Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Death Valley and South

PB230011(Jan) The sun returned to Death Valley on Sunday but because of the rains many of the gravel and dirt roads we had hoped to explore, were closed. We were able to go to Zabriskie Point and take in the awesome view pictured at left.  Our second stop was a paved road called Artist Pallet. It took us on a fun winding drive up into the hills to see some awesome color in Death Valley’s Hills.IMG_20131122_124803_848






We also went for a nice hike up the Golden Canyon to see the Red Cathedral. On our way up we came across a bunch of people with Star Wars T-Shirts taking photos of something in a side canyon.  Look closely at the photo below on the left. It’s a JAWA! We did hike all the way to the end. The hike stopped at a steep wall that climbed up to the top of the red cathedral cliff.  The last 1/8 mile was a steep, winding climb that we thoroughly enjoyed. We were awarded some great views of the Panamint Mountain range across the valley on the way down.PB240029


This was the view in our rearview mirror as we left Death Valley NP. We certainly will be back!


PB250010On our way south we decided to drive through Mojave National Preserve. Encompassing 1.6 million acres, the highest point is Kelso Peak. The preserve has one of the largest, densest stand of Joshua trees and a large area of sand dunes. We thought the area looked a lot like the desert around Quartzsite but…with horrible roads. We certainly will not be back!

(Chuck) After our enjoyable stay in Death Valley we moved on to the Steps. It is an area South of Lake Havasu, AZ. It was good to be back to the sunshine and warm temperatures of Arizona. 25 or 30 rigs are parked here. It surprised us and it seems to be a sign of higher use of this area. Five years ago when we first visited it seemed to be a very quiet place to stay. Today we talked to people in five rigs that were planning to spend the entire winter here.IMG_20131126_092438_762 This long term usage may signal a new series of regulations and concerns.IMG_20131126_093026_387 It is necessary that those of us who use these boondocking areas keep them clean and hopefully the area will be available for years to come.

On a hike today we came across the carcass of a Big Horn Sheep. The coyotes have cleaned it up and soon someone will have a nice set of horns to put on their garage wall.

(Jan) For tonight we are at home at MM99 south of Quartzsite enjoying the quiet desert, clean air and beautiful views.PB260014

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Death Valley

PB190009(Jan) We have wanted to go to Death Valley for years and finally we are in the right area with time to explore. Death Valley is the USA’s largest park in the lower 48 states. (USA’s five largest are all in Alaska) It is vast. Open. Amazing. There are so many places to go and see, so many places to hike and explore.  Although our weather has been rainy and cool the last several days, our enthusiasm for this park has not diminished. We stayed at Stove Pipe Wells for the first couple of nights and then moved over to Furnace Creek ranch. We now have cell phone and internet coverage. Here are some of the places we have been in Death Valley.PB210017PB210025

Mosaic Canyon was just a short drive up a gravel road from the Stove Pipe Wells CG. It was a fascinating canyon hike with walls of marble and mosaics of fragmented rocks. The rock patterns in the canyon walls were amazing. The first half mile was a slot canyon with some slick rock scrambling but after that the valley broadened out.

PB210013The Salt Creek Interpretive Trail is a boardwalk along a small stream.  It is home to the inch long pupfish that are found only in Death Valley in hot, forbidding, saline water. We did spy several of the little fish but they are extremely fast soPB190005 our photo is of Blue Heron tracks in the shallow water. Watch out Pupfish!

We were also camped next to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes which were lovely as the sun cast light and shadow across their surfaces. The Dunes are 100 feet high.

PB200082On the day we went to Scotty’s castle, we also drove over to the Ubehebe  (U IMG_20131122_132635_923bee hee bee) Crater where we hiked the edge of the crater. ”Just a few hundred years ago a massive volcanic explosion caused by magma mixing with an underground spring, shatter the silence of northern Death Valley. When the dust settled, this 600 foot deep crater remained.”

The salt flats of Badwater Basin are the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. After the winter rains there is a shallow lake here but in the dry heat of summer the lake dries up to a vast salt flat. The day we were at the salt flats it was a 58 degree, rainy day; a real contrast to summer’s blistering heat!

PB200005(Chuck) Death Valley is famous for Borax and the Twenty Mule Team. Borax deposits led to mining activity in the 1880’s. These large teams hauled two wagons carrying twenty ton loads of borax and a third wagon of water. They traversed a 160 mile stretch of desert to deliver their loads. It was an incredible accomplishment. These large teams were used only from 1883 to 1889. New mining deposits and other methods of transportation were more efficient and led to the decline of 2011311184917368the twenty mule teams.

