Thursday, April 19, 2018

Desert Solitude

Solitude is defined as a state of being alone without being lonely, and can lead to self-awareness. The word carries the sense that you are alone by choice, and that it's peaceful and pleasant. All I know is that for me, alone-time on a desert hike is relaxing and calming, and is one of the best ways I know to recharge my battery and reduce stress. And there's a thrill when hiking in a remote area where few others have hiked. Why is that? Perhaps the thrill and anticipation that you might find something new and undiscovered? I think we all have a little bit of "explorer" in us. Which brings me to today's post.

I don't think I can get much more remote than this on a day hike. I'm going to keep the location secrete because I found some very cool rock formations and caves and I don't want to advertise their location. The location is not in Joshua Tree National Park, which is where I do most of my exploring.
Off we go!!!

The hike started on a less than thrilling note. The day turned out to be warmer than expected... a little too warm for a hike in this area! I had located this interesting looking wash that I wanted to explore on Google Earth, and had pictured one of those pretty desert washes that I commonly see in Joshua Tree. Turns out this area gets a LOT less rain than JTree. Even the creosote look sickly and stunted and barely alive. The photo above shows the entrance to the wash... not a pretty picture! But in a way, that's part of the allure. There's nothing here to attract hikers. Nothing here to attract attention. I've never seen a single blog post or published article about the area. Which in my warped, heat-stricken mind, means a greater chance of discovering something new!

A short distance into the wash I found these old shot-up barrels and some wood. Makes me wonder if there was some mining or other activity in the area. Although there appeared to be very limited human footprints in this wash, there were some faint prints that looked old. It was clear to me that very few people hike here.
  
Just past the old barrels I found this desert tortoise shell. At first I thought he was alive and just tucked inside. Unfortunately, it was just the shell. Not sure if he/she met its end naturally or by a predator. There is almost no greenery or dead grass in this part of the wash. Just straggly creosote and cats claw. I can't imagine how a tortoise would survive here.

Prior to my hike, I was careful to map out waypoints that I can view offline (since I didn't have cell coverage) during my hike. I also left a printed copy of my hiking itinerary with my wife. I noticed on Google Earth a number of side washes branching off the main wash that I wanted to explore.

Wow, check this out! While exploring side-wash #2 (or was it #3?), I stumbled upon this old picnic table! This side-wash was overgrown with cats claw... I had to bushwack to get into the area, and nobody had been here in a long time. This table looked like it had been sitting in the hot sun for years.

Cool old lantern. I wonder what the story is behind this stuff?? Near the table I also found the remains of an old camp table and makeshift outhouse. Someone must have camped in this little hidden side-wash on a regular basis, but likely many years ago. Another odd and likely unsolvable desert mystery!!

Continuing up the wash, the cats claw was getting thicker and harder to penetrate. Note to self: NEVER wear shorts when hiking in the desert, I don't care how hot it is! My legs and ankles were already bloody and scratched.

At this point, I was getting near the end of my planned hike. Just ahead the wash would get narrow and rocky. I thought about turning back and calling it a day. Although I had found some cool stuff, the area was not as pretty and photogenic as I was hoping for. But the explorer in me said "lets just go a little further and see what lies ahead!" I decided to climb out of the main wash and take a look around.

I was surprised (and pleased) to see things were relatively flat up above the wash. I was also pleased to see some clouds in the sky, which weren't around earlier and would enhance my photos. I found some really interesting rocks in this area (rocky crystals, clear quartz, rose quartz, etc). I'll definitely be going back to this spot in the future to explore more. Hope I can find it again!

I hadn't seen any human footprints in a while. Actually, a little ways back in the wash was the last human footprint I would see for the rest of the day! I was getting a strong sense of hiking in an area that is seldom explored and of desert solitude.

Looking back... The wash I had been hiking up (although hard to see) is on the left. I've followed it up for about a mile or so, and I'm standing on a rocky plateau up above the wash for this photo.

Up above the wash, the rock formations are getting prettier and more interesting.

I'm starting to see small caves and alcoves eroded into the rocks (a good sign). For me, the "holy grail" on a hike like this would be to discover one of three things: A natural stone arch, a large cave or alcove, or pictographs, petroglyphs, or other sign of Native American activity.


OK, this looks really interesting! Maybe the highlight of this hike. From this spot, I can see some very unusual rocky erosion up in that dark area. I can also spot a cave or alcove up there, although hard to tell how deep it goes. The big question is can I climb up without injuring myself??

