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The Two Steves: Steve Brown

 

Ah, where to begin?  Before he was born, Steve's relationship with the desert was already firmly in place.  His mother, a top performing Realtor in southern California, back in the 1950s when women Realtors weren't allowed to handle the contract part of sales because their female minds just weren't up to the task (ahem), heard one day about the Bureau of Land Management holding a raffle for land out in the desert.  If you won the raffle, you could have five acres of desert land for $100 and a $25 filing fee.

Needless to say, Steve's mother (who was soon to be asked to be a manager for Forest E. Olson), entered and won the raffle, paid the $125, and came home to tell his father the good news.  Steve's dad objected, saying desert land was "worthless" (something Steve liked to remind him later wasn't true), but the deal was done and the Brown family had itself five acres of land in the hi-desert, north of Pioneertown somewhere off of Gamma Gulch Road.  To keep the land (this was the catch), you had to build a 400 square-foot cabin, so his parents built the cabin and an outhouse, and proceeded to have wonderful desert adventures with Steve's soon-to-be uncles and aunts.  Steve's mother, Barbara, was disappointed on one Jeep trip up the back road to Big Bear when they encountered a mountain lion with an extensive Hollywood career that was up for adoption.  His father won that round, and baby-to-be Steve was deprived of having a cougar for a house pet.  (The last cougar Steve saw in the wild, out in the desert near Joshua Tree National Park, he chased after it calling, "Here kitty, kitty!" trying to get a good picture of it up in the rocks.)

Unfortunately, at a very young age, Steve was stricken with spinal meningitis, which was 97.5% fatal, with almost all survivors suffering some form of brain damage.  This remains Steve's fall-back excuse until today - that he's doing good, considering.  The side effect of his two weeks in the hospital, other than the scar on his ankle from his ripping the IV out because he wanted to go home, was a large medical bill for his parents.  The Browns were forced to sell their desert property to pay for those bills, but his parents enjoyed the desert, so both the hi-desert (Joshua Tree National Park area) and the Southwest, became frequent destinations for family road trips and camping expeditions.

From an early age, Steve was taken with both the sweeping vistas and natural beauty of the desert, and the rich, colorful culture(s) of the Southwest.  Montezuma's Castle, the Grand Canyon, Albuquerque, Pioneertown, and so many long road trips across the region became the foundation for his love of travel and his belief that travel is the best education one can experience.

In 1972, Steve took a last camping trip to the hi-desert with his father.  They drove past Desert Christ Park, headed up past Pioneertown, and up the dirt road to a campground in Pipe's Canyon near the onyx mine.  They were surprised to find the campground packed with campers and noisy (neither the campground nor the road remains, but you can hike up Pipe's Canyon in the Pioneertown Mountains Preserve, and you can still find the onyx mine).

Steve and his dad went up Gamma Gulch way instead, out past the area of the family's old homestead cabin.  They found an isolated area near what the family always referred to as "Big Rock Canyon," now the vicinity of Garth Bowles' Boulder Gardens.  Darkness was now coming, so they got a small fire going and cooked dinner behind the pickup truck.

Not long after dinner was underway, strange lights began doing very eccentric maneuvers in the night sky, zooming in circles around a mountain, eventually wobbling, rising, and then diving behind the mountain with great flashes.  The next morning, after having breakfast at Giant Rock's cafe, Steve went down under the rock and met a grumpy old man.  Excited about the previous night's light show, Steve began to tell him about it, but the old man scowled and told him he didn't see anything.  That man was George Van Tassel, the man behind the Integratron and the Giant Rock UFO conventions, among other things.

That camping trip proved to be the last visit for Steve to the desert for 20 years.  But his Aunt Vickie and Uncle Bill, with their two children, had moved back to Yucca Valley (Vickie had been from Yucca Valley), and Steve returned to attend the wedding of one of his cousins at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire.  In 2000, after the rains of the Northwest got to be a bit too much, Steve and his wife flew down to Palm Springs to spend a week in the desert sun visiting family and soaking up rays.  They bought a house on a couple of acres of mostly untouched desert land, quit their jobs in Washington, and have lived in the desert ever since.

Steve served as news editor for a Gannett weekly newspaper and then purchased The Sun Runner magazine, an independent desert magazine.  He published the magazine, Joshua Tree National Park area visitor guides and maps, a local cultural newspaper, and produced a weekly entertainment calendar FM radio show, led desert tours, served as president of the California Deserts Visitors Association, promoted desert travel at the largest travel show in the country, and created Southwest Stories, which has seen two seasons broadcast across southern California on KVCR PBS TV. 

