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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Red Rock Canyon State Park...California, That Is...

One attraction near where we are staying in Boron, California is Red Rock Canyon State Park, located about an hour's drive north of here.  We decided to go explore the park today.

Red Rock Canyon State Park features scenic desert cliffs, buttes and spectacular rock formations. The park is located where the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada converge with the El Paso Range. Each tributary canyon is unique, with dramatic shapes and vivid colors.

Here are some of the unique shapes we found on a hike in Hagen Canyon, which is along the side road to the Visitor Center.  This one reminds us of a raven's head.  There is also a rock window in the lower left corner, and if you look closely, you can see Kathy peering out from inside:

This looks like a ramshackle castle:

This one is known locally as Turk's Turban.  We felt this required some imagination to see, but the rock is still impressive:

The formations of sandstone were heaved up at a 17 degree angle and then eroded over millenia by wind and water.  This photo gives you and idea of the scale of some of the formations:

Here are some more white sandstone columns with unique red sandstone caps:

This one is known as, "The Camel":

Not all of the wonders were rock.  Kathy discovered the wonder of a Joshua Tree which we guessed had bloomed and was bearing fruit, or seeds.  We've never seen this before.

After our hike in Hagen's Canyon, we drove over to the Red Cliff Preserve to hike the trail through its wonders.  This is a view of the entire cliff face:

From the Red Cliff Preserve, we could drive an off-road loop to see a remote set of Scenic Cliffs.  Even though we had planned to hike all day, we couldn't resist checking out the Scenic Cliffs.  One of the bonuses was that, as the park ranger at the Visitor Center advised us, we were free to walk anywhere off-road or off-trail and explore for ourselves.  We thought a random exploration of a remote site in the park might be fun, so off we set down a dirt road with deep, sandy ruts:

At last we reached our objective.  Here is a view of the Scenic Cliffs, which we felt reminded us of drip-castles a child builds in sand at the seashore.  Except, in this case, whereas the child builds the drip-castle by adding sand with water, nature has built these by subtracting sandstone with water:

We spotted two cave-like spots in the opposite corners of the cliffs, so we decided to hike over and explore them.  The first was, indeed, a cave!  Here, Kathy stands at the entrance:

On closer inspection, the cave clearly was cut into the cliffs as a mine shaft.  We don't know what the miners were looking for, but the cave was perhaps 9 feet high and extended perhaps 20 yards into the mountain.  A layer of pure white volcanic ash formed the lower part of the walls, while red sandstone layers rose above the white ash:

Having satisfied our curiosity about the first cave, we crossed above the desert floor over to the other end of the cliffs and found that the second "cave" was actually sort of well formed by the sandstone rocks, open on the top and front.  Here, David explores its interior:

From the interior, we had a view of the desert floor, the mountain across the valley, and our Jeep, looking tiny on the dirt road:

Historically, the area was once home to the Kawaiisu Indians, who left petroglyphs in the El Paso mountains and other evidence of their inhabitation. This spectacular gash situated at the western edge of the El Paso mountain range was on the Native American trade route for thousands of years. During the early 1870s, the colorful rock formations in the park served as landmarks for 20-mule team freight wagons that stopped for water. About 1850, it was used by the footsore survivors of the famous Death Valley trek including members of the Arcane and Bennett families along with some of the Illinois Jayhawkers. The park now protects significant paleontology sites and the remains of 1890s-era mining operations, and has been the site for a number of movies.

Researching the site, we found that it contains the Barnett and Nowak Opal Mines, sites where fire opals were discovered and mined.  Fire opals are colorful, transparent to translucent opals with a background color that is a fire-like hue of yellow to orange to red:

Kathy loves rocks, so we had to set out in search of the opal mines.  Perhaps we would get lucky and find a fire opal!

The mines are accessible only by four-wheel drive road.  After returning to the highway from our off-road adventure to the Scenic Cliffs, we set out to find Opal Canyon Road.  We had a 5 mile drive through sandy washes and over narrow ridges, navigating turns and junctions based on sketchy information.  Eventually, however, we arrived at the old mine.

