Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Three Perfect Days in the Desert!

We survived the holidays, and don't have to be back to work until Jan. 3, so my wife and I are out in the desert for a few days. Not sure why I like the desert so much... stress reducer?  Escape mechanism?  Whatever, I just know I like it out here in 29 Palms!

Three Perfect Days:  Day 1 (12/28/10)
As we eat breakfast at the dining room table, looking out at the desert, I notice a big crescent-shaped piece missing from a prickly-pear cactus.  How strange...
Bite mark out of Opuntia cactus

Well, it didn't take long to solve the mystery. A few bites later into my apple fritter toast, it became very clear who the culprit was!!  A BIG jackrabbit!

Caught in the act!!!
After breakfast, time to work on the "bottle tree" (will post a picture tomorrow).  Then time to take the Jeep out for a little exploring, rock hunting, and photography. Heading north on Lear Ave. from Hwy 62, we run across a homestead cabin late in the afternoon.  Can't resist taking a picture. I always wonder... who owns (or owned) this place? What was their story, and why did they have to walk away from their dream?

One Room Homestead Cabin

What a view from the Outhouse!!
Here's the "kitchen"!

Toaster Oven with Birdhouse Inside!
Back in the Jeep, down the next dirt road to the next homestead cabin. On the way, we pass by this sign... Rancho Not So Grande!  Ya gotta love the folks in the desert! 

We reach the next homestead cabin just as the sun is ready to set... hard to take a bad picture when the light is soooo perfect!

Pink Cabin in 29 Palms
Even the doors look artistic in the late afternoon light!

Front door, with bottom halve and outer wood skin missing

Back door with outer wood skin missing
Three Perfect Days:  Day 2 (12/29/10)

Day 2 started not as perfect as planned... very high winds, light drizzle.  My original plan of constructing a windmill would have to wait.  However, the bottle tree my wife put together yesterday was still standing... amazing!

So, after dropping some furniture off at Rosy's Thrift Store in 29 Palms, we continued east on Hwy 62 to an area called Wonder Valley.  We turned north on Sheldon and explored every dirt road we could find!  I could never figure out why they call it Wonder Valley, but spending time this afternoon after the storm had passed through, and seeing the wide open spaces surrounded by multiple mountain ranges, was simply incredible.  Truly a "wonder".  We were able to collect some incredible rocks today, in addition to some old desert wood I plan to use for shelves.  As always, couldn't pass up the abandoned homestead cabins. Hope you find these as interesting as I do!

Cabin #1:  Cozy, on 5 acres. Very private with no neighbors.  Forever views right out the front door!

This one includes a natural stone outdoor cooking area!

Forever view right out the front door... you can see for miles!

Oiginal kitchen looks like it was bright and cheery!
Cabin #2: Open and breezy... well ventilated!

Yes, definitely a fixer but look at the view!!!

View out of interior wall facing East
 Cabin #3: Beautifully located on a desert knoll with killer views in every direction!

Wow... true desert solitude
Cabin #4: Flat, level 5 acre lot.  Needs some roof work.
That's my beautiful wife exploring the area!
 Cabin #5: This one's a real fixer (note 2x4 supports holding up one wall; caved-in roof).
Bring your hammer!

Wonder Valley living up to its name!!

Three Perfect Days:  Day 3 (12/30/10)

Winds are very high again today, so had to bite the bullet and build the windmill in less than ideal conditions.  However, perfection is in the eye of the beholder, and in my view, any time spent in the great wide open is perfection!

Had a surprise visit from a buddy of mine. Bruce is the leader of the band I am in, and we've been making music together for almost 15 years. A great guy, and he's taught me more about music than anyone else. He was making a delivery in the area today and knows I have a place in 29, so wants to come by and  check the place out. Next thing I know, I see a tractor-trailer that is too big to navigate the turn on my sandy desert road!!

Truck's too big to make the turn up to my place!
So, on to the windmill construction project! I bought this guy on the internet, so wasn't really sure what to expect.  Turns out this 10' model is surprisingly well designed will quality materials; I give it a thumbs up. If you're in the market, Google "Barnyard Supply".  A fun project, and should give us years of enjoyment! Check out my knit cap... a Christmas gift from my sister over at Lap Dog Knits blogspot.  Man, did it come in handy!

