2018 Trips (42)

Reports on trips taken in 2018.

Saturday, 15 December 2018 00:22

Desert Explorers Meeting Minutes

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Desert Explorers Meeting Minutes

September 29, 2018  Attending: Axel Heller, Bob & Sue Jaussaud, Ruth & Emmett Harder, Steve Marschke & Debbie Miller-Marschke, Lindsay Woods, Terry Ogden, Allan & Ding Wicker, Jerry Dupree, Neal & Marian Johns, Tracy Wood, Bob Jacoby, Jay Lawrence

Regrets Bill & Julie Smith

Meeting Opened 11:40 a.m.

Previous Minutes Approved.

Treasurer Reported by Bob Jacoby for Bill Smith. We’re solvent and in good shape. Current funds as of 9/25 are $4,727.

Newsletter Newsletter submissions are flowing in and much appreciated. Bumper stickers and DE business cards were distributed to everybody in attendance. Get yours at the Holiday Party or see Jay. You need to get them in person, since they get beat up terribly in the mail. We’ll make them available to every trip leader in the future so all attendees who want them can have them. They are free to DE subscribers. Our February meeting will have a software demo to show folks who are interested how the newsletter goes together. Also, anybody who would like to learn how should contact Jay to set up a hands-on session. It’s easy to get started and we could use an extra hand now and then for backup and to build a page once in a while. Several folks have already expressed interest in learning.

2019 Rondy Mignon is leading the planning, with Jerry Dupree and Bob Jacoby in the wings. Our site is the Clubhouse Meeting Room in Broadbent Park in Boulder City, Nevada. Dates are April 5-7, 2019. The site will accommodate 120 people and includes a kitchen, restroom, barbecue and chairs. Two campgrounds are nearby in the national park, plenty of hotel accommodations also. We will work to find a motel who will offer a Desert Explorers discount for Rondy attendees. Lake Mead National Park campground is also nearby. We will have a 

dinner speaker who will talk about the building of the dam. There are many trip opportunities in the area. One will be to the famous Walking Box Ranch between Nipton and Searchlight. Other possibilities are El Dorado Canyon, Black Canyon, Keyhole Canyon petroglyphs and a private mine tour at the Techatticup Mine. Details will follow as the date approaches.

Website Deb reported that the site is doing well and up-to-date.

Subscriber Guide Tabled.

Museum Deb reported that there have been several break-ins in August, money was stolen and the culprits arrested. Extra cameras have been installed for more protection for the site and museum workers. Mike Boltinghouse’s new book on Pre-Route 66 has been derailed until he can secure rights approval for the maps. He will be doing a presentation at the November MVRM meeting. Bob Jacoby suggested that we continue our MVRM work parties in the future, perhaps several times per year. The last one, headed up by Nelson Miller was a grand success and much appreciated by the museum. Plus, it was a good time! It was moved and seconded to give the work party leader a petty cash allowance for on-site necessities and hardware purchases. Unanimous approval.

Trips Jerry noted upcoming trips and is looking for more. Always more.

Upcoming trips:

  • • Jerry Dupree - San Andreas Fault, Living Desert & 1-2 nature preserves
  • • Fred Raab - San Diego/Imperial county area trip in the planning stages. No dates yet.
  • • Death Valley Area - Emmet Smith will follow up with Matt
  • • Route 66 - Axel pre-running, will report in November newsletter. 
    • • Back way to Panamint Valley on east side of Red Mountain (maybe) - Emmett Harder and company
    • • Talked about Fisher’s Landing day trip, jet boat upriver, historic sites, canoe back. Room for 25 people from Martinez Lake Jet Boat Tours. Info from Deb, Neal says “You’d better listen to my floozy!” so I guess we had better listen... Stay tuned.

    New Business Bob and Sue are researching the Route 66 closure near Danby. Reminded everybody that October 6th was Old Spanish Trail Days.

    Next meeting December 15th including our annual Yule Foolishness Gathering at Ding and Allan Wicker’s home.

    Adjourned: 1:00 p.m.   

Gettin’ My Kicks on Route 66 in Arizona

by Axel Heller

I pre-ran the proposed trip of Route 66 through Arizona in October, anticipating that it will be near the end of April as a DE trip, three to four days.

I have highlighted exits along I-40, for sights to see. Of course there are many more attractions of Route 66, where I followed as many alignments that I could locate. I-40 did not “pave” over Route 66, but followed it for a lot of the distance. Since everybody is in a hurry these days, they made a straighter road with less elevation gain/loss and FASTER (75 MPH). Business loops, that were 66 roadbeds, became the norm for many cities and they tried to capitalize on that. Alas, many towns became ghost towns, like Two Guns and Twin Arrows, even though there were off-ramps to them. Other towns were completely bypassed, like the fictitious town of Radiator Springs (Cars movie by Pixar), but I did find that particular town (or claimant to the title) in my journey. You’ll have to sign up for the trip to find it, with all of the old cars.

Oatman The Ghost Town that refused to die. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their first night of married bliss at the Durlin Hotel after being married in Kingman in March 1939. Today stores and burros are the main attractions.

Kingman exit 44-53 One of the best and longest segments of Route 66 (Arizona 66 now). Over 83 miles to Seligman (exit 123). On this stretch of highway, they have erected some “old” Burma Shave signs. There are many small towns along this road. You used to be able to get a special stamp “cancellation” on 

Valentine’s day from the town of Valentine. A stop at the Grand Canyon Caverns is well worth it. An hour long tour is available into the caverns, and you can actually spend the night inside.

Seligman exit 123 This town is designed for the traveler. Birthplace of the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona. Looking for a place to eat? Try the Roadkill Café.

