Another Walk in the Park: JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL – Part II

by Bob Sparrow

Joshua-Tree treeSaturday morning:

Anyone that tells you they slept like a baby in a sleeping bag in a tent on a windy night in a public campground is lying, or the baby was colicky.  The night passed slowly, but I knew I’d feel better in the morning after a cup of coffee and a nice warm shower.  I settled for a cup of coffee, there were no showers.

We’ve got three key destinations planned for the day, so we set out early for the first one, The Hall of Horrors.  ‘The Hall’ is a natural tunnel through a large rock formation, that is not easily found, but once found, is spectacular.

Here is a video of our trip through the Hall of Horrors as found on YouTube – it is really cool.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3NuhY3oN7c  (click on or copy and paste into your URL)

Our next hike was the loop to the Lost Horse Mine. To quote the parks literature on the mine, “the story of the Lost Horse Mine if filled with cowboy gunLost horse mine fights, cattle rustlers, horse thieves, the lure of gold and some sticky-fingered miners”. Surprisingly there were a lot of gold mine in the Mojave Desert, over 300, but most were very unproductive, the Lost Horse Mine was an exception.  Over 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver (worth about $5 million today) were mined between 1894 and 1931.  We had perfect weather for this 6+ mile hike and found the history of the mine and the area around it fascinating.

Our final destination for the day was Keys View – thank goodness it was drivable as we were low on water, but had plenty of wine; so we drove there before sundown, snapped the neck off a bottle of Pinot Noir and enjoyed the view.  There was an interesting picture on a plaque at Keys View showing what the view would look like if it were smoggy – I guess Southern Californians are used to seeing things that way, so they didn’t want to disappoint anyone who made the drive up there and found that the air wasn’t something you could sink your teeth into.  keys view

Our view on this day was crystal clear. To the south we could see the Salton Sea, and beyond was a mountain at the US-Mexico boarder.  In front of us some 5,000 feet below was a very visible San Andreas Fault, running the length of the Coachella Valley, from Palms Springs to Indio.  In the distance you could see Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio, both over 10,000 feet and snow-capped at this time of year.  Finally, we could see the bottom of our wine glasses, which meant it was time to head back to camp for a hot shower and dinner.  Oh yeah, just dinner.

Dr. Chuck Wagon had prepared a delightful repast featuring cooked-over-the-fire chicken and his ‘special potatoes’ . . . and some more wine.

Hiking affords one a lot of time to just walk and wonder, not bothered with interruptions or to-do lists. Hiking in the desert is particularly inspiring as one sees this abundance of flora and fauna and wonder why and how they manage to not just survive, but thrive in this environment.  Josh sunset

To me the desert is amazing; it is so desolate, yet filled with so many wonders.  No one made the Indians, miners and ranchers stay in the desert, but many remained and managed to carve out a living in this seemingly god-forsaken place.  The reality is that it’s not god-forsaken, there are an amazing number of things living in the desert.

We sit around the campfire as the sky turns incredibly black and the star shine literary like diamonds.  We can hear some critters in the distance and the popping of the logs on the campfire.  It was a good day . . . no, it was a great day! 

  • Camping fee: $10 a night
  • Entrance to the park: $15
  • Sharing stories around the campfire with Trail Boss, Greeter, Sparky and Chuck Wagon: Priceless

Campfire at Lake Cumberland

 

 

Another Walk in the Park: JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL – Part I

Cholla Cactus

Cholla Cactus


by Bob Sparrow

It was all I could do to make a left turn when traveling southeast on Interstate 10 through the Mojave Desert.  The usual right turn takes me into the Palm Spring/Palm Desert communities where for years I’ve gone to relax, play golf and perhaps partake of a margarita, maybe two.  But last week, turning left took me into Joshua Tree National Park where hiking and camping replaced golf and margaritas.  ‘The Boys’ and I planned to camp and spend the weekend hiking just to see what was shakin’ around the San Andreas Fault, which runs through the park.  Even though I’ve lived within two hours of ‘Josh’ (we’re now on a first-name basis), I had never been there.  Apparently I’m not the only one late to this party, Joshua Tree was a mere National Monument (at slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island it was quite a large monument!) until as recently as 1994, when it finally became a National Park.

