The following writing is extracts taken from the above article, which has been published in the Sacramento Bee…great read on Joshua tree.
By Sam McManisfirstname.lastname@example.org
Published: Sunday, Apr. 7, 2013 – 12:00 am | Page 1H
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jun. 18, 2013 – 3:00 pm
JOSHUA TREE – Deep in the desert, searching for enlightenment at a spot called Samuelson’s Rocks that is unmarked on any map, all I find are shaggy, gnarled trees that give this area its name, bulbous monzogranite rock formations and the triad of cholla, creosote and prickly pear that scar my legs and test my resolve.
Wait a moment. Did I just say all?
Have I, after a mere four days at Joshua Tree National Park, become so inured of these wondrous surroundings that I have ceased appreciating the geologic and floral delights to be experienced?
Perhaps. And that’s a shame. Because, if a visit to Joshua Tree teaches you nothing else, it should foster an abiding affection for the hidden natural abundance in what the uninitiated may see as a vast and arid open space bereft of possibility.
This connection to the landscape is why the multitudes come to the high desert: to climb and to hike, to camp and worship at nature’s altar, to seek spirituality and artistic inspiration, to trade the claustrophobic city for a bigger piece of sky. I am trying – really, I am – to become such a seeker.
I have trekked deep into the Wonderland of Rocks, where forests of Joshua trees exist peacefully amid mounds of monzonite quartz stacked so precisely, if precariously, that even the staunchest atheist might suspect it as the work of an unseen hand.
I have driven beyond the galleries to the fringes, where “outsider” artists have assembled found-material sculpture “environments” that incorporate the land itself as both canvas and object.
Yes, I have done all that. But here I am on my last morning, wandering in the desert, looking for a small cluster of rocks upon which a Swedish immigrant in the late 1920s named John Samuelson carved philosophic messages.
Somehow, the trip will seem incomplete without finding these stone tablets, even if (or maybe especially because) they were the work of a crank with ideas far outside the mainstream.
Joshua Tree, after all, is that kind of place. It brings out a guy’s contemplative and quirky sides…
Rock legends all around
Don’t even try in a week’s stay to cover all 794,000 acres of Joshua Tree, 70 percent of it designated as wilderness. Instead, pick your spots based on your interest.
Many come to climb the big rocks. The most popular and challenging spots are at Hidden Valley, about 14 miles southeast of the visitors center, with climbs ranging from relatively easy to difficult.
“Hidden Valley is the climbers’ place,” said Gary Chandler, who through Joshua Tree Outfitters sells and rents climbing and camping equipment. “There are hundreds of climbs within walking distance of the campground. The farther you go, you get to what’s known by climbers as the real Hidden Valley – the best climbs.”
Climber Les Walker of Idyllwild had just rappelled down a rock face, preparing to take a group of novices for a session.”Joshua Tree gets some of the world’s best climbers,” he said. “But there also are a lot of great rocks for people just getting into it. You don’t want to have a novice try Intersection or Old Woman first time out.”Hiking, however, is relatively easy for most, provided you bring ample water (yes, even in the early spring, when the temperature hovers just under 80). Trails range from as short at a half-mile to as long as the 37-mile Riding & Hiking Trail that extends from the Black Rock Canyon entrance to the Oasis Entrance.
Many of the trails are flat with soft, sandy surfaces, but some killer climbs await.
Perhaps the most popular route, the Boy Scout Trail, combines flat, sandy stretches and challenging but not lung-busting climbs with views of the Wonderland of Rocks. It’s a 16-mile out-and-back, but many choose to camp along the way and make it an overnight excursion.Hiker Lynne Tremkilbach of Akron, Ohio, chose that option
“I’ve never backcountry-camped before, so of course, I chose to do it by myself in the desert,” she said, laughing. “I camped out last night, and it was wonderful. It’s just so beautiful out here. This is so not Ohio.”
Art blooms in the desert
On a 7 1/2-acre parcel about 5 miles north of town, where the roads cease to be paved and handsome houses give way to shacks that give way to trailers, one of Southern California’s famous “outsider” artists has created a world unlike Ohio or any other state.
