Starting New Year’s resolutions on January 1 have never worked for me. How can you be motivated to do anything when it’s dark and cold at 5 p.m.? I can’t even bring in wood, start dinner, and take a quick walk with Poppy before darkness descends upon us. In my world, winter lends itself to depression and introspection. It’s not until I get that first whiff of spring that my wheels start to spin and I have all the energy and motivation I need to carry out my resolutions. I know we have a couple more months of winter, but spring is temporarily in the air and I can feel myself coming alive as the days get longer. I recently bought a metal detector and have been learning about ground balancing, minerals in the soil, how to find gold, where you can look for artifacts, and what to do if you do find them. There’s a whole code of ethics to learn when metal detecting. So far, I have found all kinds of rusty cans, nails, bits of wire, and bottle caps. Nothing of any significance, but I am getting a feel for how the equipment works. The past couple of weekends have found me out on the desert flats or fighting my way through thickets of brush hoping to find that one cool thing. Metal detecting has filled that part of my head that usually mopes about in the last days of winter, that final stretch before the wildflowers bloom, when the days are just not quite warm enough or long enough. My car is now loaded with water, extra clothes, shovel(s), buckets, metal detector, backpack, and more. I have upgraded my tires to better handle the dirt roads, and invested in engine maintenance. All week I think about what I want to do over the weekend. If I don’t stay home tending my native plant nursery, or building something in the yard, you just might see me driving through town with Poppy hanging out the window listening to bluegrass tunes. There’s nothing like hearing the uplifting music of Flatt, Scruggs and Watson when I am rolling down dirt roads in search of old mines and settlements. I may have to dust off my mandolin and add it to the rest of my gear!
Grand Theft Burro
Here is a lighthearted tale about a man seeking justice for his “stolen” burros in the spring of 1898, originally published in the San Bernardino County Daily Sun. A man named Smith, hailing from Inyo County, with a warrant for arrest in his possession, found himself in great tribulation in the city of San Bernardino for the reason that he could not have his warrant served and the man named in it placed behind bars. The object of his warrant was a well-known citizen, Henry Morse, and thereby hangs a tale. Morse was prospecting on the Inyo county line recently, and while there, some burros came to camp, and could not be driven away. When Morse started back to San Bernardino, the burros followed, and would not be driven back. Notwithstanding numerous attempts to be rid of them, the animals finally followed into this valley. It now develops that Smith was the owner of the burros, and at Ballarat, Inyo County, he swore out a warrant for the arrest of the man who made way with his burrows, and then was sworn in as a deputy constable, and came here to serve the warrant. But before he could do that, he must have the warrant endorsed by a judicial officer of this county, and he went to Judge Soule, who declined. Before proceeding further, Smith hunted up Morse, and offered to compromise the case, if the burros, some cash, and some other things were turned over to him. Morse was willing to give up the burros, but declined the rest of the offer. Then Smith went to the district Attorney, but Mr. Daley did not see his way to assist. Constable T. J. West, was then offered the warrant and asked to serve it, but he also turned his back on the man from Inyo County, who in despair sought Judge Campbell. The court felt it to be a proper case to take under advisement and said he would see the District Attorney, and decide in the morning. Morse says if Smith insists on having the warrant served, he will swear to a complaint charging Smith with compounding a felony, in offering to compromise the case. Needless to say, the man from Inyo County is not enamored of San Bernardino county justice.
December 2, 2020
What’s for Dinner, Paul?
Reprinted word for word, is this extraordinary tale of a man who survived a grizzly bear encounter in the year 1898 where one can only assume was near Santa Cruz, California. The story hit the presses and ended up in papers across the U.S., including Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Kansas, Wisconsin, New York, and California. This is a rare encounter of an unarmed man versus a mama grizzly with cubs in tow, who lived to tell the story.
The Prey of a Grizzly By a Little Oversight Bruin Was Robbed of a Good Meal
In the early settlement of California, grizzly bears were numerous and troublesome, but few men ever had a more singular experience with a grizzly than Paul Sweet, who kept a tannery near Santa Cruz. The story is told by Mrs. Dall in “My First Holiday.” Mr. Sweet was one day walking alone in the woods when he came suddenly upon a grizzly bear and her two cubs. He was quite unarmed and before he had time to consider any plan of action the bear was upon him. She struck him down, but he kept his presence of mind and lay perfectly quiet. The grizzly stood over him for a minute or more, then seized him by the waistband and began dragging him along. He did not resist, and she dragged him for a dozen rods to a little sandy hollow, where she dropped him and began digging a hole in the sand. Into this hole she rooted the man, and then nosed and pawed the sand over him until he was buried from sight. The prudent animal, not being hungry at the moment, was making a cache of her prey. Mr. Sweet’s heart lightened as he realized the brute’s intentions, and he began to hope he might escape. He waited a few minutes after the bear had covered him in, and then, thinking that she had retired from the scene, he began to work himself free very cautiously. The grizzly was on the watch, however, and at the first movement of her prey rushed to the spot and with two or three strokes of her paw, snugly tucked him in again. Mr. Sweet instantly became motionless again and allowed himself to be reburied in the sand. Luckily his hat had slipped over his face, so that the sand did not fill his nose and eyes, and by raising his head a little, he was able to throw off the sand sufficiently to breathe. He was more wary next time and lay still for an hour or two, until he felt pretty sure that the grizzly had retired from the spot. Very cautiously then he worked himself free from the sand and crept away.
The somewhat glowing yellow rabbitbrush seen all over the roadways will soon be setting seed and assimilating once again into the disparate desert landscape. To some, rabbitbrush is nothing but a giant allergy trigger that begins shortly after the ragweed pollen peak. A double whammy for sure, but don’t get too relaxed, as juniper is next on the pollen-producer list. At one time, rabbitbrush was being seriously considered for its potential to produce rubber. Experiments, conducted at the University of Nevada, touted that some varieties could yield as much as 3 to 10 percent rubber compound, with cultivated varieties potentially yielding more. In 1925 there was serious talk of setting aside large tracts of public land in California, Utah, and Nevada to harvest the plant for its rubber potential which would trump the cattle grazing rights of stockmen. Needless to say, the stockmen discouraged the notion until the commercial value could be established, which never really amounted to much. Rabbitbrush is a great cover shrub for wildlife, and white-crowned sparrows flock to it on their southern migration each fall. It is an important food source for pollinators at a time of year when flower production is low. The flowers themselves make a beautiful dye for yarns and cloth. Due to the plant’s elasticity, a chewing gum of sorts was created from the bark and lower stems, while other parts of the plant treated coughs, fever, and eased internal injuries and pain. From personal experience, I would have to say, do not let it take over your garden. Left unchecked, it can grow into an ungainly shrub with very woody stems that die back and are difficult to remove. It is best to pull it out when it’s only a handful of innocent, floppy stems. However, do encourage it in places where erosion is a problem and fire fuel reduction is not. I have removed patches from around my septic tank and driveway, but I do miss the loud display of yellow in those areas. You will have to be persistent in digging up the roots and keep an eye out for seedlings appearing where you don’t want them. Rabbitbrush has value as a restoration shrub because of its potential for spreading and filling in bare, disturbed land.