 

Steve has a passion for the desert, it's history, cultures, nature, people, and sacred places.  He loves it when he runs into someone out in the desert and they're there because they watched the show, or read one of his stories.  He intends to involve the audience for Season 3 - Southwest Stories with the Two Steves - in desert tours and getaways, live events, and performances with Steve Rushingwind and The Native Groove (Steve Brown is the drummer for the band).

If he doesn't answer his phone, it's probably because he's out of cell range, hiking with his wife, or exploring with their cat Juliett, an elusive Mojave Sand Leopard.  Steve functions as the writer, co-host, and executive producer for Southwest Stories with the Two Steves as the show goes into national distribution.  

Some of Steve's Interests

History.  All of it.  The good, the bad, the ugly.  The real stuff.  You can't learn from history if it's whitewashed or prettied up.  History most definitely includes the long histories of the Native cultures of this continent, and the genocide that commenced with the arrival of European colonists (and in some ways continues today).  I love primary source documents!

Culture.  Music, art, literature, poetry, the culinary arts, crafts, design, faith, architecture, protocols, rituals, oral traditions - it's all fascinating.

Music.  Performing, songwriting, and experiencing.  Music is transcendent and I love nearly all genres, from Jump Little Children, to Bird Songs and Salt Songs.  I play drums for Steve Rushingwind and The Native Groove (the other Steve of the Two Steves), pirate and traditional sea music (I can rock them, or work as a traditional shantyman), and Greek music with my wife in our group, Kefi.

Native Cultures.  We are so poorly versed in the cultures of the peoples of this continent, despite our country occupying their lands.  Too many Americans think of Native peoples as being in the past, or they view them as Hollywood stereotypes.  The truth is far more complex, diverse, human, authentic, and awe-inspiring.

Preservation and Conservation.  Whether we're talking historical preservation or natural conservation, I have strong feelings about protecting and preserving the invaluable treasures of these lands for future generations.  Native cultural and sacred sites are extremely important, and extremely vulnerable to exploitation and ruin.  I want the children of our grandchildren to experience the awe and wonder I have experienced from these lands.

Food.  Our oldest son is a chef, who married a chef.  Food is an important component of culture (and a reason why I'll never have that perfect dad bod).  Chefs are heroes of mine.  Personal favorite foods include real tacos, fry bread and Indian tacos, barbecue (most any style), wild caught seafood, Greek food, China Ranch dates, the occasional mutton stew or Hopi hot beef, and anything Frederico cooks up down at That's Amore in Yucca Valley. 

I love organic and locally sourced foods, shop the Joshua Tree Farmers Market regularly, and recently discovered a fantastic Arabic grocery store in Westmorland that has delicious date syrup and date shakes. 

Oh, and I always buy my honey from the honey guy in Los Algodones, and load up on shrimp, queso, and organic mesquite-smoked coffee from the Sonoran grocery vendor at the Yuma Swap Meet.  For me, dining involves much more than just food.  It's the entire experience, including the friends who join you at the table.

Drink.  My favorite beer is Theakston's Old Peculier, but it's tough to find it in the Southwest (though years ago, the old Beatnik Cafe had it, which led to me occasionally bursting out in song, singing the Old Peculier anthem).  I'm open to other beers and wines, however, and I love independent brewers, wineries, and distilleries.  The creativity involved is astounding and often rewarding. 

Having led a pirate jam band for a decade, rum is one of my favorites, though really anything of decent quality is always appreciated, neat, or in a craft cocktail.  Again, creative bartenders are heroes of mine too, and I enjoy the creativity that goes into these delectable concoctions. 

Look for me at College Street in Havasu, Desert Diamond Distillery in Kingman, in Valle sipping wines, or with a bottle of Dr. Zzyzx that the doctor prescribed.

Travel.  Travel is the best education we can get.  I learned this when my high school history teacher, Jack Sorter, took a bunch of his history students, including me, to Europe.  There's something about standing on the spot where at a certain moment in time, things changed for many people.  I'm a huge fan of oral and social history too, so it's not all old white men, wars, and pontificating.  But travel gives you a sense for what was, what is, and what may be.  It gives you an appreciation for distance, for landscape, for the world around you.  It introduces you to the most magnificent people you'd never meet if you didn't open the door and step out into the world.  Travel is being fully alive.

© 2020 by Sun Runner Media

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