Williams exit 161-165 Williams was the last town that was bypassed, on October 13, 1984. Very interesting town, with many museums and eatery places. Gateway to the Grand canyon, especially by railroad. I found an old bridge on post 1930 Route 66 with a tree growing on top of it! It was a nice gravel road to the town of Belmont (exit 185)

Flagstaff exit 191-204 Inside of Flagstaff , you travel on the Business Loop of I-40, the original Route 66 going through the town. The pre-1947 alignment will get you to Winona (exit 211)

Twin Arrows exit 219 Marking this exit are two large Arrows, inspired by Two Guns on Route 66. Remains are the arrows and a diner and trading post. It became a ghost town in 1995, due to I-40. Across the highway is the Twin Arrows Casino, operated by the Navajo Tribe.

Two Guns exit 230 This little town was developed near Diablo Canyon, as a construction/crew site for the Santa Fe/Atlantic to Pacific RR as they built the bridge across Diablo Canyon about three miles north of the “town” in 1880 or so. When the bridge site was surveyed, it was thought that the canyon was only 100 deep, but in reality it was nearly 250 feet, almost bankrupting the A&P building this bridge. Remains of some foundations can still be seen next to the current bridge.

Other history: A group of Apaches raided the local Navajos on a regular basis until 1878, when their hiding place was discovered. The Navajos built a fire at the entrance of the cave 

and shot anyone coming out, and hence became known as the “death cave”.

In 1907 the National Old Trails Highway was built and became a waypoint for travelers. By the twenties there was a zoo and a bridge across the canyon. Today a KOA campground sign and lots of stone buildings remains.

Meteor Crater exit 233 About 50,000 years ago, a meteor struck. Traveling at over 65 miles per SECOND, it entered the atmosphere, slowing down and burning up. Impact was estimated at 12 miles per second, creating a hole about 3/4 of a mile in diameter, and about 550 feet deep. Size of the rock? Estimated at 150 feet across with an explosion of about 10 Megatons. It was a very bad day for the wooly mammoths living in the area at the time.

The crater was utilized by NASA to train the Apollo astronauts of what to expect on the moon, for a debris field. One of the astronauts actually tore his suit in the crater, and a redesign was done, good thing it happened here instead of the moon.

Winslow exit 252-257 Business loop takes you down across on Route 66. The route is divided up into two one-way streets. East bound you will have to stop (2nd and Kinsley) and “Stand on the Corner” made famous by the Eagles (Take it Easy). Many gift shops and the Old Trails Museum in the area. The restored La Posada Hotel was a former Harvey House built in 1928.

Outside of town, they have built a monument dedicated to 9/11 with some steel from the twin towers.

Jack Rabbit exit 269 Excellent little store, with a giant rabbit in front (see last months edition of the newsletter). Good place to get some great stuff.

Holbrook exit 285-286: Business loop road. Many old places to explore. The Wigwam Motel is located here with displays of old cars. The 

Holbrook Visitor and Museum, located in the former courthouse.

Painted Desert/Petrified Forest exit 311 This is a National Monument and requires a National Parks & Federal Land Pass. There are two ways into the Monument – take 180 out of Holbrook or exit 311 from I-40. Landscape is AWESOME in colors. (There are actually two Visitor Centers, one at each end of the Monument.)

Over 65 Million years ago, trees fell into the riverbed and absorbed minerals, and now we find them after the hills have eroded & deposited them in the valley floors. The trees are harder than stone to cut and polish and very heavy.

Route 66 cuts through the Painted Desert area, the road was “destroyed” to prevent someone trying to travel on it. The only place to actually see the road is when you come across the old Studebaker frame that was abandoned.

Inside, about 2 miles north of I-40, is the restored 1924 Painted Desert Inn.

Houck exit 348 Can’t miss this, Fort Courage “Home of F-Troop”. It was basically a roadside attraction and trading post, and closed down about ten years ago. It is still “For Sale”.

Lupton exit 359 This is the last exit before entering New Mexico. Looking above the walls by the trading posts, you can see “animals” and a village on the hillside. On the south side of I-40, are the remains of several buildings along a five mile section of Route 66.

I found that every time I stopped  into a store, I came across a lot of history of Route 66 and a lot of local information. ~ Axel

Global 4-wheeling and Rock Art

By Anne & George Stoll

Just back (10-2018) from another rock art exploration in Brazil, this time involving some serious 4-wheeling that might bring a DE smile. It’s all Bob Jaussaud’s fault, actually – he’s the one that insisted we see Iguassu Falls in 2010, our first intro to this remarkable country. This time we made it into a few more remote spots in northeastern Brazil thanks to our English-speaking guide Filipe, a most amazing Brazilian many-time off-road rally driver, Sabiá, and a classic lady, a very dark green vintage turbo-diesel Land Rover Defender. 

Wish I had a buck for every guy that offered to buy this car as we traveled through the Brazilian countryside! Between the Defender and our white hairs and dark glasses, we had people staring at us everywhere, which made it all that much more fun. Sabiá and that Defender did quite well with the two-lane “highways” in the back country, passing huge trucks with ease. But what that pair could do off-road was the really fun part.

September 22 we were headed for a rock art site, Toca da Figura, up on the plateau country outside of the town of Morro do Chapéu, Bahia state, Brazil. Vegetation in the cerrado is quite sparse and it was a pretty hot day. There were six of us on the trip, George, me, Filipe, Sabiá, our local guide and Franco, “the Professor” of tourism in town, perched on the roof to video the whole crazy adventure. It was decided that the hike would be too long if we parked at the usual spot and after all, there “used to be a road” right to the site (sound familiar?). You know what’s coming.

Sabia shifted into rock-crawling low gear, no foot on the gas necessary, and leaned out of the door to steer. With our local guide out front, we went crossed a chasm or two and went over some pretty rough terrain, with the Professor clinging to the roof hooting and hollering and all of us inside laughing, cheering and dodging vegetation.

The local rancher didn’t seem too impressed, but we certainly were!

