Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Monday, November 17, 2008
'waited, and waited... more than three hours for the library to open... Even then I had to wait for THE computer to become available. Both memory cards are full and I HAD to off-load before I hit DEATH VALLEY!
The sierras got even more beautiful! The tiny town here sits below 4000ft in elevation.. I feel like an ant just a few miles from the summit of the lower 48's tallest peak!
.. Seriously, couldn't have chosen a better place to be stuck waiting for a computer!
IF THERE HAD TO BE GRAFFITI, this wasn't bad stuff! The rock was painted many years ago with green eyes, long eyelashes and big red lips (even had a black bow above right eye!). The rock-thing has had significant makeover since then; you can still see evidence of the small bow, lips and eyelashes under the Godzilla-Kong thing that exists now. Its still just as GIGANTIC!
I settled the wheels on hwy136- 'must have blinked or sneezed when I drove through the 'town' of Dolomite, but I caught the pair of shacks known as Swansea, CA. The area here is extraordinarily flat and arid-looking. No obvious wildlife (nor people-life!) and the plants are limited to dry, woody shrubs and an occasional cacti. It is very cool and even beautiful, but a far cry from the divinity in which I had found myself surrounded by only a short while ago.
Keeler was a sizable place, (relatively)-- I even found a graveyard here- a short hike from the side of the road. Many of the grave-markers were things like crosses of plywood and chicken-wire, or larger foreign rocks covered and surrounded by ancient dried flowers. There was a pair of polished black ones with dates from the 21st century- these were fenced off, kinda.
It seemed a little silly to fence the headstones, but I guess that if there was no rickety wooden/wire fence standing, it would make the graves much more difficult to locate. The graveyard hosted a mere dozen recognisable headstones; the piles of rocks and erected planks of wood were a mile or so out of the tiny village and maybe a few hundred yards from the road- I discovered it by accident when cutting across the vast dry openness to reach a large crumbling stone structure (never got there: distracted!). I came upon some finch-type birds and a speedy reptilian of some sort too.
From Keeler I did not stop until I spotted a ridge, about an hour from Lone Pine. The land is just as dry as the desert-type land I mentioned finding before, but there was topography. Shallow hills and even some deeper ones-
There are no more patches of white salt or small villages- hasn't been for miles! Here, it is just coarse sand, dark rocks, cacti, and the reason I stopped: Joshua trees!
It was after only a few minutes climbing to the crest of the small cactus-hill that I spotted a tiny jet in the distance- He appeared to be coming strait towards me! I flashed on the state road map I'd been using and all of those nuclear testing grounds just to the east...
It's sound came a few seconds later. a faint Roar.
I watched the plane- it neared quick! The jet's noise grew loud and the thing was definitely going to fly right over me! I thought for a second and decided that it would need to gain a bit of altitude pretty fast to avoid hitting me- he looked to be only a few hundred feet from the flat plains where the road- so was I. At some unimaginable speed, the fighter-jet was suddenly only a few car-lengths away... It happened faster than I care to remember. The thing was right above me! I wonder if he ever saw me!??
I slapped my hands to my ears and ducted to the ground in reflex- I know that he was above me, but it sure looked and felt as if he were going to hit me! There was no wind, but the sound of the engines-which hit almost a full second after he'd passed me- was incredible! The blast was surely muffled by my hands and still it deafened me- I felt it in every bone. It was by this feeling or sound or the combination that some overwhelming feeling of insecurity, maybe instability or simply danger drove me to my knees, though the whole thing was still too awesome to deem unpleasant.
The plane circled back towards the direction from which he/she came almost as quickly as I popped up and found myself wishing for another flyover, thought it took several moments to overcome the amazement that the thing hit me with!
The sound dimmed as he blasted over the flat, low spot between me and the faint mountains and became tiny again. Everything that far was just slightly obscured by the flowing, liquid appearance of the hot air rising from the desert... HOW COOL!!!
I played around with the Boring cacti and all of the metallic-looking rocks around. I drove towards death valley and found myself at its edge before too long...
