Thursday, January 25, 2018

Into The Great Wide Open

Into the great wide open
Under them skies of blue...
                         Tom Petty

Joshua Tree National Park (at least the part most of us see) is scrunched up into the NW corner of the Park. Most people enter the Park via the west entrance (Park Blvd. in Joshua Tree). If you drive east and exit on Utah Trail (into the town of 29 Palms) you will have passed by most of the campgrounds and scenic areas that make the Park famous. However, that's a really small piece of the overall 790,656 acres that is JTNP. The Park's eastern half is wild, open, pristine desert. It is rarely visited, and with just a couple exceptions, there are no roads going into the area and not even any trails (the exception being an old mining road or two that were closed long ago). I made my first visit to this area a week ago. It's the kind of place you can hike all day without seeing another human being or even footprints from another human being!
Leaving 29 Palms. I always smile when I see this sign... it's a marker that you are leaving civilization and heading into the middle of nowhere!

As I headed west on Highway 62, my first challenge was to stay focused on my goal of reaching the NE end of the Park. First I had to pass by all the little abandoned and decaying homestead cabins in Wonder Valley. They totally call to me, and it's always hard to ignore them and not stop for photos. I only lost my resolve for just this one photo (above), and then drove on.

Somewhere past the Sheephole Mountains I couldn't resist another stop to admire the wide open spaces under a beautiful desert sky. That's my old Jeep, smiling because it gets to do what it loves best (explore old out-of-the-way desert locations).

Looking back (west) in the direction I had just come on Highway 62. I believe those are the Sheephole Mountains on the right. Joshua Tree National Park comes right up to the highway (on the left) in this area. As you can see, not a busy highway!

Finally, I reach my destination. Just a small paved turnout in the middle of nowhere. Hmm, I wonder if that call box actually works?? Looking straight ahead (east), I think those are the Coxcomb Mountains. Famous to a small group of die-hard explorers for their remoteness and ruggedness and inaccessibility. I'm not heading to the Coxcombs. My plan is to head due south to explore the rock formations, and hopefully find one particular rock formation (more on that in a future post).

I love these desert shots in B&W. As I begin my hike, I'm crossing a broad desert wash that slopes gently to the east. That little bush/tree in the photo above (on left) is a Smoke Tree, and they are usually confined to desert washes. You see them in paintings of the southwest deserts and they have a certain beauty about them. It may be an acquired taste... I've definitely acquired it! 

It's only about 1/2 mile to the start of the rocky area I want to explore, so not a long hike. But in the course of just a few hours and 2-3 miles I end up taking nearly 200 photos, so I'm going to have to share some of them on multiple posts. More to come!

Before I forget, a shout-out to Alan over at Yogi's Den for this cool app alert. It's called Solocator, and it adds location data to the top of your photo. Here's an example:
It shows the compass heading (about 87 degrees east), elevation (1992'), date/time, and the best part: GPS coordinates. Cool, don't you think?! Go ahead and try it... type 34 6'9"N, 115 27'2"W (I don't know how to make the little degrees symbol, but it doesn't seem to matter) into Google Maps (or similar). It should take you right to where I was standing (+/- 16.4 ft) when I took this photo! I use it when I find something interesting that I want to come back to. Just take a pic and you have the coordinates documented. Also handy when you want to share a location with someone else. Here are a couple more from the hike.

I have no idea what this is or why it is here!

As you can see, beautiful and interesting rock formations in this remote section of JTNP. I'll be sharing many more photos from this area in future posts.

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Oh No, Jury Duty!!!

In the past, I viewed jury duty as a necessary evil and hoped with all my being not to get selected. Too busy, too much going on. Never mind that my employer provided me with time off at full pay, it just ment I would get further and further behind at work. Since retirement, my thinking has changed (slightly). It might actually be interesting to serve on a jury. And yes, it is, after all, my civic duty. Plus I'm overdue... I've reported for jury duty a number of times over the years, but never selected. So when the dreaded jury duty card came in the mail, I thought no big deal. That is, until I read the fine print. The North Orange County Superior Court is in my city, just a few miles away. That's where I've always had to report in the past. So why are they telling me I must report to the Superior Court in Santa Ana?? It's a very challenging commute which can easily take a full hour during peak traffic times. My casual acceptance toward jury duty quickly changed to a negative view. I even contacted the court to request a change of location (denied!!).

Long story short, I reported (along with about 300 plus other people) to Santa Ana. Left my house by about 6:45 AM, giving myself an hour of driving time, 10 minutes to find where to park (which can be tricky) and another 10 minutes to walk from the parking structure to the courthouse (about 3 blocks). After sitting most of the day trying to figure out how to connect to the public wifi (without success), I was dismissed at 4 PM without being selected (yippee!!).

