King of the Cowboys

by Bob Sparrow

get your kicks

Route 66

I had the occasion to travel to Apple Valley, CA for work last week; no, it was nothing like having to travel to the island of Kaua’i for work as I did a few years ago, but it was not without some redeeming qualities. An hour and a half’s drive away, bucolic-sounding Apple Valley is located at the southern end of the Mojave Desert at an elevation of nearly 3,000 feet and is considered ‘high desert’ – apples are no longer grown there. The historic ‘Route 66’ winds through the area, but the quiet, pot-holed streets and boarded up shops would indicate that very few are still ‘getting their kicks on Route 66’.

Interstate 15 now runs adjacent to  Apple Valley and I rarely traverse it without thinking of Roy Rogers (It’s on the way to Vegas, so I’ve made the trip a few times!).  In the late 40s and through out the 50s Roy was a staple in the movies and on TV and helped popularize the musical Western.  Roy and wife, Dale Evans, who had long careers in movies and on TV, retired in the mid-80s to their ranch in Apple Valley, which was home to the first Roy Rogers Museum, which contained artifacts from his movies and TV show, including Roy’s horse, Trigger, who was stuffed and placed in the museum.


Andy Devine


Gabby Hayes

Most everyone in my generation idolized Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and got to know his many sidekicks who provided comic relief; Pat Brady, who drove a Jeep named ‘Nellybelle’, Andy Devine and George ‘Gabby’ Hayes, who both had voices that made you wince and faces for radio. We also became acquainted with Roy’s faithful German Shepard, Bullet.  Rogers and his entourage appeared in over 100 films and had top rated radio and TV shows in the 40s and 50s.

Roy was born Leonard Slye (a name Hollywood had to change!) in Ohio and quit high school at 15 to work in the family shoe factory. The family moved to California during the Great Depression where Roy worked driving truck and picking fruit. He was always interested in singing and yodeling and worked with several bands over the years until he and a friend formed a group that became the ‘Sons of the Pioneers’ and ultimately signed a record deal. In 1935, Roy’s good looks landed him his first bit part in a Gene Autry movie.  Three years later, when Autry was demanding more money (probably saving up to buy the California Angels!) the lead part was offered to Roy and he was on his way to becoming a matinee idol.

RR & SoPRoy always wore a white hat that never came off during a fight while he was knocking out the bad guys, in black hats, with one punch. Towards the end of each movie or tv/radio episode, after he’d righted all the wrongs, he would pick up his guitar and sing a song, often accompanied by Dale and his back-up group, The Sons of the Pioneers, whose songs can still be purchased on iTunes.

Dale was a story unto herself; born Francis Smith in Texas, she was married at 14 and divorced with a child at 16, yet continued to pursue her singing career. Her marriage to Roy, his second and her fourth, lasted 51 years, until his death. She wrote their theme song, Happy Trails.

He was dubbed, ‘King of the Cowboys’, she, ‘Queen of the West’.

Roy & Dale

Roy Rogers & Dale Evans

Roy died in 1998 and Dale three years later.  They are now both interned at the Sunset Hills Memorial Park . . . in Apple Valley.

If you’re ever passing by Apple Valley and want to visit the museum . . . the original Roy Rogers museum was erected in 1967 in an old bowling alley in Apple Valley, it moved to a bigger building in neighboring Victorville in 1976. To draw more people it moved again to Branson, Missouri in 2003, but eventually shut down for good, due to lack of interest, in 2009.

The passing of an era . . . a very good era indeed for those of us who were fortunate enough to have lived in it.  Thank you Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, for all the Happy Trails.


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

Death Valley – Why?

by Bob Sparrow

    When I told people that I wanted to go to Death Valley, they asked why?   I wasn’t really sure.  I had heard that it had recently reclaimed the honor of the hottest place IN THE WORLD, wresting the title from Libya – 134 degrees!  As I prepared to make the trip I knew from watching the temperatures that it wasn’t going to be that hot, but I wondered what life in Death Valley under such extreme temperatures was like.  I thought it would be interesting to write about the extreme heat and how the flora, fauna and humans survived it.  I thought I’d be using the term ‘buzzard hot’ many times.  I was even going to bring an egg along to fry on a sidewalk.  To be honest, I thought I would mostly make fun, or at least make a number of ‘hot jokes’ about this seemingly god-forsaken place.  Those who have been there know the reality I was about to learn.

     I hit the road at 5:00 a.m. and got into Baker at 7:30.  I used to think that Baker was in the middle of nowhere, until I turned onto Highway 127 and headed north – Baker became a thriving metropolis.  After driving less than an hour, I thought I was in that giant warehouse in New Mexico where they filmed the ‘fake moon landing’.  There was nothing in the distance but Mojave Desert for as far as the eyes could see – no other cars, no road signs, not even a shoulder on the road, just a narrow two-lane road winding through the desert.  It’s a place where you really have to trust your car not to break down.

     I soon came upon Dumont Dunes (left) – real live sand dunes, just like you see in the movies, but without the camels.  My car is not an All-Terrain Vehicle, but I pretended that it was and drove off the road to get a better look at the dunes. (photo below, yes that little speck is my car).  At the junction of Highway 127 and Highway 190, I arrive at the bustling burg of Shoshone, population 31, I didn’t see one of them.  I was hoping to get gas here, but as you can see from the picture below, the car in front of me was taking quite a while to fill up, so I moved on .

