Thursday, June 22, 2017

Samuelson's Rocks Part 2

Just to recap, Johann Samuelson was a Swedish prospector who was one of the most colorful and/or crazy (I suspect a bit of each) characters in the early days of what is now Joshua Tree National Park. His tall tales included being shipwrecked in Africa, taken as captive deep into the jungles by natives, surviving man-eating ants, winning the affections of a beautiful tribal princess, and discovering a huge stash of gold. You can read more at Samuelson's Rocks Part 1, or just Google "Samuelson's Rocks". It's a fascinating story!!

During his free time, Samuelson carved philosophical thoughts onto rock faces, which survive to this day. Today's post will complete the hike to Samuelson's Rocks (no trail and not easy to find). It's been a great hike so far. Highlights of last weeks "Part 1" post include an old rusty car and a collapsed desert homestead cabin complete with basement!

In the photo above, we are approaching what I will call "Samuelson's Hill" (arrow). There are reportedly 8 carved stone faces at various locations around the hill. Also worth noting, according to www.dzrtgrls.com, Samuelson had a homestead cabin "on top of the hill where the rocks are". That's why I mentioned in my Part 1 post that I didn't think the collapsed cabin I found belonged to Samuelson.

I found this old photo of Samuelson's cabin on Elliot Koeppel's site here. Check out the notch in the hill (arrow) behind the cabin. It looks suspiciously similar to the notch on the hill in the second photo (photo credit www.dzrtgrls.com), which reinforces the claim that Samuelson's cabin was on the same hill where his rock carvings reside. Unfortunately, there is nothing left of Samuelson's cabin.

As I hiked up the side of Samuelson's Hill, I was delighted to find a rock carving after just a few minutes of looking. It's a bit of a strange feeling to find something like this out in the middle of nowhere. I was surprised that the carvings appeared so crisp and well preserved. It would have taken significant skill to carve these letters straight and precise into a rock face. Here's what it says (spelling corrected):

WAKE UP
YOU TAX AND
BOND SLAVES.
A POLITICIAN IS A BIRD
THAT GETS IN ON THE TAX
PAYORS (PAYER'S) POCKETBOOK FOR A FAT
RAKE OF (OFF) AND HIS FREE KEEPS.
HE LEADS YOU BY THE NOOSE (NOSE)
WITH ONE HAND(.) WITH THE OTHER
HE DIGS IN YOUR POCKET.
A FRIEND OF THE BANKER AND BIG
BUSINESS(.) WHY?

 ARE YOU THE FELLOW
MR. MELLON
THAT GRABED (GRABBED) ALL OUR DOUGH(?)
AIN(')T YOU BETTER UP AND
TELL US
WHERE IN HELL DID IT GO.(?)

 GOD
MADE MAN
BUT HE(N)RY FORD
PUT WHEELS UNDER EM (HIM)
THO (THOUGH) A. MASTER
OF THE GOLD'N (GOLDEN) RULE
HE MUST DIE
TO. BE. APPRICIATED (APPRECIATED)

 JUDGE ben LINDSEY
A. MAN THAT
UNDERSTANDS HUMANETY (HUMANITY)
AND BIG ANOUGH. (ENOUGH)
TO. LIVE. IT.
STUDY NATURE(.) OBEY THE LAWS
OF IT(.) YOU CAN(')T GO WRONG(.)
IT PAYES (PAYS) COMPOUND ENTEREST (INTEREST)
FOR LIFE AND NOT ONE PENNY
ENVESTED (INVESTED).?

 I came upon this old bed frame on top of the hill, and can only imagine this came from Samuelson's cabin. How else would it get out here in the middle of nowhere?? Could this be the very bed that Samuelson slept on and rested on after laboring away on his rock carvings??
The urge was too great... I couldn't resist. I'm not a fan of selfies, but here was an opportunity to lay on what was likely Samuelson's own bed and take a photo!

As you can see, the sun is getting low on the horizon. As nice as it would have been to take a little siesta on Samuelson's bed, no time to take a nap now!! Let's continue our hike.

I found a number of these smooth-faced rocks in the area. If Samuelson were alive today and had the urge to add to his collection, he would have no problem!

 Mmmm... looks like I'm going to have to do some climbing to get close to this one! Note the moonrise.

  
RELIGION IS A CODE OF
MORALLS (MORALS) FOR US TO LIVE BY(.)
NO MORE HELL IS HERE ON THIS
EARTH(.) NO OTHER PLASE (PLACE)(.)
MOAST (MOST) OF IT WE MAKE OUR SELFE (OURSELF)(.)
AS TO HAVEN (HEAVEN) FIND IT IN
A LIFETIME(.) NOTHING
PROVEN AFTER DEATH BY PREAST (PRIEST)
OR SCIENTIST?

On the west side of Samuelson's Hill I was surprised to find two corral areas. There are numerous mentions on websites that Samuelson was not only a prospector but also a sheep rancher, so that would explain these corrals!


Color splash!

I spotted this old water tank a few hundred yards from the corrals. It's sitting in a wash, which is a weird place to put a water tank. I'm guessing its original location was somewhere else.

