Friday, May 23, 2014

A Day in the Dessert



Sitting in front of my room at the El Trovatore motel in Kingman Arizona… It could be the start of a song...



The weather is warm but not hot… the sky is filled with clouds… some reports suggest thunder showers… 

Today I started sitting outside my room, working on the computer and chatting with the people walking by, then breakfast at the Rt 66 dinner, and only then at my target of choice… the archives/library of the local history museum with great success… I could explain, but the details would likely bore anyone not involved… It may be my passion but I understand it might not be yours… It is one of those discretion being the better part of valor things…

Having completed my work at the library, I chose to motor west on Rt 66 to Oatman and beyond… I had two goals… traveling a piece of the mother road which I had not before driven, and search for the remains of a long abandoned narrow gauge railroad…

I was successful in traveling Rt 66, but less successful in finding railroad remains…The drive took me over Sitgreaves Pass…not particularly high but the road was quite exiting… steep, narrow, curvy and likely scary for some… but at low speeds (the speed limit was 25 mph much of the way) in a modern vehicle there are few issues.

Beyond the pass lies the town of Oatman… promoted as an authentic western ghost town,  it is in fact a former mining town… with old buildings with tee shirts and Dakota leather belts and mystic rocks and such... add to that the presence of wild burros who stand in the street and beg to be fed and authentic fake gun fights… plus lots of tourists and you get the ideas…  The burros are the main attraction… very tame wild burros… leading to the sight of a biker dressed in full leathers leading a small herd up the main street through the agency of a small bag of burro food (available in many Oatman stores)

I was in town both to sight see, but also to find the site of a specific mine… but between a lack of local knowlage (and even less available in town) and a landscape distlurbed by years of mining,  I failed to find the site…  I wandered a bit along the river then headed back through Oatman and over Sitgreaves Pass (again) and back to Kingman for the night…


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Mojave, Day 2




Now in the desert it is time to start exploring…  



I got up early… but took my time getting started.  Even with the relaxed start I was checked out and in Daggett before 8:00…  just before 8:00…  but still before 8:00

I was looking for evidence of the three narrow gauge railroads that operated here, as well as a fourth, which was about 10 miles away… I had done my research, and had a pretty good idea of where to look… and started finding things…   

I started with the town of Daggett… its not a big place… maybe 3 blocks by 5 blocks… the store is still open and in use, but the other commercial buildings have either burned or are in ruins…   next to the railroad tracks (the combined BNSF and UP) is an iron sheathed building, said to have been  built as a engine house, in Marion, nearby, but latter moved to town and used as a grocery store and garage…  Its siding is a mismatched mess… and while interesting the building doesn’t give up any clues.

I look for evidence of the narrow gauge railroad line through town, but find none… as expected… then move to the edge of town where rumor suggests one of the borax plants was located… I find building foundations, evaporation ponds with borax crystals, and the remains of the railroad transfer trestle…  first home run of the day… 

I move across the river to the site of a silver mill… here I hit an out of the park home run… I find mill foundations and machinery beds and the right of way for the railroad searving the place… then, having climbed the hill to look at remains realize that I have parked the jeep on a separate railroad right of way… a berm pointed at the remains of the borax plant across the river… 

Moving north I skip the made up ghost town of Calico but look at a mill site… then explore Oddessa Canyon…  then work east looking for marks on the ground seen from the high ground and  find more railroad scars… 

Next I head start looking for remains of the Borate & Daggett railroad…. The road to the mill site at Marion is closed, but the road up Mule Canyon is open…  I head up the canyon which once saw 20 mule teams, later a steam tractor, then finally a railroad…  The canyon bottom has been well washed out… there is little to see until I climb out one of the side canyons, then find where the railroad left that canyon…  the sites of two railroad bridges are nearby…   I continue along the road… and never locate the side road to the borax mines, but eventually work my way around and find the 4th railroad site I was looking for… this one rich with debris and foundations… 

Flush with success I head back to Barstow to check a local museum… they have a photo collection but it is not available to be viewed…  I buy a couple of books from a very nice volunteer,  pick up gas and head back into the desert… this time following the ghost of Rt 66, the Mother Road… 

I find ghosts, but more often failed dreams… Newberry Springs has the Bagdad CafĂ©…  and many other ruins of failed businesses…  Amboy has Roy’s… preserved by the man who owns the JuanPollo fast food chain in Southern California…   They don’t serve food but have working restrooms and gas… Ludlow, Cadiz and the other towns have abandoned buildings and such… wonderful for adventurous travelers and for taking pictures, but not exactly Disneyland….

