April 30, 2006
Saline Valley Photos
I've got all my photos from the trip to Saline Valley in a set on Flickr. Here are some highlights:
Scenes around Saline Valley:
The area abounds with folk art:
The lower springs area:
The Salt Tram:
William Weld Is Libertarian Nominee
Former Massachusetts Republican Governor William Weld has won the New York state Libertarian Party's nomination for governor. He IS a libertarian (mostly), and the party hopes that he will attract enough votes to get the party permanent ballot status in N.Y. state.
April 29, 2006
Back on April 4 a mysterious vibration passed through San Diego and eastern Riverside counties. Its speed and duration ruled out any kind of seismic activity. It was a low frequency sound wave traveling through the atmosphere. Scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography have determined the origin of the sound was in "Warning Area 291, a huge swath of ocean used for military training exercises." Now, we all know that the U.S. military is in the wise habit of refusing to confirm that they do or do not have any particular technology, that they are or are not testing any new weapons, that they are or are not doing any particular thing in any particular place or even in any general place. So I think it's really suspicious that in this case the Navy is issuing sweeping denials, saying that there were no Navy or Marine flights in that area that day, and no warships were practicing in the area. Why is the Navy letting our enemies know that there are days when this sensitive area is left unguarded?
Obviously, they were testing some weapon that has a huge sonic effect. If you recall, during the Manhattan Project the government was so paranoid that they censored even comic books that mentioned anything about atomic weapons...unintentionally telegraphing that we were working on just such a thing.
The Vatican and Navy work in different ways.
RC Church Promotes Movie
The Vatican is heavily promoting The Da Vinci Code by encouraging Roman Catholics to boycott the film and to organize protests against it! You'd think that after 2,000 years those guys would learn something about human behavior. I think their goals would be better achieved if the Vatican's glossy film magazine included a thumbnail review of the film something like this: "Too boring to watch to the end. No stars." But no, instead they make this thing sound so juicy! "stridently anti-Christian .. full of calumnies, offences and historical and theological errors regarding Jesus, the Gospels and the Church." "Calumnies!" ["a false accusation of an offense or a malicious misrepresentation of someone's words or actions" to be accurate]. Have you ever had Syrian Calumny Chicken with rice? MMMmmmm.
The Vatican even manages to bring in The Last Temptation of Christ which had begun to fade into history, but now young Catholics may be delighted to learn that their parents had similar calumnies (and blasphemies!) to watch when they were younger, too.
Safe For Now - Or Are We?
NASA (renowned for its accuracy) says that Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 which seemed to be headed for a collision with Earth in May (yeah! I didn't hear about it either!) has broken up into about 40 pieces and will miss the Earth at a distance of about 5.5 million miles. Ha! Take a look at that photo. Anyone with 2 brain cells (and that's me) can see that the mother ship has simply released its brood swarm of smaller ships which will swoop down to scourge the Earth.
My advice is that if you have anything special planned for Memorial Day weekend, just do it now.
April 28, 2006
Mexico Liberalizes Drug Laws
President Fox has said he will sign a bill decriminalizing the possession of 25 milligrams of heroin, 5 grams of marijuana, or 0.5 grams of cocaine. Similarly small amounts of LSD, ecstasy and amphetamines will also be permitted, but if it's peyote you're after, you can have "more than 2 pounds" of that. (They probably mean 1 kilogram. Damn, I hate it when news stories dumb down metric measurements. I think most Americans can grasp the concept of a kilogram.)
Dan Pallotta Family?
Chris Jones of Melrose, Massachusetts, is the grandson of one Tony Pallotta of Malden, Massachusetts. These towns are the childhood stomping grounds of Dan Pallotta, founder of the AIDS Rides. Tony Pallotta (the grandfather of Chris) rode in the Montana Vaccine Ride organized by Pallotta Teamworks. The article doesn't say there is any blood connection there, but I'd be surprised if there wasn't. Young Chris will be embarking on a 110-mile fundraising bike ride from the Gettysburg Battlefield to Walter Reed Medical Center, benefiting disabled veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Proud NFL
So this geek goes into a Denny's near the UCLA campus. Ya gotta wonder about that. I wouldn't do it because I know the tables are filthy and would get my laptop dirty. I wonder if that Denny's has wi-fi?
