Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Attack Cactus

Our last day in Joshua Tree National Park we drove south to an attraction called Cholla Cactus Garden, which is located half way between the higher Mojave Desert and the lower elevation Colorado Desert. This Cholla cactus grows in abundance at a south slopping site where silt from the weathering rocks has spread into what is called an alluvial fan. In our desert travels we have seen many cholla cactus but none that have grown this large or as densely populated as they are in this spot.

One of the reasons we wanted to come to Joshua Tree was to visit the nostalgic site where we experienced a now hilarious cactus attack. Back in the 60's when we lived in California, we made a weekend trip down here and walked through this same cactus garden.

At some point, I saw a small dead (or what I thought was dead) spiny ball on the path, so I reached down and picked it up. These days there is a sign that tells visitors that even if they look dead, they can get you. Immediately my thumb

and for finger were stuck to this tiny ball so I naturally used my other hand to pull it free. No such luck, now both hands were stuck.

Potential "Attack" ball

Marlin came to help, and you guessed it, he got both his hands stuck as well. Here we were, feeling really stupid and unable to get away from this prickly attacker. Finally, Marlin somehow got his shirt around one side of it and was able to release his hands, then mine. To this day I swear that cactus jumped into my hand before I even touched it.

We had fun reliving this episode and walking the short numbered trail that pointed out interesting sites. Pack rats make nests out of the fallen cholla balls, and even line the path into their homes with the spiny pieces to keep out predators. The only hunter that is not deterred by this tactic is the rattlesnake who slithers right down that nicely outlined path into Mr. Rat's den.

Further into the Colorado Desert we began seeing scattered flowers, which became more abundant as our elevation lessened. It was amazing to see bright yellow, white, purple and red blooms in what looked like dried barren soil. When we stopped the truck and took a closer look we realized that the tiny purple flowers were a small version of our lupins, simply called Desert Lupin. The leaves and flowers are just miniatures of the blooms we see in Maine.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Vegas to Joshua Tree

Our flight back to Las Vegas was executed without a hitch, although we still felt like we had been flattened by a steam roller the next day. Wednesday we managed to retrieve our truck camper, and between naps, wind our way through the traffic maze at Vegas’ McCarran Airport to pick up Chuck and Julie Burwell on time. Boy is that airport a huge facility. Baggage pick up has 16 luggage carousels with six monitors telling you where to find your belongings.

When we left sin city on Thursday, we headed straight to California, which is only 30 miles west. Rick Cote, a former workmate of Marlin’s, asked us to stop at a border town called Primm. After driving through 30 miles of vacant desert, three huge casinos come into view, not one mile on the Nevada side of the line. Housed here are two famous bullet ridden vehicles. One belonged to Al Capone and Dutch Schultz. The other one, the one Rick was most enthusiastic about, was the car in which Bonnie and Clyde were riding in when they were ambushed by the FBI. Although we got pictures of the Capone/Schultz car, unfortunately, the Bonnie & Clyde car was out on tour and no one seemed to know when it would be back.
Sorry Rick.

One of the three casinos on the Nevada California border.

Capone/Schultz car

Bonnie & Clyde car-on tour

On our way to a campground in Twenty Nine Palms, CA, we drove through Mojave National Preserve. This Preserve encompasses 1.6 million acres and some unique desert environments that include huge sand dunes, Joshua Tree forests, lava flows, cinder cones, and old mine sites.
The Mojave, the Colorado, and the Sonora Deserts occupy adjoining borders, while each possess different plant and wildlife based on the particular climate within their area. Mojave is 2000 feet higher in elevation and cooler than the Colorado Desert so as you pass from one area to the next you can observe the change in plant types. One park sign said if you drew a line around the perimeter of Joshua Tree growth, that would just about be the boundary of Mojave National Preserve.

The Kelso Dunes rises up from the desert floor to a height of 600 feet. This complex of sand that covers an area of 45 square miles has been forming over the past 25,000 years by winds carrying sand from the dry Soda Lake and Mojave River Sink located to the Northwest. One unusual fact we learned is that these “booming dunes”, as they are called, actually make a low rumble or hum when sand avalanches down a steep slope.

Kelso Dunes from afar

The Kelso visitors center, located in the middle of the park, is a restored Union Pacific railroad station built in 1924. The building served, not only as a depot, but as a restaurant and housing for railroad employees. During World War II, Kelso’s mines provided material for the construction of the Liberty Ships being built for the war effort. At that time, more than 2000 people lived in this desert town. Train aficionados would be delighted by the gift shop’s extensive collection of books on railroads and the accurate restoration of this elegant Spanish style depot.

Joshua Tree National Park

Twenty Nine Palms is a small town located south of a Marine military base and north of Joshua Tree National Park. Just as the Sonora Desert is home to a Saguaro cactus forest, this park is home to a forest of Joshua Trees. The name Joshua Tree was coined by passing Mormons, who said the outstretched and crooked arms reminded them of the Biblical Joshua when he lead the Israelites out of Palestine. Hard to believe but this strange cactus tree, with its spiky razor sharp leaves, is kin to the Easter lily.

