Thursday, January 30, 2020

"Big Head" Pictographs

"The Park Service has this problem of balancing the mandate to 
preserve the ruins and the mandate to allow the public to enjoy them. 
Maybe that's an impossible paradox."
In Search of the Old Ones by David Roberts

I must admit I've been struggling with this paradox recently. Two things have made me think about it more than in the past. One is my recent opportunity to see some really wonderful, and seldom seen, Native American rock art sites. One of the sites I discovered on my own. I don't even think the Park Service is aware of it or has cataloged it (although I've reached out to them), and it's really a unique site. I feel a sense of responsibility to keep all these sites secret. The second is when I was recently contacted by the Park Service and asked to remove a photo I had posted on Flickr. Their request went something like this: By popularizing and publicizing sacred places (such as Native American rock art sites), very real detrimental effects can occur. They go on to say that this particular site is closed and considered sacred (although there is no indication or signage that the site is closed).

On most things, I strongly agree with the NPS. These sites are fragile and when they're gone, they are gone forever. There's no getting them back. They fade with time so they are slowly disappearing as I type this. We must do whatever is reasonable and necessary to preserve and document them. That includes never sharing location information on social media. I do my best to keep the location of these sites hidden.

But what about educating National Park visitors about rock art and the Native Americans who were here before us? What about cultivating a sense of awe and wonder about these unique cultural resources? Is that "popularizing" or simply educating? Is pretending that these sites don't exist and ignoring them the best way to protect them? I have no good answers, other than, to me, educating people about them while not publicizing their location seems like a good approach. So I've gone full circle in my thinking and come back to where I started: It's an impossible paradox. Oh, by the way, I guess this blog is not on the NPS radar. I've not been asked to take down photos of this site that I posted here. Check it out while you still can, but don't go looking for the site! And I think you will agree, there's nothing on my post that gives away site location.

So I'll stop blabbing and share some photos with you of a recent find. As far as I know, this site is not closed or sacred, although who knows? It's another site that I doubt the Park Service is even aware of. This location is exciting to me for a couple reasons. I just happened to stumble across it on my own, which always makes a site special (vs. someone telling you the location). But more importantly, this is east Joshua Tree. I post about this area all the time. It's my favorite part of the Park because it is so isolated and secluded. It also has almost no rock art! There's only one spot I know of (called Monolith Alcove) where anyone has found rock art in this entire area. So it's really special and significant to find something. 
A great day for a hike, with blue skies and enough clouds to make things interesting!

I spot this large, dome-shaped boulder off in the distance. It takes me off my planned track to the area I am hoping to explore, but it looks to good to pass up! As I get closer, I can see what appears to be two alcoves at the base. The alcove openings look a little like eyes, giving the formation the look of a big head or skull. Very cool!

Closer view

Closer still - profile view
Crawling inside one of the openings, you can actually see it's just one alcove with a partial rock "divider" in the middle.

The alcove is roomy, comfortable, and provides wonderful views. It would be a shady retreat in the summer, and an escape from the elements any time of year.

I take a moment to examine the walls, not expecting to find anything. I've probably climbed in nearly 100 alcoves in this area and never found any rock art, with just one exception. But to my near disbelief, I can make out some very faint pictographs!

Enhancing with dStretch, there's not doubt about it. Looking even closer, there might be some dark pictograph forms on the center right and lower right (small sunburst, perhaps?), along with the clearly visible red pictograph markings. The rock surface of the alcove looks significantly eroded. I'm guessing there was a lot more here many years ago.

I notice another faint pictograph. Can you see it?

Here it is highlighted a little using dStretch:
Looks like a yoni symbol. Not an abundance of pictographs, but finding anything in this area is very significant! In the very unlikely event you run across this site, please leave it exactly as you find it. Don't touch the walls of the alcove, and "take only pictures / leave only footprints". And here's a teaser. I still had time to continue exploring after finding this site. What I found later on this same hike is even more amazing. To be continued!

Linking with Skywatch Friday.
Thanks for stopping by!!