The Smell of the Ocean
The afternoon of Friday, October 30, I found myself at the top of Lone Pine Canyon Road, which often happens after work. I just point the car in a direction and drive a short distance to wherever I feel led, to take photos and unwind. The thick marine layer played around the pine trees not far from the last curve that drops you in the east end of town, a rather enchanting scene. Sometimes the smell of the ocean comes with that marine layer, and if you have never experienced that, you may not believe that one could smell the ocean from so far away. William M. Bristol described the phenomenon in October of 1935. “Another interesting climatic condition also exists here – the ocean fog is a stranger. When the vast phantom sea rolls in from the Pacific and blankets the great valley of the Southland, it sweeps up Cajon pass and a portion of it turns westward, drives up Lone Pine canyon and packs itself in that mountain valley almost as solidly as snow. In fact I have seen it so dense there that I have been tempted to send for the snowplow. But it seldom reaches the crest that divides the Southland proper from the Mojave and Colorado watershed. Sometimes it essays to cross the divide; but, meeting the seabreeze which has been dehydrated by fifty miles of desert, it promptly disintegrates into filmy fingers that are quickly dissipated. From the divide at the head of Lone Pine canyon the view of the phantom sea in the San Bernardino valley is an interesting and thrilling panorama, especially when it rolls over the mountains and into the Lake Arrowhead region like a vast tidal wave. “ It’s a different kind of fog that appears in Piñon Hills and Phelan, borne from the aftermath of winter storms. The cloud bank sinks down and obscures all signs of life below my house. Traffic sounds disappear and my property turns into an island held up by the clouds. I imagine I am the only person for miles around and delight in the strangeness of it. One night it was so freezing cold that Poppy and I were creating little clouds from our breath as we slowly walked up the driveway. I stopped walking and took in several deep breaths and breathed them out, one breath coalescing into another rising far above my head. I was mesmerized, watching the little white clouds drift up and up. Next thing I knew, the whole sky was white and the stars were gone. I had the uncanny impression that my breath alone had created the phenomenon. It was a strange and magical moment. As winter descends upon us, take time to stand in the fog and experience that magic. Watch the moon rise, listen to the owls calling for their mates. Life is much more bearable when you can plug in to a sunset or a bluebird flying across your yard to recharge your spent batteries.
Put the Kettle On!
I feel an encroaching melancholy when the days get shorter and colder. I am reminded of a poem my mom used to tell me that her mother taught her. I looked it up on the internet, the verse, written by the poet George Cooper (1838-1927) goes like this:
“Come, little leaves,” Said the wind one day, “Come over the meadows With me, and play; Put on your dresses Of red and gold; Summer is gone, And the days grow cold.”
There are more verses, but that’s the part I am familiar with. Tonight I wiped the dust off the wood stove, then took a peek inside to make sure there were no lizards, spiders, or other surprises. I carried in sticks and starter wood to add to the overnighter logs that have sat on the hearth since last winter. As my little place warmed up, I removed my jacket, then my hooded sweatshirt, and finally my downy vest before slipping into my comfy pants. I put on some Irish tunes and sipped hot tea with milk while the wind and leaves danced outside. Both cats appeared in the hallway, blinking green eyes, impatient for Poppy to settle down, for a chance to flatten their skirts by the fire. This year I will be getting my hall furnace modernized with a thermostat. I have lived here eight years and have never used it. I remember the realtor turning it on when I did my walkthrough, and flames shot out from the bottom. He quickly turned it down and said, “Well, it comes on sure enough!” I got it in my head that it wasn’t safe and I never used it. Once it’s upgraded and spruced up, I will look back on the days of hauling wood into the house through snow, sleet, blustery wind, and crispy cold nights, and I will bow my head and be so very thankful for taking my mom’s advice to finally, “get that thing working!” The next improvement will be energy- efficient windows, and then, and only then, might I be guaranteed a peaceful night free from rattling windows and cold drafts. The heater will come on just as I start to get up to put another log on the fire, and I will just relax and go back to sleep. I look forward to it as much as I look forward to retiring 2020. It’s been a long year.
W.B. Dewey and Baldy Bruno
From the archives of The San Bernardino Daily Sun, dated July 21, 1936 God’s Forest People
In 1905, an appeal went to President Roosevelt by Los Angeles forestry officials to protect the dwindling population of deer herds in the San Gabriel Mountains. The order would forever forbid the shooting of game within the San Gabriel forest reserve. The area totaling more than 550,000 acres would extend from Cajon Pass all the way to Fernando to the west. This preserve would not forbid hunting altogether; it would merely provide a safe margin for the deer populations to grow and eventually stray over the borders into areas allowed for hunters to legally shoot them. Forest Superintendent Thomas was partly responsible for setting aside the district and worked for years to make it happen. He felt that that the deer would be exterminated if something was not done. The protections would allow the deer to thrive and increase to abundant numbers within a few years. Thomas believed that mountain lion populations could be kept down by trappers, not hunters. The plan would also protect the few brown bears left in the range, and while true sportsman would support the effort, “amateur gun murderers may raise a howl.” “True sportsmen regard with horror the awful butchery of the deer every season. They look forward to a day when these preserves will send out plenty of stray deer where they may be killed without the feeling that one is helping to exterminate a race of God’s forest people.” “The theory that man, because he chances to be the most ingenious and least moral of all brutes, has the right to sweep the earth clear of all others, is amazing-“ Direct quotes are from the Whittier News reprinted from ‘Saturday’s Daily,’ February 25, 1905
Hardy Sportsman, 70, Climbs ‘Baldy’ on Familiar Trail
Makes 132nd Ascent to Lofty Peak Which He First Scaled in 1882 Mountain climbing – a strenuous activity for even the most ardent sportsman – is nothing more than a pastime for 70-year-old W.B Dewey of San Bernardino. Last week, Mr. Dewey made his 132nd climb from Camp Baldy to the summit of Old Baldy, Mt. San Antonio, a record unto itself, but even more notable when the time of three hours and five minutes is considered. That time is a feat even for young athletes. And in addition, Mr. Dewey is believed to hold the record time for the ascent, two hours and 23 minutes, and at that he carried a loaded pack sack.
FOLLOWED BEARS Mr. Dewey was accompanied on his 132nd trip to the summit by Clark Olbert of Highland. The trip was made over trail that today probably seems as a broad, paved highway compared with the trackless mountain slopes over which Mr. Dewey first climbed to the pinnacle in 1882. Perhaps not trackless, either, for Mr. Dewey said that in 1882 he followed bear trails to the top of the mountain. Bear trails, he explained, are similar to trails of mountain sheep which follow the contour of the mountains. In that day, the sight of bears was common on the slopes of the mountain, and Mr. Dewey said that bears were unafraid of man and that, at times, the climbers didn’t follow the exact tracks of the bears – they detoured around them. The veteran mountain climber, whose vigorous appearance belies his 70 years, was the founder of the Baldy Summit Inn which he operated in 1910, 1911, and 1912. In 1912 the Inn accommodated 3,500 guests. It was destroyed by fire the next year. One of Mr. Dewey’s worst experiences on the mountain occurred in 1911 and was not connected with mountain climbing. His son, Houston Dewey, now living in Ontario and who was 22 months old at the time, was laying in a cradle in the yard of the inn. Two mountain eagles attacked the tot. Mr. Dewey said that he believed the eagles would have carried the youngster off but for the timely interference of his dog, Baldy Bruno. The dog rushed into the affray [sic] and slashed at the eagles. Mr. Dewey, attracted by the noise of the battle, grabbed a rifle and shot one of the marauders. And even if 132 trips to the top of Mt. Baldy set a record, that record will again be broken, said Mr. Dewey, at some future day when he again feels the urge to conquer the rocky slopes of the mountain.
FOLLOW UP Mr. Dewey, made his 133rd ascent to the top of Mt. Baldy a mere three months later, on October 18, 1936. Read on: Despite his years, Mr. Dewey regards his feat casually. Nonetheless, he has certain rules he follows during the grueling and hazardous climb. “I drink no water going up, but I take plenty after I get there,“ he explained. “And, in mountain-climbing, one should be careful about eating. The stomach is hot and the body perspiring freely. To eat canned beans under such conditions undoubtedly would bring on something akin to ptomaine poisoning.” As for Baldy Bruno, on August 24, 1917, a reference was made to the heroic dog that saved Mr. Dewey’s son from an eagle attack. Baldy Bruno, who was said to have been the best-known dog in Southern California, died from ingesting ground glass. A $100 reward was being offered for the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for his death. Baldy Bruno was ever popular with guests at the Baldy Summit Inn and many experts pronounced him as the most intelligent canine they had ever seen.