Spinning like crazy on this windy day!
So ends our "three perfect days"... a great mix of fun, relaxation, exploration... reading, photography, even a suprise visit from an old friend!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

If This Ol' Pepper Tree Could Talk!!

Got a call yesterday, in the middle of S. CA's biggest rain storm in 10-15 years, that the old pepper tree on my mother-in-law's property in Yorba Linda came down.  Thank goodness, no one was hurt and no significant property damage.

Perhaps one of Yorba Linda's oldest CA Pepper trees

I have some sentimental attachment to this old Pepper.  I can remember when I first started dating my wife and seeing this big tree in her front yard.  I do believe we walked down and sat under it a few times :-).  I would have been about 17 at the time, which means 40 years ago (yikes!).  Even back then, the tree looked huge and full-grown.  Makes me think this tree is probably a good 100 years old.  

This old tree's seen many,many changes over the last 100 years in Orange County... incredible changes, from open fields, orange and avacado groves, and dusty roads, to the sprawling metropolis it is today.  One thing I love about my mother-in-law's property is it looks amost exactly as it did back in the 50's!

Close up of Pepper tree... one part of trunk is still intact, but likely not for long!
The diameter of the trunk of this old Pepper is approximately 6 feet.  There is still one offshot of the trunk intact, but the tree is so lopsided, it's only a matter of time before the whole thing comes down.  
Bee hive in tree hollow

I noticed a big hollowed-out area at the base with bees flying all over the place. Slowly, carefully, I got closer in hopes of getting a picture (and trying my best not to get stung!).  Can't see it too well in the pic, but here it is.  Look closely, and you can see the bees buzzing around.  A moment of silence, please, for a wonderful old Pepper tree!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Granny's Cinnamon Rolls!!!

When I was a kid, granny used to make these killer cinnamon rolls.  She didn't make them all the time, so when she did make them, it was a real treat!!  I've been know to eat an entire plate at one setting!

It's Sunday night, and I'm reflecting back on what a nice Thanksgiving weekend it's been.  Lots to be thankful for this year, and I'm 100% sincere about that.  One of the highlights of our family Thanksgiving meal was the cinnamon rolls.  Granny has passed on, but thank goodness the cinnamon roll legacy lives on!  My sister over at Lap Dog Knits blogspot (http://lapdogknits.blogspot.com/) has somehow decoded the secret process.  I can close my eyes, pop a cinnamon roll in my mouth, and instantly be transported back in time... a perfect re-creation of Granny's Cinnamon Rolls!!

Mmmmm!  A picture just can't do them justice!  Notice there are a few missing!!

 Another interesting Thanksgiving experience... what to do with the turkey neck and giblets??  Well, we decided to set them out in the desert for the coyotes, and much to our surprise, they were still there Friday AM.  But by late morning, I see this large bird on the telephone pole behind the house, and I'll be darn if he doesn't have a turkey neck up there with him!!  I'm guessing he's a Red Tail Hawk, but I'm not too good with birds, so would appreciate any input you can provide on what this bird is. 

So, how do you work off that great Thanksgiving meal (not to mention the full plate of cinnamon rolls)??  We decided to take a drive into Joshua Tree Park... that was the extent of my exercise on Friday.  But these guys know how to burn off major calories!!  Made me nervous just looking at them!

Hope everyone had a great 2010 Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus)

It must be nest building time for Cactus Wrens here in 29 Palms.  We were surprised to see a mating pair going in and out of our bird houses, and there is clearly one bird house with a nest under construction.  My wife noticed a wren sitting on top of a Golden Barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) and pulling out the fuzzy stuff off the top of the cactus with it's beak.

Cactus Wren atop Golden Barrel (ouch!)

Prickly Pear cactus with nest in center
We've been watching these wrens for a while now.  Their nest last year was in some prickly pear cactus (Opuntia sp.) - you can see it in the center of the photo if you look closely!

Here he is standing on top of the new home he (or she?) is working on.  We will have to see if this is a permanent selection!

New Home???

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"From the mountains, to the deserts..."

So, we are burning off some vacaction days this week prior to Thanksgiving.  We've decided to start off by getting some work done in the mountains... Green Valley Lake, which is about equi-distant between Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear in the San Bernardino mountains @ 7000' elevation.  We've been going up there for years, and really enjoy the beauty of the mountains.  We just happen to time it so we are arriving during the first snow of the season!!