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Eagle Cliff Miner's Cabin

A couple buddies of mine wanted to hike Joshua Tree National Park, so I was racking my brain... what's the best hike in the Park?? So many great ones to choose from, but I finally decided upon the Eagle Cliff Miner's Cabin hike. Not only does it go through some of the prettiest scenery in the Park, but you have a wonderful surprise waiting for you when you get to your destination!

Eagle Cliff Miner's Cabin isn't a secret in the strict sense of the word, but it's certainly not something the average visitor hikes to or even knows about. It can be difficult to find, and the trail sometimes disappears, so some navigation skills are required to find the place. I first posted about it in September of 2016 here, and, if memory serves, I think this was my third hike to the area. The Eagle Cliff Mine dates back to 1895. Bill Keys reportedly held possession of the mine for many years. The mine was so remote that the ore had to be packed out by burro. I've never found information about who actually built the miner's cabin.
My hiking partners enjoying the trail. Hey, wait up, guys! What's the hurry? These two are obviously not photographers. I usually hike solo, and I hike at a slow pace because I'm looking for photo opportunities or poking around in the rocks looking for pictographs. I had forgotten what it's like to hike with actual hikers!

The Weather Gods were smiling upon us this day. Beautiful blue skies, comfortable temperatures, and no wind. Eagle Cliff Miner's Cabin is at about 4600' in elevation (classified as Mojave Desert), so more rainfall and greater plant diversity than the lower elevation Colorado Desert. Here you can see Nolina, Mojave Yucca, and desert scrub oak.

The rock formations are impressive throughout the area. Unlike the NE section of Joshua Tree National Park were I do a lot of my hiking, the rocks in this area are "harder" and seem less prone to erosion. Arches and alcoves are relatively rare. This is "classic" Joshua Tree.

Grumpy face??
The view over the top of these Mojave Yuccas is impressive!
Pat and John in front of a mine shaft.
Pat checking out the view from Eagle Cliff.
Finally we manage to find the general area where both the mine and cabin are located. Do you see the cabin? No, I don't either. My point being, even if you were able to find this area, you could walk right by the cabin without seeing it.

OK, that's a little better. I think I see something up ahead. Gotta love that late afternoon golden light! Let's take a look inside...

Wow, look at this! The amount of old mining artifacts and other items from bygone years is truly impressive.

What a beautiful view from inside the cabin. If we walk outside the cabin and look in, here's what it looks like:
Someone put a lot of work into this place many years ago, and the fact that it's still standing speaks to the quality of their workmanship.

Just a quick power-nap and we will be ready to hike the trail back to our car!

I hope you enjoyed this adventure. Until next time!

Thanks for stopping by!!

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Lucky Shot

Some photos are just lucky. Right place, right time. No planning. All you have to do is push the shutter release button. But let me share a couple photos from the day before my lucky shot. This would have been last Wednesday.
I was walking to the school to pick up my granddaughter and noticed these wild clouds. This is straight out of the camera (in this case, my old iPhone 6).

Then I noticed the moon rising on the horizon.

Nearly a full moon, but not quite. I made a mental note to check the time of the moon rise for the next day. Using my "real" camera with a telephoto lens, I might get lucky and get some dramatic shots of the moon rising through misty, colorful clouds. At least that was my goal.

Fast forward 24 hours to last Thursday (the first full moon of 2020). I'm ready! I've hiked up to a nice lookout point, I have my camera and telephoto lens. But, unfortunately, the sky is hazy and there's a low cloud cover.

Not nearly as pretty as Wednesday night's sky. Oh well, looks like dramatic moon shots aren't on the menu tonight.

Pointing my lens from east to south provides a totally different view over central Orange County. The low clouds add a bit of drama. The buildings on the left are (among others) UCI Medical Center. Moving a little right I think I can make out the spire of the Crystal Cathedral poking up from behind a building (I think it is now called Christ Cathedral). On the right side, I see a gaudy-looking building that I think is part of Disneyland. Perhaps part of the new Star Wars section of the Park? And when I enlarge the image, I can definitely see the top of the Matterhorn to the left of the gaudy building.

