Sunday, October 28, 2007

Valley of Fire

It's a posting frenzy! I am trying to catch up here, people.

Last Sunday, dark and early, we headed out to Valley of Fire State Park, via Northshore Road in Lake Mead NRA. Now, photography people are big on sunrises and sunsets. Anyone who has ever watched one or the other can figure this one out: The light is softer, hits things in interesting ways and often has a reddish or yellowish tint that makes for great pictures. If you know what you're doing. I, quite simply, don't and it shows. Not much to show out of this batch, I need to go back to my books and figure out how to get the lighting right.

Some pictures of rock patterns came out ok, but I dunno, it's pictures of rocks. I may work on some of these at some point, but on the other hand a little may go a long way.

Some of the petroglyph pictures also came out ok, but it's kind of the same problem as the rocks. It's interesting, but seriously, how many pictures do you need to see to get the idea?

So we got three good pictures out of the deal. Eh, it's not like I get paid for this either way, you know? Anyway, here are the first two. These were actually taken near Lake Mead, just after this fellow ran across the road ahead of us. I don't think I would have spotted him otherwise, they really blend into the desert.

This was really the only closeup that turned out decent. The light was pretty, but there wasn't really enough of it for a camera hanging out the window of a truck pulled off the road. Oh well, at least we got one good shot.

Last but not least, the glowing tree. This was in Valley of Fire, near Mouse's Tank. The sun was hitting it just right and it looked like it was glowing. I'm not actually as thrilled with this one downsized for posting, it's lost a lot of detail, but you can at least get the idea.

All in all we had a fun trip. Sometimes finding out what we don't understand about the camera yet is the best we can hope for out of any given outing. It's all a learning experience anyway, and there's nothing wrong with having an excuse to spend a day in a really beautiful place.


A few weeks ago we went to the recently-opened Las Vegas Springs Preserves. This spring is pretty much the reason that Las Vegas exists at all. Not that legalized gambling hurts, don't get me wrong. But people had to come here in the first place before somebody could say, "You know, we want to make a living here, but the climate is less than ideal for ranching and large scale farming is right out. Gambling, hookers and easy divorces is the way to go!"

Thus the Las Vegas Springs and its newly opened Preserve, about two miles of walking trails, interactive exhibits and desert demonstration gardens (unfortunately featuring some frankly weird art). Back in the day, this was an oasis in the middle of the desert and I'm pretty sure this is where the Native American snowbirds invented Bingo. When the pioneer-types came along they stopped here as well, and eventually the springs supplied a railroad stop and the young town of Las Vegas. Eventually gambling, neon and Elvis made Las Vegas what it is today, but to get there required more water than the springs were able to produce, so that's when they invented Lake Mead.

The Preserve is nice, even if it feels a little raw yet from the recent construction. The building site for the Nevada History Museum contributes to the not-quite-settled-down effect, as do areas marked for future restoration. For now, the high point for us was a bush full of hummingbirds. I believe these are female Rufous hummingbirds. They must have been migrating south for the winter, but if you look at these pictures, you can see our pictures look an awful lot like the females/juveniles in these pictures.

The first picture is just for fun, it's obviously way out of focus, but in an interesting way, I thought. Kind of a Monet hummingbird.

The rest of these are just shots that I thought turned out well. Hummers are HARD to catch!

Help! Mr. Flower is eating my head!!

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Coincidentally, the evening we got home from Death Valley, we had both a cactus blooming and fantastic light. Some days you get lucky.

Low Country Adventure - Springs

Time to finish up the Death Valley series. Not too much commentary here, these pictures are from the Keane Wonder Springs, one of the primary reasons the Keane mine was able to operate and even profit. It's not much water and it stinks of sulfur, but in this climate people weren't too picky.

The trail from the mine to the spring is easy to find, you just follow the old pipeline. In about a mile, you come to the spring that provided enough water to process the ore at the mill and pretty much think "Huh. Really??" because it doesn't look like much. The old well, shown in this first picture, gives a good idea of how this was possible; most of the water from the spring remains underground. Note how well secured the well is. This isn't a good place to let your attention wander.

This picture looks up at the spring from below, near the well (or death trap, if you prefer). Not real fancy, is it?

The views from here, like from the mine, are spectacular. This picture looks pretty much west across the valley from the spring.

This one looks north from the same area. You can just see the sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells, up towards the top right of the picture.

A closer picture of the spring, showing some of the mineral deposits left behind. The sign in the upper right of the picture says something like "Danger! Open mine shafts!" This whole area is pocked with prospecting holes, and again, you kind of want to watch your step. I'm pretty sure if you break a leg out here they just shoot you.

Again, a close up. The mineral deposits are just about as colorful as the grass. Quite possibly part of the dull plant life around the spring was just the time of year. I would guess you'd get both more water and more color in the spring.

Not the greatest picture, but I liked the shadow. This crow came over several times to check us out, actually swooping over us while I tried desperately to put a more appropriate lens on the camera. Once I finally got that done, the crow decided we neither dead nor all that interesting after all and flew away.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Why yes, we do still foil, thanks for asking! I just spent time putting up pictures on the Havasu Fly In site, so I'm not going to duplicate the effort here, but feel free to go check it out. These were taken during our trip last weekend to Lake Havasu.

