Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Work at 10,525

The snow report is 5 fresh feet on the mountain- nearly 3 feet in town.
It snowed Friday night, Saturday and Sunday- laying waist-high snow along streets and sidewalks. Car accidents are abound and power outages are equally common.
Work, though, is sweet. The mountain is offering me more hours now that the runs are open and we approach the holiday season. I'm working all over the ski-area: today at 10,525 feet on Lift#3 "The Face Lift Express." I get to the slope and back via bus and snowmobile- its always a bit more exciting than you'd expect work to be and the view cant be beat when its not snowing ! I took some pics early in the day, and experimented shooting through my polarized sunglasses when the sun faded out the horizon.
At work we stand in negative windchills. Infact the other day a gust of wind atop one of the chairs measured 140mph.. Winds over 40, which occur almost daily, shut the lifts down. I can tell you that it's no fun waiting for the lift to start up again in those conditions.

Friday, December 4, 2009



When I walked out of the library Friday evening the world looked much different than when I'd gone in. The miserable-grey sky had been replaced with a dramatic passing-storm one and the ground was all white. The Library looked extraordinary at dusk- with the dark breaking clouds above it. Instead of rocky and grand, the tall range that hid our sunset was nearly black.

I yanked the Canon from my pack and started the cold walk back to the apartment with a photo of the library. I leaned against a parked car to take the shot- the glowing building backed by our first winter storm. Not even a block away I found my shoes cold and packed with dense snow. It wasn't the powdery stuff.

The air was cold enough, though, that the ice in my shoes would not melt- a nice surprise when I came to realize that my toes were still cold and not numb. Some power lines ran down an alley towards the dark mountains to the southwest- I brushed off nearly four inches of snow from the rock that I suspected would make a fair tripod: It took the painful cold to drive me away from the scene some twenty-photos later. Most would surly be blurred; a brisk wind set in quickly and had me shivering over the 1/30 sec exposures.

The silly wind picked up again and I wasn't halfway home when the sun had failed our valley completely and offered passage for the second bout of weather.
...I turned my back to the wind which stung from the direction that I traveled.

The folks of Mammoth Lakes are much more accustomed to foot-travel than the big-city people that come to visit in their cars. Town is not big enough to risk the icy roads in a vehicle and the 20-min. buses are free to everyone. There were many people walking the same road as I. Some looked like simple masses of warm clothing and the rest of 'em were just frozen cowboys. The snow on the ground blew fiercely to my back as even more fell into the glow of streetlights and passing headlights. Six and eight inches accumulated on curbs, but the busy sidewalks were packed short from the rush hour to get home during the storm. I took photos on my walk: street scenes, Christmas lights and some cool ones when the silhouette of a bundled pedestrian walked in front of an SUV's snow-lit headlights. Most of my photos were disappointing, though: Blurred and dark. It was only those where I'd paid special attention to clean the lens of my camera and steady it on a ledge or mailbox that came out.

Icicles began forming by morning. The system was moving south violently, but our storm wasn't over yet. My ski-pass was revoked for the weekend for some silly flubs with administration in the workplace, but I could still ride the gondola on Saturday. I planned to take it to the top.
Saturday morning I hopped onto the bus for Main Lodge. The woman-driver jumped out frequently to chisel the ice from the steps with a small pick, and once we started moving the bus slid on every icy turn. She wasn't having a good time- turning off of old mammoth road the bus went so far as to miss the street-sign by inches and had an oncoming car make an exciting break.

The cars were more numerous than I'd scene them before. At the lodge there were snow-bound vehicles parked on the side of 203 for more than a half-mile down past the overflowed stump-alley lot. Maybe it is the fresh snow that brings them, or the weekend? At the gondola was posted:
I gave the man my pass to see how far I could get- Only to McCoy station, though, at 9630feet in elevation.
The storm was much more than an examination from the bottom of the mountain would have revealed. I couldn't see the lodge or the peak of Mammoth mountain from half-way- only the most devoted riders and a few strips of dedicated conifers. Even the air was washed-out and crispy- It tore at my exposed face more awfully with each gust of icy wind. I walked from the station and up the flatter parts of a few runs. My meandering left me only cold until I found out just how deep the snow was where it wasn't packed down. The well of a tempting pine left me knee-high and unpleasantly surprised. The step I took destroyed my dry snow boots and sent me back to the station perhaps a bit earlier than I would have chosen. After shopping the unreasonable food-stuffs in the station I returned to the gondola and my apartment, assuming that I'd had enough of the storm. With my planned trip up 14-thousand-foot Whitney in mind, its now much easier to see how such a storm could leave you lost or in a bag!

