Skull Rock Trail

We decided the night before that we would leave Joshua Tree NP on the day we took this hike. It was a relatively short 1.65 mile loop, and it started just a few yards from where our rig was parked in the campground. To give you some perspective, I'll show you a map of the hike from the sign at the trailhead, and I've marked the location of our rig with a red dot.

After we'd hiked about 3/4 of the way around the loop, we looked across the road where we could see our trailer in the campground.

For perspective, this next image was standing at the same spot, but not zoomed in.

So what's this hike all about anyway? The trail meanders through boulders, desert washes, and a rocky alleyway. There are signs all along the trail that identify plants, explain the geology of the Mojave Desert, discuss plant and animal relationships, and describe plant uses by early Native Americans. Eventually the trail leads to Skull Rock, an unusual monzogranite boulder that resembles a gigantic human skull. Okay, so here we go.

As I said in a previous post, the Joshua Trees are only one reason to come to the park. We think the giant rock formations are at least as interesting as the trees. Erosion has created some interesting rock "gardens" and shapes. One sign I read described them as resembling scoops of ice cream.

It was a nice interpretive trail with lots of signs describing what we were seeing. This one was especially interesting to me because of all the uses for this desert plant.

There were no flowering plants that fit the description, but I thought this next image might be the same plant. Just add flowers to those red stalks.

Just prior to reaching Skull Rock, we walked through a somewhat deeper wash and found lots of different kinds of trees and shrubs that were better able to grow where there was more moisture. Here's the Mojave Desert Oak.

It's leaves resemble a holly leaf.

Here's skull rock. Those depressions are caused by rushing water, and this being in that same wash, it makes sense.

I'm always amazed at the courage of plants that grow from solid rock against all odds.

We thought this might be the lair of some critter, but we didn't see any evidence of that.

And on we walked, marveling at the rocks.

The landscapes are vast, and it's impossible to really get a feel for how big things are without attempting a pano. Remember that you can make these images larger by clicking on them.

There's Mike heading on up the dusty trail.

And here's another pano.

This next image is another good example of the dikes I mentioned in my previous post. You can see a small ridge on the rock in the foreground. Look more toward the back in the shadow of the background rock, and you can see some larger dikes.

This is a Desert Pine tree loaded with pine cones. The birds, rats, chipmunks, and other animals forage for the seeds.

We marveled at some of these balancing rocks.

And here's an immense rock garden so typical of the area.

And that was our hike. We've done this one before, but we never get tired of the landscape in this area. The second time out was every bit as enjoyable as the first. But before we leave the hike, here are two windblown travelers. Why should our shadow selves get all the selfie fun?

We've been relaxing and warming up in the beautiful weather here in Hemet. the kitties are doing well, and tolerating one another better all the time. Mike's sister, Meredith, will be joining us here later today for a visit, and then we'll be moving onto Death Valley tomorrow.


Lost Horse Mine Trail

When I left off with yesterday's post, we'd taken a short walk out to see Arch Rock. We went back to the trailer, got Smitty out for a walk, had some lunch, and then took off for a much more challenging hike to see Lost Horse Mine. Our hiking book told us that the Lost Horse Mine operation was one of the most successful gold mining operations within the park. It seems Frank Diebold, a German prospector, initially discovered the gold strike, but it was Johnny Lang who was responsible for making the mine productive.

As the story goes, Lang was looking for a lost horse in 1893 when he came across Diebold's mining camp. Shortly thereafter, Diebold sold the mine rights to Johnny Lang and his father. Along with new partners, Thomas and Jep Ryan, Lang started up the Lost Horse Mine operation around 1895. Over the next ten years, they processed several thousand ounces of gold.

The existing structures I'm going to show you are among the best preserved mining structures within the National Park System. To read more about it on the National Park System website, click right here. For now, I'll show you the photos we took on this moderately strenuous hike. The hiking book promised us a 480-foot elevation change from the bottom of the trail up to the location of the mine, 2 miles in. According to the app on Mike's watch, the elevation change was more like 750 feet.

We first noticed this area in the image below where there is nothing growing. With the shape of the mountain being conical like that, we surmised that this might have been an ancient lava flow, but we have nothing to document that.

The hike took us up and up and up. It's always a good idea to turn around and look behind you and we noticed Mt. San Jacinto peeking over the hillsides in the distance. Here in Hemet, where we are now, Mt. San Jacinto towers over the city. I'll have some more pictures of it from the lowlands in another post.

Like I said, up and up and up...in fact, two miles of hiking up, and we were getting pretty tired when the mine first came into view. You can see it is still a long way off.

When we reached this point, we briefly considered whether we wanted to continue. In a moment of "well-we've-come-this-far-it-would-be-a-shame-to-turn-back-now" moment (wise or not), we trudged on. Besides, I knew Mike the engineer was going to love seeing all the machinery associated with this ancient gold-mining operation.

As we got closer, we came upon this piece of debris from a wagon (apparently). Our shadow selves wanted to get in on the act at that point, and so they took their first selfie of the trip.

Our physical bodies turned around so we could see how far we'd come.

