Reports on trips taken in 2018.
2018 DE Rendezvous Wrapup
by Bob Jacoby
Even though the weather didn't completely cooperate, the 2018 Desert Explorers Rendezvous was a fun and action packed event. We had a solid menu of events and an excellent turnout of about 61 members. This represents around 60% of our members. That would be an excellent percentage for most organizations.
The weekend started on Friday (4/6) with two interesting inbound trips led by Sue and Bob Jaussaud (Boron/Randsburg area) and Bill Powell (Coso Mountains). Both of these trips were interesting with lots of mines and other ruins that everyone enjoys. The weather on that Friday was pretty good also with not too much wind for most of the way.
(Please click "Read More" for the rest of the story, and there are a lot of photos from the event too!)
Guest Speakerat the 2018 Rondy
Alexander (Sandy) Rogers
We were fortunate enough to have Mr. Rogers as our featured guest speaker at the 2018 rondy. He is the archaeology curator at the Maturango museum in Ridgecrest and is a consulting archaeologist.
Mr. Rogers was a physicist and engineer with the China Lake Naval Weapons Laboratory until retiring in 2002. He has written numerous papers on hunter-gatherer cultures of the Great Basin and the archaeology of rock art. He holds masters degrees in physics and anthropology.
He gave us an excellent presentation of the petroglyphs of the Coso region which includes the upper Mojave Desert and southwestern. He explained how obsidian can be dated and its origin traced. Obsidian arrowheads and tools are found along early native trade routes and their origin can be identified.
Eastern Sierra Canyons
By Bob Jacoby
I have taken dozens of trips through the years on Highway 395 traversing the Indian Wells Valley. On all these trips I noticed several canyons in the distance to the west in the Eastern Sierra. For a long time I wanted to visit these canyons and since the Rondy was in Ridgecrest this year, an exploratory trip to this area was most appropriate.
Our large group met at the Ridgecrest Fairgrounds on Saturday morning (4/7) of the Rondy weekend. The group consisted of the following individuals: Ellen Miller, Barbara and Ken Midlikoski, Bill Powell, Terry and Eileen Ogden, Leonard and Rebecca Freidman, Joan and Ted Berger, Jim Watson, Dave Burdick, Larry Boerio, Peter and Janet Austin, David and Lois Hess, Ken and Jill Eltritch, Frederick Raab, Bill and Julie Smith, Marian and Neal Johns , Steven and Sally Falstitch plus Yours Truly and the incredible Bill Powell. (If I left anyone out, my apologies.) Even though this was a large group everything worked out well as we were able to carpool to reduce the number of vehicles. It was a cool morning and the weather to the west looked threatening, but we intrepidly headed west toward the Sierras.
Our initial destination appeared on the map as Cow Heaven Canyon. The farther west we went into this beautiful canyon the worse the road became, but it was all very doable. As we progressed up the canyon, we noted Kiavah Wilderness signs of both sides of the road. This area was designated as wilderness as part of the California Desert Protection Act passed in 1994. This canyon is an area where the the Pinon Pines of the Sierras. All in all, it was very picturesque. We soon hit the end of the road at another wilderness boundary. We were forced to do a turn around and headed back down canyon to the north/south dirt road at the base of the Sierras. This road would take us to the turnoff to Sage Canyon which was next on our list.
The first thing we noticed as we started up the fairly rugged Sage Canyon Road was considerable greenery including the sudden appearance of willows. This is a pretty good indicator that there is water near the surface. The farther west we went on this road, the steeper it got. The more difficult it became and the worse the weather became as it began to rain. The rain soon became a downpour and we made the decision to turn around and head back before the mud would make things very difficult. It wasn't easy doing a turnaround with this many cars, but we accomplished the task with little problem and headed back down Sage Canyon. At the mouth of Sage Canyon we visited an old stone cabin which we missed on the way up.
Because of the continuation of threatening weather, we decided not to visit the next canyon south (Horse Canyon) and determined the best decision was to head back to Ridgecrest. Nevertheless this was a fun and interesting outing as far as we got and even though the weather forced us to cut the trip short, it actually added to the overall experience.
Our fun group then headed back on desert dirt roads toward Ridgecrest and the BBQ catered dinner that awaited us. We may do a Desert Explorer trip again to this area when the weather forecast is right. ~ Bob
Photos: Julie Smith, Bob Jacoby & Barbara Midlikowski
Trip Report: Trona Pinnacles
By Jerry Dupree
We were having such a great time at the Rendezvous that it was difficult to choose between all of the trips in the area. Dolly and I had volunteered to lead a tour to the Trona Pinnacles. Since we had never been there we researched it online and were given information from Bob Jacoby, which had a lot of useful information.
The Trona Pinnacles are located about 20 miles from Ridgecrest and about 20 miles from Trona. The area is an ancient dry lake bed and there are wave marks along the original shore line indicating that the lake was at least 60 feet deep. The pinnacles are made of calcium carbide formed underwater from steam vents under the lake bottom. The pinnacles vary in height to about 40 feet. There is nothing around them, so they are visible for miles and look like something one would imagine the surface of another planet to look like. The pinnacles have been the scenery and background for several movies and television commercials.
Of course we took the wrong turn from the road and wound up traveling quite a distance along the wrong side of a railroad track. I didn't realize how easily our four wheel drive vehicles could drive over the tracks and had visualized someone getting stuck on the tracks while a train would be coming. It was easier than I had thought.
