Thursday, April 29, 2021

Alien Arch

 This hike started out as an exploratory hike into a trio of washes in east Joshua Tree National Park that was new to us. When I say "us", I mean Mitch, Roger and myself.

It turned out to be a beautiful day for a hike, with all the expected weird rock formations, and the Coxcomb Mountains keeping us company just a little ways off to the east.
When I say "hiking", it also includes a fair amount of climbing. Here's Roger climbing up a sheer rock wall (sorry about the sun flair).
And then looking down at me, as if to say "OK, your turn!" Nope, no way, not going to happen. I swear Roger is half mountain goat! I, on the other hand, am not as sure footed and am not a big fan of heights. In hikes like this, it's important to know your limitations!
In a world of strange rock formations, this one's really strange. Kind of phallic-looking. See the moon?

Mitch in his element.
As we get to the end of our hike, we still have some daylight hours left. There's an area nearby I've wanted to explore. I have a planned route that passes through a narrow wash (at least I hope it's passable). So off we go!
Here I am making my way through the narrow wash. I had to laugh at this photo because it reminded me of all the preparation that goes into a hike. You try your best not to forget anything. Backpack? ✔ Camera gear? ✔ Water? ✔ GPS? ✔ And the list goes on and on. For this hike, I remembered everything... except my hiking boots!! Geez, that's a first. A long gruelling hike in my slippery, flimsy street shoes. Not ideal.
Baby arch and sun flare.
We discover this really cool-looking rock formation, and Mitch has figured out a way to climb up to photograph it.

From this angle, the opening in the rock looks like an "L". I look closely for any sign of rock art, but I don't see any.
Mitch out exploring. The sun is getting low on the horizon... my absolute favorite time for photography!
A nice little cave.

And inside the cave, looking out.

Ah, there it is. Alien Arch!!
Such an incredible rock formation! See that alcove to the left and behind Alien Arch? Let's go check it out. 
Not an easy climb.

Those rocks to my left appear to have been placed there to make a partial wall to protect the shelter. Whether in recent times or long ago, it's impossible to tell. Photo credit above two photos: M. Miller

Inside, looking out. Lots of room in this alcove.

After finally making it up the narrow wash, it leads us to this upper wash area. It's an area rarely visited, and I would love to explore more, but unfortunately it will be dark soon. But just around the next corner we see...
...two arches! If you are an arch lover like me, this is a big deal. I wonder if anyone has ever photographed these arches up close before? Distance is deceiving because the photo was taken using a 400mm telephoto lens. It sure looks like two arches to me, one on either side, kind of like bookends. I immediately start talking with Mitch about a return visit to see if we can somehow hike/climb up to "bookends arches". Stay tuned!
I think we finished up this hike in the dark (wearing headlamps), which is usually the sign of a great hike!
Until next time, thanks for stopping by.
Linking with Skywatch Friday.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

WW2 Bombing Range

 One of the things I love about blogging is meeting people out there in the blogosphere with similar interests (fellow desert explorers). Some become virtual friends, while others have become hiking partners and true friends in the traditional sense of the word. One person who I've hiked with, and hope to hike with again, is a true desert explorer and a wealth of information. He mentioned an old WW2 bombing range within the boundaries of Joshua Tree National Park, and I was totally intrigued. First of all, I had never even heard of it. If I've not head of it, then it's likely one of those "secret" places that few have seen. Second, it's a very short hike (about a mile or so), so I thought it might be fun to take my wife and granddaughter to see what we could find. My friend said he was able to research the site and found it was used between 1944 and 1946. Dummy bombs would be dropped on an area as target practice in order to hone the skills of pilots and improve accuracy. The dummy bombs were made out of metal (likely full of sand) and had "spotting charges" (a small explosive used to help spot the point of impact).
In preparing for a visit to the location, I spent some time studying Google Earth. If there are any bombing practice remains, they must be small. I couldn't see anything that really stood out. However, I could see what might be the remains of curved lines in the sandy soil (yellow arrows, above) making a kind of bullseye target. The WW2 pin would be close to the bullseye center. Pretty cool!
As we started our hike, I challenged my granddaughter: "Let's see who can find the most bomb remains!" That got her interested.
Ta da!!! Lilly finds the first scrap metal, which we assume is the remains of a practice bomb. It has a nice rusty desert patina and looks like it's been sitting here a long time. OK: Lilly, 1; grandpa, 0!
But not everything had a happy ending on this hike. See my wife on the horizon in the photo above? She's exploring and also carrying our dog. We brought our chihuahua with us on the hike, thinking she would enjoy it. But shortly into the hike, she didn't want to walk any more, so we took turns carrying her. Not long after this photo was taken, my wife stepped on top of a burrow. Her foot sunk deep into the sand, she lost her balance, but as she fell, she wanted to hang onto the dog to protect it. She ended up landing on her right shoulder. We would later learn that she fractured her shoulder, along with other complications (I'll spare you the details). Thanks goodness she's doing better now. The shoulder is healing and she begins physical therapy soon.