It’s called Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum, and it’s a trip. About 40 art pieces, some as small as a refrigerator, others as massive as a building, dot the landscape. From found metal, burned or decayed wood, old tires and pipes and discarded electronics, the late Purifoy built elaborate, often politically pointed, outdoor sculptures here from 1989 until his death in 2004.
His work has been exhibited at mainstream museums such as the Getty, Whitney, Oakland and California African American museums, but Purifoy had said the proper place for his sculptures is the desert, where the process of decay becomes part of the work.
Installations range from the silly to the sublime, often touching on social issues. One of his more famous works is “Kirby Express,” in which old vacuum cleaners, baby carriages, smudge pots and swamp coolers are affixed to bicycle wheels and placed upon railroad tracks. It represents, according to the Noah Purifoy Foundation, “a symbol of hope and progress for the well-to-do, built by the poor (symbolizing) lost hope and dreams.”
Purifoy’s may be the most famous of the desert’s art installations, but it is far from the only one. Among the pieces belonging under the umbrella organization called “High Desert Test Sites” is Sarah Vanderlip’s piece that welded two aluminum discs together to shine like a crystal egg amid the boulders; Shari Elf’s “Art Queen” gallery in town that features outdoor work, and the kitschy “World Famous Crochet Museum” inside an old Fotomat-type building.
Even some of the hotels are as much art projects as commercial dwellings. “Artists move here, well, maybe because it’s not expensive,” Elf said…..Sometimes, the art pops up at you unexpectedly.
While driving on a dirt road way northwest of Joshua Tree, near the settlement of Pipes Canyon, my eye caught a glint in the desert. I pulled over and followed the shiny light. It was a giant orange arrow, at least 30 feet in height, pointing down into the sand. Next to it was this message, nailed to the post: “You Are Here.” No direction home But I am not there – meaning, I have not yet found Samuelson’s Rocks. The morning has worn on, it’s warming up, and my water bottle is running low.
I was warned it’s not easy to find the rocks – it’s not an official National Park site, so there are no directional signs and no trail – and 45 minutes into my search, I’m getting mighty frustrated.
I try to remember what Chandler, the Joshua Tree Outfitter owner, told me.
“The reason the park won’t tell you is because it’s a private in-holding, but there are a couple of pullouts on the road about two miles from Quail Springs (picnic area),” he said. “Head southwest and you’ll see a dark mound a couple of miles across the desert. It rises about 200 feet. Walk toward that.”
I have done as told, but I’m lost. Three separate rock clumps have proved absent of inscriptions. Somehow, I have gotten turned around. Amid my wanderings, I’ve scraped my knee on a yucca plant and rivulets of blood run down my leg.
I’m just about to admit defeat when I decide to walk another 100 feet and see another rise in the landscape. I squint and spot marks on a boulder. I run through rocks and prickly pear and find them.
There are seven stones with chiseled rants against God and man, Herbert Hoover and Henry Ford, as well as other deep thoughts. It’s akin to 140-character Twitter messages, sans spell-check, from a previous generation.
One of Samuelson’s all-caps ramblings strikes me as relevant, especially to a Joshua Tree visitor. I take out my smartphone and capture it for my screensaver:
STUDY NATURE OBEY THE LAWS OF IT YOU CAN’T GO WRONG
IT PAYES COMPOUND ENTEREST FOR LIFE AND NOT ONE PENNY ENVESTED.
The Hang Town Hikers.
I feel totally relaxed and comfortable on my favorite chair, as I view the amazing critter activity in my desert garden this gorgeous spring morning. The refreshing cool breeze and the warm sunlight strokes my skin gently, this magically rejuvenates and uplifts my spirits, whispering to me, the appearance of my most favorite season of the year, yes! Bright, beautiful and blossoming spring always awakens my soul to the wonders of Mother Nature.
In the desert spring is very flirtatious with her climate, some days she is light and breezy or she can be cheerfully sunny, sometimes she gets moody and places a damper on your day, (rudely interrupting your plans), by showing up overcast, rainy, damp, windy and cold.