Two Years Ago
This afternoon, I decide to climb the hill behind my house. Although I walk daily, this particular climb just beats me up. Poppy sniffs the shrubs, and then, discovering coyote scat, she tosses it in the air. With a gleam in her eye, she runs off with it, then swallows it down before I can intervene. We make our way past flannelbush, manzanita and my favorite, a large, sentinel, canyon live oak that watches over the desert. The breeze is steady on the summit and Poppy looks up quizzically at a flag snapping in the wind. Other than that, the world is silent. For a minute, there are no airplanes, and no cars rattling down dusty roads. No sound but the flag flapping in the breeze. We sit down, and drink water while my beating heart catches up. The sun is low now, the desert floor transitions into a purple haze. Thousands of lights refuse to be swallowed by the haze, and get brighter by the minute. Red traffic lights pulse to green, releasing bright serpents to slither down the highway. All manner of white, red, and yellow lights twinkle in human-designed constellations. I am not one to be affected by the romantic notions of city lights. I hate them, although my mother does not like me to use that word. My idea of romantic is looking upon the same starry skies that my ancestors gazed upon, the same lights that glittered in the eyes of ancient canids and other creatures of the night. I take a long breath, and before fatigue really sets in, I make my way down the sandy path towards home. Poppy keeps checking back over her shoulder to make certain I am still following. She clearly leads this pack, but I know she wants me near. We hear dogs barking on Desert Front road, below, but Poppy pays no attention. A plane begins its final descent to Ontario, and a pair of mourning doves squeak across the sky in search of their evening comfort. My body aches, I’m hungry, and I think about what I want to accomplish in the near and far future. I quiet my thoughts when we hit the sandy wash and my pace slows down. I feel adrift in that wash, as alternating warm and cold air currents of autumn, caress my skin. I am tempted to lift up my legs and let those currents carry me down past the outstretched arms of Joshua trees. Poppy has fallen back, and now realizes I have taken the lead. She careens down the wash and I step aside as she hurtles past, sending hundreds of tiny flecks of gravel into my face, arms and legs. I enjoy watching her love life. She helps me to remember that feeling as I smile and continue home.
Make Lemonade! When 2020 started bucking like a wild bronco, I searched for a hobby that would ground me and keep me busy. I decided that buying, growing and selling California native plants would be the perfect distraction from pandemic woes, politics, record heatwaves, and now, wildfires and smoke. Most of us look forward to those moments when we can just slow down and be in the present. Fishing on a lake, coffee on the porch, or brushing a horse can all be forms of meditation. My go-to activities have always involved plants. Botany hikes in the local mountains, wildflower photography, and gardening all bring me immense joy. I received my first field guide from my brother, Rick, on my 17th birthday; the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers. I studied and memorized the plants in that book until I could identify them on sight. From there, I devoured an assortment of natural history, field botany, and greenhouse and nursery propagation courses at various community colleges. I worked at a local nursery for several years and later tackled a job doing native habitat restoration and grounds maintenance, until my body could no longer do it. These choices have defined who I am. Something I noticed after starting this venture, is that the intensity of my migraines, for which I suffer greatly and regularly, stopped to the point that I did not need to take any prescription pills for three whole months, which is unheard of! I also noticed an increase in the variety of bees, butterflies and hummingbirds visiting my native plant “nursery” which just thrills me. My yard is finally coming to life! Whenever I load plants to take to outdoor sales events, the bees follow the bouncing plants to my car, so now I leave a few plants behind for them. The wild, woodland aromas that surround me when I water, are a healing balm like no other. The smells of sage, yerba santa, sycamore, mugwort, and sagebrush bring me back to my childhood days in the foothills of San Diego County, where I ran wild through the boulder-strewn hillsides and came home smelling like the chaparral. So it was, in the last lazy days of summer, when the smoke became unbearable, the plants put out new leaves in the strange, hazy, overcast, and acclimated quite well, filtering the air in a way only plants can do. While I cannot say business is booming, I am having so much fun that it really doesn’t matter. I have found a purpose greater than myself, which nurtures life, does no harm and makes me happy. If you are struggling during this time, find out what feeds your soul and focus your energy on it. The world will be a better place for it!
I have been reading historical accounts about grizzlies, mountain lions, and other predators in our local mountains and their unlikely encounters with people. Most of the stories end badly for the animals who may or may not have been acting aggressively. Grizzly bears ravaged crops and orchards, and mountain lions killed domestic stock, and both were threats to human life. In those early days, everyone had a rifle or a side arm and knew how to use it. Here is a very short story that took place in Waterman Canyon in the San Bernardino Mountains in 1901. This is a rare time when the animal got away leaving an injured person behind, but not like you think.
From The Evening Transcript, San Bernardino County, Calif., Monday, Sept. 23, 1901
Glaring Out of the Darkness on Lone Mountain Road
BULLET HIT A LADY
A lady’s effort to protect herself and boy from a wild beast of the forest in Waterman canyon Saturday night was disastrous to herself, but was effectual in making the animal take to its heels.
Mrs. Switzer came down from Guernsey’s mill to see the circus, and late Saturday afternoon started with her boy for the mountains. While the horse was making its way slowly up the grade of the Waterman canyon road above Vale’s camp, Mrs. Switzer saw two eyes standing brilliantly out of the darkness at the side of the road.
The woman throught the eyes were those of a mountain lion. She thought the beast was about to spring upon her and she quickly cocked a pistol. She laid the weapon in her lap in order to tighten up the reins to check the horse. The weapon suddenly went off and the ball plowed its way through the fleshy part of Mrs. Switzer’s leg between the knee and thigh. The eyes at the side of the road disappeared and the crashing of the bushes told that the animal was cutting for tall timber.
Mrs. Switzer turned the horse about and came back to the city for surgical treatment. Dr. Colliver dressed the wound. The bullet passed entirely through the leg.
Harley on the Mountain
Searching through newspaper archives this week, I came across yet another story centered on Mt. Baldy, and I knew right then, I had to share it. The article, dated July 13, 1919, from the Los Angeles Sunday Times Edition depicts two men attempting to reach the peak of Mt. Baldy on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Now, my 80-year-old dad rides a motorcycle, and he has his opinion on Harley-Davidsons, but I think even he would be impressed with this story about the little Harley that climbed up Mt. Baldy 101 years ago! Read on:
“MOTORBIKE ON TOP OF BALDY”
Famous Peak is Conquered by a Light Two-Wheeler
Pedestrians and Burros Get a Little Competition
Bike Loops the Loop Thrice on the up Voyage
Riding a Harley-Davidson “Sport Model” motorcycle up an almost trackless and nearly perpendicular burro trail, Jack Fletcher and John Edwin Hogg last Wednesday scaled the 10,000-foot summit of Mt. Baldy, the highest peak of the Sierra Madre Range. The ascent has never before been accomplished other than by mountaineers on foot and with burros.
Because of the heavy steel-spiked rear wheel which was used to give traction over the rocks and steep grades, the little machine could not be driven over the paved highways on its own power. It was accordingly hauled to Camp Baldy on a motor truck.
The trail from Camp Baldy to the summit of the mountain is seven-and-a-half miles long. The first two miles is a fairly good foot path, although very steep in places, and with numerous Z-turns where the machine had to be turned by being lifted. The good trail ends at Bear Flat, five-and-a-half miles from the summit. Above this point there is no water on the mountain, the recent hot weather having taken all of the snow. Above Bear Flat, the trail is miserable poor. In a single mile it ascends 2,000 feet over a surface of loose rocks and crumbled granite.
This portion of the route is known as Hard Scramble Ridge, and even on foot, the climb is exactly what the name signifies. Aside from turning over backwards three different times and frequently digging its rear wheel in the ground until it could move no more, the little Harley-Davidson never once hesitated. The summit of the two-mile-high peak was reached at 2 o’clock in the afternoon after the tiny motor had torn away at the rocks and steep grades for exactly three hours and 42 minutes.