Anyway, there was this other guy at the Denny's, name of Ricky Manning, Jr., who started teasing the geek for being a geek. How lame is that? First of all, they're both eating at a Denny's, which brings them both down near the bottom of the pecking order. Who would care that this one is a geek and that one is just stupid?
Our geek man complained to Denny's "management," whereupon Mr. Manning, along with his four or five dining companions, beat the fucking crap out of the geek, leaving him unconscious. Mr. Manning then departed (no mention is made of what sort of tip he left for his server) in an SUV, but shortly the LAPD using one of their helicopters stopped him to remind him of the mess he left back at the restaurant. He was arrested and released on $30,000 bail. Mr. Manning had this heartfelt statement for the press:
"I was pretty down this morning because of the situation," Manning said."But when I found out I was a Chicago Bear, it kind of brought a little light to the day. ... I can't let something like this let me have a bad start to my football career in Chicago."
Always lookin' on the bright side, Mr. Manning is.
April 27, 2006
Saline Valley Pics
You can get a head start on my photos of Saline Valley, by going to look at Ed's right here
Oh, did I say some NSFW?
Hot Young Babes
Doin' their best for their favorite books of the Bible. Who dare cry "Blasphemy!"
LA Weekly Loves DHS
The LA Weekly has an article about Desert Hot Springs and some of it's better spa resorts. They've got nothing bad to say about anything.
The first thing you encounter in the lobby of The Spring is a cold glass of crisp, invigorating, lemon-twisted mineral water. Once refreshed, you learn it's from the tap. "In Desert Hot Springs," says Dana Smith, the Spring's manager, "even the tap water is magical. That's why it was voted the best drinking water in the country." The Spring is the most New Age spa on Miracle Hill, geared a bit more toward fasting programs, and the second thing you may encounter in the lobby is Enya. And if you stick around long enough, Smith will probably explain how the water's magic is derived from the local "vortex," a phenomenon, he says, that "has something to do with the fact that right here the earth, the water, the wind and the air combine. I don't know if you believe in all this stuff, but it's a real positive force."
I don't, but it is true that the tap water, which flows from the San Gorgonios and filters through the valley's porous alluvium for seven years before it reaches the city's Mission Springs Water District, has won five medals at the international Berkeley Springs Water Tasting and Competition.
Flying Wing Video
The Desert Sun has an article today about local videos that are available via YouTube. In the usual quality tradition of The Desert Sun, they include no links so you can actually go SEE the videos.
World Gym - DHS
You may remember long ago I mentioned that a sign had gone up in an empty storefront on Palm Drive announcing that it would be the home of a new World Gym. I've been watching that spot since and there's been virtually no activity. One day I did see a worker inside, but I think he was doing nothing more than clearing out some old carpeting.
Now, sometime in the last week or so the sign has been changed to announce that the World Gym is now OPEN! Open in a temporary location near Stater Bros., that is. A phone number is on the sign, but the sign goes behind the frame of the window, so it's almost impossible to read the phone number without stopping and craning around a bit.
Today I went to the location near Stater Bros. There was a banner in front of a storefront there. Inside I could see the small space was filled with exercise machines, but the door was locked, the lights were out, and no one was there. This was at 4:30 on a Thursday afternoon. Unusual hour for a gym to be closed. In fact, even if they intend that spot to be just a sales location, it's odd that it would be closed. There was no additional info at that site to say when they were actually open.
I called the phone number that was displayed at the supposedly ultimate location (760-329-8504). It rang and rang, but no answer. Not even voice mail! What kind of business is this?
Here at home I Googled '"world gym" "desert hot springs"' and found a location on the World Gym site where I could give them my phone and e-mail so they could contact me. I filled it out, and will let you know if anyone ever responds.