Made it in fine shape to the rock art and back. Caipirinhas at dinner were on us! Respectfully submitted, Anne and George Stoll

Friday, 14 December 2018 23:56

2018 - Trip Report - The Vermillion Cliffs

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The Vermillion Cliffs

By Mignon Slentz

Early October, Mal Roode, Chris Dulk (from Germany) and myself journeyed to Paria, Utah to explore the Grand Wash Overlook area. Rain the previous couple days and reports of slick dirt roads and high water crossings led us instead to the Vermillion Cliffs region off Houserock Road which runs between 89 in Utah and 89A in Arizona and      where you can access the well known “Wave” hike. The normally deep sandy roads had been compressed with the recent rain and were a delight to drive on. We camped at Pinnacle Valley, visited Big Pockets and discovered Ed Laws’ 1911 signature. Joe’s Ranch had several intact buildings and the two natural ponds nearby were full, making it an ideal setting. We hiked up a cliff to find foundations of Indian structures, a great view and good cell service. Other stops led us to pictographs on a rock wall, more ranches and additional signatures.

The whole area is made up of fantastic geological formations resembling a myriad of toadstools, hoodoos and other apparitions. Rain was forecast again and Chris’ Jeep was making noises so we scurried back to Paria for the last rainy night.  ~ Mignon  

Wednesday, 05 December 2018 23:48

2018 - Trip Report - 66 to St. Louis

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66 to St. Louis

“I drove 1100 miles just to see this!”

by Bob Jaussaud

We were at a roadside park in Catoosa, Oklahoma when we heard the comment above uttered by a Corvette driving man. This particular roadside park along “Old Route 66” is a historic swimming pond with a Blue Whale sitting in it. Both local kids and traveling kids used to frolic on the whale. Sue and I had actually come further than “Corvette Man” to see the “Blue Whale.” We had just driven over 1200 miles on the “Mother Road.” 

path of Old Route 66. That changed a boring drive into a trip of a lifetime. We love the Route 66 kitsch that emerged after World War II. Returning G.I.s had the travel itch and Route 66 was their premier route. They and their fellow travelers found homes along Route 66 and started businesses. To attract customers, they created fun the Interstate Highways bypassed true America. A lot of Route 66 glamor is now just memory, but traveling the old road on our way east, Sue and I could still catch glimpses of what it must have been. Hackberry, Ashfork, “Standin’ On A Corner”, Devil Dog Road, Two Guns, “Here It Is”, Jack Rabbit, Wigwam Motel, Painted Desert - all music to our ears and places along Route 66 in Arizona. One really special find was the Painted Desert Inn. Built in the 1920’s, it has had several eras, even one as a Harvey House. Today it is a museum and part of the Petrified Forest National Park.

In New Mexico Devil’s Cliff, El Rancho Hotel, Cubero, Los Lunas, Long Horn Ranch, Clines Corners, “Blue Hole”, Cuervo, and Glenrio marked our path along Route 66. The unique auto museum in Santa Rosa is well worth a stop. A really big highlight for us was a fun night at the “Blue Swallow Motel” in Tucumcari where we met Obie, Clara and many other wonderful folks traveling the road. If you are ever lucky enough to stay there, take time for the chicken fried steak at Del’s Restaurant.

Next morning we drove to the town of Glenrio, right at the border with Texas. We were just looking for a convenient tree when we discovered the recently abandoned “El Vaquero”, a southwestern pub with wonderful metal sculptures made from horseshoes mounted on the fenceposts. An ancient tractor named “Yellza” also resides there.

Continuing through Texas we visited Cap Rock Station, the Big Texan, “Cadillac Ranch”, Alanreed Texaco, the Groom Leaning Water Tower, Devil’s Rope, and Tower Station. The original Cadillac Ranch has become a “rattle can” (spray paint) mecca but we found a

It all started this September when Sue and I headed east from Needles toward South Carolina to visit family. Looking at the maps, we realized that we could pretty much follow the 

second and pristine “Cadillac Ranch” next to the Big Texan RV Park and, further on, a “VW Ranch” outside of Conway. Night time found us at the Route 66 Motel in Shamrock, a very pleasant place just down the street from the “U-Drop-Inn” and only 40 miles from Oklahoma.

Route 66 through Oklahoma requires more than a day. There are two really good museums to spend time in. The National Route 66 Museum is in Elk City and the Route 66 Museum is in Clinton. Sue and I only budgeted one day for Oklahoma so after enjoying the museums we had to make up time. We did stop at Lucille’s in Hydro but just drove past the Round Barn in Arcadia. When we reached the “Blue Whale” in Catoosa, though, we took time to stop and enjoy. Regretfully back on the road, dusk settled on us as we blew through Kansas. Someday it would be good to return and spend some time at Baxter Springs, Riverton and Galena.

Missouri Route 66 really, really impressed us. After our hurried night run through Kansas and Joplin, Boots Court in Carthage, our home for the night, was a very welcoming sight. We really enjoyed our stay there. Boots Court first opened during the Great Depression. It was built in 30’s streamline art deco style accented with black Carrara glass and green neon. Sisters Deborah Harvey and Priscilla Bledsaw saved the property from the wrecking ball in 2011 and have restored it to its heyday. The rooms are furnished as they were in 1948. There was a radio in our room, but no TV. Our room was the one Clark Gable stayed in while traveling with Al Menasco, an army buddy, just after the war.

Following Old Route 66 from Carthage to Saint Louis turned out to be one of our best days. All the little Missouri towns we passed through were charming. A highlight was Devil’s Elbow where we crossed the Big Piney River on the original iron bridge. 

Surprisingly, another big highlight was Meramec Caverns. That afternoon we followed Old 66 into Saint Louis stopped for a frozen custard at Ted Drewe’s. It is impossible to describe how good that custard was. In Saint Louis we finally reached the Mississippi River and walked out on the historic Route 66 “Chain of Rocks” Bridge. The bridge is a hiking and bike trail now, but we could feel the ghost vibrations of the old cars crossing. For our last night on Route 66 we splurged for a room at the “Hyatt Regency at the Arch” and it proved to be money well spent. The Saint Louis Arch was a truly special end for our Route 66 adventure. ~ Bob

Galapagos Island Adventure

August 23 - September 4, 2018

by Debbie Miller Marschke

When I was 7 years old, my Mom bought a set of Time Life books for our family. One of those books was titled “Evolution.” It was my favorite book in the set and I can still see the illustrative photos in my mind’s eye. The images never left me, and soon I had added the first entry to my personal “bucket list”: The Galapagos Islands. Pretty ambitious for a 7 year old!