Hard to tell what shape these practice bombs were prior to being dropped out of a plane, but they sure are mangled!
My wife found this desert tortoise shell. Some of the pieces of armour (called scutes) have fallen off, leaving the white subshell. I always feel a little sad coming across these. It's very rare to see a live one, although years ago they were common. They seem like a species right on the brink.
We came across this old amber jar. What's it doing out here?? (photo by Lilly)

We found these old rusty buckets in the area.

Bottom view: Something about "Steel Container Co", Made in Chicago, and patented in 1943.

See the "W" carved into the top of the bucket? Just a guess, but maybe water storage? Water could have been cached out here. Perhaps soldiers were stationed out here during the practice runs to record bomb drop locations.
A good time of day for a shadow selfie!

I have no idea!

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe & stay healthy.
On, and no more hikes with our chihuahua!!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Newspaper Rock??

 Does Joshua Tree National Park have it's very own "newspaper rock"? The "original" Newspaper Rock petroglyph site is in San Juan County, Utah. I've never seen the site in person, but here's a photo (by Stephen Cho, Google images). It looks spectacular! There are about 650 individual glyphs, and it's said to be one of the largest collections of petroglyphs in the world. In the Navajo language, the rock is known as Tse' Hane, or "the rock that tells a story."

So perhaps you will understand my scepticism. I was nearly certain there could be nothing remotely close to this in JTNP, or I certainly would have heard about it by now, or seen photos, or something!
About this same time, my friend Mitch asked if I would be up for a very challenging hike. He had recently hiked into a pretty and remote area in JTNP, saying it was about the most challenging hike he's done in the Park. That means a lot coming from Mitch, who's done some very extensive hikes, well beyond my ability. He said he **thinks** he might have found an easier way into the area. Oh, and by the way, we can go by Newspaper Rock. Ya, right. I reluctantly agreed, but secretly worried about not having the stamina to be able to make such a tough hike. The elevation gain was huge. The route was more than a little challenging, following a boulder-filled wash with multiple blockages and perhaps not even passable. And the total mileage was high. What if I get half way into this hike and am unable to continue? It's a real possibility, and the thought crossed my mind more than once. We would need to get an early start, because this hike would take a full day and a little more. So pull up a chair, get comfortable, and join me on what would become my most challenging hike ever.
We got an early 7AM. This after negotiating a little with Mitch, who would have preferred a 6 or 6:30AM start time, which seemed rediculously early to me. After finishing up our hike, his request for such an early start would make a lot more sense. Anyway, the hike would follow this wash for most of the way. Initially, it was easy going... just a slight uphill grade over a flat, sandy surface. Piece of cake, right?
But very quickly, the wash would narrow and rocks and boulders would be the theme of the day.
Early morning in the wash. This is perhaps the first of many (please believe me when I say MANY) blockages we would come across.
Mitch navigating one of the smaller, early blockages.

Another blockage...

And another. Are you seeing a trend?

One of a handful of large blockages. For some of these, there was no way to climb over. We jokingly used something called a "Mitch Bypass", which was basically climbing up the side of the mountain to get around the boulders blocking the wash.
A "Mitch bypass" in action!

First shade. I'm feeling spent, but I know we have a long way to go!

A shy rosy boa. Not a great photo of him... he really didn't want to show himself, and we didn't want to bother him. I've never seen a rosy boa in the wild before, so this was a fun find. I have a fondness for them. My son had one as a pet for a number of years.
We finally, finally reach a plateau with a level view. An absolutely gorgeous area. We still have a ways to go, but at least we will be hiking and not climbing (for a while).
There are areas in this valley with abundant pinion pines. This area was trying to trick me into thinking I wasn't in the desert anymore!!
View through low hanging branches of a pinion pine.