Monday, November 30, 2009

BLACK and WHITE and blues, greys and greens

Snow is white- it naturally fills in the grey spots with something more exciting, but there is something to be said for the greens and blues of a snowy mountain scape, too. I rode down hwy 395 yesterday- they've opened most of the roads to vehicles with tire-chains or 4-wheel drives after our big snow-dump on the night of thanksgiving (I'll post storm-pics later!)
Anyways, I was somewhere north of the village of Tom's Place when I spotted this gorgeous scene on the foothills of the Sierra. . Took several photos in colour and then considered the black and white-potential of the rough, dark trees and the beautifully smooth slopes. With the shutter speed up only a single click, I leaned again against the railing on the side of the road and snapped several more. When they are together, I think I like the colored-photo better, but individually the grey-scale one makes a more awesome impression on me. Which do you like best?- what could I do to make either of these even better? Adjust the mid-tones? Ups the contrast? More colour? Each seems to be missing something that would make them great! I would greatly appreciate any feedback! THANKS!

Monday, November 23, 2009


'Walked to the Library on Sunday afternoon- after my last training session on the mountain. The library was closed, but I spotted a bright sundog over Mammoth on my long walk back to the apartment. The thing was about 35 degrees from the blocked horizon and there was only one. I noticed the isolated rainbow several minutes after the last of the sunlight had left the valleyand it disappeared as quikcly as it seemed to have come.

Sundogs are a phnomenon which occur when the plate-like ice crystals in high cirrus clouds are shifted with the wind so that direct light is refracted through each crystal at 60-degrees. Sundogs can also form in low-lying ice clouds and generally become further from the sun as it rises and closer as it falls. Sometimes, when there is a sundog to one side of the sun, there will be an equal and opposite sundog that creates the appearance of a halo around the sun. They are said to appear anywhere in the world and at any time of day, but I have seen few in my lifetime and they seem to concentrate in early-spring for Kansas and Missouri.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Daytrip hoover

October5: We got a late start for the day, and had little in the way of a plan, but Hoover dam was close and something we agreed should be seen.
Traffic outside of the city was hellacious- oncoming lanes flowed free but as we neared the Dam we rolled slower and slower. Neither Kelly nor I had a clue as to what was creating the miles-long line. Then there was the sign: "Police Security Checkpoint ahead". Windows were left down, sunglasses removed, smiles and all of the rest of the police-protocol was done and an hour or so later we were waved on and not pulled aside to be sniffed or searched or whatever they wanted.
The creep down to the Dam continued until we found that it would cost us some sum of money to park. Kelly offered to pay, but opted to be cheap with me and I did a quick U-ey to catch the lookout that we'd passed not to far back. They're building a new bridge over the river that offered better views than the famous dam- still Hoover was exceptional! Our adventure was had after we split for the turn-off to Lake Mead- we found a cool little beach to walk and the water was SO blue! Kelly and I picnicked-it out of the bed of the truck before a nice stroll down the waterline. Families played in the water- it was a little cold for me! I caught interest in the Zebra-muscle shells that littered the beach. She recognized the name and associated it with problems that she'd heard of before. Look at the little buggers: its too bad theyre so cool-lookin'! I spotted a wharf/lookout-thing that needed to be visited- we took the short drive and started walkin-

Kelly thought same as I did. "It sure is further than it looks, huh?"

I played with the cool schists and crystals that I found along the way and she pretended to be interested in learning about them. There was one final climb to do and we found ourselves looking over hundreds of miles of shoreline, including our green beach! We talked philosophy and got deep into wondering how life can take you places. I got to thinkin' about the future and Kelly settled my mind with an awesome john Lennon quote that Id not heard before. "Life" she said, "is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." I like it. Kelley smiled for a photo and we figured out that another night in Vegas was what was to be had.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mammoth Mountain

I think they call the cool spikes to the left of the main peak THE MINARETS. I only remember the name from my 2005 Sierra Club trip near the Devil's Postpile. I was eager to go visit the area again- the postpile and Rainbow falls- until I learned that it was all closed for the season and even trespassing would require an 18-mile hike without a snowmobile!

