Thursday, May 30, 2019

Fruit of the Joshua Tree

While hiking last week, I noticed a number of the Joshua Trees in Joshua Tree National Park had these large fruit clusters. Here's what one reference says:

Joshua tree flowers are followed by fruits, which are capsule-shaped and can grow more than 3" in diameter. Left on the tree, the fruits will eventually become brittle and fall to the ground, where the impact can split them open, scattering the seeds. Seeds not eaten by wildlife can germinate where they fall. The young fruit is edible and may be sliced and seeded, then dried, or eaten fresh. The seeds may be eaten raw or roasted.

Since I was in a national park, I didn't try to pick any fruit to sample a taste. But I must admit, I was tempted!

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Local Color

OK, I promise to get you back out to the desert soon. But for today, just some shots of local blooms in the Orange County (CA) area. They are impressive, and won't last long!
Hiking in the local hills, I had figured the yellow wild mustard blooms would be faded and gone. I was wrong. Still going strong. As a matter of fact, they were so abundant they were blocking my hiking path and I had to carefully "bushwhack" my way forward!

It was an overcast day with the threat of light rain. I wasn't expecting much from my photos. Just hoping the sky might open up and reveal some dramatic skies.
But I learned an important lesson on this hike. I don't do much flower photography. Heck, I don't even own a macro lens. But for some reason, grey overcast days seem to bring out the beauty of flowers. Seems counter-intuitive to me. I'm used to thinking about landscape photography and the importance of light and shadows. Best shots are usually early AM or late afternoon, etc., etc. Flat light is the landscape photographer's enemy, but not the case with flowers.

The Prickly Pear cactus were putting on a good show. Many more buds than blooms, so the promise of even better things to come, but the blooms were beautiful.

Every once in a while I would get a peek of blue sky. As you can see, the wild mustard still dominate the landscape.

I think this is Tree Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca)

Hiking along, deep in my own thoughts, you can imagine my surprise when...

This guy zoomed by!! First time I've ever encountered another person while hiking this area, and I certainly didn't expect a mountain biker!

I have no idea what this is. Some old rusty metal something or other!

A beautiful view of the ocean on this somewhat hazy, overcast day. It's 15-20 miles to the water from this spot (as the crow flies). You can see the big tanker ships on their way to Long Beach Harbor. I'm pretty sure that's Catalina Island in the background, which is another 26 miles according to the song. Take a listen, and see if you remember it:

I almost forgot... as I was starting my hike, I heard sirens from the highway. The sirens seemed to stimulate the howl reflex in the local coyote population. For best results, turn your volume up to maximum.
I guess this is Coyote Hills living up to it's name! The howls were coming from the exact direction I needed to hike in, but I never had even a glimpse of a coyote during the entire hike. I've never seen a coyote on this property, and I've hiked it many times. I'm guessing you only see them when they want you to see them!

Linking with Skywatch Friday.
All photos taken with a Canon 100-400mm telephoto zoom lens.
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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Baja Memories

I'll extend my theme about forgotten files from last week. For that post, I was complaining about how difficult it is to organize digital files, and how easy it is for great photos to slip through the cracks and get lost. This week, I'm focused on the pre-digital age. Remember that? Dealing with film, developing, prints, slides, etc. Yup, the good ol' days!

For four years in a row, our summer adventure was to drive down the Baja peninsula. We would camp on the beach and spend our days fishing, snorkeling and diving. It was just rough camping... no showers or electricity, and it was usually a group of us guys that went down (although wives went down one year). This was in the late '70s and early 80's, so a long time ago. Baja and Mexico in general was a different place back then.
The single road (Highway 1) that went down the Baja peninsula was always in bad shape back then. 1000 miles as the crow flies of huge potholes, washed out areas, detours, and cattle on the highway, which made travel at night a bad idea. Keep in mind, this road wasn't even paved until the end of 1973, so tourist travel down the peninsula was just developing and still relatively rare. Blown tires and even broken axles was a common occurrence. We would drive all day at slow speeds to dodge the potholes, and as it got dark, just pull over to the side of the road and make camp. I can't imagine doing that these days, but sleeping on the side of the road seemed perfectly acceptable back then!

For the first two trips we traveled about half way down the peninsula to a remote location called Punta San Francisquito. I haven't yet scanned slides from those trips. Almost nothing there at the time other than some beach cabanas for shade, a dirt runway and a small bar/restaurant. There were a couple locals that lived in the area full-time. It was mainly a destination that gringos would fly to for some of the best fishing on the peninsula. Very few people drove to the spot because it was 50 miles of nasty, difficult dirt road from the main highway. There was not gas station, but there were barrels of aviation fuel. If you got in a real bind, you could beg on of the locals to sell you some for your vehicle. You may or may not be successful! Driving there was not recommended, but when we heard how good the fishing was, there was no stopping us.