Makes Urine Bottles Look Yummy!
WTF? In lovely Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, dozens of bags of vomit (presumably of human origin) have been discovered dumped publicly over the last three years. Man, I'd hate to be a Mt. Pleasant cop.
Who Lost Their Mind In Minnesota?
The City Paper has had to defend its naming crystal meth as "Best Cheap Thrill." They say its satiric intent is obvious. Here's the article itself. I must be all addlepated today, because the satiric intent escapes me. In fact, it does seem to go on a bit long extolling the virtues of crystal meth.
Now, an example of true satire would have been to have that article written by an actual meth user, and then published it with no corrections. Would've read just like e-mail.
Oklahoma Family Values
What Ennis Could Have Done
April 26, 2006
Saline Valley - Death Valley N.P.
This past weekend I went on a camping trip in the Saline Valley, which is part of Death Valley National Park. This is an area that was BLM land until the Death Valley National Monument was enlarged and converted to a park in the 1990s. The trip was not a Great Outdoors event, but everybody who went on it from the Palm Springs area (8 of us) were members of GOPS, and most of the other guys who came from Orange County had past links with the club.
I rode up with Darrel and his dog Ben in Darrel's 4WD Explorer. This was our first time there, so we followed the directions from Eric, the Orange Countian, who had been making this trip twice a year for the last several years. Some of his dirctions were less than helpful. For instance, one of his instructions was to turn right "just after the sand dunes." I guess my opinion of "just after" differs from his. At least one of our crew missed the turn completely and had to turn around after asking directions from another motorist.
Our ultimate destination was the hot springs in Saline Valley. Fortunately, the night before the trip I located the GPS coordinates for the springs - and I figured out how to put them into my GPS device and make it point the way. This was not an easy task, as Garmin's documentation reminds me of documentation we used to get with government software. It simply goes through all the menu items and tells you what to do without relating them to each other in any way. There are no goal-oriented instructions. You can't look up "How to input a destination." You have to figure out all the steps to get there.
The GPS coordinates for the spring are N 36.80576 W 117.77340
I got those from Hot Springs & Hot Pools of the Southwest by Marjorie Gersh-Young. But what you need even more are the coordinates of that turn that comes "just after" the sand dunes. That's N 36.77802 W 117.87974
The directions Darrel and I had told us that Olancha was the last place to buy gas. From there we drove into the park to Saline Valley Road. From that point it was about 50 miles to the springs. Saline Valley Road has parts that were paved many years ago, but now it's basically just dirt. All of it is rough. In that 50 miles we might have gotten 500 feet that could have been called smooth. First you climb up to about 6200 feet, then you begin a long, rocky descent into the valley. There you discover interminable washboard. Darrel's Explorer rides on bad washboard exactly the same as my Ranger would, so our speed fluctuated between 10 and 15 MPH, usually. It's a big valley, and it was a long drive. Total time from my house to the springs was more than 8 hours.
Two other vehicles in our group suffered flat tires on the way in - at NIGHT! In Saline Valley there is no support whatsoever, other than what you can get from kindly strangers who happen to drive by. There are no paved roads, no cellphone service, no electricity, probably no occupied residences. At the hot springs there is one permanent resident who has a solar power generator. He has a radio to call for emergencies. There is also a nearby landing strip, one of only 3 in Death Valley N.P. and the only unpaved one.
Of course I'm working on a set of photos on Flickr for this trip, but I'm far from finished with that as I write this.
The area of the springs themselves is made up of volcanic rock coated with tufa built from the calcium carbonate in the water. There are three bathing areas within the area of the springs. The first you come to is the "lower springs" where there is thick, shady growth various native plants which makes a very comfortable setting for the several tubs there. No one bathes in the source spring, but water goes from it out to various tubs in the area. Recently, however, calcium carbonate buildup, blocked the flow of water to all but one pool there. The policy of the NPS is to do nothing, that eventually nature will restore the flow of water...to somewhere.