Joshua Tree forest

Our first day in the park we stopped at the visitors center, checked out the campsites and other highlights on the map. We walked into the Desert Queen Mine, which consists of multiple screened off shafts and several bullet riddled cyanide tanks. When I asked at the Ranger station about the use of cyanide at this mining site, no one had any answers. Finally, one of the permanent staff was able to relate how cyanide enabled 90% of the gold to be separated from the raw crushed ore. Previously, miners had used mercury for this task, but it only got out about 50% of the gold. Great stuff these old 49ers were messing with.

The next morning we attended the 10:00 tour of the Desert Queen Ranch. This is a well preserved farmstead that gives testimony to the tremendous ingenuity, patience, and hard work of a man, his wife, and their children who eeked out a living in the harshness of the desert.

Bill Keys acquired the mine property in 1917 for back wages after the previous owners went bankrupt. By homesteading additional land, Bill’s 160 acres became the Desert Queen Ranch. The canyon location provided a reliable stream, protection from winds, and a 30 foot well that provided fresh water. With these assets the family was able to grow most of their food, including an orchard, raise livestock and chickens, and engage in a variety of occupations that added some income. These sidelines included renting cabins to Park tourists, assaying gold for other miners, and selling extra produce to neighbors to name only a few of their sidelines.
Fresh water came from this 30 foot hand dug well

Their house was built from a collection of abandoned mining cabins, pieced together to form the ranch house as well as other outbuildings.
Bill scavenged any buildings, equipment, parts, lumber, etc., that was left behind when the desert got the best of other miners or homesteaders.
Another sideline was to sell any of these well organized pieces and parts. It was like an open air hardware store.

The chicken coop was fox proof- no fox can chew through metal and the kids could gather the eggs by opening the trunk and reaching into the rear seat nesting boxes
After their children grew up and moved away, Bill and Francis continued farming there until they died, she in 1963. Bill sold the farm to become part of Joshua Tree National Park but lived there until is death in 1969 at age 89.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Home and Holiday events

In the month of December Dixmont has received 47 inches of dazzling fluffy white snow. I could not have asked for a better homecoming present.
Got in a couple of days cross country and one day downhill (well sort of). I took Jacob to Hermon Mountain for snowboard lessons and took advantage of the trails while he learned to stay upright on a board. On our first venture to the top he wanted to try the headwall! Like father like son.
A quick review of our time on the home front included all the birthdays and holidays, lots of time with the grandchildren and enjoyable visits with old and new friends. That should hold me over until we return home again in the spring.

Jacob, the Birthday pirate, checking for far away ships!

We have been home for two months and our pace has not slowed at all. We arrived here on November 6, and began celebrating right off with Jacob's birthday. He miraculously has arrived at his seventh year in what seems like a flash and is enjoying the current Pirate craze.

Two days later it was James' turn for cake. Add twenty plus two with Jacob's seven candles for him to blow out. Actually he requested Lemon Pie instead of ice cream cake

There were a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving and Jed's Birthday on the 28th so we filled those days with laying a tile floor in the kitchen, just so we wouldn't get bored.

Didn't quite get Jed's cake in this shot. Lola is better looking anyway

The week after Thanksgiving, December 9, was Lola's turn. She did the best job of posing for the candle blow out.

For one of her Birthday presents, we went to see Peter Pan at the Penobscot Theater. Her favorite character was Michael, the youngest brother, mostly because he wore PJs and carried his teady bear where ever he went. She stayed here for a week and helped me do some Christmas baking (and eating).

December included a three day visit from my two sisters, Joan, Jane, and a friend, June. (Forgot to take pictures). After a relaxing visit, they started home at 10:30 on a bright sunny morning.

However, when they got to the New Hampshire/Massachusetts border it had begun to snow and they hit a massive traffic jam which caused them to arrive home at 10:30 p.m., turning a 4 hour drive into a 12 hour nightmare.

I don't think my sister Jane will ever venture to Dixmont again. The rest of the story is that the last time she visited it was spring and I forgot to tell her about the usual condition of Hog Hill during mud season. She was sure she was going to need a tow truck to get out of one of the many deep muddy ruts, (Chuck Burwell calls them Elephant wallows) When she finally made it through to our house, she worried all weekend about going back through the mud bath again. Time will tell is she is brave enough to travel into this wilderness once more.

Jed and the kids came the weekend before Christmas for four days and again for the New Year. The snow provided a delightful playground, not only for the kids but for Grammy too.

Next Tuesday, January 15, we return to our camper in Las Vegas. Our plans are to head for Southern California, then travel North, along the coast, as the weather begins to warm. We hav lots of friends and realtives to visit along the way. Even a couple of babies to ooh and aah over.
It doesn't look like our winter adventures will be nearly as exciting as the events this past fall, however, you can never tell. Marlin has a nose for out of the way attractions and events that usually turn out to be very interesting. I'll try to keep the blog current without being boring. If things get dull, please feel free to post a comment to keep me in line.