Believe it or not, we were still standing upright when we finally reached the mine. It was worth the trip, believe me. Check out those big wheels and remember them. When I get around to the front, you'll be able to see how big belts wound around this apparatus and hauled gold from the mine.

To the left of the image above, you could see the mine shaft, which is pictured below. We estimate it to be about three feet square. I was holding the camera lens through a big chain-link fence, which folks had, nonetheless, pried apart to get closer and look down the hole.

Recognizing ourselves to be mortal, we stayed safely outside the fence. Mike climbed up a little higher to get a look at what he believed to be a winch.

This next image shows the mine from the other side, and those are cyanide settling tanks. I don't know the function of cyanide in gold mining, and so I can't tell you any more than that.

There were two rock structures above the winch. They were lined with concrete in order to hold water from runoff.

Here's a shot from below the mine. You can begin to see the crushers in front. They resemble large pistons.

Below, you can see another large wheel that would have held a belt and connected to the other wheels I've already mentioned. There was yet another broken wheel beyond that one, but it is in shadow in this image.

Here, you can see a better view of the crushers. There are ten of them, and I believe that is what accounts for its description as a "10-stamp" mine.

I'm sorry I couldn't get a better image of the sign. Like I said, I was shooting through a chain link fence.

Here's what it says: 

Operated intermittently between 1893 and 1936, the mine produced over 9,000 ounces of gold for its operators. Dutch Frank Diebold is credited with the original discovery of the claim, which he sold for $1,000 to Johnny Lang. Johnny reportedly first came upon Dutch's claim while looking for a lost horse, hence the current name.
The mine workings consisted of a 500-foot shaft, an early 80-foot adit, several slopes where the vein was followed, and at least six working levels. Major tunnels were developed at the 100-, 200-, and 300-foot levels. The shaft was sunk next to the quartz vein from which the ore-bearing portions, or shoots, were mined. Remnant mill features include the the large crushed ore storage bin, the 10 battery stamp mill, two rock walled water storage tanks, and portions of engines and compressors. This reasonably well preserved example of mining technology has been nominated to the National Historic Registry of Places to help preserve it for the enjoyment of future generations.

And after that, we went back the way we came, thankfully, downhill all the way from here. I stopped to take this next picture because of the little cactus growing out of solid igneous rock, against all odds.

As we drove the short dirt road back to the main highway, we stopped to take this picture of the veritable forest of Joshua Trees, growing thick as the hair on a dog's back (as my grandfather liked to say). It might be hard for you to see in this image, and so you'll have to take my word for it. It was like a jungle of Joshua Trees.

After that, we took a short drive out to Keys View lookout. We've been here before on a day when the wind just about blew us over the cliff. Unfortunately, I was shooting directly into the sun, and it was a hazy day to boot. And yes, it was just as windy as the first time we visited.

Here's a better image taken on our last visit back in January of 2008.

This is what I said about it in my old blog, Ribbon of Highway:

I had several articles about Joshua Tree and each of them mentioned having to travel back to the view multiple times to see it without the haze that sometimes masks the scenery. When we arrived there it was frigidly cold with sustained winds of 30+ miles per hour and gusts up to 60 mph. It was difficult to stand up in such winds and I found myself staying well clear of the edge of the canyon to avoid being blown off the cliff. 

And if you just can't get enough of my pithy and witty repartee, you can read the blog post from our previous visit to Joshua Tree National Park right here.

From there, the day was drawing to a close. We had good light heading back to our campsite, and we stopped along the way to take a picture of the rocks where the campground is located. I'll show you more of that in tomorrow's post when I tell you about the Skull Rock Trail.

After such a long uphill trek, we were pretty tuckered out. It was good to get back to the trailer and this pretty sunset.

Fast forward to today, and we're spending the day relaxing in Hemet. We came south to get warm and dry, and up until arriving in Hemet, we've been anything but. The weather was, of course, terrible as we drove south to Borrego Springs. Even after arriving in Borrego Springs, it has continued to be chilly enough that we've needed outerwear of some kind to stay warm. We decided to come to Hemet because we trusted it to be warm, and we have not been disappointed. It's nice to be in short sleeves, capri pants, and sandals, even if it is just for a few days before we take off again for Death Valley.

I'll have more for you tomorrow, and then we'll be caught up to the present. There have been no quilt shop visits thus far, and frankly, no quilt shops to speak of. There is one a little bit north of us here, but I've been there before. We'll keep looking, however. You can count on that.


From Joshua Tree NP to Hemet, CA

Hey there! Have you missed me? We've been without internet or cell service for the past several days, and so we have some catching up to do. Since we last spoke, Mike and I moved on from Borrego Springs to Joshua Tree National Park, where it was so fricking cold and windy that our enthusiasm waned pretty quickly. We decided to stay just two nights, and then we moved onto Hemet, California, where we are now. Nevertheless, we packed a lot into our two days there, and it'll take me a bit to catch you up on the scenery and the hiking. For now, pour yourself a cuppa and settle in. Or don't...it's totally up to you. Here goes...

The road between Borrego Springs and Joshua Tree National Park essentially takes you through a huge wash. The landscape is pretty rugged between the two places.

