Thursday, October 26, 2017

Twin Tanks

Twin Tanks is an area in Joshua Tree National Park I've been wanting to explore for some time. It has special significance to me. A handful of years ago, my wife and I bought a little homestead cabin on 5 acres that we fixed up and listed on Airbnb. The property has two large water tanks (back in the days before city water, you either had to have a well or have water hauled in and put in tanks). I liked the history and vintage look of the old water tanks so we built a platform, put the tanks up on top, and named our little slice of heaven "Twin Tanks". Here's what they look like.
"Twin Tanks"
To this day I'm not sure if the name popped into my head because I had seen the sign in JTNP for Twin Tanks. Just a lucky coincidence I guess!
Turn right at the moon!!
Let me start by saying that my friend Pat Tillett just posted on Twin Tanks, so please check it out by clicking here. The two of us have a hike planned to visit this area again in a couple weeks, so more to follow!

I finally hiked the area for the first time about a month ago. Early in my hike I sprained my ankle (click here for the gory details from my last post). Below you can see my hiking track (blue line). You might notice I don't hike in a straight line. That's because I'm always getting side-tracked looking for the next great photo! I'm guessing all of us photographers hike in weird, jagged patterns like this.

I won't be making the 35 mile hike today!

Above is the sign you see next to the parking lot. So why do they call it Twin Tanks? Glad you asked! You might recall a "tank" out here in Joshua Tree is a term used for an area that catches water. There are natural tanks, made by boulder dams or large depressions in boulders, and there are man made tanks. Twin Tanks has two man made tanks. To my knowledge, they are not named. I'll refer to them as "Cupule Tank" and "Barker Tank" (not to be confused with Barker Dam). Hopefully the reason will become clear and make sense as we go on!

There is no trail to the Twin Tanks area. It's recommended to take a compass reading and head 245 degrees from the parking area. There are also supposed to be some large quartz rocks on top of a hill that are very near the Tanks and give you a visual reference to hike towards. As it turned out, I couldn't make out the quartz rocks until I got fairly close to them. Thank goodness for GPS and waypoint markers!
Do you see the quartz rocks? We're actually very close to them at this spot, just up the hill. But good luck seeing these rocks at the start of the hike. I wasn't able to use them as a visual reference until later.
There they are!!

These large white quartz boulders are very freaky looking and one of the highlights of the hike. They absolutely look like they don't belong here. They totally stand out in contrast to all the other rock formations in the area. My theory is they were placed here by aliens and they have magical powers. There are likely more scientifically objective explanations out there, but I'm sticking with aliens!
Look closely at the photo above for the quartz boulders on top of the hill. Over the eons, it looks like a few of the boulders have tumbled down the hillside. It would take a lot to move these guys, as they are big! 

Ta Daaa!! Made it to the top of "quartz mountain", with some beautiful views and a closer look at the alien rock formation (sprained ankle and all). I know the Twin Tanks must be close by.

Next to the big quartz boulders is this area covered by small, eroded quartz. Perhaps there were quartz boulders here at one time but over many years eroded away? Or perhaps there were quartz boulders here that rolled down the hillside after a large earthquake thousands of years ago? Or perhaps the aliens... no, let's not go there.

Somewhere near the quartz boulders I found this cool rock formation. It looks very much like it could have been used by Native Americans as a shelter. Let's take a closer look.

This spot has definitely been used as a shelter and has soot on the rocks from past fires. By the looks of it, there have been many fires over the years. But how to tell if they are recent or date back to Native American times? Or it could easily have been both, used by Native Americans first and later by ranchers and modern day hikers. Way beyond my area of expertise, but fascinating anyway.

One last shot of the shelter. I didn't notice it at the time, but after viewing this photo on my computer, I can see what looks like an old fire ring covered up by a bush. Wish I would have noticed it during the hike so I could have taken a closer look!

As I hiked around a corner... finally, Twin Tank #1 (AKA, Cupule Tank).
Of the two tanks, Cupule Tank is the more impressive. You can see the stone dam pretty well in this shot. Even more impressive is the natural tank area below the dam and also those little dots on the rock surface on the right.

Here's a better shot of the little "dots" etched into the rock. They are called "cupules", and are perhaps the oldest form of petroglyphs. Pretty cool, right? For a more complete discussion of cupules by someone who actually knows what they are talking about, check out Patrick Tillett: Twin Tanks Post 1.

A closer shot of "Cupule Tank" dam.

I noticed an iron strap attached to the rock wall on one side with a piece of wood on the other. According to Pat Tillett's blog, there used to be several of these attached to a wooden "deck". The deck is long gone but the iron straps can still be seen. I can imagine a deck being very handy as a way to access the water in the natural tank below the dam. But that's just a guess as to how it might have been used.

Tank #2 (Barker Tank) is not far from Cupule Tank, may be a 1/4 mile at most. It's smaller and unimpressive for the most part.
It was likely more impressive back in the day, but has filled up with sand over the years. 

One cool thing about this tank is the signature: C. O. Barker, of Barker Dam fame. Barker was an early cattleman who used this area as open range (prior to it becoming JTNP) back when rainfall was more plentiful. With the small amount of rain we get these days, it's hard to imagine livestock surviving the harsh summers of JTNP.

Not a great photo because I had to shoot into the sun, but the water has carved out some really interesting small "tank" areas downstream from "Barker Tank". Like the area behind Cupule Tank dam, it looks like these deep rocky indentations would hold quite a bit of water. Even in late summer, I could see areas where animals have been digging in areas of moist sand.

This is turning into an overly-long post, so let me close out with a couple of pretty sky shots. There will be more to follow on this fascinating area!
 Can you spot the quartz rocks? Very visible from this spot.