I regained the interstate outside Needles, but got off in town  to explore… then back on I-40  heading to Kingman, and the El Trovatore Motel, my home for the next couple of nights…



The motel is a hoot… a 1930’s motel… the first in town with air conditioning and a bath in every room…  pretty fancy for its time…   the current owners are taking good care of the old place… Its clean and quirky and full of its own ghosts…  with owners who are attentive and talkative and characters in their own right…  Their dog… a somewhat rotund Chihuahua mix named taco will roll over on command…  It is all part of the experience…   they have restored the neon tower sign, and recently painted a mural, a map of Rt 66 across the building…  I am in the Paul Newman room…  which happens to fall on Amarillo on the map…

At the suggestion of the motel owners I walked down to the Dambar for a beer and a hamburger and watched the Giants win against the Rockies.  

Now, I am sitting outside my room, listening to the trains as they pass, writing this blog… it is nearly time for bed…

Day 1, Escape into the Desert





I left the farm at 1:06... then, within 2 minutes stopped for gas... 3 minutes later i was pulling  on to the  freeway... my goal today was to escape from the Bay Area... Through Altimont Pass, the wind turbans still...  and into the San Joaquin..  to get to the desert where this adventure could begin...  



A San Francisco radio station said they were having occasional showers and thunder storms were possible...   In the valley you could see the virga to the west and occasionally overhead, teasing the farmers… promising rain but never reaching the ground,  clouds piling up against the Sierras to the east, and broken clouds ahead...

Sings along I- 5 said "Stop the congress caused dust bowl"… "water = Jobs" (in English and Spanish) and "Less Water = Higher Food Cost"   but the aqueducts were full, and growers seemed to have enough water to grow  alfalfa...  There were some dead orchards... Claims have been made that these orchards are victims of the drought... I suspect that they are older less viable orchards... Due for replacement, but blamed on drought for political reasons...  In  several  spots there were new orchards planted nearby… The West side, along I 5 is controlled by large corporations, controlled by a few families... They seem to have entitlement issues... Believing that the government owes them cheap water... Even in times of drought...  They may have conservative leanings…. I find the signs currish…

I reach the Kern County line at 4:00, 215 miles from home.  I cross the valley at Wasco… heading over to hwy 99…  You don’t seem so see the water signs on the east side…  I forget how industrial Bakersfield is… as I pass through at 65 miles per hour…  I am still in Bakersfield when I pick up Hwy 58 towards Tehachapi…  the road starts to climb out of the valley… I pause in Arvin for gas…  In my youth this would have been “Pumpkin Corners” and the site of a labor camp and a cotton gin… Steinbeck was never far away…



There were lots of trains on the mountain… slow trains of flats carrying containers… crawling up the mountain.   One was on the loop as I passed by but I didn’t pause.  Over the top, I pass through a stand of Joshua trees in sand canyon... Icon of the northern Mojave ... They thin as I drop Into the Mojave desert at Mojave.   There are rows of stored jets at the airport…  Edwards Air Force base is to the south…  I consider wandering off the road and looking for the ruins of Poncho Barnes’ Happy Bottom riding club… I have found them on Google Earth… but the road calls and Poncho will have to wait...

There are lots of CDF trucks heading west, probably heading home after the San Diego fires… a good sign for San Diego but a reminder of fire season….   I cross into San Bernardino county... Road changes to two lanes, and I find myself slowed by trucks, unable to get by...

Finally, I reached Barstow about 7:00... 405 miles a bit under 6 hours…I checked in to my motel... (The Best Western) .... Drove down the Main Street... Old Rt 66, checked out the railroad station with its museums (two) a railroad museum and a rt 66 museum, both closed... Three trains went by in less than 5 minutes...  Then back up to the main drag, where I found a pizza place.... Before heading back to the motel....