To our surprise, the old mining camp was still there.  It consisted of half dozen ramshackle, abandoned cabins, each built around an old trailer.  Abandoned mining equipment was strewn across the site, as if the owners had just gotten up one day and left it all:

This cabin stood on the highest point of the site.  The front porch still had a chair sitting on it, as if the owner might be back any day to site on the porch and survey his beautiful mining domain:

The mines are open pit mines, dug with caterpillar tractors that chewed into the hillside where veins of precious opals might be:

We found the main pit, and the vein of agate and volcanic breccia that would contain the opals, and we started poking around to see what we could find.  Here, Kathy examines a huge, beautiful agate-like quartz rock.  We couldn't bring it home because it was too big for our RV, and because the state park prohibits collecting from the site.  But we could collect this photo:

After exploring the mine, we returned along the dirt road to Highway 14.  But instead of turning back toward Boron immediately, we turned north toward Inyokern to taste some beer at Indian Wells Brewing Company.  It tasted mighty good after a day hiking around in the hot sun!  Just the way to end an interesting day.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Eddie and George Dig Waking Up in Boron!

Digging Boron

Hi Blog!

Saturday, April 29, 2017, was our first full day in Boron, California. Located in the Western Mojave Desert, Boron is home to the World's Largest Open Pit Borax Mine. It is also right next door to Edwards Air Force Base. We planned to spend the day touring the various museums in town.

But first, a little back story. The town of Boron was named after the chemical element Boron (B5). The element Boron is rarely found alone. Borax (also known as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate) is an important boron compound, a mineral and a salt of boric acid. Powdered borax is white, consisting of soft colorless crystals that dissolve easily in water. In 1925, a large borax deposit was discovered and the mining town of Boron was established soon thereafter.

On our walk around town this morning, we absorbed the funky nature of this town that still seems stuck in the 1950's or '60's.  We think the welcome sign expresses it all.  We took the photo in sepia tones to emphasize the mood:

Our first stop was the Borax Visitor Center located high above the nearby Rio Tinto open pit borax mine. In the parking lot was a full-scale replica of a twenty-mule team wagon. These large wagons ferried borax out of Death Valley from 1883 to 1889. While called twenty-mule teams, they usually consisted of 18 mules and two horses. Here are Eddie and George ready to lead the team across the Mojave desert!

The large specimen shown below greeted us as we entered the museum. We watched a short video on the history ofthe mining operation. We learned that the borax deposit was formed by hot springs bubbling up from volcanic faults. The hot water brought the minerals up and when the water evaporated, the minerals stayed behind.

We were given a souveneir of "ulexite" or calcium-sodium borate. Because of the long transparent crystals in the rock, you can view images right through the rock.  This is a real photo we took ourselves.  Cool, eh?.

Borax has thousands of uses: everything from household cleaners to components in glass, pottery and ceramics. It is a fire retardant and anti-fungal compound for insulation. You can also use it to moth proof wool.  It can prevent stubborn pests (e.g. German cockroaches) in closets, pipe and cable inlets, wall panelling gaps, and inaccessible locations where ordinary pesticides are undesirable. The list of uses just goes on and on.

The Pacific Coast Borax Company sponsored Death Valley Days, a radio and television anthology dramatizing true stories of the old American West, particularly the Death Valley area. From 1952 to 1975, Death Valley Days was produced as a syndicated television series. One of Ronald Reagan's final television roles was as host of Death Valley Days in 1964-65. Reagan also acted in some episodes.

After reviewing the indoor exhibit, we were invited to walk up onto the roof of the Visitor Center so we could look down on the mining operation.  This is a view of the plant itself:

Three million tons of ore are mined every year. This produces about one million tons of refined products. This mine supplies more than 40 percent of the world's demand for borates. It is expected to continue operations for the next 30 to 40 years. That's a lot of laundry soap!  Here's a view of the main part of the mine pit:

In the parking lot across form the twenty-mule team are three piles of samples of the borates that are mined. After searching each pile for just the right size, Kathy holds her samples - tincal, ulexite and kernite. Never fear: all three we're added to Kathy's collection of favorite rocks.

Our next stop was the Twenty Mule Team Museum in Old Town Boron. No visit would be complete without a selfie with the Boron Bunny!  Don't ask why.

