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.

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.

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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

Map

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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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Bodie and Aurora rivalry continues to this day

Two towns located in the hills above Mono Lake maintain, the Bodie and Aurora rivalry continues even now, long past their demise.  Bodie, CA and Aurora, NV boomed with the gold rush of the 1870s and busted just years later when the gold ran out and faded into history.  Miners, merchants, and people would undoubtedly moved either direction between the two cities and with good fortune would undoubtedly talk down the previous city.  Such is human nature, but why would this rivalry continue long past the demise of both towns?

The Standard Mill, Bodie, CA. Photograph by James L Rathbun
The Standard Mill, Bodie, CA. Photograph by James L Rathbun

Bodie, CA is the crown jewel of ghost towns.  Maintained in a state of arrested decay and located just 13 miles off the 395 highway outside of Bridgeport, CA, Bodie hosts over 100,000 visitors each year.  The current site has some 100 structures, flush toilets, museum, guided tours, on-site staff, a website, Facebook presence and a gift shop.  (I own two coffee mugs and three shirts)  During a visit two Bodie, I over heard two fellow visitors joking about a StarBucks coffee located near the fire station.  Bodie, justifiably is a popular place to visit, there are many people there when you visit.

Aurora, NV Photograph by James L Rathbun
Aurora, NV Photograph by James L Rathbun

By contrast, Aurora is a forgotten intersection of two roads.  The town was raised long ago for its brick, and only two structures are not lost two the bush and those are unrecognizable monuments to the towns past.  Few visitors will reach the town site of Aurora and those who do might be disappointed in what they find.  By almost any measure there is no comparison in the quality of a visit to the two towns in modern times.  So, why would there be an active effort on the part of those affiliated with Bodie to discourage visitor from driving to Aurora? Does the Bodie and Aurora rivalry continue to this day?

On a visit in June, 2016 I walked into the museum and spoke with one of the park staff / ranger to inquire about Aurora.  I told the ranger I was planning to drive to Aurora and asked “How many miles is it to Aurora?”

The Ranger replied, “I think it is about 30 miles?”

I answered, “Well, I thought it was about 9 miles, but I don’t remember the source so I could be wrong.”  I thanked him and moved on.

Perplexed a bit, I walked around the museum and studied a few exhibits.   Once of the exhibits I saw was a hand written note / map, which noted that it was 6 miles to the Nevada border and Aurora was 10 miles past that point.  I returned to the Ranger at the front desk and told him, “Apparently, we are both wrong you have a document which states it is 16 miles to Aurora.”

He replied, “Well, it can be a rough road and I heard the bridge is out.”

Again, I thanked him and walked off towards the jeep.  Rough roads do not cause much concern, and a bridge being out is a binary concern.  We can either pass or not pass and will not know until we get there.  I loaded my family into the jeep, reset the trip odometer and sent off east towards Aurora.  We followed the road and Bodie Creek North from Bodie and soon we reached a small bridge.   As we drove over the bridge, I thought to myself, “Well so much from that bridge being out…”

As we continued down Bodie Creek there was another bridge, which was indeed out but immediately the obstacle was passable via the road to the right.    The bypass simple dropped down a few feet, crossed Bodie Creek and up the other side.  Not any issue with our Jeep JK.  We continued down the road and made a right turn to climb the hill into Aurora.  We soon reach an valley covered in sage brush with a wooden structure which appeared to be a head frame.  A moment later we reached and intersection and another concrete structure which was the remains of a building.  Surely, this must the Aurora.

Everything about the small valley was screaming Aurora.  The map told me we found Aurora.  Memories from my last visit 30 years prior told me it was Aurora.  The structural remains told me we found Aurora.  Everything told me that we found Aurora, except my trip odometer.  Since my cell phone GPS is worthless with no Internet connection, the one piece of measuring equipment told me I was 5 miles off of my destination.  After lunch we headed out again and soon found ourselves in the highlands above Mono Lake in extremely rough terrain.  We finally reached mile 16 and knew that the distance measurement found in the Bodie Museum was flat out wrong and wrong in a big way!

Remains of Aurora bricks found deep in the undergrowth. Photograph by James L Rathbun
Remains of Aurora bricks found deep in the undergrowth. Photograph by James L Rathbun

We turned around and returned to the site we believed to be Aurora.  Again we checked the maps, and everything appeared to match.  We had an intersection with another road.  We had a few limited structures.  One further investigation, we began to see flattened buildings in the over growth of sage brush.  Two structures became several.  As I walked through the thigh high sage brush, I looked down and saw bricks!  Bricks are the sure sign that we found Aurora!

Photographic landscape comparison between our trip and a historical photograph.
Photographic landscape comparison between our trip and a historical photograph.  The angles are slightly different but clearly the hillside line up.

So, how do we explain the differences in the distances.   My memory, which is fallible, was 9 miles.  The Ranger told me about 30, which I believed was way off.  The map in the museum told me 16 miles, and my odometer measured 11.5.  I reset my odometer and drove back to Bodie and duplicated my initial measurement of 11.5 miles and made a mental note of the dilemma.  Why is the distance so wrong?  I am willing the accept a slight variation in the mileage measurement of the jeep.  I have 35″ tires on the 4×4 and the gears are changed to 5.13:1.  The computer was changed to reflect these modifications.  This could explain a slight variation but not 4 miles over 16 if the program parameters are not exact or correct.

When we returned to camp that night I checked the “Bodie State Historic Park” guide purchased when I arrived at Bodie and published and revised in 2010.  On page one there is a town map with a reference to Aurora at a distance of 18 miles away!!!  Great, another number for the distance between the two towns.

When I arrived home I opened up Google Earth and check my measurement for the Bodie to Aurora Trail.  This measurement from Google Earth is 12.1 miles are more or less corroborates my measurement.  So, why would California State Parks publish an erroneous value and lengthen the distance of the Road from Bodie to Aurora?  Could the fact that California “lost” Aurora to  and its revenue to Nevada when the area was surveyed in 1863 explain this behavior?   Does the Bodie and Aurora rivalry between the two towns continue?  Could it be that the mile distances site actually describe a longer route around the mountain to the north west of Aurora.  Perhaps no one from California State Parks has checked?

I prefer to think of this is the last argument in the rivalry between two lost mining towns. An underhanded slight to history. The Bodie and Aurora rivalry continues…

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