Thursday, January 31, 2019

Majestic Arch

Let me fast-forward to my most recent desert hike, which was a little less than two weeks ago. Actually, more of an adventure than a hike! I'm typically a few months behind on my posts (if not more), but this was such an awesome hike that I can't wait to share the photos, and hopefully, a bit of the experience.

Let me set the stage... I'm about 2 or 3 miles into a hike in the rugged Joshua Tree National Park Wilderness Area. I'm following a remote wash through the rocks, following a route I had planned out beforehand using Google Maps. This is my first time hiking this specific route (although I've done a lot of hiking in the general area), and one never knows if the route planned out using satellite view on a computer screen is actually passable. I've left a printed copy with my wife so, worst case scenario, she knows where to send the posse if I don't return. As I'm coming out of the small wash that I've been following SE through the rocks, it joins with a larger wash. Here's the view.
As I pause to take in the view, I spot something on the hilltop in the distance. Do you see it? Middle of the photo at the very top of the rocky hill, straight ahead.

I'm sure it was much more obvious with the naked eye vs. these photos, but as I hiked down this wash, I couldn't believe it. A large arch up on top of the hill! Just sitting there for all the world to see! We photographers get really excited about arches because they are so photogenic. Doubly excited because, in this remote area, many of the arches haven't been documented and cataloged, so it's like discovering something for the first time. Undoubtedly other hikers have spotted this arch, but I wonder if anyone's ever been able to hike/climb up to it?

Just a little further up the wash, making my way toward the arch, I come across another desert tortoise shell. Poor guy, looks like a full-grown male (by the size and shape of the shell) and I wonder how he met his demise? This is the third tortoise shell I've found in the last 6-8 months. He's still a little on the stinky side, so he hasn't been dead long. I take a GPS reading of the location so I can report him to the NPS (the Park ecologist has asked me to keep track of shell locations).

As I move closer to the hill, I totally lose sight of the arch, but I know it's up there somewhere. The climb up the rocks to the arch looks steep. Really steep, and I don't see any easier approaches. As I scope out the climb, I'm thinking about the risk. Foremost in my mind is I'm deviating from the hike plan I left my wife. I wonder if anyone would every find me if I get injured? I'm pretty sure that would be the end of Spare Parts and Pics!

Going up!! I decide to proceed up the rocks, one rock at a time. I know, probably a stupid decision, but the arch is calling to me. I tell myself, if things get too difficult, I can always turn around, right? I decide to leave my pack and hiking pole at the bottom of the rocks, with the hiking pole strategically pointed in the direction I'm climbing. Another calculated risk. I won't have water or other supplies if I make it up to the arch, but it seems like a fair trade off so I can reduce my weight. I only have my camera in its harness as I begin my climb.

The views climbing up are amazing!

Can you hear me cursing under my breath?? That's because I've climbed up the rocky mountain, only to find I have "section 2" to climb to get up to the arch! And section 2 looks about as steep as section 1!! Distances are deceiving, and these rocky hills often have a way of tricking you and keeping there secrets, well... secret.

Off I go... climbing section 2. As I pull myself up over the last few rocks, I get my first close-up of the arch.
Interestingly, it looks like it's actually two large rock formations. There's the arch itself, and next to it on the right, a large rock that looks kind of like a lizard or dragon. From a distance the two rocks look like a single rocky structure.

Here's the shot of the day... up close and personal with "Majestic Arch" (I chose this name... the views from this location and the arch itself just caused "majestic" to jump into my brain). It really does look like the adjacent rock is a dragon or lizard, guarding the arch against intruders! On the back side of the arch (looking east), it's a sheer drop off of quite a distance.

I'll stop the narrative and just let the photos tell the story of the beautiful views from inside and around Majestic Arch! But as I take in the views, the little voice in my head says "remember... it's always harder climbing down!"
360-degree views. This is looking NE

Looking SE

Deep inside the arch, with a view out either side.

View east

View west
Diagonal view, with just a bit of the arch visible

Side view; no visible arch

Photo credit: S. Wessel
I'm always looking for arches!!

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Note: Keeping the location of this arch secret, and strongly recommend you don't go looking for it or try to climb up to it!

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Drama in the Sky

We finally got rain in S CA last week. Actually, about 4 straight days of rain. We're so spoiled by our good weather, and we're such wimps when it comes to weather. I heard people complaining about the rain. When will it be over! I'm tired of rain!! As if anyone is actually going to feel sorry for us 😉.