Through Steve’s college alumni association with CalTech, we had the opportunity to visit the Galapagos Islands. We flew to Guayaquil, Ecuador first, and then flew another 725 miles west to the Galapagos where we boarded the National Geographic ship “Endeavor II.” We flew from Los Angeles to Miami, then Miami to Guayaquil. Yes, I know what you are now thinking ( I thought the same thing) but check the map – Ecuador is on the same time zone as the East Coast. It took about 13 hours travel time to get from Los Angeles to Guayaquil. Then there was another short flight from the mainland to the island of San Cristobal. Our ship was embarking from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. There were about 90 people (52 cabins) in our group, the ship was 240 feet long; very accommodating and nimble enough to maneuver in close to shore. This tour was not a “cruise” format, it was an “expedition” itinerary focused on the natural environment.

Let’s back up for a moment, because I have skipped some good stuff. We spent a full day exploring Guayaquil before we joined up with our travel group. Ecuador uses the American dollar, and we thought prices were almost like at home. Food was very cheap with the exception of the restaurants within hotels (we figured that out right away). Gasoline was priced at $1.48 gallon and diesel was $1.03! Since tourism is a main staple, we had no problems with communication or getting around. English is the second language so it was not too hard to find someone whocould assist us. I remembered enough of my High School Spanish to read most signs and do some simple communication when needed. In order to get an overview of the city, we first rode in the open top of a double decker tour bus on a loop around the city, and then hit the 

streets on foot. The bus did stop at Parque Bolivar, which is famous for the urban land iguanas that like to hang out in the park right in front of a historic cathedral (I thought that was funny). These iguanas are a different species than the ones on Galapagos, and they will probably never leave the park now that local parents bring the kiddies down there to tempt them with lettuce. There were dozens of them, real “lounge lizards”! The iguanas seemed pretty low key so you could get fairly close to check them out. We did witness a territorial squabble between two males, which ended with the winner doing a hilarious head-bobbing victory dance. We walked along the waterfront area known as El Malecon, and climbed the 444 steps in the oldest city neighborhood; the colorful Las Penas district. We were bombarded by a cacophony of barking street vendors, a remarkable amount of pedestrian foot traffic, and taxi drivers constantly beeping at us (checking if we were interested). Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest city, and it had the hustle & bustle to prove it.

Perhaps some of you may be wondering why a trip to the Galapagos is in the Desert Explorers newsletter? The Galapagos Archipelago are equatorial islands in the Pacific Ocean, but much of the landscape is desert, not tropical. The cold Humboldt ocean current and the warmer Panama Flow both shift around the islands depending on the cycles of the fickle El Niño and La Niña weather patterns. These islands do not receive much rainfall most of the time. It is a dramatic stage unlike any other place in this world. The harsh landscapes are gorgeous. The islands are volcanically formed (still active, just like Hawaii ). Most of the islands were arid desert ecosystems; a few islands had some significant elevations so the higher you go up, the more vegetation there was. Yes it was lush in some locations, but mostly desert scape. Most of the coastal areas had low chaparral-like plants and cactuses. Temperatures were around 60-70° most days, 

lightly breezy, puffy clouds or overcast, and some days it drizzled mist (called garua). We were grateful for the cloud cover because it was immediately apparent when the sun came out that the equatorial sun was brutal. We were there during the “dry season” which lasts nine months. Actually it felt a lot like the weather during winter at our house in Torrance, CA. Before the trip, I read books and watched videos, but I am here to testify that Galapagos is an indescribable and amazing place. You just need to go and experience it in person because words are not enough.

Upon arrival to the island of San Cristobal we checked on to the ship and returned to shore for an excursion. The islands did not have docks for a ship of this size, we had to use zodiac rafts as tenders every day. This is the policy to prevent the introduction of invasive species such a rats. San Cristobal is the location where Charles Darwin came ashore for the first time to collect his specimens for his later famous “origin of species” work. At age 26 Darwin had signed on as a naturalist under Captain Robert FitzRoy. His job was to assist in an exhaustive survey of the coast of South America and to procure rare specimens. He collected birds in a frenzy on the islands, which included many species of finches (which he neglected to label because he assumed that they were all the same species). When he returned to England, he was astonished to learn from ornithologist John Gould that there were 13 different varieties of collected finches. This launched alifetime of contemplation, study, and the authorship of a book that would change the world irreversibly.

We spent at least one hour a day snorkeling at each island. I think my favorite experience was snorkeling with the young sea lions. Our underwater photos were taken with our Nikon Coolpix camera which was waterproof (this is a GREAT pocket sized camera). The young sea lions were playful like little dogs, they would zoom all around us and sometimes put their 

faces right up to ours. The photos are not zoomed in, we were actually that close. It was hilarious and the most fun. We loved it. I was constantly stopping to expel water from my snorkel because I was laughing too much! We interacted with the sea lions on the beach too, but they were mostly just sleeping or nursing babies when they were on shore.

Every day our group was accompanied by educated Naturalists that would escort and educate us. The group size was reduced into smaller ones, usually from 10-15 people, and there was no way to predict which guide we would be with because it depended on who boarded our zodiac at the same time. The guides were all highly professional and delightfully personable, so every guide was a winner.

Day Two -The next island we visited was Española. Española is the oldest island in the archipelago. We were surprised to learn that scientific studies of some of the unique endemic animal species on the islands are millions of years older than all the existing islands. What? How? The islands are formed volcanically as the hot liquid magma leaks out from a hot spot in the tectonic plate (Nazca Plate) under the Pacific Ocean. Over millions of years and movement, new islands are being created as the plate is moving along. The oldest islands that had been formed have eroded away and disappeared under the ocean over millions of years, displacing the animals to the nearest islands that are still existing. Española did not have much elevation and was very dry. It’s uninhabited by humans. We took a zodiac, landed on shore on the rough lava shelves, and hiked around to see what lived there.