Heading back toward Samuelson's Hill from the water tank, I spotted my last carved panel. Ironically, it's the only panel signed and dated by the author.

THE ROCK.
OF FAIHT (FAITH).
AND TRUHT (TRUTH).
NATURE. IS. GOD.
THE. KEY. TO. LIFE.
IS. CONTACT.
EVOLUTION. IS. THE MOTHER
AND FATHER OF MANKIND
WITHOUT THEM. WE. BE. NOTHING

John. Samuelson
1927.
Interestingly, someone has built a little bench in front of this panel, complete with some local artifacts. I sat for a few minutes, contemplating Johann Samuelson, his carved panels, and the interesting life he had. Not a sound could be heard except for the occasional chirp of a bird. I didn't see a single person hiking this area the entire afternoon. Solitude is a wonderful thing!
In all, I think I found six of the eight panels. By the time I found my sixth panel, the sun was setting. Not wanting to hike across open desert with no trail to follow in the dark, it was past time to head back. I'll definitely be coming back to find the last two panels sometime in the future.
For a nice overview of Samuelson's Rocks, and an interpretation of his writings, click here: http://stowell.org.

Thanks for coming along with me on the hike to Samuelson's Rocks, and I hope you find them as fascinating as I do!

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Samuelson's Rocks Part 1

[Note: I'm dividing this post into two parts to keep things to a reasonable length. Part 1 is the hike in and some interesting "discoveries" along the way, and Part 2 will be the actual rocks. Thanks!]

File this under "truth is stranger than fiction"! One of the most interesting and bizarre stories in the Joshua Tree National Park history books, and you won't hear about it from the National Park Service.

"Johann Samuelson was an old Swedish prospector who lived in the mountains above the oasis. One of Samuelson's tall stories - about being shipwrecked in Africa - had earned him the lead in a chapter of Erle Stanley Gardner's book Neighborhood Frontiers. Later he had killed two men in a Los Angeles bar, avoided trial on grounds of insanity and then escaped from the asylum - forever."
     From The Man from the Cave by Colin Fletcher

Google "Samuelson's Rocks", and you will find a lot of information. According to Outdoorblueprint.com, of all the wide-ranging and unique characters who have lived in JTNP, John Samuelson might have the best story! 
A lot of what we know about John Samuelson was recorded after a chance encounter with Erle Stanley Gardner, of Perry Mason fame, who bought rights to his story for $20. On a February morning in 1928, Samuelson and Gardner stumbled upon one another at Quail Springs while filling up water. Since then, the facts of Samuelson’s life have been embellished to such a degree that I’ll leave it to you to decide what to believe. However, his story is certainly best appreciated over a few hot toddies (as it was originally told).
Samuelson was a Swedish immigrant who began his journey after being shanghaied into working the Eastern trade routes on a merchant vessel. While off the coast of Africa, his ship flounder in a big storm. Everyone was killed except for Samuelson, who was washed ashore. He was immediately captured by natives and taken deep into the jungles of Africa. After a number of adventures, including surviving man-eating ants, winning the attentions of a beautiful tribal princess, and finding a huge stash of gold, the tribal medicine man forced Samuelson to eat the “Bread of Forgetting.”
The natives stashed Samuelson at a nearby colonial outpost where he couldn’t remember a single detail since the shipwreck. His memory, wrecked from the “Bread of Forgetting,” continued to fail during rainstorms. So, after visiting a doctor in Boston, it was recommended he move out west to a more arid climate. Luckily for all of us, his memories slowly returned in his dreams and he was able to pass his story along for Gardner to jot down.
In the 1926, Samuelson set up shop near Quail Springs and went to work for Bill Keys.
Talk about a weirdly interesting background!! Once Samuelson settled in what is now JTNP, he used his free time (when he wasn't working for Bill Keys, mining, or sheep ranching) carving philosophical thoughts onto flat rock faces. When you look at his spelling and punctuation, you might conclude his command of the english language was less than proficient. However, his rock carving skills were quite good! But I'm getting way ahead of myself!!
Stepping off the main highway on the start of the hike, this is the view you will see. To your left is a large mound of rocks. We will be hiking straight ahead (approximate SW direction) for about 1.5 miles (3 miles round trip), so a comfortable hike on mostly flat terrain. I'm going to be angling over to the right in hopes of finding an old jeep trail that's visible on Google Maps. One of the cool things about Samuelson's Rocks is that there is no trail leading to it, no sign pointing it out, and it is not on any Park Service map. I didn't see another human being for the entire hike. I'm hiking in late afternoon to a place I've never been, so I've taken a lot of precautions with regard to pre-hike research and marking GPS waypoints. Since I get no cell reception in the Park, I've downloaded maps of the area in advance to my phone for offline use.

After hiking about 1/4 mile, I turned around to take this shot (looking NE). Can you see the old, faint jeep trail? It's hard to see, but more visible using Google Maps satellite view. Back in the day, this must have been a "road". Desert land heals very slowly, and this road hasn't been used in many years. There was a lot of dry brush, stickers and thorns in this area, so hiking along the jeep trail made things a little easier and less impactful on the environment.

