Monday, December 22, 2014

The Yeager Mesa

The Yeager Mesa is one of the most difficult to reach places
in the Santa Ana Mountains.
The Yeager Mesa are two meadows high up the walls of Trabuco Canyon, in the heart of the Santa Ana Mountains. These twin meadows are nestled below a dense forest of Bigcone Spruce and oak woodland. The canyon below is chocked with alder, sycamore, maple, and scraggly oaks. The trail to this high oasis begins at the end of the Trabuco Canyon Road, starting east on West Horsethief Trail, ascending the floor of this incredible canyon. From time to time a trickle of water surfaces to form the segmented Trabuco Creek, babbling through the trees. After some time of easy hiking the bottom of a steep slope appears, with obvious signs of use ascending its face. The path up the front face of Yeager Mesa is only a quarter mile in distance, but over 400 feet in elevation gain. It's slippery, steep, and often muddy. It is very treacherous. The reward at the end, however, has surpassed almost everything I've seen before. The meadow plastered with small Bracken ferns, and the spruce forest behind towering above. The area burned in the 70s, but the larger, old growth trees are charred but still grow. The pictures you're about to see were taken on two trips, the first was in October, the second on the shortest day of the year after a week of drizzle. The conditions on both trips were some of the finest hiking conditions I've witnessed.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Striped Butte Fossils and Spring Flora

Striped Butte is the dominant landform of Butte Valley, and is, as the name implies, striated with different colors of rock. When I was here the spring bloom was on its tail end, but still made for some nice macro pictures. All of the visible fossils are marine organisms, mostly sponges and coral, so apologies if the title misled you to massive jurassic bones and skulls. Other formations in the park, including the Lost Burro formation and the Tin Mountain Limestone include larger corals and sponges, also pleistocene lake deposits include Mastodons and other larger fossils.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Greene Denner Drake Mill

1946 Pontiac Streamliner
Up in the Panamint Mountains on the slopes of Pinto Mountain is a small,  very well preserved mill camp with a cabin and what remains of a mill. Small, remote, and quiet, it sits at the end of a long-closed road in a small canyon among the sagebrush awaiting the next visitor.

First view of the camp from down canyon.
The history of the location is partially lost to history, and only a small amount of its history is known for certain.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Gnome's Workshop

The salt stream
This fanciful small canyon is a wonder of salt sculptures and tiny waterfalls. The small path hugs the top of the canyon and sometimes drops down into the gully to see the salt up close. There are many whimsical spires and the small waterfalls in the canyon are rather photogenic. The water is highly briny, and the area is marked on topo maps as "Salt Springs." These small waterfalls cascade over small clay ledges and form grottos. On one of the falls, the high salinity has caused salt to form an overhang. As small as this canyon is, it is one of the most fun places to visit on the valley floor.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Robber's Roost

Robber's Roost. Walls have crumbled
While Death Valley is not known for its abundane of bandits and outlaws, one legend still remains. The Robber's Roost as is was known is a small rock overhang overlooking Butte Valley near Quail Spring with dry stacked rock walls protecting it from the elements. Lore goes on to say that robbers lived here and raided mines. Unfortunately, this is nothing more than an interesting anecdote. The history has been lost to time, but it was probably built to house the workers for a lead mine just up the hill from Robber's Roost.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Warm Springs Camp and the Gold Hill Mill

The famous swimming pool was clearly built by a
professional firm.
 The Warm Springs Camp is one of Death Valley's most well known and most well preserved ghost towns. It truly is a ghost town, with empty buildings and complete silence. The ghostly wind in the cottonwoods and the willows makes the atmosphere a perfect setting for ghosts. Warm Springs is also home to Death Valley's famous pool, filled seasonally with rainwater.

The Warm Springs camp dates back seventy-five years, back to the 1880s when water rights were first issued for this dependable water source. It was first permanently settled in the early 1930s when it appeared as Indian Ranch on USGS maps. Louise Grantham, to be the owner until the closure in the 1980s, patented a claim here in February 1933 to build a small gold mill to process gold ore from nearby Gold Hill and its associated mines. It was at this time the Gold Hill Mill was built; a stranger amalgamation of equipment is hard to come by. More on this later.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Trabuco Canyon Tin

Santa Ana Tin Mining Co. Mill as it was.
(Historic pictures from USC Library)
Unknown to most, Trabuco Canyon in the Santa Ana Mountains was a hotbed for underground activity.