Spring generally glitters and glow in colors that are bright greens, purples, warm pinks, oranges and yellow as she paints the desert landscape with sweet smelling wildflower blooms. She Rejuvenates the desert wilderness with blankets of green grass, fragrant smelling flowers, sweet sounds of chirping humming birds, merry quail families and over protective fussing doves that are nesting high up in the trees.
My desert garden is always a delightful picture of my favorite desert critters buzzing with joy and love, obviously happy to meet all their friends at their favorite play place, after a cold, dry and harsh winter. I hear chatting from the critters?
Mr. Tortoise whispers to Mr. Bunny “did you notice Ash is so happy, she did not even shoo Mrs. Red Racer away, when she found her in the garden this morning.”
“Off course she is always full of joy and happiness in spring because her favorite guests will soon be arriving”, replied Bunny.
“And who may I ask are they?” squeaked Lizzie,
“Or come on Lizzie don’t you know them”, replied Mrs. Red Racer in her husky voice.
“The famous “ Hangtown Hikers” the biggest fans of the Harmony, they adore Ash, love the desert wilderness, and totally appreciate critter land. They have been coming to the Harmony for the last nine years; they are a merry crowd that is always full of laughter and always in the mood for their happy hour celebrations.” Expressed bunny in a happy tone of voice.
“That’s right,” cried out Mr. Roadrunner,” “I like them too, they love Joshua Tree Park, always going on their long hikes and they enjoy eating at their favorite restaurants in town. Every year they do my favorite trail, the boy Scott Trail.” explained chirpy Mr. Roadrunner.
“I wonder why they call themselves the Hangtown Hikers.” (Whispered Tortoise to himself), to which Bunny chuckled,
“I know, on the last trip I heard Bob the leader explain the history of their name to Ash.”
“So it’s time for a story Bunny,” shouted Roadrunner delightfully.
Mr. Roadrunner than proceeded to instruct everyone to find a seat on the comfortable dirt. Bunny cleared his throat and began to narrate the historical story of the name of the town Placerville (as to why it once was notoriously called Hangtown).
Bunny loved the attention from his friends, he squealed with laughter, as he began narrating the story with excitement in his voice. “as history explains after the discovery of gold in nearby Coloma, California by James W. Marshall in 1848 sparked the California Gold Rush, the small town now known as Placerville than was called Dry Digging’s (after the manner in which the miners moved cartloads of dry soil to running water to separate the gold from the soil).
Later in 1849, the town earned its most common historical notorious name, “Hangtown”, because the miners quickly became short-tempered, and with the rising crime rate and the lack of readily-available law enforcement, they took the “law” (or lack thereof) into their own hands. Criminals were punished in short order, whether it be flogging or hanging, based on snap decisions made by impromptu courts with hastily-formed juries.
The first lynching in the camp, a triple hanging, came after a gang of five tried to rob a miner of his gold dust. However someone in in the crowd of 2,000 said he recognized three of the five (two Mexicans and one Yankee, that had been involved with a murder on the Stanislaus River).
The three suspects were hanged together from the huge oak tree in camp. The location of this well-used hang in’ tree is marked by an effigy dangling by his neck from the second story of the Hangman’s Tree Historic spot in downtown Placerville. The stump is said to be in the cellar. That is how the Town Placerville acquired its historical notorious name “Hangtown” as there were many such hangings during this period in the town.”
Bunny continued, “So my dear critter land that is why our dear friends from Sacramento call themselves the “Hangtown Hikers”
“I get it they like the history of their towns name,” whispered tortoise.
“Or maybe there name indicates that they will not tolerate bad behaviors from their hiking team, like the pioneers of their town” suggested Roadrunner.
“Gosh I rather be on my best behavior the next time they are here stuttered anxious Mrs. Roadrunner”.
“Yes, listen to Ash, you need to hide yourself the when her guests are around because they are afraid of you,” Lizze uttered naughtily.
The above information on the history of Placerville was taken from:
http://www.comspark.com/chronicles/hangtown.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placerville,_California