Utah Trip Fall 2001

Entering Lower Antelope Canyon, Page, Arizona
Entering Lower Antelope Canyon, Page, Arizona

Now it was the time to get serious on a Utah Trip. I am been all over California, and have had a bit of success but have yet to capture the jaw dropping color and composition that I have been working towards. I have taken several images that were interesting, but nothing that I have really been happy about.

In October, I took two weeks off, and spent one week on a house boat at Lake Powell with friends. Each afternoon I would hike out into the country looking for the right light. However, I was never able to find the images I was looking for. I found that I had some problems being on the wrong side of the lake, when the sun light began to soften.

After a week on the lake, I was finally able to relax from the office, and wind down. The second week of my trip was spent with my good friend John and his wife. John has been taking photographs for several years, but only began after I stopped. So this is the first time we have ever taken pictures together. A truly fine photographer, John has taught me much in the last year and has been instrumental in helping me develop my technique and style.

The Slot Canyons

Metal Stairs inside of Lower Antelop Canyon, Arizona
Metal Stairs inside of Lower Antelop Canyon, Arizona

Our first day was spent around page Arizona, We got ourselves organized, and headed off to Antelope Canyon. Each toting two cameras, several lenses, tripods, multiple rolls of film, we jumped on a Native American truck and drove up the road to Upper Antelope Canyon. Upper Antelope is a truly amazing place, and I consider myself fortunate to have visited this place.

The light at midday was inspiring and I found it difficult to shoot as I was just content to look. However, after a quick walk through the canyon we went to work with the cameras with some good results. The only negative thing that I could say about Upper Antelope Canyon, was that it has become quick popular, and was rather crowded. There was only 25 people or so in the canyon, and this may not seem like many, but when you are in a canyon that is only 3 feet wide, you are constantly moving and relocating to let someone pass.

Lower Antelope canyon is just across the road from Upper Antelope, but could not have been more different. Upper Antelope is known for it’s Grandeur, Lower Antelope Canyon is a much more intermit place to visit. The whole time that we were there, we only saw two other people. I could not have planned it better. Lower Antelope canyon starts literally as a small crack in a river bed. It opens up into one of the prettiest places on earth. Words can not do it justice, and the images that can be capture are beyond description. Hours past in an instant

Escalante & Bryce

After leaving Page Arizona, we head North West on our Utah trip, and took a dirt shortcut up to Bryce. We spent the next day exploring Escalante Canyon. We got a late start, and we did not really have a good plan of attack for Escalante Canyon. I took some good shots of around Calf Creek Falls.

Zion

I had not been to Zion in many years. It had been so long, that I was not too sure what to expect. However, John knew exactly where to go, and had previously obtained all the back country permits. Our Utah trip was made when we discovered that we would be in the same valley as one of our mutual influences. We hiked down into the small river canyon that contain our goal. A tubular structure carved into the canyon wall known as the subway. The nine mile hike into the subway is strewn with a lot of boulder hoping along a “trail” that is missing most the time. It was rough going, but was truly worth the effort. Leading up to the subway itself is a series of cascades. It was on these cascades that John and I met the man who has so influenced our work.

After a quick lunch we started shooting the water falls, and let the other photographer work further up the valley unimpeded. Although careful, I quickly was completely soaked with water from the knees down. Continuing up the canyon, we found our goal, the subway itself. Standing in near freezing water, for hours at a time had its toll, but the time continued to fly by. However, the longer we waited the better the light became.

After just four short hours we had to leave. The climb out of the canyon is steep up a heavily eroded trail that is best navigated with some remaining light.

The next two days were spent relaxing a bit. On the hike out of the subway, I aggravated an old knee injury, and my knee had quickly swollen and became painful. It was worth it though. I captured some good photographs, and met one of my influences out in the field, doing what we both love. Truly a great Utah trip.

The Amargosa Opera House

Recently, on a whim, my wife and I loaded up the jeep and opt to just explore the desert West of our home town of Las Vegas and ended up at the Amargosa Opera House. Our original idea was to drive to the winery’s in Pahrump, Nevada. After the winery our plan was to drive up to the townsite of Johnnie, Nevada. The best laid plans were for not. We discovered that the mines of Johnnie, Nevada are located on private property.

The Arargosa Opera House is located in Death Valley Junction, California.
The Arargosa Opera House is located in Death Valley Junction, California.

