Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Cap Rock and Gram Parsons

It's impossible for me to drive by Cap Rock in Joshua Tree National Park without thinking about Gram Parsons. In case you aren't familiar with this strange, twisted story, I'll give you the thumbnail sketch. This might be a good time to cue up a Gram Parsons Song (doesn't really matter which one!). 

By all accounts, Gram loved the high desert and Joshua Tree in particular. He was a frequent weekend visitor (often with his road manager Phil Kaufman and Keith Richards). During a friend's funeral, Kaufman and Gram made a pact: If either one of them was to die prematurely, they wanted their body to be taken out to JTree and set on fire so their ashes could float out over the desert they both loved so much.

Sadly, Gram Parsons died of a drug overdose not long after making the pact, on September 19, 1973 (room 8 of the Joshua Tree Inn). He was just 26 years old. Evidently Kaufman took his promise to his friend seriously, and crazy times ensued as he and friend Michael Martin drove a hearse to LAX, stole the body that was waiting to be flown to family in Louisiana, and managed to get all the way to Cap Rock in Joshua Tree. There they doused the body with gasoline and watched the resulting giant fireball in the desert sky.
Photo credit: Google images
Under Cap Rock where the "funeral pyre" took place, graffiti, stone crosses, guitar picks, etc. are constantly springing up, and the Park Service is not far behind with the cleanup. It seems to be a never ending cycle!

Photo credit:  Google images
So as I found myself hiking back from the Mystery Cabins Hike, I had a view of Cap Rock that I hadn't seen before. Walking back in an easterly directions from the cabins, this is the view you see.

Pretty easy to see why they call it Cap Rock! It's a great view of this famous rock formation.

Here's an square-cropped version with a texture added:
Next time you find yourself driving through Joshua Tree and pass by Cap rock, I hope you'll think of Gram Parsons!
R.I.P, G.P.!
11/5/46 - 9/19/73

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Crown Prince Lookout Hike

I posted a while ago on what I called the "Jeep Trail Hike" (Part 1 and Part 2). I spotted this unmarked trail on Google Maps and it's easy to see that it's a double track trail, probably made by vehicles many years ago. It's a fun hike with lots of great photography along the way. At one point, the Jeep Trail ends at what I was calling "Zen Rocks", a fascinating circular labyrinth of rocks, and another of the many mysteries within the Park. Here's where it get's interesting. I shared my photo of the zen rocks labyrinth on the Joshua Tree National Park Photographer's Facebook page, and I think it was Elliot Koeppel (click here to check out his post) who said something like "sounds like the old Crown Prince Lookout access road." Huh??? I've never heard of the Crown Prince Lookout, but turns out that is in fact the more accurate name for my "Jeep Trail". As I read Elliot's post and searched for additional information, I felt certain I could find the Crown Prince Lookout. I've since hiked out to the Lookout three times, and would gladly go again. It's one of my favorite hikes and pretty exhilarating when you get to the top and see the 360-degree views. And I've never seen another person on this hike, so relatively unknown and great for solitude.

The Crown Prince Lookout is one of those "unconfirmed rumors", or if you like, add it to the long list of JTNP mysteries. If you do a Google search, you will learn that the lookout is on the south end of a large boulder mass, but the exact location isn't all that well defined. The lookout was reportedly used during WW2 as an enemy aircraft warning station operated by the U.S. Army, according to information being passed along person to person and blog to blog. Little remains today except for a mysterious 3' x 3' concrete block and multiple anchor points and foundation bolts cemented into place. I found one blog here that mentions a book called On Foot in Joshua Tree National Park by Patty Furbush which mentions details of the hike and that the Lookout was used during WW2 by the military. I don't have a copy of the book, and not sure if the author was able to somehow confirm (beyond word of mouth rumor) the military use of the lookout. Why it is named "Crown Prince", exactly what was built on the site, during what years was it operational, and when it was taken down all remain a mystery (at least to me!).

 Along the Crown Prince Lookout road. 

 Dinosaur egg (they are all over the place out here!)

After about a mile, the road forks (stay right). You will soon see the big rock pile center/right in the photo above, which is the Crown Prince Lookout. Trust me that the fisheye lens distorts things, and as you get closer to the rocks, they are quite massive. I can pretty much guarantee that your first thought will be "there is no way in heck I'm going to be able to climb up on top of those rocks!!"

Here's a much better image to see the Crown Prince Lookout rocks (arrow). Photo credit: Elliot Koeppel.

There's a faint trail that leads around the east side of the rocks. It slowly climbs higher in elevation.

There are some very pretty views from the east side of the Crown Prince Lookout... and we haven't even climbed up to the top yet!

We found it! Near as I can tell, this is the only way up to the top of Crown Prince Lookout. The "trail" pretty much ends here. This is my cousin Scott, looking back to me as if to say "Really? You expect me to climb up this??" That's his daughter Karen scurrying up without any problem.

Once you make it up the 15' "chute", you reach a flat area with steep steps leading up towards the Lookout. Almost looks to me like someone has done some stonework to help shape these steps a bit. If you turn around and face away from the steps...

... this is what you see! But wait, the view gets even better.

Up on top of the Crown Prince Lookout, this is the view north from the east side of the Lookout.

