Thursday, April 28, 2022

Pinto Basin Skies

 Pinto Basin in Joshua Tree National Park doesn't get much respect. It's at the lowest elevation within the Park, and is part of the "Colorado Desert" (as compared to the more glamorous Mojave Desert, which is at a higher elevation). There are no Joshua Trees in the Pinto Basin. It's the hottest and dryest area within the park, and you need to avoid the area on a hot day, or anything even close to a hot day. Chances are it will be hotter in the Pinto Basin than wherever it is you're coming from by a significant amount.

Until recently, I hadn't spent much time in the Pinto Basin. Now that I've hiked it a handful of times, I've grown to love it! I
t's beautiful in its openness, big skies, and solitude.

Have you ever seen the old sci fi movie "The Day the Earth Stood Still?" The original, not the remake. Seeing this made me think of that movie... as if a beam of light might shoot out of that slot in the boulder at any second and the whole world would immediately stop. Or perhaps it already had stopped, and I just didn't know it. Solo hikes in the Pinto Basin will really let your mind wander to strange and interesting places!

This guy seemed to be out enjoying the late afternoon skies as much as I was!
Big sky

Golden hour in Smoke Tree Wash
Linking with Skywatch Friday.
Thanks for stopping by!!

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Conejo Well

 So you've never heard of Conejo Well in Joshua Tree National Park? You're not alone. It's kind of an obscure and remote location, with not much remaining to hint at what it once was. But at one time, there was a prospector by the name of Lee Lyons who built himself a sweet little cabin and lived here. There was an active spring, a well, and pipes that brought water to or near the cabin. There was even a "road" of sorts. A beautiful little desert paradise!

This part of the road looks quite passable, but as you follow it straight ahead, things get sketchy. 

The "road" continues, but see what I mean about sketchy? Can you imagine trying to drive this road to and from your house for food and supplies way back in the 20's or 30's? This area is remote even today. Imagine what it must have been like back then!

The best write-up I've seen on Conejo Well is by the DZRT GRLS and can be found here. If you're interested in taking a deeper dive to learn about this area, I highly recommend it!

Just before we head up into the canyon, we come across this clearing site with lots of old stuff. Really interesting old stuff! At first I wondered if this might be the Lee Lyon's cabin site, but I don't think it is.

I can imagine these rocks being in the shape of a fire ring 90 or 100 years ago. But it's hard to explain the large amount of cans, glass, and other debris in the area. Perhaps this was where Lee dumped his trash? The old rusty cans are everywhere, even down in the adjacent wash. Someone spent a lot of time here!

Biscuits, anyone??

Soldered hole and cap cans were in use in the early 1900's, which is consistent with when Lee Lyons would have been living here, doing a little prospecting, and enjoying his desert cabin.

Condensed milk must have been a favorite with prospectors, because the cans are commonly found. This can appears to have been opened with a hole punch of some sort.
Perhaps a coffee can??
You could easily explore here for hours and hours looking through all the old rusty stuff. Really interesting, but we need to move on.

After following the old "road" that parallels the wash, we come upon this clearing. I'm almost certain this is the site of Lee Lyon's cabin. There's debris in the area, and someone put in a lot of work to clear this spot.

More evidence, and you're going to have to trust me on this one. Straight ahead, in that mess of thorny brush, is a large hole. Parts of it even appear to be lined with stone, but it appears to be more rectagular than round. Because of the brush and deep shadows, I couldn't photograph it (that's the trust me part). I'm thinking this is likely Conejo Well. Either a traditional well, or perhaps more of a holding tank for water piped here from the wash. This is very close (just behind) the cleared area that I suspect was the cabin site.

Right next to the well site is this pile of stones with a couple of iron bars stuck in the ground. Your guess is as good as mine!

More evidence that the cleared area is the former cabin site: Rusty nails everywhere! Which raises an excellent question that I know you are asking: Where is all the wood from the old cabin? Perhaps a cabin fire destroyed it all, but I see no evidence of charred wood, so I doubt it. I'm guessing someone came and carried it off. Bill Keys was a well known scavenger, and his family ranch is filled to the brim with building material, car parts, and anything else he could scavenge. Wood was extremely hard to come by given how remote this area was. If Lee decided his prospecting wasn't paying off and moved on, I'm guessing someone came and helped themselves to the wood used to build his cabin.
Old pipe going up the wash near the cabin site. How far up the wash it goes is hard to say. Parts of the pipe are broken and gone, and parts are under sand and rock, so it's difficult or impossible to follow. During our visit, we could find no standing water. Sections of the wash are heavily overgrown with plants, so it's possible there could be a spring here and we just didn't see it.

It appears that a critter had been digging in the soft sand in the wash, and yes, that's a little pocket of water. Looks like the groundwater here is very close to the surface.

