Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Aliens, Integratron, an orrery and other sci-fi doings between Pioneertown and 29 Palms CA

Image of an alien in front of a store near 29 Palms. The one man in the area who claimed to have interacted with aliens described them as about 5'6" tall, with youthful looks just like one of us.

Landers, CA, 20 miles north of Joshua Tree National Park, is UFO country.  Nearby Giant Rock, one of the largest free-standing boulders in the world, was the site of "Spacecraft Conventions" for 20 years.

George Van Tassel, an aeronautical engineer for Lockheed Douglas and a test pilot for Howard Hughes, learned of Giant Rock from a prospector, Frank Critzer, who had hollowed out rooms beneath the boulder where he lived and stored supplies.  Critzer, an American of German descent, was suspected of being a spy during World War II. When he refused to cooperate, authorities tossed in tear gas bombs to smoke him out. They caused the dynamite to explode, killing the innocent miner.

In 1947 Van Tassel left his career and moved his wife and three daughters to Giant Rock where he leased four square miles from the Bureau of Land Management, opened Giant Rock Interplanetary Airport and a restaurant that became famous for Eva's hamburgers and spiced apple pie. Unlike the prospector, the Van Tassels lived in tents.

George Van Tassel

(Cue intro music from Twilight Zone)

As the story goes, at 2 a.m. in August 1953, he was awakened by the landing of a ship from Venus. A being named Solgonda invited him aboard where he was given the secrets of the Integratron and developed a telepathic relationship with his host and a Venusian Council. He then began to channel information about time travel and rejuvenation.

Afterwards, Van Tassel held weekly meditation and channeling sessions in a 400 square-foot chamber under Giant Rock. The first Interplanetary Spacecraft Convention was held at the rock April 3, 1953. Thousands attended the annual events for 20-plus years. In 1957 Van Tassel broke ground for the Integratron on a powerful geomagnetic vortex in the Mojave Desert. Tassel claimed its design is based on Moses' Tabernacle, the writings of Nicola Tesla and directions from extraterrestrials. Financing came from private sources including large donations from Howard Hughes.

Van Tassel died in 1978, before its completion, but his daughter and others kept the project alive. Today the unique 38-foot high, 55-foot diameter building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is owned and run by two sisters who offer regular "Sound Baths."

A special mirror lets visitors take selfies of themselves with the Integretron as Judy is doing.
Naturally, the Good Girls had to give the hour-long "sonic healing" experience a try. No photography is allowed so we are borrowing images from the website.

"Bathers" enter the first level, stow shoes and belongings in lockers then climb a steep ladder to the top where each one takes a blanket and stretches out on an individual floor mat (there are few metal folding chairs for those who can't handle the ups and downs).

Quartz crystal bowls of varying sizes are "played," creating resonant sounds that can be quite loud. Judy liked it but sitting in one of the chairs was uncomfortable. Debi found it painfully loud, hated it and emerged with a splitting headache. Others had similarly mixed reviews.

Nonetheless, we pressed on to the Giant Rock some 5 miles north. It is a big one, seven-stories high covering almost 6,000 feet.

A hunk that cracked off in 2000 may have jeopardized its largest of all status.

Centuries before Van Tassel or his aliens discovered it, Giant Rock was a spiritual site to Native Americans, especially the Hopi. Sadly, graffiti mars its granite surface.

For a true scientific approach to our galaxy and solar system, visit Sky's the Limit, a grassroots, all volunteer-run dark-sky park at the northern border of Joshua Tree National Park in 29 Palms. In its 15 acres are an Observatory Dome with telescope so powerful we could imagine ourselves leaving footprints on the moon and an orrery.

A what?

A mechanical device or in this case a walkable one that allows viewers to see the solar system and its movements in perspective. It was too dark for us to truly get a feel for the circular pattern of stepping stones, each of which represents four days travel around a planet's orbit. At a scale of 20 billion to one, the specks or pinpoints representing planets are one-twentieth of a bllion the size of real ones.

A volunteer docent demonstrates a speck of a planet.
It is complicated to explain, but the oldest orrery in existence, Antikythera, goes back to 150-100 BCE. The first one constructed in the modern era was produced in 1704, by English clock makers and was named for Charles, the fourth Earl of Orrery,  who commissioned it, thus the tongue-twister of a moniker.

Arriving earlier would have given us time to experience the orrery as well as the meditation garden built on Zen principles, the nature trail of desert plants and the astronomy-themed sculptures of Simi Dabah.

Certainly not your standard art galleries, museum and performance space can be found amid the strip shopping area near Joshua Tree.

Designed by and for liberal adults the galleries exhibit gay and lesbian themed

The Crochet Museum fills every inch of a very small trailer.

