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U.S. Army Special Forces snipers, assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Operational Detachment-A and U.S. Air Force joint terminal attack controllers, assigned to the 284th Air Support Operation Squadron, guide AH1 Cobra attack helicopters, assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing conducting a close air support mission during Integrated Training Exercise 2-16 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., Feb. 16, 2016.

Javelin

Pfc. Cristian Mejia, Javelin gunner, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, and a native of Raleigh, N.C., shoots a javelin missile during a live-fire exercise at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Jan. 26, 2014. Bravo Co. is dedicated to helicopter operations during their upcoming combat deployment to Afghanistan. The Marines were transported to the range by CH-46 sea knight and CH-53E super sea stallion helicopters. After they landed, the Marines maneuvered through a simulated urban environment with unique shock-absorbent walls. This allowed for them to engage in realistic live-fire training.(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joseph Scanlan / released)

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TWENTYNINE PALMS, CALIFORNIA

After dark, there are flares out at Twentynine Palms. To the east. Is that the east? – Way out in the desert, towards the mountains, at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center. Today, a man told me there’s an entire Iraqi village out there, a mock-up for training during the war. They used to give tours of the village, but they don’t anymore.

The flares are transfixing, like a mysterious militant god. They appear and disappear every few seconds, little lights close to the horizon. Floating in unmarked space.

How do you mark space in the desert? You mark it by fire that scorches the sand. There are fires in Palm Springs and Idyllwild. The air, thick and gray, as if a volcano erupted. No one can breathe. The local news says to stay inside.

I think that maybe the flares are the fires, spreading.

But no—there are no fires here. Just strange and unknown places like Twentynine Palms. It sounds like a resort. A retreat. The desert itself, a kind of retreat, a place apart. The Joshua trees rising out of the ground like fans.

I learn that this is a subtropical desert. The nights can be cold. Frank Sinatra wrote a song about it. A song about a lady who breaks hearts. Doris Day sang it, as did the Andrews sisters.

I learn that the combat center was built in the early fifties, for live-fire training for the Korean War. Before, it was an abandoned airfield called Condor Field, like a bird of prey. An empty glider base in the desert, a ruin of World War II.

Other things have been built out here in this sea of sand.

Right up the two-lane a mile is the Integratron, a white dome that promises freedom from gravity and time. The building was constructed by a former aircraft mechanic, according to instructions he received from visitors from space. He said it was an electric field. He said it was a time machine. Now it is a perfect sound chamber, and people come to be bathed in sound.

And there is Giant Rock, quite far out, away from any houses. Crowds gathered at the rock for the Millennium. They drank beer and marauded about. They wrote graffiti on the stone, marking it. Maybe they thought the world would end. During the Second World War, a German immigrant built a dwelling under the rock and lived there for some time. Lonely, apart. But then it was decided that he might be a spy—yes, he was probably certainly a spy—and a crowd set upon the place and killed him.

This rock and this dome: they are there, visible. This military base with its mysterious village: it is out there somewhere, invisible. Each of these ancient monuments a sign of secret rites.

It is late, too late for anyone to be up, and the flares out at Twentynine Palms scar the mountains, claiming them as their own.

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Susan Harlan is a Californian by birth but now lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she is an English professor and a committed road-tripper. Her essays have appeared in The Toast, Nowhere, Skirt!, 5x5, Public Books, The Manifest-Station, Literary Mothers, Render, Artvehicle, Cocktailians, Smoke: A London Peculiar, Airplane Reading, and Open Letters Monthly. Her online travel diary Born on a Train, which narrates a long-haul Amtrak trip she undertook in full 1950s dress – complete with hats and vintage luggage – is about old-school train travel (www.bornonatrain.com), and she has a monthly column for Nowhere magazine entitled “The Nostalgic Traveler.”

Dig at Twentynine Palms Marine base unveils artifacts

After a 45-minute ride in a government-issued SUV, bumping along a dusty dirt road into the interior of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, the color and texture of the terrain — predominantly sandy beige, dotted with greenish creosote bushes — changed dramatically.

A prehistoric lava flow — more than a mile long and many football fields wide — covered the area in blackish, odd-shaped volcanic rock, fragments of which had long ago been baked into the ground, creating a hardened surface described, fittingly, as desert pavement.

