Thursday, August 24, 2023

Lost Horse Road

 If memory serves (and it often doesn't these days), this is Milky Way outing #4 in my summer of Milky Way outings. On this outing, I had my friend Mitch with me. We didn't have a specific location in mind for our Milky Way foreground. We figured we would drive and/or hike around until we bumped into something interesting. Without all the preplanning, there is a lower likelihood of success, but that's OK. We're really out just to relax and enjoy ourselves in the beautiful California desert. If we happened to get a good MW photo, that will be icing on the cake!

Historical rock marking (1939) or modern day graffiti (someone's phone number)?
A beautiful blue sky day with fluffy clouds. Perfect!
Do you see a face?

I like these rocks. I decide to use this as the foreground for my MW photo.
Full stop, get out the chairs, kick back, and wait for the sky to darken.

Around sunset, the sky really put on a show!
Milky Way taken at midnight as 6.16.23 turned into 6.17.23. Icing on the cake!
Night view using my headlamp.
Thanks for joining me on this little adventure. I've really enjoyed getting back into MW photography this summer. I have one more outing I want to share with you, and then MW season will be over. Stay tuned!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Looking at Used Cars

 The first rusty relic I came across on my hike was this beauty! It's partially buried in the desert sand and hidden by some bushes, so most people probably walk right by it. I like the green paint... looks good with rust!
Good leg room. That's a plus!
Used car #2 is also a stunner! Similar to car #1 but in better shape. Check out those headlights!
Used car #2, front view.
Used car #3. If you like rust, you're going to love this car! Is it just my imagination, or do all these cars look pretty similar? Do you have a favorite?? Pretty cool to run across all three of these cars on the same hike. And to think about these cars driving around out here in this crazy remote location boggles the mind!
Also on the same hike is this headstone with a very interesting story behind it. The original one was made of stone by Bill Keys but I heard it was stolen some years ago. The park service replaced it with this one:
It says: 
Here is where
Worth Bagley
Bit the dust
At the hand
Of W. F. Keys
May 11, 1943
If memory serves, the fight was over property boundaries and access to the Wall Street Mill. People took that stuff very seriously back in the day, and they really did shoot trespassers! Interestingly, Keys turned himself in to the local sheriff and was convicted of manslaughter. He was sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin.
Lucky for Keys, he was friends with Erle Stanley Gardner (a desert explorer best know as the creator of Perry Mason). Gardner felt that Keys was wrongly convicted and championed on his behalf. Keys was given a full pardon and walked out of prison a free man in 1948. Keys returned to his family at his Desert Queen Ranch (not far from these old rusty cars) to live out the rest of his days. A fascinating man and interesting story! For more of the details, check out this post:
Thanks for stopping by!
Oh, I almost forgot. I think I'll make an offer on car #2!😉
Do you have a favorite?
Linking with Skywatch Friday.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Spectacle at Garrett's Arch