We puzzled over the sculptural sort of Jungle Gym

 and it was hard to know what to expect at the open air performance space tucked in behind the store fronts.

Although we enjoyed much of what we saw, it was frustrating that our hosts in Palm Springs scheduled our excursion into these desert communities so that we missed seeing Gubler Orchids, the Noah Purfoy Desert Art Museum and had no time to receive informed explanations from a park ranger at Joshua Tree or to visit the National Park's Visitor Center, always a fascinating source of information and perspective.If you manage to see them, please let us know what we missed.

If you go:
The Integratron is open Wednesday-Sunday March through May, October through December and Thursday through Sunday February, June and September. Price for the sound bath is $35 per person over 13 years of age, $40 weekends and holidays.

Sky's the Limit campus is always open, but there is no running water and restrooms are locked unless a docent is present. A volunteer docent is usually on campus Saturdays from10 a.m. until 2 p.m. to give tours of the Orrery and set up the Solar Scope. Free public star parties are on Saturday nights when the moon is not full  beginning at about an hour after sunset and lasting about two hours. Check for exact times and dates of these and other special programs. https://www.skysthelimit29.org/calendar.html

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

One Day in Yosemite Is Not Enough

The Good Girls love slow travel, taking time to absorb a place beyond the surface, but travel time is precious, and we can’t always linger. Such was the case with our Mammoth Lakes, California trip. Even though we could allot only one day, we decided to make it a full day-trip and see as much of Yosemite National Park as possible.
A local tour company named PLAYosemite picked us up at the Westin in Mammoth Lakes, and we headed to the park along with another friend and travel writer. Our guide was most knowledgeable and provided much background history and information as we drove along. 

Yosemite National Park ranks as one of our nation’s oldest parks, established in 1864 during President Lincoln’s administration. Lincoln, however, never visited. During those early days, it took a visitor about 4-5 days to reach Yosemite by carriage or horse from San Francisco. Today, the world-famous park draws an international crowd, about 5.2 million visitors each year, including rock climbers, hikers, anglers, campers, birdwatchers and photographers. 

Climbers at Cathedral Peak
En route we passed Mono Lake, brimming with water that’s three times saltier than seawater, and stopped nearby to pick up sandwiches. We entered the park at the Tioga Pass gate, only open in the summer. Having a driver/guide who was very familiar with the area roads really helped us see the highlights: El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Waterfall and the Valley. We wouldn’t get to the Giant Sequoia trees at Mariposa Grove as they were too distant. After all, Yosemite encompasses a total of 1,200 square miles. 

We started in the less- crowded High Sierra terrain and would make our way down into the famed valley. First stop became the Tuolumne Meadows where we watched a few people sketching and others rock-climbing on granite crags. 
Tuolumne Meadows

An artist sketches the view. 

We then continued stopping at Olmsted Point for a view of the northern or backside of Half Dome (only seen from the Tioga Pass). We wandered over giant boulders and took plenty of photos. Olmsted Point is named for landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., who were early supporters and designers of the park.
The back side of Half Dome as seen from Tioga Pass.

Olmsted Point
Farther along, we briefly paused at what is called Tunnel View.
The view right before entering the tunnel. 

Our guide drove through the Wawona Road Tunnel and parked at the overlook, the classic panoramic view of Yosemite Valley. This traditional scene becomes a pinch-me moment. It's one of those spots you’ve seen in pictures all your life, but now you are standing there. Photos don’t do it justice; the grand natural gem stands as one of those places you must see for yourself. 

We took our time and gazed in wonderment at the world’s tallest unbroken cliff, El Capitan, that rises about 3,000 feet, and Half Dome that looks like it’s been cut in half. Its face was slashed by glaciers during the Ice Age. From this vantage point, we also noticed the wind blowing across the beautiful Bridal Veil Falls. The Ahwahneechee Native Americans called the waterfall Pohono, which means, “Spirit of the Puffing Wind.” 
Pohono or Bridal Veil Falls

Then, we piled back into the van and drove down into Yosemite Valley, pausing where the old village once stood and photographing the Yosemite Chapel. We watched some daring rock climbers but were perfectly content view the rock from below.

Yosemite Chapel is the oldest structure in the valley.
Look closely to see the climbers on Half Dome. 
 Our guide knew of a secret spot for a picnic lunch and we enjoyed our sandwiches as if we were the only ones in the forest primeval. Pretty amazing. 
Crossing Yosemite Valley on foot. 

We next took off on foot and crossed a bridge on the valley floor, seeing rafters enjoying a ride on the Merced River. 

Rafters enjoying ride on the Merced River. 

