I remember the first time I saw it, back in the 1970’s I was driving north up California Highway 395 between the towns of Lone Pine and Independence. On the west side of the road were the relics of something that seemed important in the past. Driving past these ruins to go to some other destination, we never stopped to explore. Many times when I travel today and I see something interesting I will email myself so I can research the spot when I get home but in the days before the internet you could not do this. As I passed this spot several times I often wondered what this place was and kicked myself for not stopping to explore. I had visions of it being a part of the old west, a mining camp, a ranch or a movie set. My imagination bubble burst and I was horrified years later when I found out that it was a Japanese Internment Camp from WWII. I finally visited this place many years later, after the National Park system had taken it over and I was truly shocked to walk the site, I never knew or had seen so closely this sad part of American History….
02/15/16 – update from the author, “this Preserve will be in the Sand to Snow National Monument created by President Obama on February 11, 2016.”
“The Big Morongo Canyon Preserve”
November 6, 2011 – Only a 20 minute drive from downtown Palm Springs is a place with much cooler temperatures, it’s an oasis that’s located at the southwestern edge of the Mojave Desert. Considered a secret hideaway by many people and animals, this oasis is called the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. After you visit this Preserve you won’t be able to drive by this location on Highway 62 without noticing the tremendous amount of cottonwood trees in the distance.
With the passing of Glenn Frey many people might not know that he has a Mojave Desert connection with Joshua Tree and the nearby Palm Springs area. Here are some pictures from The Eagles’ 1st photo shoot for their 1st album “The Eagles” in Joshua Tree National Park in March of 1972, taken by famed rock-n-roll photographer Henry Diltz. Much of the imagery of the Eagles often portrayed the desert so I put this photo-collage together to tell the story. My searching skills acquired from my previous blog about Gram Parsons might help me find this exact spot in the future:…
Well maybe the park was not responsible for saving the world by discouraging an atomic war, as its creator had hoped, but whether you come see this mirage in the desert as a religious pilgrimage or for your appreciation of art or history you will not be disappointed….
Mojave Meets Phil Kaufman
UPDATE: This particular blog about Gram Parsons has been interesting to say the least, intended to only be one story has now turned into three. After I first wrote the first leg of this story about a year later I got the crime-scene-photo from a friend, then I updated this blog with the pixelated picture only to remove it later at the family’s request. We found the exact same rock that was in the 1973 crime-scene photo in 2014, then somehow I ended up in contact with Phil Kaufman and had plans to meet him and give him a copy of the photo which my friend Brad was to give to him. Tonight (9/28/14) I had that meeting and I was thrilled to have met him but also moved by what I saw.
Mr. Kaufman was in touch with my friend Brad, after waiting all day for the call he called, he had arrived and was staying at the Joshua Tree Inn, the same place Gram had died over 40 years ago. We were to have a change of plans, on the phone Phil said to meet him at Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown instead of the Joshua Tree Inn, I was hoping to get pictures at the Inn so I was a bit disappointed but in the end what transpired was much more thought provoking.
Timing is everything and it seems that the Right Stuff happened in The Right Place at the Right Time to create a very historical location in the Mojave Desert. This blog is mostly about the recent history of the Edwards Air Force Base with an accompanying map of points of interest. Some of these places can be explored in person, others you can explore from your computer.
Here is a link to the ESRI-GIS Story Map created especially for DesertUSA.com that shows the many interesting spots in and around Edwards Air Force Base. Zoom in and out of the aerial image on the right to see more detail.
===== All Aboard…..
In the Mojave Desert, on the south side of Joshua Tree, just a half-mile or so from the main road that leads to the Joshua Tree National Park, tucked away in a canyon, almost hidden from the one million plus visitors that drive by every year sits a very interesting, inconspicuous place. It is the Joshua Tree Southern Railroad Museum and Narrow Gauge Railroad. Miles away from any existing or historical railroad sits a railroad museum in Joshua Tree – which makes it quite unusual. Over the years I’ve seen some of these trains sitting against the mountain and often wondered how they got there. When I got the chance to go on a field trip with the Morongo Basin Historical Society, I jumped on it. It was a beautiful Saturday warm winter’s morning in February, in the mid 60’s and we all met up at the Rail Road Depot. Inside was a vast assortment of railroad memorabilia. This museum has a different kind of charm than most, it is run and maintained by many volunteers without any large financial backing. Everything you see looks old, feels old and smells old. In other words, it is not a fancy schmancy museum where every piece is restored to its original condition, it has original pieces in their elderly condition. The museum and railroad are maintained by the few volunteers that give their time and love to keep this place running….
