Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Victor Valley Museum

According to, Rhonda Almager, facility manager at the Victor Valley Museum, the reason to visit the museum is simple: “People need to, discover what’s in your own backyard. That’s what we offer here at the museum. A chance for locals and tourists to truly understand the rich and diverse history the Victor Valley has to offer.”

And there is a lot to discover in this museum about the local area.

An extinct mammoth tooth, how cool is that? 

You can go ahead and touch ancient items from the local area.
I could not have agreed more. In fact, the motto, ‘Discover your own backyard,’ is brazenly painted within each mural that decorates the museum’s exterior, located at 11873 Apple Valley Road., in the town of Apple Valley.

Not a fancy facade - but treasures are within the walls
It is pure coincidence, that in our own blog, which is equally penned by my lovely spouse, Laureen, on a broad array of topics of both research and exploration, we ask the question, ‘What’s in your backyard?’

Who had that saying first? Hmmm
No plagiarism, simply a melding of ‘like’ minds. The philosophy is to understand all the wonderful and exciting places a person can visit in their own community. Though, our blog covers a wide variety of subjects from around the world, we would like to focus this column on those places to visit and explore within our own backyards near the Victor Valley.

Living in Southern California, opens up endless possibilities. The question of how far one would travel to visit something worthwhile was a topic for intelligent, thoughtful, and research backed discussion.

We ended up taking a map of the southwest, used Victorville as the center point, and drew a radius of approximately two hundred miles, the distance we felt qualified as a day-trip. 

“There,” I stated. “That will be our backyard for our local stories.”

That's a pretty big backyard!
Laureen grinned, as she often does with some of my pronouncements, but did surprise me by agreeing. 

“I know people who will drive hours just for dinner or to go to the beach for the day. That should work.”

Of course, the section of the radius over the Pacific Ocean may not get much attention, unless the reader counts Catalina Island, as well as the Channel Islands as destinations for a day trip. And, why not?

So, for this first trip, we settled for one really close to home. The Victor Valley Museum, a branch of the San Bernardino County Museum.

According to Almager, the attendance to the museum has skyrocketed over the past year or so. “We received over 9,000 visitors this year. That’s nearly 1,500 more than the previous year.”

"I want to see the exhibit first!" "No, me, first!"
Of course, the next question was why this occurred? “We have new exhibits, our prices are people-friendly, and now we offer a family activity at the museum on the second Saturday of each month from noon to 3 p.m.. It’s really been a great hit. Hands-on events, guest speakers, and the chance for people to meet people and possibly make new friends.”

The museum boasts a great deal of varied and quite interesting exhibits. One of my favorites, my kind of stuff, was the section called, ‘Earthquake Country.’ Yes, we know that the valley is near the focal points of both the San Andreas and Garlock fault lines, but the information shared on how the faults were created and what would happen during a really, really big shaking was fascinating.

That's a comforting title! Egad!!!!! 
There’s an interactive video, with Dr. Pat Abbot, from the San Diego State University explaining over and over (it loops all day) how the valley was created and what to expect during an earthquake. The professor, also does a bit of DIY on how to reinforce residential walls. Making them stronger, just in case.

A very cheery fellow, this Dr. Pat Abbott
Interestingly, or a harbinger of things to come, two weeks after our visit, Southern California received the strongest earthquake in two decades. In Searles Valley, near the city of Ridgecrest, a 6.4 'foreshock' rattled the desert, then followed up the following day with a 7.1 earthquake. Property damage, some injuries, but luckily there were no deaths.

Further exhibits explain how the Native Americans, who first resided in the Victor Valley, survived in a sometimes harsh environment. There are plenty of artifacts to view, found by local archaeologists, such as pottery, projectile points, metates (for crushing grain), clothing, and baskets woven from deergrass and sisal. There is also a really ingenious woven net for catching rabbits – they would never hungry with the multitude of rabbits making their homes in this valley.

Ancient pottery from local N.A. tribes in the valley
A large display, and another looping video, about the desert tortoise is a must see, to understand how fragile these lumbering desert creatures are and how they are quickly being eliminated by human encroachment and eaten by ravens. Oh, those ravens!

