My clutch went out just as I entered 29 Palms today, so I’m stuck here until I can get it replaced. Luckily, there is beautiful desert hiking surrounding this town, which is the main outpost for the largest US Marine base in the world. When camping in nearby Joshua Tree, you can hear loud booms at night from the base, where they do a lot of training for missions in Iraq and Afganistan. Just last week a battalion headed from 29 Palms to Helmand province in Afganistan. While my truck was being fixed I met a woman who grew up in the area and lives in a ghost town. She told me stories about her father, a prospector, and her grandmother, a Cherokee Indian whose family came to California on the Trail of Tears. She told me that when she was a child some landowners would spread wildflower seed on the valleys by airplane before a rain, and she recounted fields of waist-high blue flowers. This region once possessed rich natural resources (rivers, minerals, rich soil), but after centuries of exploitation, only a poverty stricken skeleton of past abundance remains. Many of the marines coming back from the wars in the Middle East are jobless and destitute, some live on the streets of 29 Palms. The town is also a food desert, with fast food joints dominating the culinary landscape, and very little fresh food available.