Friday, October 30, 2015

Obsidian Dome

The road to the top of the dome
Mammoth Mountain is as renowned for being part of a volcano as it is for its skiing. The Long Valley Caldera, a colossal volcano in the eastern Sierra Nevada region, is an area of extreme volcanism. Volcanoes have been erupting here since long before its last climactic eruption 750,000 years ago, and the last eruptions are as young as a few hundred years. This final eruption erupted approximately 600 cubic kilometers of material and resulted in the subsidence of the crust between 2 and 3 kilometers to create the current caldera. This particular feature, Obsidian Done, is related to the volcanics here but is from a different system: the Mono-Inyo crater chain. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Fossil Falls

Fossil Falls with the Sierra Nevada backdrop.

Ancient Owens Valley had a bustling population center here, at Fossil Falls. Fossil Falls is a series of cascades along the ancient Owens river, when it was fed by a series of melting glaciers from the Sierras and by a much larger Owens Lake. At this point along the river, a series of basaltic lava flows impounded the valley between 400 and 10 thousand years ago. During the most recent period of glacial Owens River, the waterfall poured over the lava flows and slowly eroded upstream, and an increase in eruptions from nearby Red Hill may have spurred pothole formations in the upper falls. These potholes, formed when rocks or sand get caught in a hole and spin around in a vortex that gradually bores a hole in the rock, are what Fossil Falls are best known for today. Some of them form chimneys over twenty feet deep that open up at the bottom, and many interconnect. The upper falls today is a convoluted maze of these potholes. When the river flowed here, the noise would have been cacophonous and the mist blinding.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Entirety of Multnomah Creek

The tourist view of Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls is one of the largest tourist attractions in Oregon, and probably the most popular stop in the Columbia Gorge. It is the tallest waterfall in Oregon at 635 total feet over three drops, but contrary to popular belief, it is neither the fourth tallest ephemeral nor the second tallest year-round falls in the US.  The trail to the top is the most popular in the state, and is one of the most beautiful sights to see in the Pacific Northwest. The creek, Multnomah Creek, starts from underground springs high on the slopes of Larch Mountain (4,061 feet) and descends rapidly over just about six and a half miles to the shore of the Columbia River. Mt. Hood National Forest trail No. 441 parallels the creek from top to bottom and winds through stands of old-growth Douglas Fir forest for 6.8 miles. We hiked it one way, from Larch Mountain to the river shore.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Inyo Mine

Inyo Mine around 1938 during the rebooted operations.
The famed Inyo Gold Mine is one of the most popular mine attractions within Death Valley National Park, and also is rather historically significant; being one of the first discoveries in this part of the Funeral Mountains, and also the mine that proved the most successful out of all mines in the Echo-Lee mine district. It had been a promising claim since its location in 1905, but the railroad reaching Rhyolite made it economically productive, and production soon shifted into high gear. Unfortunately, the Panic of 1907 harmed the mining inuctry too hard, and the company faced bankruptcy by the end of the summer, and slowed production to a crawl, ending by the end of the year. 

In 1938, the company had started up again, and installed a large ball mill on the property which was processing 25 tons of ore per day, with eight men employed in production. Among the mill equipment were two concentrating tables, a massive jaw crusher, and a the large ball mill. Water had to be hauled in, and the high costs overran the high grade ore, and the Inyo died for a second time. The final debut of mining activity was a smelter constructed high above the mill site, owned by a Thompson and Wright, ended in the wrong with a crippling debt and no ore to speak of. Reports stated that the furnace had been fired no more than once.

The Echo-Lee district is famed with failure, and none of the many mines in the area amounted to half of the booms in the Panamint Valley or the nearby Keane Wonder district. The area was bounded by large strikes, and although the Inyo never emerged as a contender for a rail spur, it remains as a sentinel of the past, its wooden remains standing patiently against the roaring of the desert wind and the test of time.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Old Dominion Mine, Santa Ana Mtns.

