Thursday, June 27, 2019

Antelope Squirrel Antics

I was trying to get organized and packed for a hike, but these little guys were distracting me. I couldn't resist grabbing my camera... the hike could wait. Let me introduce you to the antelope ground squirrel. According to Wikipedia, there are four recognized species, and I think this one is the white-tailed antelope squirrel.
They are small, and look more like a chipmunk to me. They are extremely curious. This little guy is sniffing at our sliding glass door. They are able to resist hyperthermia and can survive body temperatures over 104 degrees! They stay active even in the brutal midday heat of the desert summer.

They frequently stand on two legs.

They like to explore flower pots.

They can stretch!

And easily get inside wire that is meant to keep them OUT!!

They can climb straight up a stucco wall!

These two where chasing each other around and around this post. Very funny to watch!

They frequently lay very flat, arms and legs spread out. Now do you see why I had to put off my hike to take some pics?

Some of the locals call them devils, pests, varmints, and other names not suitable to print here. They will eat up all your favorite plants. But you gotta admit, they are cute!

Now, off to my hike and on a mission to capture some nice sky-watch shots!

Linking with Skywatch Friday.
Thanks for stopping by, and have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The "Real" Hidden Valley?

One piece of fascinating history in the Joshua Tree area has to do with the "McHaney Gang" and horse and cattle rustling in the late 1800's/early 1900's. The story goes something like this. The McHaney Gang would "obtain" horses in Arizona to exchange for cattle in California. Things might be reversed depending upon the relative "availability" of stock at either end of the trail. Either way, the stolen stock were rebranded and hidden in and around Hidden Valley. Interestingly, there is much debate as to where the real Hidden Valley was. Today's Hidden Valley can be accessed via a nature trail southwest of Intersection Rock, and is one of the more popular areas to visit in Joshua Tree National Park. But the following information is from Joshua Tree National Park: A Visitor's Guide by Robert B. Cates:

"The late Bill Keys, pioneer rancher who came to the area in 1910 and befriended Bill McHaney, insisted that the real Hidden Valley was the canyon now inundated behind a crude dam built by Keys behind the Desert Queen Ranch."

So this sets the stage for my recent hike (hike date: May 21, 2019). I was determined to find a way to hike into the canyon behind the Keys Ranch Dam. Keys Ranch (aka, Desert Queen Ranch) is only accessible via ranger led tours, but my guess was that the area behind the dam, if one could find a way in through all the rocks and without crossing ranch boundaries, would make for a fascinating hike.
The red arrow points to Keys Ranch. You can clearly see water behind the dam (actually two dams) with a wash or shallow canyon meandering off to the east. Could this area be the "real" Hidden Valley?

After studying Google Maps, I was convinced I found a route in to the area that would put me into the wash behind the dam. The route would require some moderate boulder scrambling, but it's the only way in that I could see. With a little bit of luck, it should get me into a really interesting area that few people have seen.

Well, as it turns out, luck wasn't with me on this hike. That happens from time to time!
Let me save anyone thinking about hiking into the area a lot of time. There are multiple "no trespassing" signs and fences: The area is CLOSED! Bummer. So I had to stop and head back the way I came, but still a fun hike even though I didn't get to explore the "real" Hidden Valley!

A couple of things I'll remember from this hike (besides the no access thing). First, there were a lot of plants in bloom. Lots of color (by desert standards). The hike kind of turned into a desert flower hike.

Desert Thistle, aka Lavender Thistle

Freemont's Pincushion

Paper Bag bush

I've commonly seen oak galls (caused by chemicals injected by the larvae of certain wasps) but always kind of a nondescript tan color. These actually looked like crab apples in the late afternoon light!

Silver cholla with weird lime-colored flowers.
The second thing I'll remember from this hike is that it got COLD. Not something I've often experienced hiking in the desert. I was hiking with long pants, cotton tee shirt and long sleeve over-shirt, and on the hot side at the beginning of the hike with temps in the mid-70's. By the end of the hike, the wind became strong and the temps dropped into the low 50's. Brrrr!

And along with all the blooms, it turned out to be a great hike for desert landscapes and skywatching!
Late afternoon golden light along the trail!

Linking with Skywatch Friday.
Thanks for stopping by, and Happy Summer Solstice!!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Jackass Rabbit

Well, technically, it's not a jackass and it's not even a rabbit! Jackrabbits are actually hares, not rabbits. Hares are larger than rabbits and have taller hind legs and longer ears. Jackrabbits were named for their ears, which reminded people of a jackass or donkey, resulting in the name "jackass rabbits." The writer Mark Twain brought this name to fame by using it in his book of western adventure, Roughing It. The name was later shortened to jackrabbit.

