Thursday, September 13, 2018

Diamond Pictographs

This post begins where The Elusive Diamond Pictographs ended. Yes, I'm out searching again for the rock art referred to by some as the "diamond solstice" pictographs. I don't give up easily. I've also emailed my friends Pat Tillett and Elliot Koeppel. They both told me I was right there, practically bumping my head on the pictographs. Instead of looking down, I should have been looking up!!

Armed with this information, I headed back out. But Keys Ranch Road was closed due to recent flooding from thunderstorms. So I had to make the longer (but more scenic) hike from the Barker Dam trailhead. It also occurred to me that there might be more water behind Barker Dam. I had hiked it about a month ago with my granddaughter and it wasn't much bigger than a mud puddle!

I've never seen as many lizards as I did on this hike!

Barker Dam is no longer just a mud puddle!



I could hardly believe this view. It looks like a stream running through a pretty valley! In fact, it's water flowing through the dam from recent rains, and the "stream" only lasts for 200 yards or so. Still, very beautiful and not something you see in the desert very often!

Interesting old wooden trough just below Barker Dam. As I hiked beyond this spot, I heard a loud rattle from a rattlesnake just past that scrubby bush on the left side of the water. Extremely thankful that he gave me a nice loud rattle or I might have stepped on him and you wouldn't be reading this post! He slid away quickly into the bushes, so sorry, no photo available.

A strange old watering trough. Keep in mind this area had livestock (cattle) grazing back in the day, which is why the dam was built. Look very closely at the top of the dam... it says "1939 June".

A closer look at the "stream" and the wooden trough. Looking west.



I must admit that I got so caught up with all the water behind Barker Dam, the stream flowing below the dam, and the wild and beautiful sky, that I spent way too much time taking photos. I found myself pressed for time (again!!) on my way to the pictographs. It crossed my mind that maybe I should save them for a future hike rather than risk hiking back in the dark. But that thought quickly disappeared and on I went 😊

As I rounded the corner on my way to the pictographs I saw my old friend "sliced bread rocks" and I knew I was close! I found a rocky "ramp" that allowed me to climb up the rocky boulders to...

Finally... the "diamond solstice" pictographs! Most pictographs fade and disappear with time, but these still look fresh and well preserved. One can't help but wonder what special significance they had to the Native Americans that made them all those years ago!

There's been speculation that this sunburst design might have something to do with predicting seasonal cycles that were so critical to Native Americans.


I wonder what this one means??

View from inside the diamond pictograph alcove.

Another view from inside. Look closely and you can see the diamond pictographs center left.
I was feeling great about this hike and very fortunate to be able to see the diamond pictographs. As is often the case on my hikes, by the time I got back to the Jeep, it was getting dark. On the drive home, I missed my usual turnoff (the dirt roads are unmarked and hard to see in the desert, and my night vision isn't what it used to be!) Anyway, I made the mistake of turning up a seldom used sandy "road". No problem with my Jeep, but the soft sand would have been a problem in a 2WD vehicle. As I headed up the road, I saw something squiggling along the road in front of me...
A sidewinder rattlesnake! I've never seen one before, but their sideways motion is unmistakable. Wow, two rattlesnakes in one day!! This shot was captured using the headlights on the Jeep for lighting. I took a few photos, said thanks, and we both went on our way!

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"Leave only footprints, take only pictures"
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Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Vultures are Circling!

I was sitting in the sand under the scorching desert sun with my back against a large boulder. There was a trail in the sand because I had been crawling for the last 1/2 mile. My empty canteen had been tossed to the side of the trail about a mile or so back. I scanned the horizon, and all I could see was a rocky mesa and hundreds of vultures circling overhead. I raised my fist and yelled "I'm not dead yet!!! Damn you!!!" But vultures can somehow sense pending death, and their patience is legendary. These vultures weren't going anywhere, no matter how much I yelled!!
Sound like something right out of a vintage Hollywood western? Well, it is! On my last hike, I saw huge numbers of vultures circling overhead. Vultures don't, in fact, circle above dead or dying things. Check out this link if you're interested in reading more. But I must admit, when I see vultures off in the distance, my first thought is usually "I wonder what died?" When I see them overhead I usually chuckle and think to myself "I must be in worse shape than I thought!!" Chalk it up to watching too many westerns as a kid!


