Tuesday, September 4, 2007
A Trona travelogue
END OF THE EARTH: 10 Miles
TRONA: 15 Miles
This was the joke on the post card we found at Trona’s
Old Guest House Museum, located at 13193 Main Street.
It’s an old joke for natives, but it tickled us Houston
visitors. We were visiting my wife’s brother Herman and
his wife Terry who live in Trona. We would not otherwise
have taken the time to visit this mining community of
some 1885 people. And yet, like many accidental
journeys, this visit resulted in pleasant discoveries.
We learned, for example, that Trona is named after a
mineral we had never heard of before - hydrated sodium
bicarbonate carbonate (Na3HCO3CO
2H2O), to be precise. Apparently it was named Trona,
rather than Boron, because “Boron” had already been
taken by another town.
We were shown the locally famous Fish Head rocks,
bearing graffiti which some say was inspired by, if not
painted by, Debbie Reynolds. Other sources make it a
somewhat older work dating back to the 1940s (http://www.high-desert-memories.com/fishrocks.html).
Regardless, it is so ingrained in the local
consciousness that when the graffiti was removed, it had
to be restored to smooth the feathers that were ruffled
by the defacement of the Fish Head artist’s work.
Another funny thing about Trona … it has bats. The bats,
some of them, at least, live in the dead fronds of
unkempt palm trees in the area. We discovered this one
night as we sat out in Herman and Terry’s front yard to
look for shooting stars. As we talked, we became aware
of black shapes flitting about. When we focused on their
movement, we noticed that they were emerging from the
palm trees in the neighboring yard. This amazed Terry,
who had grown up in Trona. It also made her a little
nervous. “Don’t worry,” we said, “Bats only attack
people when they are rabid.” Just then, a bat darted to
within a foot of her head. With a shriek, she adjourned
to the house.
It turns out there is a whole ecosystem of bats,
birds and insects that make their homes in the dead
frond habitat. As I sat in the yard the next morning
sketching the desert willow, I noticed a humming bird
flitting among its flowers. After a while, it darted
away and flew into the dead fronds that house the bats
we had seen the night before. A few minutes later it
reemerged to resume feeding on the desert willow’s
When you visit Trona, of course, it is good to know
someone who lives there to help you notice subtleties
you might otherwise miss.
“You see that outcrop there?” asked Herman, pointing to
a big hunk of rock.
“Yes,” I replied.
“That hides Trona from view,” he said, “so you don’t
have to look at Trona all day.”
“I thought you lived in Trona,” I said.
“No,” he said, “we don’t live in Trona. We live in
Pioneer Point. Not Trona.”
“My apologies,” I said.
“Apology accepted,” he replied.
Jean Steinhardt (HousePortraits@JeanSteinhardt.com)
is a Houston-based artist specializing in house
portraits. View his work at
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