Reports on trips taken in 2020.
Death at Danby
By Steve Reyes
Driving east past the “ROAD CLOSED TO THRU” traffic signs on Route 66 casual visitors pass places forgotten by time. Chambless, Cadiz Summit, and then Danby. In Danby, a few buildings and residents remain. The town was situated in three places during its history based on the needs of the railroad, mining and the Mother Road (Route 66). Sitting in the midst of one of these locations are the remains of three distinct graves. History tells us there are others buried nearby which have been reclaimed by the desert. For now, three homemade wood crosses hold vigil over forgotten souls. Yet, the question remains as to who is buried in the desert? A handful of articles from the Daily-Times Index newspaper published in San Bernardino from 1898 and 1998 paint a snapshot of life and death in Danby, California.
On December 28, 1898, a story buried on page five of eight of the Daily-Times Index and Evening Transcript reads “That Smallpox Scare – Hackberry, Ariz., Bagdad and Danby the Afflicted Points.” A Doctor Mackechnie was sent to Danby by County Health Officer Rene to investigate the matter.1” In 1898, smallpox was still a deadly disease and according to the Center for Disease Control Website three out of every ten people died after being infected. Smallpox was not eradicated from North America until 1952.2 It appeared the Sante Fe Railroad was so concerned it sent orders to San Bernardino asking doctors be sent to the camps to care for the sick men. The author went on to quote the below article from the Los Angeles Times.
The initial reports published by the Daily-Times Index painted a stark picture opposed to what was printed three days later. The page one article reads “Only One Man has Smallpox-At Danby Station and He is
Isolated and Is Recovering Now.” Evidently, J. H. West of Needles went to “Smallpox Country” and returned overland to report “the scare was greatly overrated.” Although overrated it was clear that smallpox was a feared ailment.3
The later edition printed on December 31st paints a humorous and most likely realistic timeline of events. The article leads with “Was Frightened Out – Dr. Mackechnie Was Afraid of the Smallpox.” Evidently, County Health Officer Rene received word of a potential smallpox outbreak and was allegedly tending to a fatally ill patient. As a result, Rene “deputized”
Dr. Machechnie and ordered him to travel to Danby and determine if there was in fact an infected patient. If the patient was infected he was to be quarantined. The following is an excerpt as described:
Soon after Supervisor West arrived at Danby and found the doctor had fled the scene. Supervisor West telegraphed Barstow and asked for Health Officer Renshaw to come to Danby. Renshaw determined only one person was sick and had a mild case of smallpox. Supervisor West and Health Officer Renshaw then sequestered the patient and paid a local to enforce the quarantine.4
By January 14, 1899 the public health emergency and panic at Danby subsided. The last story written about Danby and smallpox is a short paragraph on page
seven. There is no mention of the patient’s name, age or ethnicity. Did he have a wife, child or family? The author only writes the patient died at Danby and his effects and the tent where he “staid” was burned.5 Most likely he didn’t own the tent and his effects did not amount to much. He was probably one of the “professional tramps” or perhaps a “wandering Mexican.” All that mattered was the threat of smallpox was over. It is impossible to argue without a doubt the remains beneath one of the wooden crosses at Danby is smallpox infected patient who died in the desert. It is plausible to believe a death by an incurable infectious disease would necessitate immediate burial close to ones death bed.
1 The Daily Times-Index and Evening Transcript, San Bernardino, That Smallpox Scare, December 28, 1989, page 5.
2 Author Unknown, History of Smallpox, Center for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov/smallpox/history/history.html, Accessed March 30, 2020
3 Unknown Author, The Daily Times-Index and Evening Transcript, That Smallpox Scare, December 31, 1898, page 1.
4 Ibid, page 8
5 Unknown Author, The Daily Times-Index and Evening Transcript, The
Small Pox Patient at Danby Died Yesterday, January 9, 1899, page 1.
Images of the Sahara Desert, Libya
By Joe de Kehoe
I have been spending these winter months watching it snow and waiting for the high passes to be clear of snowdrifts so I can get back out exploring some of the back roads, ghost towns and abandoned mining
camps sprinkled around Colorado – all the while being envious of the 75° temps you all have been enjoying in California. I decided to spend this down time getting all of my photographs properly organized using Adobe Lightroom software. In the process I came across photos I had taken in Libya in the late 1970s and wanted to share these.
I was concerned that the Sahara was getting a little too far afield, but after all we are the Desert Explorers, and Jay assured me that it was ok – so blame Jay! My goal was to illustrate as best I could, the wide variation in topography in the Libyan Desert. I have always thought that deserts have a beauty all their own, and certainly the Libyan Desert rates pretty high on my list. The hard part in doing this presentation was in picking just a few photos as representative illustrations, but I think (hope) you’ll get the idea.
I was a geologist for Mobil Oil in Libya in the 1970s, and while I was there, I was busy working on several oil drilling rigs and therefore had only limited time to explore. My job required me to drive to the oil fields and drilling rigs at remote sites in the Sahara, and so I was able to see a lot of the desert that few Westerners get to see. My area covered Libya, southern Tunisia, Algeria and southern Morocco, but was mostly centered on Libya.