The mules were hitched in pairs and the total hitch pulled on a 120 foot length of chain. To guide the team that stretched so far in front of the driver a jerk line was used. This line was fastened to the lead mule. This mule was trained to follow the commands of the line. If the driver wanted to turn left, he gave a steady pull on the line. If a right turn was wanted the driver would give the line several jerks.

Because the team was over 120 feet in length, special tactics were used when the wagon needed to make a sharp turn on the road.IMG_20131123_131210_397 The lead pairs followed the road. As the pairs closer to the wagon approached the curve they would jump the chain and pull to the outside of the curve. This would keep the wagon from going off the road. This was called the dance of the mules, as captured in the painting above.

The lead mules wore a rack of bells on the harness to warn approaching wagons. Only teams hauling freight wore bells, empty wagons did not. Empty wagons were obliged to pull over and give passage to loaded wagons.  If a driver experienced a break down and needed assistance from another driver he was obliged to give the bells to the driver who gave him assistance. This led to the saying “I’ll be there with bells on” which meant that he did it on his own without help from anyone.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Death Valley Ranch (AKA Scotty’s Castle)

PB200019(Jan) The story starts out with Walter Scott, a veteran of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and his two pieces of gold. “Scotty” was veritable story teller and sold shares in his Death Valley gold mine from New York across the states to California. One of the buyers was a wealthy Chicago businessman Albert Johnson. He was a civil engineer who broke his back in three places in a tragic train accident which killed his father. He amassed a fortune with his very successful National Life Insurance PB200023Company.

After several years went by with no word and no dividends from Scotty, Johnson headed west to check out Scotty’s Death Valley gold mine. What he found there was Scotty! No gold mine but a golden friendship, a simple cowboy lifestyle he loved and a climate that suited his health. His wife, Bessie, liked Death Valley, also, and so Albert had a simple block vacation home built for them in the desert. Bessie, whom he had met at Cornell University, was not into simple however and architect’s plans were soon sought for a more elaborate Spanish influenced adobe castle.

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We took a tour of this amazing castle and also, the underground tour that showed all of the ingenious ways they used water power from a near by natural spring to produce electricity for their isolated home. The Pelton Water Wheel Turbine installed in the 1920’s is still capable of operating today.  


Part of the huge bank of Edison batteries that provided electricity, on the left.
Our guide showing us the Pelton Turbine system on the right.


Our tour of the house took us in through the massive front door into the main living area with it’s huge wrought iron chandelier. This is where the Johnson’s and Scotty entertained friends from past President and wife Herbert & Lou Hoover to Will Rogers. Scotty’s Bedroom and the Solarium were on this floor as well as a sitting room, the dining room & kitchen. Upstairs were the Johnson’s private rooms and guest bedrooms for important visitors. (Click on any of the photos to enlarge.)

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Across the galley way upstairs where several more stylish guest bedrooms and a fabulous music room with several organs, one of them a huge player pipe organ. Valuable antiques are displayed through out the house, including two Don Quiote tapestries, an European scrolled gate and King Ferdinand’s wooden chest.

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We strolled the grounds, walked up to Scotty’s grave on the hillside above the castle and ate our lunch under the shade of California palm and native cottonwood trees. Scotty’s Castle is located on the northern end Death Valley National Park.


Albert and Bessie Johnson were Scotty’s source of gold for the rest of his life. Albert was quoted as saying, “We have been partners for a long time. Scott has a great appetite for money, and I like to feed it. He has repaid me – in Laughs.”

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Tehachapi Loop

PB180023(Chuck) It is not necessary to be a train buff to appreciate the wonders of the Tehachapi Loop. It is a .75 mile long spiral on the UP Railroad line which connects Bakersfield and Mojave, California. It carries a daily load of almost 40 trains. It is called one of the seven wonders of the railroad world. 3000 Chinese laborers built it in 1874 to 1876. The loop was constructed so that a train could gain elevation up the steep canyon. The loop allows the train to gain 77 feet in elevation as the track climbs at a steady 2 percent grade. A train of more than 4000 feet in length will pass over itself as it negotiates the loop. To more easily understand the layout of the loop go to Google Earth  35.20092  -118.53625 

I first heard about the loop several years ago. In 2009 we visited the area and waited at the viewing area for quite a long time and did not see a train. This year as we traveled highway 58, we hit the jackpot. We parked our motorhome at Exit 137 at Keene. There is a generous lot between the restaurant and the Cal Fire helicopter pad. We traveled four and one half miles up the grade on the road and pulled off at a small parking area by the road. From there we walked towards the railway to view the loop. Monday is track maintenance day (fewer trains) but we were there on Tuesday.  We watched as one train exited the loop and continued down hill. As we were positioned in the viewing area a train came up track and completed the loop. Soon after we were greeted with another traveling up the grade. It was exciting to watch and I would recommend it to anyone who may be passing by on this stretch of highway 58 in California. Click on the photos to enlarge.


