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.

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