Looking up the large tailings pile
The rolling crest of the Santa Anas parts often to reveal sweeping views of the Inland Empire, and in the distance, the crenellated  summit of San Jacinto, and the gray tops of Mt. Baldy and San Gorgonio peak above the haze. The dense green chaparral carpet blankets the hillsides, and making all but the most tenacious efforts of walking off the road unsuccessful. Peaking west down Long Canyon, the observer can imagine building this road, through unstable rock and dense undergrowth. At this pass, the Old Dominion Saddle, a commanding view of the San Gabriel Mountains to the north and Lake Elsinore to the South serves as a backdrop to a little-known mining operation that lasted for about fifty years during the first half of the twentieth century.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Garibaldi Mine

The Garibaldi mine can be considered the first major mine in the Wild Rose District. Its earliest deposits were discovered as early as 1874 by Italians Joe and Zeff Nossano, Joe Lanji, and Charles Andrietta. Probably the first Italians in the region, they located eight rich outcrops of silver ore. The Inyo Independent newspaper reported:
Among them is the 'Garibaldi' mine, a very large lode, showing on the surface hundreds of tons of rich ore. An average sample of the ores of this mine, assayed by J. L. Porter, of Cerro Gordo, yielded $238.18 per ton in silver.
This was an impressive silver deposit if the reports were accurate, but little work was done on the claims for  some time. Some of the lodes were assayed up to $1800 per ton. Interestingly, the eastern portion of these deposits was worked by E.M. Bentley, from the Christmas Gift Mine in Nemo Canyon for some time.

Even though little work had been done, interest began to develop and they were heralded as the most promising in the county, and before long a San Francisco company purchased all eight of the Nossano Brothers' claims for a whopping $70,000 dollars in 1875. The San Francisco investors incorporated as the Garibaldi Mining Co, and by April of the next year a 100-foot incline shaft had been sunk along the top of the vein, employing several men to cut tunnels and drifts to tap the ledge. The Superintendent, Irwin, unfortunately decided the ledge had petered out after reaching ore selling for $600 per ton, possibly due to an error in sinking the shaft and digging away from the ore. The mine lay abandoned for some time after this misfortune.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bahia de Las Animas, Baja

Mangroves in Las Animas Bay
I am not a stranger to epic spring adventures, but this year was something different. Nine days; 130 people; one beach; eight yellowtail tuna. The most elaborate and exquisite camping trip I have ever embarked on took place on a quiet beach that was so remote it was faster to ride a boat to than it was to drive. So, let me tell you a story.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Mt. Hood: Mazama Ridge and McNeil Point

Mt. Hood
I haven't done much writing about the Pacific Northwest, but since I'm moving to Portland in September I figured I might as well get a start.

Mazama Ridge is one of the more popular routes up the north side of Mt. Hood, the tallest mountain in Oregon and one of the only places in the state where skiing is offered year round. It is one of the Cascade Mountains, the ring of volcanos that stretch from Lassen in California into British Columbia. Mt. Hood is the most accessible of these volcanos, being so close to Portland, and as a result is also one of the most dangerous, seeing several fatalities every year.

I visited in mid-august, the time of year when the flowers begin to bloom and the weather is most pleasant. The timberline here is about 5500 feet, any higher above that the snow becomes too deep and stays too long to allow trees to grow. The warming climate means that snow is melting sooner and the snowpack is smaller, boding ill for the glaciers and rivers in the future. Anyway, the trail from Mazama ridge is very steep, and it is also one of the most popular routes to McNeil Point, one of the finest viewpoints on this part of the mountain. Lots of flowers were blooming, avalanche lily, old man of the mountain, lupine, and indian paintbrush were abundant. Weather was perfect and the clarity of the air was surprising, considering a massive wildfire was burning near Bend at the time we were up the mountain.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Skidoo Mill