Addendum: The tragic story of the two young hikers that had been missing in JTNP for almost 3 months that I mentioned last week? A really strange twist to the story. The news last week reported the hikers had been found, locked in an embrace, in a remote area. Then a few days later the twist nobody expected: Both hikers died of gunshot wounds. The news reports speculate that it might have been an act of compassion. The young man killed the young lady, then himself. Likely they were out of water, out of food, hopelessly lost, suffering, and they knew the end was near. Perhaps an act of compassion, but it also makes me wonder why someone would go on a hike with a loaded weapon? Here's a link to a more recent article: Joshua Tree Hike Couple.
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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Ugly Foot Alert!

I had my first hiking injury recently, which can be a little scary when hiking alone in the desert. I'm generally very careful, planning my hikes in detail, marking waypoints on my phone to help me keep my bearings, and even using a tracking app that allows me to follow my exact tracks back to the start of the hike. I do a short write-up (complete with waypoints) prior to going on a hike. I print out out two copies (take one with me, and leave a copy for my wife) so there is no question of where I will be hiking. If for some reason I don't return, she knows where to find me! Perhaps most importantly, I STICK TO THE PLAN! There can be deadly consequences if I change my mind at the last minute and hike in an area where nobody knows where I am. I consider all this more or less mandatory for off-trail hiking in the desert from a safety and survival perspective.

So a few weeks ago I decided to hike the "Twin Tanks" area in Joshua Tree (more to follow about Twin Tanks on my next post, so stay tuned!). I had never hiked here before, and there is no trail leading to the Twin Tanks area. It requires some navigation ability and use of waypoints and landmarks. Also, I checked out a trusted resource before doing the hike ( My friend Pat had this to say about the area:

This place is a warren of washes and small canyons, many of which terminate in a dead end. What I'm saying, is that it is very easy to get lost and/or injured in this area. For most people, getting lost in the desert or wilderness, is a very bad thing. Sometimes, it is a fatal mistake. This is made all the worse, by the absence of cell phone signals here.

OK, this definitely raised a red flag in my mind to be careful. Thanks, Pat, for the heads up! So off I went on my Twin Tanks hike, well prepared and with camera gear, plenty of water, snacks, as well as other safety gear.

There is no trail to the Twin Tanks area, so right at the start of the hike you have to make a decision: Follow the wash (photo above), or take a more cross country approach? The wash is sandy, which makes hiking harder, with lots of twists and turns. Cross country can mean more rugged terrain with ups and downs. I chose the cross country approach, but rejoined with the wash from time to time.

Early in the hike, at about 3/4 of a mile or so, the rock formations started getting interesting. It might have been at this spot that I started hiking up one of the boulders to get a better vantage point for a photo.

Or maybe it was at this spot? I guess it doesn't matter, but I ended up slipping as I climbed a boulder. I went down hard, holding my DSLR in one hand and my hiking stick in the other. I heard a "clunk" as my camera base hit a rock, I felt a sharp pain in my right ankle and my right palm was bleeding. My first thought was "Oh s**t, I broke my camera!" My second thought was "Am I going to be able to hike out of here??" Thankfully, my camera was fine. I had some mild ankle pain, but I could walk on it.
Yup, I warned you. This is my ankle a few days after the hike as it's starting to turn purple. I don't know why the purple bruise follows that sharp line above my heel.

View of the other side of my right foot. Ugly, bruised and swollen, but nothing broken!

Since it didn't hurt too much to walk, I continued on my hike. It was actually a great hike, and I intend to go back for a second visit. There are some petroglyphs I would like to see that I didn't quite make it to on this hike. I'll leave you with a few pretty sky shots from the Twin Tanks hike.

Addendum: A sad ending to the young hikers that went missing in Joshua Tree in late July. Amazingly, it took over 2 1/2 months and thousands of search-hours to find the bodies (their bodies were found embracing on Sunday, Oct. 15). You can read a short article here. It just highlights how dangerous and sometimes deadly the desert can be.

Tune in next time for more photos taken during my hike in the Twin Tanks area.
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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Smoky Skies

Pretty skies, but at a heavy, heart-breaking cost. According to the news, something like 17 wildfires were burning in California early this week. The closest to my family is the Canyon Fire 2 in the Anaheim Hills area (about 15 miles as the crow flies from my house). We are in no danger, and thankfully, no loss of life (although significant loss of structures) from the Canyon Fire 2. Not the case for the fires burning in the Santa Rosa and wine country area. These fires sound devastating, and my heart goes out to those folks.

I picked up my granddaughter at school on Monday afternoon, and it was obvious there was a fire in the area.

We went over to our local park, where the views of the sky were more dramatic. I really didn't plan on taking any photos (I had promised to take my granddaughter to the park after school, and kids have a really good memory for that sort of thing!), but I couldn't resist as I saw the smoke slowly move across the sky and even start to obscure the sun. All photos taken on my iPhone.

 The Santa Ana winds were very gusty... hang on to your hat!

 Life goes on under smoky skies. Look closely and you can see sand traps, golf carts and golfers. There is a golf course right next to the park.

Even the geese and ducks seemed to be wondering what was going on with this strange sky!

Looking down... but perhaps should have been looking up??

Stay safe out there!!
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Thursday, October 5, 2017

Doo Doo Doo Lookin' Out My Backdoor

About four weekends ago (yes, that's how behind I am on my posts!) we were in 29 Palms for the weekend when one of those rare, beautiful desert storms moved through the area. I didn't even have to leave my property for these photos... no hiking required... all taken right outside my door!

That's Sullivan Road heading off to the west.

Pretty shot of Copper Mountain (looking north)

Looking south toward Indian Cove, Joshua Tree National Park... see the little piece of rainbow?

A rainbow over our house. Sorry, couldn't help the shadow!

Sometimes great photos are waiting for you right outside your door!
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