There were several exhibits on the twenty mule teams, but most of displays were about the history of the town itself.

We thought about visiting Edwards Air Force Base, but the tours are all booked for the rest of 2017. Instead, we satisfied our curiosity by visiting the Colonel Saxon Aerospace Museum. This tiny museum is just jam packed with all kinds of information about the Base and NASA astronauts.

We were even able to climb up and look into some jet planes.

All this "museuming" builds up a powerful hunger. Thanks to Don and Julie Kline, we learned about The Barrel. This local take-out joint is known for their bacon wrapped deep fried hotdogs.

Here Kathy digs into the delicious decadance. Dave decided to pass on this gastronomic delight and settled instead for a cappucino milkshake!

We certainly enjoyed digging into Boron. Tomorrow we hope to explore some of the surrounding area.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Paddling Lake Mead

If you're going to stay at Lake Mead, you should try to get out on Lake Mead.  We take that seriously, and so we launched our kayaks on Lake Mead early on Thursday, April 27, 2017.  Here we are, ready to paddle:

Our route would take us around Big Boulder Island, Little Boulder Island and all their attendant islands, a total of about 5.5 miles.  In the satellite view below, our paddle route is marked in yellow.  Our RV campground is on the left and labelled "Big Boulder Campground."  At the bottom center of the photo is the Lake Mead Las Vegas Marina, which we passed on our way back to our starting point, which is the leftmost point on the yellow route in this photo:

The day was very windy as we started, and the waves washed over the bows of our kayaks and even into our cockpits as we started out.  Within minutes, we were far from shore, with our Jeep looking mighty small down by the water:

We decided our first objective should be a circular structure located on Big Boulder Island.  When we arrived at the shore of the island below the structure, we looked up at it in uncertainty - we still couldn't figure out what its purpose had been:

Working our way around Big Boulder Island, we found many beautiful coves, many with unusual rocks washed down from the peaks that the islands formerly represented before Hoover Dam flooded the canyons and valleys (not to mention inhabited and archaeological sites) that now lie under Lake Mead.  Kathy found a treasure trove of rocks and minerals, including some beautiful galena-laden stones.  Meanwhile, David looked about for other things, such as this merganser-type duck who insisted on not being perturbed by our presence.  He never fled or flew away, just bobbing calmly on the water as we paddled nearby:

Kathy was very excited about some of the small islands, and out-paddled David to the smallest, outlying islands:

The shores of the larger islands had many unusual rock formations and caves:

At the highest point on Big Boulder Island, a white cross stands solitary - an unexplained memorial to an unknown person:

We eventually reached a calm harbor where we beached the kayaks to have lunch.  As soon as we landed, David spotted this lizard, sitting regally on his rock above us, inspecting us to determine our possible intentions as we invaded his desert kingdom:

After David snapped the lizard's photo, he turned around to get this shot Kathy and the kayaks at our lunch spot on Big Boulder Island:

We had a wonderful, peaceful, quiet lunch, gazing out on the far shores of Lake Mead.  As we prepared to re-launch upon the lake, we took this selfie:

Our route took us into more coves on the islands, one of which was graced with clear, green water, willow trees and colorful sandstone beaches:

Halfway along the far side of Big Boulder Island, we came to a sandbar that barely connected its western section with its smaller eastern section.  In the photo below, just this side of the sand bar (with the Lake Mead Las Vegas Marina in the background), a flock of five ducks saw us approach and started swimming away.  We caught them just before they left our area.

After exploring the far side of Big Boulder Island, we paddled out around two tiny islands and then started back along the near shore of Big Boulder Island.  We were greeted by this reflective scene including one of the peaks of Big Boulder Island:

The island kept giving us beautiful visions:

Eventually, it was time to beat a return to our Jeep.  We paddled straight across to the marina, paddling along the "big rubber tire" breakwater, and then straight from the marina, past the fishing pier, and back to our Jeep.

It was a wonderful 4-hour paddle, and we returned to our RV with tired shoulders and arms, but heads full of beautiful views of Lake Mead that we could never have otherwise have seen.  Now, it's on to Boron, California and the first stop on our majestic trek up US 395 and US 97 to the Okanagan Valley!