Big Sandy and Bushmaster


Brass and links piled up beneath the M2.  Big Sandy, Arizona

I have just returned from a weeklong gig covering the Bushmaster Users Conference for a magazine.  I was invited down to this eye-popping event by my former platoon sergeant from the US Marine Corps, Eric Rogers, who went on to become a warrant officer and Gunner, which is a much sought after and prestigious position among Marines.  Eric now works for Bushmaster, and was serving as the Range Safety Officer for the event.

What is it?  Bushmaster makes weapons, and munitions, and sells them to many different countries around the world.  They are perhaps most famous for their chain guns, which you may have seen at work on the US Army’s fleet of Apache helicopter gunships.  They also make a graduated series of much larger cannons for mounting on US Navy ships and other platforms.  And they make munitions to load into these marvelous pieces of engineering.

My compadre and newspaper editor, Jim Cornelius–who is also a lover of weaponry–and I took the long road from Central Oregon to the Big Sandy Range in Arizona, which is located about halfway between Wikieup and Kingman, off of highway 93.  It is one of the few remaining places in the US that citizens, who legally own machine guns, can shoot them, and they hold an extremely well attended and popular event known as the Big Sandy Shoot each year.

 The drive down was punctuated about midway by Walker Lake, near Hawthorne, Nevada, where the Paiute spiritual man Wovoka first danced the Ghost Dance in January, 1889.  He travelled out east with that dance, and with the accompanying vision that properly executing the Ghost Dance might bring back the bison herds.  We know what happened next:  spiritual fervor, born from the thorny bowels of abject desperation, took a deep hold amongst the Lakota at Wounded Knee, the Army got nervous, they had Hotchkiss guns, and ultimately murdered some 150 (most likely it was many more) men, women, and children.


Wovoka, who dreamed

So the irony of Hawthorne wasn’t lost on me.  Hawthorne, you see, where the Ghost Dance religion was born, is also home to what the US Army calls the largest ammunition storage facility in the world.  And it isn’t hard to believe.  Stretching for miles in every direction are magazines and igloos.  Row after row after row of them, placed down with military precision and marching off into the horizon.

Jim and I stopped for a while on the edge of Walker Lake to contemplate the perfectly shimmering topaz waters of a shrinking lake, and to give a nod to Wovoka, who was merely trying to bring hope to people whose lives and dreams were utterly crushed by a reaching civilization they could not possibly understand.

We arrived at the Big Sandy well after dark, and after fording a deep river (where many people got stuck in the following days) found our encampment amongst the ocotillo and scrub and settled in under a perfect salting of Apache stars.

Over the next few days we had the opportunity to get our hands on some fantastic next generation weaponry, see, sit in, and man the weapons station inside the Osh Kosh vehicle just purchased en masse to replace the military’s aging fleet of Humvees, and to witness some eye-opening demonstrations of air-bursting and high explosive munitions.  We were lucky.  Because we were willing to sleep out on the ground, and because it’s who you know, not what you know, we had extraordinary access, far and above the milquetoast journalist who showed up only for demonstration day.

Which by itself was something of a spectacle.  Military officers and procurement types from over 20 nations were in attendance.  Norway, Lithuania, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, the gamut of our supposed planetary allies, all faced with their own needs, were on hand to witness the joining of new weapons, new vehicles, and a development that will change war fighting forever–the remote weapons station.  I’ll get into that in a later post.

I’m still digesting a lot of this, but wanted to check in quickly, and will post over the next few days on some of the larger issues involving weaponry, next generation technology, and the defense of our nation in interesting times.

In the meantime, I’m back on the Figure 8, under deep snow, and the threat of even more, and happy to be inside with our oldest dog, who is 14 now, and staring each day directly into the abyss of infinity.

  1. What an awesome adventure!



    1. It truly was. Bery eye opening and intriguing and inspiring. Not without a lot of questions. Thanks, Chris.



  2. Craig – nice update on the work that is being done to arm our men and women in uniform! Thanks for making the trip!!



    1. Thank you Jarrod. It was truly a fantastic experience and we enjoyed ourselves immensely. Thanks for being a truly fantastic host.



  3. interesting adventure, am looking forward to more about this trip. interesting landscape, i spent 10 days at Supai back in late 60’s…camped below the village near the falls…an adventure…



    1. It’s some of the finer country around. AZ still holds mystery. I would love to have seen it in the 60’s, when it was less populated. I lived in Flagstaff for a couple of years in the early 90’s, and my how that place has changed. Way of the world.



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