A fascinating pink-bodied snake was dead in the road at the edge of the high spot above the valley. Here, the first thing I noticed was that the ground was covered in those dark, metallic-lookin' stones that were so scarce only like 20 miles back. This is desert bedrock- volcanic and sedimentary stones polished by the wind, painted with a gorgeous varnish of iron, manganese and other metals and then left to sink as lighter sediments eroded into the valley or blew over the highlands- the area here at the edge obviously has a history of high-winds.
The snake, though a bit squished, was like nothing I'd ever seen. Very slender; it had a coach whip-like head marked and coloured like our own gopher snakes, but a pinkish body with similar patters of dark and light. The snakes tail was short- only six or eight inches compared to a pink section of almost two feet. The tail was banded- sharp bands of white and black similar to a young diamondback's. He looked like some mutant- like one of those engineered corn snakes gone wrong.
It wasn't until after I described the beast to several folks and some Internet research that I discovered the snake's identity: an extraordinarily colourful RED RACER (RED COACHWHIP, Masticophis flagellum) -
Death Valley was a bit disappointing- The campground was only a gravel parking lot for R.V.'s and the enormous crowd that visited on this wonderful November day took replaced the 'natural' feeling that I expected to find with something of a theme-park one.
I drove along the road to some of the less crowded areas and took a few nice, short hikes. The land is beautiful, though the valley area is still much smaller than I expected it to be. I would love to find the place empty some time.. IT is peaceful even in a traffic jam!
I walked around a big patch of sand dunes- it was hard to find any good scenes without people or footprints. Sun was setting quick, though and I drove to the Nevada border as the last light disappeared. A man tending the gas station in an interstate town- far south of the Valley expressed disappointment in our sunset. He told me that they were usually much more colourful. I was happy with it !
HE went on to tell some stories about the local tarantulas- I bought a postcard showing one- They are huge here. He told me that once in a great while a lucky person could find one basking on the road this time of year. Would I be lucky enough?
It was almost ten when I left the town- I think it started with a B. The map of the Mojave National Preserve I had showed a road entering the property from Halloran springs- only a few miles up the road from my town. I was still in California. ..
There I took a small gravel road into another section of black desert. It was almost an hour before I decided to stop driving around on the dirt roads- I pulled into a bald sandy spot off the side of the road and began setting up the tent. IT was windy! Gusts were Strong enough to make me reconsider any step I tried- they made the prickly vegetation sound as creep as their silhouettes! There was suddenly a glow on the horizon. It grew brighter by the second- the moon!
THE MOON took its time getting over the hills to illuminate the desert around me, but what a moon! I was not going to have to wait until morning to see what the Mojave was all about- the moon lit it up like a dim sunrise. I wandered around for a few miles... found nothing but cacti. There did not appear to be any kind of mountains in the opposite direction of the moonrise.. I couldn't wait for a real desert adventure!
Sunday, November 16, 2008
I passed the Walker Country Store where gas was still exceeded four dollars a gallon. The Walker General Store sold no gas and it was a long while of open highway and the bright foothills before I stopped for a needy pedestrian near bridgeport.
The middle-aged man, Matt, seemed like a gentle fellow. He told me that he'd been waiting where I found him for more than two hours. He'd just been released from the local jail for an alcohol-related offense and needed to get to mammoth lakes in only an hour. He accepted the ride and then offered me a sum of money that paid for more than 400miles of my trip!
We drove down hwy 395 and over some of the most beautiful country Ive ever found. Matt narrated my tour through the mountains and got to his van in time. I turned around to drive back towards Mono Lake.
Mono Lake, only eleven miles from the Nevada border and less than ten miles from the sierra's crest, has a ph of 10 and is about three times as salty as the Pacific Ocean. The lake sits at about 6382 ft and covers over 45100 acres. Salinity of the water is far too high for fish to survive, but healthy populations of Brine shrimp and alkali flies along with algaes are able to host great numbers of many different kinds of waterfowl and shorebirds. Th world's second largest breeding colony of California gulls (about 50,000 birds!) and 11% of the states Snowy plovers rely on Mono lake as well as over 80 species of migratory "waterbirds."
