Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Cow Camp Revisited

My one and only visit to Cow Camp in Joshua Tree National Park was way back in May 2016. The most direct route (straight to the dam) is not allowed because the land below the dam is administratively off limits, and is fenced off.
Caretaker? What caretaker?? This sign was in the middle of nowhere. Closest caretaker would probably be over at Key's Ranch, about a mile away. But the point of the sign is clear!

So to get to Cow Camp, you need to go in the back way, crawling over/under/around lots of boulders in between two rocky peaks. It quickly turns your legs into noodles! It's a hidden spot in the Park. Not on any maps, and it appears that nobody goes there. Also, I checked in with a park ranger to see if the area behind the dam is off limits. I was pleased to learn only the "footprint" of the water is off limits. So stay off the flat area (see photo below) and you're OK.

Cow Camp has a fascinating history, including being associated with cattle rustling in the 1880's and 90's, and it rivals Barker Dam (one of the busiest spots in the park) for water holding capacity and natural beauty.

Here's what it looked like on my first visit. Bone dry, and kind of a disappointment. I made a mental note... someday I need to visit again, hopefully after some rain, and see what it looks like when there's water behind the dam.

So here's my someday photo. Taken a couple months ago after a summer with higher than normal rainfall. Now that's more like it!! And with all the recent rain (and even snow), the water behind the dam is likely a lot higher now (Cow Camp trip #3??). If you look closely, you can see banding across the dam and the rocks indicating how high water levels have been in the past. Looks like the water can get MUCH higher, which would turn this into a small lake!

A true oasis in the desert!

At the far end of the water behind the dam, the tall grasses make it hard to believe you are still in the desert.

Bighorn sheep remains. Likely taken down by a mountain lion.

Freshwater snails totally blanketed the muddy areas.

A cool looking cave not far from the dam. No easy way to climb up and explore, so cave depth and contents will remain a mystery. Mountain lion den? Here kitty kitty!

Straddling Cow Camp Dam. Look at how the dam builders, all those years ago, used the huge boulder as part of the dam structure, almost like a big plug. Interesting, wouldn't you agree?

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Thursday, February 7, 2019

As the Sky Goes Dark

Cousin Scott shared some pics he took from one of our recent hikes. I say recent, but I guess about three months have passed already. Where does the time go? I have very few pics of myself hiking (I usually hike alone), so it's kind of fun to look back at these and check out some of the places we explored.

It's no wonder I'm stiff and sore after a day of hiking. I tend to want to explore every alcove and shallow cave I find, hoping to discover a pictograph or petroglyph or who knows what. This one appears to be a little snug!

I tend to squeeze every second of daylight possible before ending my hikes. As the desert sky goes dark, it does some pretty amazing stuff!

Here's the sky well after sunset. If I were driving home now, I would have missed the shot.

As you can imagine, the only problem is you end up hiking back to your car in the dark, which can make navigation a challenge. Scott was following behind me (I'm wearing a headlamp). No tripod, and an exposure time of 0.56 seconds. Pretty amazing shot for hand-held! A little blurry, but I love the photo (I had some fun playing around with this image and added stars for effect). And yes, we eventually did find the car!

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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Majestic Arch

Let me fast-forward to my most recent desert hike, which was a little less than two weeks ago. Actually, more of an adventure than a hike! I'm typically a few months behind on my posts (if not more), but this was such an awesome hike that I can't wait to share the photos, and hopefully, a bit of the experience.

Let me set the stage... I'm about 2 or 3 miles into a hike in the rugged Joshua Tree National Park Wilderness Area. I'm following a remote wash through the rocks, following a route I had planned out beforehand using Google Maps. This is my first time hiking this specific route (although I've done a lot of hiking in the general area), and one never knows if the route planned out using satellite view on a computer screen is actually passable. I've left a printed copy with my wife so, worst case scenario, she knows where to send the posse if I don't return. As I'm coming out of the small wash that I've been following SE through the rocks, it joins with a larger wash. Here's the view.
As I pause to take in the view, I spot something on the hilltop in the distance. Do you see it? Middle of the photo at the very top of the rocky hill, straight ahead.

I'm sure it was much more obvious with the naked eye vs. these photos, but as I hiked down this wash, I couldn't believe it. A large arch up on top of the hill! Just sitting there for all the world to see! We photographers get really excited about arches because they are so photogenic. Doubly excited because, in this remote area, many of the arches haven't been documented and cataloged, so it's like discovering something for the first time. Undoubtedly other hikers have spotted this arch, but I wonder if anyone's ever been able to hike/climb up to it?

Just a little further up the wash, making my way toward the arch, I come across another desert tortoise shell. Poor guy, looks like a full-grown male (by the size and shape of the shell) and I wonder how he met his demise? This is the third tortoise shell I've found in the last 6-8 months. He's still a little on the stinky side, so he hasn't been dead long. I take a GPS reading of the location so I can report him to the NPS (the Park ecologist has asked me to keep track of shell locations).

As I move closer to the hill, I totally lose sight of the arch, but I know it's up there somewhere. The climb up the rocks to the arch looks steep. Really steep, and I don't see any easier approaches. As I scope out the climb, I'm thinking about the risk. Foremost in my mind is I'm deviating from the hike plan I left my wife. I wonder if anyone would every find me if I get injured? I'm pretty sure that would be the end of Spare Parts and Pics!

Going up!! I decide to proceed up the rocks, one rock at a time. I know, probably a stupid decision, but the arch is calling to me. I tell myself, if things get too difficult, I can always turn around, right? I decide to leave my pack and hiking pole at the bottom of the rocks, with the hiking pole strategically pointed in the direction I'm climbing. Another calculated risk. I won't have water or other supplies if I make it up to the arch, but it seems like a fair trade off so I can reduce my weight. I only have my camera in its harness as I begin my climb.

The views climbing up are amazing!

Can you hear me cursing under my breath?? That's because I've climbed up the rocky mountain, only to find I have "section 2" to climb to get up to the arch! And section 2 looks about as steep as section 1!! Distances are deceiving, and these rocky hills often have a way of tricking you and keeping there secrets, well... secret.

Off I go... climbing section 2. As I pull myself up over the last few rocks, I get my first close-up of the arch.
Interestingly, it looks like it's actually two large rock formations. There's the arch itself, and next to it on the right, a large rock that looks kind of like a lizard or dragon. From a distance the two rocks look like a single rocky structure.

Here's the shot of the day... up close and personal with "Majestic Arch" (I chose this name... the views from this location and the arch itself just caused "majestic" to jump into my brain). It really does look like the adjacent rock is a dragon or lizard, guarding the arch against intruders! On the back side of the arch (looking east), it's a sheer drop off of quite a distance.

I'll stop the narrative and just let the photos tell the story of the beautiful views from inside and around Majestic Arch! But as I take in the views, the little voice in my head says "remember... it's always harder climbing down!"
360-degree views. This is looking NE

Looking SE

Deep inside the arch, with a view out either side.

View east

View west
Diagonal view, with just a bit of the arch visible

Side view; no visible arch

Photo credit: S. Wessel
I'm always looking for arches!!

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Note: Keeping the location of this arch secret, and strongly recommend you don't go looking for it or try to climb up to it!