Even back then, I was interested in photography, so I was the unofficial photographer for our adventure travels. I also had an underwater housing and flash for my camera that I took along. I would shoot mainly Kodachrome so we could all get together and have a slide show party after getting back home. The photos I'll be posting today were scanned from slides from my Baja archives (of which there are many!). Kind of cool that the technology makes scanning slides easy, and the quality isn't too bad. The plastic slide sleeves are breaking down, making the slides sticky and attracting dust, so there's a bit of urgency to scanning them now before they are too far gone! 
Stops at the llantera (when you could find a town that had one) was not uncommon. Here you can see my wife and our friend Dave getting a tire repaired. I think this was in Guerrero Negro.

I think this was the hills above Bahia de los Angeles. This is Ron's dad, Ray, who joined us on one trip. If I had to guess I would say that's an old Super 8 video camera. Remember those? Quite a view from this spot! I remember we stopped and camped here for a couple days on one of our trips. It was nice because the side road leading into the area had just recently been paved, so we made good time getting in and out. This area had wide open beaches and very undeveloped back then. I'll bet that's not the case anymore!

My wife in front of an old funky trailer. I have no idea where this is.

My friend Ron, who was really the spark plug behind these trips, learned that there was only one place in the entire Sea of Cortez side of Baja with coral reefs. That place is called Cabo Pulmo, and the rumors back in the day (remember this was before internet) was that the fishing and diving were incredible. So after two summers visiting Punta San Francisquito, our third trip was all the way down the peninsula to check out Cabo Pulmo (yellow arrow on the map).

Ron's dad Ray with a freshly caught yellow tail! It never occurred to me at the time that it was unusual to catch these big yellow tail while fishing right off the beach. I think those days are (unfortunately) long gone.

The entire area was beautiful... very scenic! The beach was rocky, but we had the whole place to ourselves during the two trips we went down there. We simply pulled all the vehicles up on the beach and set up camp! Such awesome memories. That was my "Baja bug" that we used for exploring the beaches and other areas. It would go pretty much anywhere!

A couple of the locals chatting with Stu (blue shirt) at Cabo Pulmo. I believe this is looking down the beach to the south (ocean would be just beyond the cars on the left).

The view up the beach at Cabo Pulmo looking north. I think that's "Pulmo Point" in the photo. Not sure why the sky looks purple!

This image looks blurred on the edges for some reason, but that's me holding what looks to be a gargantuan lobster. I just remember the lobster were plentiful, as were the fish, and we ate like kings!

A simple beach campfire... Ron getting ready to grill fish and lobster for dinner as I look on. I'm trying to remember the story behind why he was wearing socks with flip flops. I think it had something to do with going barefoot on the rocks too much and having sore feet!

A late afternoon shot watching the sun set into the Pacific Ocean. Stu, Ron, Ron's dad Ray, and Dave. I would have been in my late 20's and remember thinking of Ray as "the old man" who seemed to know everything there was to know about camping and fishing. I'm older now than Ray was in this photo, so it certainly changes my perspective. I love the fact that he's the one using the sling shot. You can't take the boy out of the man, or whatever that saying is!

I'm somewhat saddened that when I google Cabo Pulmo now, the first things that come up are adds for Airbnb and beach resorts. When I look at the area on Google Maps, it looks very different (and much more developed) than "the good ol' days" when you could camp on the beach and have it all to yourself. On a more positive note, in 1995, Cabo Pulmo National Park was established. It's a national marine park that was established to protect this incredible marine ecosystem. Below is one of many, many photos I took while diving and snorkeling the reefs at Cabo Pulmo during our two visits.

"The complexity of the life pattern on Pulmo Reef was even greater that at Cabo San Lucas. Clinging to the coral, growing on it, burrowing into it, was a teeming fauna. Every piece of the soft material broken off, skittered and pulsed with life, little crabs and worms and snails. One small piece of coral might conceal 30 or 40 species, and the colors of the reef were electric."

John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez

Thanks for sticking with me for this long, rambling trip down memory lane! I've only scratched the surface of my slide archive, so I will be busy scanning away. I'm curious if others have scanned and organized all their old photos, slides, and negatives?

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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Forgotten Files

Do you ever lose track of photos? You forget you took them, they sit in files on your computer or languish on a memory card? I'm guessing it's a common problem. I've tried to be disciplined, meaning I review and edit all my photos from one outing before moving on to the next. No skipping around. Always working from old to new. And in general, always posting older photos from older hikes and outings before moving on to the more recent.

Well, the wheels started coming off the bus about a year ago. There were photos from hikes that I was so anxious to share that I just had to skip the older stuff and go strait to the more recent (thinking I'll go back later and finish reviewing/editing/posting the older stuff). Let me tell you, it leads to chaos! Now I have a bunch of hikes that I've never posted. Some of the photos have been reviewed and edited, but many have not. It's a mess.
Case in point: "Diamond Solstice" hike, July 7, 2018. The original post is here. I ended up pulling out a few of my favorite shots for the post, but never finished going through all the photos I took during the hike. A common problem. A couple weeks ago I "discovered" these lost files, and darn if there aren't some good sky shots that almost never saw the light of day! The photo above was taken while standing on Keys Ranch Road in Joshua Tree National Park looking east. But the real drama was looking west toward the sunset.