On the summit of the peak, a party of six mountaineers were found who had been craning their necks scanning the sky for an airplane. They had heard the sharp rhythmic barking of the Harley-Davidson’s unmuffled motor, but the thought of a motorcycle ascending the trackless mountain never occurred to them. The most remarkable feature of the grueling climb is that it was accomplished without the slightest mechanical difficulty in spite of the awful abuse and punishment to which it was subjected.
Just in the event you were wondering, there was a mention in the July 26, 1919, edition of the Santa Barbara Daily News and the Independent that this was a two-seater Harley and both men were on the bike. Not only was this was an amazing feat for the time period, but I would have loved to see the look on the faces of those hikers!
Miss Daisy Ramsbotham
After so many weeks of recounting Henry J. Lloyd’s 1892 trip around old Baldy, I thought it might be refreshing to read a woman’s personal experience from that same mountain and era. Miss Daisy Ramsbotham of Riverside climbed the mountain in 1896, making her one of the first civilized women to reach the summit. This excerpt appeared concurrently in the Los Angeles Sunday Times and the San Francisco Herald on March 11, 1894. I am sure you will enjoy Miss Ramsbotham’s description of her ascent up Old Baldy, and anyone who is familiar with that climb will immediately relate to her experience. There are distinctive features of resemblance among Western sportswomen-a breezy, vigorous independence, an all-over alertness, health and nerves of steel, a swinging gait and vast lung power. They own, as Eastern women own a piano, excellent shotguns, rifles, rods and lines, dogs and horses. Miss Daisy Ramsbotham of Riverside, Southern California, is a good type of the true sportswoman. One of the sketches is the costume in which in September last she climbed to the top of “Old Baldy,” one of the Sierra peaks with an altitude of 10,000 feet. She is the only woman who has ever been able to reach that summit; an exceptionally steep, rocky and perilous climb. Miss Ramsbotham at home, as she related to me her long tramps and climbs, appeared a very pretty and charming brunette, her hazel eyes shining with enthusiasm. She is a girl of 19. I took note of what might little be expected in a famous walker-a pair of small and beautifully-shaped feet. HOW SHE WENT UP “OLD BALDY” “Did I feel fear or giddiness in going up over the sharp, sheer rocks? Why no,” she said. “Of course it was thrilling, but then I am a native Californian and have had many a climb among the Sierras. “We started out at 9 o’clock in going up Old Baldy and were four hours and a half reaching the top. Three miles over the mesa, the trail ends, then came height after height, each more dizzy than the last. How we did scramble and push and pull each other on and on, the least mis-step meant a fearful plunge. There was danger every minute, too, from crumbling rock. “The most excitement was when we reached a spot only twelve inches wide with a gaping precipice on either side, and rock almost straight up and down ahead. One little mistake! The very thought is thrilling-but that was half the fun. “The gentlemen had huge nails in the soles of their boots and I pinned my skirts as closely as I could about me, then just went up hand over hand until the leader of the party hauled me into safety. “I could look back for the first time. It made my nerves tingle. All those thousands of feet below up which we had come seemed a vast abyss. When we finally reached the top, my thick shoes were fairly torn off. I had to wrap my feet up in handkerchiefs, then bind my shoes on to get down. It was a glorious, terrible experience – that 10,000 feet climb!”
Henry J. Lloyd’s “Around Old Baldy” PART ONE
I came across a delightful article in the June 12, 1892 edition of The Los Angeles Times, by Henry J. Lloyd. The rather descriptive title and introduction reads: “AROUND OLD BALDY-A Wagon Tour About the Snow-Capped Mountain-A Bivouac on Lytle Creek and an Accident-Matchless Views of Valleys from the High Altitudes-Grizzlies Were Not Especially Needed-The Dutch Settlement at Palmdale-Down into the Francisquito Canyon.” I am excited to share the account with you as it describes the San Gabriel Mountains of the 1800’s and is a historical masterpiece in my opinion. I am sure you will enjoy part one of Henry J. Lloyd’s journal, “Around Old Baldy.” “On Wednesday morning we pulled out with a good team and wagon loaded with a hair mattress, a big frying pan, coffee pot, plates and cups, knives and forks, two iron bars, our rifles, double-barreled shotguns, and plenty of plain food, two sacks of horse feed, bucket, stable lantern and ax. I am thus prolix in describing our “impedimenta” in case my story of our trip ‘round Old Baldy should incite other Angelinos to follow our example and spend a pleasant ten days in a trip the equal of which is hardly to be found on this good footstool for grandeur and variety of scenery, good mountain air and clear water. Tired and weary with the hard struggle for our daily bread, Hughes and myself were in the highest spirits as we started at 5 a.m. after a hearty breakfast in anticipation of the good time we hoped to have in the mountains, which would relieve our jaded bodies and minds. Our route lay through the orange groves of Alhambra, through Baldwin’s ranch, from where we could see high up on the side of the mountain the white tents of the surveyors for the new railway to Wilson’s Peak. The early morning air was delicious in its freshness and we inhaled it in large draughts drinking in with it a perfect forgetfulness of all our business worries and troubles. As we all know, the hills and valleys of the San Gabriel, I will not stop to say much of them. Our team was in fine order and we soon reached Azusa where we unhitched them and after watering and rubbing them down, we tethered them on some good pasture just beyond the town and sat down for a cold lunch on the shady side of a church just through the city; here, too, I am inclined to think Hughes had a nap. I either heard him snore, else I dreamt it. Poor fellow, he had been up very early, so I kept quite quiet.” Next week: The travelers set up camp by the brook in Cucamonga
Irmis, Sultis Vivenar Field
Around Old Baldy June 12, 1892 by Henry J. Lloyd Part 2 Last week the travelers began their journey from around the Pasadena area, headed towards the Cajon Pass on their journey, “Around Old Baldy.” We started again about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and in passing through Duarte, we saw Mr. Thompson personally superintending the loading of a carload of his own growth of oranges. He told us he was very careful to brand all the boxes with his own name and address, as some of the growers in neighboring towns had been foolish enough to send frosted fruit to the Eastern markets, thereby giving the whole country a bad name; indeed, we afterward heard that three carloads had absolutely been returned to the shippers from Chicago. The fruit he was shipping was most splendid in quality and appearance, and a great credit to the grower. There was a Scotch burr on his tongue that brought splendid visions of the “land ‘o cakes” to our, or rather, to my mind. We pushed on with the sweet scent of orange blossoms filling the evening air; finally reaching our camping ground on the brook outside Cucamonga between 6 and 7, our first care always being for the horses, afterward for ourselves and here comes in the use of the two short iron bars. To make a camp-fire, dig a hole with one of the bars in the ground two-feet long and six-inches wide and deep (remember always digging the fire place to have it lengthways from the wind), light a fire in the bottom, place the bars across the hole, and at once you have a fire-place capable of accommodating your potato saucepan, coffee pot and frying pan. Supper was soon cooked, as we were both experts in that line, and then a pipe while lying on the water-proof sheet with our backs to the ground and our faces to the stars, which had already begun to shine with much greater brightness and clearness than they do here. Placing our sheet over the seat and front of the wagon to keep off the wind, and spreading our mattress on the bottom of the wagon, we climbed in and covering ourselves with blankets and comforters, slept as sound as if in our own beds at home. Next week, the men make it to Lytle Creek, and meet up with a peripatetic butcher, (I’ll let you figure that one out).