Esquimox Rd in Green Vally Lake
Fortunately, only about 4" of snow is on the ground, with everything recently plowed, so we're in luck!

A Recommended Drive!

Hwy 18 in route to Big Bear Lake
With our work done in Green Valley Lake, we are on our way to 29 Palms.  This is a great drive... not sure how many ecosystems you pass through, but it's very cool!  The drive starts on Hwy 18 heading east towards Big Bear.  There are some great vistas along the way, so I had to stop and take this pic!

I chose to take Hwy 38 around the north end of the lake, and bypass the town and hubub.  It turned out to be a good choice.  You pass through Fawnskin, which looks like a neat little mountain town with some good local cafes and shops.  Soon you reach Baldwin "Lake" (dry) before heading down the backside of the mountain.  The Jeffrey and Ponderosa Pines soon give way to Pinion Pines and junipers, which morph into Joshua Trees.  Keep an eye out for Camp Rock Road as you reach the base of the mountain, which is the cut-off to Hwy 247 (Old Woman Springs Rd).  Go east (right), and you will have all of Johnson Valley on your left.  For the most part, this is wiiiiiide open desert with huge, sweeping vistas. 

Snow of the hood of my car, with desert Creosote background!

Hwy 247 reaches the Landers turnoff followed by Hwy 62 in Yucca Valley.  Heading left (East) on Hwy 62 we are soon "home" in 29 Palms.  A great drive that can easily be done in 2 hours (but give yourself longer to stop and explore!).

Home in 29!!  Joshua Tree National Park is in the background.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Giant Volcanic Crater??

Just finished up a nice weekend in 29 Palms.  Second visit in a row that we found a tarantula - this one happened to be right outside our front door, and appears to be a "teenager" (not fully grown).  Here's the little guy now, walking in the gravel and measures in at about 1.5 inches.
Lots of bird activity this weekend, and the wife saw, on 2 or perhaps 3 occassions, birds of prey sweep in to feed on the smaller birds.  Once we got a good look and think it was a Cooper's Hawk.  Also frequently see Red Tail Hawks.

We decided to check out a spot on the map called Amboy Crater.  I figured a small volcanic crater next to the road, short 10 minute hike, so let's go check it out.  Well, my mistake:  I didn't do my homework to find out more about Amboy Crater and the length of the hike.  So off we go, heading east on Highway 62, north on Utah Trail, west on Amboy Trail through an interesting, dusty, unique area called 'Wonder Valley'.  Looks like the old west... very hard to drive through this area without stopping to explore!  So, first stop (totally random):  North on a dirt road called Schooler Road.  Lots more Tiny Desert Cabins in the Middle of Nowhere in this area.  Very cool!  And here's one for sale (and cheap, I'm guessing!): 

Not only is this area great for checking out jackrabbit homestead cabins, it's excellent for rockhounds.  Here's an old well (I think??) at another desert cabin in the area.  Check out the great rocks!

From the inside looking out, another cabin:

OK, on to Amboy!  After Amboy Rd. turns to the north, you head up and over Sheep Hole Mountains (more on that later), then follow the eastern edge of 29 Palms Marine Training Center.  Soon your drive levels out and you begin crossing Bristol Dry Lake.  Before long, it appears that there is snow on the ground!  Turns out this is a large chloride chemical mine, with weird mud hills all over the place and dried white chemical everywhere!  This area is great for photography, although a little tricky to find areas to safely turn off the main road.

So, on to the crater!  A short distance north of Bristol Dry Lake you will come to old Route 66.  Turn right to go to the "town" of Amboy (one gas station and a motel being refurbished) and left to go to the crater.

Well, turns out the crater is pretty impressive... very large (you can't miss it!), but about a 3 hour hike that folks finishing up tell us is quite strenuous.  Probably well worth it, but plan ahead with good shoes (you hike over lava), day pack, plenty of water, and early in the day (there is no shade).  Here's what it looks like from the parking lot, which is as close as we got on this day!!

Heading away from the crater, decided to make a quick stop in Amboy.  Here's the motel that's under construction.  Will be very cool (and vintage Route 66) when it is done.

