Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Pinnacle of a Story

Real and Surreal, Star Trek V
Where would one go to explore and find the location of some of the best known Hollywood movies such as Planet of the Apes (2001), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), and the all time favorite Lost in Space television series shot back in 1967?

On the Set - Planet of the Apes
 The answer is quite simple - the Trona Pinnacles within the California Desert National Conservation Area. In this 'out of the world' landscape over thirty film projects are filmed yearly and to walk around the tufa spires can easily allow the adventurer to see why this desert location is chosen as a backdrop for those television series or full-length features.
Pinnacles in Perspective
It is quite stunning as well as rather spooky.

Stunning due to over 500 tufa spires (porous rock formed as a deposit when springs interact with other bodies of water), some reaching to over 140 feet into the sky, which stretch for miles within the dry bed of the Searles Lake basin and spooky due to almost foreign life like images one might see on the flat screen on a cold windy night.

J and L decided to take a trip to the area approximately ten miles south of the small town of Trona, California to view for ourselves this Mecca for the unusual. Not Trona but the Pinnacles five miles off of the Trona-Red Mountain Road across a dirt path which is fine for a two wheeled vehicle but a four wheel one are best if there is a cloud in the sky. Being a dry lake bed the area rarely, but it does happen, gets a lot of rain in a short amount of time which turns the ground to soft thick mud. Makes driving almost impossible and often the dirt road is closed by the rangers who need to keep the uninformed safe from themselves.

Closing in on the spires
As we drove closer and closer the landscape took on a stranger and stranger appearance as the tall tufas seemed to be calling out to us for exploration. These hardened shapes of rock dotting the floor of the dry lake had actually once been underwater approximately 10,000 to 100,000 years ago. With runoff from the Sierra Nevada's to the west many tens of thousands of years ago there developed multiple inland seas stretching from Mono Lake (where tufas can be seen jutting out of the lakes waters) to Death Valley which includes Searles Lake where the Trona Pinnacles are located. An interesting side note is that J of J and L and Paul Bakas once kayaked in the night around the tufas on Mono Lake - talk about a scary outing seeing these giant porous rocks sticking out of the black waters while silently paddling - it was like being on another planet but well worth the shivers.

There is a sign on the five mile drive to the tufas indicating the danger of low flying military aircraft and as soon as we read it sure enough a large military turbo-prop scooted across the desert floor a mere hundred feet about us. We could almost feel the propeller wash.

The sign didn't lie.

Video courtesy of Paul Bakas, Videographer and fellow Explorer

When in the area of Trona, it may be a once in a lifetime chance, the Trona Pinnacles is a must to view up close and personal. The stark beauty of the towering towers is enough to make the trip worthwhile but remember, when visiting you may never know who or what you may encounter.

 An Alien Encounter at the Pinnacles

Monday, September 16, 2013

Rhyolite - A Ghost Town that's not Forgotten

During the late spring of 2013 J of J and L along with photographer and friend Paul Bakas took a long drive into the valley of death.

The very name, Death Valley, conjures up images of people struggling through the vast desert east of the Panamint Range, with temperatures soaring during the summer upwards of one-hundred-twenty degrees. The hottest temperature on earth was actually recorded in Furnace Creek in Death Valley on July 1st, 1913 at a blistering one-hundred-thirty-four degrees. It was so warm that it was reported that birds fell out of the sky dead littering the ground.

Yikes - that is mighty hot!

We felt pretty cool and comfortable in the mere one-hundred-seven degree temperature as we tooled past Furnace Creek on our way north to the ghost town of Rhyolite which sits on the eastern edge of the Death Valley just inside the western border of Nevada.

Our destination was the once booming mining town with the Bullfrog Mining District which had its beginning on August 9th, 1904 when Frank "Shorty" Harris and Ernest "Ed" Cross discovered a rich gold deposit on the south side of a southwestern Nevada hill later to be named Bullfrog Mountain. The ore was so rich, $3,000 a ton which would be nearly $77,000 a ton today that thousands of hungry yellow metal seekers soon moved into the area looking for their fortunes.

By 1907 over 4,000 people called Rhyolite home which boasted concrete sidewalks, electric lights, water mains, telephone and telegraph services, a public swimming pool (a good idea in that heat), three banks, stock exchange, opera house, churches, as well as daily newspapers. A full police and fire department took care of any emergencies which may have occurred within the bustling and growing town in the middle of a vast and extremely brutal desert.

But as soon as the boom had boomed the fall came. With a major devastating earthquake in San Francisco in 1906 which diverted capital away from the mines to the south, disrupted railroad services and other financial concerns the town quickly started to slide into a depression. It also didn't help that the mines seemed to have been 'played' out by all those gold seekers.

In 1910 only 675 people still remained in the borders of Rhyolite and soon those too left for greener pastures and by 1922 the Los Angeles Times reported only one ninety-two year old man called the once prospering town his home.

Today there are only partial buildings to remind one of the what this old mining town must have looked like but with a little imagination it is easy to stand in the streets looking at the ghosts of the past. To truly see hundreds of citizens proudly walking up and down the sidewalks of their gem of a city in the middle of nowhere going about their daily activities.

J of J and L, rumored to have a vivid imagination, swore he saw a lovely couple dressed in their finest strolling near the ruin of the opera house hand in hand and smiling into each others eyes.

Perhaps it was only his imagination but then again, perhaps it was not.