My three-day Lift Operators training started on Thursday, but Saturday was all mine. I drove up onto the Mountain and was skiing early. The things felt awkward on my feet and I took the Discovery run several times. I nearly fell on the thin west slope- my third slow ride down the hill-I wouldn't have been the only one on my butt!

I rode up the lift first with a man from San Diego who was working on his second day of trying to learn the Snowboard. Despite the bruises on his body he seemed to have a smile on his face and was a little confused when he learned that I had come from Kansas. "You ain' in Kansas no more!" The joke seems to be much more common up here than the Twister and Toto ones that were rampant on my visit to Colorado.

They called it a Bluebird-Day- referring to the cloudless sky and the warm air. People on the hill favor this weather, though it seems to be the worst for business while there is so little snow on the ground.

Upon Graduating to The Broadway- the most popular intermediate run on the hill- I rode up lift #1 with a New Jersey couple who warned me of the ice patches on the top. From there, the minarets and whatever peak that is were stunning! I drifted down past the Stump Alley lift to avoid the traffic and take some pics of riders coming off the ridge. ..

With the camera stowed I crossed my fingers and left the safety of flat. It was easy to go as slow as I wanted- Once I found that lifting my uphill ski would let me turn fast and brake. All that stuff they tell you about making a V with your skis to slow down was kinda useless on the steeper parts of the Broadway. I dared to increase my speed on the following lifts and found it amazing how quickly this whole skiing thing came back to me! I did run after run and felt that I'd mastered the Broadway! From there, it was to the top!

They call it "The top of the Sierra." I slid from the peak of Mammoth down to whatever shoot or bowl is a few closer to the Roadrunner and held my breath for the first big drop!

The sound of my skis was something that I'd forgotten and love! Its something close to the sound of a rushing stream, only it was powerful and at my command (most of the time). The fastest part was done and I couldn't help but look up to see what I'd conquered! Cold powdered ice drifted from the slope- The stuff that I'd helped to make airborne on my way down.

I slowed down to pass an injured skier and hit a patch of hard ice that wouldn't allow me to turn or slow. For only a moment I was out of control, but it definitely gave me a nice scare!
I was fortunate not to fall until a little ways after the ice- My first spill of the day, and head-first!
I skipped to a stop and carried one ski uphill to retrieve the other. "Wipe-Out!" a passing boarder shouted in spirit. I was still a bit rattled to offer any good come-backs. ...'took the run to the bottom of Chair #2, the Stump Alley Express, to take me back up to the top of Broadway for my last exhausted go of the day - just a few hours before closing. I'd forgotten how sore it makes you, too... I might just enjoy it up here!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Right 'round Midnight

The drive was intense. It was only with some last-minute motivation from the fine folks on The Hill that I called Kelly in Plano, TX and asked what she might think 'if I showed up tomorrow morning'. She gave me an excited invitation and I packed for my 5-month adventure and said goodbye to my family. Mom brewed a thermos of coffee for my trip and I was on I-35 'round 'bout Midnight. Emporia passed in a blur and I paid my $6 toll in Wichita while the big-rigs and road-trippers emptied into the rest stops and onto the rural routes for the night. Wichita wasn't very exciting. I began to feel the overwhelming sleepiness long before Oklahoma City. A spectacular thumbnail-moon scooped the horizon through the orange glow of the city. Despite its empty streets, it seemed to give me a bit of a second (or third,..fourth) wind. There appeared always to be a hopeful set of taillights in front of me, though it is very possible that it was just another colourful hallucination. A thick, cloudy fog didnt help either. I drove through nearly continuous clouds rolling over the interstate- they were think and then thin as I gained a bit of altitute- and then the night was crystal-clear again with each ridge and crest. It all seems to have been mashed together with my exhaustion. Dawn came- I first suspected it to be another falsity as I had already spent several hours hoping that the moments of slight-colour in the sky were that. I stopped to fill up just after the peak of colour. The fresh air was good- I spent a few minutes in a dewy-wet field with my camera, and again as I crossed over the Washita River. It was the homestretch from there.
Kelley got her 1-hour notice and the final bout of tiredness diminished as I turned onto the President George Bush freeway. It wasnt until I was deep into the residential streets that i realized the silly directions I'd printed off, 9 hours before, were incomplete. Instead of calling, though, I took a handful of right and wrong turns and recognized the street that she lives on. Kelly met me out front. She showed me some of her latest sketches and ink/watercolour things (a neat series inspired by the mineral exhibit from our visit to the LA Museum of Natural History!!) ... and she took me out to a Brazilian cafe-place for a much-needed omelet!

