Thursday, July 29, 2021

JTNP Museum Collections

 Over the years, I had heard rumors that Joshua Tree National Park maintains a collection of cultural artifacts, but they sure don't advertise it! I wasn't able to find any information on their website, even when I used the search function. However, when I Googled "JTNP museum collections" I was able to find it. Go figure!

Above is a copy of the email I sent the Park Service. I get the sense that viewing the collection is primarily designed for researchers. But it does say "open to the public by appointment only." I was pleased when I got a response back within a few days.

I invited a friend to join me, and the two of us met with a park ranger at the 29 Palms Visitor Center at the designated time.  She led us to one of the outbuildings where the collections are stored. We were asked to sign in, and I noticed the prior sign in date was over a year ago! I also noticed all the people who had signed in before me were affiliated with colleges and universities. It looks like very few members from the public see this collection.

It's an incredible collection! I've never found a pottery sherd with a marking or artwork on it, so I was surprised to see that the majority of pieces in the collection was covered in artwork.
We didn't have free reign in viewing the collection. We could only view what the ranger chose to show us, and obviously, we couldn't touch anything. She showed us only a tiny fraction of the overall collection, but even so, I felt incredibly lucky to be able to get this viewing.

It's hard for me to imagine what it would be like... sticking your head in a rock shelter and discovering a large piece of pottery like this! Certainly it would be the thrill of a lifetime. In the writings of the Campbells (a husband and wife team who lived in 29 Palms and explored extensively throughout JTNP in the early 1920's and 30's) they mention that many of the rock shelters they came across had ollas or other artifacts inside. Fast forward to the 1970's and beyond, and it's as if everything has been found and removed. Finding an intact piece of pottery is extremely rare, and I don't know of anyone who has found one. Which is unfortunate. I'm sure very few visitors appreciate the strong presence that Native Americans had in what is now JTNP.

A photo of a photo... The Campbells in the field, exploring a huge rock shelter. I've never come across this shelter, but I would sure love to know where it is!

The museum contains all the Campbell field notes, which I think is fascinating. Much of what is stored at the museum was discovered by the Campbells. The above entries were made in Oct. 1933. Page 1962 starts off: "Stone Object (frag)  Camp Cady Dist., Indian Camps in the mesquite covered sand dunes 1/8 miles east of Old Camp Cady Stage Station on N. banks of Mojave River". The entry goes on to describe the stone object in detail, and it's possible use as a whetstone. 

Old shotgun owned by James McHaney with hand-carved stock.

An arrow shaft straightener (I never would have guessed that!). The straightener would be heated in the fire, then the arrow shaft, which was soaked in water, would be pulled through the groove, back and forth multiple times until the shaft was, you guessed it, straight as an arrow!

Branding irons and old cans. It's pretty easy to spot the newest can!
Mining claim. A mining claim might commonly be folded up and stored in an old can under a pile of rocks on the property marking the claim.

At one point in Joshua Tree's history, there was something of a real estate scam going on. The Pinto Basin (the hottest, driest part of Joshua Tree) was being subdivided into lots, and sold (often sight unseen) to suckers people looking for their own slice of heaven in the desert. Many improvements were promised, including unlimited access to an underground aquifer. Property values were all but guaranteed to go up sharply, and everyone would be happy! Each person who bought a lot received one share in the "Pinto Basin Mutual Water Co." Except none of the improvements were ever made, and there was no water, which made the property worthless. A sad story that's played out many times in American history. The share above is dated Sept. 17, 1929.

Perhaps the strangest thing I saw were these absolutely beautiful paintings. Hanging on a wall behind the storage containers where no one could really see them, I could hardly believe my eyes. These really belong in a display where people can see and enjoy them, or perhaps loaned out to a local art gallery.
I've only shared with you a very small part of the overall museum collections. The Park Service has an almost impossible challenge: Protect these incredibly rare and valuable pieces of local history, but find a way to share them with the general public. Everyone knows the Park Service is understaffed and underfunded, so the emphasis now is on protection rather than sharing. Our Park Service "tour guide" told us it's OK to share the photos we take, but said "there aren't enough hours in the day" to promote the museum to the general public. She's right. So the opposite has been happening, and even long time JTree residents don't know this beautiful collection exists.
As we finished up our tour and were leaving the building, I asked about these rocks piled up in the hallway. My eyes were immediately drawn to them, and I was pretty sure I knew what they were. The Park Ranger confirmed my suspicion: Beautiful examples of Native American morteros or grinding stones. She said there is no room for them in the overstuffed museum, so they sit in limbo in a hallway. I've found a couple over the years, and it's an incredible thrill, and one I will never forget. Unfortunately, there are knuckleheads out there that will steal them, so the Park Service is forced to collect and store them to keep them from being carried off. But it's a double-edged sword. Every mortero that's collected by the Park Service and stored in a hallway somewhere removes the opportunity for a hiker to have the incredible experience of finding a Native American artifact in its natural environment, and perhaps developing a strong interest and connection to that culture.
My friend and I had agreed to meet for a late afternoon hike. We started our hike along Keys View Road, where the elevation was almost 5000'. A little cooler at that elevation, but still July in the desert!