     As I got closer to Death Valley the names of the towns and points of interest reminded me of just how hot it was getting outside – Furnace Creek, Hell’s Gate, Dante’s View, Stovepipe Wells, Charcoal Kilns, Burning Wagon Point.  I arrive at the Death Valley Visitor Center to get recommendations for what I should see and do.  At the top of the list was Scotty’s Castle (top photo) – another 50 miles to the north.  I got back in the car and got back on the road – it was 11:00 and the temperature just broke 100.

     The story surrounding the building of Scotty’s Castle in the middle of nowhere is a fascinating one.  Built in the 1920s, this architectural wonder featured a one million gallon swimming pool, an elaborate heating and air conditioning system which was way ahead of its time, an innovative hydro-electric power system driven by a desert spring that still delivers 300 gallons of water per minute, AND a solar panel, yes a solar panel built in the 20s!  Just as interesting as the house itself is the story of the two key characters responsible for its construction – Albert Johnson, the wealthy, Cornell educated engineer who longed to be a ‘cowboy’ and Walter Scott (Scotty), a con man who left home at the age of 11, moved to the desert as a teenager and eventually started selling shares of bogus gold mines to wealthy easterners, Johnson being one of them.  How they formed a life-long friendship is something you’ll have to read on your own.

      After Scotty’s Castle I had to get to Badwater; it’s just a field of encrusted salt, but it’s the lowest place in the Western Hemisphere – 282 feet below sea level.  Part of the reason I wanted to get to this historical location was just to breathe the air; I thought if high altitude creates thin air which is hard to breathe, then low altitudes must create ‘thick’ air – which logically would be easier to breathe.  I’m here to tell you I couldn’t tell the difference between sea level air and below sea level air.

     My most memorable drive was coming back from Badwater; a loop off the main road appropriately called Artists Palette, it is a narrow, one-way drive cut through the mountain that shows colors you’ve never seen before – it is surreal.  It underscored to me the most surprising part of my desert experience – the sheer beauty of the place, and I was told that the springtime is really beautiful.  Everywhere I drove there were beautifully colored mountains on each side of me – chocolate brown to cream-colored, cobalt blue, sage green, every shade of red and orange.  And they all changed hues from sunrise to sunset.

      I then drove out to Zabriskie Point just before sundown and my photos just don’t capture what one feels when taking in everything that nature has done to this terrain.

     Death Valley – why?  The shapes, the textures, the colors can be seen nowhere else on the planet; it should be renamed the Painted Desert – it is truly magnificent.

The General Patton Museum – Tanks, But No Tanks (Part 1)

by Bob Sparrow

Interstate 10

   I was recently just leaving Arizona, where I had just learned that it is legal to carry a concealed or unconcealed weapon into a bar in that state – an experiment, I suppose, to see what happens when you mix fire arms and fire water.  That can’t have a good ending, but I digress.  Like many who have traveled Interstate 10 from Arizona to California, I have seen signs posted along the freeway for the General George S. Patton Museum, but never stopped.  Everyone I talked with who had driven that route said the same thing, saw the signs, never stopped.  So this time I decided to stop, but not before discovering some of the ‘treasures’ of the Mojave Desert along the way.

     Those who have driven Interstate 10 through this unpainted desert know that there is a lot of sand out there and not much else, but I discovered that if you’re really observant, you will see things that you won’t see anywhere else in the world.  For example, I noticed a sign along the freeway that read:  ‘Prison Near By – Do Not Pick Up Hitch Hikers’.  To me it really said: ‘Hey, we can’t be expected to keep our eyes on these crooks every second, so if one or two happen to escape and are looking for a ride out of here, don’t pick them up’.  Another amusing sign along the freeway asked me to turn off my air conditioning for the next ten miles to keep my car from overheating.  Are they kidding?!  It’s 108 degrees out there, what’s going to keep me from overheating?  Why don’t they just ask me to take off my dark glasses and stare into the sun?    Or maybe suggest that I stand out in the sun on the shoulder and help direct Armadillo across the freeway?

    The sights along the way, while they may be few and far between, are usually interesting and sometimes bazaar.  Pictured above, for example, is something you don’t see every day – a trunk hauling a ’54 Merc and . . . an airplane without any wings.  Where could they possibly be going?

     As I approached the ‘Agricultural Check Point’ coming into California – it’s where they check to make sure no fruits or nuts get into the state . . . Oops, I realized that I was eating grapes that I had purchased in Arizona and was now about to transport them illegally over state lines – a federal offense!  I couldn’t throw them out the window, that’s also illegal.  I approached to check point nervously.  When asked if I was carrying any agricultural items, I shifted the grapes to the side of my mouth and lied,”No sir”.  He waved me through.  I felt guilty, but I blame it on that hot desert sun – they say it makes you do crazy things, I believe them now.

     As I quickly drove away, constantly checking my rearview mirror, I saw a sign for the city of Desert Center, and thought I’d stop there, get gas, have something cold to drink, and get rid of the evidence.

     I pulled into the gas station (pictured at right), but found it a little short on gas,  and everything else for that matter.  I started to go next door to the ‘Desert Center Cafe’ to get something to eat or drink, but found it closed – since 1987!  I drove over to one of the only other building ‘in town’ – it was an old school with an old tractor parked in the ‘Principal’s Parking Place’ (Below).

      It soon became abundantly clear to me that the best place to be in Desert Center was the center, because no matter which way you dove, you were leaving.

     Back on the freeway I did find one more interesting item on Interstate 10 before I finally got to the museum, it was a truckload of BIMBOS – headed for California.  

Thursday: The General Patton Museum – Tanks, But No Tanks (Part II)  I finally get there.