Just in the backyard of suburban Orange County, the Santa Ana Mountains are a haven for those wishing to escape the concrete jungle into something a bit more concrete free.

Trabuco canyon is one of the major canyons of the San Juan Creek watershed and holds a natural stream that flows almost all the time in certain places. All through this canyon are remnants of the past; be they old fences, historic cabins, or ancient oak trees. While many people visit this canyon with its dirt road and numerous hiking opportunities each day, most are not aware of the history that lay just off the road.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Ruth Mine

The Ruth Mine is probably the most intact mining camp left in the Argus Mountains, just north of Trona, California. Several mines have been located here, all meeting the same imminent fate. The first mine here was the Grahm-Jones Mine, located in 1889 by Doug Grahn and S.S. Jones. The duo worked the mine until 1917, when Jones pulled out. Grahm worked alone until 1930 when two speculators gave Grahm a hefty grubstake fund from Fred Austin and one Dr. Evans to save the mine from the tax bill. Unfortunately Grahm was robbed of his money and died a week later.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Eureka Dunes

The Eureka Dunes are some of the highest dunes in North America, rising more than 680 feet above the floor of Eureka Valley, and are an imposing mountain of sand against the stark Last Chance Mountains. These dunes are the highest in California and are unique for the otherworldly tone they produce.  In certain conditions these dunes hum or boom with a sound that resonates through the entire valley, an etherial vibration that appears out of the arid desert.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Forgotten WWII Bunker

Looking inside
Recently I have started summer work at a local park, and eventually I heard rumors of a forgotten World War Two bunker up in the park's hills. After brief research I found it did exist, but finding the location was all up to me.

It took some time but was not terribly difficult once I figured out what to look for. Today (the day this post was written) myself and a friend made the steep hike (430+ vertical over half a mile) up the ridge to find this forgotten relic of chaos.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hungry Bill's Ranch: A Guide

View up to Sentinel Peak from Hungry Bill's Ranch
The Eastern Panamint Mountains are rather barren and hostile to easy living. Every so often, however, is a lush paradise for all weary travelers. The springs in some of these major canyons off West Side road are fairly high yield and can maintain year-long streams in the canyon bottom. Johnson Canyon is one of these canyons.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Tucki Mine

The remaining Tucki Cabin

The scenery overtakes you long before the road reaches the site. Towering canyons and broad vistas are far more attractive than any artificial feature of the Tucki Mine road. The road begins by slithering off of Emigrant Canyon Road along the base of Tucki Mountain, a rather stand-alone peak of the Panamints, providing unique view of the valley below. Soon enough the driver is engulfed by the orange whirls of Telephone Canyon, so named for the Skidoo-Rhyolite telephone line that ran though it. The driver splits off into a side canyon, and enters a towering and broad gorge separating Tucki from the rest of the Panamints. Cresting the pass, the view of Furnace Creek dominates the horizon and the road descends into the head of a canyon that contains various mining relics.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Harrisburg and the Eureka Mine

Pete Aguereberry, 1906
Sparks are bound to fly when two big names find the same gold. This was the case in July of 1905, when Pete Aguereberry and Shorty Harris, two of the largest names in the entire desert (Shorty Harris was responsible for Rhyolite, Skidoo, the Eureka Mine, Keane Wonder, Greenwater, and many others) decided to team up. Of course, there is speculation of the way it started.

Pete's version of the tale goes as such: the two partnered up to escape the summer heat by prospecting up in the Wildrose area of the Panamint Mountains, but Harris wanted to attend the Independence Day party at Ballarat. They arrived in Harrisburg Flats via Blackwater Canyon's Dry Fork, the shortest trail between Furnace Creek and the mountains. Harris was farther ahead, being on horseback, and Pete had time to stop at a ledge of gold. Examining the ore he chipped off, it contained free gold, gold that does not require cyanide or mercury to separate it from ore. They divided up the ridge, Harris taking claims on the north and Aguereberry taking claims on the south. This came to be known as Providence Ridge.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Racetrack

At 3700 feet nestled between the Cottonwood and Last Chance Mountains is a desolate playa of cracked mud, speckled with rocks and punctuated by a large granitic island, the Grandstand, one hundred seventy feet above the flat expanse. At this north end of the kidney-shaped playa there is little other than this monzonite boulder pile. It makes for good fun and cool pictures but otherwise is of little attraction. This is where most crowds accumulate on busy weekends as well.