We drove to the pinnacles and there was a welcome site of a restroom. There were no supplies available but we had toilet paper and hand sanitizer with us to share. "Don't leave home without it." I noticed a void of animal life because the area was so desolate of water and vegetation. No tracks or droppings in the area. There also was no shade to stop and have lunch. We improvised and sat in the shade of our vehicles.
The pinnacles were beautiful and some of us hiked up as far as possible, however the higher we climbed the more wind and blowing dust and sand, which was especially unpleasant for those wearing contacts.
Using a GPS, we were following a route to the nearest road back and some of us broke off to visit the Trona museum on the way back. We needed to pick up some supplies for the catered dinner, therefore we missed the Trona museum. It is our habit to visit museums everywhere we travel and we call it "museum hopping" which is also the least expensive thing to do on trips.
We were very glad to see the Trona Pinnacles and every other adventure as members of the Desert Explorers. ~ Jerry
Photos: Jerry Dupree
and Jay Lawrence
Rondy Inbound Trip to Coso Mountains
By Bob Jacoby
A group of seven of us met on Friday April 6 near Red Hill in Inyo County to begin the Rondy weekend with an inbound tour of the Coso Mountains. Our group consisted of myself, Leonard and Rebecca Friedman, Craig Baker, Bill Powell, and Ron and Barbara Midlikoski. It was a nice day and we all were anxious to kick off the Rondy weekend.
The Coso Range is situated on the east side of the Owens Valley at its southern end. The mountains are volcanic in nature with considerable geothermal activity. They are also a key source of pumice which is used as a cleaner.
Most of the range is within the boundaries of the China Lake Naval Air Station. We designed our excursion to explore the area that is not within the boundaries and is open to the public.
We headed north on 395 and turned east on a paved road about five miles north of Red Hill. After following this road east for several miles we came upon a high standard dirt road that headed north into a pumice mining area. There were some active mines nearby but we managed to find an abandoned mine at the end of a side road. Some research indicated that this site was mined in the 1960’s by Desert Materials Corporation of Los Angeles. At this site there were layers of white ash that were once shot out of a nearby volcano.
We traversed back to the well graded dirt, used by mining trucks today, and followed the road another couple of miles until we came to a much more obscure side road to the west. This scenic road took us to a beautiful Joshua Tree Forest which appears on the map as McCloud Flat. This beautiful scenery also included some wild flowers in bloom.
As we left McCloud Flat road the road continued to deteriorate and it was soon time to engage four wheel drive as we traversed a moderate sized playa. We then descended down into a steep canyon which immediately got everyone’s full attention. Everybody made it fine down the steep road where we came to a tiny cabin near the area of what on the map was called the Jack Henry Mine.
We stopped and explored the cabin and the mine remnants and really enjoyed the scenery and the great weather. After leaving the mine we continued down the canyon into an area identified as Cactus Flat. This was another Joshua Tree Forest and also quite a beautiful area.
As we continued heading west we encountered several more active pumice mines. It wasn’t long before the Haiwee Reservoir came into view in the distance. The Reservoir was
created in 1913 as a result of dam that was part of the Los Angeles Aqueduct System. Beyond the reservoir we encountered a ranch that was growing alfalfa.
It wasn’t long before we hit pavement and we eventually arrived back at 395 near Olancha. By that time we were all ready to head back to Ridgecrest to enjoy the Friday evening pot luck. We all agreed that the Rondy was off to a good start with this off the beaten path tour of the Coso Mountains. ~ Bob
Rondy Inbound Boron to Randsburg
By Sue Jaussaud
Our original plan was to lead this inbound trip as an exploratory, but when the number of participants went beyond 20, Bob and I could not imagine getting lost in front of that many people. We urgently needed to prerun the trip!
So bright and not so early on the Thursday before the Friday trip, we drove to Boron to begin our prerun. Skirting the huge Borax Mine tailings, we checked out 2 cinder quarries and some modern day ruins. Yawn. Things did become more interesting as we continued north, though. We found a long abandoned USAF radio site on a remote hilltop. There was a huge modern mural on one side of the building. Bob felt the vivacious young lady depicted riding a bomb looked a lot like Marian Johns.
Moving further north, we encountered the remains of a few homesteads and eventually located Castle Butte Well and more interesting art work. From the well we junctioned with 20 Mule Team Parkway and followed it to Galileo Hill.
There is a curious development on the north side of Galileo Hill named “Silver Saddle Ranch and Club”, complete with paved streets, landscaping, ponds, a petting zoo (are those llamas?), a golf course and a club house. It felt as if we had just entered a time warp. A lady at the reception desk was real enough, though, and graciously gave us permission to bring our group by the next day to use the restrooms. Silver Saddle Ranch was originally developed as a real estate venture by Nat Mendelson in the 1950’s. He was evidently hoping to create the next
Los Angeles. The place has changed hands a number of times and has a colorful history.
We were starting to lose daylight, so Bob and I worked our way northeast on the Randsburg Mojave Road, took a quick look at the abandoned
dwellings around the Blackhawk Mine, then skedaddled for our motel room in Ridgecrest.
It rained in Ridgecrest Thursday night, and the wind was howling the next morning. Heading south to meet our group in Boron, clouds of dust filled the air. Four wheeling in this stuff would be bad! Then inspiration struck. We had been told, by long time DE member David Mott, about a “20 Mule Team” mural at the abandoned prison north of Boron. No time like the present to check it out! We drove into the prison past many derelict, heavily graffitied buildings and finally located the mural, which was in surprisingly good shape. Our reaction was that everyone would enjoy seeing this and we needed to include it in the inbound. The beginning of “Plan B.”
