Thursday, October 29, 2015

Pinto Wye Arrastra (Part 1), Joshua Tree National Park

Yes, I had never heard of an "arrastra" either! Arrastras were/are circular mills used to crush and grind up ore using large heavy stones. At the Pinto Wye arrastra, gold ore, water and mercury were placed on the smooth stone floor. Several stones were dragged around the circle, crushing the ore. The mercury formed an amalgam with the gold, which was then retrieved. The Pinto Wye arrastra was powered with a gasoline engine, using a belt around the central wheel. Earlier arrastras were most often powered with animals, steam or water. Wagon wheel arrastras are supposedly very rare. There are a number of arrastras in Joshua Tree National Park, but not sure if there are any other wagon wheel arrastras.

I had heard about this arrastra from a blog I follow ( Here's the challenge: there is no trail leading to the arrastra. It's literally out in the middle of the desert, and you need to hike cross-country to get to it. The blog helped me figure out the ballpark location, but how do you find a small speck in the middle of the desert??

Here's my technique. After an extensive search on Google Maps, I finally found something that looked suspiciously like the arrastra. Just above it appears to be mine tailings, and just below it a wash, so I knew it had to be the arrastra. Here's a screen capture.
On Google Maps, when you right-click, it gives you the exact latitude/longitude information. For the Pinto Wye arrista, it is 34.028742, -116.028038. Try it out... go to Google Maps and type in this latitude/longitude. It will take you exactly to the arristra. Pretty cool, don't you think? Here's where I had to get a bit creative. There is no cell service in the park, so I can't use Google Maps (or equivalent) on my phone to help me find the arrastra. I have an app called MotionX GPS. It lets you download maps ahead of time so you can find your way, even without cell service. Better yet, you can enter and save latitude/longitude information (called "WayPoints"), and the app will show you the way to the exact spot! As I made my way across the desert in search of the arristra, I frequently checked my phone to see if I was veering off in the wrong direction. It worked perfectly! In the "old days", a compass and topo map served the same purpose.

So off I went, fully-charged cellphone in hand and plenty of water with directions to 34.028742,-116.028038, trekking cross-country through the desert. I really don't think I would have found the arrastra without my phone app. The terrain looks totally different from the ground as compared to the Google Map satellite view!
It was a perfect day for a trek across the desert.
Mild temps and beautiful skies as I hiked around the boulders!

According to my phone app, the arrastra should be over and just a little beyond this peak!
If you look closely in the above photo, you can see a small placard on the right. The arrastra is just above it and to the left.
The Pinto Wye arrastra... I found it! Middle of nowhere, with no trails leading to it, but here it is!
The drag stone... used to crush the gold ore. I checked the area for gold nuggets but didn't find anything. Worth a try, though, right? You never know...
Double wagon-wheel construction.

An old can sitting on a drag stone next to the arrastra, with an old bucket behind it. Remnants of early mining days in Joshua Tree National Park!

I hope to post "Pinto Wye Arrastra Part II" next week with some photos of the mine near the arrastra. I might even post a "Part III" because I found some very cool surprises on my hike back to my Jeep, so stay tuned!!

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Have a great weekend!!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Good News / Bad News

OK, first the bad news. We are all getting older. Nothing we can do about it. I now find myself occasionally qualifying for "senior" discounts, which is weird. I don't think of myself as a senior citizen, but what can you do?

So now the good news. I went to Joshua Tree National Park last weekend prepared to buy a new annual pass (my current pass was expired). I handed my expired pass and driver's license to the park ranger, got $30 out of my wallet, and was surprised to hear her say "You qualify for the Senior Pass!" Really?? What does that cost?? She said "$10". Wow, $10 for the year, that's a pretty good discount. "No", she says, "$10 for your lifetime."
She must have noticed the incredulous look on my face... and proceeded to say that the pass not only gets me into all National Parks, but into all properties managed by the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Dept. of the Interior, and the Fish and Wildlife Service. All for $10. For the rest of my life. Oh, and it includes anyone else I can fit in my car!! Wow, no wonder the government is broke! If you're 62 or older, quick, go out and buy a Senior Pass before someone wakes up and realizes they should be charging 10 times this amount!!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Light Rays Through the Clouds

My sister's friend Carmen just bought a beautiful new Canon 5D MarkIII camera and she wanted to take it out for a spin. The three of us went over to the local park for sunset shots. It was one of those pretty evenings with some heavy clouds broken up by rays of light.

