Dolomite Ghost Town

Dolomite ghost town, Owens Valley

Downtown Dolomite

I suppose the good news is, is that I got this photo of a shack in the little ghost town of Dolomite. I suppose the bad news is that I shot it in 2001 with a low resolution camera. Then again, some good news is that I doubled the size of it and cleaned up a few rough spots on it with my fancy software. And I suppose the bad news is, is that for all my efforts, Dolomite isn’t an authentic ghost town. I’m finding out that it was built for a movie set. It is a bit of good news that the movie was Nevada Smith starring Steve McQueen, one of my favorite movies. The bad news is that I won’t e able to reshoot it because of circumstances beyond my control at the moment. That’s good because it was on private property. It could have been worse when I was caught trespassing the first time. The owner chased me down and started giving me hell for being on his property. So it was a good thing I told him I came in a few miles over and followed the base of the mountain shooting some other ruins while I went along. It was another good thing when he laughed at my little truck and said, “I wouldn’t think you could make it through there in that.” I told him I was just taking some pictures. He told me to “Have at it.”

At least I didn’t get shot.

Dolomite ghost town photos


Better Holes & Middens

Desert Woodrat
Neotoma lepida

Desert pack rat nests can be used by the same pack rat families for generations and generations.

Packrat nest

Wood rat midden

This rodent is commonly known as the “pack rat” or “trade rat” named for collecting any shiny or metallic object it fancies. Its burrow is easily recognized by the rubbish littered about the entrance.

More about the wood rat:

Local History — A 30 Second Story — Silverwood

Silverwood LakeThis is Silverwood Lake. It is named after some guy named Silverwood rather than the silver wood that grows around the lake and Summit Valley. Before they could have the lake there had to be the dam. The dam in this picture is Cedar Springs Dam. Before the dam there was Cedar Springs. It was a small town. It was flooded to make the lake. Everyone moved out first. Some other stuff happened here before that.

The end.

Playas …

Playas, dry lakes, they hypnotize me. Flat and dry and scarred but still pure. Hardened earth and soft skies. An elegant monotony that locks in on whatever lobe in my brain it is that controls my fascination for seeking a niche, an edge, a flaw as my eye draws up to, in this specific case, a dark and slivered horizon. Few words. Clear and open thought. Appreciation. I clap my hands. The sound dissipates and the ever so slight vibrations go on endlessly.

Playa, Superior dry lake, Barstow, CA.

Playa, Superior dry lake

Be Soft …

Joshua Tree National ParkBe soft. Do not let the world make you hard.
Do not let pain make you hate.
Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.
Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.

— Kurt Vonnegut

Flying Ford

Abandoned 49 Ford sitting in Death Valley National Park

The ol’ 49er

So the way it went is that the guys that were shooting at me fell over when I drove through just like I bowled a strike (and that’s why all the bullet holes are there). Some other guys started chasing me and I was going so fast that people said they could see my dust blowing in the wind for 32 miles. I come barreling down the road and the road turned and I didn’t so I went airborne over that there hill and landed in a dead stop right there where you see it. The old flathead engine was running so hard and fast still and afraid to do anything but go full throttle and it come bursting right out of the hole in the front you see and hurtled into space. About every 80 days the motor still flies by just a humming, spinning, and gleaming in the sun. I swear–true story.

~ Walter

Human Impact on the Mojave Desert

by Laurie J. Schmidt

What do you do when a fragile desert ecosystem turns into a recreational playground? Leonard Gaydos, Coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Recoverability and Vulnerability of Desert Ecosystems project, and colleagues are using satellite data to develop tools that will help Mojave Desert land managers decide what recreational activities to allow and where to allow them. Specifically, the research team is studying vulnerability and recoverability of desert lands.

“Our goal is to create predictive models of the desert that land managers can use to forecast what is likely to happen to a specific piece of land, given its exposure to various types of disturbances,” said Gaydos.

The Mojave Desert encompasses 125,000 square kilometers in southern Nevada, western Arizona, southwestern Utah, and a quarter of California. Situated between the burgeoning cities of Los Angeles and Las Vegas, it is within a day’s drive of 40 million people.

“The Mojave Desert is increasingly viewed as a playground,” said Gaydos. “It now contains four national parks, with millions of people around the edges.” That wasn’t always the case, he said.

“The Mojave Desert was a place you went to get away from civilization. You didn’t have to worry about disturbing anyone or causing any harm,” Gaydos said. In fact, it was largely for this reason that the U.S. military established most of its training facilities there. “It was the last piece of open space in the continental United States where the military could conduct training and not disturb anyone,” Gaydos said.