The Sierra Nevada has a dramatic "shadow" effect; an average of over 45 inches of precipitation falls at the Sierra crest, less than ten miles from the lake, and less than 5 inches at the east shore of Mono Lake.
The basin in which Mono lake sits is a tectonic one, based on faulting and downwarping of the earth's crust. The basin could be as old as three million years, but the twenty-four volcanic rhyolite domes, known as the Mono Craters, date back only 40,000 years (and as recently as 350 years). The domes make up North America's newest Volcanic chain. I fooled around in Lee Vining, a small town on the west side of the lake. The town is very small and I noticed surprisingly few tourist operations. the road to Yosemite is just south of the town- the gas station, the school and the four other buildings.
I spent only two or three hours walking and driving around the south side of the lake, but not because it wasn't very cool.
The Tufa towers that are seen concentrated in groups around the edge lake, deep below the surface and high above it all formed underwater. Before the water diversions that began in 1941, the lake was much higher than it is now, and many of the exposed tufa was still active. Tufa is a calcium carbonate formed mostly by precipitation from calcium-rich water. The deposits grow quickly and much of Mono's bottom is a hard calcium shell. Trees, dead things, pop cans- it is all coated and made into instant fossils at the bottom of such lakes. The water in mono is fed from a series of steady, mineral-saturated hot springs.. Tufa is also formed through biogenesis, the biological activity of organisms like the alkali fly. When an adult fly emerges from an underwater pupae case it leaves behind a minute deposit of calcium carbonate, a waste product from its earlier life stage beneath the salty, alkaline lake.
The shore of mono is a carpet of the shed casings of the fly's larvae. Its pretty nasty! The alkali flies flush when you get to close. A zillion flies can get pretty loud!
The sun set while I was on the road. The sky's soft pink glow grew pinker without growing brighter. I needed gas; Bishop was only a few miles away and the fact that I had seen a sign for the town made me hopeful for a gas station. The high shadowed crest of the sierras had sat to my right since I left Mono and a new, lit range was to my left.
And THERE WAS THE MOON!
The perfect, light orange globe rested just above the lowest peak on that smaller, pink range. Pinks of the sunset reflected off of the pointed, snowy peaks so that they were just a bit duller than the very FULL moon. It seemed to have an extra dimension or brilliance somehow that made it so much more attractive than these beautiful mountains. I rolled the window down and let the crisp blow in. The sunset became boring and a moonrise thought to be stationary was in fact an exciting, stirring event. It went higher and higher and overcame all of the rugged, dying mountains.
Perhaps it was the moon that sparked the sudden realizaion in me that there was nowhere I knew of that I would rather have been this fine evening; Maybe it was those pink mountains. A magical moment.
The moon was no longer exciting by the time I stopped at a Shell station in Bishop for gas. It was full and beautiful, but that extra somethin' had been left at about 18 degrees off the eastern horizon.
It is said that the moon appears larger when it is closer to the horizon because we have something to compare it to. And it is big.
Ive read that the intense colours that meet the eye when the moon is so close to the horizon are the effect of the white moonlight passing through a greater amount of dirty atmosphere than when the moon is directly above us. Cool!
What a wonderful day. I found nothing there, on the Eastern slope of the Sierras, that I did not find a great deal of enjoyment in. The few people are nice and the land is gorgeous; there is certainly a culture here that differs from the one that I am most familiar with.
The Sierra Nevada is truly more than anyone could expect to find here in the United States!
Saturday, November 15, 2008
I arrived just as the sun began casting its daytime light and warmth on the city. The clouds came over quick. A thick grey ceiling, though not any kind of a threatening one. I had to turn around for a rock-shop sign "Open".
I followed the sign that led me east of hwy 101. The rock shop, though it looked like a good one, was not open. the neighbors' dog barked and another came out to investigate. I snapped a photo and fled. I had read of gems in the area... Small crystals of pure silica known as Lake County Diamonds. I found a nice article on another blog, Eclectic Arcania, and followed the directions given there to collect the diamonds.