We had a wonderful day at her favorite local park- one that she described as "how rich people do nature"- and a visit to her grandparents. Georgia, Kelly's wonderful pup, got some good off-leash time with the tennis ball.
Grandma and Grandpa were so sweet! I was quizzed about my photographs and was excited to teach them about their new Nikon DSLR. I talked a lot about night shots, and manipulating the different camera functions to create the effects they liked in my photos. I felt that Kelly was unusually silent through the visit, and later learned that she feared I was being bombarded with questions.
A return to the house- I got to meet her two siblings for the first time and the family crunched-in to fit me at the dinner table. Dad said a short prayer- I felt a bit awkward bowing my head to participate, but still I felt welcomed.

We shared a pleasant walk through downtown Dallas after nightfall. I tried taking some photos, but apparently I have a lot to learn about that as well. After Kelly's morning interview, and some good conversation with the parents, we rode separately to Sherman, where Kelly lived for four years to complete her Art/English degree. She lived in a cool old house that was eerily similar to our old Jarboe home in Kansas City- pink bath tile and all. The house is occupied by friends now, and they put us up in the living room. We spent some time walking across the Austin University Campus- she had a fun story for every building! I got a tour of the old downtown area, too- full of beautiful old Maryville-type buildings and some great ruins of an old train industry. Much of the architecture was like that of Old-Missouri's- maybe a little newer. The town, however, was many times larger than where I'd done school for a semester, covering nearly 40 square miles (compared to Maryville's 5). For sunset I was treated to a stroll down the ancient railroad bridge crossing into Oklahoma over the Red River in the small town of Carpenters Bluff. .. The old wood decking was creaky and burned in places- non existent in some. Kelly had never walked the entire length of the bridge before, and upon our return to Texas we determined that there was more graffiti and damage to the Oklahoma-side of each pylon. The tops of the boards were lightly burned in some places, while the spaces in between them were scorched. I thought that it might mean, while the burned areas appeared fluid like a puddle, that gasoline had been burned on the bridge. A placard told its story:


- www.co.grayson.tx.us

I started driving after a night at the old Sherman house- after dark, again. Kelly and I had an awesome goodbye- it was hard not to start spewing travel plans at her- she proposed a couple of road-trippy ideas herself! From Sherman, through Amarillo and all of the way to a 2am rest-stop just 11 miles from the New Mexico Border... Despite a short encounter with a TX hwy patrol-dude (issued me a ticket for having one of my license plate-lights out, @#&*er!) I was out to make time to California! My alarm was set for 6...

I was the only engine running, amongst a huge number of Semi's, at six when i left to reach the NM border before sunrise. By the time I passed Tucumcari, however, I was lookin at snow. My gas tank would be right on empty as I pulled into the cheapest station in Albuquerque- A gamble, but I could always fill up in Santa Rosa.
The town came and went and my new truck was getting mileage better than I'd hoped for! I passed up some reasonable prices, but only because I was feeling too motivated to pull off. the clouds for sunrise were awesome- Like the winter storm which had whitened the medians had only just passed! Low wisps and dark masses- everything was moving and changing above me.
I found myself in a bit of falling snow as i entered into a more mountainous region - cars and trucks coming from the west were covered in snow- they werent so many..?

I was only starting to get excited about the falling snow when I rounded a sharp hill and slammed-on the brakes for all of the red lights in front of me! The inattentive sedan behind me came way to fast- I was ready to stop for the line of Big-rigs, but the little thing whipped from behind me and to my left- deep into the snowy middle of the Interstate. The trucker beside me had his own moment of excitement about the time that my car began to vibrate. The unfamiliar ABS system gave me a bit of a fright, but a trailer spun out in front of me... I slowed to the 3 or 4mph that traffic had slowed to, and imagined that the slushy, icy I-40 couldn't possibly be the cause of all the chaos. My heart beat fast!