About three-quarters of a mile further up is the area called "Palm Springs," which I usually called the upper springs. This has a different source and water from it is piped to two pools, one hotter than the other. We camped near the one that was merely warm. Both pools are shaded by palm trees which were introduced about 25 years ago. Near the hot pool is also an individual open-air shower and a double-bottom kitchen sink. Both of these are fed with warm water from another spring (or aquifer). The water is potable, and I brushed my teeth with it, but drank only bottled water we brought along.
Another couple of miles up is officially called the "Upper Springs" which I didn't get to, even though I walked up the road. I should have gotten more exact directions, and brought along my GPS. Later when I asked a more knowledgable springer I was told I had gotten close. That spring is unimproved except for a surrounding fence to keep out the wild burros. The pools in the Palm and Lower springs are built from concrete, rock and tile.
Traditionally, the lower springs were the family/straight springs, and the palm springs pools were gay. This is often the case in naturist settings; the first, easiest to access spot is family/straight while the gay area is harder to get to. Seems to satisfy almost everyone. Often, the gay area is less pleasant than the straight area, but that's not always true. At Herring Cove Beach at Provincetown, Mass., for example, the gay section is much nicer than the easier-to-get-to straight part.
When the lower springs dried up, I am told there was some concern about what would happen to this convenient mutual segregation. But it looks like everyone is getting along quite well. Gay people, straight people, parents and kids all mingled cooperatively at the palm springs pools. The whole area is clothing optional. Some people were naked everywhere almost all of the time. Some wore some clothing almost all the time, even into the pools. Everybody else fell in between. I was nude as much as possible, but put on some clothes when the temps dropped and the wind picked up. I never ran into any unpleasantness, even when I walked naked past clothed families on my way to the single toilet. I never saw any naked kids.
There are two vault toilets in the area. The one down by the lower springs is a two-holer, while the one up by the palm springs is a single. This has led to substantial filling as the population has moved up to the palm springs area.
All tubs go 24 hours a day, unless a volunteer (any one of us) has drained a tub to clean it. It is traditional for every camper to bring 2 gallons of bleach to donate to the cleaning supplies. Sometimes in the middle of the night I would be awaken from my slumbers by the loud laughter of drunks in one of the pools. When there is no wind, voices carry incredibly well in the desert.
For interesting wildlife, there are those burros I mentioned earlier. Some time back the NPS organized a major kill of the burros as they are very destructive to the native plants. They didn't wipe out all of them, however, and one midnight as I sat in a pool I heard a sound like medium-sized rocks tumbling down a slope. Immediately one of my poolmates let me know that there were burros running through the camp that night. In the starlight I couldn't see any of them, but occasionally we would hear them run a distance and then stop. I wonder how good the eyesight of a burro is, that they actually run by starlight. The starlight (no Las Vegas glow here) was enough for me to walk okay on the nearly-white tufa, but I couldn't judge irregularities in the surface, so I occasionally stumbled where there was a dip in my path.
One day just after sunset we were visited by a bat at the hot pool. That's not surprising, as these pools are a primary water source for bats. Normally, they fly in and out faster than you can see them (almost) just brushing the surface for a quick drink. This particular bat, however, came out much earlier in the evening than I had ever seen a bat. It was still quite light. He may have been having some trouble negotiating a successful approach to the water surface, as about a half dozen of us were in there, spread out around all sides. The bat slowed down his flight an unbelievable amount. Sometimes he was fluttering as slow as a butterfly, and almost hovered for brief moments. In that light and at that speed, it was easy to see his coloring and other details. Of course, not a single one of us had a camera to hand. This unprecedented show went on for 5 or 10 minutes.
The rattlesnakes were probably the only animal we really needed to worry about. The Orange Countians found one not far from their campsite, so they bagged it and carted it away. One morning as Darrel, Marvin and I were quietly reading and chatting under a shade that Darrel had erected, Marvin interrupted some marvelous paragraph that I was spinning out to indicate the sudden nearness of a rattlesnake. It was under Darrel's hammock, crawling toward me. It was 2 or 3 feet from me as I sat in one of those very low camp chairs that put me only 3 or 4 inches off the ground. The snake was not acting aggressively or defensively. It probably wasn't even aware we were there, since we weren't walking. It was stretched out, not coiled. So maybe there was a tenth of a second as I recognized I was not in immediate danger, but thought caution was the best path, so I rolled off my chair to the side, crying out "Oh, shit!"