Honoring the wishes of the Johnnie mine site property owners, we opted to do some exploring. We headed easy through the small town of Crystal, Nevada and drove past the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. The AMNWR was closed, as the result of, a Government Shutdown.

As our wandering journey continued, we opted to travel South and soon discovered the small desert haven of Death Valley Junction and the world famous Amargosa Opera House.

Death Valley Junction was founded as the town of Amargosa. The town was founded at the intersection of SR 190 and SR 127 just East of Death Valley. Founded in 1907 when the Tonopay and Tidewater railroads ventured into Amargosa Valley.

Corkhill Hall

The Amargosa Opera House began life as Corkhill Hall in 1923-24. Alexander Hamillton McColloch designed the building, which was built by the Pacific Coast Borax Company. The building is a Spanish Colonial Revival style and organized as part of a much larger U shaped complex. The complex features included company offices, dormitories, dining room, store and a 23 room hotel. Corkhill Hall served the small complex as a location for dances, church services, movies and meetings.

The small town, as with many others boomed and busted with the borax industry. During WW2, the valley train tracks were removed. This was done in support of the war effort. Amargosa began to decline in the mid 20th century and slowly edge towards oblivion. In 1967, a flat tire and a performer Marta Beckett forever altered the sleepy little town.

The Opera House

In 1968, Amargosa changed it’s name to Death Valley Junction and Marta Beckett rented the Corkhill Recreation Hall. She oversaw repairs to the facility and repainted the interior with murals for the next five years. In her newly renovated Opera House, Mrs Beckett performed for the next 40 years. On February 12, 2012 Mrs Beckett performed her last show.

The Amargosa Opera House features original hand painted murals by Marta Becket.
The Amargosa Opera House features original hand painted murals by Marta Becket.

Such is life in the Mojave, filled with interesting characters who cherish and thrive in a harsh environment. Sadly, on our visit to Opera House was not open and I was not able to photograph the interior. However, while visiting a young ballerina was being photographed by under the trees outside of the old opera house. A testimony to Marta Becket which we are sure would make her proud.

Mid Hills Campground, Mojave National Preserve

Located in deep in the heart of the Mojave National Preserve there is an abundance of campsites to suit everyone.  The Mid Hills campground was an after thought on a recent trip in March, 2018, however the location and charm of this spot make it a new favorite destination.

Mid Hills Campsite in the Mojave National Preserve March 2018 after a rainstorm.
Mid Hills Campsite in the Mojave National Preserve March 2018 after a rainstorm.

In March 2018, I decided to take my son on our first father and son camping trip, just the boys.  We scoured maps and picked destinations and points of interest.  He was very excited to hike the Ring Trail and we opted over-night at Hole in the Wall campground.

I picked him up from school with the Jeep loaded and we drove down Nipton Road deep into the isolated areas of the Mojave.  We arrived at Hole in the Wall campground and with the sun starting to set discovered that the campground was full of motor homes and jeepers.  No place to camp.  We opted for ‘Plan B’ and headed north.

We arrived at the campground with just a few minutes to setup before the sun went down.  I was pleased that the campground was mostly empty, and the large campsites were physically spacious and located some distance away from each other.

Our tent located in a large campsite in the Mid Hills Campground in the Mojave National Preserve.
Our tent located in a large campsite in the Mid Hills Campground in the Mojave National Preserve.

That night we focused on dinner and building a campfire, which was a bit difficult with a bunch of wet tinder and fuel.  Fortunately, the Eagle Scout prevailed any my son and I roasted some march mallows and made some smores.  That evening as the cold wet air enveloped us we explored the cosmos with a telescope before falling asleep under a magnificent display.  The morning was a bit damp and silent.  Only now could I appreciate the beauty and drama located in this campground.

The campground sites within a stand of pinyon pine and juniper trees.  Sadly, on June 1st, 2005, lightning strikes started the Hackberry Fire with burned through the campground and 70,736 surrounding acres.  Twelve years later, there are still scars within the campground.  Long dead and burnt juniper trees juxtapose with new growth provides evidence of the enduring properties of nature.

The campground offers pit toilets, fire rings, tables and ample room.  The 5000 ft elevation offers cold nights in the winter months, however would offer some relief from the summers heat.  There are no ultilities, hook-ups or potable water.  There are 26 campsites, which will cost you are $12 a night and are available on a first come first serve basis.