I would love to go back and explore some of these areas now in more detail, but of course, given the current political chaos in Libya, that would be nonsense. It is a shame too, because there are magnificent Roman ruins in several areas along the Mediterranean coast of Libya that look like the Romans left yesterday. With 1,000+ miles of beaches along the Mediterranean coastline I feel that Libya could make as much money on tourism as they do on oil revenue,but unfortunately Libya’s Islamic restrictions do not lend themselves to developing a viable tourist industry.
The captions for the photos include geographic coordinates, formatted so that they can be copied and pasted into Google Earth for the location of where the photos were taken. These photos were originally taken as 35mm slides, and they sat in a cardboard box for 40+ years and have specks of dust here and there. Unfortunately, too, the color on some of the slides faded over time. My apologies. Because visiting the area is out of the question, my goal here is just to provide a glimpse of the Libyan part of the Sahara Desert. If the political situation there ever stabilizes however, I’d be happy to lead a field trip.
It was good looking at these pictures during the cold months in Colorado because even now I can recall how blazing hot it was out there, and my Chevy truck did not have A/C. ~ Joe
Huell Howser’s Video Legacy “That’s Amazing”
by Rebecca Friedman
It’s been eight years since Huell Howser, the likeable public television host with a genuine sense of wonder and Tennessee twang, died in January 2013 at age 67. I decided to update the article that I wrote for the DE Newsletter back then. Since we’re mostly relegated to being “armchair travelers” these days, I encourage you to view some of his video archives at the website shown below.
For 30 years, Huell traveled the state to share the history, natural wonders, and amazing people of California. I used to join my parents in watching him on TV, starting with his Videolog programs. Later I introduced his California’s Gold, Road Trip, California Golden Parks, and other series to my own family (Leonard and Hannah). We were big fans. Years ago, I caught a glimpse of him in person at a café in Los Angeles. And we got to meet Luis Fuerte, his longtime cameraman from 1990-2001, when we went to the 2014 opening of the California’s Gold Exhibit and Huell Howser Archives at Chapman University. I remember Huell often proclaiming, “Louie, take a look at this!” Luis autographed a special edition AAA map for the Desert Explorers, which Craig Baker purchased at our silent auction that year. I saw that eBay is offering that guide map (unsigned) for $25.
Hundreds of episodes of Huell’s California’s Gold and other series have been digitized and made available for free viewing online on the Chapman University website (http://www.HuellHowserArchive.com). Huell even featured Bill “Short Fuse” Mann and sites in the Lucerne Valley on episode #1402 of his Visiting series. Below is a partial list of episodes where Huell visited places that Desert Explorers have also been. To view one, just type the title in the “Search” box on the website. There is also an interactive California’s Gold Map that makes it easy to find episode numbers. Or, you can browse the episode index at https://blogs.chapman.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2017/03/Episode-List-1.pdf. Any of Huell’s episodes are worthy of your viewing.
All these episodes are California’s Gold unless noted:
Wee Thump Joshuas
by Bob Jaussaud
Sue is addicted to Facebook. Every morning she turns on her iPhone and opens Facebook to learn what has been happening with our friends and the world in general. Facebook has learned that Sue is interested in all things desert and appropriately on a recent morning it included a blurb about the relatively new wilderness area, Wee Thump, and the giant Joshua Trees found there. We knew we had to go ﬁnd them. So, with short notice and on the last day of 2020 we met Mignon and Robin in Searchlight and headed to Wee Thump in search of the giant Joshuas …and, thanks to Robin, to enjoy some ﬁne wine and hors d’oeuvres on the desert
Wee Thump means “ancient ones” in the Paiute language and it is the name given to a relatively new (2002) wilderness area in Nevada located a few miles west of Searchlight and just north of Hwy 164. The Wee Thump Wilderness was set aside to protect an ancient forest of Joshua Trees, some as old as 900 plus years. Joshua trees grow as little as 1/2 inch per year and some of them in the Wee Thump Wilderness are over 30 feet high.
The history and evolution of the Joshua Tree is truly unique. John C. Fremont described Joshua trees as “The most repulsive tree in the Vegetable Kingdom.” Indeed, they do kind of look like an agave on steroids. Early Mormons thought they saw the prophet Joshua’s silhouette, or perhaps his beard, in the tree. In fact, it is likely the Mormons were the ﬁrst to name the plant “the Joshua.” Before that (in the 1880’s) it was known as
Yucca Palm” (Yes, that’s where the city of Palmdale gets its name). Other references to the plant include“palmyra cactus”, “cabbage tree”, “gray pilgrims”, “tree yucca”, “desert dagger” and more correctly the “Yucca brevifolia.”
Fortunately, on that last cold morning of 2020 we were able to ﬁnd giant Joshua Trees. In fact, lots of Joshua Trees of all sizes. They were not repulsive but quite beautiful and, as Sue reminded us, have a very unique relationship with the Yucca Moth. The Joshua Tree shares an obligate mutualism (symbiotic relationship) with the Yucca Moth. It seems this moth has evolved a unique mouthpiece that enables it to efﬁciently extract and hold pollen from the tree ﬂowers. With the gathered pollen it ﬂies to another Joshua ﬂower and uses its uniquely evolved ovipositor (rear end) to insert its eggs into the seed pack of the bloom. Then it pollinates the bloom so the seeds will grow and feed the moth’s baby caterpillars when they hatch. The caterpillars don’t eat all the seeds, so the Joshua Tree has pollinated seeds left over to reproduce with. Its a win-win for the moth and the tree. What’s really interesting is that Joshua Trees do not have nectar, so the moths are doing this specifically to pollinate the trees. None less than Charles Darwin wrote that this was the “most wonderful case of fertilization ever published.” Even
more amazing is that now two distinct species of Joshua Trees have been identiﬁed and two distinct species of Yucca Moth have evolved to uniquely service each species.