Imagine trying to make a name for yourself when your uncle is referred to as the Father of our Country. Colonel Henry Washington did a pretty good job of making a name for himself and also for naming many places in California. I guess you could call him the father of our County, actually many counties in the State of California for that matter.
In the early 1850’s Colonel Washington was paid to survey many areas of the Country including Florida, Colorado and California. The history of this baseline dates back over 160 years to November 1852. At that time, Colonel Henry Washington was the deputy surveyor under contract with the U.S. Surveyor General of California. He was given the task of establishing an Initial Point of all future surveys, where the baseline and meridian would intersect at a highly visible point in Southern California.
The general location of that Initial Point had already been established just the year before and after a four-day hike into the mountains from San Bernardino through very rough territory. Washington and his team of 12 assistant surveyors established the Initial Point at a location approximately a half-mile west of Mt. San Bernardino at an elevation of 10,300 feet. This was not the highest point in Southern California but it allowed anyone in the San Bernardino Valley a view of the point. Washington erected a monument on the site of his Initial Point that still stands atop San Bernardino Mountain to this day.
Little did Colonel Washington know that his monument would become the point of beginning of every piece of private and public property owned by over 25 million inhabitants of Southern California.
Washington also traveled north to Death Valley, and south through Temecula to the Mexican border; he noted “Indian Villages” in the vicinity of Temecula. He was paid to survey the Coachella Valley and during this survey he is credited with naming Cathedral City in 1855. During a survey of the Colorado Desert, he reportedly stood in Cathedral Canyon and said the rock formations looked like a European cathedral – the name stuck.
When one travels through the heart of San Bernardino today, one of the main streets that you might see is Baseline Avenue. This street is actually on the baseline set by Colonel Washington. This street exists west of the meridian line but if you go east of the meridian line you travel through the mountains and down into the Mojave Desert. Colonel Washington was one of the first non-native people to record his visit across the Mojave Desert.
Today as you follow the baseline to the east you travel through downtown Yucca Valley, then as 29 Palms Highway curves north the baseline follows Yucca Trail, which then turns into Alta Loma Drive in Joshua Tree. At the termination of Alta Loma Drive there is a mountain of boulders with a canyon headed south. While on his survey of the baseline in 1855, Washington noted this canyon, and at that time he also noted this huge rock mountain. He mentioned petroglyphs on the rocks and the hole at the end of the canyon dug by coyotes to reach shallow water, thus he named the canyon, “Coyote Hole Springs”. There is also an ancient Native American “work circle” in the area, you will find it if you explore the area thoroughly.
After this point he went around the rock mountain and proceeded to survey the baseline east to 29 Palms and beyond. Eventually he found an oasis with Native Americans living amongst the palm trees, thus he named it Twentynine Palms (we will use the term 29 Palms in this blog).
The community of 29 Palms has many murals and one of its many murals commemorates the visit of Colonel Washington; it is officially known as Mural #2. 29 Palms was known as the Oasis of Mara by the natives. The life-giving springs of the Oasis of Mara supported Native Americans and early settlers, and its famous fan palms were the source of the 29 Palms name. The year after Colonel Washington’s visit a deputy surveyor reported that “near the springs the land has the appearance of having been cultivated by the Indians”. He counted 26 palm trees at that time but the name “Twentynine Palms” was already recorded. He further stated “there are Indian huts in section thirty-three, the Indians use the leaf of the palm tree for making baskets, hats, etc. Around the springs there is a growth of cane of which the Indians make arrows for their bows.”
In 1855 Colonel Henry Washington headed north with his survey and came through the then unnamed Johnson Valley. Near the west end of the valley he found two elderly Indian women alone at a spring, thus Colonel Washington appropriately named it Old Woman Springs, and the name was recorded for all to ponder. The two Indian women may have been left there to watch young children; the rest were probably in the nearby mountains gathering pinon nuts and hunting, as hunter-gatherers were known to do.
For more information on Old Woman Springs check out this blog from last year:
I was surprised how difficult it was to find personal information on Colonel Washington’s life but I did find a website that was helpful in finding old surveys:
I was also able to obtain a sample of Colonel Washington’s field notes from the San Bernardino County Surveyors Office and I downloaded some maps from the above website. I inserted them on Google Earth and the land features lined up really well. I will post many of these maps and notes below for you to enjoy.