Scattered amid this otherworldly scene were shards of shrapnel and random artillery ordnance, some spent, some possibly live. The area was used for training before it was determined to be a historically significant site — one of more than 1,800 archaeological sites discovered across the 1,100-square-mile military installation. Read more.

Marines with Battery I, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, fire an M777 Howitzer¬ during the opening day of live-fire operations for Steel Knight at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, on Dec. 10, 2015. The tough, realistic training is intended to develop combat skills necessary to operate as the ground combat element of the I Marine Expeditionary Force.

First Lieutenant Michael Pagani, a forward observer with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, draws a sketch of the terrain for a fire support operation during Large Scale Exercise 2014 aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. Fire support drills are conducted by a fire team that calls for attacks on distant targets through the use of air support, mortars and artillery.

smithsonianmag.com
The Marine Corps Plans to Airlift Over 1,000 Desert Tortoises
Despite the positive intentions behind relocation, conservationists worry that it will hurt the tortoises more than it helps

The United States Marine Corps is planning a major rescue operation, but it’s not to save people. Starting this month, 1185 desert tortoises will be airlifted away from their natural habitat in the Mojave Desert to allow the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms to expand. But while the relocation is intended to keep the tortoises from death by military equipment, some critics fear that it could do more harm than good…

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dacotah E. Roskop fires an M27 infantry automatic rifle down range on Camp Wilson, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Jan. 20, 2015. Roskop is an automatic rifleman assigned to Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron S. Patterson 

Everything but the Kitchen Sink by United States Marine Corps Official Page on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
Marines with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines patrol towards their objective during an airfield seizure exercise as a part of Exercise Steel Knight 2014 aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Dec. 11, 2013. Steel Knight enables 1st Marine Division to test and refine its command and control capabilities by acting as the headquarters element for a forward-deployed Marine expeditionary force.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Justin A. Bopp/ Released)

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westerndigs.org
Nearly 9,000 Artifacts Uncovered in California Desert, Spanning 11,500 Years of History

Archaeologists exploring the remote reaches of a military training base in southern California have uncovered nearly 9,000 artifacts that represent more than 11,500 years of human history in the Mojave Desert, a new study reports.

The artifacts, found at multiple sites across the base, include more than 8,830 stone tools, flakes, ground stone, pieces of ceramic, and bone, as well as a single large biface blade that researchers say is a “classic” example of the 13,000-year-old style known as Clovis.

The relics were just part of the finds produced by a comprehensive survey of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center(MCAGCC), a training base covering more than 2,400 square kilometers (930 square miles) of desert near the town of Twentynine Palms, California.

In addition to surveying the surface and conducting test excavations, archaeologists compiled 30 years worth of unpublished research based on digs and surveys done on one of the nation’s largest training bases.

The evidence turned up by this research led archaeologists to propose that two sites on the base be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“This … recent work demonstrates the presence of hunter-gatherers in the MCAGCC before the Younger Dryas [a period of global cooling that began about 13,000 years ago], and the potential preservation of significantly ancient buried deposits in some areas,” the researchers write, in the journal Paleoamerica.

Among the finds was the lone biface blade, discovered near the surface in a northern stretch of the range.

Fashioned from local jasper and about 7 centimeters (3 inches) long, the point is the first of its kind to be found on the base, said Dr. Ryan Byerly, an archaeologist with the firm Far Western Anthropological Research Group, who reported the findings with colleague Joanna Roberson.

“The specimen … is an example of a ‘classic’ Clovis form,” he said in an interview.

“In terms of size, this specimen is similar to various Clovis points from Texas, Blackwater Draw [in New Mexico], and Domebo [in Oklahoma].”

The point itself can’t be dated, he noted, but its deposition suggests that its age probably falls within the range of other well-dated Clovis sites, which typically date from 12,800 to 13,100 years ago.

“As a probable example of a Clovis form, there is no reason to suspect that the specimen is not contemporaneous with dated Clovis components,” he said.

Elsewhere on the base, the review of previously unpublished research showed that dozens of other distinctive stone points had also been uncovered, dating back as much as 9,000 years.

