Sunday, January 6, 2013

Ridgecrest, California

Along the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we camp at the Dirt Digger's Camp on BLM land.  This is an ATVer's paradise.  Hundreds of ATV (OHV) trails crisscross the desert.  People in these western states love their ATVs and outdoor experiences.  There are two groups of ATVers camping at this huge area.  Now, don't be thinking about tents and sleeping bags, think trailers (actually, "toy haulers" which are big trailers with a garage in the back for your big-boy toys) and motorhomes.  Our view is fantastic, surrounded by mountains.  Grady loves it here too; he loves to roll in the gravelly desert sand, and there are small birds here, the size of sparrows, which make little peeping sounds.  One actually flies up to within inches of our back window where Grady lounges on his kitty tower; the bird hovers for a few seconds checking out Grady, then drops to the ground.  This drives Grady nuts and he spends the next 20 minutes watching the bird pick seeds out of the sand below the windows.

Marilyn amidst the Trona Pinnacles
Half an hour east, we visit the Trona Pinnacles, strange spires rising out of the flat desert floor.  These pinnacles were formed underwater tens of thousands of years ago when calcium-rich groundwater bubbled up through fissures in the ancient lakebed and mixed with the lake's briny waters to form calcium carbonate.  Over the years, the tubes from the underground hot springs deposit more minerals and mix with algae to create the 140-foot high tufa formations.  We drive through some of the pinnacles, and hike amongst others, viewing the dry salt deposits left from the briny lake in the valley.  This strange landscape has been the set of many films including Star Trak V and Planet of the Apes.  Only about 20 miles to the east of us is the western edge of Death Valley National Park.

Marilyn waiting to get a haircut in Randsburg, California
Randsburg is another "ghost town" that we visit, expecting something similar to Calico, but this is a living ghost town meaning that people still live here amidst the abandoned, decaying miners' shacks.  Gold was mined here starting in 1895 and, at $20/ounce, produced over $60 million!  That's a lotta gold!  Today, the town is home to art galleries an antique shops.

Marilyn taking a nap in Short Canyon
Short Canyon is, as its name implies, is a short canyon into the Sierra Nevada foothills with views of the Ridgecrest valley and snow-capped mountains.  The desert here is home to numerous joshua trees which seem to grow in small groves.  The L.A. aquaduct also runs through these mountains and we can see the concrete housing snake through the hills.

Brad in Fossil Falls, lava shaped by an ancient river
North of us is Fossil Falls, a BLM recreation area in the Owens Valley, and since we will be heading north to our next destination, we pull the trailer with us and camp overnight in the BLM campground at this site.  Here, an ancient dry waterfall of smoothed lava rock dominates.  The Coso Mountains east of us were once volcanoes which spewed lava into this valley.  Lava rocks are typically very sharp, like glass, and light.  The river that once flowed here has shaped the rock into smooth, strange shapes resembling metal sculptures.  Black lava boulders can be found around the entire area, including in the campground.  It is certainly a different landscape from the flat, sandy desert.

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