I'm hiding because everyone is looking for me - geeez!
Found tortoises are often equipped with ‘GPS Logger’ technology, which allows scientists to track individual tortoises 24/7. It used to take weeks to physically keep an eye on any one particular tortoise, but now with circling satellites, their every movement is tracked.

Much like our cell phones. 

The museum won the National Association of Counties award. The reason why is easy to see with the meticulous care taken to ensure the public truly enjoys their visit in a warm, friendly, educational, clean, and fun place to learn.

One exhibit may confound the younger visitors though. It is a large glass case with two very strange looking objects in it. The objects have a dial – yes, they are phones, but not just phones that many of us remember having at home, the dreaded ‘land line.’ These two artifacts are actually phones used to communicate during mining activities when gold and silver were being pulled out of the earth in earlier times. 

But they do resemble the rotary dial some of us remember.

What are these things?
According to Almager, “People keep coming back again and again to check and see if we have new exhibits. All I hear from departing guests is, we loved it, more interesting than we thought it would be, and I’ll be back.”

We’re not Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it doesn’t take a tree surgeon to realize going back to revisit the Victor Valley Museum is simply a must.

So, go and see what’s in your backyard, and we know you’ll have fun doing it.

For more information on the Victor Valley Museum: (760) 240 – 2111 or visit their website at,

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Mentoring in the 21st Century

With all due apologies for this hasty post, we just completed a presentation at the Innovative Schools Summit in Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, and the requests for our PowerPoint were such that we felt it worthy of a post.

Below is the link to the pdf of the presentation. Thank you sincerely to all who joined us in making a difference for kids.

Link to pdf: Mentoring in the 21st Century

For further information please contact us by email at or by text at (760)265-2676.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

In the Pen - Temporarily

John's cell-phone rang, though he didn't recognize the number, he went ahead and answered it.

Of course, it was a telemarketer, "Hello, this is No-Name, and I am calling about solar power for your house."

Sounding very quiet and serious, John interrupted the bothersome robo-seller, "I'm sorry, I can't speak right now. I'm in prison." It seemed apropos -- it was a cell-phone call, after all.

Mr. No-Name, apologized and hung up. When does that happen? A bothersome salesperson just hanging up?

Of course, the prison John was speaking about was the Old Idaho Penitentiary in Boise, Idaho.

Not a particularly inviting facade...
Laureen and John had traveled to the City of  Trees, to visit daughter Kelly and her husband Travis. Sightseeing is a must and one place on the top of the list was the Old Idaho Penitentiary. What more could an explorer and researcher desire then to spend quality time with family in a dank, dark, cold, and possibly haunted prison?

Travel Channel ghost hunters always
look better in green light.

This solid rock penitentiary is so well known for its hauntings, that a paranormal group from the Travel Channel visited and performed their paranormal rituals. The crew from Ghost Adventures studied, listened, viewed, filmed, and tried just about everything else these paranormal ghost hunters do - usually with green night vision goggles (we really enjoy that dramatic piece) and concluded that it could be haunted.

Cell-block constructed in 1911
There was a heaviness to the place. One felt strange anxious feelings, as we traipsed around the cell blocks where men and women spent some of their worst and often final years on this planet of ours. In one cell block where very young men were held, even as young as fifteen or younger, the feelings of oppression and sadness were overwhelming. The cold stone walls only accentuated the feeling of hopelessness these inmates must have felt, cooped up day after day serving their varied sentences for crimes for which they had convicted.
Solitary - about as dank as it could get

Now, many of these inmates deserved to be in prison for some pretty heinous crimes. One such deserving soul was Lyda Southard, who had a penchant for killing several of her husbands to collect on their life insurance. And there was Harry Orchard, convicted of assassinating the former governor of Idaho, Frank Steunenberg with a bomb outside the gentleman's home in Boise in 1905. Orchard confessed that he was a hit man for the miner's union and they, the union had a beef with the former governor.

Other crimes committed in the early years of Idaho also warranted lengthy prison sentences: murder, robbery, burglary, horse stealing, larceny and the such, but some would seem rather silly to lock someone up in the twenty-first century. Polygamy, cohabitation without being properly married, homosexuality, and plenty more offenses which shocked the public morals at the time the prison was operating.
The ones who spent their eternity at the penitentiary - in a way
No matter the crime - laundry had to be done -
John in front of the prison's laundry facility

Different times also meant different crimes.