It was a pleasant drive through beautiful wine-country. Vineyards and woodland were all that covered the land after I passed through Kelseyville, CA. The grape plants are still green, and fruit remains on some plants, but they all look to have seen a warmer season. Leaves are beginning to turn that sickly light yellow-green color as all leaves do just before they retire.
The sky was still that miserable grey and the road on which I was to collect the stones was marked with all sorts of NO TRESPASSING signs. I trespassed for about two hours; I walked the red-dirt roads until I held and healthy handful of the 'diamonds.'
On my way out I saw another car pulled over within the vineyard. A man was knelt on the side of the road with a small paper bowl and latex gloves. "...looking for the un-faceted crystals here.." he told me. I asked about the legalities of our activities; "..been comin' down here for three years now, and nobody has seemed to mind." He asked to see what I had found and I showed him my little plastic bag. There looked to be over a hundred dirty chunks of the unique volcanic glass in the bag. They were from only a few mm to almost a half-inch in length. "Wow," he said,"you got some nice ones; I haven't found one that big in a long while!" The man pointed to the largest rock and smiled. He asked me about where and when I found the gem and I told him. A small, round, pinkish crystal was the highlight of his day's collection. I found only one crystal that had any kind of colour- a long, skinny stone of deep gold.
The precious stones, which are found nowhere else in the world, have a harness of 7.5-8.0 (Mohs). They are about as hard as topaz and are capable of cutting glass. The gems, also known as Moon Tears, are greatly valued and are faceted and polished on many occasions to use in jewelry. Cut, (and raw, in my opinion) their brilliance can rival that of a diamond. Cant wait to have them faceted !
I was done with this area- I had my treasure, but the next place that I had planned to go was Yosemite. It is more than five hours from Kelseyville.
I knew of nothing closer that I wanted to do.
I called my mom while I drove through Sacramento- the traffic was unexpected and unpleasant. She gave me a number to call to check up on the road conditions of Yosemite national park. I would get in just before sunset.
A woman's recorded voice answered the phone when I called the park. She reported that The two highways, including the one I planned to drive over, were clear and open to visitors. I hit Highway Fifty and headed East. The sky was even darker than it had been all day. I entered the mountains and the snow. The signs all suggest that I install tire chains and warned that it was the law that they are carried by every vehicle. It got slick at the pass- just before I stopped in South Lake Tahoe. The sky was too grey to make a decent photo, but the snow WAS beautiful.
I drove up the west side of the lake for a few miles- that campground was closed, too.
A quick glance at the state map helped to identify a near state park.
I pulled into the HotSprings state park well after-dark. Sunset was surprisingly nice- the clouds were obviously clearing. I was a bit confused when I found this public area to be closed, too. The trees were HUGE.
I set up camp in the picnic area and paid the office my money.
Friday, November 14, 2008
I woke up and it was surprisingly quiet. I guess that I just expected the same intense wind that we had yesterday and into last night. I packed the tent- it was still a bit wet and even a little sticky from the ocean's mist and the dew. I was packed very early; I certainly wasn't ready to leave this beautiful stretch of the Pacific ocean!
I walked down the the same beach that I had spent much of yesterday on. The air was quiet and the sky was just light enough to see the rest of the campgrounds. There was a chill in the air, but I expected it and had come prepared- even then, it was probably only 40 degrees or so. I got to the beach in time to witness the peak of sunrise and the birds began coming from every direction. I recognized a small, bright egret from yesterday, and a flock of seagulls that had adopted a small Canada goose. I walked the beach. There was tar here, too. I gathered some abalone and a handful of clear, root-beer colored agate. It seems that all of the jade here is the same light, milky kind as what I found yesterday. One piece is as large as my hand! I walked back to towards the camp as the sun and the surf rose- I was still the only one on the beach. The seagulls erupted; the goose did not hesitate to follow them over my head and to the far side of the sand.
I noticed a team of large birds in a lawn-type area off to the left of the road about halfway to the car. I heard them before I saw them- they sounded like quail. I was very excited to find such a large group of the Gambels' Quail. I approached and knelt slowly; They only made a bit more noise. It was when I stood again that they freaked.
