Sunday, April 15, 2018

Amboy Crater

J and L often think that all we need to do is to look in our own backyards for new adventures and exploration. We truly believe this, and a recent weekend outing proved that assertion to be true.

On the way home from Bullhead City, Arizona, J and L decided to venture off Interstate 40 westbound and strike out along a portion of old Route 66, near Amboy. Amboy was once a famous, or perhaps infamous, little burg that was once the stopping place for weary travelers traveling west toward California from places to the east - way east.

A relaxing respite from day and night travel; what better place to spend a few minutes, a few hours or even a night to catch up on energy spent on the road?

Harrison Ford cruising Amboy
But this blog is not about the town of Amboy, although the town is actually making quite a comeback. Roy's Diner is open seven days a week, as more and more tourists stop to take photos where numerous films and commercials were shot. As a matter of fact, the sign for the restaurant is a 1959 addition to the property, the same year the film, Journey to the Center of Earth was filmed, in part, in Amboy. Rutger Hauer's cult classic, The Hitcher was filmed here in 1986; and Brad Pitt and David Duchovny were hanging around Roy's during the filming of Kalifornia in 1993. Casting no aspersions on the place, most recently Amboy has served as the locations for more than a few B-rated horror flicks.

On a lighter note, the area served as the backdrop for Enrique Iglesias' music video Hero, as well as the cover art in 2008 for Rush's album Snakes & Arrows Live. And, local legend has it (and autographed photos in the diner tend to add credence) that Harrison Ford is a frequent visitor, landing his personal place at a nearby strip -- the oldest in California.
This story is about that - the Amboy Crater, let's go
Pretty impressive for a place in the middle of nowhere, little Amboy has quite a history but again, this is about the Amboy Crater.

Middle of nowhere - not quite - a lot happening in this part of Route 66
The Mojave Desert is an amazing source of research and exploration. The cinder cone of the Amboy Crater is believed to be about 80,000 years old with periodic eruptions ending ten thousand years ago. A very active part of the Mojave Desert has similar but not as definitive cones (areas sunken with remaining side walls of material encircling the actual eruption site) as the Amboy Crater.

That little volcanic area that erupted in the Mojave Desert is what placed Amboy on the historical map. While ten thousand years in geologic time is like yesterday, we are glad it wasn't yesterday since J and L live in the Mojave Desert; and that would be awkward and potentially life threatening. Seriously though, Southern California is known for earthquakes but not so much for the volcanic activity which once proliferated all around the Golden State. With tectonic plate shifting comes the chance of volcanoes erupting here and there and Southern California just happens to be in the 'here' area.
This baby isn't going to blow any time soon - we hope!

Of course, most if not all volcanoes in the Mojave Desert are inactive - which is simply a geologist's way of saying: "I don't think anything will blow up soon around here. Oh wait, I have a plane to catch."

Hundreds if not thousands of visitors come to this remote area to walk, hike, and explore the area which is like stepping back into time.

There is a short area of smooth walking but most is over level rocky trails
The actual material was layer upon layer spewed up out of the earth over eons and consists mainly of pahoehoe which is a Hawaiian term (Hawaiians being the notable volcano experts) for smooth or unbroken lava.

This basaltic lava has a smooth, billowy, undulating or ropy surface. That happens when the lava below the surface is still very fluid, like molasses, but the top is quickly congealing so the lava path has a chance to stretch out and become smoother, often forming tunnels. The temperatures at the time of formation are a cooling two thousand degrees Fahrenheit. No matter what, the surface around the crater is crammed with hardened rock that, to the naked eye, may not appear to be particularly smooth. But J and L aren't geologists and only look at things as they appear. Smooth and billowy - nope. Hardened and at one time dangerous to walk on - yep.

This looks pretty hard for both bipedal and quadrupedal creatures.
At the ridge line of the cone, nearly 250 feet above the rest of the lava-strewn valley, the views of the desert are amazing -- a delight for photographers and artists who want to capture the reality of a violent past to a peaceful present.

The moon, right?
Walking into the crater allows the explorer a chance to look around at a surface that could be compared to that of the moon. Sandy, rocks here and there, but most notable is the silence. Yes, the wind does blow but when it stops so does everything else for a moment. When that quietness engulfs the crater you feel as if you are on another world. This is definitely the place to go if the adventurer is out in the Mojave Desert driving down Route 66 and just happens to pass a sleepy depot known as Amboy. Stop and have a bite at Roy's but don't forget that strange-looking thing just south-west standing against the backdrop of the Mojave Desert. Take a stroll to the Amboy Crater and realize that stroll has now
brought you to where the past meets the future.