Near a dry lakebed, or playa, by the western border of the base, for example, archaeologists in 2000 found at least 19 points fashioned in the Western Stemmed Tradition at various sites in the area, as well as more than 14 so-called Pinto points, whose triangular style has been found around the Great Basin at sites dating back 6,000 to 8,500 years.

Estimating the ages of these artifacts is challenging, Byerly noted, because the dynamics of the local geology has caused deposits from different periods to mix together.

“Most sites around regional playas are palimpsest surface deposits, and very few demonstrate single component integrity,” Byerly said.

“Local geomorphology is complex, in that very old surfaces may be exposed on the contemporary surface, and very young materials may be very deeply buried.”

But the most productive site that the team studied was by an outcrop of lava from the Mojave’s extinct Pisgah volcano.

Test excavations at a rocky blister of lava turned up 8,830 artifacts, discovered in several layers that together span up to 9,800 years of human occupation.

The uppermost layer, on and just below the surface, revealed stone flakes and other artifacts dating from around the 13th century, Byerly noted.

“Surface artifacts, and likely many of those extending to 30 or 40 centimeters below the surface, reflect one or more occupations that, based on radiocarbon analysis of a surface hearth, date to around 1290 AD,” he said.

Further down, a new layer of sediment appeared, along with a “sharp increase” in tool-making fragments, particularly obsidian and other volcanic rock, and weathered pieces of deer and sheep bone.

Unlike most stone tools, obsidian can be dated, using a technique called obsidian hydration analysis, and it showed that these deeper components of the site seemed to have been used several times, from 8500 to 6500 years ago.

Archaeologists studying the areas around a lava flow on the base found nearly 9,000 artifacts at various depths, spanning some 9,800 years of human occupation.

In addition to adding voluminous and valuable data to the study of human history in the Mojave Desert, the findings might also contribute to the understanding of the movement of people around in the ancient West, Byerly noted.

Most of the artifacts detailed in the new Mojave study date from 7,000 to 9,000 years ago, he said — the same time when a decrease in human activity appears in the archaeological record several hundred kilometers away, in the northern Great Basin.

Changes in the climate several thousand years ago led to drier summers and colder winters, in places like Nevada, southern Idaho, and southeastern Oregon, he noted.

While this period coincides with decreased signs of human activity in those areas, the new research seems to show increased activity around Twentynine Palms.

This raises questions about whether ancient hunter-gatherers migrated from the colder, drier northern Great Basin to what’s now the Mojave Desert, beginning around 7,000 years ago.

“Lowland conditions in the Mojave Desert, responding to similar sets of environmental triggers, may have manifested differently and actually been a boon to human habitation,” Byerly noted, adding, “This is an undeveloped hypothesis, however.”

In all, the thousands of artifacts and 30 years of research aided Byerly and his colleagues in recommending that two sites on the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center be placed on the Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places.

One is the site by the lava blister that turned up artifacts spanning 9,800 years; the other is along the same formation, where previous research had found an obsidian flake estimated to date between 9,000 to 11,700 years old.

“All of the sites are important in their own right,” Byerly said, “but among those we evaluated, we recommended that those on the western edge of the Pisgah Flow be listed on the National Register.

“In my estimation, this portion of the lava flow has the best potential aboard [the] base to preserve early dated sites.”

Byerly and his colleagues report their findings in the journal Paleoamerica.

Gettin the Job Did - Marines with Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division, participate in Exercise Desert Scimitar at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., May 10, 2014. The division tests and refines its capabilities by acting as the headquarters element of I Marine Expeditionary Force throughout a variety of scenarios and live-fire ranges. Large-scale exercises like Desert Scimitar leave 1st Marine Division poised to respond to different crises across the world. (U.S. Marine Corps photograph by Sgt. Timothy Lenzo/Released) by United States Marine Corps Official Page http://flic.kr/p/nzR81b

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YOU will NEVER see them or hear them coming …

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Maj. Gen. John Love of 2nd #MarineDivision out of #CampLejeune, #NorthCarolina, is gathering data on the way #Suppressors improve battlefield #communication and efficiency. Early testing at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms indicates that suppressing everything from #M4 #rifles to .50 caliber #machineguns can dramatically assist U.S. warfighters” …

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