The two dozen or so birds instantly split up into three or four groups- multiple birds grabbing onto a lead one. Each group sprinted for the cover of an isolated bush or to the thick stand of Lespedisia from which I assume they came.
Individually, the quail was rather awkward-looking when it ran; Like a round cannonball shot across the ground. The bird runs wildly without regard for obstacles or even direction. A neck appears- one that was not noticed when the things were just sitting or feeding. Atop the thick, tapering neck is a birds chubby face and a long black flag sticking strait out of the very top of its head and bent back with the wind. Little twig-legs popped out of the body like pistons on an engine to propel the quail and the bird floats.
I waited at a small outfitter shop in San Luis Obispo for about half an hour. I needed to replace the faulty fuel canisters that I had bought. The shops owner was nice- cut me a deal on what I needed.
I would have loved to stop in the small fishing community of Morro Bay, but they had all of the exits on the highway messed up- Cambria offered a similar experience. In cambria, I visited nothing but the hidden, colourful beach. It took a bit of effort to follow the "coatsal access" signs all of the way to the beach, but I made it. I walked down the old wood stairs- they were thick and rough- something like the wood you'd expect to find on an old pier or holding a railroad together. This section of the beach had potential- I recognized a thick-leaved thing growing on the sandy wall above the steps and you could hear the gulls immediately.
it was the sight of a giant tangle of Kelp that met me when I found the shore. The blob rolled around between many ragged boulders and under a thick, white mist so that it resembled some unpleasant sea-creature. the stench of a rotting kelp-monster was enough to fog this cloudless day. A wave came at me and he seamontser seemed o roll and writhe with the swell. The scene was somehing worthy of an old seaman's story. I walked between the exposed rock for just a few minutes- there was nobody else here. I gathered some jade from the bright beach and split- I was headed for the Big Sur area! A vista point offered a nice break from the driver's seat. I must have chosen the right one!
The beach just below the small pull-off was covered in NORTHERN ELEPHANT SEALS!
Only one of the creature was close enough to see clearly; he looked like velvet. Big brown eyes and a monster nose!
There were several hundred spread out on the beach south of me- every one of them seemed perfectly happy just laying in the sun. Some were huge- others were more like a giant harbor seal. A male N. Elephant seal can reach lengths of over fourteen feet, and will weigh multiple tons! The giant nose thing that hangs off of their face is used for vocalization during breeding season. They were wonderful to see- though they did nothing more than bask in the sun!
I gave a quick glance at a map and my rock-book. I was to look for Willow Creek, just a mile past the town of Gorda; I was hunting for Jade!
It was not to long after I got on the road and started into the steep, winding cliff sides of Big Sur's country that I started seeing dark , waxy deposits of something in the road cuts. Though I drove past many of them, I couldn't help but think about the possibility of the blck-Green blobs actually being the gem that I was headed for?
I past several other patches of it on the wall above the highway and decided to stop at the next sight of the stuff. Though even once I had made up my mind to stop, I past the spots to quickly to put my breaks on and risk anyone who might be coming around a bend to fast. I hit Gorda and was even more sure that the mysterious globs of dark stone to my right had to be Nephrite!
It was only a half mile further that I was able to slow down and pull off. I did; The black rock was just a few hundred feet back on the side of one the largest road cuts that I had driven past. Greys and browns and tans and waxy-green rose many feet from both sides of the road here.
I made it to one of the areas and picked up a hunk of the material- I held Jade!
The vein was several feet thick here- thicker than the spots I had seen before; I took some photos of the wall and waved to a honking car that was probably laughing at me. Maybe 5 or 6 pounds? that's all I took of the dark greenstone. Some was very black and other stuff was a very light green- there was not much of the in-between. Even scored a hand-sized piece of lime-green, fibrous actinolite. The stones were secured in the trunk and I could see WillowCreek's bridge only a quarter-mile off. Down the hill and I was there.
the beach at willow Creek is easily accessible; you can drive the steep road straight down to the beach! It is long and the sand is coarse and dark. The creek itself comes from a deep canyon and spills out onto the beach where is it wide and clear. It spills out the jade that its taken from the Santa Lucia Range. There are several parts of the beach that host a coarser stone. Rocks and boulders form small areas of rip-rap on each end; this is where I am told to search for the valuable, gemmy crystal.