And here's the view south. You feel like you are on top of the world! The south and west views are the most dramatic, with steep drop-offs. Not a good place to be if you have a fear of heights!

Once you get on top of the Lookout, there are many signs of something having been built here (see the pipe sticking out of the ground in the lower part of the photo?). Also, very surprising how flat it is on top. From down below, it just looks like a huge jumble of rocks.

 Another support or anchor of some kind cemented into the rock. Lots of these around.

If you look closely, there are nails all over the place. But no wood and very little glass. Hard to say exactly what was here, but whoever cleaned things up did a very thorough job!

Here it is... the elusive and mysterious 3' x 3' concrete block! You know you've found the Crown Prince Lookout when you find this. It's at the southwest end of the rock mount and has a very commanding view, with especially excellent views to the west.

We found a small plastic container hidden under a nearby bush with a pad of paper and pencil for people to sign in and make comments. It's fun to read the stuff written by intrepid travelers who actually were able to find this spot. I have no idea what cousin Scott wrote on this visit. Guess I'll have to check it out next time I go!

So, while I have no idea what this concrete slab was used for back in the day, I know what it's perfect for now!!

A totally fun hike... with cousin Scott, myself, Scott's daughter Karen, my sister Kyle and brother-in-law Steve.

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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Cool App Alert

Do you like to edit your photos? Do you use your phone to take pictures? If so, I stumbled across a photo editing app called Prisma that you might be interested in. Not sure if it's new. I'm not a big "techie" person by any stretch!

There's a ton of photo editing apps out there. I've tried a handful of them, and for the most part, they are fun for a day or two and then I quickly lose interest. Prisma is a little different in that it's held my interest for a couple weeks now, and I'm finding I'm actually creating some cool, usable photos. 

Prisma is free. I have an iPhone (6), but it is also available for use on android phones. There are about 40 filters to choose from when editing, including "Dreams", "Roy", "Red Head", "The Scream", etc. The process is hit or miss... you choose a photo from your phone to edit and start picking filters. Sometimes the end result looks very cool, other times it looks like junk.

The good:
- Lot's of filters to choose from (~40), and some are quite impressive.
- After the filter is applied, you can tap on the screen and slide the percentage you want applied (0-100%), which gives you some creative input into the process.
- It's free!

The bad:
- The biggest issue I have is the app crashes frequently. I read that the app has become so popular, the servers can't handle user demand.
- Like other photo apps, the file size of the completed image is small (usually around 400KB, although it varies from image to image). This limits what you can do with the image (medium to large prints will look crummy, etc).
- It's designed to be used only on a phone. It would be fun to have this software on my laptop so I could edit my DSLR photos.

Without further ado, here's a sample of some of my favorite photo edits using Prisma. These are totally random shots. Your results may vary!
For baseline purposes (since everyone is familiar with the iPhone screen), I took a screenshot and then edited within the Prisma app. Looks like I used the "Femme" filter on this.


My brother-in-law standing atop the Crown Prince Lookout, Joshua Tree National Park (I'll be posting on this hiking adventure soon).

Raven over Queen Valley Road, JTNP.

 My granddaughter Lilly enjoying a swim!

Lilly was getting tired after scurrying around the rocks at the Jumbo Rocks campground, JTNP. I used one of those little clip-on fisheye lenses for this shot, and then edited in Prisma.


 Lilly and I posing in front of an out-of-service cable car in San Francisco.

My wife checking out a desert homestead cabin in the middle of nowhere.

Some of the filters get too abstract (but don't forget, you can adjust the effect to any amount desired). This is a ocotillo plant in front of Hwy. 62, with blue sky and clouds overhead.

 Another totally random shot!

B&W version of Joshua Tree Laundry.

"The Arrow" (aka, Beatnik Lounge), a local landmark in Joshua Tree village.

 Lilly enjoying a rare S CA rain over the weekend. I think I used a filter called "Dancers in Pink" for this one.

Same photo, different filter. The app has 3 or 4 line drawing filters. The detail they provide is impressive.

So, bottom line, I would rate this app about 4 stars (on a 1 - 5 scale, with 5 being best). It does some very cool things, the filters are a lot of fun, and it's free! I just wish it wouldn't crash so often. Click here to read a review of Prisma by someone who actually knows what they are talking about!

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Giant Moon & Other Phenomena!

I never quite finished my post about the Mystery Cabins hike that I posted a couple weeks ago. I got you out to the cabins and showed you around, but didn't bring you back! The hike back was productive from a photography point of view. The sun was setting and late afternoon/early evening is my favorite time for desert photography. 

Hiking around Joshua Tree, you sometimes feel like you've stepped back in time... perhaps to the Jurassic period when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Or even like you've left planet Earth altogether and are seeing the landscape on another planet! Sounds crazy, but you have to trust me on this one. With that in mind, I also had some fun in Photoshop editing these photos, adding giant moons and "other-worldly" edits. Hope you like them!


A stately old Joshua Tree. Not sure why this one is so much bigger than all his friends in the area, but he was calling to me to take his picture! He might be one of those 800 year old Joshua Trees they've documented in the Park!

Impossibly large moon... what planet am I on??



 You gotta love these old dusty desert roads! This one appeared not to have been walked on or driven on in quite some time. There were a lot of animal tracks, however.


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