Got to enjoy this beautiful moon for the entire hike.
Vultures cruising the thermals with the moon in the background!
Vulture over Barker Dam

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"Take only pictures, leave only footprints"
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Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Elusive Diamond Pictographs

Picking up where I left off with my last post... I had found two of three rock art sites I was looking for W/NW of Barker Dam. I even found a rock art site by sheer luck all on my own, so I was feeling like this was turning out to be a great hike! With an hour of daylight left, I decided to go in search of rock art site #3.
As I got close to the rock art area (based on the published GPS coordinates I had plugged into my phone), I came across "sliced bread" rocks. This might look familiar to you. I shared it a few weeks ago.

A nolina in bloom. These look so regal when in full bloom, and significant because they were important to Native Americans both as a food source (stalks) and the leaves, which were weaved into baskets.

Rock art site #3 has been called the "diamond solstice" pictographs. One reference mentions something about being "hidden in a low recess of the rock wall". My mind grabbed onto the "low" description, and assumed it had to mean low to the ground.
Based on the GPS coordinates, the pictographs should be right there! Somewhere low along these rocks. Looking all over for a low rock shelf or recess, I'm not finding anything. I double check and triple check, even assuming the GPS could be off by 50-100 feet as I scour the entire area.

I even crawled through a thick stand of manzanita, keeping an eye out for snakes.

The manzanita bark catches my eye. Really weird and interesting looking! Manzanita are native to CA, and they "peel" once a year. Once the manzanita is done shedding its outer bark, the red branches are silky smooth. These smooth branches are more resistant to insect attack, so an excellent defense mechanism. Only seen at higher elevations in Joshua Tree National Park, which is where this photo was taken.

After searching every square inch multiple times, I finally had to admit defeat. It had been a great hike, and I found lots of rock art, but site #3 (diamond solstice pictos) had eluded me. The sun was setting and I still had quite a ways to hike to get back to my Jeep, so best be moving on!

Another beautiful nolina lit up by the setting sun!

Nolina next to sliced bread rocks.

 Yet more rock art?? I think so, it sure looks like both orange and black pigment on the rock, although I can't make out any distinct symbols.

Yet another lucky find... a Native American pottery shard! I was getting a complex because everyone seems to find these but me. I was definitely overdue to find one, and here it is!

Following the wash back to the Jeep as the sun sets behind the hills. My favorite time of day!

A classic desert sky!!


Look closely and you will see the couple up on the roof of their van enjoying a classic Joshua Tree sunset! I like to think they are enjoying a little cheese, bread, perhaps a glass of wine... perfection!!

Keys Ranch Road

Last shot of the day (literally). I was tired (really tired) and running late, but I just couldn't resist pulling over to take one last skywatch shot!!

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Looking for Rock Art

About a month or so ago I was trying to think of a hike in Joshua Tree National Park that would meet a few criteria: [1] Not too far, perhaps 2 miles round trip (because of the blistering hot summer temps). [2] Be at higher elevations (same reason as #1). [3] Explore an area I hadn't seen before. I settled on looking for some rock art in the Barker Dam area (actually a little W/NW of Barker Dam).
I started my hike from Keys Ranch Road and I was armed with GPS coordinates for 3 distinct rock art areas. I felt confident I could find and easily hike to the first rock art location called "Diamond Solstice" pictographs. According to a published reference, I had the coordinates for the pictographs and a description that they were "hidden in a low recess of the rock wall". What could be easier? Well, stay tuned. Desert hikes are rarely as easy as we anticipate!

Right from the get-go, the hike was tougher than expected. The temps didn't drop like they usually do as I climbed in elevation from 29 Palms up to my hike location. Also, it was very humid. "Humid" and "desert" usually don't go together except for a couple weeks during monsoon season at the end of summer, but this summer we've had humidity for... well, the whole summer!! Anyway, I was sweating like crazy as I made my way through the soft sand and thorny brush. One of the few hikes where I drank my entire water supply before the end of the hike. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Despite temps well into the '90s and high humidity, it was a picture-perfect day with beautiful cloud formations.