Mid Hills Campground Map

Goffs California

Originally known as Blake, Goffs, California is a small unincorporated community located off of Route 66 in the Mojave desert near the Piute Mountains.  Originally named for Isaac Blake, builder of the Nevada Southern Railway, the town was named Goffs in 1902, when it served as a railway stop, and housing for the Santa Fe Railroad.

Goffs, CA
Goffs California

In 1914, Goffs built a schoolhouse which served 1000 square miles of the surrounding desert.  The students were primarily children of railroad employees, miners and Mexican immigrant families.  The school continued to function as a educational facility until it’s closure in 1937 when the Goffs School District was merged with  the nearby Needles school district.  During World War II, the “Mission Revival” building served as a canteen for the Desert Training Center, which trained US servicemen for the hardships of desert life in preparation for the African Campaign.

Goffs Schoolhouse, Mojave, CA
Goffs Schoolhouse, Mojave, CA

Today, the Goffs school house is used by the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Associations and a museum and cultural center.  The schoolhouse was recognized on the National Register of Historic Places on Aug 7th, 2001.  ( #01001102 )

Goffs California found it’s way onto my list of cool places by accident on a family vacation along the Old Mojave Road.  The first day in, we camped in the New York Mountains.  We scheduled a rest day where we could drive the jeeps with a non burden suspension and explore the Mojave Dessert.  Almost as an after-thought, we headed towards Goffs not knowing what to expect or who we would find.

As we pulled into the area, we could see a windmill and a couple of buildings which are located behind a locked gate.  We decided to get out to stretch a bit, and after a few minutes I noticed a man driving up in a golf cart.  At first I was concerned that some old desert hermit was investigating trespassers on his land, and was immediately surprised when this man opened the gate and invited us onto his property.  It turned our that this man was Dennis Casebier, the man who wrote the book and rediscovered the Old Mojave Road.

Hitchin a ride with the fascinating Dennis Casebier
Hitchin a ride with the fascinating Dennis Casebier

That afternoon, we spent a good portion of the day with the fascinating Mr. Casebier.  He told us how he retired to Goffs in the 1990’s and worked to protect the history of the area.   He relived the days of searching and marking off the Old Mojave Road by building rock cairns, hundreds of them.  He told the stories of the military activity in the area during World War II.  He offered us a complete tour of his land and collection of mining equipment, stamp mills, train equipment, etc…

Preserving the Old Mojave Road and the history of the area is Mr. Casebier’s work. At the time, he showed us a 2 stamp stampmill that he restored into working condition and share his plans to assemble a 10 stamp mill which he recently acquired.  I understand that he now has this mill working as well, so I need to schedule another trip down to Goffs.

As we were leaving, we thanked him for his hospitality and for opening up for us.  He replied that he could not ignore a couple of dirty jeeps driving down the road.

That night, around the campfire I reflected on how fortunate I was to meet Dennis Casebier.  I felt privileged, and yet, I suspect that I really was not that lucky.  I imagine this that I am one of many, who drove down the road into Goffs and talk with Dennis Casebier.

Functioning Stampmill, Goffs, CA
Functioning Stampmill, Goffs, CA

Further Reading

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A Sons introduction to High Sierra fishing

Fishing Rock Creek at French Camp, High Sierra, CA
Fishing Rock Creek at French Camp, High Sierra, CA

As a boy growing up, I was fortunate enough to spend a great deal of time in the High Sierra mountains fishing.  When I was about five years old, I learned to fish in Lone Pine Creek, California under the watchful eye of my grandfather.  We left camp one afternoon and walked about 50 feet to a small pool next to our campsite.  My memory of this event has faded, but my recollection of the event is that I quickly caught my limit of Rainbow trout within about 30 minutes and returned to camp with a full stringer of fish.  I recall my grandfather recalling later that it was the “damnedest thing”, and surely proof of beginners luck.  Time embellishes all tales, and true with fish stories the facts of the actual event may no longer support the tale being told.  It is true non the less that I had beginners luck!

For the next fifteen years or so, my parents, brother and I would spend a great deal of time in the High Sierra, or other camping locations.  My brother and I perfected our fishing technique in the high mountain lakes and streams.  We did not always catch our limit, nor did we have a desire to harvest more than we could eat that day, but we often had fresh trout for dinner.  Eventually, our camping trips became further and far between and my interest in fishing waned as the cost for a licensed increased.

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