Gardner came over to see the commotion and decided it was best to bag up the serpent, so he spent 15 or 20 minutes chasing and poking the snake with a walking stick to try to get it out into the open. The snake, of course, was pretty skillful at getting itself back into the base of a creosote bush (directly in front of my tent) every time but one. At one point Gardner was even on his hands and knees reaching into the creosote bush. This, I thought, was crazy. I had never heard a rattler rattle for so long! I wondered if maybe we could just run him to the point of exhaustion. Eventually, Gardner was successful, and Marvin produced a slightly used paper bag from Trader Joe's. The two of them then carried it out into the desert to release it. Gardner held up the bag with his walking stick, and Marvin went along with another stick to knock the snake back into the bag every time it got its head up and out. Okay, a photo:
One day we did a 4x4 trip over to the Racetrack (more info here). This required us to backtrack over 20 miles of washboard Saline Valley Road to Ubehebe Road, which was much rougher. It was here that Darrel switched into 4WD. We climbed the rough and rocky road to greater and greater elevations, until we reached the old border of the national monument. Then the road got REALLY rough, with some occasional tricky bits. This was a bit more than an Explorer is designed for, and even Gardner & Ed's Jeep Rubicon seemed to hesitate at times, but we managed to eventually reach the top to break out onto a lovely smooth, well-maintained dirt road that carried us down to the Racetrack Playa in a jiffy.
Here we walked about a half mile across the flat, clay surface to see the famous, curious moving rocks. I got tons of photos of brown mud and dark rocks, which I'll get to you soon. The general consensus of scientists is that with some rain the surface of the playa becomes VERY slippery, and then a good wind of 70 MPH or so will send the rocks across the surface, leaving behind a trail that dries into the mud.
Fascinating as the Racetrack is, it was Ben (the labrador) who seemed to enjoy it the most. He went wild like I've never seen before, running and laughing and playing. Darrel guessed it was that he was in an area that had no smells of other dogs or animals, and no places for them to hide. He could drop all his defenses and just let go. I guessed that the clay surface was probably also really comfortable on his paws.
From the Racetrack, we took a trip to visit the Lippincott lead mine that we had seen during our climb. We could drive right up to the old entrance, although very heavy bars have been insert a short way inside the tunnel to keep tourists out.
From there we simply had to make way back down the rocky, twisting route to the floor of Saline Valley, and then 20 miles of washboard back to camp.
The next day we headed home via the northerly route out of Saline Valley. This route is smoother and ten miles shorter to pavement. It does require an ascent to about 7000 feet, and the overall trip home is longer this way, but in my opinion this is the way to get in and out of Saline Valley.
Here's some general info on Saline Valley. I see they say " No snakes were seen." I have no idea what to make of that statement.
Here's a Google map centered roughly on the area of the springs. The greenish canyon going northeast is Eureka Canyon. The solid patch of white tufa near the western edge of Eureka Canyon is where the lower and palm springs are.
On the return trip down 395 I saw the lower part of Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the 48 states, for the first time. The upper part was lost in the clouds. I used my GPS device to pick out the peak. We also passed by the Manzanar National Historic Site, the location of the Japanese concentration camp in WWII.
We stopped for lunch in the cafe in Olancha. It's the only one there, and I highly recommend it. We also stopped in at FreshJerky.com which I am told is world famous. I picked up a few packages, including elk and salmon. Shoppers might be interested to know that the prices in store are exactly the same as on the web.
Gettin' Hot In Palm Springs
April 25, 2006
A Visit To Avoid
Being away in Saline Valley over this past weekend I was fortunate to avoid the visit by Donald Rumsfeld's greatest fan.