Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Visit to the Tidepools

It's amazing how my 4-year-old granddaughter can scamper like a crab along the sharp and slippery rocks at the tidepools! A beautiful day with stunning skies, and a nice departure from my usual desert scenery!

Capturing the moment!

Lots of photographers out and about
Even a professional photoshoot!

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

In the Lion's Den!

During my pictograph and petroglyph hike in Joshua Tree with PT last week, I think some of his enthusiasm rubbed off on me. I found myself poking around in anything that looked like a rock overhang or cave for signs of ancient markings. Well, I didn't find any new pictographs or petroglyphs sites (besides those that PT showed me), but I did make a somewhat gruesome and interesting discovery. I noticed a couple huge boulders that formed something of a natural cave. Looking in, I saw a large skeleton! Seeing the big rib cage, my first reaction was to take a few steps back in shock, and I wondered if it was a human skeleton. After regaining my composure, I took a closer look and it was obviously the skeleton of a bighorn sheep. As PT and I climbed into the cave to take a closer look, we noticed the skeleton was nearly fully intact. Near as I could tell, it was missing only one horn and the lower jaw, and these were on a rock ledge just above the rest of the skeleton. It slowly dawned on both of us that this was a very recent kill, and that there is only one predator in Joshua Tree that could have killed a bighorn sheep, and that's a mountain lion. I think we both got the heeby jeebies at about the same time as we realized we had literally climbed into a mountain lion den where a lion had been recently feeding.

The missing horn and lower jaw were on this ledge above the main skeleton.
Photo credit Pat Tillett
We left everything exactly as we found it, and agreed we should quietly exit the den ASAP. As we did so, I think we both wondered if we were being watched, and scanned the rocky slopes around us, hoping not to see the big cat coming our way!!!
Photo credit: Google Images at Mountain Lion California
After our hike, I notified the Park Service of our find and asked if this was likely a mountain lion kill. Park Ranger Michael Vamstad confirmed our suspicions that this was almost certainly a mountain lion kill (the bighorn sheep was likely attacked while drinking from the nearby wash and dragged to this location). He said they really don't know how many mountain lions there are in Joshua Tree, but estimated there are probably "about a dozen". He was very interested in my report and asked for GPS coordinates of the location (which I provided). Additional information he provided is below.

Mountain lions do return to the kill site multiple times to feed on the carcass. They are quite methodical when it comes to feeding and I would say that this carcass is picked pretty clean. They first usually remove the digestive system and then go for the organ meat and that is why you see the rib cage opened up rather evenly. They then will return for more muscular meat. This may be a strategy to eat the parts that will go bad first and to remove the organs that will hasten the spoilage of the meat (digestive tract organs). A bighorn kill will probably feed a lion for a week or so. 

We have never had a lion attack in the park. We have had a couple of interactions where the Lion growled at hikers, but that has been it. I know that I feel the heeby jeebies when I am around a kill site, although I am probably in no real danger. However, you are in their territory and at one of their kill sites which probably increases your risk some...

Thanks again for letting us know!! We will get it entered into our database. 

It was quite an adventure, and one I will not soon forget!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

In Search of Pictographs and Petroglyphs

Pictograph: An ancient or prehistoric drawing or painting on a rock wall.
Petroglyph: Images created by removing (carving or scraping away) a rock surface by a prehistoric people.

There were a number of "firsts" on this hike. First time making this hike. First time I've been in search of secret spots containing petroglyphs and/or pictographs. And first time hiking with a fellow blogger and virtual friend whom I had never met (Pat Tillett). We agreed to meet in a parking lot in Joshua Tree National Park and spend the afternoon hiking. Turns out Pat is a great guy and a wealth of information about JTree! He served as my informal guide on this hike, and we found not one but THREE areas with petroglyphs and pictographs! Plus a whole lot more I will save for a future date.
Petroglyph area number one was a real surprise. I've walked right by this spot a number of times and didn't know it existed! It's really close to an area that a lot of tourists visit, yet none of them know about it. It's hidden behind bushes and the pictographs are faint, but they are there. Also interesting is the weird way the rocks have eroded over the eons. Not to mention the site was once used for storage (look closely and you can see the remains of a door and rock & cement work). Joshua Tree holds so many mysteries!!