On the drive back to 29, just couldn't resist pulling off Amboy Road on the south facing side of the Sheep Hole Mountains and taking some pics of the "tiny boxes".  These were taken in the middle of the day, but would like to go back around sunset when the shadows are long for some really outstanding pics!

Last interesting destination (back in Wonder Valley now) was a quick stop at The Palms Restaurant on Amboy Road.  It really should be named "The Palms Roadhouse Bar"... talk about the quintessential dusty desert bar!  Looked like one of the guys from ZZ Top was behind the bar, very friendly, and the bar appeared to have been there forever, with all kinds of weird and interesting things on the walls and ceiling.  Seriously cool place with a back room for sit-down diners and a small stage area surrounded by chain link fence!  They evidently have live bands from time to time.  My Telecaster would have been right at home here!!  My only regret is I didn't take my camera inside with me. 

Need to sign off now.  Here's our Jeep that gets the wife and I to all these cool spots, with the Sheep Hole Mountains in the background.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tiny Desert Cabins in the Middle of Nowhere

So we took a quick trip out to 29 Palms last weekend (left Sat. afternoon and back home mid-day Sunday, so truly was a quick trip).  Going out to the desert has become one of my passions, so I want to share some of the fun!

One of the really interesting things you see out in the 29 Palms/Wonder Valley area are the "Jackrabbit Homestead" cabins that dot the landscape.  Most are totally out in the middle of nowhere, and they are just little boxy things about 12' x 12'.  Some are occupied; some are being refurbished and renovated to their original '50s glory; but many are abandoned and in varying stages of decay.  And virtually all are photogenic!  You can't help wondering who owns (or owned) them?  What was their story?  Why did they walk away from them?  There's an excellent book that tells the history of these desert boxes.  The author is Kim Stringfellow and the picture below is taken from the website http://www.jackrabbithomestead.com/ where you can order this book if you're interested.  It's quite good.

Banner image

Another interesting website is at http://www.myartspace.com/viewer/gallery/?subscriberid=pmi9osmac9pg0v61&gallery_id=9bo4y6ngb9vw2341.  I think these are paintings, or perhaps enhanced photos?  Whatever, they do a great job capturing the lonesome, high-desert beauty of these cabins.

The wife and I went for a walk last Saturday late in the afternoon.  We turned left out of our driveway and took the short walk up to the rocks.  It's such a pretty area that I am constantly looking up at the scenery (vs. where I am stepping) and I dang near stepped on a tarantula!  Never seen one in the wild before.  This guy was pretty feisty and would raise up on his hind legs when you would get close.  He also put his butt up in the air as he walked toward you, and he (she?) looked to have a pretty good size stinger.  Not something you would want to have in your sleeping bag with you!

I told the wife to put her shoe next to it so I could get some perspective in the photo (plus no way I'm putting my foot near that thing!).  Here's what he looked like:

That was our excitement for the weekend.  Cheap thrills!  As we're heading back down the road, the sun is setting, the shadows are long, and things are getting interesting.  I snapped a picture of this homestead cabin that's a short walk from our place... appears not to have been used in many years.

Here's another one a few hundred yards from the last one.  I've named it "The Pink Palace", and it appears to be well maintained.

Here's one to the north of our place on the other side of Hwy 62 that's not so lucky (from a maintenance point-of-view). However, great location with an unbelievable view!  I took this photo about 4-5 weeks ago.

I'll leave you with this interesting desert factoid.  There are some HUGE ant piles in this part of the desert.  A grown man could fall into one! (OK, maybe not... just my desert imagination getting away from me).  Not sure why they are so large, but they are, trust me.  Here's one on our property:

So I have a theory.  Back in the '50s, some film producer from LA probably came out to 29 or Joshua Tree to relax for the weekend.  Who knows, maybe he stayed in a jackrabbit homestead cabin!  He saw these giant ant piles, and his imagination went crazy.  Slowly a movie script started to form in his mind... some kind of radioactivity... yes, that's it, the radioactivity could cause genetic mutations resulting in giant ants that have the potential to destroy the world!!!  If you've not seen "THEM!", and you like kitchy '50s Sci Fi, have I got a movie for you!  Added bonus:  You get to see James Arness and a quick shot of Fess Parker when they were very young.  Enjoy!