...Traffic crept- minivans and pickups crawled along the sides to bypass the holdup, and Semi's began parking on the sides as adrenaline levels dipped to normal. I called a few folks to ask if the interstate was being closed by the storm, but got no answers or replies. My tank fell to empty after an hour or so and I decided to take action before the car died.
It was the first time I'd really used the four-wheel drive- through a flat, open field to whatever highway paralleled the stopped cars. I popped over the highway and across the oncoming lanes- stuck the gears into 4x4 and was up onto the icey flat easier than I'd hoped! I rolled over the snow- it rose up behind me like dust on a dry dirt road... IT was AWESOME! I drove it up to forty and with only one lost pickup following me, I felt like I should have been in a dramatic movie scene or something! About half-way across the field I began wondering about the possibilities of a fence blocking my way onto the small highway that I saw. No worries; I could always drive back.
no fence! I made it over a big ditch and onto highway onetwentysomething! It was a miracle! I pulled into a small gas station on the highway just minutes after getting on- and just minutes before the tank would run dry! With my truck happy again and myself feeling rather accomplished, I slipped behind the closed building for a needed brake. The icy wind from the opposite side of the building was intense- it blew strong waves of ice and snow from the roof- I tried taking a pic of the dumpster being overcome by the white-out, but with frozen fingers and only my silly gadget, I got it in between the most intense bouts of snow. The sun shown through the blowing ice- it all made for a brilliant scene, but I was too cold to try photographing it again. For miles I drove between an equally confused Jeep and the pickup who'd followed me from the Interstate. I tried keeping an eye on the heavy traffic that I'd escaped, but it did not appear to lighten or speed up at all.
I assumed that they'd closed the interstate- a nasty sign for my long drive to California. When I found a patrolman blocking an entrance ramp, I stopped to ask about it all. The man was very friendly- "Your free to park on the ramp" he said. " It'll be about eight to ten hours before they get the wreck cleared. Where ya headed?" I told him I needed to get to Las Vegas and he told me to stick on the highway that I'd come from, and follow it until it intersected the Interstate again, where they should be letting folks on.
Not long after resuming the slower drive I saw the end of traffic- maybe fifteen miles from where I had the adrenaline rush and traffic came to a near-stop. Another mile gave way to the haunting image of two mangled Semi-trailers locked together. One on it's side, I think, and one broken and upside-down. They blocked the entire width of westbound I-40 and emergency vehicles swarmed.

through albuquerque my intentions were to fill-up again in Gallup, New Mexico. The heavy sky turned to wonderful sunshine and another closed I-40. The road was wet, but not icy and the stopping process was aided by EXIT HIGHWAY signs far in advance of the single-file line onto the ruins of another rural highway. I was optimistic- traffic moved relatively quickly at more than ten miles/hour for several minutes. Nope. I parked behind a metallic trailer before we started moving again and took a few shots of the beautiful snowscape to the north- vermillian bluffs and all.

I rolled with traffic for an hour or so. Another truck had closed the interstate- this time with a crunched cab and a no front axle or wheels. He didn't flip, but had plowed through the brush and snow north from the road. His missing axle- bent and many yards from the cab, and another deformed something was lodged against a pole about a tenth of a mile from his place of rest. We filed back onto the Interstate only 30 miles from Gallup.

Only 30 miles later, my credit cards which payed for all of my gas had been cancelled- AFTER I owed a great sum for the gas that i filled the tank with. I called my parents who received a call from the card company notifying them of some suspicious activity in Gallup. Yep, that was me. My mom gave me another card number acceptable to the clerk and I was freed.

By flagstaff my money was turned on again and by sunset I was stuck in the Security-mess before crossing Hoover dam. At 5mph, all of the backside of the Dam was lit up, beautiful and impressive!
Again I laid down my gas money in Las Vegas. Gas was up nearly 30c/gallon from when I visited Kelly in Plano. I drove north where I would cross Death Valley and face my final few hours on the Eastern Sierra. A sign to Pahrump- the city of nearly 40,000 in the middle of nowhere. Pahrump is a modern phenomenon- unincorporated and in the Pahrump valley of 2700feet, originally inhabited by the Shoshone. Until Las Vegas boomed in the '60s, there were no paved roads or telephones in the Valley. I cut across the north end of town on Bell Vista Ave and faced incredible darkness to the west. Not much of a moon, if there was one. My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim- appropriate for having entered California, but the Hotel was nowhere to be found. I grew sleepy enough to feel unsafe driving and so desperate as to park the truck at Death Valley Junction for the night. At nearly 1, I rolled down the windows and slipped into the back for another few chilly hours.

