Thin Window

Lucerne Valley cabin

Through the thin window, I watch the torn-away sky
clouds shredded and stolen as sharpened winds howl by

Spinning wildflowers and tumbling weeds
frantically, frantically spreading their seeds

Two birds in a bush warbling in trills and quavers
it is the lopsided melody the garbled song favors

Trade rats somersaulting across the bare ground
cartwheeling badgers angrily claw as they wheel round and round

Stiff-legged coyotes hobnobbing in play
catching jackrabbits and cottontails that can only jump up, not away

and dust swirls into dust devils then dispersed above
All of this, all of this, lonely, barren, wind-scarred, and loved.

The Fault Route

Click the map to view a larger image

It seems that people have made use of the San Andreas Fault long before automobile or even wagon roads were developed along its seam. Shown is a 1901 U.S.G.S. map where I have traced the route leading from near Blue Cut in the Cajon Pass, just about straight northwest to Valyermo. The dotted line portion shown at the Big Pines saddle may have been either a mule trail or a road possibly impassible or without increased effort by wagon or auto. Indians likely used the features of the fault as a footpath to do as we all do; go from here to there.

The Natural History of a Raindrop

They were twins, airborne, spiraling to earth together. Brothers as brothers can be they remained brothers until they splashed on the divide together and one rolled to the desert and one, the larger of the two, rolled toward the sea. That large raindrop would do fine, however, the small one would have to find its own ocean. Until then the little raindrop did what most other raindrops do and that is to go down.

At this point, many raindrops would soak into the earth joining the stormwater underground. These rainshadow renegades would travel to the aquifers deep into the earth below to ancient, private, and murky waters.

From sticks and dead leaves and rocks and out of crevices other little raindrops dripped to trickle together in intricate alpine streams hastily making way through a myriad of delicate and fragile waterfalls, into pools, then resting a few moments before being pushed out by the increasing deluge behind them.

From these streams to creeks the raindrops gathered rushing rather blindly through boulders and fallen trees in the narrow canyon joined by other smaller canyons and joining itself to larger creeks coming from larger canyons until swirling and twisting, colored with mud and dirty foam, all of a sudden coming together to become a river.

“Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice,” thought the little raindrop. It had found its way–to a river that should by all accounts transport it to the sea.

That didn’t happen, though. The river fell into the quicksands and disappeared into an eerie underworld layered below the clouded skies, under the sands of the empty river, and above the dark and mysterious aquifer.

Later, there was the bright and sunny sky overhead when the raindrop, risking evaporation, surfaced for a breath then soaked back into the safety of the shallows.

Again and one more time again this happened. Finally, there is no finally. The little raindrop simply never came back. After all, it was just a raindrop…

The end.

My First Fossil

There it was–I didn’t even have to sweep it off with the little paleontology brush I just bought.

Finding my first fossil was a much bigger deal than I thought it would have been. There was a lot of excitement and yelling. Running around, too–don’t know why, I mean, it wasn’t going anywhere. There were people from the museums, also. They were standing over in the shade grumbling in muffled mumbles. They coveted the find. However, smiling broadly with all rows of their sharpened teeth showing, they stood next to it for pictures.

In a little more than a whisper from their dark huddle, one could hear, “It should have been us. We are worthy.”

The Northers

Then there were the “Northers,” which the heavy winds that swept down the Cajon Pass from the Mohave desert were called. They were much more severe then and sometimes very cold, blowing for about three days at a time. Many people treated them as they would rainy weather, and by way of derision, they were sometimes called “Mormon rains,” coming as they did by way of San Bernardino. They often came before the rains and when sheep had been pastured in the early summer the surface of the ground was cut into fine dust and we would have a dust storm which would cover the inside of the houses with dust. Since the land was planted and roads oiled, the “Northers” have lost most of their disagreeable features. Being dry they clear the atmosphere and are one of the beneficial features in our healthy climate.