As I circled the rocks on my right, I came across the view above. It looked familiar, and I thought somewhere in these rocks are the diamond solstice pictos. But checking my GPS, something was wrong. I was still a good 1/4 mile or so from the location. Oh well, might as well explore while we are here.

Climbing up and exploring the rocks above, I found this sweet little alcove. And inside the alcove...

Bingo, some definite, if faint, pictographs! Looks like both red and black pigment was used. Not the diamond solstice pictographs I was looking for, but really fun to stumble across some rock art that I had never seen described anywhere and that I had discovered on my own.

Side Note: A few days after this hike I contacted my friend PT to see if he was aware of these pictos. Not only was he aware, he had a blog post about this exact spot: Small Rock Shelter Alcove Pictographs. A lot of good information, check it out!!

Checking my phone, I could see where I went wrong. Looking at the map at the beginning of the post, I was at the red arrow. Where I wanted to be was at the yellow arrow. Decision time: Should I head up to the area where there were supposedly two rock art areas (black photo) then hike over to the diamond solstice pictos on my way back (yellow arrow)? I always hike at the end of the day, so wasn't sure if I had enough daylight to do all of this. Also my energy level was flagging on this hot humid day, but I decided to press on to the black arrow area to see what I could find.

Hiking down off the rocks and looking back up at the little alcove, this is what you see.

Yet another "split rock". These huge boulders that are split in half seem to be all over the park. I figure if I keep hiking long enough, sooner or later a big boulder is going to split in half right before my eyes!

The hike into "black arrow" wash. Thick with vegetation and at times appears to be impassable.

Eventually you get to this huge cube rock. It's like a giant guardian who's saying "you can't get past me!!" (you can if you do a little bushwhacking). Actually, getting around and past him is when things get interesting!

On the back of guardian rock, there is a low shelf with a number of pictographs. This is one of the three pictograph sites I was hoping to find, and it's been referred to as "bloody hands" pictographs. Look closely and you can see some pictos that look like bloody hands! This would be a fun image to enhance because I think there is more going on here than we can see with the naked eye.

After a lot of bushwhacking, cursing, sweating, and dead ends, I came across this sign. The Schwarzenegger Wall?? Never heard of it. I was looking for something called "Alister's Cave", and I was pretty sure this was it. Now I had a moral dilemma: Closed to climbing and bouldering. Am I a climber?? No. Am I a boulderer? I don't know, maybe, but more of a hiker. 

It's such a beautiful area with towering rock walls, I carefully continued to explore. Who could resist? I had not seen a single person on my hike all day (who else is crazy enough to be hiking on a blistering hot, humid summer day in the desert??)

An easy climb up to Alister's Cave. Not a cave at all, but a nice picturesque alcove. I have no idea who Alister was. I've even heard that Alister's Cave is somewhere up above this alcove and only accessible to serious rock climbers. Maybe that's what's closed to climbers? Whatever, I'm calling this Alister's Cave and I'm going to take some pictures!

The view out.

One of the first things I noticed weren't pictographs at all, but petroglyphs on the floor of the alcove. Very weird that they were on the ground, and perhaps one reason to discourage people like me from exploring the alcove. (I was very careful not to step on the petroglyphs!)

As my eyes adjusted to the light, I could see more and more pictographs all over the back wall and overhang of the alcove. There are many... perhaps even hundreds of pictographs. The longer I looked, the more I saw.

Interestingly, the pictos are in multiple colors. Red, white, and black pictos can all be seen. Some seem to be on top of others, and there's a certain disorder... almost sloppiness to the Alister's Cave pictographs. Makes me wonder what this cave was used for by Native Americans. Perhaps it was a party cave, with mind-altering substances being used and resulting in pictographs scrawled haphazardly all over the place! I'm joking, but heck, you never know!




Here's the view of Alister's Cave from the other side of the wash. The alcove is just visible above the scrub oak, and, like many things in the desert, it would be very easy to walk past and miss altogether.

I have at most about an hour of daylight left and I'm wondering if I have time to get to the area of the third rock art site (diamond solstice, which is the yellow arrow on the map). Sorry to keep you in suspense, but you're going to have to wait until next week's post for the exciting conclusion! I'll leave you with a couple of sky shots taken as I start my trek over to the third rock art site.


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Take only pictures, leave only footprints!
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