Unfortunately, the future for this evolutionary miracle is threatened by climate change and other man made disasters such as the Cima Dome Fire. Cameron Barrows, an ecologist at UC Riverside, feels the Mojave Desert could lose up to 90 percent of its Joshua Trees before the end of the century. Tall mature trees do not necessarily show how healthy a Joshua Tree forest is.
It is the little juveniles that indicate the species is healthy and replacing itself. And, thankfully, we did ﬁnd some juveniles when we visited Wee Thump. So hopefully, if man can keep his mitts off it, that beautiful forest will survive for at least another 900 years. ~ Joeso
Bonanza Springs by Steve Reyes
On a recent Sunday afternoon, my wife and I decided to explore the Needles to Ludlow Truck Trail (NS203) which runs east to west from Kelbaker Road. The intended stopping point was Bonanza Springs in the Clipper Mountains which is located a few miles east of Essex. When we first arrived at the spring we were amazed to see water in the desert! The water was clear and feeding some vegetation surrounding the springs. I first read about the springs in Joe De Kehoe’s book The Silence and the Sun. I learned the spring is part of the Lower Fenner Valley and played a role in the service of the Santa Fe Railroad. Prior to 1901 water from the spring was piped via 4” cast iron pipe to Danby to provide water for the train’s steam engine. The spring was once called home to people and the significance of the spring continues today.
According to the Bureau of Land Management’s website the Bonanza Springs Watchable Wildlife Area “Is one of the few natural watering areas for wildlife within the Mojave Desert. It is tucked into a beautiful, small canyon of yellow and white limestone. Visitors are asked to minimize their stays near the water and to use the adjacent viewing areas,
which have picnic tables and fire pits. Dispersed camping accommodations are available downstream for larger groups.” The area was completely devoid of trash and it did not appear anyone had visited in quite awhile.
According to an article appearing in the Los Angeles Times dated August 9, 1966 there were three people living at Bonanza Springs. There was a Jack Copley also known as “Desert Fats”who was attempting to raise catfish and bluegills in ponds. He told the reporter “Surprised to see water in the middle of all this dryness, ain’t you” as he threw horse meat to the fish. The ponds were fed by the springs and were home to hundreds of the fish. It seemed “Desert Fats” was planning on opening an “oasis in the middle of the Sahara.” Evidently the BLM stepped in and “Desert Fats,” and his business venture ended with him being told “Uh-Uh-No soap.”
“Desert Fats” claimed to have lived at Bonanza Springs for fifteen years and “Never made a dime out of the desert but I aint quit trying.” “Desert Fats” even attempted to raise frogs for a time. “Frog legs bring in good money. God, a pair runs $5 in a fancy restaurant. Just when the frogs were getting nice and fat wildcats and hawks wiped them out.” Sometimes the population at Bonanza Springs included Sam Mellos who split his time in Los Angeles. Al Stangberg who at the time of the article was vacationing at Lake Tahoe. At one time there was a fourth person
living at the springs by the name of “Sparky.” One day “Sparky” ventured out into the desert after the sun “got to him” and his remains were found six months later.
In 2008, Joe de Kehoe interviewed Clarence Chambers in preparation for his book. During that interview Clarence explained how his father came to reside at the springs. Clarence Chambers has been a long time resident of Twentynine Palms / Wonder Valley and has drilled the majority of the wells in the area. In 1948 his father, Philip Chambers, got together with a friend and spent forty five years searching for the “Lost Dutch Oven” mine. They began their search for the mine camping at an old stone cabin which Clarence refers to as Tom Schofield’s cabin. In the 1960s he moved to Bonanza Springs because of the access to water. According to Clarence, his father Philip piped water approximately a mile and a half to two miles to his residence. Over the years Philip made several mining claims in the area and established a mill site in search of gold. Philip was married to Ellen Faye Chambers who worked at Amboy and the Cadiz store. They established a home at the springs and Clarence stayed until he was forced out by the BLM in 1989.
During the interview, Clarence made reference to an interview Ellen Chambers had with Huell Howser while he explored the desert and made stops in Wonder Valley and Amboy. The interview can be found on the Chapman University video archive.
According to the Needles Desert Star newspaper, the BLM partnered with members from the community in 1999, 2004 and 2008 to remove non-native plants at the springs. Today Bonanza Springs is a quiet and remote day use only area with picnic benches and fenced in parking areas. The access road from Route 66 is almost impassable as it requires a four wheel drive vehicle which is washed out in several areas. All that remains are concrete slabs where people once lived. The springs offer a panoramic view of Route 66 / National Trails Highway, Danby, and the Sante Fe Railroad. The brief history of Bonanza Springs cannot be complete without one mention of its relation to the Cadiz water project. In 2019, there was a scientific investigation to determine if the Cadiz Water Project would impact the springs. ~ Steve
Adventure in the Sahara Desert
by Nancy Maclean
My quest for exploring the world’s deserts lead me to the Sahara, while on our adventure in Morocco. It was very much like I have imagined it, and the way I saw it portrayed in the movies. Stark, arid land, fine sand, contoured sand dunes, hardly a sign of any life; except for a palm tree here and there, signifying a water source below, few scattered nomad tents and an occasional walled off Kasbah, tell us that there is a life in the Sahara desert.