 The very last sliver of light being enjoyed by a couple who have climbed up on top of their camper van to enjoy the show!

Now it's time to start searching through old file folders and memory cards to discover other forgotten files that deserve to see the light of day!!

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Thursday, May 2, 2019

Little Desert Cabin

I've had a couple people ask me about the little desert cabin we have listed on Airbnb. Well, you don't have to twist my arm too hard... I enjoy talking about it. But make yourself comfortable, it's going to be a long, strange post!

My wife and I bought the cabin (or what was left of the cabin) on five acres about six years ago, spent a couple years fixing it up, and then tried to figure out what to do with it. Both the property and the cabin were such a huge mess, we didn't think much beyond just cleaning and fixing. We never had a goal of renting it out, probably because we never thought the property would be remotely nice enough to rent out!
Built sometime in the 1950's as a homestead cabin (meaning you get the 5 acres for free if you "improve" the property by building a simple structure on it), this cabin had seen better days. It had no indoor plumbing, the ceiling was caved in, windows broken, etc., etc. There was an extremely crude outhouse with a pit toilet in the back yard. Yuck. A realtor friend of mine had bought it to fix up, decided it was too big of a project, and called me one day to ask if I was interested. Since it's property line is adjacent to our desert home, my wife and I were very interested. And it was priced to sell. A real bargain. Or was it?? Once we started working on it, I really started to wonder about the bargain part and what we had gotten ourselves into!
There were two brothers living here for many years prior to my realtor friend buying it, and evidently one of them enjoyed a drink on a regular occasion. Any and every occasion! There was a huge collection of empty wine and whisky bottles all over the property.
Evidently the brothers didn't have any regular trash collection and just used their 5 acres as a trash dump. There was trash like this all over the lot. Some of it was buried and still rises to the surface from time to time.
There was an old trailer left on the property. In bad condition, but a possible fixer-upper?? Anyway, kind of cool looking and definitely some potential.
Oh, and a couple of these old water tanks were on the property. If you don't have access to city water, you either have to drill a well or have water delivered (and stored in these tanks). There are still many properties in the high desert that rely on wells or delivered water, although this area now has city water.

Fast forward a year or so after buying the place. We've spent who knows how many hours fixing it up, and still a long way to go!

August 2013. New windows, doors, roof, electrical. Most of the interior walls and cabinets have been ripped out (and thrown in the front yard). I would later break it down and throw it in a dumpster. This is how we spent many of our weekends!

My Mom was curious to see how we were spending our weekends, so we brought her out for a visit. My wife in the background is trying to remove all the crazy fencing that was all over this property!

I need to mention Charles, my hired hand. He was my roofer, plumber, drywaller, electrician, framer. A handyman who could do it all, and worked with me start to finish on the project. Things never would have been completed without him!

Fast forward to late 2015... before and after photo... the cabin is done!! The old gross outhouse has been removed. We've installed a septic tank. There's no room in the original homestead cabin for a bathroom, so here's our solution.
Build another cabin! This way, we maintain the integrity and the old homestead vibe (vs. adding on to the original). So now we have a "sleeping" cabin and a "bathroom" cabin. Kind of funky, and a pain if you have to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, but my guests seem to like the novelty of it!

And what to do with those old water tanks??
How about we build a platform and get a crane to place them on top? It would be just like the vintage water tanks that are elevated to take advantage of gravity flow. Heck, we could even name the property "Twin Tanks"!

Which is what we ended up doing. I've always liked the name Twin Tanks, because it also happens to be one of my favorite hiking areas in Joshua Tree National Park.

And what about the old trailer, you ask??
The trailer sits next to the tanks in the back yard. It's got electrical and plumbing, but still needs a lot of work with interior finishing (floors, walls, ceiling). These days, I'd rather be hiking, so not much progress being made on the trailer. Since the above photo was taken we've added a deck adjacent to the trailer.

Photo credit: Twin Tanks guest A. Newmark
The back yard: Trailer with deck, fire pit area, and water tank platform. It's a great place to relax and enjoy the desert!

Twin Tanks as it looks today. Under dark skies, as viewed from Sullivan Road (aka, "Bootlegger's Highway!").

The view' inside the "sleeping" cabin. My wife did a great job decorating, including finding old license plates, furniture and paintings at local thrift stores.

View inside the "bathroom" cabin. Rustic, simple, but functional!

A guest enjoying some quiet desert solitude out on the patio.
Twin Tanks sunrise
We even have an old flatbed GMC pickup as yard art and a fun photo prop...
...which my granddaughter Lilly likes to take out for a spin from time to time!

Thanks for sticking with me on this long post. Our little desert cabins have been on Airbnb for about 3 1/2 years with hundreds of guests. I'm still amazed that people like it as much as they do! For more photos and details of Twin Tanks Desert Homestead Cabins, here's the Airbnb link:

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