Continuing our rush south on Highway 395, Bob remembered visiting a very cool antique collection in the old metal buildings at Kramer Junction. Arriving at the junction, we saw a side door was open and Bob dashed in to ask if it was possible to bring the group by. As luck would have it, the friendly owners, brothers Jim “Tinker” and Dennis Darr, were there and said the group would be welcome to visit. Another part of “Plan B” fell into place.
Pete and Janet Austin, Jim Watson and Linda Stevens, Dave Rehrer, Ron Lipari, Mike Vollmert, Mignon Slentz, Deb and Steve Marschke, Terry and Eileen Ogden, Bruce Barnett, Ellen Miller, Bill and Julie Smith, Vicki Hill, Dave McFarland, Glenn Shaw, Neal and Marian Johns were all waiting for us at the 20 Mule Team Museum in Boron. The weather was miserable and everyone was enthusiastic about our “Plan B.” Danny and Norma Siler, with their friend Paul, joined us for the first part of the trip.
We all drove back to Kramer Junction, to the huge private antique collection. It was great to see so many wonderful old things and be out of the wind and dust. After an interesting hour, Bob was Þnally able to pry folks away and our group
headed north to visit the prison and 20 Mule Team mural. The mural was done by the prison inmates sometime in the early 1980's. The Boron Prison was active from 1978 to 2000 and housed approximately 540 minimum security prisoners. The facility was originally established as a Radar Command Station in 1952. Thanks to David Mott for providing us with this information.
From the prison, we were able to resume the prerun route of the day before. Thanks are due to Ron and Mike for being a big help as "sweep" during the whole trip. Also thanks to our trip photographers:Vicki Hill, Janet Austin, Bill and Julie Smith. It was a good day with a great group of friends! ~ Sue
Desert Explorers Meeting Minutes
March 3rd, 2018
Attending: Jean & Sunny Hansen, Jerry & Dolly Dupree, Dave Burdick, Emmett & Ruth Harder, Allan & Ding Wicker, Neal & Marian Johns, Terry Ogden, Daniel Dick & Bobby Sanchez, Bill & Julie Smith, Jay Lawrence, Bob Jacoby.
Meeting Opened 11:35 a.m.
Previous minutes Approved.
Regrets Deb & Steve Marschke, Nelson Miller, Bill Neill
Treasurer As of the meeting we have 95 active memberships. Museum dues will be able to be paid at the same time as DE dues soon. We have seven new memberships since December 16. New subscribers are coming in through our
website and subscribing online. Current treasury $5,291.56, with website renewal and Rondy expenses pending.
Newsletter Going well, attaboys and compliments offered. Suggested running a bunch of DE business cards with just the logo and web address and giving out a bunch to each member to have on hand when talking to new people about DE. Will also check out a new run of bumper stickers. Report back next meeting.
Rondy Two inbound trips, Jacoby in the Cosos with Bill Powell, Bob Jaussaud Boron to Randsburg. Potluck Friday night with Bill Powell presentation teaser for the Hastings Cutoff trip. Two Saturday trips, Jerry Dupree to Trona Pinnacles, Bob Jacoby to the Sierras. Catered dinner with speaker Dr. Sandy Rogers on China Lake petroglyphs. Sunday trips: Nelson to the El Pasos, Jay to Red Rocks. NO ALCOHOL at Rondy site.
Website Deb reports no problem in the last six months, no cyber attacks. Up to date through February, archives have all of 2017 newsletters. There is now a linked photo memorial for Jerry Harada & Coop Cooper. Big Thanks to Crazy Suzy for all her work! Ham operator page is updated. All of Neal Johns hidden past is posted. The domain is renewed and current. Big Thanks to our WebGoddess Deb Miller Marschke!
Subscriber Guide Tabled. Updating the Guide has been on the back burner but we will endeavor to have it whipped into shape soonish.
Museum Work party was a grand success and greatly appreciated by Pat and the Museum crew. Also noted was how good the museum newsletter is looking these days. Good work!
Trips Post Rondy:
Next meeting May 12th at Ding & Allan Wicker’s home.
The Desert Magazine 1937-1985
By Michael Vermette
I’ve been in love with the desert since I was a kid. I grew up in San Bernardino and spent a lot of time exploring the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. After many years away, I’m again spending time exploring the desert back-country and seeing first-hand the evidence of the people, places, and events that took place when the desert was a true frontier. Whenever I run across an old cabin, I have the same questions. Who lived there and what was their story? What was their life like in such an isolated environment? While we can still find evidence of their existence, their stories are fading over time. Knowing the history of what I’m seeing has always made my explorations more enjoyable. I love to talk to the “old timers” about the desert but they’re also getting harder and harder to find nowadays.
One of my favorite resources for planning my wanderings is “The Desert Magazine.” If you’re interested in desert history, Desert Magazine will give you hours of enjoyment and allow you to better understand the rich history of our local deserts. You will conclude, as I have, that we’re lucky to live in this part of the world where rugged individualists paved the way for our modern Western spirit. I’m sure many of you have either heard of Desert Magazine or have even read issues and articles. I’ll attempt here
to pass on some additional info to those people and perhaps introduce some new people to a great resource for desert history.
In 1937, a man named Randall Henderson started up a modest little magazine that was simply named “The Desert Magazine.” The magazine contained articles about the deserts in California, Arizona, and Nevada written by people who experienced much of the history first hand and who clearly loved the beauty and serenity of the desert.
