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.

Tips for Stagecoach Travelers

from the Omaha Herald, 1877

The best seat inside a stage is the one next to the driver. Even if you have a tendency to seasickness when riding backwards — you’ll get over it and will get less jolts and jostling. Don’t let “sly elph” trade you his mid-seat.

Southern Hotel - San Bernardino (L.A. Co. Museum)

Southern Hotel – San Bernardino
(L.A. Co. Museum)

In cold weather, don’t ride with tight-fitting shoes, or gloves. When the driver asks you to get off and walk, do so without grumbling, he won’t request it unless absolutely necessary. If the team runs away — sit still and take your chances. If you jump, nine out of ten times you will get hurt.

In very cold weather, abstain entirely from liquor when on the road, because you will freeze twice as quickly when under its influence.

Don’t growl at the food received at the station — stage companies generally provide the best they can get.

Don’t keep the stage waiting. Don’t smoke a strong pipe inside the coach. Spit on the leeward side. If you have anything to drink in a bottle, pass it around. Procure your stimulants before starting, as “ranch” (stage depot) whisky is not “nectar.”

Don’t lean or lop over neighbors when sleeping. Take small change to pay expenses. Never shoot on the road, as the noise might frighten the horses. Don’t discuss politics or religion.

Don’t point out where murders have been committed, especially if there are women passengers.

Don’t lag at the wash basin. Don’t grease your hair, because travel is dusty. Don’t imagine for a moment that you are going on a picnic. Expect annoyances, discomfort, and some hardships.

A Photo Tip

Power lines, not being all that aesthetic, can really mess up a pretty, scenic shot. Not much can be done about them, but if you are under them, they more or less cease to be an issue, and the maintenance roads in the right-of-way can lead to many other opportunities.


Cyrena Dustin Merrill – Part VI

Continued from Part V
Salt Lake

Philemon’s mother hearing that we were coming started out to meet us but got on the wrong road, missed us, and had to walk back a long distance — we were about two weeks making the trip and the worry of it all must have told on me for when my sister-in-law first met me she said “is this you, Cyrena, or your ghost?”

About a week after I got back, my two children were taken sick with chills, then I was sick; then baby took croup and only lived about 12 hours, dying on the sixth of September.

I let father and mother Merrill take my fitout (of wagon, oxen etc,) and they went on with the first company that went to Salt Lake in 1847, but I stayed here at Kanesville until my husband’s return on December 11, 1847 from Battalion.

He spent his time in getting land warrants for the Battalion Boys and assisting Brother Young to get emigrants across the plains.

Here on September 10, 1848, our third daughter, Melissa Jane, was born.

In the spring of 1849 Brother Young having sent our teams back Salt Lake we fitted up and crossed the plains. Now we were really going to Zion and as our hearts were filled with gratitude to our Heavenly Father for His love and protecting care, we were enabled to endure all our trials with cheerful fortitude. Our faith was strong — we loved each other and lived in unity and we were blessed abundantly, and our souls often rang out on the prairies.

While passing through the Rockies we encountered severe snowstorms in many of our cattle perished, but again the Lord helped us, for father Merrill sent a team with a nephew to assist us into the city of Salt Lake.

Our first stopping place was in Salt Lake City where we built a log cabin in the Southwest or 19th Ward stayed here until 1857.

On the Big Cottonwood 7 miles from Salt Lake City, our first Utah baby, our second boy, Morgan Henry was born on February 17, 1850. And when he was three weeks old we moved into the 19th Ward of the city and my husband again left me alone with my little ones.

Houses then were scattered and the measles broke out among the Indians and they would rush past our cabin howling and screaming — run and jump into the warm springs and then take cold and die — then others would bewail and screech — and at all times of the day or night their howls or mournings rent the air and my hairs would stand on and from fright; the only times I ever slept that night was one of my brothers-in-law would come up from Cottonwood to stay a while.

Philemon had gone back to the Platte River to keep the ferryboat.

– continued –

Snake Bite — A Costly Mistake

If there is a statute of limitations for what I’m about to write down, I hope it has gone by — I’m a little embarrassed by my conduct during events taken place in April of XXXX while I worked as a volunteer at the California State Poppy Reserve in Lancaster, CA.

I was working the trails one hazy midday when two very excited young gentlemen came running toward me and told me that their uncle had stepped on a snake and it had bit him. The uncle, limping badly, looked pasty-pale and with his friend and brother made their way into the visitor center after once again telling me the man had stepped on a snake. The victim’s brother (as I found out later) while closing the door whispered to me, “He didn’t step on it, he kicked it to get it out of his way.”

photo of snake bite.

First, I inspected the wound.  Yep, it was a snake bite hole. Next, I asked if he knew what kind of snake it was, or what it may have looked like. He told me, “It looked like a snake. I told you that already.” Ooh, sarcasm. Yep. That’s a good way to irritate me. I bit my lip. He was regaining color.

Morris is my friend although he never looks at the camera when I take his picture.

Morris is my friend although he never looks at the camera when I take his picture.

Since I’m not a doctor and I felt the patient was being uncooperative, I decided a medical professional would have to take it from this point. I called 911. It takes about 20 minutes or so for emergency response vehicles to get from Lancaster to the reserve. The dude was looking better and looking at me as if he expected me to suck the poison out of his leg. “Not my job,” I thought. There were other volunteers there that were far more capable than I, so I went out with my buddy Morris (Volunteer of the Year) to stand in the parking lot.


The fire truck came first with a support vehicle, whatever they call the service truck that follows. The fire truck couldn’t make it up the sidewalk to the visitor center, but the smaller truck could. I wanted to ride on the back too, but I didn’t ask. It looked like fun.


The paramedic rushed into the building with about a dozen other personnel and did a triage-type-thing. Assessing the wound he confirmed my suspicions that it was a snake-made-hole in his leg.


Next, the helicopter came. There was no place to land so it went away. That would have been so cool to see the guy get a ride in that. I would have asked if I could go with them, but I would have had to walk back.

So they took him away in an ambulance.


One of the guys with him asked me,  “Where did they take him?  I said, “I don’t know. I’m not from around here. I live about 70 miles away.”

My shift was over then. So I went to my brother’s house to stay the night with him. I hope the snake is alright. I can’t see how the guy with his little-skinny-toothpick-legs could have kicked it hard enough to hurt it. Good example though. Nobody else kicked a snake for the rest of the season. One of my best times ever, so far, yet.