I woke up in a desert- amongst cacti, far mountains and with every liquid thing stored in the truck FROZEN. Again I photographed the telephone poles above me. I once told Kelly that they bring a sense of harmony or rapport to me. Railroad tracks do for her what these long lines do for me. -Im sure there is a better word for it..Any suggestions?

I drove to watch the sunlight sweep across vast Death Valley for the first time since it retreated at sunset. Instantly a warm world appeared that did not exist in the cold night. Birds were more common than I'd seen them in the past few days. Finch-things mostly, but a huge circling flock of what appeared to be snow geese revealed themselves above the Valley floor-. They flew at an altitude nearly equal to the surrounding peaks- Big, white things with black wings. Near Furnace Creek, I was just 18miles from Badwater, the lowest point in the US at 282 feet above sea level, and 110miles from the highest point in the lower 48: Mt. Whitney, 14505ft. As the crow flies, Badwater in only 76 miles from Whitney.

The small village/resort at Furnace Creek is also known for having the highest recorded temp in the Western Hemisphere at 134degrees F.
I stopped in the valley to take photos of the Sand Dunes and the Devil's Cornfield, where vegetation is spaced evenly and elevated several feet above the ground in places due to high erosion that's washed away all sediment from around the plant, leaving it standing on it's roots. I made it through the valley- into the Joshua Tree desert on the West side.

There I spotted a big white pile of the fresh tailings of a mine- high up on a hill and maybe a half-mile north of hwy 190. It was just a speck when I spotted it-there were several- and I immediately pulled up onto the volcanic rock and kicked it into 4-wheel drive. I love it!

Not long after leaving the hwy for the rough desert I came upon an ancient trail. The grown-over ruts appeared to be heading in the general direction of my pile of rocks and I followed it for only a few hundred yards until it was no longer identifiable. I rolled all of the way to the base of the tailings and indeed they were piles of mine-waste. With a pocket knife and a ball of old aluminum foil, I began collecting small bits of quartz and even a small garnet on my way up. I searched the rubble for signs of minerals that might tell me what was being dug, but i dont know enough about that. The matrix was white and grey, soft, waxy and flaky- I recognized it from the Harding Mine that I visited in New Mexico over a year ago. I couldnt tell you its name

Existing amongst the white were many pieces of calcite- like the low-grade optical stuff that we used to find with Beaver Lake's sandstone in Arkansas. I scrambled to the top of the pile to discover the place from where all the mess had derived. In the deep hole of the mine I found handfuls of the garnet-bearing white stuff. The largest crystals are only a few milimeters in diameter, but they are a beautiful gemmy red when you hold them to the light. Most appeared old and weathered- even when I broke the fresh faces of the crystals from the wall of the mine, they appeared rounded and to have something of a worn, matte finish. Alamandine?

I wondered deep enough into the hole as to loose all sunlight and blindly gathered another pocket-full of material.

Still, there was no obvious metal in the stones. The garnets' colour has seeped into the matrix stone in a small layer around each crystal and the facets of many seem to have a metallic patina on them of a bronzish-colour. Can anyone help teach me what they are, or what might have been collected in the mine? There were many smaller prospecting-type holes around the mine, and I never visited the two other tailings piles that could be seen just my right, but I suspect that this mine a more professional operation.

I got out safe- avoided those man-eater, tire-killing cacti that spotted the terrain and was back on the highway with a waterbottle full of garnet-material and a dime-sized bit of opalite. Through the redrocks and past the "Sulfate Farm" thats eating-up dry Owens Lake. the deserted land around owens lake has an incredible history of mining towns and water-rights disputes: Starting in 1866, and for nearly a century thereafter, the Cerro Gordo Mines produced fortunes in Silver and Lead bullion shipped to Los Angeles via wagon, and later zinc ores.