7/6/20 Around Old Baldy Written by Henry J. Lloyd, June 12, 1892 Part 3 Last week the traveler’s made camp on a brook just outside of Cucamonga on their trip around Ol’Baldy. After spending a night in their buckboard, they continued their journey up the Cajon Pass, stopping for the night on Lytle Creek. Four-thirty on Thursday morning found us astir, a good wash in the clear gurgling brook, horses fed, one of us seeing to them, the other gastronoming and by 5 we were sitting down to a full-sized breakfast of ham, eggs, Saratoga chips, bread, butter, coffee and stewed fruit. (the latter, our good wife [sic] had prepared for us beforehand), all nicely cooked, clean plates, cups, knives and forks. I mention these things to indicate how easy it is to have a nice meal with a little care, and you see our menu was not at all a bad one for al fresco breakfast. Dejuner [sic] over, one of us washed the dishes while the other watered and cleaned the horses, a judicious division of labor making the work part of the trip very light. We started almost before the good Cucamungans were out of their beds, and always climbing toward the mountains. Evening found us en bivouac on Lytle Creek, and here our first misfortune. Each had thought the other would bring fishing tackle, and each had not brought it, so we could only wander up and down the banks of the river and think of the speckled beauties we had arranged for the best cook of the two to have served up a la Izaak Walton, i.e. cooked in their own gravy in a closely covered pan, nothing but salt for a sauce, served up on green leaves, and brown bread and butter for an accompaniment. It was not to be so, and we solaced ourselves with a tenderloin steak we had bought from a peripatetic butcher in the morning. The views from here after dark of the lights of the many towns within range of our vision were very effective, the Riversides, San Bernardino, Rialtos and lots of others all showing up as soon as Old Sol had retired for his dormitory somewhere over Los Angeles. We sat up a long time, studying their location. An early bath in the creek fitted us for breakfast, though indeed the fresh, bracing atmosphere quite superseded the necessity of any appetizers and we attacked our food with the vim and vigor of old campaigners. I hope you are enjoying this period piece as much as I am. The language of the era is so charming, and I’ve found myself looking up some of the references. Viewing the southland and Cajon Pass through the lens of a traveler from 1892 is quite a treat. Next week, traveling over the rough “bawlders” in Lytle Creek prove challenging as the men head to Glen Helen ranch.
Around Ol’ Baldy by Henry J. Lloyd Part 4
Originally printed in the Los Angeles Times on June 12, 1892, Henry J. Lloyd’s account of a ten-day bivouac around Mt. Baldy gives us insight into what this area was like 128 years ago. The travelers have left Lytle Creek and take a detour through Glen Helen Ranch on their way up Swarthout Canyon. The travelers have left Lytle Creek and take a detour through Glen Helen Ranch on their way up Swarthout Canyon. The first quarter of a mile was through the dry bed of the creek, and the rough bowlders [sic] therein tried our tires and springs pretty hard, but they were stout and we got safely over after a shaking that no doubt did our digestive organs good. A couple of miles down hill brought us to Glen Helen ranch in the celebrated Cajon Pass. This seems to be one of the best groups of houses, immense barns, fold-yards and houses for laborers we have seen in California. Everything is on a large scale, the stables, yards, etc., all so clean and tidy it was a pleasure to see. But as there was no living soul in sight, we could learn nothing about the place or owner. The name we read in big letters on the barn. The crops and trees here were in splendid condition, water for all purposes being brought from some distance up the cañon. The mountain views here were very fine and a grand one was obtained down the valley toward San Bernardino, some twenty miles off. Three or four miles up the cañon brought us to a pleasant avenue of walnuts on the one side and peach trees on the other, with rich green feed both sides of the road, an inducement for us to camp there, which we did, and a visit to the farmhouse near by introduced us to a pleasant lady, Mrs. Vincent, and her daughters, who replenished our larder with nice home-baked bread and fresh eggs. The day was young, so we soon pushed on, coming to a part of the cañon wild and grand as one could possibly imagine. Great beetling craigs [sic] towering away to the sky, the road very rough and rugged and the stream rattling and chattering at our side and often under our feet. The cañon here growing narrower and steeper; you will doubtless remember it is the Cajon Pass that gives the Santa Fé so much trouble during the winter rains with washouts and landslides. A short distance now brought us to the Swarthout Canyon. I don’t know what a Swarthout means, but if it means a wild and rugged cañon wooded and steep with a rough road winding from side to side and always climbing toward our great landmark, Old Baldy, Swarthout is well named. We passed a pretty well cultivated little ranch, the trees just breaking out into leaf and the crops looking very nice. A chat with the owner, Bob Matthews, told us we had made another mishap, besides forgetting the fishing tackle, for we had hoped to meet here our partner in a goldmine, but he had gone up the Cajon and we could not wait, so we didn’t know much more of a gold mine than we did before. Passing the Clyde Ranch, where we watered our horses.
Around Ol’ Baldy by Henry J. Lloyd
Henry and Hughes spent the night about three miles from Newhall on the Home Ranch, courtesy of Mr. Perry, the foreman. Their 10-day journey is coming to a close, and the trip that began near Pasadena, all the way to Cucamonga, past Glen Helen Ranch, to Lytle Creek, up Swarthout Canyon, down Sheep Creek Wash to Ft. Tejon Road west to Palmdale, through Newhall pass and finally through the Cahuenga Pass has come to an end. I had no idea when I started this historical journey that it would turn into a 9-part series. I hope you have enjoyed the journey as much as I have. Here is the final installment of Henry J. Lloyd’s, “Around Ol’ Baldy.” Among the grand sites we had had since we started, not the least was this vast field of wheat. Mile after mile in every direction wheat everywhere; farm buildings and fields all in splendid condition. We pulled out for home on the tenth morning after we had started, and the only incivility we experienced during the whole journey was at the ranch of the Lankershim group that lies nearest to the Cahuenga Pass, where some one [sic] in authority, seeing us coming, galloped off ahead of us and locked the gate leading off the ranch into the high road, however, after a lot of blue language we were permited [sic] to go round through the ranch, but the difference in the treatment at the two places was very strongly marked. We could not learn this man’s name. We finished the tour through the Cahuenga Pass and got home by 10 o’clock of the tenth day after a most enjoyable journey, and I have been thus lengthy in describing it, as I feel sure lots of my fellow-townsmen would enjoy just such a journey, and there are really no hardships or troubles but what add zest to the journey. The scenery cannot be excelled both for the grandeur and variety, and the total grub bill was $7.90. I have said nothing about the game on the route, because I don’t know how the game laws apply, but the thousands of quail mothers with their broods of fifteen or twenty little tufts of feathers at their heels, give great promise for the future. Henry J. Lloyd 1892 Immediately following the article is a poem written in tribute to Old Baldy, called “Old Baldy’s Crest”. The author is “A.H.” Could it have been written by Lloyd’s traveling companion, Hughes? The first few verses are as follows: The first few verses are as follows: Far up old Baldy’s dizzy height, Upscaled save by the eagle’s flight, A somber waste of ice and snow In stern defiance of its foe, The sun, lies there Unmelted by the fiercest glare Of August’s hottest days; The splendid valleys far below Lie shimmering in the solar glow, Whilst there perpetual silence reigns; Snow, ice and cold alone obtains, A little Arctic all alone, A miniature Polar zone…. For brevity’s sake, I will not finish the whole poem. Thank you for taking this historical journey Around Old Baldy. I look forward to sharing more adventures!
My property looks down upon Saddleback Butte State Park, Black Butte, and all the other buttes and hills scattered from El Mirage to Lake Los Angeles. Sometimes I stand outside and envision myself driving down to one of them -- and then I just do it. When I get there, I look back towards my house, but it’s usually hazy, and I can’t always make out the exact location.
On Monday, the wind finally got to me and I felt a drive would be better than a walk. With Poppy loaded up, we drove straight down Oasis, past the taco cart at Palmdale Road, and continued towards El Mirage. Once on the dirt, we began to pass discarded televisions, scattered bags of clothes, tired couches, and a few refrigerators past their prime. It’s such a shame to see the desert used as a dump. We also passed creosote bushes covered in downy fruits and yellow flowers, dark pink sand verbenas, and desert calico along the roadside. Every so often we’d glide over a very soft, silty spot in the road, and a gray cloud of fine dust would plume out behind us and fill the rearview mirror. At one spot, the car slowed down and the wind blew the dust back onto us! I hastened to close the windows, but the dust swirled in and momentarily choked us before the last window sealed shut. Poppy looked scared and her lips were pursed as she looked out the windows. The whole car was floating softly in a gray cloud, and she must’ve thought that was the end of it for us. When I hit the hard pack, I sped up and left the cloud behind us.