We met our drivers with their little 4x4 Toyota Prados in the town of Erfoud at the edge of the desert.
They loaded our luggage and we took off for our camp, deep in the Sahara Desert. Once off the paved road, we were driving on a good graded road, but the scenery was much different from what we are accustomed to in our Southwest deserts. Camel trains along the road were carrying supplies to the remote camps and solitary nomad families, living in this inhospitable land.
Along the way, we passed many nomadic tents, and the empty adobe structures, that any nomadic family can occupy if they want to stay in the area for a while. When they are ready to move, they will leave the place empty for the next family that may come along and need a place to stay. They will usually have their tent set up right next to the adobe.
As we were passing by, the man, head of the family waved to us to come and visit with them. In a few minutes, our little group was sitting comfortably under the tent, on the rug covered ground enjoying hot brewed mint tea and discussing the ways of the modest nomadic life in the Sahara desert.
The man had no education, and his teenage son was not going to school. He believed that he is doing fine without any education, and his son will do OK too.
Next we saw the lady of the house carrying a covered tray on her head, walking to the nearby adobe structure, where she started a small fire in an adobe oven. She placed a thin round of dough into the oven, and within minutes, she took out a beautiful golden brown round of fresh flat bread. We all tore off a piece and really enjoyed the taste and aroma of the freshly baked bread.
Continuing our drive, we stopped at the cemetery with shallow graves in the hard desert pavement, marked only with a rough rock from a nearby quarry. This is how nomads bury their dearly departed.
In the afternoon, we finally arrived at our camp, our home in the Sahara for three days. It did have all of the comforts of home, including queen size bed, a hot water shower, and a flushing toilet.
Following the mandatory “happy hour”, our camp crew was cooking our dinner: a Moroccan “stuffed pizza” in a small earthenware wood fire oven.
After dinner, we all walked to a nearby hill, to watch the sun setting over a big dune. As the golden rays of sun were bathing the western slopes, and shadows were growing long, we were all mesmerized by the sensation of the moment and place, when the tune from the movie “The Laurence of Arabia” sounded off from somebody’s phone.
Back at the camp, our camp crew had a bit of the local entertainment for us by the lively campfire.
The next morning, our little Prados took us to the camel “parking,” where we all boarded our individual camels for trek through the dunes, for a full experience of the Sahara Desert. Having ridden camels before, this was not my favorite activity. But in this case, camels’ saddles were cleverly equipped with “handlebars” you could hang on, while the camel was ambling along.
It was an amazing experience, this time in the morning sun lighting up the coral sand dunes. The shadows of the dune contours and of the camels climbing them really gave me the sense of this unique place in the world.
But after an hour in a camel saddle, a distant Kasbah was a welcome sight and a place for a brief respit from the blazing sun. After a couple of days exploring around and about Sahara, it was time to get back into our Prados, and make tracks in the deep sands as we say goodbye to the Kasbahs and the sandy landscape of the Sahara Desert
SCBS Installs New Big Game Guzzler
By Debbie Miller-Marschke
On October 24, 2020 the Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep installed a brand new East Mojave big game guzzler in the Castle Mountains. A guzzler is a man-made water system that captures rainwater, stores it, and the stored water is readily available to the wildlife year round. This was achieved by and through a partnership with an active mining company, Castle Mountain Ventures / Equinox Gold, upon an area that had been already disturbed by mining work. The area was located within the operation zone of the currently active mining property within the Castle Mountains Monument, upon Bureau of Land Management property. This was a monumental accomplishment in light of the Covid-19 restrictions that have thwarted activities in most other wildlife conservation organizations (including government agencies), and SCBS followed through with a safe and successful result.
The Castle Mountains include a historical mining district that has been active for more than 100 years. Mining activity was first recorded on December 19, 1907 by James H. Hart, and brothers Bert and Clark Hitt. They filed a claim for their original discovery, naming the prospect “Oro Belle” by combining both French and Spanish words that translate as “Beautiful Gold.” The ore was easily extracted by free milling, yielding 500 ounces of gold per ton. Naturally, this was the catalyst for the immediate rush that followed; folks began flocking to the area in droves using any means of transportation they could arrange. The nearest supply merchants were located in Searchlight, Nevada. Prospectors transformed a two-tent camp into the boom town of Hart, with a population of 700 by February of 1908. After the initial rush peaked, prospectors fanned out and worked the surrounding landscape but the town began to fade. By 1920, the mining interest switched from gold to industrial clays. As new gold extraction technologies were developed, the area was periodically revisited by various gold mining companies. In 1991, Viceroy Gold Corporation quarried the Oro Belle pit until 2001. Castle Mountain Ventures acquired the active claims in 2012.