At the south end of this lakebed are the bulks of the rocks that pepper the mud. However, something is unusual about these rocks: they lie at the end of tracks in the mud the same size as the rock. These rocks move across the playa when no one is looking. To date no one has seen the rocks move, and countless people believe that magnetic vortexes or some other oogie boogie force is at play here, but the reason is rather simple.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Going Underground in the Salt Creek Watershed

"Curvature Drain"
Orange County is built on arid land, a coastal desert. In the San Joaquin Hills, South Orange County, houses are built on hilltops and roads are built in canyon bottoms. In this land dominated by fog and sun, rain is a rare treat. The mud that makes these hills is oceanic sediment, deposited over ten million years ago when the sea level was much higher. This mud is largely clay, and is filled with sandstone outcrops and rocks. Water does not sink into this mud very well, and when it does, the land slides. Water usually runs off the hills in sheets in heavy rain, and floods the streets and impermeable clay. Because of this, a massive network of storm drains runs under the area, all emptying into the local ditch–er, creek. The drains mentioned here all drain the Salt Creek Basin, which are the most easily accessible of the large drains. I won't disclose entrances because Its fun to find them or search for them. In the following post, three of the largest tunnels are lectured on which I have given names to make them more interesting.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Boulder Pile Habitation Site

At our camping spot one morning, I chose to walk over to my friendly vehicle and aquire a refreshing bottled water. Sitting in my favorite chair, I noticed on the ground a bright red flake of jasper. Of course, jasper is not found in this part of Death Valley or in decomposing granite. The sharp edges and smooth underside proved one thing: it was a flake from tool knapping, an activity performed by natives for thousands of years to make all manner of stone tools. I stared at this, and eventually I realized that there must be more.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Nemo Canyon and the Christmas Gift Mine

The tenth of April in 1908 saw Judge Frank G. Thisse of Skidoo wandering through Nemo Canyon on his way to Harrisburg from Wildrose. In the bottom of this wide valley he encountered silver 1500 feet north of the famed twenty-three mile Skidoo water pipeline. Soon enough, a rustic camp was set up to secure the claim. Silver ore assaying up to $200 per ton (in 1908 dollars) set off a small rush to the area, with neighboring hillsides being marked with claims and developed. Thisse's first claim became titled as the Nemo Mine, and it's eleven claims contained ore assaying up to $3,300 per ton, one of the best silver mines on the country at the time. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Marble Canyon

In the Southern Cottonwoods is one of the most significant canyons in the Death Valley area. Marble Canyon is a deep canyon that for centuries was the main thoroughfare from the comfortable summer retreats of Hunter Mountain to the sweltering desert below. Marble Canyon shows evidence of use by natives (The Timbsha-Shoshone) and more recent miners. Petroglyphs litter the lower narrows of the canyon and also are marks left by their modern counterparts telling directions and leaving evidence of past existence.
These lowest narrows (said to be the second narrows, which I don't personally agree with. The first narrows start from the time one exits the car just about up to the magnificent bathtub.) are not of Marble, and no marble can be found until the third narrows, much further up canyon. I find this canyon remarkable because it is one of those rare major canyons with no significant dry falls in the canyon bottom, excepting the unclimbable boulder jam just upstream of the bathtub. The third and fourth narrows are both made of marble, striped and banded. In the upper forks of the canyon lies Goldbelt, a gold and talc ghost town dating until as recently as the mid 50s. The story of Goldbelt will be covered in a later post most likely.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Butte Valley: Geologist Cabin

The Geologist's Cabin is one of the most picturesque and popular places in Death Valley. It was built in the 1930's, most believe by Asa Russell (of Russell's Camp Fame) or by a park Geologist. None are quite sure who built it, but the NPS Historic Resource Study tells that Russel built it according to his own word, so that is the law of the land. Russel built it in the 1930s and developed the spring below (Anvil Spring) in a stone-lined cistern and planted grapes there, which he claims to have had much success with. The spring is as flowing as it ever was, and the ground is quite muddy nearly all the way to the base of the cabin. The once-proud cottonwood tree is now dead and no more than a bare log sticking out of the verdant brush, but is quite photogenic when ravens perch on its scraggly limb.

