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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Joshua Tree NP: Hike to 49 Palms

We had chores and errands to do today, and our campground hosted a happy hour, dinner and dancing, but we found the opportunity to slip into the afternoon a hike to 49 Palms in Joshua Tree National Park.

The hike is a 3-mile round trip out-and-back to a fan palm oasis that features several stands of large palm trees, as well as numerous smaller ones scattered through a rock canyon.  The palm grove was a spectacular reward for a short hike that in itself was interesting because of the many formations of monzogranite through which the trail winds.  These rocks are formed by ancient upthrusts of molten rock which cooled underground and developed networks of vertical and horizontal cracks.  Water, ice and weather slowly eroded the rock and soil above these formations, then rounded the sections, softening the angles of their surfaces.  Eventually, the rounded formations were fully exposed.

Here's David at the trailhead, reading about the palms, rock formations and other attractions on the trail:

The monzogranite formations come in all shapes and sizes.  Here, Kathy shows off a particularly lumpy one:

Our hike was a steep climb up to a ridge, followed by a long descent into a rock canyon.  Along the way, researchers had placed a box with a video camera that was labelled with a legend.  The legend explained that the box counts traffic on the trail.  It requested that the box not be disturbed and we honored that as we passed, looking for more interesting quarry at the trail's end.

We rose quickly on the path and, before long, were looking down toward the valley floor beyond a large wash graced by a huge, monolithic slab of granite:

The higher we rose, the greater the expanse of our view:

National Park Service hike materials had advertised that barrel cactus could be found along the trail, and we were not disappointed in that regard:

Soon, we crested the ridge and started around the shoulder of a hill, only to be surprised with this stunning view of palm trees in the distance:

The closer we got, the more lush and impressive the palm trees became:

Eventually, we reached the grove of trees and marvelled at how high and healthy they were for being set in such a desolate, rocky place:

There were even little palmlets along the trail, nuzzling up to some cuddly looking monzogranite boulders:

We could see evidence of water flowing down the canyon at the bases of the palm trees.  The soil was damp, and in the shade of the grove it was very pleasant despite the heat of the afternoon sun.

Having feasted our senses in this tropical micro-heaven, we climbed our way back up to the ridge and down again to the trailhead.  Driving back to our campground, we marvelled at how much variety is available within short distances within Joshua Tree National Park.  We can't wait to explore some of the other wonders the park has to offer.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Joshua Tree: The Lost Horse Mine Loop Trail

Today was our first opportunity to explore Joshua Tree National Park.  We've been waiting six years to do this, ever since our daughter Katie raved about the area after having visited it on a cross-country trip.

After a short visit to the Oasis Visitor Center, we chose to drive out to Keys View, which, at 5,185 feet above sea level, offered a spectacular view of 10,834-foot Mt. San Jacinto (on the left in the photo below) and 11,503-foot San Gorgonio Mountain (also known as "Old Greyback") (on the right below), both in the San Bernardino Mountains south of the Sierra Nevada Range and west of the San Andreas Fault which can be seen in this photo as a dark line running in the midground in Coachella Valley below our vista:

We were disappointed to see so much smog, which the ranger at the viewpoint related is funneled down into the Coachella Valley from Los Angeles.

We drove a short way down from Keys View to the trailhead for the Lost Horse Mine Loop Trail, which is a 7-mile trail featuring the Lost Horse Mine.

Between 1894 and 1931, the mine produced 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver.  It was developed by one Johnny Lang, who, in 1890 had lost his horse when his brother and other cattlemen were gunned down by a cattle rustler. Lang tracked the horses to this area, which at that time was believed to be occupied by cattle rustlers, but did not find the horses. He claimed he then met someone who had discovered a rich gold claim but was afraid to develop it because he had been threatened by the cattle rustlers. Lang and his father bought the rights to the mine and named it "Lost Horse" in memory of the lost horses that were the original cause of the discovery. He and three other men filed the claim, set up a two-stamp mill and began to produce substantial amounts of gold. Lang's claim and mill were then sold to a Montana rancher named J.D. Ryan, who continued to mine the property.