History of San Bernardino County – John Brown Jr., 1922

Undesert

“It is often said that America has no real deserts. This is true in the sense that there are no regions such as are found in Asia and Africa where one can travel a hundred miles at a stretch and scarcely see a sign of vegetation—nothing but barren gravel, graceful, wavy sand dunes, hard, wind-swept clay, or still harder rock salt broken into rough blocks with upturned edges. In the broader sense of the term, however, America has an abundance of deserts—regions which bear a thin cover of bushy vegetation but are too dry for agriculture without irrigation…. In the United States the deserts lie almost wholly between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountain ranges, which keep out any moisture that might come from either the west or the east. Beginning on the north with the sagebrush plateau of southern Washington, the desert expands to a width of seven hundred miles in the gray, sage-covered basins of Nevada and Utah. In southern California and Arizona the sagebrush gives place to smaller forms like the salt-bush, and the desert assumes a sterner aspect. Next comes the cactus desert extending from Arizona far south into Mexico. One of the notable features of the desert is the extreme heat of certain portions. Close to the Nevada border in southern California, Death Valley, 250 feet below sea-level, is the hottest place in America. There alone among the American regions familiar to the writer does one have the feeling of intense, overpowering aridity which prevails so often in the deserts of Arabia and Central Asia. Some years ago a Weather Bureau thermometer was installed in Death Valley at Furnace Creek, where the only flowing water in more than a hundred miles supports a depressing little ranch. There one or two white men, helped by a few Indians, raise alfalfa, which they sell at exorbitant prices to deluded prospectors searching for riches which they never find. Though the terrible heat ruins the health of the white men in a year or two, so that they have to move away, they have succeeded in keeping a thermometer record for some years. No other properly exposed out-of-door thermometer in the United States, or perhaps in the world, is so familiar with a temperature of 100° F. or more. During the period of not quite fifteen hundred days from the spring of 1911 to May, 1915, a maximum temperature of 100° F. or more was reached in five hundred and forty-eight days, or more than one-third of the time. On July 10, 1913, the mercury rose to 134° F. and touched the top of the tube. How much higher it might have gone no one can tell. That day marks the limit of temperature yet reached in this country according to official records. In the summer of 1914 there was one night when the thermometer dropped only to 114° F., having been 128° F. at noon. The branches of a pepper-tree whose roots had been freshly watered wilted as a flower wilts when broken from the stalk.”

—The Chronicles of America.—Volume I. “The Red Man’s Continent,” by Ellsworth Huntington.

Enrico Caruso Island

This is Lake Tuendae (to be beheld) at the Desert Studies Center, Zzyzx. In the center of the lake is an island with a fountain. The name of the island in Enrico Caruso Island.

Enrico Caruso Island is named Enrico Caruso Island in honor of Enrico Caruso but not Enrico Caruso the famous singer but the Enrico Caruso who built Enrico Caruso Island was named for the legendary Enrico Caruso and named it Enrico Caruso Island for himself.

Enrico Caruso

Early One Morning

Hidden Valley

Very early one morning in Joshua Tree National Park . . .

It was, of course, quiet. It was, of course, dark. It was also a little bit chilly, and after a moment it was a moment before dawn.

Midnight blue to dark blue to blue and sky blue.

Clouds in waves of deep red, red, orange, yellow, and ultimately white.

Everything collected the light, saving it, glowing with it. Warming.

The night was over. The day had begun.

Joshua Tree National Park . . .

This Tragic Struggle

Johannesburg cemetery

What histories of tragic struggle with fortune and of defeat there are written in California! How many young men, for whom still fond hearts of sisters or mothers beat lovingly in vain, have fought the battle of life here unsuccesfully, and have died, as men know how to die, in solitude without a murmur or a groan.

— Charles Loring Brace
The New West, 1869

Newberry Springs?

For a few months in 1883 when the Southern Pacific Railroad was being built, the Watson post office lived out its short tenure.  Watson was named Watson for Josiah Watson who was the postmaster. When the Watson post office closed the railroad named their station Newberry.  For a few months in 1899, the Newberry post office was reestablished then discontinued.  In 1911 the post office reopened and was named Wagner after Madge Wagner who ran it.  In July of 1919, the name was changed from Wagner to Water, who wasn’t a person but was named for the water that was pumped out of the ground for the Sante Fe Railroad’s use.  Then, years later in 1967, the name was changed from Water to Newberry Springs. No one is quite certain who Newberry was, to begin with, but it could either be for either one or both of two brothers named Newberry who lived near the springs, of which one was killed in a gunfight over water rights to the springs and ended up being buried on top of a hill not far from the springs. Or the name of the springs came from Dr. J.S. Newberry, a physician in the 1857 survey expedition led by Lt. Joseph C. Ives.

Newberry Springs, California

Newberry Springs

Barrel Cactus

Barrel Cactus – Mojave National Preserve

There are many different varieties of barrel cactus, but a couple of things pretty much hold true with all of them. First, the taller ones tend to point toward the south. This is due to the fact that for most of the year the sun is more toward the south. Second, it is not a good idea to drink the juice from the cactus when out of water. A couple of reasons for that; one, these cacti are tough, and the perspiration expended to open one of these up would exceed the available water within. Secondly, the liquid will most likely cause a horrible case of diarrhea, further depleting the body of water and accelerating dehydration.

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