The day wasn't a total loss. We were given a long lunch (1.5 hours) which I used to walk around Santa Ana and took photos with my iPhone.
The shot above is the front view of the Superior Court in Santa Ana. It was an overcast morning with a little light drizzle. It looks like a government building, don't you think?

Another shot of the courthouse, high contrast b&w, and reflecting more of my "moody" mood related to having to drive down to Santa Ana (a commute I would be making daily for a while if I get selected).

By the afternoon, the sky was a pretty blue with some fluffy white clouds. This is a shot of the courtyard area behind the courthouse (and surrounded by other government buildings). This looks like a festive shot, with the flags flying in the breeze, until you look a little closer. See the tents? This is a large homeless encampment. It's absolutely amazing to me that that all these homeless folk live here literally in the shadow of the courthouse. You have high-priced attorneys going in and out of the courthouse, wearing expensive suits and driving luxury cars and walking by all these people who have nothing. It's a real study in contrasts... the two extremes of society working/living side by side but having little to do with each other.

We were warned first thing in the morning not to use the south entrance to the courthouse (because it takes you next to the homeless encampment where these photos were taken) and not to walk through the encampment. According to the local paper, there have been multiple documented cases of violence against workers passing through the area. Local workers complain, demand more protection and request that their shifts end before dark. And no one is at greater risk than the homeless themselves. A sad situation.

Santa Ana Public Library.

The "401 Building" and Office of the District Attorney

I like the look of this old Spanish-style building. Reminds me of "old Santa Ana" and very different from the office buildings surrounding it.

Above is the old (original) Santa Ana Courthouse. At some point it must have become too small to meet the needs off a fast growing Orange County. I think it's currently used as a museum, and very glad they didn't tear it down! Look closely and you will see the contrast between old and new (mirrored high rise behind and to the right).

Old Victorian-style home that's been converted to a restaurant. I love these old houses, and there are a fair number still standing in Santa Ana, which is one of the oldest cities in Orange County.

A very cool old building, this is the original Santa Ana YMCA. All boarded up now, with a small homeless encampment in front, my hope is they preserve this beautiful building and give it a second life.

A couple of my favorite shots (above and below) Not sure how I managed to be crossing Main Street in Santa Ana without any cars around! Not a sight you see very often.
So, use the imaginary voting buttons below: Jury duty- Something you look forward to or something to be avoided at all cost??

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Old Road Hike (the Hike Home)

You may recall that I left things up in the air last week (Old Road Hike). It was another beautiful blue sky day in Joshua Tree National Park, and I was about half way through my exploratory hike of the "Old Road" area. 
I climbed out of the wash and this (above) was my view to the north (the direction I needed to go). My options were to continue exploring unknown (to me) territory or to backtrack. Since I hate backtracking and I still had almost 2 hours of daylight left, I continued north, hoping to go past the large rock formation and then make my way east (behind those rocks) back to the Old Road area.

This joshua tree seemed to be telling me to "keep left!" (which I did).

As I followed the path pointed out by the joshua tree, I quickly came across this stone cairn. Actually more of a mound. The stone cairns I see are typically very small and are used as trail markers. This one is a real mystery. Someone put a lot of work into it, and it looked to be old (or at least not recent). I wonder what significance it has? Another Joshua Tree mystery!!

Time to move on. As I made my way around the back side of the rock formation and started heading east, things started getting interesting and I had a sense of total solitude and of hiking in an area that sees very little human traffic.

This thin, flat disc-shaped rock formation was weird and intriguing!

Desert weed, late afternoon light
Recently split rock (sharp edges)
Long ago split rock (smooth edges)

Couldn't resist a bit of PhotoShop fun!

Small window rock

"Bottle Opener" rock? Would the name have anything to do with the hike being nearly complete, and looking forward to a cold beverage?

Around the corner from Bottle Opener rock is Lizard Head rock.

Profile Rock

As the sun sets behind the rocks in Joshua Tree, my hike comes to an end. Thanks for joining me on this interesting adventure!

