Thursday, October 12, 2017

Smoky Skies

Pretty skies, but at a heavy, heart-breaking cost. According to the news, something like 17 wildfires were burning in California early this week. The closest to my family is the Canyon Fire 2 in the Anaheim Hills area (about 15 miles as the crow flies from my house). We are in no danger, and thankfully, no loss of life (although significant loss of structures) from the Canyon Fire 2. Not the case for the fires burning in the Santa Rosa and wine country area. These fires sound devastating, and my heart goes out to those folks.

I picked up my granddaughter at school on Monday afternoon, and it was obvious there was a fire in the area.

We went over to our local park, where the views of the sky were more dramatic. I really didn't plan on taking any photos (I had promised to take my granddaughter to the park after school, and kids have a really good memory for that sort of thing!), but I couldn't resist as I saw the smoke slowly move across the sky and even start to obscure the sun. All photos taken on my iPhone.

 The Santa Ana winds were very gusty... hang on to your hat!

 Life goes on under smoky skies. Look closely and you can see sand traps, golf carts and golfers. There is a golf course right next to the park.

Even the geese and ducks seemed to be wondering what was going on with this strange sky!

Looking down... but perhaps should have been looking up??

Stay safe out there!!
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Thursday, October 5, 2017

Doo Doo Doo Lookin' Out My Backdoor

About four weekends ago (yes, that's how behind I am on my posts!) we were in 29 Palms for the weekend when one of those rare, beautiful desert storms moved through the area. I didn't even have to leave my property for these photos... no hiking required... all taken right outside my door!

That's Sullivan Road heading off to the west.

Pretty shot of Copper Mountain (looking north)

Looking south toward Indian Cove, Joshua Tree National Park... see the little piece of rainbow?

A rainbow over our house. Sorry, couldn't help the shadow!

Sometimes great photos are waiting for you right outside your door!
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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Crown Prince Lookout Hike Update

I posted a couple weeks ago about one of my favorite hikes in Joshua Tree, the Crown Prince Lookout Hike. I mentioned that there is very little known about the lookout, other than it was rumored to be a enemy aircraft warning station during WW2. I wasn't able to find any documentation on this... just rumor and word of mouth type stuff. Turns out my friend Pat over at had some information on the Crown Prince Lookout that he was able to find on his extensive hard drive full of data about Joshua Tree that he shared with me:
"The Split Rock Station (now referred to as Crown Prince Lookout) was activated on February 28, 1943. The station was designed by the Forest Service similar to their fire lookout towers to be 10 feet square primarily composed of windows and cedar shingle roof. The living quarters (an Army house trailer) were 50 feet below the station and accessed by a wooden stairway. The water tank had a 250 gallon capacity and sat on eight-foot stilts. And, a twenty foot pole to support a radio antenna. It remained on the peak for eighteen years until burned by vandals in 1961."
Pat even had a photo in his files of the lookout station and adjacent antenna. How cool is that?? And perhaps even cooler... there is supposedly a second lookout location in the Park somewhere (future hike alert!!). Again, a huge thanks to Pat for providing this historical information.

Based on the above information, I'm pretty sure the mysterious 3' x 3' concrete block on top of the Crown Prince Lookout must have been used to support the 20' radio antenna. There are multiple anchor bolts surrounding the concrete block, and there is still a heavy support wire dangling off the edge of the lookout from the block. Side note: If you are up on the Lookout exploring this area, be very careful not to trip over this wire. It's a good 30' straight down to the rocks below!
Look closely and you will see a heavy wire hanging over the rocks. This wire is still attached to the concrete block.

This photo is near the concrete block, and does a better job illustrating how steep the drop-off is from up on top of the Lookout!

One point of confusion for me has to do with the old photo of the station that Pat found. The rock formations don't look like anything like what I've seen up on the Crown Prince Lookout. If the radio antenna was on the concrete block (as I suspect) and the station is next to it, the Crown Prince Lookout has a steep, straight drop-off. I wonder if this might be the second lookout location that Pat mentioned? Clearly, more research and future hikes will be necessary!!

Also of interest up on the Lookout is this piece of cement with a metal plate in the middle. Although a piece of the concrete is broken off so you can't see the full name, it's signed by "Mandersche... 1961" (you may have to enlarge the photo to see this). May be someone named Manderscheen? Mandersched? We may never know. There's a second signature in the concrete that's not as clear. The 1961 date is interesting. That's the year the station burned down and it stopped being operational. I can imaging the military coming in and cleaning up and removing everything following the fire. Perhaps Mandershe... was part of the clean up crew?

Here's a nice view from up on top of Crown Prince. You can see the concrete block and the distant hills and mountains in the background. I took a ton of photos on this hike, so let me share a few more with you. Most of the following were taken during the hike back.

Another shot from up on top before heading down!

Yours truly... looking for that perfect shot!

We had an in-depth discussion... Is it harder to climb up or down? I think the consensus was going down is easier. Either way, it's a steep climb!

Golden light of late afternoon, AKA "the golden hour"!

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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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