The penitentiary was built using prisoner labor, and the sandstone, which makes up most of the sprawling prison, was mined from the nearby foothills. As the prison population rose, so did more buildings using prison labor. As one warden stated, "It was better to use free labor than cost the state to house the people who the prison had to be built for."

Constructed started in 1868 and a public ceremony touting the state of the art prison was held on July 4th of 1870.
That's some good construction - and cheap too!

The date seems a bit ironic for celebrating the completion of a prison.

The prison stayed in the business of incarcerating criminals for 101 years. Over 13,000 inmates spent time there, but with no more than 600 at any one time which was the maximum it could contain.

Ten inmates were executed in the prison - the last being Raymond Snowden. He had been out drinking with his date, Cora Dean, on September 23, 1956, when they got into an argument and he ended up stabbing the mother of two, thirty times with a pocket knife. He left the dead woman beside the road, only to be found the next morning by a paperboy making his deliveries in Garden City. Snowden was convicted of murder and executed on October 18, 1957 by hanging. It is said, Snowden dangled at the end of the rope in agony for fifteen minutes before succumbing to his penalty.

So, maybe Snowden is still hanging around the penitentiary, scaring visitors.

Are Laureen and Kelly seeing a dangling ghostly Snowden?
In 1973, riots broke out over the outdated systems - poor plumbing, unhealthy water, very little heating or cooling offered by the old buildings, and so in December of that same year. the penitentiary closed for good.

Guard Tower
The penitentiary now stands as a historical landmark in the state of Idaho. It is a fascinating site to explore, to look into the cells where prisoners spent their days and nights, to read many of the inmates personal histories - some sad and some tragic - both for the inmate and their victims.

The penitentiary also has a museum sporting a marvelous collection of weapons from the earliest days to modern weaponry.

 John and daughter Kelly in front of a Gatling gun - impressive weapon
For more information -

Friday, June 7, 2019

Mount Rubidoux

One of the entrances for the trail up Mount Rubidoux
Spending roughly three decades in Riverside, John knew the iconic landmark, Mount Rubidoux intimately. During his three months in the police academy for the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, he, along with the rest of the cadets, used to run the three mile asphalt road which led to the top of Rubidoux. The run wasn't that difficult, since the cadets were in good physical shape, but it was the yelling by their drill sergeant which caused the pain during the run.
Maybe it wasn't Sgt. Carter but someone was always yelling at the cadets
So, when John and Paul Bakas, decided to head to Riverside and hike up Mount Rubidoux, memories of the 1331 foot mountain flooded fondly back.

The winding black asphalt rolled out in front of the two casual hikers; the route up and around Rubidoux is an easy hike, as was evident with moms pushing strollers and older folks strolling while talking about this or that with their friends.

Paul, looking back and wondering: are we hiking or taking photographs?
Not being strenuous, allowed a good deal of time to soak in the beauty of the valley which holds the city of Riverside. The San Gabriel Mountains to the northwest, the San Bernardino Mountains to the southeast, and the San Gorgino Mountains to the east lock in this city of nearly  330,00 people. The sights from along the roadway are picturesque and the multitude of people walking, running, bicycling the path seem to enjoy the views immensely. People stopping here and there to snap a selfie or take a photograph of the scenery proved that this venture was appreciated.
Yes, staged pose of John
A wooden bridge which intersects two different routes
View, eastward from half-way up Mount Rubidoux
Looking north from the cross base toward the American Flag
The former name of Mount Rubidoux was Pachappa. The mountain was once part of the Jurupa Rancho, which had been granted to Juan Bandini in 1838 by the Mexican government. As the Rancho expanded, Pachappa was reassigned to a smaller hill to the southeast as the boundary marker for Jurupa Rancho

In 1906, Frank Miller, of Mission Inn fame (written about in a previous blog), along with Henry E. Huntington and Charles M. Loring, purchased the mountain with the idea of building a road to the top of the mountain. The view, they believed, would be a wonderful gift to the city of Riverside.

And it was.

