The Dragon Wagon

The Dragon Wagon
The landscaping changes often.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Cave Fire

We happened to be staying at the Earl Warren Showgrounds RV Park in Santa Barbara for Thanksgiving week.  This location gave us a view of the Santa Ynez Mountains where the Cave Fire occurred.

The fire started near the top of the mountains near the community of Painted Cave.  Pushed by gusty down-canyon winds, the fire rapidly spread down the mountainside towards the cities of Goleta and Santa Barbara.

The fire started around 4:15 pm on Monday, November 25th.  This image was taken from the showgrounds about 30 minutes after the fire began.

As darkness fell and the night advanced, we would occasionally go out to keep an eye on the fire progression.

Earl Warren Showgrounds became the incident command center and we watched as firefighters, fire engines and support equipment arrived. 

Some of the at least 600 personnel came quite a long ways!

Monday, December 2, 2019

Death Valley November 2019

Below are some miscellaneous images from our recent visit to Death Valley.

In the past couple of years, the Furnace Creek Inn and the associated Ranch underwent major renovation and are now called the Oasis at Death Valley.  At the Ranch, they have installed a nice collection of historic relics at the Borax Museum.

Stage coaches

A water powered arrastre for grinding up gold ore

The famous 20 Mule Team Borax wagons used to haul borax out of Death Valley for processing

This old steam engine called "Old Dinah" was purchased in 1894 to replace the 20 mule teams used to pull the borax wagons, but proved less efficient than the mule teams.  In 1910 it was sold to ferry supplies from Beatty to the Keene Wonder Mine.  After breaking down a couple of years later, it was abandoned and then rescued in 1932 and brought to the Ranch at Furnace Creek. 

Eventually, the construction of the narrow gauge Death Valley Railroad ended the need for the mule drawn wagons.

The view of Death Valley from Dante's View in the Black Mountains

Looking down at the Badwater salt pan
The image has a magnified inset to show the scale of people in the view.

Looking north toward the Furnace Creek area

As the pan is moistened and then dries out, salt crystals precipitate in cracks reaching the surface.  This repeating cycle causes pressure ridges to form creating the polygonal forms that are common in Death Valley.

In some places salt has crystallized in interesting forms.

Where the salt is mixed with a lot of mud, the landscape forms a very rough landscape.

One view of the colorful formations along Artist Drive

The Salt Creek Pupfish survive in a very restricted section of remaining open water during the dry time of the year.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Hard Luck Mine Castle

We stumbled across this place in 2003 or 2004 when driving on 4x4 trails northeast of Death Valley National Park.  In a snowstorm in the late 1980s, Randy Johnston and his son came upon and took refuge in an old cabin associated with the Hard Luck Mine.  Randy visited this cabin on subsequent trips and in 1999, purchased the Hard Luck Mine claim plus an adjacent claim.  In 2000 he started building his dream "castle" in an area essentially free of any building codes or restrictions.  Most of the work has been done by Randy with the occasional aid of a few friends.  We revisited the site in late 2007 and the castle was still under construction.  In recent years we had heard that the castle was basically finished and Randy had it up for sale.  We decided to make the trip while we were staying in Stovepipe Wells since Randy was still giving tours and a change in ownership likely would change access.  Since Scotty's Castle Road is still closed, we had to take the route over to Beatty, Nevada, and then US-95 north to NV-267.

Leaving Stovepipe Wells in the morning gave a nice view of the Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes.

At the turnoff from NV-267 is one of a few signs pointing toward Hard Luck Mine Castle.

Hauling an early load of construction material on the dirt access road, Randy's trailer broke an axle.  So Randy set it on end beside the road and turned it into a sort of shrine.

The castle comes into view

Randy shows off the main kitchen as part of his tour.

Climbing the spiral stairway in the central core on the way up to the glass observation dome

Looking down the central core

The view from the observation dome

One of two organs installed in the castle

Short video of Randy playing the organ

Randy claims that this is the only design drawing ever made for the castle.

Racetrack Playa 2019

Racetrack Playa is a usually dry desert lake bed in a remote part of Death Valley National Park.  It is famous for the rocks that have left tracks indicating that they have somehow moved across the lake bed.  Since we hadn't been to the Racetrack in several years, we decided to take the long drive out there from Stovepipe Wells via the "easiest" route, northwest to Ubehebe Crater (47 miles of paved road) and then south on the Racetrack Road (27 miles of dirt road).

Ubehebe is a Maar volcanic crater created by a phreatic (steam) eruption.  Rising subsurface magma had super-heated the groundwater until steam pressure built high enough to blast the overlying rock away.

Twenty miles along the Racetrack Road is Teakettle Junction.  Many visitors have left teakettles on the signpost as mementos of their visit.  The rangers periodically remove kettles, but there were a fair number during this visit.

We even witnessed an addition being made to the sign.

At the northern end of the playa, an outcrop of rocks named the "Grandstand" pokes above the surface of the playa.

Since the vast majority of the rocks' tracks are at the southern end of the playa, we continued to a parking area at that end and discovered a new information sign had been erected there to reflect the latest understanding of how the tracks are made.  It is now known that under the right conditions, ice sheets driven by wind push rocks around.

The surface of the playa is a fine silty clay material.  On the rare occasions when enough rainwater collects to flood the playa, the surface becomes a slick mud.  When the playa dries out again, the mud shrinks, cracks and forms a surface of fairly uniform polygons typically about 1 to 2 inches across.

Some of the first visible rock tracks during our walk out onto the playa.

At the southern end of the playa where it ends at a rock slope, is an area called the "nursery".  Here rocks erode from the hillside and roll down onto the playa surface.  Many of these rocks show tracks in the playa surface.

Some idiot appears to have driven a vehicle on the playa!

Crossing tracks

This rock may have a groove in its bottom.

Evidence for "rock rustling"?

Looking north across the playa

Headed back to the parking area
(click on the image to get the larger version to see
the details which help show the size of the playa)

Our lunch spot

Another view of the Grandstand

On this visit, the tracks seemed much less defined than in previous visits.  My guess is that the playa has flooded a number of times without the right conditions to allow rock movement.  This cycle would probably slowly erase the tracks.  Below are images from previous years.