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.
Linking with Skywatch Friday.
Click on the link to check out great skies from around the world.
Thanks for stopping by!!


  1. The JTNP is full of surprises! How extraordinary to find those large white quartz boulders on the peak! ( Had to be aliens!)
    Wonderful series of desert photos and informative too!

  2. Awesome sky shots and amazing rock formations, gullies, indentations and more ~ fascinating hike ~ hope the sprain is healing well ~

    Love and light,
    A ShutterBug Explores ~ aka ~ (A Creative Harbor)

  3. When you get your own exhibition show, let me know. I will be there. Big fan, figuratively.

    Worth a Thousand Words

  4. Lots of beautiful photos. That couple was a sad story either way. But at least where I live, hiking with a loaded weapon is very common, and many people can carry them concealed if they want.

  5. Gorgeous photos Pete! Seriously, my photos are snap shots compared to yours.
    I didn't see that chunk of wood with the strap attached.
    I had to laugh about your screen shot from Google Earth. What you said is SO TRUE. If you are out there looking for things (photos, rock art, etc), a three mile hike might end up being twice as long. What you did with those water tanks was a great idea.

  6. Very interesting shots of the place.

  7. I love your adventures especially your willingness to just head off across country without a trail. The thing about the desert is that things don't decompose that fast and there is not that much vegetation so the artifacts of history are a lot more visible than other areas. (Or so it seems to me, not wanting sound like a know it all.)
    Strange story about the missing couple. Lots of goobers here in Oklahoma take their guns everywhere cuz you know, that is their right.

  8. Yet another smashing post! I especially like the top B&W image...once again, kudos!

  9. Gorgeous shots! Such a shame about the young couple.

  10. Boy there is sure a lot to see way out there in the desert. I always enjoy what you find.

  11. Such amazing views you can see in the desert. One of the tanks looks like it included by water rolling a stone around to form a hollow in the rock. I read about the couple on the BBC news here just after your post last week. Very sad

  12. If I got any ONE of these on a walk, I'd be delighted! Beautiful pictures!

  13. All the wandering about was worth it - you got some great photos. It didn't seem a long post to me as I got so engrossed in it. Hope the ankle is healing, though if it's like mine it'll be weak for some time so worth taking some kind of support bandage along.

  14. I always enjoy your adventures. The white quartz fascinates me as it just looks like it doesn't belong.

  15. wow, you find do many interesting plases to share. Love everything about it. And so many signs of being used of people from the past. :)

  16. Hello, great hike. I love the rock formations, the twin tanks and dam. The quartz boulders do look out of place. Pretty sky shots. Happy Friday, enjoy your weekend!

  17. 35mi hike. That's a hike. I'm with you. Aliens!!

  18. I enjoyed the photographs of the rocks and the information. I live on the East Coast so I have never seen this type of landscape in person. I just had a big birthday, 60, and one of my sons bought me a rock polisher. My grandsons are getting older, and I'm hoping it will keep them away from their tech gadgets while they are at my house. I'm hoping to keep our close bond alive over hunting and tumbling rocks and pebbles.

  19. You tell quite the story, I enjoyed every detail with the beautiful photos. It's sad story about the couple.

  20. I was lucky enough to travel through JTNP earlier in the year and I loved it just as much as the first time a few years earlier. Your photographs are superb and make me feel a little homesick. I look forward to the time we can visit again. It is high on our priority list.

  21. So cool! i have always wanted to go there! Have a great weekend!

  22. Amazing series of pictures, as always. I like those quartz boulders there. :-)
    Have a lovely weekend!

  23. Another wonderful hike. Fantastic views, great narrative and stunning photos. You need to do a book.
    I hope your ankle is getting better.
    Have a great weekend.

  24. Gorgeous, gorgeous scenery, as always.

  25. These are magnificent! Gorgeous photos!

  26. Beautiful area, and filled with interesting artifacts! And to top it off, you had such a clear crisp day for photography! Very nice.

  27. Interesting rock formations and beautiful skies. You always have such great photos to share!

  28. Wow this rock formations are incredible. Also the impact of the weather on them is quite remarkable. Great photo's indeed.

  29. Very interesting hike and photos. I like your alien theory!

  30. These tanks - clever solution to the desert challenge - water! As for the petroglyphs, the fire ring and the makeshift shelter - it is always interesting to me to think about how people before us survived/lived in these regions. The last three shots with the cloud formations are enchanting!


  31. I hope your ankle is healing well! Those quartz rocks being there sure are a puzzle! I wonder if someone was hauling them from anothee location long ago and just dumped them when the load got heavy? Or maybe it was!

    I enjoyed seeing the comparison between your visit to this place with Pat's blog about it. You guys are fortunate to live in such a beautiful and interesting area.

    A very sad story about the lost hikers. Wilderness of any kind can be very dangerous if you don't know what you are doing.

  32. The white quartz rocks really jump out at me in your close pictures. They definitely look like they came from “another place” (I always choose the fantasy’s so much easier to understand than science)). I didn’t know or had forgotten about that early form of petroglyphs ... so neat to find ... I would have been excited to find Mr Barker,s ‘signature’ on the other one too. This was a beautiful hike ending with your signature gorgeous desert skies. Loved the whole post...and wish we had some time when we could rent that sweet cabin at the other Twin Tanks!

  33. One would think that desert is boring... Surely, it's not! Beautiful captures and interesting post, as always.

  34. I enjoyed over read your blog post.
    Your blog have nice information, I got good idea from this amazing blog.
    I am always searching like this type blog post. I hope I will see again…