Thursday, April 25, 2019

Mr. Stull's Still

I was reading about a place called "Sneakeye Spring" in Patty Furbush's "On Foot in Joshua Tree National Park." It's certainly not a mainstream hike. Quite the opposite, it sounds like an area that is rarely seen by hikers. And as I studied the area on Google Maps, it occurred to me that it looks more like a climb than a hike! Also, it sounds like the actual spring dried up quite a few years ago, and aside from fantastic views, there's not a lot to be seen. 

Since Sneakeye Spring is in the Indian Cove area of JTNP (which is right around the corner from our desert house), I figured it was at least worth checking out. Equally intriguing was the mention of a cement tank or tanks that, back in the day, were used to collect water from the spring. Local legend says "lame John Stull maintained a still during prohibition days." Twentynine Palms would have been a very remote area back then. Reached only by a long, lonely stretch of dirt road, it would have easily been out of view of Johnny Law. Reportedly, Stull's still was a regular stop on the old "Sullivan Road", the forerunner of today's Highway 62, which explains why the road came to be know as the "Bootlegger's Highway."
Sullivan Road, in 29 Palms (looking west) as it looks today. Probably not a whole lot different than back in the day when it was nicknamed "Bootlegger's Highway". If you follow my blog, you've seen this view a number of times. We own a little homestead cabin (listed on Airbnb) on Sullivan Road, and our desert house is right next to that. In the 10 years we've been coming out here, I've never heard about the "Bootlegger's Highway" nickname. And never heard that Sullivan Road was the main thoroughfare into 29 Palms before Highway 62 was constructed. Fascinating!!

So off I go to see if I can find the Sneakeye Spring area and to look for any signs of a still or concrete water tank. Looking at the photo above, does this look like a hike to you?? Looks much more like a climb over a jumble of large boulders to me. Certainly no trail to follow, and it will require more crawling and climbing than upright hiking! I start the climb up, but quickly decide I don't have the energy or willpower to make it to the top on this day. Maybe some other time.

But down in the wash, it was quite easy to spot the remains of a rather large concrete holding tank. It has broken apart over the years, and large chunks of concrete can be seen down in the wash. A large piece of the tank is still intact (center left). Fascinating to think that, back in the day, this might have been the site of a large still operation! 

Since I've decided against the Sneakeye Spring "hike", the rest of the afternoon is my favorite kind of hike: Open desert rambling and exploration.

Caterpillar rock?? The front part of this rock formation kind of reminded me of a caterpillar head, with the body trailing behind it.

For a while, it felt like a little guy with a beard was following me around!

I will admit it took some effort and climbing to get in just the right spot for the sun to come through this opening!

I even found this arch. Pretty cool to have an arch like this so close to home!

Habitation site? This may or may not be in Indian Cove (location to remain anonymous). The rock in this area tends to erode in jagged, angular patterns. So when I come across smooth rocks in rocky shelters, I'm thinking habitation site! This one was pretty cool, with the smooth rounded rock in the center, the strangely shaped rock left of center with smooth wear, and the "buttock" rock at the far end of the shelter, also with smooth wear. Unfortunately, no obvious signs of rock art that I could see.

This was a particularly good day for desert vistas and skywatch shots, so I'll stop typing and let you enjoy the views!

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Thanks for coming along with me on today's hike!!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Flowers, Arches and Alcoves

Most of these photos were taken 3 weeks ago. While hiking last week with my friend Patrick Tillett in the same area (Joshua Tree National Park wilderness area), the flower's were already on the decline. Amazing how quickly things bloom in the desert with a little rain, and also amazing how quickly it all disappears!

 View from inside "Bird" alcove!

 The rugged Coxcomb Mountains in the background.

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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Invasion of the Giant Mustard Plants!!

It seems like every vacant lot and undeveloped hillside in Orange County, CA, is covered by the yellow bloom of the mustard plant.

Photo credit: Gayle Berggren
The mustard plants are so thick and tall that it's turned our little trail over at our local park into a "mustard maze"! By the way, I have no idea why my granddaughter seems to prefer non-matching socks. Some weird phase she is going through I guess.

Changing to my telephoto lens, I can capture the hills on the horizon up above Brea, totally covered in yellow mustard flowers. Of course, there's going to be hell to pay as the season progresses, temps go up, and all these mustard blooms dry out and turn to highly flammable weeds. But for the time being, lets not think about that, and just be thankful for the beauty we have all around us today!

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Thursday, April 4, 2019

Scott's Arch

"East of 29 Palms, CA, Highway 62 passes into the wide-open spaces of the Mojave Desert and becomes one of the loneliest and quietest highways in southern California. In fact, you will see scant evidence along much of the route that anyone has ever made a mark on the land"
 Roadside Geology of Southern California 
by Arthur Gibbs Sylvester and Elizabeth O'Black Gans

So off we go, Cousin Scott and I exploring one of the most remote areas of Joshua Tree National Park, looking for alcoves, arches, and whatever else we might find. The few people who hike this area usually begin their hike from one of two pull-out areas where parking is safe. Since we're driving the Jeep and not worried about soft sand on the shoulder of the road, we start our hike further east where no one (but crazy people) hike, so we can access seldom seen areas. I've previously posted about some of the alcoves we found on this hike.
The area is a huge jumble of rocks, with the rugged Coxcomb mountains to the east. It makes hiking a challenge. If you can follow a wash, that makes things easier. But washes often dead end or get choked off by boulders. It's critical to map out your hike in advance using GPS because it's very easy to get turned around. On this day the sky couldn't make up it's mind about what it wanted to do, but it looks like it would mostly be a dull and drab gray sky. I remember being disappointed because the sunset would probably be less than impressive. As it turns out, I was wrong!
The rock formations are always interesting in this area.

And it's nearly impossible for me to pass up an alcove without crawling inside to explore and take a photo. I remember telling Scott that if we could find an arch at some point, it would be the icing on the cake for a perfect hike. Most of the arches in this area are unnamed and uncatalogued by the NPS.

Smoke Tree in a desert wash, without another human footprint to be seen anywhere. The sense of quiet, solitude and open space is wonderful!

Exploring the Joshua Tree outback. Photo credit: S. Wessel
As the day moved into late afternoon, the sky was getting more interesting.

On the rocks up ahead, I hear Scott calling me: "I found an arch!!"

Sure enough, as Scott leads me up a ravine, I get my first partial glimpse of "Scott's Arch"!!

There it is... in all it's glory: Scott's Arch!!

Climbing up and over to view Scott's Arch from the opposite direction, it looks very different. The rocks are flat instead of rounded. You wouldn't know it was the same arch!

Viewed from a distance, and looking NE, Scott's Arch is impressive! It's also well hidden because it wasn't visible to us as we were hiking south (the direction hikers would be coming from).

As we continue beyond Scott's Arch, we come across this trio of alcoves. At least that's what they appear to be. Let's hike a little closer to check them out.

Wow... another significant discovery! The left-most "alcove" turns out to be a double-arch. How cool is that!!

A wider-angle view of "double arch" alcove. Very impressive! My first thought was how can I climb up into it to check things out?

Unfortunately, there is no way up the sheer rock walls to explore the double arches. But I managed to get up high enough on the rocks to capture this photo of the surrounding area. A beautiful desert scene!

As I was taking the overview photo, Cousin Scott was taking this photo of me. The double arches were directly above me, but the vertical rock wall made it impossible to climb up.

I'll leave you with a couple of desert sky shots. These were taken in the late afternoon, but the best skies were yet to come, and I'll leave those for a future post!

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