This was the place where the Waved Albatrosses live and breed. They are a threatened species of large seabird with a seven foot wingspan. They forage in the open seas for fish and squid, sometimes for several days in one trip, going out as far as 60 miles. They don’t build a nest, just lay a single egg on 

the rocky ground and move it around. Once the chick hatches, the parents may be gone for more than a day looking for food. They relocate the chick by sense of smell. We did see adult parents walking around looking for their chicks. The mated pair stays together until one of them dies. We were able to actually watch the mating dance going on which included bobbing up and down, and clacking beaks loudly (which sounded like hitting two hollow sticks of bamboo together).

We also saw the famous Galapagos Marine Iguanas. They were so numerous near the shoreline that we had to watch our steps closely because you literally would be stepping on them (I almost did a few times!) They hang out on the beaches and on jagged black lava (which they totally blend in with). A group of iguanas is called “a mess” (no joke). They eat algae (grows like sea lettuce) so they forage in the ocean underwater, diving down to submerged gardens. I noticed that they appeared to be sneezing a lot, but found out that they were actually expelling the high amounts of salt they’d ingested because high amounts of ingested salt is very toxic. Ugh, gross, watch out for the flying iguana snot! The iguanas were completely unaffected by our presence, I could simply walk up to them, bend down and take close up photos and they didn’t even flinch. Not tame, just totally unconcerned with humans. Every island was inhabited by the orange/red Sally Lightfoot crabs. These skittish crabs covered every beach and rocky coastal outcropping on the islands, in great numbers. Their presence gave our photos of the rocky coast splashes of vibrant color. There were armies of them everywhere, of various sizes.

We also saw the famed Blue Footed Boobies. They have a particularly funny mating dance that is a crack up to watch which involved fancy footwork and prancing around. They were my favorite! The feet and beak are a striking turquoise blue color. I could have purchased a 

souvenir t-shirt that bragged “I love Boobies”, but I thought better of it...

The most unbelievably amazing thing about the animals on these islands is that they are not afraid of humans, so we could get face-to-face with them. This seemed other-worldly to me, they knew no fear of us at all, they were utterly unconcerned. This almost brought me to tears daily because I kept thinking that this was the way the world was created, before humans ruined everything. I had no idea a place like this still existed. The government of Ecuador has done a terrific job in their conservation efforts, despite the fact that eventually tourists will love the Galapagos to death.

Day 3 - Our ship would sail overnight to the next island when we were sleeping. Some nights the sea was rough so there was quite a bit of rocking to and fro when we were trying to sleep. Neither Steve nor I were bothered with seasickness, but the ship’s purser was handing out Dramamine like after dinner mints.

The next day we took a zodiac to the island of Floreana. We would launch by zodiac from the rear of the ship. They had eight zodiacs on board and one glass-bottom boat for the non-snorkelers. The ship had cranes on a boom to load/ unload those zodiacs, it was interesting to watch and the crew was really skilled which made it look easy to do. On this day we had our first “wet landing” which meant that we would need to step out of the boat into calf-deep water in the surf and wade ashore.

Floreana is uninhabited by humans now (but it had a weird history in the 1930’s. If you are interested, rent “The Galapagos Affair: Satan came to Eden” on Netflix. A most bizarre tale). Our group hiked inland to a lagoon that was full of flamingos. They were not real close because they were feeding in the middle of the lagoon, straining the bottom looking for crustaceans. They look pretty goofy, but also have graceful mannerisms. I also interacted with a baby Booby that totally cracked me up. 

It was extremely difficult for me to resist touching him, and I could have totally just scooped him right up into my arms easily because he was so innocent and unthreatened by me. This happened every day, constantly. This is one of the reasons why Galapagos is so special.

Charles Darwin really did not have to work very hard to collect his specimens because sometimes he just walked around picking up birds like Easter Eggs! Sounds unlikely until you’ve been to Galapagos and then you will understand.

We hiked to a beach that was known as a sea turtle nesting area. We saw lots of tracks were the females had come up in the night to lay their eggs. We also saw little telltale tracks from hatched babies headed to the ocean (all the activity happens at night, we didn’t see them). This beach was also prolific with sting rays. They float around in the surf, so they taught us to walk and “do the stingray shuffle.” You have to shuffle your feet along the bottom as you walk in the water because the rays are half buried. Our group waded into the surf, shuffling, and disturbed a huge group of about 30 of them, all different sizes. They are not aggressive and only dangerous if you tread on them... but they looked pretty menacing!

We visited “Post Office Bay.” It is the oldest postal location in Ecuador. In the 1500s, whalers and sailors had erected a Post Office barrel here. In those days, ships would be at sea for many years before they returned to their home port. The standing policy was to look through all the mail that had been left in the barrel, and if there were any letters addressed to a port of destination for that particular ship, then that letter was taken out – and ultimately delivered by that ship. No postage necessary, it was an honor system. Seems that this system really did work back in those days, and the barrel is still here in operation today. Our group deposited some postcards for delivery, and we looked through the letters that had been left in 

the Postal barrel. Some were given the opportunity to go kayaking before breakfast, so we were paddling around by 6:30 a.m.

Day 4 - The Galapagos Islands consists of 13 major islands, and seven smaller islands. The most iconic animals are the Galapagos Tortoises, which presently occupy only four islands. Formerly, they occupied more islands but had become extinct when the islands started receiving human visitors. In the 1500s, buccaneers used to stop at the people in our group took some post cards to deliver in their hometown to the addressees. How fun is that?!

Snorkeling that afternoon had me playing with the sea lions again. I was never afraid of them, though we were warned that they are really just like puppies and will nip playfully once in a while. We also

encountered a sea turtle that was feeding, it was pretty neat to watch. The fish and coral were really fantastic.