Looking east from the top of Mount Rubidoux over downtown Riverside
The mountain is well known for having Easter Sunrise services at the top with thousands of people venturing up the long and winding road to listen to a non-denominational service. At the sunrise service in 1912, an estimated crowd of 3,000 people attended and by the 1920's, the crowds had grown to over 30,000. It was an event known around the country with people coming from many different states to take part in the early morning trek on Easter to the top of the mountain.
Easter Sunrise Service - 1920's. John is third from the right on last step
It is believed, the Mount Rubidoux Easter Sunrise Service became the catalyst for many other locations around the United States, and the world.

Even the Hollywood Bowl got into the act after Riverside
As a honor to Father Juniper Serra, a gigantic white cross was erected at the very top around 1907. But a snag was put in place one hundred and five years later in 2012, when the group, 'Americans United for Separation of Church and State', took the city of Riverside to court. The anti-Christian group, wanted the cross removed from public lands, as it may offend non-believers.

The 'Cross' - oh, that 'Cross'
 In a meeting in January of 2013, the city council decided to sell the cross and the approximately 1/2 acre of land beneath it, thus making it no longer public land.

'Totally Mt. Rubidoux' was formed, and won the bidding at $10,500. The group was sponsored by the Friends of Mount Rubidoux and others, which raised in total, over two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars. There was plenty of money left over when the bidding stopped to ensure the area around the cross was taken care of for good.

The people were speaking loud and clear!
The city of Riverside played a serious legal battle to maintain the cross on top of the mountain, which has and does call tens of thousands of believers every year. The anti-Christian group, was not happy - but, hey, where there's a will there's a way, and Riverside found the way to preserve a portion of it's history.

I didn't win - I have to win - listen to me!!
 The road to the top is an easy hike and the views fabulous, the history fascinating, and the idea that a public government would stop at nothing to ensure a cross stays put for their community is awesome.

So, next time in Riverside - take a few hours and climb up to the top and see the valley. It's worth the time and effort. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Disney's Magic

Well, maybe not this time
When someone mentions the words, Mark Twain, the immediate identification is that of one of America's foremost story tellers, Samuel Clemens. But in reality, Mark Twain is a phrase with two meanings. Mark - meaning the measure of - and Twain -meaning two. When ships sailed or steamed up and down the Mississippi River in the 19th century, the pilots, that's the captain of the boat for landlubbers, would request a depth notification from crew. They needed to know the depth of the water they were sailing through for safety reasons.

Each fathom was six feet in depth, so when 'mark twain' was yelled up to the pilot after the measuring, the pilot knew they were in good stead with the water depth. Even though most river boats in the 19th century only had drafts of four to five feet, the extra depth was especially reassuring since the muddy Mississippi often had hidden dangers below the waterline. A little extra distance from the bottom was always welcomed.

Bad things can happen in shallow water 
Clemens actually worked on a paddle wheeler, learning the ins and outs of piloting a river boat as a cub pilot for two years before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. Under the tutelage of Captain Isaiah Sellers, Clemens learned a thing or two about mastering the helm and about writing. It seemed Sellers would pen paragraphs about current conditions on the river and have them printed in a local newspaper.

1861 Paddle wheeler on the Mississippi River
"The old gentleman was not of literary turn or capacity, but he used to jot down brief paragraphs of plain practical information about the river, and sign them 'Mark Twain' and give them to the New Orleans Picayune. They related to the stage and condition of the river, and were accurate and valuable; and thus far, they contained no Poison," Clemens once stated when asked about his use of the pen name, Mark Twain.

Clemons felt, as he had moved west to Virginia City and began working as a journalist he needed something special for a name.

"I was a fresh new journalist, and needed a nom de guerre: so I confiscated the ancient mariner's discarded one, and have done my best to make it remain what it was in his hands - a sign and symbol and warrant that whatever is found in its company may be gambled on as being the petrified truth; how I have succeeded, it would not be modest in me to say."

But, this blog is not about Samuel Clemons or Mark Twain the writer.

Sorry, Sam
So, now on to the blog.

No, it's about another famous Mark Twain, which paddles it's way in near oblongs, many times a day at Disneyland. The 105 foot long, 1/3rd sized replica of a 19th century riverboat plies the Rivers of America, located in the world famous park located in Anaheim, Southern California. Hundreds, if not thousands of guests line the three decks as the graceful and beautiful ship makes it's twelve to fifteen minute journey, allowing those same guests a chance to view different sections of the park. 