Here comes the train up the valley.


The train engines are coming through the tunnel.


The train starts around the circle. (You can still see the middle of the train on the other side of the tunnel in the background.)


The front of the train crosses over the middle of the train coming through the tunnel.


The front of the train is in the foreground at the base of the hill, the middle of the train is in the background and the end of the train is coming through the tunnel.


Here is the train on the back side of the hill, winding it’s way up the valley.

Monday, November 18, 2013

It’s still autumn!

IMG_20131117_141552_774(Jan) When we left Iowa at the end of September, we began to see fall foliage as we crossed into South Dakota.IMG_20131116_111722_936 The trees and hill sides were really starting to turn as we crossed Wyoming and Montana, into Idaho and then Washington. As we changed locations we seemed to be on the leading edge of the color change. We spent four weeks in the Seattle area as fall came into full bloom. Going south through Oregon and now through California, we are still experiencing autumn and all of the gorgeous colors it brings! The maples and grapevines in the vineyards have been especially pretty!

IMG_20131117_142843_224We’ve seen lots of indoor colors this past week too, such as the Persimmons we bought at a farmer’s market and the colorful produce section at Whole Foods!IMG_20131112_095839_641We spent four days at the Elks Club in Jackson, California this past week. Back in the Gold Rush Days a line of Chuck’s family settled out here and we wanted to do some genealogy work at the Library. We also enjoyed strolling down the Main Street in Sutter Creek, famous for it’s 1849 gold strike. 

One of the wonderful things about this lifestyle is connecting with Rving Friends. On Thursday we had a great visit and delicious lunch with friends Laurie and Odel at the Mother Lode Market & Deli in Jackson. They are currently ‘off the road’ so it was particularly nice to see them again. On Friday we drove over the mountain to Carson City, IMG_20131116_183934_743Nevada to visit with friends Judie and Mark. We also got to meet Judie’s dad, Jack, and have lunch at the Tail Dragger CafĂ© at the Minden Airport. It was a fun day and a beautiful drive up into the mountains.

On Saturday we moved our MH to the Lodi Elks and then drove into Pleasant Hill to see Ron & Scarlett again. Our nephew John made lunch for us and then after a nice afternoon visit, we went to Opa’s in Walnut Creek to celebrate Ron’s Birthday. The Greek food was wonderful and Birthday Baklava for dessert was the best I’ve ever had! So happy to get to celebrate my brother Ron’s birthday with him & the family!  Pictured at left are John, Chuck & Jan, Ron & Scarlett and nephew Ryan.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Walnut Creek, CA

(Jan) The Elks Lodge in Walnut Creek is a busy place! The lodge is used by multiple organizations and the large parkingIMG_20131109_131511_553 lot is home to many monthly paid parking spaces including three RV spaces with Electric and access to water. Located about 8 blocks south of downtown, it is an excellent place to get out and walk. Our daily treks took us to Whole Foods, Broadway Plaza or Los Lomas High School to walk the track at their football field.

My brother Ron and sister-in-law Scarlett live 6 miles away! It was wonderful to PB100002see them and spend time visiting. Besides a beautiful fall walk in their neighborhood, we had several fun outings. We went to the Martinez Marina and Wetlands area. It’s a nice wide open space for long walks and especially good for bird watching. Also, Chuck & I had not had Vietnamese food so they took us to their favorite place. The food was very good! Delicious fish stews, salads & pasta and a salmon & halibut dinner filled out our at home eating. Nephews John & Brenden joined us several times and it was delightful to hear what these two fine young guys are doing in  their lives. On Scarlett’s birthday two Russian Blue kittens joined the family.  Leo and Anya were delightful to play with! Thanks you so much for your hospitality, Ron & Scarlett! We certainly enjoyed visiting with you in your warm California sunshine.PB100001

1400611_10200640864215790_1479065413_oThe photo of Ron & I above was taken by the two baby orange trees, a Valencia and a Navel, that my sister and I gave Ron many years back. After a slow start, they are now thriving and have several fruits on each tree. The photo immediately above was taken on Sunday afternoon of Chuck & I, John, Scarlett and Brenden with Ron in front.

One other quick note. While we were with Ron & Scarlett in California, the rest of my family was helping my mom celebrate her 92nd Birthday in Iowa. She was in great spirits and IMHO does not look 92!

From here we will go on to California Gold country to do a little family genealogy research and then we will head south.

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