We proceeded to the pathway that leads to the spectacular Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls. The falls drop from 2,425-feet over three cliffs and are the tallest in North America. Peak flow is usually in late May. You must walk to get there but worth the effort. 
Yosemite Falls drops in three stages, 
We wished we had time to tour the historic Ahwahnee Hotel, a National Park Lodge endeared by thousands of past guests for more than 90 years. The hotel briefly lost its name during a change in management, but as of July 15, 2019, it regained it. 
At this point in the day, we sadly had to begin to make our way back to Mammoth Lakes. We noticed evidence of past fires and signs that marked highwater peaks in the flood of 1997. Can’t stop Mother Nature. 

Earlier fire damage in the park. 
Spectacular does not come close to describing the grandeur of the park, with its towering summits, cascading waterfalls, and shimmering lakes. Of course, a multiple night stay, including sunrises and sunsets, would be far superior, but if you only have one day, do not hesitate. Go for grandeur. No one is disappointed—ever.  
I think this was my favorite view in Yosemite, so peaceful. 
Be sure to check out Yosemite National Park’s website before and during your journey (nps.gov/yose/).
Leaving Yosemite, but the views continue. 
Note from Judy: Between Olmstead Point and Wawona Road Tunnel, our guide pulled off the road to the right and stopped at Fern Spring, a spot you have to know to notice. A sacred spot to Native Americans because it flows even during the driest seasons, the water is clear, pure and delicious. If you are carrying water bottles or canteens this is a good place to refill them.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Gondolas, games and goodies, a living history art gallery, and fissures in Mammoth Lakes

You can't go to Mammoth Lakes without visiting Mammoth Mountain and we didn't.
The day was even hazier, but we hoped for the best when we traveled out to the ski center.

One sight we didn't expect was the San Andreas fault, more correctly, fissure, running under the road. It is an awesome and unsettling sight, but no one warned us about getting out and taking pictures so we did.

San Andreas fault fissure
We later learned that the Mammoth Lakes area has an average of 17 earthquakes a day, but they aren't felt until hitting 2.7 on the scale and most are under that. Six hundred years ago the indigenous people stored food in the fissures to keep it safe from animals.

Speaking of animals, about 35 bears live around the town, often holing up in drainage pipes and underneath homes. According to Dave Searles, the local "bear whisperer," they are black bears that are primarily herbivores with a sense of smell so acute they can tell what you've bee eating. You don't have to worry about the more dangerous grizzlies; they've been hunted out. The saying goes that the last grizzly in California is on the state seal.

The ski center is impressive. All credit is given to Dave McCoy, who stubbornly persevered to bring skiing to the area.

 Starting by gathering friends and using heavy-duty trucks to pull the ropes that pulled skiers up the hills to installing the region's first permanent rope tow in 1938. Now one of the biggest mountain resorts in the country, Mammoth boasts an 11,053-foot summit, 28 chair lifts and 3,500 acres of skiable terrain. Hikers and mountain bikers take over in summer.

 We took the gondola to the top, but there wasn't much to be seen ...

... unless you count mountain bikers riding their cycles down the steps toward the trails.

That left us with some extra time on our hands and boy, did we fill it... and ourselves.

We stopped in at Mammoth Fun Shop and were immediately transported back to the best part of childhood: games, toys, wonder, make believe and ice cream. In other words, fun.  Whoopie cushions, juggling equipment, magic wands, puzzles, illusions, puppets, game sets, look-a-like bugs, snakes, poop. You name it, they have it.

We wandered, exclaiming "Oh, remember this!" or "Look at this!" at every other step.

It was "Wow!" when we hit the ice cream counter where a good three feet was filled with every kind of sprinkle under the sun. Buy a scoop or two and take your choice.

Camilla Miller holds her latest creation, the Baked Gorilla, a vertical banana split.
Camilla Miller, owner creator with her husband Brant, said she was tired of hearing disappointed children who wanted more than one kind, so she instituted the as many as you want policy.

Adults will go for the individual pies and innovative ice cream combinations, if not the array of sprinkles.

Another worthwhile time filler is The Gallery at Twin Lakes, once summer home and studio built in 1934 by famed Western photographer Stephen H. Willard. Considered one of the four great Western photographers - Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Wayne Ballock are the others - Willard combined fine photography with painting to capture what he called "the land of purple shadows." His photos were influential in creation of national parks and monuments such as  Joshua Tree and Death Valley.

Willard's cabin is now owned by Sue and Robert Jokis, who welcome visitors and
maintain much it as it was as a piece of living history.

It is a gallery, so if you want a unique souvenir, buy a work of art,  perhaps even one of Willard's.