Parts of the wash are completely overgrown and impassable. We got about as far as that big juniper bush, rested for a bit, and decided it was time to start the long hike back to the car. It would have been interesting to explore further up the wash, but we just didn't have time.
We spot what looks like a pipe or pole sticking out of the ground up on top of the ridge overlooking the wash. If you look closely, there are actually two poles (one short and one long). That would be a long, difficult climb to get up there, so we will have to save that for another day, but we can't help wondering what it is.
About a mile from the car, we spot this beautiful rosy boa. This is only the second one I've seen in the park, and I think they are pretty rare. We try not to disturb him, take a quick photo, and move on.
As we were finishing up the hike, clouds moved in and the sky became very dramatic. I ended up with a lot of pretty sky shots that I will share with you on a future post.
Thanks for joining me on another adventure to a seldom seen location in JTNP!!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Overnight Hike to Cowboy Rock

 This one has to be in my "top 5 hikes of all time" category. Which is pretty funny, because if you were to count how many times I've claimed a hike to be in my "top 5" on this blog, well, let's just say the math doesn't work out. And just to be clear, it's not so much the hike, as the destination, and the fact that it was my first overnight backpacking trip.

For years, I had absolutely no interest in lugging a heavy pack and sleeping on the ground. But about a year ago, something changed, something clicked, and I found myself thinking how fun it might be to do an overnight somewhere. Just hike out to the middle of nowhere and sleep under the desert stars. It might have had something to do with reading "Up and Down California in 1860-1864" by William Brewer. His discription of the landscape and sleeping under the stars every night stirred my imagination! 

The big advantages with an over-nighter are [1] you can cover more ground because you're spreading the hike over two days and [2] you have a lot more time to explore your destination because you don't have to worry about getting back to your car before it's dark. The big downside is the heavy pack because of the extra gear that's needed (extra food and water, sleeping bag, etc). Water quickly becomes the heaviest thing in your pack when backpacking in the desert.

Fortunately, my friend Mitch is always up for an adventure and has a tremendous amount of backpacking experience. I told him this was a "bucket list" thing for me, and please tell me what equipment I need for an overnight backpack in the desert. I am now a card-carrying member of REI!
I knew where I wanted to hike. There is an area called Cowboy Rock. It's both remote and difficult to find. Because of the distance and other things to check out in the area, we really needed two days. The location will remain a closely guarded secret. So off we go, with my backpack so full of gear that I could just barely lift it off the ground and on to my back!
The area is a confusing jumble of boulders, and it's easy to get disoriented. After much wandering around without any luck, we finally spotted what we were looking for.
I give you... Cowboy Rock! Pictures don't do it justice. From my experience, pictographs are much more common in this part of the desert than petroglyphs. This is a large petroglyph pannel with many different motifs. The only one I've seen that rivals it might be Newspaper Rock, but it's glyphs aren't as clear and well preserved as these.

Besides being awe-inspiring just to see, Cowboy Rock is thought to be an important example of rock art resulting from cultural contact. There's a 2005 publication called "An Examination of Probable "Cultural Contact" Rock Art Sites in Southern California and Northern Baja California" by Jeffrey LaFave, and it lists Cowboy Rock as an example. Both the horseback riders and woman wearing a dress are thought to be a result of cultural contact.
Motifs include a rattlesnake and woman wearing a dress.

This large boulder adjacent to Cowboy Rock also has some petroglyphs, including another horse and rider.
After setting up camp, I decided I wanted to photograph Cowboy Rock as the sun set and the stars came out. I used my headlamp to light up the foreground.

Wow, look at all those stars!!! This photo was taken at 8:57PM. Just imagine how beautiful a full of stars this sky was as the night progressed!

The next morning, Mitch took this photo of me sound asleep. Dead to the world, as they say. I fell asleep quickly, but then woke up a couple hours later and had trouble falling back asleep. I watched the star constellations rotate slowly overhead, and followed the shooting stars as they sped across the sky. I listened to the absolute silence. It was a truly beautiful night! I finally fell back asleep an hour or so before daylight.
As I do my best to wake up, Mitch climbs up on a boulder to get some photos. He's also been busy boiling water for coffee and our freeze-dried "breakfast skillet" meal, which was surprisingly good!
Mitch prefers to sleep in a tent... keeps the creepy crawlers out!

Early morning light shadow selfie.
One of the rewards of overnight camping... the morning view! This is the first thing I saw after dragging myself out of my sleeping bag.

First light.
Would I do an overnight backpack again? Absolutely! But I would be very selective about distance and pack weight. We covered a little over 13 miles, and with those heavy packs, my joints were aching badly. Especially my hips and lower back. Long backpacking trips with heavy packs are best left to the young, or people healthy joints!
Thanks for joining me on this adventure!
If you happen upon Native American cultural sites, 
please respect them, and leave them exactly as you find them.
Linking with Skywatch Friday.