The rain brought some dramatic skies to Orange County (no desert shots this week). These were all captured on my iPhone early last week, just before the rain started.

From the Target parking lot

Neighborhood elementary school.

The littlest skywatcher!!
Hope you are enjoying good weather and beautiful skies, wherever you may be!
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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Alcoves Galore!

al·cove  noun 
A recess in the wall of a room or garden. An arched opening.
synonyns:  recess, niche, nook, opening, bay, hollow, cavity

I seemed to have stumbled upon the land of alcoves. Or perhaps "shallow caves" would be a better description? I seem to recall reading somewhere that alcoves are formed at ground level. When the very occasional rain water in the desert puddles up against a rock, and especially when the rain water is acidic, it begins to erode away certain areas of the rock. As this occurs over and over again, ta-da, you have an alcove! Remember, we're talking geologic time here.

Here's a typical alcove. They can be small, large, shallow or deep. All are interesting, and you never know what you might find inside. Nearly all have critter poop... mice, pack-rat, coyote, and a surprising number have bighorn sheep. Surprising because I don't know of a water source or spring anywhere in the area.

The opening to the above alcove must have been at ground level many years ago. Over geologic time, the sand and soil around the alcove slowly eroded away, leaving this alcove about 8' above ground level. Check back in 10,000 or 20,000 years, and it will likely be higher in elevation! According to this theory, alcoves high up in the rocks would be the oldest, while ground level alcoves would be relatively young.

Not quite an arch. More of a wave-shaped boulder. As we were checking out rock formations, three military helicopters flew in low overhead. This is Cousin Scott taking a picture of one. Quite a surprise, especially in this part of the desert, where you hear nothing but nature and rarely see another human footprint!

A couple more alcoves, one deep and one shallow. They are just a little above ground level, so easy access, and they are larger than they look.

View from inside looking out. Hi Scott!

Seems like alcoves often cluster together. A number of small alcoves here, with Cousin Scott for size reference.

The way these rocks erode can be pretty bizarre. Does anyone else see a scull?

Quack quack!

I can't tell you how many of these alcoves I've crawled inside to take pics, but it's a lot! I like the way the rock creates a natural picture frame.

One of my favorite alcoves discovered on this particular hike. It actually qualifies as a shallow cave because it's fairly deep. It has a squarish opening with a large slab of stone hanging down. It even had rough stone steps leading up to it!

Cousin Scott provides a nice reference for the size of the opening!

The view in. It continued beyond the large rock, but I didn't venture in that far!

The view out. A beautiful shelter, and quite spacious!


As you view the surrounding boulders and hills, you may notice many alcoves. It makes it difficult to follow a planned hike, because I am constantly veering off-course to go check out another alcove. But, hey, that's half the fun!

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Trashy Shots

Did you know it's not just high temps, low rainfall and low humidity that make a desert? It's also high winds. Deserts get more than their fair share of wind. High winds literally scour the soil surface, and there isn't much vegetation to hold things in place. It blows away all the small particles of dirt, leaving behind... you guessed it... sand and rock. The wind can also cause other issues, like blowing trash all over the place.

In the first photo (taken on a very windy day near Desert Hot Springs) plastic trash has nearly completely covered a creosote bush. The white plastic was flapping in the wind and was a very weird sight (and sound). I couldn't resist stopping the car to take a couple pics. And who in the heck would want to move that fence??

It's common to see trash caught up in cactus spines and it's difficult if not downright impossible to remove. Plastic will probably remain on that creosote bush until the plastic decomposes, which could be a very long time. I'm glad they've outlawed single use trash bags in California. It's a step in the right direction. I'm sad that people aren't more careful about their trash and aren't better stewards of their environment. I've recently learned Joshua Tree National Park may be closed to visitors because of the federal government shutdown, and because a few knuckleheads have trashed the area during the last couple weeks when the Park has been unsupervised. Such a shame for people who have come long distances to visit one of our great National Parks, only to find it closed.

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Friday, January 4, 2019

Fake Sky

We just walked in the door from a "mini-vacation" with our granddaughter. Can you guess where we were? At one location, the sky was beautiful (but fake).

You could ride motor scooters (also fake, but a great photo op!).

There was plenty of high-end shopping (look, but don't touch!).

Lilly standing inside an Abbey Road phone booth.

We could lounge around in bed if we were feeling lazy.

We got to visit with lions (both real and fake).

Lilly could watch a volcano erupt every night right outside her window!

And all too soon, it was time to leave. At least, too soon for Lilly. Grandma & Grandpa were exhausted and ready to go home 😉

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