Whether this history is a true story or a tall tale, the mine did operate on the property, and we set out to investigate it.  Here is Kathy at the trailhead:

The trail winds up and down over hills through the valley, and, as we climbed the two miles to the mine, we could see San Gorgonio Mountain behind us down the trail:

The desert seems desolate, but it is filled with life.  We saw expanses of joshua trees, juniper, Mormon tea, fan palms, jojoba plants, varieties of sage, and some plants we couldn't identify.  Here was a particularly majestic yucca plant we spotted on a hillside:

Scattered throughout these hills are the ruins and foundations of miners' cabins.  We stumbled on one, which David explores in the photo below:

We eventually reached the Lost Horse Mine, which was a marvelous construction, considering how far out in the desert it was built.  We had trouble imagining how much work and expense had been involved in hauling the machinery and materials to build the mine complex in this remote location. We took a selfie along with the main mine machinery:

Many of the original mine structures still stand on the site, although the mine has been sealed and the major machinery has been fenced off for visitors' safety.  Below is a view of some of the machinery and one of the cisterns that held water for sluicing the ore and dirt dug up from the mine:

We ate lunch at the mine site and pondered all the questions that we could think of about the mine and its construction and operation.  After resting and eating, we continued on the loop trail to a dramatic vista over Malapai Hill, an extinct volcano, behind jagged basalt rocks lying along our trail:

Here, Kathy cozies up to some of the jagged basalt:

Further on the west side of the loop, we found an old stone chimney, remnant presumably of some miner's cabin, along with bedsprings and other materials that we surmised also were left by the miner, although the broken glass that littered the site testified to innumerable parties and overnight camps on this ground:

On the northwest part of the loop, toward the end of our hike, we found ourselves in a great sandy wash or basin, with an immense forest of Joshua trees around us.  Kathy posed with her favorite:

While the blossom season for Joshua trees does not occur until February-April, we found one tree that bore blossoms.  We couldn't tell whether these were early blossoms this year, or remnants from last year:

Another interesting desert plant is the beavertail cactus, a member of the prickly pear cactus family. We encountered perhaps half a dozen of these cute little plants, three of which that had grown too close to the hiking trail had been protected by NPS rangers by stone rings the rangers built up around the little fellers.

Animal wildlife was scarce the day we hiked.  Our campground near the park has a large grove of trees where turkey vultures roost in great flocks at sunset.  On the trail we saw several lizards, and in the sandy washes we spotted several kangaroo rats.  But, beyond these, the desert seemed devoid of animal life, despite the fact that it is not overly hot this time of year.  A ranger told us that these mountains do harbor mountain goats, but we saw none on today's outing.

Maybe later.

Boomerville: Tuff Golf

Hi Blog!

On Wednesday, January 27, 2016, we held the First Annual Boomerville Tuff Golf Classic. What is "Tuff Golf"? It is desert golf at its most primitive. You get to carry one club. After each shot, you get to tee up the ball for your next shot. You can use fancy rubber tees or just cut off the tops of a water bottle. Standard wooden tees don't do well in the rocky soil. There are no divots in the desert!

The Quartzsite Golf Course is north of Quartzsite on Boyer Road (33.7033, -114.2352). Take Tyson Street to Desert Vista Street. Follow Desert Vista past the pavement, and continue north on the desert road (Boyer) to the course, clearly marked with the sign that indicates "Golf Course." While there were a number of ATVs in the parking lot, the road is well graded and does not require 4-wheel drive.

With packs filled with water and snack, the Boomers grabbed their clubs and prepared to test their mettle against this world famous course. It was written up in RV Golfer Magazine!

Since this is Tuff Golf, we needed tuff names to go with the tuff conditions. From left to right: Tony "Desert Rat" Sparks, Dave "Tuff Red" Scranton, George "Ferocious Fin" Finlayson, "Dirty" Dick Mallery and Eric "Yukon" LaJuene.

The ladies were ready to show just how tuff they were. From left to right: DeeDee "Diamond Back" Sparks, Kathy "Killer" Scranton, Nan "Van Gough" Finlayson, Gaila "Godzilla" Mallery and Ginny "Last Place" LaJuene.

Since there were 10 of us, we teed off two at a time and then raced across the desert to find our balls.

Here the Desert Rat attempts to help Diamond Back perfect her swing. He kept complaining she wasn't holding it right!

After teeing off, we went in search of our balls. After a few whacks, we found ourselves approaching the "green." If you made it to the green that was as good as getting it in the hole. Apparently, close now counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and Tuff Golf!

The next hole crossed a wash. Since half of us ended in the wash, we invented a new rule. If the ball goes in the wash, you get to throw it out.

Hitting a golf ball balanced on the top of a plastic bottle top takes some getting used to. Here, Van Gough prepares for her shot with a little fanny shake.

It's hard to tell one hole from the next. Here Godzilla prepares to demolish the ball.

After three holes, we decided it was time for margaritas! We'll make sure we get an earlier start next year. 

We did manage to come up with a few prizes:  

- Dirty Dick was awarded the prettiest shot. 

- Diamond Back DeeDee consistently hit the straightest shot. 

- The best golf attire went to Last Place Ginny. 