There is one spot I like to go to that is owned by the Bureau of Land Management. It’s a small sand dune at the base of a hill, and Poppy loves running around on it. I only take her there on cool days, as one, she overheats easily, and two, I don’t want to risk either of us getting snake bit. This day Poppy wore herself out quickly, and we eventually just sat in the soft sand enjoying the afternoon.
We drove home on Sheep Creek Road, and I stopped to fill up my water jugs at the water store by Pizza Factory. The whole time I stood there, I was overcome with that tantalizing aroma of pizza, and I just had to get one. Poppy whined all the way home, and she really wanted to sit next to the pizza, but I scolded her. She got her crusts and a good dinner once we got back.
After eating, I finally sat down on the couch to relax. I glanced over to see Poppy standing on her hind legs with her nose buried in the pizza. Oh well, I guess it’s Poppy’s pizza now!
Bordered plant bug nymph. Photo by Wendy Walker
Cutworm wasp. Photo by Wendy Walker
Grasshopper. Photo by Wendy Walker
If you don’t know by now, photography is one of my favorite past times. I wear out the knees of my old jeans about this time every year, trying to capture a bug’s eye view of the world through my lens. I enjoy photographing the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to insects. Right now, the brittlebush is in bloom, and the yellow sunflower-like blossoms appear to be the most popular hangout for all sorts of beetles, spiders, and flies. I can sit at one bush for 20 or 30 minutes and watch a whole world of activity. In the afternoon, ladybugs, with bellies full of aphids, perch on top of these flowers, swaying back and forth in the breeze, waiting for the sun to go down. Their bright red shells against the yellow is a beautiful sight. The Bordered-plant bug nymph shares the brittlebush with the ladybugs. It looks like an oblong black beetle with a red dot on its back. They will hang out on the plant and sip nectar from the flowers or cling to the stem. Everything’s great until they spot you; then they’ll magically glide under the flower, behind the stem, or under a leaf. It’s hilarious. The crab spiders do this, too. One minute they’re there, the next, they’re not. I’ll just reach my hand to the underside which makes them pop back into view. After a while, they’ll tolerate me and I can take photos of them. I never know what I will see in the tiny insect universe, and that’s what makes it so interesting. One time a bumblebee was on top of a blossom doing its thing, while just below the flower a crab spider was feasting on its freshly caught prey. I didn’t even know the spider was there until I got home and looked at the photos on the computer. I’m sure the bumblebee was also ignorant of the fact that it might have been the spider’s victim had it arrived a few moments earlier. In the mornings, lizards move to high places and grab butterflies and bugs from the air. I once saw a leopard lizard with a freshly caught grasshopper laying sideways in its mouth. It took several swipes with its front foot to push it properly in its mouth and eat it. Last month, near Black Butte, north of here, I was thrilled to photograph a cutworm wasp struggling to drag its cutworm victim back to its lair in the ground so it could lay eggs in the paralyzed worm. Tarantula hawks are similar, only they paralyze tarantulas to the same end game. What action! It’s a mini safari in our own backyards. When it really warms up, thousands of dragonflies migrate through here, but most people don’t notice them. When I stand on the hill behind my house, I can count almost a hundred in just a few minutes. If you’d like to see some of my recent insect photos, you can go to Facebook and type “wendylyn.walker.752” in the search bar. Or, just get down on your knees and examine your own insect universe, especially if you have small children. What a treat!
Written May 4, 2020 Rattlesnake Roommate
For most of my childhood we lived next to the chaparral-covered hills in Poway, about 11 miles south of Escondido. My friends and I ran all over the hillsides scrambling over the boulders. We made little campsites and forts, taking advantage of the odd-shaped rocks. One day a young family moved in across the street from us. The father was appalled to hear that we played in “the mountains.” He informed us that there was something called a “tick” that would suck our blood and that there were rattlesnakes hiding under bushes that could kill us with one bite. He put the fear into us. That next summer I saw my first rattlesnake. It was like they had never existed until that neighbor conjured them up. Not long after that, I began to have nightmares about rattlesnakes. I dreamed they were in our hallway blocking me from reaching my family in the other room. I’d wake up terrified and afraid to get out of bed. Fast forward to a few years ago, I eventually made my peace with the rattlesnakes and helped relocate them from people’s yards. I’d borrow a snake catching tool and bucket from Transition Habitat Conservancy’s President, Jill Bays, when she wasn’t available to help. One day I was lying in bed and I heard a snake rattling outside my bedroom window. Since I am never without my camera, I ran outside to take a photo. It was nowhere to be found. “Very strange,” I thought. For two weeks after that my cats sulked around the house, jumping at the slightest sound and staring nervously into dark corners. I figured a mouse had come into the house. One afternoon I was talking to my mom on the phone and walked over to the stove to heat up some spaghetti. As I was banging the container of leftovers into the pot, I saw something stick its head out from under the stove next to my sandaled and very bare foot. Long story short, it turned out to be a rattlesnake, and Jill came to my rescue. We took it far away from the house and set it free. Now I knew why I didn’t see a snake outside my window that day! It was under my bed! And the cats? That explained why they had been so jumpy! After that I promptly invested in my own snake gear. Last year I removed three from my property and Jill removed one. Last week I walked right past one in the front yard and didn’t even see it until Poppy barked and growled at it. Her rattlesnake avoidance training was worth every penny! Suffice it to say, both snake and dog lived to see another day, and my rattlesnake gear is ready for action.
Walking Among Giants
Poppy and I ventured down to Mormon Rocks the other day. The clouds were gorgeous in Piñon Hills, but working my way down the 138, it turned foggy and then a gray overcast muted the landscape, but I enjoy this type of weather. My photographs look softer, the birdsong seems louder, insect subjects don’t move as fast, and I can walk farther. Poppy was eager to get out of the car, and we walked all the way to the first rocks before I turned her loose. She stuck her nose to the ground and sniffed while I looked for interesting subjects. Chia, nightshade, bush poppies, and an occasional lupine brightened up the walk.
It seemed the sandstone rocks were watching us. There are so many face-like features that I always find myself laughing out loud. From creepy, ghoulish eyes, to a laughing Buddha man, they are fun to see.
Feeling energetic, Poppy and I worked our way up a hill to an overlook. I put her back on the leash, to provide a little stability for me and to keep her from running off over the edge. I scrambled up the steep incline in my tennis shoes, wishing I had worn my boots. When we got to the top, the wind hit us. I maneuvered Poppy into a position to give perspective of how high up we were and snapped a couple pictures. My stomach did flip flops the whole time I was up there, and we quickly made our way back down. The next thing I know, my feet shot out and I landed hard on the palms of my hands and my backside. Owee! I sat there for a moment while Poppy licked my face, and then I carefully made it back to solid ground.
We then wandered up the wash. A train whistle blew. It echoed off the rock face and sounded like it was going to burst out of the rock. Poppy sat down, staring at the wall of sandstone, waiting for the train to show up, but it never did. Then she got the zoomies, running and jumping in a giant circle, bouncing over bushes with her ears flopping wildly. I took a few more photos and headed back to the car. We made our way home, bursting through the fog, back into the land of sunshine. A beautiful ending to a busy day.
Walking Among Stars
Written April 15, 2020
After sitting at work all week and watching a record amount of rainfall pouring off the roof, I was itching to go exploring. Friday afternoon, I drove down to Swarthout Canyon. The road was washed out, so I parked not far from the PCT crossing and put on my heavy jacket. Towards Wrightwood, the mountains disappeared into low clouds and in the direction of the Cajon Pass, I could see cars and trucks moving smoothly along the freeway. It was interesting to see so little traffic on a Friday afternoon, a reflection of the times.