Reliable water sources in the Castle Mountains have been an ongoing challenge. The historic town of Hart needed to freight water in by the barrel from the railroad stop at Barnwell until a pipeline was connected north to Malpais Spring, six miles distant. The National Park Service inventoried the Castle Mountain Monument’s water resources during a study in 2016 , documenting the known natural springs or water sources available; none were flowing. In past years SCBS, with the permission of Viceroy Gold, installed a Boss Tank style guzzler in the center of their active mining operations which has been supplying the local bighorn sheep population with a reliable water source. It has been observed that Bighorn Sheep appear to tolerate the activities of an active mining operation very well and enjoy living upon the graded steps of quarries. Other mining operations, such as Specialty Minerals and Mitsubishi in Hesperia, California, and OMYA near Amboy, California, have had dump truck drivers regularly document the presence of bighorn sheep within the active mining zones.
SCBS and Equinox forged a partnership and discussed placement of a new guzzler system to be located on the exterior perimeter of the active operation zone. The groundwork was handled by SCBS Board Member Gary Thomas, and the project had been in the development stages for several years. Initially, SCBS planned on installing the new system in spring of 2020. The onset of Covid 19 brought a temporary shut down of the mining operations and consequently the project was placed on an indefinite hold. I took over as Project Coordinator sometime around May of 2020, poised for the next opportunity to resume work on the project. Discussions with our contact at the mine, Aren Hall (Environmental Manager) , began to gain traction during the summertime. On September 11, 2020, Glenn Sudmeier, Steve Marschke, and I met with Aren Hall at the mine and project site. The area was surveyed; an abundance and variety of vegetation was noted along the slopes of the surrounding landscape. Originally, a two tank system had been planned. The presence of suitable browse and favorable escape terrain suggested that we upgrade our plan to three tanks to accommodate future positive recruitment in the herd. Glenn and Steve re-engineered the footprint plan for the new guzzler. We also scouted potential group campsites. During our visit we spotted five bighorn.
The main challenges for the installation of the guzzler were the rocky nature of the proposed site and the location on a side slope. Normally, SCBS guzzlers do not require extensive excavation for the placement of the Raincatcher system; the “Oro Belle” guzzler was obviously a system that commanded more than hand tools and sweat equity from the volunteers. The use of Equinox’s excavating equipment was discussed with Aren. It was agreed that the Mine would take care of the pre-excavation in advance. During the following weeks, Aren and I communicated by phone and email while the area was prepared with heavy machinery. Steve and I returned to the project site on October 9, 2020 to monitor progress and we saw three enormous class 4 rams in the vicinity of the new guzzler.
The installation schedule began on Thursday October 22, 2020. John Voght traveled to the designated group camp site and placed SCBS project signs on the turnoff point of the paved road. Equinox Gold had arranged the placement of two porta-potties at the group campsite for our convenience.
Our extraordinary Project Cook, Rodger Lopez, arrived at camp on Friday afternoon and began setting up. Roger erected a large canopy, which boasted lights powered by a generator, and several banquet tables. Rodger provided the volunteer crew with breakfast and dinners during the project, complete with “touchless” serving protocols and masked/ gloved food preparation to comply with Covid safety measures.
He was assisted by his son Steven VandarGriff and Steven’s fiancée Arianna Cerventes. Our wholehearted “thanks” goes to our cooks for providing us with delicious meals and for the extra measures taken to keep us all safe.
Project volunteers began to roll in and set up their camps during the latter part of Friday, October 23. Jeff Crouse and Jenny Hinojosa, driving the SCBS Big Red truck, arrived with the SCBS tools and a trailer with two Raincatcher tanks. Frank Rorabaugh arrived with a second trailer with the additional Raincatcher tank. On Saturday morning, mine representatives Aren Hall and Ralph McCullers arrived at the SCBS group campsite to give us a mine safety briefing. Topics of discussion included the wearing of face coverings, working around active excavation equipment, general safety, and the need for escorts while traveling within the mine property. After having our temperatures taken at the front gate, the volunteers were allowed to caravan with an escort through the active mine to the project location.
Saturday’s weather was perfect for a guzzler installation. This was a relief because just one week prior, temperatures were hot and uncomfortable. Upon our arrival, the work site exploded with activity and the volunteers split into two work teams. The largest group headed uphill to work on the rain mat. The Mine had rough graded the area with heavy machinery, and the SCBS crew handled the finish work. The surface was raked of rocks, and an outer perimeter of sand bags was constructed to create a lip. The Hypalon mat was unfurled and stretched across the site, overlapping the sand bag edges “like the crust of a home made pie”(quoting Glenn Sudmeier). Then the crew scattered, returning with sizable rocks which were placed on the rain mat and covering the edges. Due to the fact that this work site was fairly rocky, the volunteers did not need to venture far from the rain mat to find what was needed.
Meanwhile, the Raincatcher tank crew prepared for the placement of the tanks. Ralph McCullers, an Equinox employee, operated a backhoe to assist in fine tuning the area while SCBS volunteers used hand tools to manipulate the edges of the hole until it was deemed satisfactory. The floor surface was painstakingly leveled, using measurement tools and a 2 x 4 wooden stud as a guide. Next the trailers with the Raincatcher tanks were staged next to the hole, and Ralph used the backhoe to lift them off the trailers. The crew used ropes to assist in guiding the tanks into place, and Ralph skillfully set the tanks into place. Three 2300 gallon Raincatcher tanks were placed in a row “like babies in a nursery” (quoting Sudmeier again).