In the first issue published in November 1937, Henderson wrote an editorial titled “There Are Two Deserts.” This editorial set the tone for the many issues to follow. He said of the two deserts that “One is a grim desolate wasteland. It is the home of venomous reptiles and stinging insets, or vicious thorn-covered plants and trees, and unbearable heat. This is the desert seen by the stranger speeding along the highway, impatient to be out of ‘this damnable country’.” He also wrote “The other desert -- the real desert -- is not for the eyes of the superficial observer, or the fearful soul or the cynic. It is a land, the character of which is hidden except to those who come with friendliness and understanding.” From the tone of Henderson’s writing, you can see that he loved the desert and for this reason he was able to attract hundreds of authors who shared his understanding of the beauty to be found there.
If you aren’t already familiar with Desert Magazine, here are a couple of ways to find all 534 issues published between 1937 and 1985:
This website is apparently a labor of love dedicated to preserving the history of Desert Magazine. The clean and organized format allows you to read selected articles from various issues and to download copies of both single issues and annual archives from 1937-1985. There is no charge for downloading issues or archives and the website is free of ads or commercial banners. If you enjoyed it or found it useful, use the ‘Contact’ tab to let the author know his work is appreciated.
This website is a loyalist’s attempt to preserve and continue the legacy of Desert Magazine in the form of “The Desert Magazine of the Southwest.” It contains archived issues in convenient “flipbook” format. Unfortunately, the issues cannot be downloaded but it is a great place to read selected issues and browse their indexes. You can purchase a set of two DVDs containing all 534 issues in PDF format.
The spirit of Desert Magazine lives on. A writer by the name of John Grasson has published a new magazine titled “Dezert Magazine” (note the ‘z’ in the spelling) at http://dezertmagazine.com styled much like the original magazine and containing updated information of interest to all desert explorers. And yes, some of you may have noticed that the Desert Explorers Newsletter is also carrying on the spirit!
As to the original Desert Magazine, Randall Henderson continued on as publisher until 1958. You may have heard his name before as he played an important role in establishing Joshua Tree National Monument (now Joshua Tree National Park). Henderson graduated from USC in 1911 and initially worked as a sports reporter for the LA Times in college. He died in 1970, 12 years after selling Desert Magazine. The magazine was subsequently sold two more times.
Desert Magazine’s headquarters started out in El Centro, CA in 1937 but moved to Palm Desert in 1948. It continued to publish during WWII when the Army, represented by General George S. Patton, established the Desert Training Center. The center, needed to train the U.S. Army for the expected invasion of North Africa, covered 18,000 square miles of the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. Over 1.2 million men were trained at the Desert Training Center between 1942 and 1944. Many of the men trained there eventually moved to Southern California after the war and became readers of the magazine.
There is something for everyone in Desert Magazine. The writers, fellow explorers, and original ‘desert rats’ wrote stories about the indigenous people, miners, residents, artists, mineral collectors, plants, animals, and geology of the desert. Their tales often give us a glimpse of the human story behind the book history of the Southwest. You may also enjoy reading the advertisements that reflect the culture and technology of the era.
As you read through the issues, you’ll find that during the final years in the 1980’s, publication became spotty and the magazine struggled to stay alive. The magazine was published monthly until 1979, then with occasional gaps in issues until 1982, and then only sporadically thereafter until it finally went out of business in 1985. Attempts were made to re-start the magazine, but none lasted very long. You’ll find archived copies of “American Desert Magazine”, one of the several follow-on attempts, on several websites. While the enormous popularity and authenticity of Desert Magazine led to attempts to copy the format, none fully captured the spirit and authenticity of the desert found in the original.
In the last couple of years, I’ve used stories and articles in Desert Magazine to plan trips to local areas. The maps accompanying the article can give you an area and using Google Earth will likely pinpoint the location. Just knowing what was there in the early days can lead you to some great locations that may now only be ruins or rusted remnants. Some of the places talked about in the magazine are now in Wilderness Areas and are no longer accessible by vehicle. On the plus side, those places are often more intact and they can still be accessed by hiking trails or walking old abandoned roads. Knowing the history of a place before I visit makes it all the more enjoyable and fun to talk about around the campfire.
One of my favorite stories in the magazine is about “Pegleg Pete”, who supposedly found a very rich gold nugget field somewhere in the Chocolate Mountains. The story goes that the nuggets he found had a very distinctive color, having gained a ‘desert varnish’ from laying on the surface. Many have looked for Pegleg’s gold but it was never reported found. In 1965, the editor of Desert Magazine received a package with some gold nuggets from a man who claimed to have found Pegleg’s gold. The nuggets sent to the editor matched the story of Peg Leg’s ‘black’ nuggets. The mystery discoverer corresponded several times with the publisher, but his identity was never discovered. This fascinating story is contained in several issues of Desert Magazine starting in March 1965. The story was told again most recently at DesertUSA and can be found at https://www.desertusa.com/desert-prospecting/pegleg.html
I have a theory that every civilization needs a ‘frontier’, or place where rugged individualists and genuinely independent folks can go who just don’t fit in elsewhere. We don’t really have that kind of frontier any more but perhaps space exploration will provide one for future generations. In the meantime, I’ll just go wander around desert landscapes and breathe a bit easier.