I like the above shot because, if you look closely, you can see the cranes in Long Beach that are used to offload cargo containers in LA Harbor. That's in the ballpark of 20 miles away, so cool that we could see them so clearly!

Here are my photo partners for the evening. My sister's likely to kill me for posting this, but couldn't resist!

Even had an opportunity for a fence shot:

We were packing up our camera gear. They sky was getting dark with very little color so we thought the show was over. Just then, the sun slipped under some heavy cloud cover and we had about a brief minute or two to enjoy watching the sun sink below the horizon.

Our last shot of the evening was trying out some long exposure shots as we headed back to the car.
F32, ISO 100, 13 second exposure, 200mm focal length.
Overall, a good night for photography!
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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Land of the Wind Turbines

You know you are finally getting away from the urban sprawl of S. CA when you spot the first wind turbines as you head east on Interstate 10. These start to pop up somewhere around the Cabazon dinosaur (the "world's biggest dinosaur gift store", the Morongo Casino, and the outlet stores. San Gorgonio Mountain (11,503') is immediately to your north, and Mt. San Jacinto (10,834') to your south. These two mountains create something of a wind tunnel in the area, hence the nearly constant winds. Palm Springs is just ahead. As the big desert vistas come into view, my blood pressure immediately drops by about 10mmHg (at least that's what it feels like!). I took these shots two weekends ago on our way out to 29 Palms. The sky was heavy with rain clouds (turned out to be just a tease with not much rain). I chose B&W for this post, as I think it gives the sky a bit more drama.
The turnoff sign for 29 Palms/Yucca Valley/Joshua Tree (Highway 62) as you head east on Interstate 10.

My wife and Coyote Bait, Whitewater Road
Land of the Wind Turbines
Westbound traffic, Interstate 10
Unidentified and fenced off old buildings at Whitewater.  I wonder what this was??
I'm reading a book called My Life on the Mojave by June LeMert Paxton, who moved to the 29 Palms area in 1932. She said back then the closest mail delivery was in Whitewater (where these photos were taken). That's some 30+ miles on unpaved, rocky desert road to get your mail!! It would have been a very long, treacherous drive, even for the best of vehicles! I wonder if the old structure above might have been the Whitewater post office? I like that old door and the frame around it!

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Cloud-Eating Dinosaur!!

My granddaughter loves these dinosaurs along Highway 62 between Joshua Tree and 29 Palms. She gets excited every time we drive by them! I couldn't resist stopping and taking a few pics on my way out to 29 a couple weekends ago. It was a beautiful sky in every direction!

Here's a shot of Rex eating a cloud for lunch!
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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Lunar Eclipse

I've never tried taking pics of a lunar eclipse before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. The moonrise was at about 6:45 PM here on the west coast. Right from the start, at least half the moon was obscured by the eclipse.

I had a great vantage point from which to view the eclipse, and to the northwest, the skies were nicely lit up as people waited for the moon. Evidently, my vantage point isn't much of a secret!

As the moon moved higher on the horizon, the visible crescent became smaller...

And smaller... this one reminds me of an eyeball or a diamond ring!

And smaller still. Here, just the slightest edge is illuminated.

Same image as above, just cropped. I like this shot... never seen a moon look like this before!

Finally, the moon just kind of disappeared for a while. Without a strong telephoto lens, binoculars, or a telescope, you would have been disappointed. People around me started to chit chat, and a few left. However, viewed through my telephoto lens, I could see the faint moon picking up a definite reddish tint by about 7:45 PM.

F/11, 2 sec exposure, 800mm, ISO 3200
The biggest challenges of shooting a lunar eclipse? 1] It's a very "dull" moon, so you must manually focus (difficult with an object putting out very little light). 2] The moon is moving quickly, so you need to keep your exposure at or under about 2 seconds or it will be blurry. Not an issue at all for a "normal" moon. For a lunar eclipse, it means you really have to push your ISO, which adds grain. Bottom line: Very difficult to get a clear, sharp, non-grainy lunar eclipse shot!!

Hope you had a chance to go out and check out the lunar eclipse! Linking with Skywatch Friday. Click on the link to check out great skies from around the world!!