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Natural Perspectives: Adventures, photo ops are close to home

June 01, 2011|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
  • Harold Drabkin has a close encounter of a giraffe kind at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
Harold Drabkin has a close encounter of a giraffe kind… (Lou Murray, HB Independent )

Vic and I had an out-of-town guest last week, Harold Drabkin from Bangor, Maine. We were friends with Harold back in our graduate school days at Wesleyan University, nearly 40 years ago. We've seen Harold only a couple of times since then. It's amazing to me how we were able to pick up right where we left off like no time had passed at all.

Naturally, Vic took Harold to see the Bolsa Chica. But Harold and I used to belong to the same camera club back in Connecticut. Photography was our common bond, so that's what I did with Harold. I took him to see the desert, which is loaded with great photo ops.

We started with Pioneertown just north of Yucca Valley. Although the buildings look like an Old West town of the 1880s, they're more modern than that. The town was built in the 1940s as a movie set for Westerns. Roy Rogers and the Cisco Kid were among the TV Western stars who filmed there. The town today is a living ghost town, with residents keeping that Old West look by putting out historic artifacts and banning cars on unpaved Mane Street. Yep, that's how they spell Main Street.

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Then we headed to Joshua Tree National Park. The park is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Founded in 1936 under President Franklin Roosevelt as a national monument, it became a national park in 1994. Additional lands were added to the park between 1999 and 2004 to bring it to its present size.

Joshua Tree National Park is known for its fantastic, buff-colored rock formations. Bizarre boulders sit atop the ground. The smooth, rounded shapes of the rocks are marked by multiple vertical and horizontal cracks. Everyone asks how on earth they were formed. They look eroded, but they don't look like other rocks.

Without getting into the geological world of plutonic intrusions, I can tell you that the rocks formed from molten magma more than 100 million years ago. The magma cooled while still underground and over time developed a system of vertical and horizontal cracks. As ground water percolated down through the cracks, the corners were very slowly eroded to more rounded shapes.

Imagine holding an ice cube under running water. The corners erode away, leaving a round shape behind. The same thing happened to the rocks at Joshua Tree while they were still underground.

Over time, the surrounding soil washed away during millions of years of flash floods, leaving behind the incredible devil's playground of boulders that we see today. Wind erosion has played only a small role.

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