On the road with Ravenna Woods: Day 7

Photography by James Bailey, update by Chris Cunningham

For this next update I’ll be handing over the story telling part of the blog post to the singer and guitarist of Ravenna Woods, Chris Cunningham.

March 16th

Waking up on the floor of our gracious hosts [Jenny Invert], we slowly gathered our belongings and made for our cramped little home on wheels. By this time everyone had fallen ill to various degrees; some of us sicker than others, but all of us sniffling and hacking away the miles as they passed.

Somewhere along the way we also seem to have lost the capacity for normal/serious conversation of any kind. A new era of communication had been ushered in – one comprised of slapstick comedy, ridiculously in-depth band jokes and renditions of fictitious characters that have been birthed along the way.

Our favorite of the aforementioned characters being “Yank,” a Neanderthal-like creature whose only drive and ability in life is to yank off the appendages of other animals. If Yank finds the disembodied appendage particularly satisfactory, he adds it to a collection that hangs from his belt. The only noise he makes is an extended guttural rendition of his own name: “YAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNK!” I’ll stop there, but hopefully this gives you a good indication of where we were at mentally.

Fast forward four hours and another few hundred miles, and you’ll find us shopping for camping supplies just outside of White Sands, New Mexico. The plan (cooked up by Mr. Bailey) was to take full advantage of a canceled show in El Paso by shooting a music video in the bizarre and wonderful land that is the White Sands desert.

Entering this particular national park is no less extraordinary then passing through some sort of inter-dimensional portal. Miles upon miles of rolling white sand dunes boxed in by barren hills in the hazy distance. The land is peppered with strange desert plant-life and sand tracks that delicately suggest the presence of elusive animals. Take a minute and research the herds of Oryx that have been transplanted here from Africa’s Kalahari Desert.

We drove in and parked the van around 6:20 pm, leaving us only 1 precious hour of sunlight for filming. After a brief scouting mission and set-up, we began shooting scenes for “West,” a song off of our upcoming EP.

Our team worked fast, filming through the sunset and twilight until we all agreed that it was time to get moving and locate our actual resting spot for the night. It had recently come to our attention through a brief conversation with a small group of hikers that the camping spots were extremely difficult to locate.

Shrugging off their warning as an intriguing challenge, we set off into the dunes confident that we would soon be settling into our base camp. Our meager supply list included little more than sleeping bags, a couple of kerosene lamps and very cheap whiskey. No shoes. No tent. No pants. Just kidding; most of us had pants on.

With the transition of day into night the scenery had completely morphed. We found ourselves transported into yet another strange land as our party marched on. The moonlight reflecting off of the dunes created a soft and haunting illumination that washed over the land like some kind of omnipresent apparition.

At one point I approached Brantley, who was hunched over and shining a feeble flashlight beam on a cluster of small curious objects in the sand. We concurred that they looked like insect cocoons of some sort. He cautiously moved closer for a better look. Suddenly, without warning Brantley broke into a panicked dash and shrieked, “It made a noise!!!” His facial expression was that of genuine surprise and fear.

Now, I definitely heard some sort of rattling noise at the time of the incident…Whether or not it actually emanated from the cocoon is up for debate. But that’s not the point. The point is that Brantley very narrowly escaped death’s clutches that faithful night, and we shouldn’t laugh at him for screaming like a little girl.

After spending a good chunk of time unsuccessfully searching for the STATE DESIGNATED camp sites, our team located a small quadrant of terrain perfectly suited for our needs. First order of business after putting down our bags; running jumps off of the sand dunes!

They are steep enough that you actually free fall for a couple moments before (ideally) landing on your butt and halting your descent. I decided I’d had enough of the fun only after jumping too high at the peak, being blinded by James’ camera flash in mid-air, then tumbling face first onto the hard packed sand below. Whoops!

We took a few more takes of night shots with our terrible k-mart lanterns before they crapped out on us… Our goal was to go to sleep early, so that we could shoot the rest of the video just before dawn, but a final hike across the terrain seemed imperative. The landscape was too hauntingly beautiful to deny.

A dust storm had taken hold and enveloped the land in a foggy haze… The five of us scattered out in the same general direction, giggling and running in a disorderly fashion. The scenery was unlike any I’ve been privileged to see before. We had gained access to our own personal dreamscape.

The night came to a rather abrupt and negative close after our group became aware that the LED lights we were flashing were being responded to from across a great distance in the haze. At first we were excited to see some kind of human response to our presence, and feverishly announced our location (by way of rapid button pushing) back to them. It was only then when I had a moment to gather my paranoid, conspiracy riddled thoughts that I landed on something…

What if (and bear with me now), drug traffickers from Mexico used that kind of LED light communication to organize shady desert deals? Or…or…if it was some kind of twisted Cormac McCarthy novel situation where a crazed psychopathic killer was utilizing his favorite back country haunt to satisfy his unquenchable thirst for blood? Needless to say that after I publicly voiced said concerns, we had a rough night in terms of sleep.

To everyone’s surprise, all of us survived the night. We managed to preserve our goal of hiking back before dawn – huzzah! The rest of our video was captured by James in the early dawn light… Who knew a desert could be soooooo cold in the morning!

After capturing the final shots, our team stiffly shuffled into the van, and exited the quickly bright and hot growing desert. I promise you this White Sands; I shall return.

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