I was out exploring recently in the Hidden Valley area of Joshua Tree National Park and came across this guy (girl?). He blended in well and I likely wouldn't have noticed him except for those ears! They were sticking out above the ground cover like little flags, and were hard to miss.

So I had a decision to make. Should I attempt to wrestle off my backpack and put on my telephoto lens? The short answer is no. These guys never stick around long. They tend to be skittish and extremely fast, but I decided to try it anyway.

My, what big ears you have!!
To my surprise, he didn't run away! He perked up a little but otherwise wasn't much concerned with me.

Over the years, Lepus californicus has been widely used as food by humans, especially by Native Americans and the early miners. It's also a critically important prey species for hawks, owls, bobcats, coyotes and others higher up on the food chain. The huge ears are used in cooling, radiating heat via an extensive network of blood vessels. Controlling the flow of blood to the vessels in their ears is like a built-in air conditioning unit and allows them to survive and even thrive in the sweltering desert heat.

They are also natural athletes, being able to travel at speeds up to 40 mph, make sharp turns and run in a zigzag pattern to avoid Wile E Coyote, and make single leaps of more than 10 feet. How they manage to do all this with those giant ears is beyond me!

My favorite shot. I like the late afternoon back-light on those big ears as he checks me out!

Off he finally scampers, and off I go on the rest of my hike. I'll make a full post of this hike at a later date, but for now, come enjoy a couple sky shots from the end of my hike. Nothing but blue skies!
A giant, upside-down tooth??

Linking with Skywatch Friday.
Thanks for stopping by!!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Road Less Traveled

I love exploring seldom seen and rarely traveled areas. I also enjoy photographing and sharing the details about these amazing areas on my blog. It's quite a conundrum. By sharing details of these places, they potentially become more popular, and they lose part of the allure that made them so special in the first place! But I digress...

A little over a year ago I hiked up a wash that I suspect very few people hike. I chose it for this reason, thinking who knows what I might find? Also, after studying Google Earth, the area looked like it might have some interesting rock formations. Turns out, I was right on both accounts (interesting finds and cool rock formations). The most memorable rock formation was a large alcove (I call it Lookout Alcove because of it's commanding 360-degree views). I was so impressed by it, I went back a week or two later after discovering it to leave a sign-in register inside the alcove. I was very curious to see if anyone ever visits this spot.

So a couple weeks ago I decided it was time to revisit the area... check the register for names, look for footprints and other signs of visitors. My first stop was an old bench, lantern and other artifacts I had discovered a year or so ago in an overgrown and secluded side wash. The cats-claw bushes made it hard to even get into the area. Here's the old table and lantern I found in early 2018.

When I revisited in May 2019, the lantern and old crate had blown off the table. But otherwise, things looked exactly the same. No footprints. Absolutely no sign of visitors. Placing the lantern on the old table, here's what it looks like now.
Perhaps a little worse for wear, but still intact! I was encouraged that the old lantern and other artifacts were still here and the area had likely had no visitors in over a year. So, let's continue on to Lookout Alcove. We will make a few side-trips and take lots of photos along the way!

Lots of small arches in this area.

Lots of birds and giant monster lizards to be seen.

My first rattlesnake of the season, too. I took a moment to thank the rattlesnake Gods for the nice loud warning rattle. He took off rather quickly into the bushes, and I wasn't quick enough with the camera to get a good shot.

And, of course, many alcoves to be explored. Does anyone else see a dog's head?

But the granddaddy of alcoves is Lookout Alcove. Hard to get perspective in these photos, but take my word for it that it's a large, roomy alcove with incredible views!

The good news? The sign-in register was exactly where I had left it over a year ago. The bad news? Critters had totally chewed off the plastic top of the container and a bit of the paper.

But the paper was still (more or less) intact and the pencil was still in the container. A visitor could easily see this was a register and could have signed in (had there been any visitors). But the registry was empty except for my own entry (4/14/2018). I strongly suspect Lookout Alcove has had no (human) visitors in the last year, and who knows how many years before that, other than my own visits??

So, back to my conundrum about liking to share photos and details about amazing spots like this, yet thoroughly enjoying desert solitude and the fact that not only will I not see another human being all day, I won't even see footprints! Hmmm... I think I'll keep the location private 😉. But if you happen to be driving along a remote stretch of desert highway and you notice rocky peaks on the distant horizon like those below, you might be getting warm. Then again, perhaps not.
Linking with Skywatch Friday.
Thanks for stopping by!!