Desert Explorers at Large
The Smiths (Bill & Julie) have been out-and-about helping with the annual Baker To Vegas law enforcement run March 16-17. Law Enforcement agencies from around the world compete in this desert relay race every year. We were assigned with the Amateur Radio group at Stage Four of the race along Hwy 127 about 30 miles south of Shoshone. From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. we monitored race radio communications and kept track of the runners as they passed through our checkpoint. The teams were running the 120 mile course from Baker, CA through the night to reach the Finish in downtown Las Vegas. Each runner would run 5 to 10 miles and pass the baton to the next runner at each Stage along the demanding route. An exciting and inspirational event! For more info on this race: bakervegas.net
By Claudia Heller
It was a long-forgotten town along Route 66 in the Mojave Desert that tugged at his heartstrings and gave him a higher purpose. But his love for the Mother Road began long before the fateful day when he discovered that vanished town and its ghostly inhabitants.
He preferred to be known by his first name: Roland. He kept his identity secret though he communicated with a few Roadies on line where he was affectionately known by his first name. “I grew up in Northern Indiana not very far from good ‘ol Route 66” he said. “I moved to California in 1986 and have been back and forth over the Mother Road many, many times.”
He favored sections of the Road in Oklahoma, Arizona “and of course California.” Right after moving to California he confesses he became a “desert rat” and when he could find the time he’d hop on his motorcycle or climb into his truck and head out to the desert.
“I took quite a shine to many of the desert towns over the years,” he confessed, “like Ludlow, Twenty Nine Palms, Amboy, Needles, Kelso and Nipton to name a few.”
One fateful day, Roland left his home in Los Angeles and headed to Arizona on business. To make the drive enjoyable, which he often did, he took Route 66, opting to vacate the boring Interstate. “I had read a book about the Mojave desert,” he said, “and its small hidden treasures.” On one such trip he pulled over to take in some rest time and think about the Road and its historical past. The area where he stopped was barren
of markings, but he had read about it and knew what secrets it held. From that point on he never talked about the town by name, not wanting to encourage tourists to stop and desecrate the quiet and mostly forgotten spot.
“What a lonely forgotten spot it was,” he recalls. He had heard a rumor that a cemetery had once been discovered there, and on one of his trips he climbed over the railroad tracks and scanned the area as far as his eyes could see. There he caught a glimpse of a disturbance on the desert floor and hiked out to investigate.
There Roland made a discovery that would change his life, give him purpose, and fill his imagination. “What a lonely, long-forgotten patch of desert it was” he thought as he approached what once was a cemetery. The area was obviously a casualty of the elements, and more disturbing, it was the victim of vandals. He noted that only a few of the graves had any rocks around them. He also noted that three graves had been dug up to some extent “like someone had been trying to find some hidden treasures or maybe some bones.” Grave markers were broken and tossed about.
Roland confesses that this “upset me no end, so I decided on my own that over time “I would do my best get the place back in shape.” And so began a labor of love. Each subsequent trip Roland would visit the spot and do a little work filling in and smoothing out the excavated graves and carefully lining each with rocks. He tread softly, replaced markers and replaced a small wire that had encased the spot. “I bought a rake at Home Depot in Barstow which I hide in a location near the cemetery so I don’t have to drag it with me each trip,” he said
What made Roland feel so responsible for this little cemetery that had been so ill-treated? He explains:
“Why did I do this, and continue to do it? Probably because as a kid, my parents would drag me and my three older sisters to our family cemetery in northern Indiana. My parents would spend hours there, planting, weeding, and watering the graves of their parents and a few other close relatives. As a kid, I would usually get bored while my parents were doing their graveyard chores and wander around the place doing ‘boy things’ like exploring for gold or scratching my skinny little behind. But to this day I have never forgotten what my parents did, not because they had to, but because they wanted to.”
Living over two thousand miles away from where his parents are buried, Roland knew he could not tend their graves but “if I’m out in the desert and have extra time, I felt I could make a difference in this lonely little cemetery out in the middle of nowhere.”
There are few who know Roland’s story. He says he has not mentioned it to his family or friends. In his own words: “If you would like to write about this, that is OK by me, but please don’t use my last name or advertise the name of the town.” Roland did share his story with a trusted author whose writings about Route 66 in the California desert enthralled him. That person, Joe de Kehoe, is well known to Route 66 enthusiasts. He has authored several books including The Silence and the Sun.
Roland often wrote about his adventures on the Road and his emails were easy to spot, always bold, italic and centered on the page. Joe shared one of the emails he received:
I stopped out at the cemetery last night on my way home from Las Vegas and did my usual clean-up work until well after dark.... ....I love that place after dark when there’s a full moon.... So peaceful.... ....It’s like time stands still for me when I’m out there....
Roland’s emails stopped for a while and then, sadly, both Joe and I received word that Roland had died unexpectedly. His family had found his correspondence and was kind enough to inform us of his untimely passing.
We are so very sad to hear this news. His love for Route 66, his compassion for those buried in a lonely graveyard in the Mojave, his hard work to give respect to ghosts he never knew, and his poignant descriptions of his time in the vanished town are not lost. Rest in peace, Roland.
Anza Borrego State Park and Overland Stagecoach Trail
March 7-8 • Trip Report By: Jerry & Dolly Dupree
Photos: Pete & Janet Austin, Julie & Bill Smith, Allan Wicker
The trip covered the area around Borrego Springs, which is a very nice small town west of the Salton Sea in the Anza Borrego Desert. There is so much to see and do in the area although we could only cover a small amount of it, and it required all of the time allotted. It was an enjoyable trip without a problem, leisurely pace, and no uncomfortable roads. Members met at Jerry and Dolly’s house and wound through backroads crossing the sea level contour and where the ancient sea level is plainly visible on the nearby mountains. We had perfect weather and no wind.
