the journal

Archive for October, 2008


Mohave Meandering

Filed Under local travel, photography, urban-explorers.com

I think I am becoming a Desert Rat. Like many of those who call the desert home, I’ve fallen in love with the dry desolation the Mohave offers. I find relaxation in the solitude, where your eyes can search the horizon in vain for another human being. This expansiveness captured my attention on my first trip to the Mohave, but my most recent trip introduced me to the world found at the opposite end of the spectrum: the minuscule. Early Saturday morning I returned to the Mohave Desert to enjoy both the large and the small of it. I would end up visiting the most desolate place I’ve been in my life.

The last major civilization is Twentynine Palms, CA. Although it is home of the world’s largest Marine Base, the desert community consists of people from many ways of life. As like a waterhole in the African Serengeti where all sorts of animals can make an appearance, so is the case at a Twentynine Palms’ pub. I noticed one across from the gas station I stopped at; motocross bikes and horses were tethered to the railing. If I had more time, I would have gone in to grab a beer with the desert rats to hear some of their stories.

Local Watering Hole

I headed east out of Twentynine Palms and the city was soon in my rear view mirror. Soon all I could see was miles of tough land with a few tough people living on it. Some of these houses looked identical to any house in the suburbs, as if they fell from the sky like in The Wizard of Oz. Outside the city, services were scarce for visitor and citizen alike. Old power lines draped next to the two-lane paved road, but stray far and not only do the power lines disappear, but so does the pavement. Side streets are nothing more than sandy paths carved into the desert, their identification handcrafted by those living on them. Some street signs included the names of all the residents.

Eastbound eventually became northbound, and I crossed into the Cadiz Valley. If one could define the solitude of a place by how much information can be found about it on Wikipedia, Cadiz Valley might possibly be the loneliness place in the US. There’s nothing on Cadiz Valley, nor the Bristol Mountains to the north in the online Encyclopedia. The US Census Bureau reported in 2000 that just 23 souls called this 424 square miles of land home.

But this wasn’t always the case. Amboy used to be a main rest stop for those traveling east on Route 66. By 1940, over 2.5 million people had left their homes in the midwest to try to find a better life. Of those, 200,000 moved to California and had most likely traveled through this area.

Desert Highway

No Parking

I’m sure the people who still live here have to create their own recreational activities. I wandered onto what must be their television shooting range out on Bristol Dry Lake.

Bad Reception


Bristol Dry Lake was once not so dry, and I tried picturing how the area looked when it was filled with water and life millions of years ago. Now, the lake is a major source of the country’s table salt. Mining has been going strong here since they started operations in 1910. They say there’s 60 million tons still in the ground, so we’ll have salt on the table for centuries to come.

Bristol Drylake

Crusty Footprint

This water-filled trench is man made. According to Cargill Salt, salt is created by solar evaporation:

“Solar salt is produced through the natural evaporation of sea water or other naturally occurring brine. Salt water is captured in shallow ponds and allowed to evaporate by means of the sun and wind. During the process, a salt bed forms on the bottom of the pond. The salt is harvested, washed, screened and packaged. The typical solar “crop” takes from one to five years to produce.”

Farming Salt Water

I was there after hours on a Saturday, so everything that might have been active was not. I wouldn’t be surprised if most most of the area’s residents work at this mine. Either way, the 200 census reports that the average household income of these 23 residents was $127K a year, so something in the area is paying the bills.

Amboy Crater & Sunset

I reached Amboy Crater just as the sunlight faded over the horizon. Many Southern Californians would be surprised to hear that they could take a day trip to climb a volcano. The volcano has been extinct for a while and the crater was created about 6,000 years ago, leaving behind one of the the most symmetrical volcanic cinder cones.

I watched the silhouette of the crater – which stands about 250 feet above the desert floor – fade into the landscape as the sun set and the stars came out. Another trip would be needed to explore the volcano more closely, so I headed back to Joshua Tree National Park to take a few long exposure photographs before heading home.

Joshua Trees at Night


Life of a Joshua Tree

Filed Under local travel, photography, YouTube

It was four years ago this month that I made my first trip to Joshua Tree National Park. I remember how bizarre the desert landscape appeared upon arrival, with its huge boulders the size of buildings and strangely formed “trees.” It was like walking into a Dr. Seuss book.

Since then, I have been back to the park over a dozen times, learning something new about desert life with every visit. For instance, I never knew that the desert could be so full of life year round. I’ve been to Joshua Tree while the land is baking in triple-digit temperatures of the summer. I’ve also had the luck and privilege of seeing snow fall on the park. Whatever the weather, life seems to keep going in the desert through even the harshest of conditions.

For this blog post, I wanted to share the life cycle of the Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia) in photos I have taken the last four years. With my last trip, I’ve now captured most of the stages of the yucca.

It all starts with a seed…

Joshua Tree Seed

The photo above shows a single yucca seed still in a pod. They have the shape and texture of a watermelon seed, but are slightly flatter and rounder.

Although it is called a tree, it is actually a member of the lily family. Its white and rubbery flower is visited by many different insects, but pollination is done by the yucca moth. While laying its eggs in the flower, gathering pollen in the process.

Joshua Tree in Bloom

In the summer, green bulbous pods about the size of avocados begin to grow on the tree.

Joshua Tree Pods

By the fall, the pods have dried out and become very brittle.

Joshua Tree Pod 3

Eventually the pods – as well as the flowers – fall off of the tree. The pods are indehiscent and cannot naturally release its seed. Researchers at the USGS and the University of Nevada, Reno reported in 2007 that they believe the seeds are disbursed by rodents who tear open the pods and collect the seeds. During the Ice Age, scientists believe that Joshua Trees were disbursed by Giant Sloths.

Joshua Tree Pod on Ground

Here is a pod husk after the seeds have been taken.

Joshua Tree Empty Pod

Research has found that a winter freeze will stunt the growth of a tree in a way that will cause the tree to grow in a new direction.

Joshua Tree Snowfall

Joshua Trees grow at an extremely slow rate. For the first few years, it might not reach a height of 12 inches. After that, it tends to grow just an inch or two a year on average. Since they do not have growth rings like a tree do, it is hard to measure the age of a Joshua Tree, but those in the know say that the oldest living Joshua Tree is close to 1,000 years old and stands over forty feet in height!

The largest I have found in the park is just east of Sheep Pass and could easily be over 800 years old:

Largest Joshua Tree I've Seen

The future of the Joshua Tree does not look good. Reports suggest that global warming might cause the tree to die off. In 2006, a fire killed many trees in the park.

Dead Joshua Trees

Graphic: Alice Kreit / Photo: Elizabeth Shogren, NPR

Until that day, when Joshua Tree National Park might need to be renamed “The National Park That Once Had Joshua Trees”, I’ll be making as many visits as possible to study and photograph these unique plants.

Joshua Tree Moonrise

Joshua Tree Orion