What's a Fly In? That's where foilers get together and ride for a few days. Since there aren't too many people that ride, most of us don't have a lot of chances to ride with other foilers. We've been lucky, a lot of people visit Vegas and we've made lots of friends, but we haven't had a regular get-together scheduled for the southwestern U.S. Some friends that live in Lake Havasu City decided to do something about that and we're having a Fly In there next May. I'm on web detail for the event, so that's why the pictures are posted there.

Oh, okaaaay, you talked me into it. Here's one picture that isn't up on the other site yet. Gotta show out when you have an audience, right?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Low Country Adventure - Mining

Welcome to the Keane Wonder Mill, the next stop on our Death Valley adventure! After leaving Rhyolite, we continued west and about 5 miles later entered Death Valley. The Keane Wonder Mill is probably 2 or 3 miles up a gravel road off highway 190. The gravel road takes you almost to the base of the mill site, which served, wait for it, the Keane Wonder Mine. The mine itself is somewhere higher up in the hills, but we didn't make the climb while we were there.

In 1903 or 1904, depending on the source, a prospector named Jack Keane discovered a substantial ledge of gold in the Funeral Mountains. The ore was of high enough quality that the claim sold quickly, and as seems to be the case with many mines in the area, proceeded to pass through a series of ownership arrangements until the early 1940s. Unlike many mines in the area, especially gold mines, this one made a profit. Not only was this a rich strike, the Keane Wonder Springs were relatively close by, providing water in an area where there just isn't much. A tramway was constructed to move ore from the mine head to the mill site and a pipeline brought water from the spring, allowing the ore to be processed on site. This reduced transportation costs, since hauling unprocessed ore cost the same as hauling just the gold. This fortunate combination of factors meant that recovering and moving the ore out of the area was a worthwhile proposition, which simply wasn't the case for most of the mines in this area. Miners don't seem to have spent much time working out the ROI before they started digging.

Yes, tourist signs make lousy pictures, but I have a reason, stick with me here. The road in the lower left part of this picture is the same road you drive in on today. Ok, got the basics?

Here's a close up, showing the mill back in it's working days. The text on the sign says the picture was taken in 1907. Notice the white or gray building on the right side of the picture?

Here's what's left of that building today. Although you can't really tell from the pictures, a big wash now runs through the middle of what would have been the mill site. Below, there's a substantial debris trail that gives you a pretty good idea of where the rest of the building went. It was a graphic display of what the occasional rain storm can do in this area. Death Valley doesn't get much rain, but when it does, look out below.

Another picture of the mill site, you can see the wash a little better here.

In the "You Are Here" picture above, if you look just left of the arrow and follow the pipe line a bit down and to the left you can see a trail. Right where the trail goes over a hill and out of view, there was a building of some kind. Interestingly, you can't see it in the picture, but the mine was worked off and on into the 1940s, so the building possibly came later. At any rate, here's what is left of it today. This first picture is looking north, up the valley towards the Racetrack. You can also just barely see sand dunes in this picture. Must have been a heck of a view from whatever windows they had.

And here is the same building, this time looking south down the valley towards Badwater. The lighter areas you can see on the ground in this one are salt flats.

House is gone, but the bathroom still stands! Mr. Wakeandahalf says it looks like he's using it, but he's not, I promise. Why it's sitting in the middle of the trail is a bit of a mystery, though.

Here is a picture of the base of the tramway. This was a bit of an engineering feat at the time, with (if you believe the National Park Service, which owns the claim today) 13 towers, a vertical drop of 1500 feet and a span of up to 1200 feet between towers. If, however, you believe the sign at the site (which presumably the NPS installed) the tramway consisted of 11 towers, covering a distance of one mile and a vertical drop of 1300 feet. The NPS seems to agree with itself that tramway used good old fashioned gravity to operate; the weight of the full buckets dropping down from the mine pulled empty buckets up.

Here's another picture of the tramway, somewhere up over that hill is the mine head. If you look back at the "You Are Here" picture again (see, I told you it would come in handy!) the tank visible in this picture is one of the two you can see standing together in the middle of the picture towards the top.

After wandering around the mill for awhile, we walked about a mile north to the Keane Wonder Springs. I have some pictures of the springs for my next post. In the meantime, while I was looking for links to post here, I came across this site with some really fantastic pictures of Death Valley. Pop on over there if you want to have a look at some of the things we hope to get to see in the near future.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Low Country Adventure - Ghost Town

I'm jumping around a little here, trying to get caught up, but last Sunday we went to Death Valley for the first time and it was pretty cool. I have a bunch of pictures for this one, so I'm going to split them into multiple posts.

First stop, Rhyolite, Nevada, a ghost town a little over 100 miles north of Vegas, about 4 miles west of Beatty and just east of one of the entrances to Death Valley. Shortly after the turn of the last century, Rhyolite was quite the place. In 1904, two prospectors found gold near the town site. By early 1907, the town had electricity and possibly as many as ten thousand residents. However, the financial panic that began in 1907 substantially slowed or halted much of the mining activities in and around Death Valley and eventually ended Rhyolite as well. In 1916, essentially the last person out literally turned off the lights, as the electricity to the town was shut off.