Our days were non-stop activity. Right away, I started going to bed around 9 p.m. (which is way early, unheard of for me) because I wanted to get enough rest to be able to continue the rest of our week at the same pace. None of the activities were mandatory, but the activities were structured in a way that one could do all the activities available if desired and if you had the energy. We didn’t want to miss anything, so both of us were pretty zonked out by the end of the day. There was one morning that we Galapagos to load up on food and water. Giant tortoises were in high demand and were systematically exploited. Sailors would retrieve them from the islands backpacking them onto the beach, then placing them on the ships decks or hold where the tortoises would survive without food or water for up to a year. It was an easy source of fresh meat for long voyages, but resulted in an estimated loss of between 100,000 – 200,000 tortoises as history marched on (side note – read “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex”  

Nathaniel Philbrick. True history on which Herman Melville based his famed “Moby Dick.” This ordeal involved the Galapagos and the story is compelling). Over centuries, man also introduced invasive and harmful species such as rats and goats. Tortoises began to be harvested and relocated to zoos and collections worldwide. Today there are around 20,000 tortoises left on the Islands.

We visited the human inhabited Santa Cruz Island and the Charles Darwin Research Station where they are working very hard to help the tortoises raise young ones successfully. Baby hatchlings are kept in safe, secure facilities for five years.

Once they are established and old enough to have a good chance of survival, they are reintroduced into the wild. They can live over 100 years and can weigh up to 500 pounds. We were surprised to learn that they do not start breeding until age 35! Most of the tortoises we saw weighed 300 - 400 pounds. Another fun fact – when two males are “fighting” over a female, they compare neck sizes. The male tortoises face each other and both stretch their neck out as high as they can. The male that has the longest neck wins the battle. I included a photo demonstrating a dominant male strutting his stuff. I also included two photos from the Darwin Center’s exhibits. I was interested to see an example of what the inside of a tortoise’s shell looks like, the tortoises’ vertebrae is attached to the shell on the inside.

The oldest known tortoise that has been accurately documented lived to be 167 years old. We learned that it was conceivably possible that there are still some tortoises living in the wild that were alive when Charles Darwin was on the Islands. Think about that for a minute. WOW!

We traveled to a higher elevation of Santa Cruz Island to a ranching community where we were allowed to hike around and look for tortoises in the wild. On our way there, we counted 50 of 

them out in the fields. It was really odd because they were in pastures intermingled with ranching cattle – apparently this is a fairly common sight to see tortoises and cows together in the same field. What a weird sight that was! The highlands were lushly forested and grassy. The tortoises eat grass and are pretty much out in the open. We were able to walk up to many of them, they were so gentle and so amazing to watch. It was really hard to tear ourselves away from each one of them. Another fun fact -the tortoises like to soak in warm pools; we did find a pool with several tortoises having a spa day. It was raining a light mist that day but we had slickers, and the touring company provided high top rubber boots so we just took it in stride.

Day 5 - We spent a second day on the island of Santa Cruz, but this time on the other side of the island from where the tortoises are located. Santa Cruz is one of the larger islands so the landscape was diverse. Our ship sailed to the northwestern coast (uninhabited) where we spent some time hiking around checking out the famed endemic land iguanas. Actually we saw two different varieties living in an area called “Cerro Dragon” which translates as “Dragon Hill.” We probably walked about 2 miles inland, you can see our ship out in the distance in one of the photos. I included several photos of the landscape. The beaches had amazing white sand that transitioned into rugged black lava rock. Inland, the soils were orange due to mineral content. There were stark contrasts with the low greenery and the sparse trees (which were bare this time of year). There was an abundance of tall cacti spread amongst the trees, and that is what the land iguanas eat.

Upon making landfall, we encountered the marine iguanas. They are mostly black and reminded me of Godzilla. Charles Darwin called them “Imps of Darkness.” When they are not on the beaches diving for seaweed, they migrate inland and hang around in lagoons here. Their trackways can be seen in the lagoon shallows. 

They bask in the sun to warm up because the ocean water is pretty cold for them. We asked the Naturalists if the sea lions try to hunt them for food? No, but the sea lions do grab them by the tails and attempt to play with them in the water, which can result in the death of the iguana. (Sounds just like a puppy, right?)

Next we encountered the yellowish land iguanas. They live in burrows underground and, unlike the marine iguanas, are solitary. We actually saw several of them fighting over “real estate.” They mainly eat cactus fruit, so they spend their days waiting for the prickly pear fruit to fall on the ground.

The cactus fruit is covered with long sharp needles. We actually saw an iguana rolling a fruit around with his front claws, breaking the spines off so he could eat. Apparently they never do get all the spines off and it’s fairly common for iguanas to bleed from the mouth while they are feeding. Tough life!

This was a fairly surreal hike. The scenery and animals were other-worldly here. It was magically beautiful. No wonder Galapagos used to be called “The Enchanted Isles” by the buccaneers!

Day 6 – Bartlome. Our group went ashore on a smaller island just off the east coast of Santiago Island. Bartoleme is a volcanic moonscape with not many plants at all. It was a geologic treat with lots of examples of volcanic spatter cones and lava flows. There has not been much erosion of the features yet, everything looked freshly minted from the earth and very eerie. Nevertheless, Bartolme is picturesque and the views are stunning.

We went snorkeling twice on this day, and we had the best snorkeling experience so far because the full sun was out and the lighting was excellent. In the morning, we encountered an unbelievable collection of starfish. They were mostly sitting on the sandy bottom and there were hundreds of them. This dive was called a “deep water drift”; it was along a rocky 

shoreline that dropped directly into deep water, with a strong current. No shallows at all. The zodiacs dropped us off so we could swim with the flow of the current along the shoreline. Occasionally during our time in the water, I would stop and look at the cliffs above me. It was pretty funny because the sea lions and marine iguanas were sitting up there, looking down at us. Who is observing who? Later that afternoon our ship moved to Sombrero Chino, another islet near Santiago. It is a really weird experience to be sitting in the water, looking at a shoreline of black craggy lava with a forest of tall cacti growing everywhere. It’s even stranger to be snorkeling and look up from snorkeling underwater to see penguins looking down at you! Galapagos penguins are fairly small. We were lucky to catch them sunning themselves after feeding. What charming little guys they were! Steve swam above a black tipped reef shark, and I saw a moray eel and a group of puffer fish.