The imposing structure of the Skidoo Mill.
Skidoo: Death Valley's most famous ghost town. At its height, it was home to over 700 people, and had many saloons, billiards parlors, general goods, and its endless network of high-grade gold mines that produced over 1.5 million US Dollars. As a result of its remote location and the resulting extreme cost of transportation of said ore, the only cost-effective solution to mine here was to construct a mill on site. The first mill was only five stamps, which was constructed before the famed 23 mile water pipeline to a spring below Telescope Peak (Hummingbird Spring) in 1909, built first to provide water to the town and later extended to power the mill. The existing mill was built after the original mill was destroyed by a fire on June 2, 1913. Five stamps were recovered, and the mill was rebuilt and in service before the end of the year. This is the mill that stands today. Most of its outside structure collapsed in the 1960s or 70s, but what remains was spared from the Park Service's haphazard shovel of destruction, which had removed most of the rest of Skidoo's remains around the same time. A more complete history of Skidoo will be written in a future post.

Blue Bell Mine Cabin

On the abyssal edge of Death Valley is a small canyon containing a silver location dating to the early 1870s and some of the first Italians in the region, the Nossano brothers. The claims were worked, reworked, relocated and renowned for almost a hundred years until the last efforts built a sturdy tin cabin and cableway. 
The Garibaldi mine changed hands many times until it became the Blue Bell in the 1880s, and a more elaborate history on it will be written in that post. The mine that led to the construction of this cabin was the Hanging Cliff Mine, across the canyon from the end of the tram, which was patented as the Hanging Cliff Mill. No evidence of any milling activity exists here anymore. A look across the canyon reveals much equipment left at the Hanging Cliff Mine, but with no clear way to access it. It should be mentioned that this, along with all other mines in the park are no longer active claims, but collecting and prospecting are not allowed.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Borax Man of Death Valley

Gepenre's Illustration of the Borax Man
I've been traveling to Death Valley since I was very young. One of the earliest trips I remember was over Thanksgiving in 2007, and we camped high up on the exposed alluvial fan below Hanaupah Canyon in our then-new off-road tent trailer. The nights were particularly cold that year, even though the summer had been among the hottest since the 1980s. The winds were howling, though by comparison not unusually much. To my ten-year-old self at the time, it was a night of terror. The winds, coupled with the chill and unphathonable darkness of the Death Valley Night, led my mind into a maze of fear of the dark, the wind, and the unknown. While on a brief expedition outside, I remember looking out onto the porcelain-white salt flats of Badwater Basin and seeing a shadow, from my vantage no larger than a toothpick but the size and shape a human would be from several miles away. The full moon cast a shadow on the flats from something standing out on the salt. It was then is retreated into the safety and warmth of our mobile home. As the winds howled on, the memory gradually faded into obscurity.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Death Valley Petroglyphs #2

One of the larger designs
Another plain view site that I visited back in 2013, this interesting site was also on the main path from the valley bottom to the high mountains above, in this case between Mesquite Flat and Hunter Mountain. At first they blend in well, but once you start seeing them, there are glyphs everywhere. The designs themselves aren't terribly vandalized, but there are false designs everywhere as well; images of teepees, chiefs, and bows and arrows are found at several spots. Other glyphs in less-visible spots- were pristine and very nice.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Death Valley Petroglyphs #1

Note the spray paint on the rock.
This is a site that is in plain view, and as such is (in my opinion) the most endangered rock art site in Death Valley. Viewing the deliberate deterioration of such works of ancient art are truly terrible and illegal, so it is wise to view this as a lesson in why these sites should be protected.

With that covered, time to talk about the site. There are a few small panels, each packed with unique designs. When I heard about it, I thought this site would be smaller, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the extent of the glyphs. The tuff here is not found anywhere else in the vicinity, so it's easy to see why the natives chose this area to do their doodling. Unfortunately in some of the glyphs it is difficult to tell if they are original or vandalism.