Thursday, September 22, 2022

Painted Nodule Pictograph Site

 OK, so yes, "Painted Nodule Pictograph Site" is not the official name. If I use the official name, it will give away the location. Plus, I like my name better. But let me back up and start at the beginning...

Mitch, Roger and I agreed to meet mid-afternoon to look for a pictograph site in Joshua Tree National Park. I knew the approximate location, but I also know the pictograph site was one boulder in a field of hundreds (thousands?) of boulders. Certainly no guarantee we would find it. Also, weather was working against us. We had to be careful not to overexert, and to carry plenty of water. When I left my house in 29 Palms, it was 106 degrees.
The hike itself wasn't particularly strenuous, and I was carrying a lot of water (which made my pack heavy). Not comfortable hiking weather, but hiking within our ability level. 

Interesting rock formations in this area. The one above reminded me of a sandwich with deli meet in the middle... turkey club sandwich, perhaps??

Ground level rock formation with concentric rings. I think Mitch named it Cinnabon Rock. Why are we always thinking about food while out hiking??

The rocks in this area are remarkable for having these rocky nodules that are harder, and erode slower, than the surrounding granite. They end up sticking out of the rock surface. This one looks like... a dog? A lizard?
 
In this area, quartz was littering the ground. Who knew geology could be so interesting? I certainly had little interest until I started hiking in the desert.
 
I knew we had to be getting close to the pictograph site, but there were boulders everywhere, and any one of them could be the site! Before finding the actual site, I spotted this grinding stone. It looked like it was broken in half, but easy to see the smooth area on the rock from years of grinding by Native Americans in an earlier time. A wonderful find!
 
Finally, we find that one boulder in 1000 that has pictographs inside. That's Roger taking a look. This boulder looks like all the others, and 99 hikers out of 100 would walk right by without noticing the pictos.
 
What an interesting site! I've never seen an arrow pictograph before (center of the photo, pointing up). I have no idea what its significance is. Of even more interest is the way the rocky nodules within this alcove are covered in pictographs. Let's take a look at a few.





Almost every rocky nodule has a pictograph on it. What significance could this possibly have? Certainly one of the more interesting picto sites I've come across!
 
A closer view of the red arrow, red lines, and what is either white pictographs or bird guano. They look a little too straight and deliberate to be bird guano, and also seem to run both vertically and horizontally. My vote is for white pictos.
 
A closer look at the red lines (and with a little help from dStretch) reveals that they aren't lines at all but are actually dashes. Each line is made up of four dashes. How unusual!
 
We search the area for more pictographs. Finding none, we decide to move on. There's a large impressive rock formation we want to check out.
It's hard to get a size perspective on how large this rock formation is, so I'll just say it's huge. The rocky walls are nearly straight up and down, and we were curious to see if it's a dryfall, with the rocky shute formed by water. Keep an eye on the large boulder in the bottom center of the photo above. We need to get over or around that somehow to check out the rocky shute.
 
Here's Roger sitting on that same boulder, with Mitch taking his picture. I have my back to the rocky shute.
 
The view looking straight up the rocky shute. I don't think this is a dryfall because the rocks are not worn smooth. Looking closely, I spot some climbing bolts in the wall (not visible in the photo). Evidently this is a climbing destination! I would estimate this rock wall goes straight up for 30' or more. 
 
Photo taken at 7:44PM, and finally starting to cool off!

Moon was keeping us company while hiking back to the car!
 
By the time we had our gear packed and socialized for a bit, it was dark. Here's the windshield view as we drove away from the trailhead... Joshua trees illuminated by car headlights, and a magical moment frozen in time!
 
Thanks for joining me on this hiking adventure. Hope you enjoyed seeing the pictographs!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Elephant Arches

 "Garrett's Arch and Elephant Arches are the most difficult locations to find in this book, especially Elephant Arches. Wandering this deep into the Wonderland should only be attempted by those with considerable experience in navigating rocky terrain, and preferably those already familiar with this part of the Wonderland. Those who do brave the labyrinth of granite will be rewarded wth the finest wilderness experience that Joshua Tree can offer."
Joshua Tree National Park: The Insider's Guide by Robert Miramontes
 
When Robert talks about difficult locations, you had better listen. He's not one to exaggerate. So let's see if we can find Elephant Arches. I'm hiking with Mitch and Roger, and I try to set expectations realistically at the start of the hike. I know where the arch is. I just don't know if we can physically get to it. I give us at best a 50/50 chance.
Distance is not the issue with this hike. After proceeding up the Wonderland Wash, it's a relatively short distance following an obscure wash to Elephant Arches. The issue is the wash itselt, which is difficult to navigate. It's narrow, full of boulders, and surrounded on both sides by steep granite walls. The bottom of the wash is overgrown with all manner of sticky thorny things that want to poke you and make you bleed. Bushwhacking in the desert is not fun!

In the areas where the rocks are too steep to navigate (which is much of the wash), you have no choice but to bushwhack. Navigating the steep, slippery rocks has its own set of challenges and dangers.
 