Monday, May 19, 2014

Mohave vs Mojave, or Off into the desert, again…



Tomorrow I am again off on the road, into the desert… This time mostly solo… The original reason for the trip… a family gathering in Tucson and evolved into larger journey…  wandering across the Mojave desert, in search of ghosts of old railroads and mines and libraries (where I will also search for ghosts)  It is likely I may find some dirt roads...

I will start by heading south to Barstow for the night… then head east… Leaving I-40,  exploring the area around Daggett…  There were once railroads here… narrow gauge railroads… four of them…  I am looking for remains, in particular a tie from one, to measure… to find the gauge…  I plan to drive Mule canyon… a dirt road which once saw 20 mule team wagons…   I will be visiting a local museum, the Mojave River Museum,  with a large photo collection…  then following Rt 66, the “Mother road” across the Mojave desert through Newberry Springs, Ludlow, Amboy, Cadiz and Goff…  I will rejoin I-40 at Needles crossing the Colorado into Arizona and Kingman. 

Kingman also has a museum, the Mohave Museum of History and Arts, with photos… this time I will be searching for photos and refernces to a railroad which ran from the river to the mining town of Oatman…  Oatman is on old Rt 66… west of Kingman… I will explore that bit of old highway on Thursday afternoon, then back to Kingman… 

Friday I will visit the Mojave Desert Archives…   of the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association in a former railroad station in the one time community of Goffs....  somewhere in the desert west of Needles...

The Mojave, or Mohave is the theme for this trip…  The Mojave River, the Mojave Desert, Ft Mojave and the Mojave road…  but also Mohave with an “H” as spelled in Arizona…  Mohave County, the Mohave Mts, and Ft Mohave…  (yes there are two Ft Moh(j)aves… and the Mohave & Milltown railroad… The Mojave River Museum… the Mohave Museum of History and Arts…  Kit Carson preferred Mohave… as did anthropologist A.L. Kroeber … (Tina’s mother took classes from Kroeber…)  but the Government and the Mojave Indians like the “j”… to make things interesting, apparently General Fremont favored the unique spelling “Mohahve” during his 1840’s trips…  

Leaving the Mohave behind, Finally I will spend the night in Parker Arizona… along the Colorado River, before heading east to Phoenix to pick up Tina (aka the wife) at the airport… Now no longer a solo trip, we will head south to Tucson for the family party…   

The weather forecast is favorable…  mostly high 80’s… maybe 100 on Saturday…  Likely a bit less when we reach Tucson.  

We will be in Tucson for a couple of days… a couple of parties, lots of family…  There is a chance that I may get to spend some time with fragments of President Lincoln’s railroad car… that is not a certainty, but I am hopeful…

Early Monday,  having partied and visited we will head north… it is about 850 miles home… Google says a bit over 12 hours…  I note that Philippes (“The Original”) in Los Angeles is pretty close to half way…  It might be a good place to stop for lunch…  I am beginning to crave a French dip sandwich…

Road reports to follow…

 Randy

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Baking on what is possibly the hottest day of the year…




For some reason… beyond explanation I am making pies today… a chicken pot pie… a strawberry pie… and a number of blood orange tarts…

I started with a 4 crusts… from scratch… in the process I discovered that Safeway no longer carries lard… aka manteca… a staple of Mexican food (refried beans made with lard are wonderful… those made with other fats are missing something… )

Of course our local market, Key Market had lard … “Snow Cap Mantica”… Downtown (here in San Mateo, my home town) both Dreigers and Kraggs (both expensive gourmet food markets) have suet… I suspect if I had checked they too would have that wonder, the rendered pig fat we call lard… I find it a bit bazaar that the expensive markets have rendered fat…  something that Safeway does not…  

With the lard, found at the local market, I made pie crusts… 4 pies worth of pie crusts… a top and bottom for a chicken pot pie… a bottom for a strawberry pie… and the rest for tarts… blood orange tarts… 

The Blood Orange tarts are an experiment… using recopies for Key Lime pie, but with blood orange juice instead of limes… Limes are currently in short supply… we have a blood orange tree in the front yard… so they are not in short supply…  Blood orange juice has less acid than limes so I am adjusting cooking times in my attempt to get the custard to set up properly…  I think I have a solution… and it tastes good… 

Beyond… there are pots of chili to be made soon…  Cooking is therapeutic…  Even the dirty dishes…