Day 7 – Genovesa. Our last day of the island expedition was spent on Genovesa, which is known for an overwhelming amount of bird life. Our ship sailed into Darwin’s Bay, which is a submerged volcanic caldera, so the ship was surrounded by land on three sides (our captain earned his wages that day). Immediately upon making a wet zodiac landing on the beach, we saw nesting birds literally everywhere. I was really fascinated by the young red footed boobies, which were occupying every tree and bush. Completely innocent and unafraid, these babies calmly regarded us while we stood less than a foot away. I did not need to use a zoom lens because I was standing right next to the birds. The boobies used the bushes as cover and protection from the frigate bird, which also nested in profusion here. We learned that frigate birds are just like pirates; they don’t hunt for their own food, rather, they steal it. The frigates chase the boobies over the ocean when they are returning from hunting and harass them until the boobies drop (or regurgitate) their 

meal. Then, in mid-air, the frigates catch the food. The boobies nest in the bushes and trees because the frigates won’t climb in between branches. The frigate birds had nests out in the open on the ground. Up on the rocks were nesting swallow tailed gulls, Nazca boobies, and red billed tropicbirds. It was an unbelievable amount of birds, completely unafraid of us. We also hiked up the cliffs to an open area, looking for the Galapagos owl. I can brag that I located one of the owls before our guide could spot it, which pretty much astonished the rest of the people in our group.

Our journey had reached its end, and it was pretty hard to say goodbye to the Enchanted Islands. The entire trip had exceeded our expectations, and did measure up to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Definitely unforgettable and worthwhile. We felt very blessed. We flew from Baltra to Quito for two days to explore that historic city. We met a very spry 75 year old man at the Basilica Voto de Nacional, who we hired as a guide. We followed him for five hours throughout the historic section of “Old Town” in Quito. He made sure we saw everything, from the famous landmarks to obscure details. He was a local resident, so he shepherded us behind the scenes in a few of the “fine arts” schools Old Town was awesome, there were so many buildings still in use from the 1500’s, 1600, 1700’s and 1800’s. Steve reminded me that Quito had never experienced any world wars, and not many natural disasters and thus, much of the architectural history is still intact. However, the area is surrounded by dormant but active volcanoes; potentially all this history could get wiped out by a catastrophic eruption. We had a wonderful time, learned a great deal, and maximized every available moment we had in this wonderful place! ~ Deb

Wednesday, 05 December 2018 23:05

2018 - Trip Report - San Bernardino Mountains

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San Bernardino Mountains

September 15, 2018 Leaders: Danny & Norma Siler

On Saturday, Sept 15 we led a trip to the San Bernardino Mountains. It was a beautiful day. We had eight vehicles. The group was Pete and Janet Austin with Beth Mika, Axel Heller, Gary Hilder and Don Zarzah, Nelson Miller, Bob Peltzman and Bonni, B.J. and Monica Keeling with son Jarred and Tracy Wood.

Our meet-up location was in Running Springs. Then we drove the highway to Fawnskin to pick up a couple more vehicles, then drove to 2N09 -Polique Canyon Road which began our dirt road exploration.

We spent the day traveling in the area north of Big Bear Lake. We had ten or twelve points of interest to stop and visit. These included walking on the Pacific Crest Trail for a panoramic view of Holcomb Valley, an occasional abandoned gold mine, a couple of lonely graves, an occasional foundation ruins of buildings for the former towns of Belleville and Doble, the Hitchcock Ranch with quite a number of horses grazing in the meadow, the 1930s Van Dusen cabin, which is still standing, a small dam built to create a pond possibly for cattle or horses. We drove through a fairly large burn area from a 2017 fire,stopped at the remains of the head-frame of the Lucky Baldwin Mine, and visited a small cemetery of about 20 graves with newly painted crosses.

Everyone had a very good time and after thank yous and goodbyes near Baldwin Lake, we went our separate ways about 4:00 p.m. ~ Danny

Tuesday, 04 December 2018 00:26

2018 - Trip Report - West Salt Lake Desert

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Desert Explorers at Large

West Salt Lake Desert

I have now been on two very enjoyable and rewarding tours through the West Salt Lake desert in Utah and would suggest Desert Explorers consider a trip a little further afield than the Mojave.

My first auto trip left Ely, NV on Alternate US 93 and turned east into the desert just west of Dutch Mountain in UT. The views from that pass, the small desert community of Callao, the open desert, Simpson’s Spring, Fish Springs N.W.R., and Dugway Pass are highlights of the route that once was used by pioneers on the Oregon Trial, the Overland Stage, the Pony Express and the Lincoln Highway. There are plenty of markers in the desert to commemorate historic sites.

The second trip started near American Fork at Camp Floyd Park (from the 1858-59 Mormon War) and traversed the desert to Fish Springs. We were exploring Oregon Trail sites and our group actually cemented in a T-rail marking part 

of the trail. There are still many trail ruts and swales to see.

Some routes skirt Dugway Proving Ground with its “Lethal Force Authorized” signs. We were able to actually tour on the grounds but it contains the U.S.’s inventory of chemical weapons, drone testing facilities, weapons firing ranges, etc. and is difficult to get passes to see.

I am a new member and look forward to the time I may actually join a tour in the Mojave beyond my enchanting forays along the original U.S. Route 66 alignment and into Death Valley; judging from the newsletter there are beautiful desert stretches to explore and wonderful friends I have not met yet.