Take It Easy – Mojave
Let’s Trek Across The Mojave And Find Out About Their “Harmony”
This blog, The Mojo on the Mojave is about things that are located or happening in the Mojave Desert, part of this story lies outside the Mojave’s reaches but we will touch on the entire bus trip that the Irish rock band U2 took before they released the album that was destined to be called “The Joshua Tree”, we will mainly focus on the portions of that trip that lie within the Mojave Desert.
Let’s start with what we know for sure, in 1987 U2 released an album called “The Joshua Tree”, before the album was released they traveled from Reno to Joshua Tree with a few stops in between to take pictures. Later they would return to film videos in Los Angeles and Las Vegas after the album was released.
They well knew of the story of Gram Parsons and how he died, his body was stolen and burned, all centered in the Mojave Desert, link: www.desertusa.com/dusablog/gram-theft-in-joshua-tree.html . The band U2 were aware of the mythology of the Mojave Desert, this is part of the reason they used it as a backdrop to their album. According to the designer of the album sleeve, Steve Averill, the band rented a coach in Reno, Nevada, at the time the cover was shot, The Joshua Tree album was tentatively titled “The Two Americas” with another alternate name being “The Desert”, the band wanted to capture the part of the United States where “nature and industrialization meet”.
Steve says the end photos for The Joshua Tree were the result of a “happy accident”, we had stopped and shot at a ghost town in Nevada (actually Bodie, California), and their photographer, Anton Corbijn wanted to shoot at Joshua Tree National Monument (now a National Park) next. After the Bodie shoot they drove toward Joshua Tree National Monument, along the way they stopped at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Monument (also a National Park today) and shot the cover photograph, then on Highway 190 just outside Death Valley they saw a lone Joshua Tree in the distance, it was then that the band began thinking of The Joshua Tree as a possible name for the album. They got out of the coach there and then and shot the inside sleeve photograph, all in all they were there about 20 minutes in the early morning cold weather. This famous session with the Joshua Tree became the back cover and the inside sleeve of the album which was released on March 9, 1987.
A friend and myself decided to drive to find this elusive tree that actually fell down from natural causes in the year 2000, we found the fallen tree on July 3rd, 2014. We assumed that it would be hot and we knew it was about a three hour drive without any big stops. Joshua Trees only grow at higher elevations because they need below freezing winters to reproduce so we knew it would be not quite as hot as the lower reaches of the desert. We found the spot to stop on the road near the infamous tree rather quickly, at about 4700 feet above sea level the site was quite a bit cooler than nearby Death Valley, our temperature was only about 100 degrees. I decided to try my new 4wd vehicle and we went down some fairly sandy washes, in the end we walked about 3/4 of a mile to find this iconic monument to an Irish rock band in the middle of the Mojave Desert. After being at the site for about 15 minutes and taking pictures we walked the 3500 feet back to the car. I would recommend parking on the main road and walking 1300 feet to the site, its much easier than driving off road, the wash was very soft and parking on the paved road is a relatively short walk and if you are a true fan of U2 this is the way that the band traversed to the tree from their rented coach.
Back to 1987, I believe that it was later that same day that they ended up at The Harmony Motel in 29 Palms for another photo shoot and stayed in the Motel for at least a night. While at the Motel it is rumored that they rented all of the rooms at the Harmony Motel but room #4 was rented as a group meeting place to congregate. If you visit the Motel ask for Ash the owner, she knows alot about the U2 stay back then, she is the current owner but she has contact with the person that owned it in 1987.
On a side note, my buddy that helped me find “The Joshua Tree” fallen in the desert is recently retired from United Parcel Service. He actually delivered packages to the Harmony Motel one of the days that they stayed there, when he made his delivery the owner at that time told him they were there in the Motel, so finding the fallen tree was kind of like coming full circle.
The Bodie, Zabriskie Point, Joshua Tree and Harmony Motel photographs were used to promote the band forevermore at concerts and on their memorabilia.