- Tuff Red David destroyed the most tees. 

- Killer Kathy got the best organizer award. 

- Ferocious Fin Finlayson hit the longest shot. 

- Yukon Eric was the first on the green. 

- Godzilla Gaila wowed the audience with the best pants hitch. 

- Van Gough Nancy knocked them dead with the best fanny shake! 

Oh, I almost forgot:  the best score went to Desert Rat Tony with a 9 after three holes! 

Here, Dave and Kathy hold up the souvenir yellow legal pad!

It wouldn't be a golf tournament if lunch (and drinks) didn't follow. Since the Quartzsite Golf Course does not have a clubhouse (unless you count the port-a-potty on Hole 15), we decided to hold our celebratory lunch at Taco Mio, 130 E Main Street, Quartzsite, AZ:

If you are still in the Quartizsite area, the local VFW Post 769 will be hosting a Master's Golf Tournament on February 20, 2016.  Come on out and enjoy the course!

Boomerville: Desert Hike to the Bathtub and Blue Rocks

On Tuesday, January 26, 2016, we led a group of 17 other Boomers on a hike across the desert in the LaPosa BLM area near Boomerville.

Kathy found two points of interest used by local geocachers:  a structure known variously as "The Bathtub" or "Ye Olde Swimming Hole" located about a mile southeast of Boomerville, and a location known as "Blue Rocks" at the base of the Plomosa Mountains about 3.5 miles southeast of Boomerville.  We had our waypoints for the objectives in our hiker GPS and, promptly at 10:00 am, our group set out across the desert.

One of our first formalities was a group photo in front of a striking saguaro cactus (this photo courtesy of Boomer Bob Martel):

Not too far into our hike, we found The Bathtub, located at N 33.63565  W 114.14105, which our best guess was a cistern to hold water for sluicing in local small gold mining operations.  Great care was taken in constructing it, with a concrete conical wall lining the hole in the desert floor.  Below, our group posed for a photo on the rim of The Bathtub (courtesy of Boomer Duane Mathes):

Here's Duane posing in the bottom of the cistern:

A little further along, we found an unique saguaro we like to call the "Tuning Fork":

Finally, we reached our ultimate destination, the "Blue Rocks," located at N 33.61425, W 114.1344667.  We were unsure what we would find, but, as it happened, we found a striking vein of quartz-like rock with blue and blue-green coloration probably produced by copper in the rock. Below, Boomer Dee Dee is examining the Blue Rocks:

Here is a close-up of one of the Blue Rocks:

While the rest of us were marvelling at these geologic curiosities, Duane Mathes climbed the hill above us and snapped this photo of our group as we rested and ate our lunch:

Having rested and refreshed ourselves (not to mention having congratulated ourselves in finding our objectives), we returned to Boomerville.  For our return trip, we broke up into two groups:  one group chose to head 3.5 miles across the desert in the compass direction of Boomerville, while the other group chose to follow a local mine or ATV road up and down the washes and over the shoulders of the hills 4.5 miles back to Boomerville. We all returned safely and celebrated our adventure together at happy hour late that afternoon.

Boomerville: Palm Canyon

Hi Blog!

On Monday, January 25, 2016, we piled a bunch of Boomers into Great White and drove up to Palm Canyon. We needed a little break from all the shopping, roundtable discussions and Happy Hours that make up Boomerville. Here we are at the trailhead:

The Palm Canyon Trail is located in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.  The trail is a moderately easy, half-mile trail that winds up toward the base of the canyon. This trail leads to a small sign on a slightly elevated area on the left near the middle of the canyon.  Onward and upward....

Thanks to the well place sign, we get our first glimpse of the historic palms.

These trees are California fan palms. These unique plants are probably the descendants of palms growing in this region during the last periods of North American glaciation. Some botanists theorize that the trees gradually spread into these canyons and other protected niches as the climate warmed to desert conditions. Other researchers have suggested that the trees may have been spread from other palm groves by birds or coyotes carrying seeds in their digestive tracts.  Here is a close-up look:

A few of the guys tried to scramble up the steep slope, but found the sheer rock face too difficult to scale in the time we had. After a number of photo ops, it was time to trek back to the truck. The Kofa Refuge spreads out before us.

On the way back down, we spotted a border patrol blimp hovering above the far hills. It was a little too far away to get a good photo, but this gives you the idea of how vast the wilderness area is.

As we worked our way back to the truck, we had to cross a number of washes. The trail split into a number of veins. Here Kathy leaves an arrow to point the way for the rest of the Boomers.

Great White stands out against the desert backdrop.

If you ever find yourself in the Quartzsite area, the trip to Palm Canyon is definitely worth it.