Poppy and I got out of the car and walked across the road entering the field to the south. Rain drops tapped lightly on my jacket as I bent down to let Poppy off the leash, and pull my hood up. We meandered around, Poppy keeping a close eye on me, as she ran with her nose up in the air, galloping off in pursuit of vanishing scents. She’s pretty good at staying within sight, so I soon became engrossed in all the plant life, and breathed in that intoxicating smell of rain-soaked wilderness.
Most of the flowers were whitish or cream-colored, like the wild cucumber vines, hoary-leaved ceanothus, and mountain mahogany. I was thrilled to find cobweb thistles with magenta blossoms balled up tightly under a cottony fuzz, waiting for a good dose of sunshine. No bees or butterflies were out in this cold drizzle, only birds, occasionally singing, or flying from bush to bush. Also visibly lacking were the flowering stalks on the yuccas, which won’t be motivated to bloom until the weather warms up. I gravitated towards the bright yellow flowers of the bush poppies, cheerfully beaming hope in the gray landscape. However, It was too difficult to get a good photo of them as the petals were weighted down by raindrops and bouncing in the wind.
Heading down canyon, I saw a couple tents set up near the PCT. I kept my eyes on the ground looking for artifacts of a bygone era, or flowering treasures I might miss. Then something unusual caught my eye. There were several tan-colored, star-shaped seed pods or something, on the ground, about the size of a quarter. I bent down to get a closer look. They looked like a type of mushroom, with a puff ball sac in the center of the star structure. I took a few photos and later discovered they were indeed, a type of fungus called, “earth stars.” The “star” opens up during rainy weather, to expose the sac, which releases spores as rain drops plop down on them. I had never seen them before and was quite satisfied with my discovery. I whistled to Poppy and we made a big loop, crossing the road and working our way back to the car. Later at home, I started a fire, towel-dried Poppy and settled in for one last night of rain, and looked forward to my next solo adventure to ward off the Covid-19 Blues.
Written March 31, 2020
By Wendy Walker
Saturday, I packed a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, a bag of chips, and plenty of water and met up with my friends Susan and Quintin in Phelan. We headed out to Transition Habitat Conservancy’s new land adjacent to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. My dog, Poppy, was thrilled to go on a ride and stared out the window all the way to Palmdale before she settled in for a nap on the backseat. Susan and Quintin followed in their vehicle, in keeping with the strict distancing protocol. As we got closer to poppy-land, we were lured in by the colorful hillsides. The bright yellows, vibrant greens, and brilliant oranges against a blue sky with white, puffy clouds almost hurt my eyes. After so many days of lockdown, I knew just how Poppy felt with her head sticking out the window, the winds of freedom flapping her ears. There were very few people visiting the Poppy Reserve as we drove by. A lighted sign on the shoulder read, “KEEP 6’ SOCIAL DISTANCE.” We drove past the few cars parked along the road and arrived at the Conservancy gate, where we drove on through and parked. The land sloped gently up to the north, and there was a small, round hill to the west. A few of us had traveled to see the land this day. Everyone arrived in their own cars to witness the magical flowers and the painted lady butterflies floating by. There were no hugs, no handshakes, but plenty of camaraderie filled the air. Our small group broke away, keeping much distance between us, as we marveled at the flowers. One of us would exclaim, “There’s lupines over here!” while another would say, “Look at all the owl’s clover!” Meanwhile, Poppy sprinted about, zooming far and near, unable to decide which direction to go. The only thing that stopped her dead in her tracks was the discovery of a dry cow pie that she happily rolled in. Her happy dolphin-like smile and frolicking were a delight to all. After taking plenty of Poppy photos in the poppies, two of us continued up the little round mountain. Wild hyacinth swayed in the breeze, and meadowlarks sang out from their perches of basin sagebrush. I could imagine what it must have looked like when there were thousands of pronghorn roaming freely in these fields. Misidentified as antelope, they were what gave the Antelope Valley its name. After briefly (and distantly) saying goodbye to the rest of the group, we headed back to our cars and continued driving, stopping frequently for photo ops. Poppy disappeared at one point, and we found her in a ditch, toes dancing in the sky, laying on top of a very juicy cow pie, writhing away in ecstasy. I had to use my good jug of drinking water and my bare hands to massage the smelly mess out of her coat. Between the wet dog smell, the cow-pie smell, and the stringent odor of hand sanitizer, it was an interesting drive home! We eventually wound our way back via Saddleback Butte and found a lovely display of yellow coreopsis near the Antelope Valley Indian Museum. Quintin drove to some lavender-colored Mojave asters on a rocky hillside west of El Mirage that they had recently discovered. It was so good to get out, while continuing to keep safe, just to take our minds off the Coronavirus for a little while. Transition Habitat Conservancy is doing good work out there, and I am proud to be a little part of the big machine that’s creating wide and open spaces for future generations to enjoy. And Poppy? She smells much better now. For more information on Transition Habitat Conservancy, visit the website at www.TransitionHabitat.org
March 25, 2020
Goldenfields of California poppy surround Joshua trees. Photo by Wendy Walker
Plummer’s Mariposa lily in Swarthout Canyon.
Photo by Wendy Walker
I can’t help but feel lucky that we live in such a unique and rural area. During this time of self-isolation, Los Angeles urbanites are flocking in droves to the local mountains, State Parks, and National Monuments just to get away from each other, only to find out they all had the same idea! I can drive an hour or less in any direction to find open space to explore, and I rarely encounter a soul. The area around Saddleback Butte State Park will soon have some lovely flowers, especially the area to the northeast of Saddleback where Joshua trees seemingly float on spectacular displays of yellow goldfields. Black Butte and the Three Sisters Buttes to the southeast of Saddleback are also fun to drive around. I keep a roll of those thick, clear, trash bags (available at Mountain Hardware) to pick up bits and pieces of trash when I go out. Most of the trash I remove is the very junk that clutters my carefully crafted landscape shot. It’s very annoying when the tripod is set up for the perfect shot, and some-one’s household garbage is strewn all over the place. It’s the same wherever I go, and even if it’s a very remote area, I can always count on finding a Mylar balloon shimmering brightly in a bush like a plastic flame. Devil’s Punchbowl, however, is much cleaner, and you might even see a golden eagle soaring above. For future reference (when life returns to normal), make sure you go into the Visitor Cen-ter and take a look at the honeypot ants and sign up for the earthquake fault tour. Then there’s the Bob’s Gap and Valyermo areas for a scenic road trip if it’s too cold or windy to hike. I enjoy driving on Highway 2, when it’s a bit warmer, to look for ruby red snow plants, lupines, monkey flowers, and the rare lemon lily. During these cloudy and cold days, if the route is open, you are likely to see big horn sheep in the rocky areas. Driving east on Highway 138, Mormon Rocks is a big enough place for people to spread out and explore by foot or vehicle. Another favorite quickie of mine is Swarthout Canyon. You should park and get out, then look for some actinolite, or a lovely Palmer’s mariposa lily, or maybe the tail end of a bobcat scrambling up a hillside. But the best little treat is in my own backyard. The Transition Habitat Conservancy’s “Puma Canyon Ecological Reserve,” located in Piñon Hills. When spring flowers start rocking, you can’t beat the little treasures tucked away in the rolling hills of the reserve located at Silver Rock Road and Sunnyslope, with entrances located on both streets. Soon there will be tiny pygmy poppies (that are best viewed on your hands and knees), Scott’s orioles whistling happy tunes, brilliant orange Kennedy mariposa lilies, and giant bumble bees landing on the stacked tiers of sage and chia flowers. If you sit near the flowers and close your eyes, you’ll hear the surprisingly loud buzzing-bee symphony. And then, just for that moment, you will forget about these unsettling times and everything will be just fine.