Today the Rhyolite ghost town is managed by the BLM, although some land is still privately owned. The town site has been used in several movies (although none I've ever heard of), so some of the buildings that are standing have been restored. Anything standing seems to have had at least a little maintainence.

This appears to be one of the private buildings. It's for sale! I admire the optimism, but it looks like the sign has been there for quite some time. I would guess this building was restored/rebuilt at some point, since it's in relatively decent shape, but there doesn't seem to be much information about this building online.

A miner named Tom Kelly collected discarded whiskey bottles from the many saloons and when he had enough he built a house. Cleverly enough, it's called the Bottle House. It has no windows, so I guess the bottles must go all the way through the walls. It seems there are sometimes tours of the Bottle House, but not while we were there and the information holder was empty.

Here's what is left of the bank. It was three stories tall and cost quite a lot to build. It seems it opened in early 1908; Rhyolite was already dying, but they didn't know it yet. On the other side of the bank is a school, but you can't see it in this picture.

This is the train station for The Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad, or at least that's the one I've seen most frequently mentioned in connection with this station. Rhyolite seems to have had service from as many as three railroads, the Tidewater & Tonopah and the Bullfrog & Goldfield also come up, but it sounds as if they must have had different stations, if they did indeed have stops here. Every account I've found of Rhyolite reads a little different in places, so it's not easy to say for sure what is true. What I do know is we didn't find any place where tracks would have been. I'm sure you must be able to see the railroad bed somewhere, but it's not obvious.

Rhyolite deserves a more thorough look than we had time to give it without skipping Death Valley, so we didn't walk around nearly as much as we could have. I realize now I don't have pictures of several interesting things. There are sculptures along the road entering the town, evidently because some Belgians thought that would be just the thing for a ghost town. The miner and his penguin are odd but kind of neat, but then there's a mess of metal that looks like a bunch of car bumpers after a horrible accident, which really doesn't work for me. We also went to the cemetery, which is kind of weird because it looks like something straight out of a John Wayne movie. Most of the grave markers are missing, but a few unreadable wooden planks are left. There are stick crosses tied with twine, rock crosses laid out on graves, and once in awhile, a carved marble stone. Some of the graves have little fences around them, or the remains of fences, or sometimes rocks. It's any western-movie cemetery shot you've ever seen, except these were real people. Obviously stereotypes start somewhere, it's just not every day you get to walk through one.

So that's the beginning, I'll keep going with part 2 soon!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

High Country Adventure

Oh boy, I am way behind in posting pictures, so let's just get right to it, shall we?

We spent Labor day weekend in beautiful western Colorado. On Labor day, we took a Jeep trip up into the mountains, following part of the Alpine Loop. This trip took us from Ouray to Lake City over Cinnamon Pass. Here are some pictures of the breathtaking views along the way.

First stop was for lunch at a wide spot in the trail. In the next two pictures you can see up we are heading up towards timberline with thunderstorms rolling over the mountains. It was just a little too early in the year to see the aspen turn gold. A very few trees were just starting but mostly it was still green. Above timberline, though, you can see that the tundra has started to lose it's green, taking on a golden orangey-brown color that is really beautiful.

The next two pictures are from another stop a little higher up. We're getting closer to timberline here and you can see more of the tundra and it's fantastic colors. In this first picture you can see part of a trail, which I think went over by the old mine in the next picture. It's not the trail we were on, at any rate.

This whole area is dotted with old mines and mining equipment. A lot of what's left is blink-and-miss-it type remnants, maybe just a hole where a shaft goes into the mountain, or some rusting equipment. Some of the remains are pretty substantial, though, like the mine (or mill?) pictured here. Either way, you have to admit those were some seriously hardy folks that mined this area. Even today this is only accessible with 4-wheel drive and only for about six months of the year. The mine equipment and building materials must have been brought in by mule or possibly oxen, but that would have been about the limits of your "shipping" options. Keep in mind that the air is very thin at this altitude; if you're not acclimated to the elevation, any exertion leaves you gasping for breath. Oh, and it can get real cold up here, even in the summer. It just leaves you pretty amazed at what it must have been like to try and dig a living out of the mountains 100 or so years ago.

The Jeep at the top of Cinnamon Pass. This trip really made me miss our old Jeep, they just go anywhere and boy are they a lot of fun.

The obligatory shot of the sign at the top of Cinnamon Pass. C'mon though, elevation 12,640 feet? That's pretty darn high and worthy of a picture, don't you think?

This picture looks back towards the trail we just drove up, towards Ouray. We are above timberline and the tundra is just beautiful. I've been fascinated by the idea of timberline ever since I first saw it as a kid. There's trees, then suddenly not-trees. It's not like it's gradual.

Also from the top of Cinnamon Pass, this time looking down the trail towards Lake City. You can see timberline here, and also the thunderstorm that would catch us later on down the trail. In the meantime, though, the sun was shining and it was quite beautiful looking down over most of the world.