Jerry Peppers

Emigrant Trails with Bob n Sue

Like most of us, Sue and I enjoy finding and following old trails. There are many of them to explore and each emigrant trail across our beautiful nation has its own individual story. Their very names inspire a curiosity and wanderlust in us. Think about the Santa Fe or the Cimarron, the Pony Express,the Oregon, Mormon, Applegate, Platte or Old Spanish Trail. We can follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, Hastings, Bozeman, Goodale, Kearny, Nobles or Carson. We can try and imagine the obstacles endured on the Donner Trail, or the Cherokee Trail, or the Trail of Tears. We can revisit the not so distant past on Old National Trails, Route 66 or the Lincoln Highway. We have such a great history to experience on our emigrant trails.

To celebrate our 50th Anniversary in July, Sue and I took a road trip. This time instead of traveling and sleeping in a 1959 Ford panel truck. We had our comfortable car and stayed in hotels. Our route went through parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Utah. We discovered that we were almost 

always crossing or following old emigrant trails. We visited Fort Union in New Mexico where the Santa Fe and Cimarron Trails merge. The California Trail, Mormon Trail, Oregon Trail and the Pony Express Trail follow the Platte River through Nebraska and Wyoming, as we did. The Bozeman Trail and Lewis & Clark followed the Yellowstone River through Montana. Traveling along the old trails we saw Chimney Rock and Devils Tower. We hiked to the very spot that William Clark stood when he carved his signature in Pompey’s Pillar in Montana. We drove the 1935 Civilian Conservation Corps road to the top of Scotts Bluff in Nebraska. We hiked to early inscriptions at Register Cliff and also at Independence Rock, both landmarks along the Emigrant Trail in Wyoming. We saw where Custer’s trail ended at the Little Big Horn.

Along our route, we enjoyed seeing old billboards on Route 66 in New Mexico, historic Fort Laramie in Wyoming and driving beautiful “Road to the Sun” at Glacier Park in Montana. In Yellowstone Park we visited historic lodges including Yellowstone Lodge, Lake Lodge, Jefferson Lodge and Old Faithful Lodge. At Mammoth Lodge, Nelson and Mary Miller met us early one morning and took us to the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone to see wildlife on animal trails. What a great day that was!

Our personal trail finally led us toward home, but one  last glorious night was spent at the North Rim of the  Grand Canyon overlooking John Wesley Powell’s “trail,”  the Colorado River. ~ Bob

Tuesday, 04 December 2018 00:10

2018 - Trip Report- Redwood Exploratory

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Redwoods Exploratory

August 24-26, 2018 Leader: Nelson Miller

We had nine vehicles and 13 people for a beautiful trip in the Sequoias. There were Nelson & Ellen Miller, Mignon Slentz, Dave Burdick, Glenn Shaw, Janet & Peter Austin. Bob & Sue Jaussaud, David Hess, Barbie & Larry Tidball, and Stephen Mersman. Thanks to Bob and Sue for doing sweep all weekend, they did a great job. It was a nice relief from the heat of the desert, since we were generally between 5,000 and 7,000 feet and it was actually in the 30’s when we got up in the morning. It was a fun group and we all enjoyed the sequoias. I find being in the big trees so peaceful and relaxing. Larry Tidball brought along a couple of books, Sequoia Groves and The 150 Largest Trees, which added immeasurably to our experience.

We started with a short hike to the Alonzo Stagg tree, which is on private property, and the sign said was the fifth largest sequoia in mass. However, Larry’s book listed it as only the sixth largest. One of Larry’s books also pointed us to the largest backyard tree and “the window tree” in somebody’s front yard as we drove back out through a beautiful subdivision right in the middle of sequoia grove.

As I was concerned about finding a camping area for this large a group, we headed for camp and wound up in Upper Peppermint disbursed camping area. We arrived just after 4:00 p.m.and started right in on Happy Hour. Janet and Peter stayed in a B and B just a couple of miles away, which they reported as interesting, but nice and comfortable. The disbursed camping area had just re-opened after being closed for overuse. The ranger had told me that volunteers had pulled out 7 large dumpsters of trash from this area. That is really sad, but it already had a lot of toilet paper and diapers scattered about. It had signs warning that the area would be permanently closed if the public 

did not keep it clean, but apparently to no avail. Maybe the signs needed to be in Spanish too?

Saturday morning, we headed for more sequoia groves, but first stopped at Dome Rock, another short hike. There is a beautiful view from here, but Saturday was pretty smoky so the view was limited. Again, Larry’s books were very informative about the groves. The maps show the Red Hill and Peyrone Groves as accessible, but when we arrived at the turn-offs, the roads were impassable. Too bad since they were listed as having “museum-quality trees,” an interesting description, but tantalizing. Larry has a goal of visiting all the groves, so maybe I can return with him and hike into these groves. It appears both are only a half mile to a mile in, but might entail bushwhacking.

We crossed the corner of the Tule River Indian Reservation, which has parts of several groves, including the Red Hill, Peyrone, and Black Mountain groves. There were some giant trees just as we exited the reservation. We drove on through the Black Mountain Grove, which encompasses over 500 trees extending over 2,500 acres (about 3 square miles). Most of this area was burned last year, so this was an interesting study. A few of the sequoias had been scorched nearly to their tops from adjacent trees, but the sequoias look like they will all survive. Larry’s book led us to the Black Mountain Beauty, which indeed was an incredible tree. This was another short hike since the road ended before we got to the tree. Then back to Upper Peppermint disbursed camping area for Happy Hour again, although different site this time

Sunday morning we headed south and stopped at Noble Young Creek Falls. This was another short, but very steep hike. We owe Alan Wicker a thank you for this, since he got the information about this from a ranger six years ago when we took a trip here last time. We were surprised there was still a reasonable amount of water in these falls. After the falls, we continued south to the Trail of 100 giants. 

Luckily, we beat the crowds and so had a nice walk through this grove. There were actually over 120 sequoias greater than 10 feet in diameter and over 700 other sequoias in this grove. This is a great grove, but the beauty of the other groves is that we were virtually the only ones there.

We didn’t make it to the Freeman Grove, which was one of my goals. However, the road into this grove was blocked by downed trees. ~ Nelson

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