Early mining was hindered by hostile indian activity and the limits of adobe-oven smelters, a 3-day trip to the other side of the lake and no roads. Before the peak of mining in the 1880s, the Bessie Brady barge had cut the 3-day frieght to three hours and modern smelting operations, trains and an improved toll road made for the high-production of ingots shipped to LA.
A second mining boom in 1910 was focused on the discovery of zinc ore, then used in the production of alloys and consumed for nutrition. In 1913, the city of LA established aquaductes which diverted water from Owen's tributaries. The lake dired up and the City was sued by a Soda Products company who used the the $15,000 settlement to build a new plant on the Dry lake Bed which burned down a short time later. Chemicals and minerals were extracted from the lake's Brine. los Angeles was again sued after the wet summer of '37 when it spilled water back into the lake from it's aquaduct. The original court-ordered $154000 fine was taken to supreme court in '41 and ultimitly resulted in the construction of the Long Valley Dam which impounded lake Crowley, to the north, for flood control.

Well, I thought it was cool.

I filled up for the last time in Lone pine, under the shadow of majestic Mt Whitney, and spotted Mammoth Mountain to mark my exit.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Got it!

Thank You, everyone who helped me find my missing photo!
I got it, and in Full Res., from Steve at the Missouri River Relief who was kind enough to review the archives and offer me the photos of mine from past River Clean-ups like Sioux City!


Oh, what a success! The large student-workday headed by bill around Swope Park's dinning hall has left the area looking better than ever!

Bill estimated that sixty or seventy volunteers were in attendance from some of Kansas City's universities and made a killer introduction speech on the picnic tables behind the between the hall and the edge of the recently-burned section of The Hill. A lucky handful of Master Naturalists volunteered to work the sunny morn and led groups through the day on areas from the Quarry up to the dining hall.
Woodlands were opened after only the first few minutes of work and smiles were abound. I recognized several folks and it was good to see people again.

The workday's photos were my assignment- shared with Robert Gaines. The city had asked for pics, and Wildlands can always use them. I stuck around to photo Bill's speech and tagged onto a group working around the hall at first. I met students from St Louis and Kansas City and an old classmate from Lincoln High. Volunteers were asked to stick in groups of two or three to manage the cutting and hauling of the bushes, and herbicide (Tordon) application as separate tasks. The small groups who did stick together seemed much more efficient than those who attempted to work individually or in larger numbers. Still, I found nobody who was having a bad time, and work was being done everywhere I wandered. For nearly two hours, the invasive Honeysuckle bushes were cleared around the buildings atop the hill. From here, I followed students down towards the quarry where two more groups worked vigorously. I sparked conversations and few seemed to mind the camera. The fella in blue, above, tore through the biggest trees with a handsaw for his herbicide partners and I got a smile and a laugh when I pronounced him my #1 model.

I hope that Robert got some good pics- mine were okay. It certainly wont take too many more of these workdays to clear the planned acres if volunteers continue to be as enthusiastic as today's group. Less importantly, the huge turnout helped too. .. Maybe we could blame all of the fun happening on the excellent 70-degrees!
Honeysuckle may continue to grow in the cleared areas because of the strong, century-old seed bank that exists in the dirt, but continued burning will help to suppress saplings and kill shallow seeds.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


My brother found an extraordinary leaf in the lawn. It was so colourful and perfect he brought it in to show! I shaded the window with a white sheet and took a dozen shots or so- came out with some pretty cool ones. It looked like a SweetGum leaf until I realized that there are only Maples around. Maybe it was blown from another block!?

What a Burn

Larry invited my mother, Bill and I to enjoy and assist with a small private-land burn in Johnson County, MO. The fireline was cleared, and fire was dropped by 10. Prescribed winds increased and humidity levels dropped and WHAT A BURN! The thing was textbook and a real pleasure to witness..
Mr. Rizzo dropped the beginning of a backfire on the Southwest corner of our ~15 acre burn area. The first minutes were fast and intense while the fire spread swiftly up towards an open ridge- propelled by an unexpected wind-tunnel from the large lake that was the western border of the area.

We had already kicked through the leaf-litter in search of any wildlife that might be threatened by our activity: Box turtles and the Red bat were of the most importance. After my exciting red-bat encounter on the fireline earlier in the day, Rizzo cited a recent Northern-Arkansas study which found that the bats may hibernate in the leaf-litter and be endangered by the fire. He found it surprising that the bat was as far north as we were and thought that my sighting was significant enough to report to the experts that he knows. We found nothing to protect from the coming fire.
From Texas Parks and Wildlife:

"Threats and Reasons for Decline:
Given recent discoveries of red bats hibernating in grass and leaf litter, it is likely that some die as a result of controlled burning in winter, especially in deciduous forests."