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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Old Road Hike

My first post of 2018 finds me out hiking in the middle of nowhere (my favorite place to be!). While cruising around Joshua Tree on Google Earth (a favorite pastime) I noticed what looked like a small piece of paved road out in the middle of nowhere. Here's a screen grab:
This was interesting to me not just because of the mystery of a "road" in the middle of the desert, but also because there's nothing here to attract tourists. No trails, no old mines, nothing. This area probably sees very little human traffic.
I formulated a theory: Perhaps this was the remains of an old road that, many years ago, connected Park Blvd. with Pinto Basin Road. For those wanting to travel from the west end of Joshua Tree National Park down to Cottonwood Spring (and what is now the 10 Freeway), this would have been a little quicker route than the current road. Could be that over the years the road deteriorated, and this is all that's left.
This "old road" would have bypassed the current Pinto Wye. Perhaps a thunderstorm washed out this old road and the engineers decided the new route (Pinto Wye) was the better option? Whatever the explanation, I decided it deserved further investigation. The "old road" is only about 1/3rd of a mile off the main road (Park Blvd.), and there is a lot more to see in the area.
The blue line is my hike path. The first part of the hike heading SE to the first dot is my hike to the "old road". All the rest is just having fun exploring and taking pictures of an area that doesn't get explored much!
On the hike in, I could make out the faint markings of the "old road" (see above). Looks like people may have traveled this way in vehicles, probably many years ago!

Here we go! Following the faint "old road" trail SE, you eventually reach an area where the asphalt is clearly visible. Looks like it's been sitting here unused a long, long time! 

No question about it... an old asphalt road (or piece of a road) in the middle of nowhere! The asphalt stops as abruptly as it starts, although on Google Earth I can make out faint signs of a jeep trail that continues SE all the way to Pinto Basin Road.

The mystery remains as to why it is here. After further research and talking with a couple friends who are knowledgeable about JTNP, I've changed my theory. Perhaps this paved area was used to store road-building supplies (gravel, etc.) and equipment back when the road through the park went from sand to asphalt. That would explain why just the one area, which is about 50 yards long, is covered with asphalt, while the rest of the "old road" just looks like a jeep trail. However, it seems odd that you would store supplies this far from the main road (about 1/3 mile). Not sure we will ever solve this mystery so let's move on to the fun stuff (photographing the rest of the hike)!

As I hike to the south across open desert, some cool-looking rock formations come into view. I know from my Google Earth research that there is a wash just beyond those rock that runs west that I can follow, and with any luck, do a large circle back to the old road and then to my car.

A little hard to see, but look closely and you can make out the nest in this cholla cactus. They should really rename this stuff "Bird's Nest Cholla" as more often than not there is a nest within it's thorny branches. By the way, the cholla is one of the nastiest cactus out there. You really don't want to get stuck by one. The barbs are painful and very hard to remove. It's amazing that birds can nest in these spines. I think it's most often the cactus wren that nests in these chollas.

Let's go check out this rock formation.

Ouch! I don't get far before I have a close encounter with some cat's claw. This stuff is NASTY! It doesn't look like anything special, but has extremely sharp backward-facing claws. It's perfectly named, and all it takes is an innocent brush against a small branch to end up with a slice. Unfortunately, it's common throughout much of JTNP.

Some of the pockmark erosions in the rock look like they would make perfect steps leading to the top of the rock formation (tempting, but no, I did not try).

After checking out the rock formations, I find the wash I was looking for and start following it west. Unless you can find a stand of Cottonwood trees, these desert willows probably provide the closest thing to "fall colors" you will see in this part of the desert.

Not much sign of human footprints in the wash. Just an occasional print, and none look recent (although lots of animal prints). Contrast that with washes that get a lot of hikers... the sand turns into "beach sand". Very soft and hard to hike through.

This old tree looks like it might have been uprooted during a big desert rain and literally "washed down the wash" to this spot.

A classic desert wash. So peaceful and enjoyable to hike along these washes and see where they take you.

 This wash looks like it gets a pretty heavy water flow after a rain. The sides are getting high and steep.

Wow, this is beautiful! The steep granite walls have been washed smooth over many, many years of desert thunderstorms. No footprints at all in this area. Unfortunately, it looks like a dead end. A key decision needs to be made at this point: Try to hike on, through steep and unknown terrain which may be a dead end, or turn back??

You guessed it: Hike on!! I find a beautiful chunk of white quartz which I assume is a good luck omen!

After climbing through the steep rocks, the wash continues on in a much less demanding fashion. This is roughly the area where I need to leave the wash and start heading north to make my loop back to the "old road".

Now out of the wash, here's the view north. I need to make another critical decision. Can I head straight up and explore those rocks and then make a sharp right behind the rocks (the direction I need to go to get back to the "old road")? Or will it just be a huge jumble of rocks, impossible to pass, and force me double back??

Sorry to leave you in suspense, but you're going to have to check out my follow-up post to see what happens next!

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