It makes me wonder what happens to the road when it rains. Judging by its condition, I can't think it's a very good place to be traveling in bad weather.

And it is desolate.

Before too long, we could begin to see the Salton Sea. If you look a little below center in the next image, you'll see a dark sliver of blue. That is the Salton Sea. It's located directly on the San Andreas Fault in California's Coachella Valley.

We still had cell coverage at this point, and so I was able to pull up a satellite image of the area on my phone. The blue dot is where we are traveling.

With the exception of a few small towns, the road continues through this rugged and parched landscape.

That's pretty much all we saw even after we passed the Cottonwood Visitor Center at the south end of Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Trees (yucca brevifolia...pretty fancy, huh?) do not grow everywhere in the park, and so you have to travel some 20 miles before you begin to see them.

We camped in the Jumbo Rocks campground inside the national park boundaries. Joshua Trees are not the only item of interest in the park. For us, the rocks and boulders are at least as interesting, if not more. This is our campsite. You can see our rig just off to the right in the image below. 

It was getting late in the day when we arrived. Once we got set up, we went for a short walk. Like I said...it was windy and cold. 

The landscape was beautiful in the setting sun. The image below kind of encapsulates what you can see here, although there is much we have yet to explore.

Compare the Joshua Tree in the image above to the Mohave yucca in the image below. Obviously, the Joshua Trees are taller, but their fronds are also shorter. We've been fortunate enough to see the yucca when it blooms and it is beautiful. You can see some images of it in that link I've given you. On this trip, it appeared the Joshua Trees had just bloomed, or were about to bloom. We couldn't tell for sure.

I was able to capture this silhouette in the setting sun. It was a peaceful end to a day of driving.

Our furnace ran almost constantly overnight. It's a propane heater, but the fan is electric, and it nearly drained our battery. Since we were dry camping (meaning, camping without water or electric hook-ups), it became clear that we couldn't stay here for long. That meant we set a busy agenda for ourselves for this one full day in the park. We started with this short trail out to Arch Rock.

This whole area is made up of a soft granite. Here's what the sign had to say about it.

One of the more interesting formations in all of this is the appearance of dikes as erosion occurs. You can see an example on the right side of the image below. I'm speaking of the line of smaller rocks running more or less vertically through the large boulders.

And here's what the sign has to say about the dikes. (I bring this up because it's the one feature we remembered from our previous visit some years ago.)

This next sign explains the erosion process and what leads to the appearance of these huge boulders above the soil line. In fact, the soil is the eroded-away remains of what came before.

The image below corresponds to the sign above.

It was only a brief walk out to the arch. 

We've learned before that arches are formed by wind, and natural bridges are formed by running water. In this case, the arch is formed by wind and rain. I could only shoot directly into the sun, and so there are lens flares in this picture. Still, I think it gives you a pretty good idea what we saw from there.

There was more beyond the arch, but it would have required more "scrambling" over rocks than my knee was going to permit, and so we turned back and returned to our campsite. We were able to get Smitty out for a walk at this point. He loved the sandy soil and he rolled and rolled and rolled...which is a problem when you're trying to keep the leash untangled. 

There were some people in the next campsite over, and that kept him on guard.

We were able to get in about a 20-minute walk.

And we explored some areas where cats could go, but taller people could not.

He and Maggie are doing really well at this point. They still give one another a wide berth, but there is a lot less grrrring and yowling. We haven't had to bring out the squirt bottle of doom for at least a couple of days. Maggie has taken a few good swipes at him, and that leaves Smitty with an astonished expression on his face. He's not used to living with a cat who still has her claws. He's given her space when she decides she wants to use the catio. I doubt they'll ever go out together, as the quarters are a little close, but he hasn't interfered with her when she goes by herself.

Yes, I'm smiling now, but she'll pay later.

When we left Joshua Tree yesterday to drive to Hemet, CA, they were still negotiating for who was going to ride where. Maggie was in Smitty's usual hidey hole, and she seemed to recognize her error. When I made Smitty give her some room to maneuver, she went to the far side of the bed. She was still standing on the bed, when I shut the door. I assumed she'd get onto the floor between the bed and the closet, which was Gracie's favorite riding spot. When I opened the door after arriving in Hemet, I found her on the bed like this. She'd burrowed under my sweatshirt and was looking pretty comfy-cozy.

We're now in a park we've stayed many times in Hemet. We like Hemet for its wonderful climate, and we like this park for its hot tubs and activities. There has been a dearth of cats for me to make up to on this trip. This is the first one we've seen.

Yeah, not exactly something you'd want to cuddle up to. There is a craft fair going on here on Sunday, and that will be fun. Also, they have the most luxurious hot tubs...always a favorite of ours. We're here for the next four days, and Mike's sister will be driving over from Anaheim to see us. 

That's all for today, but I have a lot more hiking to tell you about from our Joshua Tree NP stay. Tomorrow I'll tell you about hiking out to Lost Horse Mine. It was over four miles round trip and I managed a new personal best on my Fitbit that day.

That wasn't our only hike, however. We also hiked the Skull Rock Trail, and so I have lots more to tell you. Just give me some time to sort through my pictures.