Cool, huh!? The growing fire sent its smoke towards the sky- we were fortunate to have the warm, cloudless day to burn- such conditions usually result in good lift for the smoke, so that we aren't smoking-out neighboring properties. The wind blew the columns of colourful smoke back over the ridge to shade us from the sun and cast a beautiful and surreal orange glow through the smoke and trees where we stood. Bill and Mom continued to create the backfire further down the line- away from the lake. I was called ahead after the hill had about 30 feet of black on in- My job was to spot developing hazards and put out the smaller fires that creeped on the line. (and take too many photos)

With the steady winds and growing black creating a sense of security and giving us a bit more time to sit back and enjoy, I spent a few dozen exposures on the unfolding scenes. It was obvious that we were in for a beautiful burn!

We neared the end of the backfire and I was asked to walk back to the lake and make sure that everything was in good order. It all appeared fine- no smoke on the wrong side, or flaming trees- until I got down to the water where a towering dead trunk had burned to a few feet up.

I jogged back to report and returned to the tree to kill it with a back-pack sprayer. Living trees had only a few inches of darkened bark at the base, and could not burn. Our leaf-litter fuel was new enough to create the awesome smoke! I caught up with the others, who waited for me so we could begin flanking the property with flames that promised to be a bit more exciting than what continued to creep over the ridge. I reported 60 to 80 feet of black and I relocated the extra torch-fuel and water-pack further up the line while the burnt section of our fireline was triple-checked.

We were ready to get started. Bill and I were positioned on the Northwest corner to light a wind-driven headfire as Mom and Larry turned north to light the flames that would burn towards the lake to (theoretically) meet with the back- and head-fires and safely burn the last of the unburned.

On the Northern line, the wind was to our backs and drove the smoke away and into the forest. It all made for some very cool lighting-effects for my photos, mixing orange smoke, black trees, white linings and blue sky. Bill held at the lines' bend for me to control the grassy lake-side corner, and as he continued to light the flank-fire that would meet with larry's I checked the head-fire line and wondered into the black where things burned and smoldered all around me.

I followed on the burning edge of the headfire- picture-happy as ever- until I spotted Bill and my mom well into the charcoaled-zone themselves. You could stand in a spot for less than a few seconds and be presented with nearly unlimited changing photo-opportunities. Winds change to create a sunlight-spectacle of billowing oranges, browns, whites and blacks, letting white light in where the different shades of smoke were not, and boiling the colour against that brilliant blue. I knelt to see the infinite billowing smoke columns cross the lens of the camera and all sensations of a cool breeze, warm sun and crisp air were turned a bit more hellacious.
Where topography brought different sections of fire together, and suffocated small burning areas of oxygen and rising air, little vortexes spawned and spun with black debris and thick smoke. Each whipped through the hot-spots until they collapsed in cooler, more stable conditions. I turned my bandanna in to a neck guard after the first one spun into me and sizzled the hairs on my face and neck. The burn seemed to be going perfectly when I spotted Larry- with a big smile on his face!

Sure he may have had some good, black ash on his teeth, but he was thrilled! He shared some stories as we walked across our achievement. Previous burns, of which I have attended two on the property, have rarely been as successful... The unburned land was reduced to only a few hundred square yards and he got off on some unrelated observations about raccoons as we skipped over a poop-less log on a burned trench.
The fire smoldered itself out as the small ring consumed the last few feet of fuel in a lovely anti-climax and left the four of us standing together and smokey. Larry started back to finalize our burn with a final examination of the property and fireline- I grabbed a sharp window-scraper from the car to retrieve the giant Bearded-Tooth Mushrooms that I'd spotted growing unusually high on a dead tree. The unmistakable things, nicknamed hedgehog mushrooms for a good reason, are supposed to be good edibles, though have only eaten them once. I gave bill his choice- the Giant one or the huge one- he chose the smaller to take home and try himself. Several Minutes passed and Larry didnt show.

Bill became worried and wondered if we should go back into the fire to assist with whatever had complicated his short line-check. I grabbed the water-pack again- Bill had the rakes and we walked swiftly down the line. It was on that silly southeastern bend- near where Larry had began the flank- that we found him struggling with a trio of burning logs. He was happy to receive the help, though the logs were in the black and not an emergency- The three of us broke the things apart as best we could and I emptied that heavy pack.... What a burn!