A really tasty deli style box lunch was provided to everyone by Equinox, which was welcomed by all. There were several sandwich selections to suit any taste, with chips and soft batch cookies. The work on the rain mat had been completed, so after lunch we focused on burying the tanks and completing the plumbing. Zach Thomas and Frank Rorabaugh had made great progress on the plumbing. There was much back filling to be done, and the crew did not finish the task on Saturday. All of the work that was achieved on Saturday was captured on film and documented by SCBS member volunteer David Hawxhurst. David edited and produced a wonderful video for us, which is recommended viewing for all SCBS volunteers and fans. You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1lx3mlvjTo . SCBS member Monte Hammer also made a video, which is a complementary companion to Hawxhurst’s work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Dvf3FtvrLA (or search Oro Belle guzzler on You Tube). The crew returned to camp, where Rodger had dinner waiting for us. Everyone received a door prize as a thank you for participating. Special thanks to project participant Mignon Slentz, who provided her own handcrafted artwork which was included in the disbursed door prizes.
The crew returned to the project site on Sunday to finish burying the tanks and placement of the artificial rock shade covers over the drinker openings. I applied my artist abilities, spray painting the shade covers with camouflaging using natural colors observed in the surrounding landscape. Much backfilling was needed between the excavated hillside and the tanks that the crew could not completely cover the tanks, leaving a small percentage uncovered. This was inconsequential because within a few days of the project, Equinox used their machinery to complete the job to our specifications perfectly. SCBS departed from the site of the newest guzzler, the “Oro Belle”, with the system in working order and ready for water. There was possible rain in the forecast for the following Monday, but the storm did not bless the guzzler with precipitation. Equinox took the initiative to haul water to Oro Belle before Thanksgiving, and the guzzler was ready for sheep. On January 11, 2021 Equinox reported that the sheep have found the guzzler, spotting 10 bighorn in the vicinity and telltale hoof prints all around the drinker!
Special thanks are in order:
~ Deb Miller-Marschke
Finding Charles Vincent’s Cabin
by Stephen Mersmen
I did some exploring in the San Gabriels last month. The weather was absolutely perfect. No wind and an out of the ordinary warm week.
We headed up Highway 2 to Vincent’s Gap. You need an Adventure Pass to park in the parking lot. We parked, and instead of the usual hike to the Big Horn Mine, we decided to look for Vincent’s cabin. We tried one other time on our way down to Cabin Flats but missed it somehow.
I didn’t realize how close it is from the parking area. It’s a very easy hike. Round trip it’s only a mile and a half. There is a great story on Charles Vincent Daugherty on Wrightwood’s website at wrightwoodcalif.com.
On the way back home we stopped and explored the limestone quarry that you can see from the high desert. It’s the big white scar on the side of the mountain when you’re heading u Highway 2 on the right side, just off desert frontage road. I don’t know much about the mine, all I know is a friend of mine’s father used to haul the limestone from the quarry down to Colton in end dumps around the 1960s. You need four wheel drive to get to the mine. The road is pretty washed out from being abandoned the last 50 or so years.
Then just a day later the weather changed completely! And here comes the snow. I’ve shoveled the driveway off three times this year already!
Sure makes the desert beautiful though! ~ Stephen
By Jay Lawrence
So, let’s say you’ve led a colorful life. Successful invesment banker. Parachute enthusiast. The father of American skydiving. A Lieutenant Colonel in the Marines... and the author of a children’s book, Coe, the Good Dragon at the Center of the World.
Let’s say you are Jacques-Andres Istel. What do you do when you have a bit of time on your hands and the means to follow your dreams? In 1985 Istel decided he would found the town of Felicity (Population: 2), “Dedicated to Remembrance.” The town is named for his wife, Felicia.
The town has a plaque inside a pyramid in which the story claims the official center of the world is located. The town also has various other structures, including thousands of granite monuments on which important names and events are engraved. In 1985, Imperial County, California recognized the site as the Official Center of the World, as did the French government in 1989. Istel has been the mayor of Felicity for more than 30 years.
Felicity features a huge area covered with walkways and engraved red granite slabs, The Museum of Granite.
From Wikipedia: “The Museum of History in Granite, now a candidate as a World Heritage Site, was founded by Istel as a division of the Hall of Fame of Parachuting. This multi-decade effort is the crowning achievement of his life. Granite monuments include
eight monuments to the History of Humanity, the History of Arizona, the Marine Corps Korean War Memorial, the History of French Aviation, the History of the French Foreign Legion and the History of the United States of America. These 100 foot granite monuments are designed to last 4000 years.
In 2014 Time,Inc named the design (by Istel and lifelong friend Wolfgang Lieschke) one of 24 in America worth the voyage. In 2014 Northern Arizona University started using museum monument panels as teaching tools for student teachers.”
Istel has lectured at Princeton, Yale, Harvard, MIT, and West Point.
Three books of history by Jacques-Andre Istel are published: The History of Arizona, The History of Humanity Volume I - Engraved in Granite, and The History of the United States of America-Engraved in Granite.