Passengers awaiting boarding upon the Mark Twain 
Laureen was surprised with a ticket to the 'Happiest Place on Earth' by daughters and sons-in-law for Mother's Day. And to entice John - there had to be an enticement since he had spent his early childhood visiting the park so many times, he'd hide out on Tom Sawyer's island until his cousins got tired of looking for him. A ticket for him to? Okay, deal with smiles and laughter. But what? No invite to the exclusive Club 33? Maybe next time. Being the good sport that John is - at least sometimes, he had a great outing.

Good Sport - not Old Sport. Learn your lines, DiCaprio
Since no one in the group of six had ridden the Mark Twain for many years, it was agreed that it would be nice to sit and rest. Fit-bit's go crazy at Disneyland where walking 20,000+ steps in a day is nothing. One must rest once in awhile or venturing from one make-believe world to another make-believe world would become a chore and not a joy.

As the party waited in the authentic 19th century appearing riverboat landing area, a bearded gentleman dressed in period clothing walked past and said something snarky to John. Of course, John returned the snarky comment with a bit more spice. Within seconds both men stood toe to toe smiling and exchanging harmless and comical comments to each other. Finally, the Pilot, we were to learn, told our entire group to come with him.

No, this isn't the Captain and John - we just stole this picture to make a point
We were escorted onto the Mark Twain before the other hundreds or so waiting passengers and led to the pilothouse. This was a special treat since it is rare to allow folks into the lair of the Captain of the ship. Three decks are the usual haunts for the passengers but we all were treated to the 'fourth' deck. The pilothouse was small but roomy enough that no one was smashing elbows with each other and the view was awesome. 

A non-disclosure agreement had to be signed - Not!
Roughly, thirty feet above the waters edge, gave us all a birds-eye-view of the park as the ship traveled it's course along the Rivers of America.

Unobstructed view of Disneyland - or at least most of it
Each got a turn at the helm, which was fine until Jessica took a hold of the large wooden wheel and John desperately wished Disneyland served alcohol. "I could use a drink," he was overheard muttering to himself. He watched as his daughter deftly spun the wheel to starboard, thankful there was only open water in that direction.

All small ships and children, watch out!
The Captain, which was his name since no one had jotted it down, advised us that the Mark Twain was under steam power delivered with bio-diesel and free floating along it's course. He also reassured us that the river was forty feet deep, so no fear of snagging underwater objects.

Justin and the Captain with no name - we're bad
Since John and Laureen believe in research, research was done and the fact checking proved that actually, the Mark Twain runs along a hidden steel I-beam to guide it's way through the water, and the depth of the river is not even a Mark Twain. The bottom is anywhere from 6 to 8 feet deep but looks deeper with the green and brown dye used for special effects. 

Are those guide rails we see?

 40 feet deep ? We don't think so, or those men are giants. 
This is all part of the Disney Magic, and no disparaging remarks or thoughts against the Captain for the 'fibs' he told us. It's all about make-believe, and we enjoyed the fantasy of believing this large ship was being guided by a bunch of neophyte pilots.

Hey, I just work here and recite what I'm told to recite.
Cruising the river, from the advantage point of the pilothouse, we could all see the new Disney attraction set to open May 31st of 2019. Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, an all New Land. Though, we could not see every detail of the 'Black Spire Outpost' on the planet 'Batuu', the glimpses we did enjoy proved to be enough that another trip to see this 16 acre addition to Disneyland is in the works.

On the left, a spaceship in the New Land

A glimpse of the 'Black Spire Outpost' on the Planet Bantuu
Even the ever-faithful, Trekkie. Laureen agreed this would be an adventure worth exploring.

A Trekkie traitor or just seeing the light saber - bad pun
At the conclusion of the voyage, each 'pilot' received an 'authentic' certificate claiming how they had managed, without incident to pilot the Mark Twain without sinking her.

Only room for 4 'Skippers' at a time in the wheelhouse
It was a memorable moment on a memorable day honoring mothers all through-out America and many places around the world.

The 'Happiest Place on Earth,' made many people very happy that day and the thrill of being in that rare group to be in the pilothouse aboard the Mark Twain, only made the experience that much happier.

Happy sails to you.


Photos - JandLResearchandExploration
               Justin Barr Photography -