague.
I joined the team at the Station recently and find it easier to hide my mistakes in the Civil Service morass. Wish me luck.
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West Edge of the East Mojave
Travel & Books
Travel and Books shall aperiodically appear; Sight down your nose and lend me an ear!
TRAVEL: The Painted Caves of Baja
Our next trip is known as Death by Muleback. Only those of you who carry Senior Citizen Discount cards (as I do) and have not been on a four-legged beast of any kind for at least 20 years can possibly understand the trepida.tion, no, the abject fear, that beats my heart faster when I am faced with a 15 mile mule ride.
It all started with a jealous hus.band...Too old to do anything but pant and stutter, I fell under the spell of a Desert Circe at the last Friends of the Mojave Desert Rendezvous. It was apparent that the Rose of Nipton was ill-matched to her lackluster husband and that, indeed, he even made ME look good. A moderate rapport was established with the lady and things looked good until I suggested maybe we had better put-off consumating this thing of ours until spring when my sap begins to rise. She gave me sort of a funny look and drifted off with her husband. So it was quite a surprise when he called a few weeks ago with an offer to accom.pany them on a trip to Baja California via Van, Mule, and Airplane to visit the ancient cave paintings. Flushed with the thought of being near my Mojave Mousse, without thinking I imnediately said yes. Later, the dreaded word Mule surfaced in my Joyceian stream of consciousness and I knew I had been had. There are many of you out there who have never seen a mule or a horse. Let me explain them. Historically they have been quite important to the West. Before Japanese cars were invented they were the major means of transportation. Their main disadvantage was operator training. You had to know how to dance as a prerequisite to riding them. The explanation for this seeming incongruous statement is simple. You’re affixed to the Mule/Horse (commonly abbreviated, SOB) by a Spanish saddle designed by Torquemada. This device forces your pelvis to move in synchronism with the SOB’s gait which results in a hip motion which is not unlike a frenzied disco dancer’s. Failure to achieve synchronization produces extreme pain and perhaps even death.
I don’t dance.
Her husband knows this. He’s trying to kill me. The cave paintings in the Sierra de San Francisco, many larger than life, will be described when (and if) I return.
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BOOK: The White Heart of the Mojave, Edna Brush Perkins (1922). Long out of print, this book is a true story about 2 adventurous, self styled middle aged mothers, who, needing a vacation from their work which involved voting rights for women, decided to visit a blank spot on the map; the Mojave Desert and its white heart, Death Valley. It has special significance for Baker, because they used the thriving town of Silver Lake (just 8 miles north, of the then nonexistent Baker) as headquarters for an attempt to penetrate into Death Valley.
Starting from Los Angeles, alone in a 1920 vintage Ford with no previous experience in desert living or driving, they reached the end of the blacktop at Victorville and continued on sand and gravel roads to Silver Lake via Barstow and Johannesburg.
Johannesburg was included due to an aborted attempt to enter Death Valley via Wingate Pass on the western side. It was 116 miles from Joburg to Silver Lake “...over and around dry lakes. Often there was no sign of a road, at least no sign that was apparent to us.” Fortunately they had a miner’s truck to follow, piloted by two kindly miners whose appearance led them to be referred to as “Bandits.” Arriving at the last crest overlooking the dry Silver Lake bed, (where the power line road goes now) they looked out over the lake and “At the far side of the lake stood a group of 10 portable houses, bright orange beside the purple darkness of the baked mud lake.” A kindly resident, Mr. Brauer greeted their announcement about going to Death Valley with a simple “Mein Gott!” Silver lake was served by the Tonapah and Tidewater Railroad; two tratns a week came by.
The ladies accompanied by the local Sheriff explored to the north and got a few miles beyond Saratoga Spring where no track was visible and their car could go no farther. “The pool at Saratoga was full of little darting fish, strange to see in the silent, lifeless waste.” The Sheriff fed the Pupfish part of his lunch much as Doc Springer must have done at Zzyzx.
Disappointed, they made arrangements to go into Death Valley via wagon next winter with the Sheriff as a guide. Riding the T and T to Beatty, they acquired a wagon, supplies, a mule, a horse and some much needed desert lore: “the Mexican cook... told us that it was so hot in Death Valley the lizards had to turn over on their backs and wave their feet in the air to cool them...”
They went past Rhyolite and over Daylight Pass (now Highway 374), down hill to the deserted Keane Wonder Mine, and onto Furnace Creek Ranch.
The fresh eyes of these two women continually saw what so many of us pass by in the desert without conment: “The long line of sultry red rock that had smoldered and smoked all day slowly turned blue in the twilight. Unfamiliar green and purple stones lie around, and bright red stones, and a stone of a strange orange-color likeflame.” “Each... a color or texture more) alluring than the last until our pockets became unbearably heavy.” “...trying to decide which ones to throw away, but... could not possibly throw one away on the same day.”
Retracing some of their steps northwest, they went to Stovepipe Wells and up Emigrant Canyon to Skidoo. From Skidoo, then to Wildrose Spring where they hiked to the snow on the summit of Bennett Peak next to Telescope Peak.
Returning to Beatty they were caught in a violent, but exciting, sandstorm. At the close of the book they make an observation regarding the Mojave that many Baker residents from their unique perspective can agree with even now: “some travelers look at her curiously, some look longingly, some shudder, some pass with the window shades pulled down.”