My hiking partner, Pat Tillett
The next destination is called "high noon" pictograph boulder by one local expert. There is a sun pictograph on the ceiling at the high noon position, hence the name. Pat calls it "hollow boulder", which is a good name too. You have to squeeze through the little opening, but once inside, the entire boulder is hollow and there is a surprising amount of room. Very cool!
Pat inspecting the "crawl space" to get into "hollow boulder"

You can easily see the reddish-pigment pictographs once inside the hollowed-out rock. The quantity of pictographs isn't large, but they seem well preserved. It really makes you wonder about who made these pictographs, what was their life like, and what were they trying to communicate?

Our third and final destination on this hike is sometimes called "surprise rock" pictographs. Another good name, because from the trail or wash area that people follow when hiking this area, it appears to be just another big rock boulder. However, upon closer inspection, the rock is really crescent-shaped, and surprise!... on the back of the rock (inside the crescent) are a big bunch of petroglyphs (and some pictographs too) that almost everyone walks right by. Another great JTree mystery and surprise!

Pat (right) and some friends we met on the trail inspecting Surprise Rock pictographs and petroglyphs.

"Surprise Rock" pictographs and petroglyphs.
Pretty amazing, right? This photo doesn't do it justice, there are all kinds of forms and lines and symbols on this rock. I hope Pat posts his photos because he has a special program (DStretch) that really makes everything jump out and much more visible.

I couldn't resist including this shot of "Valentine Rock" (hope you had a good one!).

Icing on the cake... we had some great afternoon skies, perfect for Skywatch Friday

Photo credit Pat Tillett
Along the trail...

In summary, a wonderful hike, a great new hiking partner, and lots of Joshua Tree mysteries waiting to be solved (or at least photographed)! I took many more photos during this hike so stay tuned!

Linking with Skywatch Friday. Thanks for stopping by!!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Eagle Cliff Cabin (revisited)

I've posted on the Eagle Cliff cabin previously (Eagle Cliff Mine (part 1) and Eagle Cliff Mine (part 2)), but since it's one of my favorite hikes and places to visit in Joshua Tree National Park, I don't feel too guilty about posting again! This time it wasn't a solo hike. I had my cousin from Chicago with me. He loves to hike and is a fellow photographer, so the perfect hiking companion.

The old miner's cabin is in a somewhat remote area of Joshua Tree. It's not on any of the JT maps, and the trail going to it is unmarked and in places hard to follow. It's one of those "secret" places that not too many people know about. Perhaps best of all, the cabin is well preserved... no graffiti and hikers respect it and leave it as they found it for other hikers to enjoy.
Photo of yours truly; photo credit S. Wessel
One of a number of old mines (this one is in the Desert Queen mining area). Note the old tracks used for moving the ore.

Along the way, my cousin found this old rusty can with "Union Carbide Co." on the bottom. An internet search revealed that the Union Carbide Company sold calcium carbide which was used in "carbide lamps" by miners in their lanterns and helmet lamps. By slowly adding water to calcium carbide, you produce acetylene, which produces a bright flame for the lamp. Basic chemistry, right? When the can was new, it might have looked like the one in the photo below. After taking the photo, we put the can back exactly as we found it.

Photo credit S. Wessel
Just before reaching the miner's cabin, you will see the opening to the Eagle Cliff Mine. It's actually easy to miss because of the bushes partially obscure the opening. Like all of the mines in this area, there is a gate a little ways inside the mine so you can no longer go inside and explore.

Let's take a look inside the cabin...

And from the outside...

The area around the cabin (Eagle Cliff) is worth the hike all by itself. Beautiful rock formations and spectacular views! Look closely at the photo below and you will see my silhouette up in the rocks.
Photo credit S. Wessel
That little speck of a person in the flat area is cousin Scott!

Hope you enjoyed joining us on our hike to the Eagle Cliff miner's cabin!
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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Fog in the Desert

Like rain, we don't get much fog in the desert. When we do, it's a rare treat. The skies aren't pretty, but it creates a nice mood. We drove up to Keys View recently, which is where these shots were taken. The sky was pretty at the lower elevations, but when we got up to Keys View, it was cold, windy, and foggy. This location usually has some of the best views of anywhere in Joshua Tree National Park, but not today!! People say that on a good day you can see all the way to the hills of Mexico.
Hmmm... What view, Grandpa???

Cold and windy, but that didn't slow her down!!

Time to head back to the car!!

Thanks for checking out my moody, gray skies!
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