I end up making the climb slowly and carefully. The above shot is a closer view. On the right, the rock reminds me of an ear! Center is some weird circular erosion. I've never seen anything quite like it before. And on the left is a very nice small cave or alcove behind two large rocks.

Here's a close-up of the strange circular rocky erosion.  

A view from inside the rocky alcove. Turns out it's not very deep, but wow, what a view!! The floor is fine sand and just has a few small critter prints. Footprints in a protected alcove like this would last a long time, so I know this spot hasn't been visited by a human in quite a while. Heck, who knows, maybe I'm the first??!

Thanks for joining me on this adventure. There's still a major discovery to be made on this hike, but will have to save it for my next post as I'm running out of time.

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Revisiting Samuelson's Rocks

I wanted to revisit the mysterious carved rocks of Joshua Tree, aka, "Samuelson's Rocks". My cousin and his daughter joined my on the hike and I was looking forward to showing them the area. I last posted about this fascinating spot about a year ago: Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here.

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

Food for thought, spelling errors and all, with April 15 nearly here!! John Samuelson, a Swedish immigrant, carved these stones in 1927. This part of the desert would have been extremely remote, with little or no connection to the outside world. News probably spread word-of-mouth, and there would be very limited opportunity to "shoot the breeze" with others. Makes me wonder how Mr. Samuelson formed his opinions and ideas. A fascinating individual who liked to tell tall tales that stretch the limits of credibility. Some of Samuelson's stories were later published by author Erle Stanley Gardner (how many of you remember the TV show Perry Mason??). Gardner was a huge lover of the desert and used to find remote locations to do his writing. Just by coincidence, he was camping in the Quail Springs area (near what is now known as Samuelson's Rocks), met Samuelson, and over a few drinks, was so impressed with the man and his stories that he paid $20 to publish them!

A perfect day for a hike, with mild temperatures and beautiful cloud formations!

We paid a visit to the old rusty car...
Cousin Scott going for a ride!
We checked out the old collapsed homestead cabin (basement still intact!)...
Photo courtesy K. Wessel
From inside the "basement" or cellar, looking out. Somebody get me out of here!!

We even managed to find an old pump house in the area, which I had never seen before. I'll save that for a future post.

Finally reaching Samuelson's Rocks, we took turns resting on the old rusty bed springs. Although I have no proof, I like to imagine that this was Samuelson's old bed. Why would anyone haul this out to the middle of nowhere, except for Samuelson, who had a cabin on this very hill??


I can imagine Mr. Samuelson being totally inspired by the views from the top of his little hill. Perhaps that inspiration crept into his rocky inscriptions??

 THE MILK OF
HUMAN KINDNESS
AINT GOT THICK
CREAM ON IT FOR
ALL OF US
ASK HOOVER

GOD
MADE MAN
BUT HERY FORD
PUT WHEELS UNDER EM
THO A MASTER
OF THE GOLDEN RULE
HE MUST DIE
TO BE. APRRICIATED

The above carving is the toughest of the eight rock carvings to get to and is often missed. I ended up making the climb, with camera and fisheye lens in hand, but just couldn't get a decent shot (with a fisheye, you need to be really close to what you are shooting). Frustrated and perplexed, I ended up climbing further up the rocky hill so I was looking down over the top of the carved words.

An interesting and unique perspective!! Who knows, may be the first time Samuelson's Rocks has been photographed using a fisheye, and very likely the first upside down shot of one of the carved rocks!
MOTHER TIME
NEITHER WEALTH LAWS NOR ARMYS CAN STOP THE
HUMAN MIND FROM CREATING NEW OR EMPROVE UP ON
THE PRESENT DAY RELIGION AND GOVERMENT
WATER IS SAFT ONLY HARD IN THE CHEMICALLS
BUT WITH TIME THE OCEAN CAN GRIEND
THE HARDEST GRANIT TO A POWDERED SAND
SO WITH TIME WILL THE HUMAN RACE GRIEND
OUT ITS OWN DESTINYS REGARDLESS OF THE
OPPOSITION OR PARTY IN POWER

Same photo, but I used the lens correction function in Photoshop. It stretches the image so it goes from a circle to a rectangle with no vignette.

Of the eight mysterious carved rocks, this is the only one that John Samuelson signed and dated (1927).

"Twofer" shot, and one of my favorites.


The above two shots were taken on the hike back to the car. A great hike, and one I would definitely recommend.