If you happen to be in the southeast corner of California, Felicity is about 13 miles west of Yuma on U.S. Interstate 8. It is still a work in progress and quite a statement by an energetic man. ~ Jay
For the Birds
by Bob Jaussaud
Most of us have heard the phrase
“It’s for the birds.” It is frequently used to convey that something is worthless, trivial or annoying. The saying originated as U.S. Army slang toward the end of World War II and was deﬁned in an edition of American Speech from 1944. It seems that birds will peck at horse manure looking for seeds, so “That’s for the birds” referenced horse manure, as in “That’s a bunch of crap.”
So I think it is appropriate to say it is deﬁnitely “for the birds” that DE trips and get-togethers have been postponed for so long. In fact almost all our social gatherings have been affected. This last Christmas and New Year, Sue and I were isolated at our place on the Colorado River. That was strictly “for the birds” but on a positive note it was interesting that we observed so many wild birds around us. It would have been nice for us to be “free as a bird” but that was not the case. Anyway, we took many pictures of birds and all were taken on or near our property by myself, Sue or Vicki. ~ Joeso
The Maze District of Canyonlands
by Joe de Kehoe
In an attempt to squeeze in one more trip before the winter weather this year, I took a trip to the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park in Utah this past October. Canyonlands includes three districts, Needles, just west of Moab, Island in the Sky to the north, and The Maze on the west. The Maze district attracted me because of its remoteness, isolation, and Jeep trails through some fantastic scenery.
In April 2019, I drove the White Rim Trail with some friends from Tennessee, and from the White Rim Trail, we could look to the south and see the labyrinth of canyons and spires that are in the Maze; I decided then I had to return to explore it.
Consequently, I returned in October 2019 to drive some of the trails in the Maze, and traveling south from Green River on a dirt road for 40+ miles, I was in some of the heaviest rain I have ever encountered, but I kept pushing through, hoping the weather would clear. It didn’t. When I arrived at the ranger station to get my permit, you couldn’t tell my Jeep’s color, and I couldn’t see out of the side windows because my tires had thrown up so much mud. I went inside to get my permit and listen to the Ranger’s instructions about camping in the area, and all the
while she was speaking I could tell that she was trying to fathom the mental state of a person who wanted to be here in this weather. From the look in her eyes, I decided then that it was probably not prudent to drive out here in these conditions. I hate to turn around – I feel like a quitter, but in this instance my better judgment kicked in - thankfully. I returned to the motel in Green River, and during the night, the rain hardly let up at all. The next morning, I headed back home.
However, this past October, I returned to make up for the trip that I had to abandon. Though the Maze gets very few visitors, reservations are required, camping is permitted only in designated spots, no open fires, and everything has to be carried out (yup, that includes human waste). Other than the rangers at the park entrance, I didn’t see a soul for the three days I spent camping on this trip.
The jumping-off spot to get into the Maze was Green River, Utah, where I topped up with gas and groceries, and then it is a 58-mile drive south on a dirt road through high desert cattle pastures to reach the Hans Flat Ranger Station to pick up my permit. As a side note, a Hispanic family operates the market in Green River. I phoned them when I was leaving Colorado and asked them to marinate a steak for me that I picked up the next morning just before driving down to the park. So my first evening camping in the Maze featured delicious carne asada burritos grilled on my small Weber grill.
The Maze District’s geography is probably best described as two shelves – an upper plateau at the top of the Wingate Sandstone and a lower shelf at the base of the Wingate. The Wingate forms sheer vertical vermilion-colored cliffs 600 – 800 feet tall in this area. At the bottom of the cliffs is the second shelf or bench at the top of the Cedar Mesa Sandstone. Locals refer to the upper desert plateau area as “Above the Ledge,” and the lower Cedar Mesa bench is “Below the Ledge.” Over millions of years, the Green and Colorado Rivers have carved the area into a labyrinth of canyons, mesas, and spires.
Before 1950 there were no roads Below the Ledge, only horse trails; most of the 4WD roads in the area today were built during the 1950s by prospectors who came in search of uranium.
My camp the first night was at Panorama Point at the end of a long promontory, 50 feet from the cliff edge, and the view was fantastic. Unfortunately, when I was there, the air was hazy with smoke from fires in the western U.S., but it was still an extraordinary overlook. From my vantage point, I could look down several thousand feet to the Jeep trail on the Cedar Mesa bench where I would be driving the next day.
Except for footprints and tire tracks, you would never know anyone had ever been at this campsite before; the sites were pristine, and I hope I left them that way also.
Driving out of Panorama Point the next morning was more difficult than the drive in because of some steep ledges that I had to climb, but I was in no hurry and frequently stopped to take in the view.
The connecting road from Panorama Point to my next campsite is called the Flint Trail, and I was a little disappointed when as I traveled south because it was just a 2WD dirt road with very little scenery. However, that soon changed as I rounded a corner and started the steep descent down a series of switchbacks. My Jeep is a short wheel-base 2-door Rubicon, and several of the switchbacks were too tight for me to make the turn without backing up. I hope this write-up encourages some of the Desert Explorers group to visit the Maze, but I would not attempt the Flint Trail switchbacks in anything but a 4WD vehicle and no trailers.