The members who attended were Jerry and Dolly Dupree, Frederick Rabb, Peter and Janet Austin, Bill and Julie Smith, Allan Wicker and his guest and former colleague, Adnon Aswad, Peter and Theres Browne. We were a lively group and several members of the party had researched many of the destinations online, which made it more interesting to have additional knowledge of the history and other information.
The first stop was Font’s Point, named after the navigator/cartographer and priest who went on the De Anza Expedition, which began in Sonora, Mexico through Alta California for three months and founded San Francisco. Font’s point overlooks the Borrego Badlands which were formed by sediments deposited from the Colorado River when its course flowed in this location. The land patterns were formed by water, followed by water and wind erosion. It is a spectacular view similar
to the Grand Canyon and Bryce National Park.
The trip continued to Christmas Circle, so named because one of the De Anza expedition soldier’s wives delivered the first non Indian baby in California on Christmas Day. The circle is a large roundabout with a park, shade trees, tables, and restrooms. We relaxed and enjoyed the park visit.
We passed several of the famous Borrego Springs metal sculptures of dinosaurs, horses, and a friendly dragon. We stopped to examine and photograph them and then continued to Coyote Canyon to follow the route of the De Anza expedition, which parallels the San Jacinto earthquake fault, visible by the abrupt uplift. There are springs created by water seeping through the fissure in the earth with the water disappearing back into the sand a short distance below the source. We headed back to town and checked in to our hotels before dinner. We had made a reservation for a group campsite in the State Park, but none of us were camping, so my deposit was forfeited, <sigh>.
We had dinner at the Palm Canyon Hotel and had plenty of time to mix and mingle with each other and discuss each of our destinations and learned more about each other.
We had reservations for breakfast in a nice cafe and then headed for the state park visitor’s center for a very informative and well done video about the Anza Borrego Desert and its habitat. We also bought books, maps, and souvenirs.
We headed for the Overland Trail Butterfield stagecoach road and to the Vallecito stage station. There were stage stations every 20 miles to change horses, rest the passengers, spend the night, or have a meal. The building is made of adobe and was restored and is located within a San Diego County Park and campground.
We turned around and backtracked to Box Canyon where the Mormon Battalion were forced to chisel the rock walls wide enough to allow the passage of their wagons and cannons. They were en route to join in the Mexican American war and fight in the biggest battle of the war in California. The American army was surrounded and besieged and Kit Carson managed to slip through the Mexican lines to get reinforcements from San Diego to win the battle.
Our final destination was Blair Valley, with a short hike around an Indian encampment or village where there is evidence of their presence with grind stones, cooking area, and pictographs.
This marked the end of the trip and members left to the shortest way back to their homes. We had members spread out as far as La Jolla, Claremont, Joshua Tree, Arizona, and the Coachella Valley.
“May your moccasins only leave happy tracks”.
This just in -
Always a delight to get a DE newsletter – especially one that highlights this group at its best, doing things for the folks out in the desert. Want to correct one small blooper – the so-called “bird” glyph outside Inscription Canyon was the logo of the ASA (Archaeological Survey Association). I know because I was the last director of that group, before we disbanded. I’m attaching a piece I wrote on the history of the ASA, as recently printed in the CVAS December newsletter. ~ Anne
Something to think about?
By Anne Q. Stoll
This is a true story about a man who loved rock art and archaeology and who believed in the power of legacy. This man was Charley Clayton Howe (1897–1987), a shopkeeper in Los Angeles by
day and an avid photographer and amateur archaeologist in his heart. Charley was one of the early volunteer members of the Archaeological Survey Association (ASA). He joined in 1948, just a year after the group’s founding at a pivotal meeting at the Southwest Museum in Highland Park in January, 1947. The big thinkers of the day had the idea to divvy up the state of California and archaeologically survey “everything” within its borders. This monumental task is of course still far from complete but the point is, at that time they genuinely believed it could be done. The field crew were to be drafted from the ranks of volunteers already known to the local institutions, some of whom had been collecting and bringing in “treasures” to museums for years.
Charley Howe was just the kind of volunteer they were looking for – he loved the outdoors, had the needed skills and possessed a strong desire to help. Thus in the late 1940s the ASA was born and soon a dedicated group was out nearly every weekend conducting archaeological reconnaissance of the southern half of the state. Early field leaders included Stuart Peck, Freddie Curtis, Charles Rozaire, Edwin Walker, William Wallace, Ruth DeEtte (“Dee”) Simpson and Ben E. McCown. Charley Howe served as the ASA’s official photographer, helping with surveys and excavations whenever he could. Between 1948 and 1963, when the ASA’s headquarters were located at the Southwest Museum, Howe photo-documented ASA’s work at over 78 sites. Toward the end of 1963, Dee Simpson and the San Bernardino County Museum took over and the ASA’s orientation shifted to recording
sites in the Mojave Desert. Charley Howe remained ASA photographer through 1972, and even served a term as organization president. When he retired, Charley transferred title to all of his negatives and images to the ASA, along with copyright, a very great gift. His photos were his legacy and he hoped they would prove useful someday.