Pretty steep walls - makes the place quiet

As we've said many times, we relish the thought of seeing things in your own backyard. It can be fascinating as we found out by simply getting off of the state highway and taking a two lane road home.

Sit a spell and learn about the area of Amboy

A little time consuming? Perhaps, absolutely worth it when we realized we've experienced something thousands of drivers will never see driving westbound on Interstate 40 heading to the Pacific. Taking a philosophical page from Miriam Beard: "Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living."

That is the human spirit - go to the mountain and learn what is there to be learned. Just the experience is worth the travel.

Midnight, what better place to be than here?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


Aye, my Lassie - that is a Viking
When J and L spent a month in Ireland a few seasons back, we were surprised and impressed to learn that near the confluence of the Rivers Poddle and Liffey, in the capital city of Dublin, there once stood Viking settlement dating back to the 9th Century.

Who’d have thunk it?
Artists rendering of a Viking Irish settlement
The Vikings in Ireland – the land of a thousand welcomes.

Some of the known Viking settlements in Ireland
This called for some research and what better place to start than the Annals of Ulster. These recordings of events year by year were started in the 6th Century and continued until approximately 1540. They are the story, mostly verbatim of medieval Ireland. A treasure trove of facts and figures depicting what went on during those centuries in Ireland. One, and only one issue is that stories that are written in the Annals of Ulster date back to about 431 A.D. So, a bit of a consternation for the researcher is that prior to the 6th Century nothing was written down immediately but left to recollections and stories passed down by the generations.

A page from the Annals of Ulster
It is this area which some of the history may be a bit sketchy –  as in not a hundred percent certain of the facts. Needless to say historians as well as just the good old everyday Irish person loves these annals since it spells out the marvelous, if often dark, history of this island nation.
The facts down and dirty
The annals are written in the Irish pr Gaelic, as well as in Latin. That fact has sent shivers of joy up the spine of linguists as they study the evolution of the country’s language.

Well, it is mentioned in the annals that the Vikings arrived around 795 as the warriors set out to rob and pillage Gaelic Irish coastal settlements. As the raids continued, the raiding parties grew to the point that a settlement needed to be built so they could live and pillage further inland on the island.
Those Vikings – they just loved their pillaging.

Who wouldn't want to plunder and get these riches?
In order to establish the safety of their settlement, the Vikings built a ‘longphort’ or simply, a ship enclosure or fortified naval encampment. It was here, in modern day Dublin that the first one was built in 841 near what is now Parliament Street in Temple Bar West – not far from the Dublin Castle.

It is a fascinating area to walk around in the city. Modern structures towering all about and then the remnants of a Viking longphort literally beneath your feet. At the National Museum of Ireland there are exhibits after exhibits exploring the history of the Vikings and their contributions to Ireland. Not only were they ruthless warriors but actually helped settle parts of Ireland and became good stewards on the land.

Where a Viking 'longphort' once stood in Dublin
That is saying a lot from what is generally thought of the Vikings.

There is, according to the annals, a chance that the Viking warlord Amlaib, also known as Olaf the White, made Dublin the capital city of his territory in 853 and pronounced himself King.  He jointly ruled the area for fifteen years with his brothers Imar – Ivar the Boneless (yes, the same character portrayed on the History Channel in the series The Vikings) and Auisle. The brothers used Dublin as the center to conduct military action against the Kings all over Ireland.

Alex Hogh Anderson playing Ivar the Boneless - son of Ragnar 
The Irish had had enough and in 902, the Irish Kings of Brega, Leinster used a military tactic known as a two-pronged attack on Dublin successfully driving the Vikings back into the sea. But a short twelve years later the Vikings returned and started the Second Viking Age on the island.

Can’t keep a good (or bad) Viking down for long.

John with one of his Viking friends.
So, a visit to Ireland not only brings great food, wonderful company, delicious beer in cozy pubs but the chance of walking where famous Vikings once trod. It is a country full of surprises and as J and L found out that there doesn’t seem enough time in a person’s lifetime to learn all that the Emerald Isle holds in the world of history.

And there are always the pubs - that is enough sometimes.

Friday, March 2, 2018

With winter seemingly to have forgotten Southern California, J and L decided to take a respite from their abode and travel with four furry companions to Owl Canyon Campground. The camp, run by the Bureau of Land Management, is located approximately eight miles north of the small town of Barstow. For those of who are geographically inclined, Barstow is nearly one hundred fifteen miles northeast from Los Angeles.
Quite remote, but great place to camp.
This twenty-two site campground is an ideal place to get away from the lights and fast streets of city life.