March 14, 2020
Long Forgotten Giants
I took a little drive the other day to try and find the remains of a single Joshua tree. Not just any old tree, but a 50-foot tall grandfather of all Joshua trees. A newspaper account from 1930 shows a photo of a man standing on top of perhaps a Model A Ford with an arm held up above his head. The distance from the ground to the man’s outstretched hand is less than a third of the entire tree’s height. The trunk of this magnificent tree was said to be four feet in diameter! Although there was little in the way of clues, a drive in blustery weather sounded much better than taking Poppy on a walk, so drive is what we did. The only location descriptions were that it was surrounded by thousands of smaller trees and could be reached “via the Adelanto-Lancaster road, approximately 20 miles west of Adelanto…south of the road in the flats below the foothills.” I didn’t know if that meant Hwy 138 or some other east-west route closer to El Mirage. I drove all over, trying to stay about 15-25 miles from Adelanto. I cruised up and down, back and forth, and even walked short distances from the car, but the piles of trash and sketchy houses made me feel uneasy. I certainly didn’t expect to find the complete tree, but hoped that an old stump or some remains spread out on the ground might be proof enough. In the end, my little Subaru was just too low to get a good view of the landscape, so Poppy and I continued on to the Black Butte area southwest of El Mirage and explored over there. It wasn’t long before I came upon a very tall tree. While nowhere near 50 feet, it was a fine specimen nonetheless. It gave both of us a chance to walk around while I took some photos. About three weeks later, I came across another article from 1930, written a month after the first one. It described a Joshua tree that measured 80 feet tall – and I thought 50 feet was unimaginable! Unfortunately, vandals had set the tree on fire and a $100 reward was being offered by the International Desert Conservation League for any information about the arsonists. Strangely, this tree was located in a place called the National Roosevelt Monument near Lancaster, a place which I have not yet been able to locate and may require a trip out to Lancaster to investigate. Meanwhile, it looks like more research and desert explorations will continue to be my weekend pleasures while the coronavirus gets sorted out. Be safe and stay tuned for more armchair adventures.
A Badger’s Place by Wendy Walker
Although the North American badger can be found almost anywhere in California, the average person will likely never see one in their lifetime. Badgers are generally nocturnal and live relatively solitary lives. They spend much of the winter underground and are often described as “pugnacious,” as they are fierce defenders of their territory. With that being said, you may have difficulty in believing this account of a badger that boldly sashayed down a busy street in downtown San Bernardino in April of 1959, but I assure you, it did happen. Startled pedestrians and shopkeepers took refuge behind doors, and San Bernardino City Police started receiving numerous phone calls. The Humane Department was quickly dispatched, and they managed to capture the frightened creature. While the badger hunkered down in a dark cage at the city pound, his fate was being tossed about by both friend and foe. He was given to the first man to contact the Humane Department under the “first come, first served” policy with the intention of killing the badger and mounting it for display in his home. The very thought of this incited public outrage, and people rose up in defense of the badger. The Mayor of San Bernardino, E.D. (Mike) Kremer, along with citizen, Mrs. Ann E. Wissler, and local naturalist Obed M. Smelser, lobbied for the badger to be released at the Mill Creek Canyon area. The chief humane officer at the time suggested taking the poor chap to the Elizabeth Lake Zoo in Bouquet Canyon. By now, a “Set-the-Badger-Loose” campaign had swept the city, and the newspaper received 897 letters along with poems, letters, and drawings from school children in support of the badger’s release. The man who took the badger, probably feeling quite guilty by now, promptly relinquished him back to the pound, saying he would not be killed. It was decided then that the badger was going to be set free! Officials, however, decided against releasing him at Mill Creek Canyon due to an abundance of domestic dogs in the area and took him instead to the back slopes of the mountains north of Lake Arrowhead. The S.B. County Sun reported on release day, “… a badger’s thank you to the humans who rose to his defense, is in the soft rustle of leaves, a flash of bright eyes and swift movement of fur, and deep in a small animal’s heart the beating joy of liberty unchecked and unconfined.”
Written February 18, 2020
Wildflowers, Oil Wells, and Bighorn Sheep
This weekend, my friend Richard Saylor and I took a drive in Cajon and Swarthout Canyons. My intent was to photograph wildflowers, but there were very few, although a healthy population of California peonies were budding around the Lost Lake area. Sadly, there was a great deal of trash dumped in the parking area, so Scott Brown of High Desert Keepers and I will pick it up this week if USFS doesn’t beat us to it. The restroom facility has been completely removed due to increased vandalism. In my research of Lost Lake in newspaper archives, I have come across several gruesome tales which have left me feeling uneasy whenever I’m in that area. It’s really a shame because it could be such a nice place to study sag ponds, earthquake faults, and related flora and fauna. Prior to reaching Lost Lake, we drove through Mormon rocks, beside train tracks, over washed-out roads, steep hills, and other tricky spots. There were a few times I wish I had a good 4wd truck, but I just paid off my Subaru! We stopped here and there, sharing accounts of history we’ve heard through the years. I told Richard of a retired fellow I met while driving in Swarthout Canyon last year. This man was part of the crew that built the first transmission lines near Lost Lake when he was much younger. He also said there was a good size population of bighorn sheep on the south facing slopes back then. I always look for them when I drive through, knowing they aren’t there, but I look anyway. When I run into him again, I’ll have to ask him for more stories. Richard told me he recalled an old oil pump that used to be in the field catty-corner from Rick’s Café at the intersection of Hwy 138 and Beekley Road. An oil pump? While researching further in newspaper archives, I found that in 1910 Sam Thompson and Will Parsons claimed to have found hardened brea, a tar-like residue, and other signs of oil in Cajon Creek. Investment companies like Doble-Diebold and Arrowhead Development had plans to explore the possibility of oil, but knew it would be a gamble. I wonder if the setup in Phelan had anything to do with those explorations. Time for more research!
Written February 5, 2020
Two summers ago, my dog, Poppy came into my life. She was only a few months old when she found me and we became fast friends, much to the disdain of my two cats. Now she owns the couch and the back seat of my car and has me trained pretty well. She demands that I take her on walks, throw balls for her and wait patiently while she sniffs every scent-worthy spot on the trail. A recent visit to Kahoots Livestock Supply in Hesperia had me cracking up, as Poppy pulled me from one spot to another. So many smells, and toys and people to greet! I quickly distracted her with a durable toy of her choosing, which allowed me to read labels and ponder dog houses. Later, as I was checking out the premium food, I was surprised to see birthday cake mixes for dogs, complete with frosting, in flavors like beet, and peanut butter. Below that was ice cream mix for dogs, just add water and freeze! Things have really changed since I last owned dogs, more than eight years ago. All of my dog-obsessed peers have travel bags for their dogs, to hold treats, food, bowls, toys and more. In fact, I confess, I just bought my first one, a sturdy cloth container which carries all of the above, plus basic first aid items. Since Poppy and I explore extensively on the weekends, the travel kit makes sense. I used to run around trying to cram all her stuff into my backpack and it was just too much to keep track of. Now I’m better prepared when we road trip together, and she always has food or water if we stay out too long. My brother’s girlfriend has a camera, to not only watch her dog from her phone, but also to talk to her and dispense a treat for her at any time. Now if that doesn’t beat all! More places are adding perks like the do-it-yourself dog wash station at some Tractor Supply stores, shampoo included. And, when you’re ready to take a trip without your beloved, you can find boarding kennels, eager to indulge your dog with play time in the pool and lots of interactive exercise. The only thing we need in our area now is a dog park, so our pups have a safe place to romp around with one another.
Wendy has worked in administration at Transition Habitat Conservancy for nearly six years. She commented, “Occasionally, I get out in the field to assist with monitoring or restoration activities.” She has lived in Pinon Hills for seven years, and been a High Desert resident since 1988.
Wendy’s column focuses on her interests and experiences in local botany, natural history, photography, hiking, and exploring (with her dog, Poppy).
Serving Wrightwood, Phelan, Pinon HIlls and West Cajon Valley Since 1961