Fast forward to the 1990s -- Charley and most of the original ASA crew had passed on. The party celebrating ASA’s 50th anniversary in 1997 was a very small event and at the last general meeting on October 26, 2002 only 19 members attended. This is how the conversation about legacy formally began for the ASA. Those of us who remained realized we had a big job ahead of us. The ASA had valuable assets, paintings, photographs, tapes, site records, manuscripts, organizational records, artifact collections, maps, Super 8 movies, and many books, gifts and bequests from former members -- boxes and boxes of stuff, all being stored for “the future.”
The work of sorting, selling, giving and finding the right home for everything took several years. Charley Howe’s images became the star of the ASA legacy show and finding them the ideal new home was perhaps our greatest success. In 2008 we formally presented the Charley Clayton Howe Photograph Collection to Cal. State San Bernardino John M. Pfau Library Special Collections. One of our board members, Rosalind Srivastava, catalogued and created a finding aid for the collection and oversaw the restoration of much of the film that had been improperly stored and damaged over the years. Most importantly, all the images were
Charley Howe photographed many sites in California and Nevada. These images are now about 50 years old. Some of the perhaps better known sites he photographed include Black Canyon, Inscription Canyon, Burro Flats, Painted Cave, Mutau “Meadows,” Little Lake, Grapevine Canyon, and Coso Hot Springs. But there are many smaller, lesser known wonders in the collection as well, along with people and excavation shots and the inevitable mystery items. Charley seems to have enjoyed photographing native people. In the 1960s in Lone Pine, California he documented a meeting between ASA and the elders and children of the local Paiute tribe. In 1956 and 1957, he went with camera to Baja California and later did a series with the Tarahumara in Copper Canyon, Mexico. Not all the images are good quality but I invite you to check them out. And perhaps you will be inspired to find a good home for all your great shots of our amazing deserts!
Desert Explorers at Large
Greetings! Grand Falls on the Navajo Nation is a unique spot to explore if you are ever near the Flagstaff, Arizona area in late February or the month of March. It is up the Leupp Road to the Reservation which is paved and then you travel about 10 miles NW on a fairly maintained dirt road to the Falls. They are chocolate in color and vary in flow capacity with the snowmelt/Spring rains and sometimes flow in July or August if the summer monsoons are abundant. Beautiful to view at the top (it is taller than Niagara Falls!) and interesting geology to examine if you take the short trail around the bottom. A very primitive area that takes a bit of examining (especially for Safety) as you make your way through the lava rocks and slippery areas. This is the Little Colorado River that flows over Grand Falls and through the Navajo Nation past Cameron into The Grand Canyon. ~ Julie Smith
Old Railroads of the West
Michael Vermette - KI6JFU
I’ve been fortunate to travel with several people who are railroad history buffs and they always have great stories to tell about the early days of railroading. While all I could see in front of me was some old track beds and the remains of
some trestles, their stories brought their history to life and painted a picture of the efforts to settle the American West.
As I listened to the stories, I could see that there were a lot of common elements between the railroad companies. It seemed as if every group of businessmen in the West were dead set on starting their own railroad and making money hand over fist. In fact, many did just that. Some of the big names in our country’s history owned railroads and made their fortunes that way. Some famous names I’m sure you’ll recognize were railroad developers. John D. Spreckels and the San Diego and Arizona Railway Company, Leland Stanford and the Central Pacific Railroad, Cornelius Vanderbilt and several eastern rail networks, and the list goes on and on.
The history of railroads in the U.S. was marked by extreme competition, cut-throat politics, and a patriotic belief that the nation’s destiny was to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The first rail network to develop in the U.S. was the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in about 1830. From the famous B&O, hundreds of railroads developed and are too numerous to list. Very quickly, railroad barons started consolidating small railroads into big railroads. In the process, some tracks were built up and some tracks were abandoned. Some tracks started in the middle of nowhere and ended in the middle of nowhere as civilization surged in unexpected directions. We see the result of that consolidation today and to trace the history of a particular railroad can be a challenge. I can’t begin to discuss all the famous names in this article, but there are some basic milestones in railroad history that are of interest to
those of us who go off-road and explore the desert.
In 1862, President Lincoln approved the Pacific Railway Act. The act authorized the federal government to financially back the construction of a transcontinental railroad. The dream of a transcontinental railroad was the cornerstone of a national policy called “Manifest Destiny”, which is basically the belief that the United States should occupy all of North America. Due to the Civil War, construction was delayed but by 1866, the Central Pacific Railroad started laying track east from Sacramento and the Union Pacific Railroad started laying track west from Omaha, Nebraska. It was a race of sorts to see which railroad company could lay the most miles of track before they joined up. While it is fun to think of railroad barons cheering their teams on, it was actually a significant financial benefit to lay each mile of track. The federal government paid the railroads $16,000 for each mile of track plus giving them generous land grants along the track. By the time they joined up at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1869, the Central Pacific had laid 690 miles of track and the Union Pacific had laid 1,087 miles of track.
Eventually, three other transcontinental links were in place by 1883: The Northern Pacific Railroad stretched from Lake Superior to Portland, Oregon; the Santa Fe extended from Atchison, Kansas, to Los Angeles, and the Southern Pacific connected Los Angeles with New Orleans, Louisiana. A fifth line, the Great Northern, was completed in 1893. Each of these companies received extensive grants of land, although only the first received government loans.
In the four years following the joining of the first transcontinental rail line, the length of track in the U.S. doubled to over 70,000 miles. By the turn of the century, virtually the entire country was accessible by rail, making a national economy possible for the first time -- and profits were huge! While federal assistance with money and land was vital to the expansion, it amounted to only 8% of the total track laid making private investments responsible for the overwhelming majority of railroad construction.