‘The Boys’ are:

Sparky, Avalanche, Greeter, Trail Boss

Sparky, Avalanche, Greeter, Trail Boss

Patrick ‘Trail Boss’ Michael, who plans the trips, draws the permits, has all the trail maps, plans the menu and   brings the firewood.  He’s an engineer by trade – what a surprise!

  •        – Bob ‘Sparky’ Pacelli, who insists we each carry a walkie-talkie even though we never get more than 20 feet from each other during the entire weekend.  The only time the walkie-talkies were used was when he heard from a trucker on Interstate 10 trying to get lucky.

Rick ‘Greeter’ Sullivan, the friendliest man on the trail; greets everyone he meets with his big, easy smile. If he’s at your campfire make sure you have plenty of wood, ‘cause he’s got plenty of stories.

Richard ‘Chuck Wagon’ Wade, who is not a hiker, but asked if he could come along and cook.  Hell yeah!  Since he’s a forensic doctor with a degree from Harvard, we respectfully call him Dr. Chuck Wagon.

– My nickname is ‘Avalanche’ because I used to come down a hill fairly quickly, that was then, now they’re thinking about changing my name to ‘Lava Floe’ or ‘Petrified Rock’.

Dr. Chuck Wagon

Dr. Chuck Wagon

We entered the park at the Cottonwood Springs entrance, which is at the far southeastern corner; our campsite was at the Black Rock Nature Center, which is at the far northwestern corner, so it allowed us to drive through the middle of the park (about 65 miles), stopping along the way when we found something interesting.

Bra & Shoe Tree

Bra & Shoe Tree

The first interesting site we saw was the rare ‘Bra & Shoe Tree’ (photo left).  Nope, not sure how they got there, but I’d appreciate it if the person who put them there would call my wife and explain – she’s not sure what kind of camping we were doing.

Our first stop was right inside the gate where there is a good long hike (Lost Palms Oasis) and a good short one (Mastodon Peak).  Given that we had ‘miles to go before we sleep’ we took the shorter hike, which took us past the old Mastodon Gold Mine and ultimately to Mastodon Peak which provided us a great view of the Salton Sea and the namesake rock, the one that looks like a mastodon.

 

Joshua Tree is filled with all kinds of interesting rock formation, many are named after what they look like – Skull Rock, where we stopped to hike

skull rockand have lunch, is a good example. The rock formation in the photo below didn’t have a name that we knew about, so we made up one: ‘Four Frogs Fornicating’ – if you look at it long enough and from just the right angle maybe you’ll see it, but probably not.  I don’t think our name will make it into the National Park Registry.

The road through the park has a good number of pullouts and informational plaques that help explain what lies in front of you, like a beautiful Joshua Trees forest, or a row of those pretty, but prickly cholla cactus or just a collection of interestingly-shaped rocks, many of them with rock climbers on them.

Since ‘Dr. Chuck Wagon’ wasn’t getting in until the next morning, after we got to our campsite and pitched our tent, we decided to go into town for dinner.  Town, in this case was Yucca Valley, although we could have opted for the bustling burg of Twentynine Palms.  We were told about a place just out of Yucca Valley called ‘Pioneertown’, where a movie set of a western town was built in the 40’s and a number of western movie and tv series were shot there staring the likes of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and the Cisco Kid to name a few.  We had dinner at an old western saloon there called Pappy & Harriet’s.  OK, we weren’t exactly ‘roughing’ it, but we did drive back to the park after dinner and retire to our tent for the night.