Anyone can visit these places if you know where to look:
Bodie is a state park in California, here is the link: www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=509
Zabriskie Point is in Death Valley National Park, here is the link: www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/furnacecreekarea.htm
The iconic Joshua Tree is on Highway 190 at coordinates: 36°19’51.00″N, 117°44’42.88″W
The Harmony Motel is in 29 Palms, it is rumored that they rented the entire motel but the gathering place where they all met was in Room #4, here is the link: www.harmonymotel.com
On a side note another Irish band called Snow Patrol also stayed at the Harmony Motel in 2010, following in the footsteps of their Irish brethren.
On our way home we visited the ghost town of Darwin, we also stopped in Lone Pine and drove up Whitney Portal Road to get a closer look at Mount Whitney. We then visited the Lone Pine Movie History Museum www.lonepinefilmhistorymuseum.org and learned alot about the movies that were made in this area including one of my favorites, “Tremors”.
Please be careful if you make this journey, summer is hot and winter is cold but you can always end your long day at the Harmony Motel just like U2 did.
Take It Easy – Mojave
It is spring time in the Mojave Desert and it is time to plant trees and bushes. In my almost 40 years living in the upper reaches of the Mojave Desert above 3500 feet, I have tried to plant many things. The biggest obstacle to my success of my non-native vegetation was planting a tree or plant that can not withstand the cold winter temperatures of the Hi-Desert. Here are a few of my attempts that I will share with you that seem to be a success. I am using the “common name” on most of these, the names that I know from my experience with these plants. Most of these pictures were taken in my yard with a few exceptions so I could show larger specimens or show the plant in bloom. If you desire do a Google search on any of these and you can find their fancy-schmancy botanical names.
Click on each picture to get a closer view, take a look and enjoy:
Aleppo Pine, this is down the road from my house, these are easy to grow.
Mondel Pine, two examples from my property, these are easy to grow.
Red Barrel Cactus, this is easy to grow.
Creosote Bush, on my property on the left and a nearby example on the right, this bush is very difficult to transplant but smells wonderful when wet.
Liquidambar, on my property on the left and a on-line example on the right.
Modesto Ash, on my property on the left and a on-line example on the right, very easy to grow.
Incense Cedar, on my property on the left and in the winter on the right, very easy to grow.
Coast Redwood, easy to grow.
Giant Sequoia, I have had only two successes with this tree, it is supposed to grow in all zones but seems sensitive until established.
Cottonwood, this tree requires lots of water, do not plant unless you can support its water habit.
Japanese Black Pine.
Washington Fan Palm, easy to grow, requires weekly water but can freeze until it is established.
Desert Willow, two on-line examples, mine are not blooming yet, easy tree to grow and transplant.
Crape Myrtle, easy to grow but only blooms if water is available on a regular basis.
Weeping Willow, do not plant unless you can support its water habit.
White Iron Bark Eucalyptus, easy to grow and does not need much water after it is established.
Red River Gum Eucalyptus, easy to grow and does not need much water after it is established.
Grape Vine, easy to grow but requires moderate water.
Desert Gum Eucalyptus, easy to grow and does not need much water after it is established, this tree can freeze.
Silver Dollar Eucalyptus, easy to grow and does not need much water after it is established.
Tree of Heaven, easy to grow and needs little water after it is established but is a tree that produces many offspring around the yard, re-seeds easily and can become a weed tree and a nuisance.
Fruitless Mulberry, both are mine and old, there are many bigger and better examples in the Mojave.
Black Locust (Robe Locust), Lots of roots and suckers but easy to grow.
Golden Locust, both plants are labeled the same but some are more golden than others and in my opinion the less golden they are the higher they grow but the gold color is beautiful.
Mesquite, on my property on the left and a nearby example on the right.
Palo Verde, on my property on the left and a nearby example on the right.
Olive Tree in a nearby parking lot.
Arborvitae, on my property on the left and a on-line example on the right.
Honeysuckles, Japanese and Common.
Texas Sage, two on-line examples, mine are not blooming yet.
Flowering Plum and Spartan Juniper, plum blooms on shown on insert photo.
Ocotillo, there are much bigger examples but both of these are mine.
Cedrus Deodora (California Cedar).
Italian Stone Pine.
Old Man Cactus.
Single Leaf Pinon Pine, on my property on the left and a nearby example on the right.
Mexican Manzanita, on my property on the left and a nearby example on the right.
Finally just a shot of some natural vegetation, Beavertail Cactus in bloom in the foreground, Cholla Cactus in the middle and California Juniper in the back.
Take It Easy – Mojave