Thursday, October 29, 2020

Sunrise Hike in East Joshua Tree

I don't recall what possessed me to go on a sunrise hike. I'm not a morning person, and I don't understand people who wake up all chipper. I think I'm totally missing that neurotransmitter. I woke up in the dark, bumped my toe on the bed frame, grumbled and cursed a few times, stumbled to the coffee maker and made coffee, grabbed a breakfast bar and my gear, and off I went. It's about a 45 minute drive out to east Joshua Tree where I like to hike: No trails, no people, just wilderness.

The camera makes things look lighter than they really were. When I started my hike (5:41AM), it was still dark enough to require a headlamp, but things lightened up pretty quickly.

No sun yet, but the moon sure was pretty!!

Good morning, sun!! 6:04 AM

The slanted morning light is highlighting the tops of plants (6:12 AM).
Interesting pictographs on this rocky overhang (circle). One looks like an E. There's no doubt in my mind these markings had meaning to Native Americans, but unfortunately their meaning is lost today. There's another area that looks like it might be a faded picto (arrow).
Carrot nose!
There's a lot more to share with you from this hike, but it will have to wait until my next post. I'm heading out to the desert for another adventure on Thursday and Friday, with very limited access to a computer. Until next time...
Stay healthy & stay safe!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Diagonal Sky

 "There is nothing wrong with your computer screen. Do not attempt to adjust it. We are controlling transmission. We control the horizontal. We control the vertical. Sit quietly and we will control all that you see. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery of... desert skies!"
                A heavily modified opening narration from "The Outer Limits", 1960

Does anyone else remember the "Control Voice" from The Outer Limits? I know I'm totally dating myself, but that's OK. When I was a kid watching this show, I thought it was pretty cool and a little spooky. I was having that same feeling wandering around the desert in the late afternoon not too long ago. I hadn't really seen diagonal clouds like this before, and it was a little disorienting!
I walked past howling coyote rock. Mr. Coyote appeared to be howling at the diagonal sky, which added to the ambience!
Looking behind me (opposite direction of the diagonal sky), the sky was still interesting, but not as dramatic.

Even in monotone, these V-shaped clouds look so dramatic! They are some of my favorite photos from this particular hike in Joshua Tree National Park.

Hiking past my old friend, "Rip Curl" rock.
Thanks for stopping by, and hoping you enjoyed these desert skies!
Until next time: Stay safe & stay healthy.
Linking with Skywatch Friday.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Born Again

This is a long one, so pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable!

The old timers called it "Casa Grande". More recently it's usually referred to as the "Coming of Age" site or the "Born Again" site. It's chock full of pictographs, including diamond motif pictos that are known to be associated with girls' puberty rituals (hence the Coming of Age name). The site also contains this interesting cave on one side of the shelter that requires you to lay flat on the ground and literally crawl on all fours to squeeze through. A little beyond half way you come across the diamond motif pictos. When you crawl out the other end, you feel... well, it's a bit like being born again! It's been conjectured that the ritual went something like this: A Native American girl, on the threshold of womanhood, would enter the cave as a girl. The cave gets smaller and more restrictive as you crawl through it, and she would exit out the other end as a woman. But I'm getting way ahead of myself!

Monday, Oct. 12, was Indigenous Peoples Day, AKA Columbus Day, but I guess old Chris is not the hero we once thought. Personally, I would much prefer to celebrate Indigenous People, and as my readers know, I love wandering the desert looking for Native American rock art and other cultural artifacts. With that in mind, I chose to post about the Born Again site, which is one of my favorite Native American sites in all of Joshua Tree National Park. I would put this on my "top 5 all time favorite hikes" list, but I think the list is already full! Seriously, a great hike and one I will always remember.

Are we there yet?

The Born Again hike had been on my "to do" list for years. But the limited information out there all agreed that it's long and challenging. I had approximate coordinates and had spent hours on Google Earth mapping out the best route. The route followed a rocky wash for long distances, and appeared to have a couple of large "dry waterfalls" that would have to be navigated (assuming it was possible to navigate them at all). Challenging for sure, and not a hike I wanted to try alone. Fortunately a couple friends were interested in a hike, and when I mentioned the Born Again site, they gave it a thumbs up!

I'm not a morning person but decided to make an exception for this hike. We decided to meet at the trail head at first light, which I think was about 6:15 or 6:30AM. The hike took place in June, and the temps were predicted to reach into the upper 80's or low 90's, so a little too hot for ideal hiking weather. Man, was I surprised when I pulled up to the trailhead about 6:15AM and saw my car thermometer registering 54 degrees. Could that possibly be accurate?? I didn't even have a jacket! Turns out it wasn't a problem because the day warmed up quickly.