Four Frogs Fornicating

Four Frogs Fornicating

 

 

Coming on Wednesday – Part II 

                                  Treks to the Lost Horse Mind, Keys View and the Hall of Horrors

Catalina: Hamilton Cove, Glenmore Plaza Hotel and the ‘Other Side’

by Bob Sparrow

photo (89)Twenty-thirteen portends to be an unusual year for me, perhaps even paranormal, what with all the ‘other side’ things that helped usher in a year with a 13 in it.  No, I’m not superstitious, but like Michael Scott, I am a little ‘stitious’.  While most New Year’s days I’ve watched the sun set into the Pacific Ocean somewhere along the ‘left coast’, this year I welcomed in the new year on the ‘other side’ watching the sun coming up over the Pacific from Hamilton Cove on Catalina Island – truly a unique experience.  OK, truth is there haven’t been too many years when I’ve even seen the sun on New Year’s Day, but that’s another story.

If you’ve never been there, Hamilton Cove looks like it belongs on the ‘other side’ of the Atlantic, perhaps on a Greek island coastline or hanging somewhere off the Amalfi Coast in Italy.  I suppose if you have been there, it still looks that way, but as if getting away from it all in Catalina wasn’t enough, several of us wanted to get away from the people who wanted to get away from it all – to the ‘other side’ of Catalina.  I discovered that Catalina is a little like the moon, in that most people only see one side, although I can tell you now from experience, that the ‘other side’ of Catalina is not dark . . . photo (95)unless you go at night, then it’s really dark.  Like the moon, it’s not easy to get to the ‘other side’ of Catalina, you have to have a pass that gets you through the gate on the road to the ‘other side’ that goes through the infamous ‘Airport in the Sky’, Catalina’s private airport where planes don’t really take off from the runway, the runway simply drops out from under them after several thousand feet and, presto, they’re airborne.

glenmore plaza hotelWe were fortunate to be in the company of one Michael Amoroso, whose family has lived on the island for over twenty years and owns and operate the Glenmore Plaza Hotel, ‘the second oldest continuously operating hotel in California’, so says Michael’s brother, Jimmy, who manages the hotel.  I thought it odd that a hotel in this relatively remote location would have such a distinction so I asked Jimmy Jr., Jimmy’s son who works at the hotel, “Whose #1?”  He replied like someone who’d studied hotel history his entire life, “The Hotel del Coronado.”  I decided to see what Google had to say on the matter:

  • ‘Oldest hotel in California’ – the Benicia in northern California – est. 1852
  • ‘One of the oldest hotels in California’ – Murphy’s in the gold country – est. 1856
  • ‘One of the oldest continuously operating hotels in Calif’ – National Hotel (also in the gold country) – est. 1859
  • ‘Largest resort hotel in the world’ – Hotel del Coronado – est. 1888
  • ‘Second oldest hotel in California’ – so stated on Google about the Glenmore Plaza Hotel, but it doesn’t say who’s first or when the Glenmore was established.  Wikipedia probably got their information from Jimmy Jr. too.

I also found on Google a picture with a caption that said, ‘Second oldest hotel in California’ – it was not a picture of the Glenmore.

Meanwhile, back on the road to ‘the other side’, just before reaching the airport we see a buffalo standing alongside the road.  I’ll tell you the photo (92)history of how buffalo got on the island . . . another time.  After a brief stop at the airport, we start down on the western slope of the island; the paved road turns to dirt.  We drive past El Rancho Escondido, a ranch, Michael tells us, started by the Wrigley family back in the ‘30s for breeding Arabian horses – another story too long to tell here.  We also pass a vineyard – yes, another story.  The road leads us to a west coast inlet called ‘Little Harbor’, where there is no man-made harbor, but a small campgrounds and no campers, no nothing except a beautiful uncluttered coastline, which is pretty much what all of the ‘other side’ of Catalina is.  We walked along the beach on this beautiful January day and enjoyed the fresh air, sunshine and solitude.

little harborOur return to civilization is uneventful except for the stories Michael tells us of the ghosts that   inhabit the island.  Back in Avalon we thank Michael for exposing us to the many stories and sides of Catalina, particularly ‘the other side’.

 

 

 

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