The cabin itself is built of stone with two windows overlooking the expansive valley down below. It appears to have had three doors at different times, one of which contains the water system, another contains shelves and a small window. The cabin is frequented by off-roaders as an overnight stop and as a result the parking area has become dry rutted. In late 2013, the MIB (a cabin maintenance program, not a government agency) built a new outhouse above the cabin without the authority of the park service and of their own accord. Much controversy has been raised by various individuals and groups how in years future the septic plume could pollute the potable water below. Regardless of the outhouse, the Geologist Cabin will likely be a photogenic and comfortable spot for years to come.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Panorama from the outhouse

Monday, May 26, 2014

Hunter Mountain Odds and Ends No. 1

Hunter Mountain is a prominent plateau-like mountain in the Cottonwood Mountains that is a pleasant retreat away from the desert below. Much of it is piƱon pine forest and holds a fair snowpack much of the winter. In November of 2013 there was several feet of snow on Lee Flat and Hidden Valley,  and drifts were as deep as five feet in some places. The amount of snow on the top of Hunter Mountain is not known but likely greater than either of the aforementioned places. Hunter Mountain is a large granite block that was uplifted long ago and is one of my favorite places in the park, for the springs are abundant and well flowing. The area of Hunter Mountain is steeped in history, as its been used for cattle grazing since the 1870s, when Hunter Cabin was built. This post lists some of the odds and ends of Hunter Mountain exploration.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Death Valley Pictographs #1

This site was not difficult to reach, though took painstaking hours of research to find. I'll leave the location out of this one, it is vandalism free and is a very special place. Be sure to leave no trace.

All of these pictos are in red pigment,  and while there are glyphs over a small area, the pictos only in this small cave on the edge of a stark valley. The cave is in some sort of marble I think, and is essentially a boulder pile but is large enough to stay twenty degrees cooler than the outside air. I crawled through some of the smaller cracks inside to yield no further art. Enjoy these pictures as much as I enjoyed taking them. Many were enhanced to better show the pigments.

Artifacts should be left where they are. It is illegal to remove them.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Keystone Mine Camp

Up Goler Canyon there lies a large mine camp. It was a gold mine, which is higher up on the mountain and was not visited on this trip in spring of 2014. This gold mine was originally developed by the famed Carl Mengel in his days in the region, but it was sold to the Monte Cristo Mines company in 1935 and renamed the Lotus Mine. It was worked on and off into the 80s, when most of the modern mines closed in south Death Valley. There were two arial tramways constructed, and there is a lot of cool junk lying around the site. Some of the rocks in this canyon are around 1.8 Billion years old. Just up the canyon is a very pretty pink rhyolite intrusion. 2016 UPDATE: Work is being done to reopen this mine. Someone is now on site most of the time.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Spring Break 2014 Overview

The entire report will be divided into individual sections, but this is an overview.

Beginning the trip, we drove over to Butte Valley via Goler Canyon from Searles Valley. We stopped at the Newman Cabin, Gold Spur cableway, Keystone Mine camp, and Mengel Pass. Once in Butte Valley, we hit all the cabins; starting with Stella's (also called Mengel's, Anderson's, and Greater View Cabin), then we went to Russel Camp. Unfortunately people were setting up camp there and we didn't lurk around and invade their space. Finally we went to Geologist Cabin at Anvil Spring. I was amazed at how rutted the road and parking at Geologist was; it suffered heavily from overuse and subsequent erosion. Anyway, the new and controversial outhouse is far enough away that it didn't impede views of the cabin and butte together, so we were able to enjoy the solitude of the lonesome stone cabin.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Salt Creek, of Salt Creek Beach Fame

       Lately I've been reading and thinking about the tragic story of how a wild stream turns sour and sad. It is a very small stream and basin, only about 4 miles in length and only draining 6.1 square miles. Since the area began to be heavily developed in the late 80s and early 90s, the hilltops were pushed into the canyon bottoms and the natural water channels were replaced by concrete pipes. Below is a map of the many miles of channels that were laid during the expanse of the suburbs.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Goblin Canyon Report

It's now been nearly a month since I completed this hike, but am just now writing this report. This was the best of my various explorations, as I have done many just around my house and such, but never a major undocumented feature like this large canyon in Towne Pass. Here begin the pictures and reporting.

After an (as usual) outstanding breakfast at Panamint Springs, we parked at the 4000 foot sign, expecting to complete a loop of the two canyons I had planned on hiking that day. Weather was a bit foreboding, but we carried on anyway.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Launching the new site!

Welcome to the site thats been in the back of my mind since I began my interest in Death Valley and the desert, but only now has become a reality. Enjoy my mental ramblings of geography, history, trip reports, thoughts, and most anything else. Enjoy my future posts!