It was the land grants that eventually made the most money for the railroads and shaped the development of the western movement. At the same time that the federal government was giving away land to the homesteaders by means of the Homestead Act of 1862, the government was giving away huge sections of land to the railroad developers. The government’s goal was to encourage the railroads to construct their tracks where few people lived in order to help settle the country. For example, approximately 16% of Nebraska’s total land mass was given to various railroad companies, either by the federal government or by the state itself!
Along the major rail lines, companies such as Union Pacific and the Burlington were given every other square mile of land (called a section). This checkerboard of land extended back twenty miles on both sides of the track. This means that the railroads owned a total of twenty sections of land for each mile of road constructed! The accompanying map of Franklin County, Arkansas from 1893 is an example of just how much land was owned by the railroads.
On top of the official federal land grants, states and towns would often give the railroads free land, buildings, or other concessions in order to lure the railroads to route tracks for their benefit. The politics of where the tracks were laid was intense and often violent. The proximity of the railroad was often the make-or-break element in a town’s survival. Just like in the later years, the routing of a highway or freeway could make or break a city (remember Historic Route 66 and Amboy)?
The ideal plan for a railroad was to lay the track, get the land grants, get paid for cargo, promote development, and then sell the land. This proved very profitable for the railroad companies and they heavily promoted land opportunities to farmers and ranchers. Flyers in the east promised the sun, moon, and stars (and pre-fabricated houses) to anyone who wanted to buy passage to the west. Economic fads such as ‘dry land farming’ lured people to the desert to try growing just about anything. In fact, dry farming techniques were tried in the Mojave Desert in the Landfair Valley. Despite abundant unscrupulous speculation, many fortunes were made and the incredibly rapid growth of the West was made possible.
All in all, the government was well compensated for their investment of money and land. By opening up new markets for eastern goods, and connecting mineral and fertile farming land, it is estimated that by the end of World War II that rail companies returned over $1 billion dollars, or over 8 times the value of the lands to the economy. In terms of the western expansion, the principal commodity transported across the rails to California was people and a passenger could go
coast to coast in as little as six days. An important point often overlooked was that families could now accompany the workers with relative ease, forever changing the nature of the wild west.
Over time, the railroad barons and their railways grew by absorbing all the smaller railroads or by buying up their track and right-of-ways as they went broke. Some of the more notable local railroads left remnants behind that we see in our explorations. While there are too many to name, I’ll talk about about the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, one of my favorites and one many of you will recognize.
The Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad was started in 1905 and ran from the Santa Fe rails near Ludlow, CA north to Gold Center, NV near Tonopah. Side spurs ran to Beatty and Rhyolite in Nevada and spurs in Death Valley to the Lila C Mine. It was completed in 1907, merging with the Bullfrog Goldfield line and also the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad. It was originally intended to connect Las Vegas and Death Valley to Los Angeles but ran into competition problems with the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad. I’ve heard stories that the name Tonopah and Tidewater gave the competition the idea that the T&T’s grand plan was to run track all the way to the ocean and compete with the Los Angeles lines, who therefore did everything possible to block their way. As there were no other ‘tide waters’ in the desert, this story may very well be true. The T&T made money hauling minerals such as gold ore from Rhyolite but primarily by hauling borax from the mines in Death Valley and Boron. The portion of track that runs through Broadwell Dry Lake, just north of Ludlow, CA was abandoned in 1933
after major flooding. At that point, operations for the T&T were run out of Crucero, located just east of Afton Canyon. The flood of 1938 inundated the entire southern Mojave area and basically ended the future of the T&T. By 1940, the entire line was out of service, and in 1942 the rails and supporting hardware were scrapped over the period of a year to support the war effort during World War II.
If you’ve been to Afton Canyon near the western end of the Mojave Road, you’ve probably passed by Crucero, one of the ‘mystery’ towns you often run into. By mystery town, I mean a town that shows street layouts on the maps, but there is nothing there to indicate it ever existed. I found out that towns like Crucero are marked on the maps based on plans that were filed at some point with the county and they still persist today. You’ll see them on your GPS and some map atlases but they never really existed -- as we all know, the desert is a place of busted dreams. Of note, Crucero was the crossing place of the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad, now the Union Pacific. Remnants of the bridge crossing can still be seen.
For railroad history buffs, or just curious explorers, it is interesting to follow the track beds starting in Ludlow and heading north on Broadwell Dry Lake. Starting at the Dairy Queen in Ludlow, you can follow the elevated track bed across the dry lake, through the hills and into Crucero at the souther edge of the Afton Canyon watershed. From there, you’ll need to navigate west to find the nearest crossing for the U.P. tracks and work your way back east to Crucero on the north side of the tracks. You can follow the track bed intermittently up to the western edge of Soda Lake and still
see the elevated track bed in the sand dunes there. If you use a topo map, the track bed is still marked as it passes over the mountains heading towards Silver Lake, Alamagosa Valley, and Death Valley, where parts of it can still be reached. I haven’t followed the route beyond Soda Lake, but I have found parts of the track bed that still exist near Tonopah, NV. Little remains of the T&T’s terminus in Gold Center, NV except the foundations of a stamp mill and the remains of a cyanide plant (cyanide was used to leach gold from the ore).
Learning about the history of the des.ert is what keeps me going back to listen in the silence for the voices of the past.