Back to why I'm here... the moon. As it rises on the horizon, there is less haze now. I decide this would be a good time for a close-up using max power of my telephoto lens (400mm). As I'm focusing, I notice a little bird or something flying in front of the moon. Without thinking, I fire off a couple shots.
Ha, that's not a bird! Talk about a lucky shot!!

As I start to head back home, I take one final shot of the moon. The trail takes a sharp drop just beyond this point, hence the "watch downhill speed" sign. I pack up my camera in my backpack and start back.

Wait... just one more. I want to capture that golden light as the sun slips behind the trees. OK, now I'm done.

Wait, just one more! For this one, I was already driving home but couldn't resist pulling over as the moon was silhouetted behind the tree branches.

Really, I promise, one final shot!

Linking with Skywatch Friday.
Thanks for stopping by!!

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Mystery Arch

I was going to call this post "wandering in the desert", because that's exactly what I was doing. Just wandering. Likely following waypoints I had marked on Google Maps, where the rock formations look interesting in satellite view, and where I had not hiked in the past. No sound, no distraction, no cars, no people, no nothing, just total solitude. You can let your mind wander, and it's incredibly relaxing.
A beautiful sky for a hike, wouldn't you agree? Almost immediately I came across this large... "geo-compass"? Somebody went to a lot of trouble to collect all these rocks and place them in a perfect circle, with a large rock expertly positioned at due north. Another desert mystery!

This part of Joshua Tree National Park is designated wilderness area. It's sparse desert with crazy and interesting rock formation. No Joshua trees because the elevation is a little too low, but a rugged beauty all it's own.

What an interesting arch. I'm not the first to find it. I've seen others post photos of it, and I think it's been called "crown of thorns" arch.

I have a hard time passing up these shallow caves or alcoves without looking inside. Some are too high to access, but often you can find creative ways to get into them. I've probably climbed into at least 50 alcoves on my many hikes in this area. Probably closer to 100. And with only one exception, I've never found any rock art or other signs of native habitation. I was going to link you to that one exception (an alcove someone told me about; I didn't discover it on my own) but it looks like yet another hike that I forgot to post! One of these days I'll find an alcove with something in it...

Sometimes in my desert solitude I get the feeling that I'm being watched. Pareidolia is when people assign human characteristics to objects. On today's hike I'm seeing eyes and faces on the rocks!

A typical view from inside an alcove looking out. I like the natural rock frame!

This one looks like a shark to me!

What a bizarre looking rock. It appears to be saying "go this way!"

I must admit, I'm having a hard time deciding which photos to share with you on this post. Did I mention I have 294 photos from this hike? Don't worry, I won't share them all 😉

 Now this is significant. I don't recall seeing anyone ever post a photo of this arch, and it's a nice one!

Here it is from the opposite side, in B&W. What a beautiful arch!

And here's what I created with a little imagination and Photoshop manipulation. I wouldn't want to come across this guy on a dark night out here in the middle of nowhere!

I was thinking I had hiked about as far as was comfortably possible and this would be a good time to head back. On impulse, I decided to climb up these rocks on the left and explore some of the alcoves. I was likely in an area that few people have explored. As I climbed up the ledge and proceeded on, here's what I found...
Wow! I wish there was a way I could give you some perspective on this arch. It's one of the biggest I've seen.

I immediately thought "this arch is a mystery!" I've never seen any photos of it, and yet it's large and distinctive. Am I the first to document it? Not really sure, but that's the story behind the "Mystery Arch" name. And it's the reason I will always remember this hike!

So let's climb up and take a look at the underside of Mystery Arch.

An impressive arch, and large enough that I can stand underneath it without bending over. Not to mention superb views out across the desert!

So there you have it: A large, beautiful and mysterious arch in a remote area of Joshua Tree National Park wilderness that I've never seen photographed. I may need to think of a better name than Mystery Arch. Let me know if you have any ideas!

Linking with Skywatch Friday.
Thanks for stopping by!