After nearly turning back, we spot Elephant Arches. I can see the elephant resemblance, with the head and eye on the upper left and the long trunk flowing diagonally down and to the right. But I wonder why "arches" and not Elephant Arch?. We make our way down off the rocks to take a closer look.
Much of the ground is covered by prickly pear cactus which makes it almost impossible to walk around the base of the arch and find good camera angles. We decide to climb up on the rocks for some photos.
 
From this angle, it's a beautiful arch, and you are only seeing about half of it. See the scrub oak on the lower left? That's hiding the view of the rest of the arch. We later discover the opening goes all the way to the ground! Garrett's arch is claimed to be the largest arch in JTNP, but I'm thinking Elephant Arches may be the bigger of the two. They are difficult to compare: Garrett's with a more traditional arch shape and round opening, and Elephant Arches with its long, diagonal opening.
 
Roger for size perspective. Hang on, Roger!

Yours truly. My new favorite arch!
 
I decide to try to carefully slide down the rocks on the other side of the oak tree to see what the arch looks like at its base and am rewarded with a major surprise:
Amazingly, the arch splits in two! You can't see the spit when viewed from the side. Now the name Elephant Arches makes more sense!
 
What an amazing and unique arch!
 
We decide it's time to start the challenging hike/climb back. We know what to expect, so the climb out didn't seem to be quite as bad as the climb in. The rock formations and late afternoon light are a thing of beauty!
 
Mitch up on the rocks under Monsoon skies.
 



As if seeing Elephant Arches wasn't enough, we are treated to an amazing sunset on the hike out.
 
My favorite photo of the hike. Earlier in the day, this area was dry. Then a thunderstorm moved through, lasting about 45 minutes, and creating this beautiful little stream. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to see it in the late afternoon light. Beautiful!
 
Mitch, Roger and I decide our nickname for Elephant Arches is "One-and-Done Arch." Or perhaps "Never Again Arch." It was so difficult, we agreed that we don't want to do it again. And yet it's funny how time softens our memories. If I ask them in a month or two if they want to go back, I know what their answer will be.
 
Thanks for joining me on this really fun adventure!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Monsoon Summer 2022 (Part 2)

 I'm picking up where I left off on my last post. Mitch and I have just connected with Roger and started hiking into the Wonderland of Rocks (Joshua Tree National Park). It's about 3:15PM, and what started out as a ho hum blue sky is quickly changing as monsoon clouds fill the horizon. It's exactly what we were hoping for!
 
Off we go! I'm falling behind Mitch and Roger already (see them up ahead on the trail?) because I can't resist taking pictures when the sky is so pretty. If it stays like this, it could be an epic day!
 
I've photographed the old Wonderland Ranch ruins many times, but never under such dramatic skies. Even in b&w it looks pretty good!
 
Uh oh. That's a big, heavy rain cell moving straight for us!! We were hoping for dramatic skies, but we're not prepared for a really heavy downpour. This could get ugly fast.
 
Take cover!
 
Starting to come down! (click on little square, bottom right, for full screen)
 
Coming down hard now. Geez, we're getting drenched!
 
One final video. As we were hiking in the rain past the rock formation know as the "Freak Brothers", I noticed water flowing down a crack in the rocks (between two of the "freaks"). Kinda like a mini waterfall. Amazing! I've never seen anything like it!
 
I noticed something white on the ground. Perhaps a rounded piece of quartz? It finally dawned on me that I was holding a large piece of hail! We didn't get a lot of hail, but enough to make things interesting.
 
By now I was absolutely drenched, head to foot. My cotton pants and socks were soaked through, hat was soaked through, even my backpack. I was worried about damage to my camera and cell phone. Mitch said getting cotton soaking wet can be a very bad situation on an extended overnight backpack, and might require you to turn back. Fortunately, this was just a day hike, and while uncomfortable, it didn't cause any major problems. And, thankfully, my iPhone and camera didn't suffer any lasting damage.
 

A sight rarely seen in the desert: Raindrops dripping off the needles of a Pinion pine. By now the storm was moving on, and we were left with this magical wet desert!
 
Mitch, out exploring the Wonderland of Rocks and working his magic with his Nikon. Look at those clouds!!
 
Out exploring. My pants are a shade or two darker because they are soaking wet! We haven't even gotten to our primary destination for today's hike, which is a large arch. It's supposed to be somewhere up ahead, but the wash is choked with sharp spiny things and the rocks are steep. I tell Mitch & Roger that, at best, we have a 50/50 chance of finding the arch. The rest of our arch adventure will have to wait for a future post.
 
Mitch is up on the boulders, looking down at me. He's got a beautiful vantage point, but I have something amazing that I see from where I'm standing:
You'll have to trust me when I tell you this little stream was not here earlier in the day. After 45 minutes of desert thunderstorms, it just magically appeared, snaking it's way through the Wonderland of Rocks! The afternoon light reflecting off the water is a sight to behold, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have been out hiking on this particular day. It's a day I won't soon forget!
 
Thanks for dropping by and joining me on this adventure!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.