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Ryan Ranch

Last week was "spring break" for my granddaughter, so we spent the week in the desert. My cousin Scott and his wife and daughter were visiting from Chicago, so we had an opportunity to do a few hikes together (a subject for future posts). One hike we went on was to Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park.
Photo credit: NobodyHikesinLA.com
The shot above is the information panel at the trailhead off Park Blvd. I forgot to take a photo of the trailhead, so I found this one on Google Images (please see photo credit). The Ryan Ranch hike is short and flat, so great for beginners (or grandkids!). It's somewhere in the 1 to 1.5 mile range (round trip). However, be forewarned, there are lots of things to see and areas to explore beyond the ranch ruins, so you could easily double the mileage and find yourself on some steeper trails.

The primary draw of this hike is a multi-room homestead. Most of the original adobe walls are still standing, but the roof is gone and some of the walls have crumbled away. Be sure to bring your camera, as the old adobe walls are very photogenic! The information panel describes the history of the Ryan Ranch area:

"Jepp and Tom Ryan homesteaded this site to secure the natural spring once located here. The water was essential to the Lost Horse Mine, which they owned with their brother Matt and local prospector Johnny Lang. The ranch supported the mining operation: pumping water 3.5 miles to the mine, processing ore, and serving as a mining office and home. The cattle raised here helped feed the family and workers; some 60 people lived at the ranch and mine during the gold boom. By 1908 full-time operation of the mine had ceased and the Ryans turned their attention to cattle ranching, until the establishment of Joshua Tree National Monument halted grazing.

I like the above photo because it gives you a nice visual of the area. The main building ruins are up on the hill in the middle of the photo. The adobe walls (lower left) are likely what's left of the bunkhouse.

My little explorer-in-training standing in front of the main adobe ruins on a windy day!

My cousin and his wife posing at the Ryan Ranch ruins
The walls of Ryan Ranch have a nice orange or peach color. The adobe brick are made from sand, clay and water and one additional interesting ingredient: The rocky rubble that's a byproduct of mining (known as tailings). According to the information panel:

"Jepp Ryan, in the 1930's, discovered that the old mine tailings contained gold, which meant so did the brick-leading to dubbing the Ryan house, "the gold brick house."

For best viewing (and photographs) try to time your hike so you will see the Ryan house at sunset, when they say it turns golden! My photos here really don't do it justice, as we were hiking around mid-afternoon and the light was pretty flat. This is also an amazing spot to come for long exposure night photography.

The old adobe walls even look dramatic in b&w!
From inside the adobe, looking out

Continuing our hike past the adobe ruins, I spot what looks like a little homestead cabin. Lets go take a closer look.

Not a cabin at all. Turns out this is an old pumphouse. Actually one of two pump houses according to records. Maybe this location was used to pump water 3.5 miles to the Lost Horse Mine?

Just down the hill from this pumphouse is an interesting old water tank. It's one of the largest I've seen, and it makes me think that Ryan Ranch must have been an impressive operation back in the day!


I hope you've enjoyed this tour of the Ryan Ranch area in Joshua Tree National Park. There are still a number of things we didn't see, including a fallen windmill, watering trough, gravestones, and Native American rock art. Next time you are in the Joshua Tree area, consider taking an exploratory hike to the Ryan Ranch area if you have a few free hours!!

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Some Random Photos

Just a quick post this week. My granddaughter is on spring break, so I have limited time!

Sorry for the poor photo quality. This is actually a photo captured from video. My cousin took this video from the end of my driveway in 29 Palms, and I was totally amazed!! He's visiting from Chicago and had been here only one day when he spotted about a dozen desert bighorn sheep!! A little background might be helpful. Desert bighorns are very rare. I know people who have hiked the Joshua Tree area for many years and never seen one. In all my hikes, I've only seen a single desert bighorn. To see a group of 12 come down around houses is incredible. I even reported it to the Park Service in case they track numbers and locations. The ranger said it's complicated, because there is a population of bighorns that is small but stable and classified as non-threatened in my area. There's another population in the Cottonwood Springs area of Joshua Tree National Park that IS classified as threatened due to declining numbers, and they are tracked and monitored. I told my cousin to buy a lottery ticket! Talk about lucky!!

Looking over my backyard fence in Orange County a couple weeks ago. Beautiful sunset and moon!!
Pretty sunrise taken a couple days ago (Twin Tanks Desert Homestead Cabins, 29 Palms, CA)

Very weird (and beautiful) clouds over the Joshua Tree area. I've never seen anything like these "rainbow clouds" before! This photo was taken about an hour after sunset just a few nights ago.

Taken during the last full (or nearly full) moon.
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