As we rounded a corner, my eye was immediately drawn to this strange circular design on a rock. It's located in a prominent spot, as if designed to call attention to the area. So of course, I went to check it out.
It's like a bullseye worn into the rock. It might even have a little cross design in the center, although hard to make it out. To my eye, it definitely does not look like natural erosion. This was made by Native Americans. As I was checking it out, I suddenly noticed the petroglyphs to the left. What a fascinating find! No way that I would have found these petroglyphs if the "bullseye" hadn't grabbed my attention and guided me here.
Since the bullseye had called me over, and after finding the adjacent petroglyphs, I decided it would definitely be worthwhile to check out the area a little more thoroughly. That's when I found it...
WOW!! It does kind of resemble Newspaper Rock. Lot's and lots of petroglyphs here. Many appear to be faded and eroded away, but many can still be seen. The desert patina on the rock is light, so the glyphs are not as vibrant as Newspaper Rock in Utah. But impressive nonetheless. How come I've never seen photos or any reference to this site? Very odd. All I can figure is that's it's so remote and difficult to get to that few have seen it.

A strange wagon wheel with wavy spokes.

One of my favorites is this "tally mark" pictograph. A little difficult to count the individual marks, but I keep coming up with 30. Coincidence??
I asked a friend of mine, who is something of an expert on cultural sites in JTNP, if he was familiar with a site called "newspaper rock". He said by reputation only, and that he had never actually seen it. He also said he had heard it's really difficult to get to (true). And he sent me a couple of photos of the site he thought might be the one I was referring to from archival files. It was a match! The site was documented by Daniel McCarthy in 1975, and he called it "Petroglyph Tanks", which is a pretty cool name, given there is an area close by that traps water (and many years ago likely had water year round).
I was amazed to find standing water in this area, even in a very dry year.

A small amount of standing water in another area near Newspaper Rock (or petroglyph tank, take your pick). The rocks in this area are smooth and water-worn from many thousands of years of flash floods.
A bedrock mortar in the petroglyph tanks area. Look closely and you can see the grinding stone (pestle) was rubbed against the left wall of the mortar, as it's worn away at a smooth angle. The right side is straight up and down.
The smooth rocks at petroglyph tanks turned out to be a challenging obstacle. Mitch kept getting to about this spot before sliding back down again. 
See Mitch smiling? He likes this route better, but I'm not convinced it's any easier. I think I required some help getting up this section.
As we started exploring the upper valley, we came across this old campsite. This area has been designated "day use only" (no camping) for a long time, so this is likely quite old.


This skull seems a little small to be a coyote, so I'm thinking fox.
Makes me wonder how it met its demise. Hopefully nothing too painful or violent, but nature can be both.
Wow, check that out! A perfectly formed arch on the hillside. It's further away than it looks, and it appears to be quite large. Not enough time to check it out today. There are very few arches in this part of the Park, and given its remoteness, I wonder if anyone has ever photographed it? My achy joints are telling me I will likely never do this hike again, but the opportunity to climb the rocky rubble over to that arch for some proper photographs is the one thing that might get me back.

Even though it's only mid-afternoon, we need to start heading back. Although I hate to leave this beautiful valley, no way do I want to be navigating this wash in the dark. See if you can spot Mitch in the photo below.

The hike back. We're exhausted, and a trip and fall is much more likely during this part of the hike, when leg muscles no longer obey commands from the brain. We completed the last 1.5 miles in total darkness, wearing headlamps and navigating by handheld GPS. Mitch was right. Should have gotten and earlier start!
If you've stuck with me on this long hike, THANK YOU!
A few hike details:

Straight up the wash, hike around in the upper valley for a bit, and then straight back down. Very symmetrical! Looks like total distance was 10.6 miles, which doesn't reflect the degree of difficulty of this hike.
Total ascent: 1759 feet. That reflects the degree of difficulty! Also, the hike duration was 11 hours and 49 minutes. By far a new record for me, and I'm not exaggerating when I say it took close to a week for my aching joints to recover. But so thankful I was able to do this hike. 
Would I do it again?? 
Linking with Skywatch Friday.