But, the Mojave’s growing pains make an ideal case study for researching long-term effects of disturbances to desert ecosystems. Land managers are now faced with the daunting task of dealing with competing demands on the land, including impacts from all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, military activities, and grazing livestock.

“It is incumbent upon the U.S. military, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and other land managers to understand the effects of these disturbances on the land,” said Gaydos. “All compact the soil and disturb resources at the land’s surface.”

The project requires a combination of expertise, involving researchers who have worked extensively in adjacent arid land regions, such as southern Arizona, the Grand Canyon, and southeast Utah’s Canyonlands. “The project’s multidisciplinary nature means that scientists on the project team are learning from each other,” said Gaydos. “We have geologists out in the field looking for soil crusts and counting tortoise burrows — not traditional tasks for a geologist.”Map of Desert Southwest

Shaded-relief model of the Desert Southwest (Image courtesy of the USGS Recoverability and Vulnerability of Desert Ecosystems project.

Remote sensing is one of the most valuable tools the team is using. “Satellite imagery enables us to look at the age and characteristics of a site’s surface geology, which is essential to understanding the rate at which that site will recover from disturbances,” said Gaydos.

The scientists use geologic maps created from Landsat 5 data, supplied by the EROS Data Center Distributed Active Archive Center (EDC DAAC) in Sioux Falls, SD. In addition, Landsat data have proved invaluable for identifying study unit boundaries when the team is working in the Mojave. The team also plans to use satellite data to examine dust movement in the desert, an important symptom of disturbance.

The researchers work with high-tech tools such as digital ortho-photos created by the USGS, and imagery from the Advanced Visible and Infrared Imaging System (AVIRIS). Digital ortho-photos are produced by applying corrections to aerial photos using an elevation model. “This process enables us to remove distortions from aerial photos so that they scale correctly, which helps us interpret what we’re seeing,” said Gaydos.

The multi-band capability of the AVIRIS sensor enables computer enhancement of land features, a vital part of the geologic mapping process. “This application of AVIRIS data is still experimental, but it shows lots of promise in mapping the surface geology of the Mojave Desert,” said Gaydos.

These tools have greatly contributed to some of the project’s key findings. First, the research team found that under most circumstances, land seems to recover faster in the years immediately following the disturbance than in later years. In addition, not all areas recover at the same rate.

“The good news is that the desert seems to recover faster than earlier models predicted. The bad news is that it still takes the land a long time to return to its original state, and, in some cases, it may never be exactly what it was before the disturbance occurred,” said Gaydos.

As an example, Gaydos described one of the project’s test sites that lies near an old railroad line built in the early 1900s. For the past 50 years or so since the railroad was abandoned, a berm has acted as an artificial dam for surface processes, such as erosion and runoff. By digging trenches on the slope side of the railroad line, team members measured nearly a dozen flood events. Successive flash-floods rinsed sediment down and built up the surface nearly a meter. “This tells us that we’re dealing with a very dynamic system in the Mojave,” said Gaydos. “At various intervals, flood events wash the sediment down, the plants adapt, and the desert renews itself.”

Land management ranks are also subject to renewal. To keep changing land management and restoration staffs apprised of current findings, Gaydos and his team must maintain regular communications with those in the field.

Sustaining investment is critical, according to Gaydos, because the project still has a way to go. “In the past, the Mojave Desert has been benignly neglected,” he said. “People haven’t worried about it much — it’s not Yellowstone or the Everglades, or any of the places that tend to come to mind when people think of protecting the environment.”

Fortunately, those values seem to be changing, and the desert “playground” is now deemed a valuable resource.

The Thousand Year Ballet

Migration- plants migrate. Plants are always looking for ideal conditions, conditions that help them live longer and better. This is a condition of life. Everything living does this. Inch by inch, foot by foot, generation after generation–plant populations move, march on toward better lives in more conducive environments. They adapt. They evolve. They move in the gradual changes of long term weather patterns. We may not see it in our lifetimes, but we can in the histories find evidence of, and compile; this used to be here, that used to be there, relict populations remain if any. A seed grows here but not there, and a seed will sprout on this side and not that side. A slow dance extending much longer than we can personally experience, but a dance indeed.Mojave yucca

Mojave yucca

Mojave yucca


11-year-old Kass, a desert girl born and bred, looks into a natural stream of water (Cajon Creek) for the first time in her life. She was amazed that there was so much life going on right in front of her–everything she could see was living!
looking into Cajon Creek
She pointed this all out to me as it was happening. She has such a wonderful sense of Nature. I’m so fortunate to have experienced this with her.