This old rusty can stuck on a cholla skeleton seemed to be telling me I was going in the right direction!

Here's the first sign of human activity I ran across (not counting the old rusty can). An old standpipe of some kind... perhaps an old well?

I was surprised to see a lot of sand verbena blooming in the area.

Here's the second sign of human activity. What a cool old car to find out in the middle of nowhere!! I'm guessing this is the car that, years ago, made the "jeep trail" I've been hiking on. Who knows, perhaps it belonged to Johann Samuelson?? I love finding this kind of stuff in the desert, and what a great mystery!

Not too far from the rusty car I found this pile of wood that is the remains of an old desert homestead cabin. I'm not sure who it belonged to, although I don't think it was Samuelson. From the bit of research I've done, it sounds like Samuelson's homestead was up on the hill where his "rocks" are located. More on that in my next post.

Perhaps this stonework was the front porch? Looks to be well built and like it might have been a very nice little cabin back in its day!

Right next to the house is this... outdoor BBQ? Outdoor cooking station?

Here's a view of the BBQ from the back. Perhaps you loaded your wood into this barrel in the back and had yourself a nice big cookout!

A nice piece of desert glass!
The handle is long gone, but the shovel head still remains. I bet it got a lot of use years ago by whomever built this place!

Another memorable find, ranking right up there with the car. As I moved a couple old cabin boards to see what was underneath, look what I found!!
Steps! Leading down to a... basement? I've never seen a homestead cabin with a basement, but it might make sense. It would likely be a lot cooler and perhaps could be used for storage. Proceeding very cautiously and looking for critters, I continued down the steps.
Wow! Actually appears to be well built, and quite a bit of room. Prior to the floor boards caving in, a shorter person could comfortably stand up straight and walk around in this basement.

It's time to continue our hike. The shadows are already getting long, and we haven't even reached our primary objective. After replacing the boards back over the "basement" and leaving everything as I found it, I turned back toward the cabin remains and took this photo. You have to look closely to see the pile of boards, and one could walk right by this spot and never notice there was once an old cabin here!

They say no two Joshua trees look the same. Here are a few growing near the homestead cabin remains.
I call this one "Tripod Joshua Tree"!

This one seems to be saying "turn right!!"


I'll leave you with a couple nice sunset shots I took during my hike back. Be sure to stop by next week for "Samuelson's Rocks Part 2"!

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Live Oak Picnic Area

The desert is getting hot. May be no surprise, since we're in June already, but the hot temps seem to hit fast and hard in the desert. Saturday's high was 104 degrees. Too hot to go out hiking during the day. So we drove into Joshua Tree National Park late Saturday for a picnic at the Live Oak Picnic Area. This spot has never been on my radar. I've driven by it many times, but this was my first actual visit. We were pleasantly surprised. Waiting to go late in the day, combined with the higher elevation, made for very comfortable picnic temperatures! 
Shhh, don't tell anyone! The hot temps scare off the tourists. People forget that much of the Park is at higher elevation and cooler than the surrounding desert (the picnic area is at about 4200'). We'll just keep that little secret to ourselves! We had the Live Oak Picnic Area entirely to ourselves... not another hiker or car to be seen.

As you drive to the far west end of Live Oak Picnic Area, you will find the big oak tree that the area is named after (red arrow on the map). I'm used to seeing smaller scrub oak in the Park, but this big oak really stands out. We wasted no time hauling out camp table, chairs, and cooler.
As my wife and mother relaxed under the shade of the oak tree, my granddaughter was eager to explore.
My granddaughter and a "shadow selfie"!
My favorite photo of the day... look at her go! Hey, wait for grandpa!!!

I'm thankful for my little photo muse granddaughter! She's fun, photogenic, and always adds a little more interest to my photos when we're out exploring.


The Live Oak "tank". Further down the wash is the Ivanpah tank. We didn't make it quite that far, so will save it for another time.

 Back under the big oak, where a cool drink and a snack are waiting!

Saturday's sunset!!

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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Raven or Crow??

I'm hoping I can get some help from my birding friends on this one! I'm told that there are no crows in the desert... only ravens. However, that doesn't help, because I can't recall where I was when I took this photo (in my defense, I took it a while ago!).

Below is some information that might help, although perhaps not. The raven/crow silhouette in the photo doesn't give us much detail because of the distance. The one piece of evidence that might help is I remember this guy soaring (vs. consistent flapping), so my vote goes to raven. Regardless, I like the photo, the puffy cloud that appears to be resting on the telephone pole, and the blue-sky day. Humans have this need to classify and categorize things, but at the end of the day, does it really matter?
https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-exact-difference-between-the-raven-and-crow

Oh, and they also have a very different sound (the caw of a crow vs. a lower pitched "croak" of a raven). I don't remember this guy making any noise, so no help there. But if you are curious to learn more and to listen to caws and croaks, click here.

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Thanks for stopping by!! Caw caw caw....