Ah, away from the city lights.
After leaving Irwin Road (one of the paved paths to the Army facility, Fort Irwin) and turning north onto Fossil Bed Road, the adventurer needs to be steadfast over five miles of unpaved road. The roadbed is wide and flat, but oftentimes wind swept, leaving a wash board effect. This time, the trip was not particularly rough for J and L and our furry friends, despite that fact that we had journeyed in our RV. It appears that our path had been recently graded. That was not the case a few years back when Paul Bakas, our frequent fellow traveler, joined these adventurers, driving his own RV out to Owl Canyon. That trip left his rear mounted tire for his RV no longer mounted. As the tire laid dejectedly on the dirt road, we reflected that this was a terrible way to end a camping trip. Not to be deterred however, we risked tire and mount, and responded to the call of the desert solitude.

I feel so rejected!
And on this outing, the sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and weather was absolutely perfect. We had the pleasure of basking in temperatures hovering around the mid-seventies, instead of the biting wind and even more biting cold which would be the norm for the high desert of Southern California.

“Let’s take advantage of the weather.” J and L suggested to each other. And that we did.

Though there are only a handful of campsites, and none have hook-ups. This is what we refer to in the camping world as ‘primitive camping.’ In reality, nothing particularly primitive is going on. Most of the campers come out over the dirt roads in motor-homes, fifth-wheels or tents with enough accouterments to challenge a sultan in comfort and luxury.

No, the days of ‘primitive camping’ are pretty much gone.

The camping sites are huge. There was enough room at our site for our pirate-flagged 34 footer, the ever-ready Toyota FJ,as well as the vehicles of friends (Paul, Larry, Gail, Howard and Leslie),  with plenty of room to spare.

Our friends had decided to drive out, just for the day, to join us as we spent the day exploring the canyons of Rainbow Basin and the Fossil Beds. 

The drive to Rainbow Basin is a short couple of minutes from the campground.  The one-way dirt road winds its way through the most spectacular of landscapes. Pinnacles of colorful sandstone, silt-stone, limestone, and conglomerate line both sides of the narrow path. Large vehicles are not recommended since they’d likely become stuck as the pathways and switchbacks narrow around the natural rock outcroppings. Or, at the very least, your off-road vehicle could acquire those scratches and dings which give four-wheel drive vehicles their character, if the driver doesn't pay careful attention.

Tall mud cliffs and narrow roads

Out for another adventure in the hinterlands

Laureen and Paul, accompanied by our four-footed explorers

Leaving the Bounder behind, we set off in the trusty FJ. Since the area is designated a National Natural Landmark, we thought that the BLM wouldn’t take too kindly to a motorhome becoming stuck between two mountains of sandstone like Fat Albert between two door frames.

So off we rambled and bumped along the road to the fossil beds a few miles to the north.  Finds of animals that are no longer part of the Californian culture have been made here, including camels, miniature horses, mastodons, and flamingos.

Huh? Flamingos in the Mojave Desert? Yep, this area was much wetter in times past. In fact, two million years ago, during the Pleistocene era, the region was inundated by huge glaciers. Temperatures warmed and then cooled and then warmed and then cooled, and about ten thousand years ago the area was pretty wet and lush in vegetation. No desert – almost a paradise for life.

This is a desert? Forget Florida - we like Southern California
Humans showed up, hunting the abundance of life. Then, as what normally happens on a living planet, the climate became warmer and less moist, but this time, it stayed that way, killing off the vegetation and giving birth to the Mohave Desert.

One can still find here some hardy bushes and a surprising variety of animals, though not what was there tens of thousands of years ago.

So, after a day of traveling the back trails in a couple of four-wheel drives, J and L invited everyone back to the temporary abode in Owl Canyon Campground to toast the adventure with a cold refreshment. Or two.

As the sun was disappeared behind the multicolored cliffs, so did our friends. And, like the sun, we would certainly return to continue to explore this natural wilderness.

The sun set and so did our friends
Our spur-of-the-moment adventure turned out to be a memorable way to spend time enjoying the unexpected warmth of a couple of days in winter. One day later, the temperatures were back in the low forties and winds driving from the north.

The perfect end to a wonderful adventure
But, we did have Owl Canyon – at least for a moment or two.

Or perhaps this is a better way to relax after hiking all day!