July 31, 2012

A Stone Unturned: Lost Horse Mine

I'd wanted to hike the Lost Mine Loop trail to the Lost Horse Mine when I visited Joshua Tree back in April 2011, but I saved it for another time. I'd already run to Keys Ranch and hiked to the Desert Queen Mine and to Pine City. I didn't have the energy.

But this time, when I finally made the attempt, I didn't go the way I was supposed to. I was supposed to take the trail clockwise, so the Lost Horse mine would be only two miles in, and from there I could decide if I wanted to complete the entire loop, which clocks in at 6.2 miles.

I had it in my head that I could handle a four mile hike, so when I saw the trailhead sign for Lost Horse Mine at 4.2 miles, I went for it. It didn't occur to me until two or three miles in that I had misinterpreted the sign and gotten my roundtrip vs. oneway numbers mixed up, and that had made my decision for me: I was going to complete the entire loop.

My hiking guidebook warned that the loop should only be attempted by those experienced in backcountry navigation. Apparently I still need to work on my trailhead navigation.

Regardless, going backwards, I embarked on a hike that started out flat and clear for the first couple of miles...

...providing me with the wide open spaces I long for...

...on a broad wash that crossed several loose, gravely roads, but was clearly marked with signage.

The road began its ascent gently, past joshua trees...

...yellow-streaked rocks...

...and berry-bearing juniper bushes.

I hadn't spotted any ruins yet, but it was clear I was in mine country, as the trail steepened and became more rocky...

...turning into a narrow, single track ridge trail as it looped around.

Lost Horse Mine isn't the only mine along the loop trail: remains of the Optimist Mine are clearly visible and right on the trail, including a chimney... well as some old rusty cans.

From the Optimist Mine, the climb to the Lost Horse Mine became more difficult, with clearer views of the valley below.

When I arrived at Lost Horse Mine - whose stamp mill loomed from the hill above - I was taken aback by the vision of a lone, shirtless man, sitting atop a ledge.

It was 10 a.m. and I hadn't seen any other hikers. It was the middle of summer when tourists tackle hikes like this far more infrequently than in cooler weather. And although I had pepper spray in my hiking pack, I decided not to brave an encounter with a desert eccentric. So instead of climbing up to the mill as I normally would, I continued my hike another two miles down the loop...

...until I arrived to the gate which should have been my starting point.

And now I still haven't really experienced Lost Horse Mine, though I've seen it.

Now that I know where I'm going, perhaps I'll give the Lost Horse Mine another chance in the next three weeks that I'll be here. I hate leaving a stone unturned.

Nearby mines & mills:
Wall Street Mill
Mastodon Mine, Cottonwood Springs

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Photo Essay: Desert Center Ghost Town (Updated for 2021)

[Last updated 7/24/21 1:19 PM PT]

Some might argue that Desert Center is not a ghost town.

July 29, 2012

Photo Essay: A Brewery in An Airplane Hangar

It may be a bit off the beaten path, but Hangar 24's brewery in an actual aircraft hangar across the street from the Redlands Airport is cool.

And, near the intersection of the 210 and the 10 freeways, it was on my way to Joshua Tree.

An aviation fan himself, master brewer Ben Cook (a former homebrewer) founded his brewery in the very same hangar where he once gathered with friends for a post-flight beer.

It may be small, but its beers are available by the keg, bottle, and soon by the can (but so far, mostly in Southern California, though as far north as Fresno).

All beers are pretty much made with the same ingredients: water, malted barley, and hops.

What makes the taste difference is the exact balance of those ingredients, any additional spices or botanicals added (as in the case of the deliciously light Orange Wheat), and the fermentation process.

Hangar 24 is a 24/7 brewery, meaning you could stumble upon any stage of the beermaking process...

...which today included letting off come CO2 yield from the yeast fermentation into a plastic bucket receptacle...

...and actual bottling (a rarity at the craft breweries I have visited), on a unique Italian bottling machine whose manual contains instructions only in Italian.

Much to the chagrin of those who must fix it when it breaks down.

In addition to the Orange Wheat, beers range from lager to pale ale to IPAs to an altbier and a chocolate porter, as well as a variety of limited seasonal offerings.

They're all fun to taste while planespotting.

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An Invitation to Return

I don't often go back to the same place. If given the choice of settling into my favorite restaurant or trying someplace new, I'm far more likely to go where I have never been and order the special, which may never be on the menu again.

But this summer, three years after I spent a month in Joshua Tree, Carrie invited me back to The Desert Lily for a few weeks.

Conveniently, once again I am not working full-time. I have a lot of writing and transcribing to do, making the timing perfect.

Even more conveniently, I now have my own car instead of a rental, and instead of flying out, I can just drive.

And I can drive back to LA if I have to.

So here I am, back at The Desert Lily in Joshua Tree, retracing my old steps, trying to remember the back way up the dirt roads to Star Lane without losing a hubcap.

There's some new landscaping to explore, and a new irrigation system will take care of watering the plants for me, but I remember where Carrie keeps the dishes and towels. I remember distant canine moans mixed with quail cackles and the metal rattle of wind sculptures. The red ocotillo trembles in the late day breeze, which at 90 degrees, feels cool.

My feet walk bare across the patio, sun-bleached and sand-smoothed. I wait for the bunnies to arrive in the shadow of the adobe, but the fountain from which they once drank is gone.

I want to sleep outside, but I remember the coyotes and scorpions and think better of it.

My backyard is the Park, my neighbors the desert mountains.

All of this is familiar and comforting, yet still strange and wild, as much now compared to my life in LA as back then three years ago, as compared to my life in New York City.

But as much as Joshua Tree and The Desert Lily are more or less the same, I'm a little different now.

I've vowed to hike the park more, now 30+ pounds lighter than I was back then.

I know it's going to be hot. I know to get up early. But I'm not as in crisis as I was back then.

I'm not running towards or away from anything.

I'm merely accepting an invitation to return.

And just for a change, I'll be sleeping in the one guest room in which I have not yet stayed.

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July 27, 2012

Photo Essay: Historic Fern Dell, Griffith Park

Locals and tourists alike flock to Griffith Park for its observatory, zoo, museum, theater, and hiking trails that provide clear views of the Hollywood Sign, but in the early 20th Century, Griffith Park's real attraction was Fern Dell, a canyon with year-round waters that had been landscaped into fern garden with terraced pools, bridges, and concrete railings that looked like they were made of logs.

But Fern Dell started to fall into disrepair in the 1960s when Parks budgets were cut, and park maintenance suffered. Fern Dell fell victim to littering, vandalism, and disrepair.

Stone retaining walls crumbled.

Trees fell.

But as sore shape as it's in now - after failed attempts in the 1980s to restore it with an insufficient budget - it's still Griffith Park's most accessible magical place, with flowers still blooming...

...plenty of shade...

...and bridges strong enough to stand the test of time.

It may be a bit overgrown in parts...

...and it has seen brighter days...

...but it is not beyond repair.

Personally, I think all of Griffith Park is pretty magical, but I've been puzzled by Fern Dell. It's not a hiking trail per se. But it no longer appears to be a garden of any sorts, many of the pools, waterfalls and grottos now dried up, or left with standing water full of leaves and debris.

I think you have to imagine it as it once was... know what it could be.

Volunteers and the non-profit organization Friends of Griffith Park are donating their time to try to preserve Fern Dell and its historic elements.

As a priority, they want to keep it advertising-free (as is the rest of the park, the largest city landmark in the U.S.), so that it can be fully enjoyed by the public.

But they are still looking for ideas...

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