 My friend Roger shared a photo with me of Mojave Mound Cactus at the base of Garrett's Arch in full bloom. This is a big deal. Mojave Mound Cactus usually grow in small clumps or mounds. It's claimed that the Mojave Mound Cactus at the base of Garrett's Arch is the largest grouping in all of Joshua Tree National Park. I have no way to substantiate that claim, but it's the largest grouping of the cactus that I've personally seen. To have it all in bloom under that beautiful arch would be a spectacular and rare sight indeed!
A typical mound of Mojave Mound Cactus, taken in April of 2022
Also called Hedgehog, Claret Cup, and Kingcup Cactus, it's brilliant red flowers with bright green things in the middle (stigma?) make it one of the prettiest flowering cactus you will run across.
Roger said if I wanted to see this visual display, to go right away. The flowers were already starting to show signs of being past their prime. Which meant I didn't have time to coordinate calendars and this would be a solo hike. I was kind of OK with that, having hiked out to Garrett's Arch a number of times in the past. However, I had only hiked by the arch (not up to it), and I was a little nervous about doing that solo. To ascend up to the arch requires navigating some very steep, smooth rock. I decided to see how I felt when I got to the arch. Take it slow and easy, and if at anytime it felt unsafe, to head down.
I took the time to refresh myself on the hike out to the arch by checking AllTrails. It had been a while since I had hiked there, and always by following the same approach out and back. AllTrails suggested a loop hike, which sounded interesting and would allow me to do something new. Almost all of the reviewers said navigation was difficult, and to download the GPS route to your phone so you don't get lost. A number of people said they had to give up before getting to the arch because of difficult boulder scrambling and/or getting lost. For the most part, there is no trail to follow, so a GPS route (and knowing how to use one) is critical. A few of the more seasoned hikers recommended following the loop counter-clockwise so you can get through the most difficult section of boulder scrambling at the beginning of the hike when you are fresh. Makes sense to me!
So off I go. In the screenshot above, the AllTrails route is in red. My actual track is in blue. You might notice that there's a big section in the upper right that doesn't align. Not a good thing! As I followed the Wall Street Mill trail on my counter-clockwise loop, all was well and I was feeling pretty good. It was a hot day, but not unbearable. Just past the Wall Street Mill, the route takes you into the Wonderland of Rocks. I entered at the correct location, but I could see only one clear pathway to follow (a well defined wash that branched a little to the left). I could see other footprints, and it was an obvious trail to follow. I was so confident that I was going the right direction that I didn't feel the need to check my phone to see if I was still on the AllTrails route. But the further I went, the more difficult it got! There were a couple spots that were unpassable and I had to figure out alternate routes, including bushwhacking through heavy brush. I finally pulled my phone out of my pocket to make sure I hadn't strayed from the route and couldn't believe it. My jaw dropped: I had strayed from the route almost the moment I entered the Wonderland! 
To backtrack now would mean to give up on Garrett's Arch. It would be a long, difficult backtrack and I wouldn't have the time or energy to start over. But to continue on posed a real danger. I was getting tired, and there was a very real possiblity I would hit a dead end. The further I went, the further it would be to backtrack. I decided to forge on, fingers crossed, but found myself wishing for a hiking partner!
I was really getting tired and worried when I came around a rock formation and spotted a rocky outcrop I recognized. It has a worn letter "A" on the rock... hard to see, but once you've seen it, you don't forget it. When I spotted that, I knew I was near the arch and safe. It was like a weight being lifted off my shoulders! I little further on and you can clearly see Garrett's Arch (photo above) and the steep granite face I would have to climb if I was going to make it up to see the cactus bloom.
The first part of the climb is the most difficult. The rock is steep and sheer without any footholds. I have no photos because I was focused on the climb and on not slipping down the rock face and killing myself!
Almost directly below the arch, but no sign of the bloom.
Ah, there we go!! Kind of a hidden flat area directly below Garrett's Arch with a huge amount of Mojave Mound Cactus in bloom. It was magical seeing it in person, and we are seeing something that very few people have seen!
The cactus blooms were clumped all around the base of the arch, and my biggest challenge was trying to photograph them AND the arch in the same frame. I was down on my knees for this shot for a lower perspective. I didn't know it at the time, but I was right on top of an ant pile, and wow were they angry!! I ended up having to remove most of my clothing to flap and slap the ants off, and I still found myself picking off stray ants for the rest of the afteroon!
I put on my Rokinon 14mm (almost a fisheye) lens. It allowed me to capture a larger area under the arch, but it makes the flowers look smaller. Kind of a trade off.
What a beautiful arch! No way that I could see to climb up and in, with it's steep vertical walls. But there's always a way. Maybe from the backside? Perhaps another day.
Time to start heading back. My wide angle lens flattens everything out and makes it look deceptively easy. I scooted down on my butt the whole way, since one slip or twist of the ankle could send me falling all the way to the bottom. Getting down from Garrett's Arch turned out to be one of the most difficult parts of the hike.
It sure felt good to be back on terra firma and off those rocks!
Thanks for joining me on this adventure!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

The Big Belch

 It was July 14, 2023, and Mitch showed up at the door of my desert house at the prearranged time. The outside temperature was 104 degrees Fahrenheit. I hadn't seen him in 2-3 weeks. I opened the door, and without saying a word, we both broke out in laughter. We knew exactly what the other was thinking: What we are getting ready to do is total craziness!!
Our plan was to head down Pinto Basin Road to set up for photographing the Milky Way that evening. This area has some of the darkest skies in Joshua Tree National Park, but it's also the hottest section in the Park. If it was 104 at my house, it was probably 109 (or more) in the Pinto Basin. Before you judge us too harshly, let me outline our plan of survival (yes, I meant to say survival):
  1. Find a good spot close to the road (there would be very little hiking involved).
  2. Take a large cooler on wheels, full of ice, cold water, other cold beverages, and Subway sandwiches. There would be no shortage of fluids to keep us hydrated!
  3. Take chairs to stay comfortable. This wasn't a hike, it was more of a picnic with camera gear!
  4. Broadbrimmed hats, long sleeved shirts, suncreen, etc.
  5. A first for me: Cooling towel. Dip it in the melting ice and drape it over my head. It works like a personal swamp cooler!
Here I am, modeling my new cooling towel!
I don't want to make light of how much importance we place on safety during our hikes, especially in the summer heat. There was a recent report of an experienced hiker about our age who died in Death Valley while hiking. It can happen to anyone.
We made a last minute decision to go check out Geology Tour Road. We figured if we don't see something we liked, we still had time to go to Pinto Basin Road. But GTR is at higher elevation (which means cooler) and has some large boulders (which means shade). It didn't take long to find some interesting boulders and get set up for the evening, a short distance off GTR.
Interesting boulders. This is the general area we chose for our MW shoot.
This huge split-in-half boulder caught my attention. Milky Way foreground??
I decided to use split rock as my foreground and hope that the MW would (at some point in time) align nicely with the split. Now all there is to do is wait for darker skies, so I think I'll walk around and take some pictures...

The temperature in the shade was remarkably comfortable! We sat around, ate our sandwiches, drank our drinks, solved a few world problems, and started taking our Milky Way photos around 10 or 11PM. 
My first attempt (about 11:20PM). I was hoping to get the Milky Way right over the top of the split in the boulder, but not quite there yet. According to PhotoPills, I would have to wait until about 12:30AM. Fortunately, Mitch was in no hurry, so a bit more waiting for the Milky Way to slowly rotate across this big beautiful desert sky.
Ah, there we go!! At 12:21AM I achieved the alignment I was looking for. It's as if all the stars in the Milky Way are pushing out through the split in this giant boulder. The Big Belch!
Thanks for stopping by!!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.