My second two nights were at the Maze Overlook camp. From this camp, it is easy to see how The Maze district got its name. Standing at the top of the bench and looking east is a jumble of canyons, side canyons, and crazy winding passageways carved into the Cedar Mesa Sandstone over the past ten million years. The Horse Canyon hiking trail leads to the dry wash at the canyon’s bottom from my campsite, where it is relatively easy walking. It took me a couple of hours to hike down to the dry wash, mainly because at every turn, the scenery changed, and I stopped to take more pictures. I found the
hike back up to the campsite in the midday sun to be a little grueling, and I was looking forward to getting back to camp and a cooler full of Corona (cerveza, not the virus).
The next morning, I left camp and headed for Ekker Butte that was only about 12 miles away, only intending to explore more of the areas and check out the campsite for a future trip. On most of this drive, the road is a few hundred yards from the edge of the rim, but occasionally it approaches to within a few feet of the cliff. It makes you pay attention, though. Part of this drive was almost directly under Panorama Point, where I had camped two nights before.
Some consider Ekker Butte campsite to be one of the less desirable sites because there are no trees, and the site is all on slickrock. Still, personally, it is now one of my favorites because just a short walk from the camp out on a narrow promontory takes you to an extraordinary 180-degree view of the Green River.
I returned to the Maze Overlook camp that afternoon, and the next morning packed up my gear and headed back up the Flint Trail switchbacks and arrived back in Green River by about 4:00 p.m. As one author has put it, “If you are willing to put up with hours of bone-rattling 4WD travel, the Maze District of Canyonlands can provide a richly rewarding wilderness experience.” I’m already planning to return to the area this coming spring. ~ Joe
Scorpio’s Last Outing (for a while)
by Anne Stoll
Being a native Scorpio by birth, I (like others of my kind) really must get out to the desert now and then to recharge. We went for the weekend of Nov. 6-8, 2020 back to the Shoshone-Tecopa area (Inyo County) and it was cold, windy and even a tiny bit wet – but what is more glorious than the desert when wet? We hiked and soaked and enjoyed it as always.
Here’s the local scoop for whenever it becomes possible to visit again: The Shoshone Inn is open and as nice as ever. At the Shoshone RV Park there are two fine well-equipped trailers for rent as well as spaces, 33 full hookups, a little rec room/library and the sparkling clean warm pool as always. The voles are soon to be reintroduced and the Pupfish Ponds Trail is a delight with new improvements.
The Museum is open too and currently has a fine hand-made quilt up for a fundraising raffle. The Crowbar (the only prepared food in Shoshone), however has shortened its hours to 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. because they only have enough staff for one shift. If you sleep late, breakfast there is as good as ever. But for early risers, there’s a new bakery in Tecopa, Wild Wheat, that opens early. Everyone was raving about their cinnamon buns with date jam filling so we had to try them --YUM! They have little quiches, sandwiches and other goodies too. This is the two month-old brainchild of a young couple who recently moved from Pahrump to Tecopa Hot Springs. You get your food to go and sit outside on the porch. Wild Wheat is next door to the brewery and the remarkable Steaks and Beer restaurant, all in a row in Tecopa. We had a memorable meal at Steaks and Beer that almost lived up to the rave reviews. Finally on the food front, we tried the Bistro in Tecopa Hot Springs. One big table inside that could seat a max of six --but the best deal was getting their tasty Pasta Carbonara take-out. The live music is shut down, alas.
I must close with news of day-trippin’ at the hot water in Tecopa Hot Springs. We’ve been soaking in that hot mineral water there for over 30 years and have watched the various “resorts” blossom, fade and bloom again like desert wildflowers in season. Tecopa Hot Spring Resort (in front of the Bistro) is hanging on but no longer permits day-bathers
– overnight guests only. For lack of staff, we were told. Delight’s Hot Spa, our long-time favorite in Tecopa Hot Springs, has finally finished us off for day-bathing. Maybe that was their plan all along. It’s permitted but on weekends it’s $30 per person for half an hour and we had to pay $6 each for scratchy paper-thin towels! They have a big new outdoor pool and 4 outdoor hot tubs (not for us since we don’t like to wear swimsuits) and we think the new set-up is pulling a lot of the hot water. By the time we got into one of the private pools, the water was only warm and not clean. Things will have to change big-time for us to go back.
Ah well, so it goes, eh? It was a great weekend. Hope you are all doing well and staying safe. Here are some photos from Shoshone area. ~ Anne
Cerro Gordo Report
by Claudia Heller, from her blog at www.insidesocal.com/66/
Black and white photos by Holiday Heller
The road up to the mine is an experience in itself. And Cerro Gordo (Fat Hill) has a long and colorful history. It is located on the western slope of the Inyo Mountains.
Along the precipitous road up the mountain a cable with buckets indicates how silver was lowered down the mountain. It is said the few town residents would use them to get groceries.
In previous time the last few hundred feet would offer a view of the famous American Hotel which burned down in June 2020. A few artifacts were salvaged. The owner plans to rebuild this relic and funds are being donated.
To raise money to rebuild this historical ghost town, the owner has been offering tours. ~ Claudia
Four Ladies and a Turkey
By Bob Jaussaud
For this 2020 Thanksgiving we had a very small “bubble” gathering at our Arizona bunkhouse. In fact, there were just four ladies and me. As always, it was good to be on the desert. We ate a lot, hiked a secluded canyon in the Sacramento Mountains across the Colorado River from us, enjoyed the unique bar stools at Topock 66, found some old cars on the desert… and then ate again. ~ Joeso