I'll share the rest of our hike with you on my next post, but keep an eye on those clouds on the horizon. They will keep us company all afternoon, and provide some interesting activity just after sunset!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.
Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Searching for Rock Art

 This particular site is one that's been on my list for quite a while. It's not hard to get to, and I'll attempt to keep it anonymous by throwing in a few photos that have nothing to do with the rock art location. You know the drill!
The location information I had was approximate as well as vague. It sounded like any rock art in the area would be challenging to find and possibly spread out over a relatively large area. So let's go take a look and see if we can find anything!
A gorgeous day to be searching for rock art!

This is one of those areas that felt "friendly" and "welcoming". I know, that sounds strange, but I don't know how else to explain it. I was hiking alone, so human interaction had nothing to do with my feelings. But something here made me feel happy and positive. Likewise, I've been in areas that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Bad vibes. Something bad must have happened in the past, and I'm anxious to move on. How do these feelings get transmitted? That' a big mystery, but when hiking alone in remote areas, the feelings can be very strong. This place had good juju.
Finding a pottery sherd is a good sign that there may be other artifacts in the area.
After some searching, I found this interesting petroglyph. It reminds me of a spreadsheet!
Close to spreadsheet petroglyph is a second petroglyph. This one reminds me of a cluster of grapes. I don't mean to make light of these petroglyphs. They were likely very significant, perhaps even sacred, to the Native Americans that made them.
Not too far away I found a third petroglyph.
It's a rake or comb design, which is a fairly common petroglyph (and also pictograph). This one is notable for its prominent location high up on a boulder, as if shouting out "look at me!" Again, the exact meaning of these petroglyphs has been lost to time.
I searched high and low through the areas boulders, but found nothing else. I've seen photos of additional rock art reported to be in this area, but try as I might, I couldn't find it. That's OK. I felt fortunate to find what I did, and I couldn't ask for a better day for a hike!
I'll leave you with a handful of my favorite photos from this hike. The skies turned out to be very dramatic, and that always enhances the desert landscape.

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

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Lucky Boy Loop (Part 2)

I'm continuing my hike that loosely follows the Lucky Boy Loop trail (I say loosely because I've added a number of detours and side excursions). You can read Part 1 here. As I round a sandy wash, I notice what appears to be poles sticking out of the ground. That's strange. Let's go take a look!
A small dam! I'm surprised because I don't recall anyone ever posting pics of it. Back in the day, I'll bet this captured a lot of water for whatever livestock they were running back here. An interesting find!
A little past the dam, there's a nice arch. An elephant, perhaps??

California Juniper with its blueish berries.
As I follow the wash, I notice an area of obvious digging (red arrow). Mine tailings would be my guess, but let's go check it out.
Wow, this is interesting! Not a mine at all, but a well. The park Service has caged it off so no one can fall in, but it makes it tough to get a good photo.

It looks like the well used to be fenced off. The cage probably came later because a fence would be too easy to climb. The park service never bothered to remove the old fence.
This is the best I could do sticking my camera lens through the lower part of the cage. You can see the outline of the well, but not down into it. The rectangular shadows in the foreground are made by the sun shining through the top of the cage. Can you even imagine how hard it must have been to dig this well using pick and shovel?
Ah, that's better! For this photo, I climbed up on top of the cage and shot straight down using my cell phone. The cage seemed plenty strong and secure, but I did notice the openings in the cage were just large enough to swallow my iPhone mini. Hang on tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight!

This is the only thing I could find out about this well. Just a brief mention in the JTNP archives. It's called the Morgan Kimball Well, and it's 85' deep. It's proximity to the Desert Queen Mine means it very likely supplied water to the mining operations in the area. An interesting piece of history!
It's time to start heading south back to the car. Not far... may be a mile or two. The actual Lucky Boy Loop trail continues west over to the Desert Queen Mine Road, and then follows the road south. But walking along a dirt road isn't much of a challenge, and your not likely to see much of interest, so I'll take an open desert route that goes by some interesting rock formations. 
I notice that the skies are really getting pretty, with big fluffy clouds sailing in overhead. I'm in no hurry, and I end up taking a lot of photos along the way.
A nice shady spot to stop and rest.

It turned out to be a beautiful day for a desert hike. The modified Lucky Boy Loop trail provided some great scenery and interesting discoveries!
Thanks for joining me on this adventure.
Stay safe and stay healthy!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.