The Nolina flower stalks were putting on quite a show. When they catch the morning light they stand out beautifully!

The nice thing about hiking with friends is you usually end up with some shots of yourself! Mike took this photo and some of the others below (thanks, Mike!). That's Mitch on the right and me on the left, hiking along a desert wash that we followed for miles. Some sections were easy and flat; some sections were full of soft sand that make hiking difficult and strenuous; and some sections were filled with boulders. The boulder-filled sections were the most challenging. 

I mentioned we would have to navigate around a couple of dry waterfalls. That's me (above) looking back up-wash in the direction we came from. If I step back 4-5 steps, it's about a 30' tumble down a huge dryfall!

This is looking down from the top of the dryfall. Hard to tell from this photo, but that's a long way down! We can't get down this way, so let's see if there is an alternate way down.

Here, Mitch and I are picking our way down the boulders on the left side of the dryfall. Not an easy route, but it's the only option we can find.

As we get around the large dryfall and drop into the wash again, we come across this old bighorn sheep skull wedged between some rocks. I wonder how it met its demise? Could it have slipped and fallen off the waterfall, perhaps during a flash flood? Or maybe taken down by a cougar? It's anyone's guess. We left it exactly as we found it and moved on.

The other thing memorable about the area below the dryfall (besides the skull) was the large pool of water on this hot, June day. This could well be a critical source of water for bighorn sheep and other critters in the area.
Please, are we there yet???!!

Finally!!! There it is... the Casa Grande/Coming of Age/Born Again site! What an amazing and unique rock formation. Shelter caves on the left and right sides, and a large spacious overhang providing lots of shade. It's not far from the wash, and years ago there was more rainfall in the area than there is now. Likely this dry wash was a nice little seasonal stream. Who knows, may be it flowed year round. It's no surprise Native Americans were attracted to this site.
This photo gives you a feel for how large the overhang is, and the large amount of shade it provides. That's Mitch, hard at work documenting pictographs.

Something else amazing about this site is the metate grinding stone just outside the Born Again cave (center of photo). It's possible the stone on the lower left is a metate as well. There would have been a smaller stone called a mano used to grind seeds and other materials on the metate. I didn't look carefully, but somewhere in the area might be the mano, which would be a stone that would comfortably fit in your hand and show definite signs of worn down edges from the grinding process. Oh, and that's Mike, in the process of being born again!

A closer look at the metate. Others before us have placed pottery sherds, chipped rock, and bone fragments on it. I was tempted to clean it off to get a better photo, but decided to leave it exactly as I found it.

The Born Again cave is bigger at the start and narrows as you crawl forward. The walls are stained with soot from long ago fires... who knows how many hundreds of years ago? There are pictographs sprinkled in between the soot, but I get the impression there were probably many more pictos here, covered over by soot from ancient fires.

The diamond chain is perhaps the most significant pictograph in the Born Again cave, helping to give the site it's name. If you look closely, you can see a white pictograph and something that looks like a petroglyph, along with black soot.

Mitch being BORN AGAIN!!

Back out into daylight, it really is an experience crawling through the born again tunnel and coming out the other end. Let's take a look at some of the many pictographs scattered all over the walls at this site.

On the underside of the overhang, you can see lots of rock art. Most of the pictographs are reddish, but there are also black and white pictos. Many look to be significantly faded (perhaps they are older?). I wonder what the rock art at this location looked like a few hundred years ago, prior to so much of it fading? Likely spectacular!

As odd as it sounds, spending an afternoon taking pictures of pictographs can be exhausting! Here's Mitch in the process of composing a shot. In areas that are darker, we have to also balance a light.

This last one is my favorite. It looks like a butterfly. We have all three colors represented here. It looks like the faint black pictos might be the oldest. I can make out areas where the white pictos cover the black lines. The red picto looks like it covers both black and white lines, although it's hard to be certain. Note that I used dStretch on most of these photos to make the pictos stand out more clearly.

Some of the pictos at this site are very unique. That, combined with the sheer number of pictos, the gorgeous rock formation with caves (especially the Born Again cave) and large overhang providing lots of shade, and the metate and pottery sherds, make this a very magical site. If you are lucky enough to visit, please leave it exactly as you find it, so others may enjoy the magic!
9.5 miles of boulder-filled wash; ascent 988'; descent 965'. 
One of the toughest hikes I've done!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.
Stay safe & stay healthy.
Thanks for stopping by!!