Immediately I found a hunk of the dark stuff.opaque, but it was still nice. You can tell jade apart from other green stones on the beach by scratching it with a pocket knife; Jade is harder than steel and will not scratch. Most pieces here do not require such a test for positive identification- much is translucent to some degree...
A man walked past me to return to his vehicle; An older, rough-looking guy who did not appear to belong on the beach. He held a sack of stones in his hand. I spotted another knelt and starring at the ground close to the water; I knew exactly what he was up to!
A SanFransico man; Gary had abandon his family on the far side of the beach. He stood on his hands and knees above a wet, grey hole and brushed the sticky pebbles off of his hands to show me his favorite piece of jade. It was a small thing- no larger than a dime, but it did glow in the sunlight. The most brilliant green you've ever seen! "hoping to get out of buying a Christmas gift..." he told me."The wife loves this stuff!"
I placed the piece back in his hand and thanked him. He wasted no time in getting back to his work! I walked maybe sixty feet closer to the pacific ocean and knelt to the ground; There was no jade on the surface, but it was a matter of inches before I exposed a beautiful, polished gem! I returned to the car within minutes with a handful of Jasper and Jade. It took several hours to fill an opened soda can with the most beautiful material on the beach.
Gary rushed towards me. He was very excited about something... He asked if I was having any luck, but I knew that such simple conversation was not why he was standing over me. When he couldn't keep it in any longer was when he told me about the Jade outcropping that he had discovered on a bluff above the creek. The raw stuff that I identified just before I reached this area.
I shared his excitement and he took me up the creek a bit to point me in the direction of the rock. I spent a last few minutes gathering the glassy stuff from the coarse beach and headed up willow creek. There is a small trail that starts under the Highway's bridge and ends at the Jade. I followed the trail through a bit of thick brush and a stand of some beautiful, tall grass with great-big heads.
the stone was the same kind that I found up the road- dark, waxy greenstone. There was a lot more of the light-coloured fibrous stuff in this outcropping . It looks so fragile; individual filaments are much thinner than any hair you could pluck from my head- barely visible.
I gathered enough to fill the pouch that I made out of the front of my t-shirt. The stash was very heavy by the time I made it back to the car.
I stashed the jade and hit the beach one more time for some photos. Gary and his family waved at me from their big red pickup. Hope he got some good ones!
Knelt down to pick up a suspicious dark stone. It was of a smooth, oblong shape that should be a pendant- It just seemed to have been carved and polished like something that needed to be around my neck.
It was jade, but it was very dark; I held it to the sun for a better look at anything the rock had to offer. It was amazing- even in the sun, the center of the stone is as dark as it could be. a few sections of the edge, and the two ends of it are all the same brilliant crystal-green that had been displayed on a few of the finest small pieces. there is a streak of that colour that runs across the stone with some odd white blooms sprinkled in it- reminds me of the milky way. The stone is gorgeous- a work of art- and is by far my favorite for the day; It still needs to be hung around my neck but I am afraid to hurt it or to take anything away from it by changing it with a small hole- cant say I would even have it polished! This one is PONAMU.
I was ready to go- completely satisfied with my rocks!
The plan was to spend the night just a short ways north- there are many state and NFS parks and campgrounds. They were all closed. Every one of them!
I made my way up the coast over the course of the afternoon; The land is burned and dry. Warnings of the rock slides were as common as the hand-painted "Thank you Firemen" signs that sat in front of homes and businesses. It was nothing less than mind-blowing to see such vast, steep acreage scorched and bare. It was beautiful and peaceful in a strange way. It was dead and ugly in another. I was far north of Big sur by sunset; Went a lot further north than I expected to today; there were just no open campgrounds. The area is too busy to pull off on the side of the road.
I still don't know what to think of the burned land. I need to see the fire.