Tag Archives: visitor center

Borrego Palm Canyon’s Panoramic Overlook Trail

IMG_8973After Katie and my fun day with Ranger Don in the Arroyo Tapiado mud caves we headed over the the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park’s Visitor Center to ask about the road conditions in Split Mountain for our plans for the next day. Two days prior I heard that it was do-able in a 2×4 truck, but every day after that everyone kept telling me we needed a 4×4 vehicle. While we were there we decided to take a walk to a short trail out of Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, the Panoramic Overlook Trail.

From the parking lot of the Visitor Center in Borrego Springs we hiked .5 miles along the paved path to the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground. It’s kind of cool and has the planets in our solar system placed along the way so you can somewhat see how far apart they all are in terms of a .5 mile.  Once at Borrego Palm Canyon Campground we quickly turned to the left and easily found the start of the Panoramic Overlook Trail, a one mile hike with great views of the Borrego Valley.

The first part of the hike is through the desert valley floor with small shrubs a desert plants along the pathway. Though I tend to feel as though most desert hiking is a little confusing, this trail is pretty straightforward. Basically, just keep walking straight through the sandy ground.

After a short walk you come to a trail marker at the base of a hill. Yep, you guessed it, Panoramic Overlook Trail goes up to the top of that hill. In order to get great views you usually have to be up high overlooking something below. The trail narrows to one person wide and zig zags in small switchbacks all the way up to the top. Take a moment to check out the way the hill was formed. It looks like layers of rock that once laid flat have been pushed up to now lie diagonal across the ground. The colors of the rocks are amazing too, from bright red to dark, almost black colorations.

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As you go, stop occasionally to check out the valley below. The view just gets better and better the further you go. The path stops and there is only one choice left, a short climb up through a narrow and almost no existent path. Once there you are at the top. A collection of big black rocks lay there marking the end of the trail. It almost looks like a fist cheering you for making it to the top.

From the top you can see the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground below. It’s dark paved roads stick out like a sore thumb against the mountains that surround the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail. You can also see Borrego Springs, a green thriving town in the middle of a vast brown land scape. If you go in the late afternoon you can watch the sun set on your way back down the hill. I have to say that the sunsets in Borrego Springs are one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. As the sun falls below the mountains to one side it lights the other mountains across the way with brilliant pinks, oranges, and bright reds that you won’t see anywhere else. Pictures can’t seem capture the true essence of the beauty, but I still try every time.

We headed down to the valley floor before the sun had begun to set, but once you are done taking in the view head back down the hill the way you came up. Finding the route you came up on is probably the trickiest part of the whole short hike. It seems like no matter which way you choose you are setting yourself up to fall off the mountain, but once you find it again you will see the narrow path and be able to follow it back down. Once you reach the bottom head back the same desert trail you followed out. Be careful not to veer off it. Usually there is a rock in the center of the path to tell you not to go those ways.

The Panoramic Overlook Trail is a great walk for people of any age to explore. It’s short, easy and everyone will feel comfortable on this gorgeous hike. The views are bound to having you telling all your friends about it time after time.

Powerplant Tour at the Hoover Dam

IMG_8973Katie and I were in Las Vegas for a long weekend. Having never been to the Hoover Dam I was hoping for an opportunity to check it out knowing that it was less than an hour away. One afternoon we jumped into the car and headed toward the border of Nevada and Arizona where the world re-owned structure was built and still stands today.

The Hoover Dam sits along the Colorado River. Above it is the man-made Lake Mead, below it lies the Hoover Dam Powerplant. The dam was built during the depression and took less than 5 years to finish. It is a National Historic Landmark and has been rated by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of America’s Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders.

Before the Depression water would flow down the Colorado River unhindered. Depending on the season and the amount of runoff from above, the cities below would be saved or destroyed by the relentless waters. The Hoover Dam was built to tame the river and protect the cities below from anymore harm that might come to them.

As we arrived at the Hoover Dam I got my first glimpse of what everyone had been talking about. However, for some reason I was a little unimpressed by it’s size. Maybe it was due to the bridge they built right nearby which seemed much more amazing to me or maybe I just needed to get a little closer to grasp the immensity. We followed the signs and next thing we knew we had drove over the top on a narrow two way road only about 45 feet wide. Realizing that the Visitor Center was on the Nevada side we back tracked to find a spot to park.

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Inside the center we walked through a metal detector and had our stuff checked. Apparently they are very worried someone might harm the Hoover Dam and the Powerplant. We walked up to the ticket sales counter and asked about the tours for the day. The only tour that had open spaces left was the Powerplant Tour so we got two tickets, at $15 each, and made our way to the front of the line. Along the way we took a picture at a green screen, received a ticket to view it later, and sat down on the bench as we waited for the next tour to begin.

While we waited we read up on some Hoover Dam facts. The Hoover Dam is 726.4 feet tall from the foundation rock to the roadway on the crest of the dam. It is only 45 feet thick at the crest, but  660 feet thick at the foundation. It is 1244 feet long spanning across the Colorado River, weighs 6,600,000 tons and contains 3,250,000 cubic yards of concrete.

Our tour finally started where we were guided into a small theater to watch a short film about the construction of the Hoover Dam. It was really interesting to see the old black and white film of how they diverted the river, built small dams, and filled the square boxes inches at a time to finally create the enormous structure we see today.

After the film was over we took an elevator down into the dam. Here our guide spoke to us about how the Colorado River was diverted through 4 tunnels around the dam that still sit there today, one of which we were currently standing in,  and how the workers also built two smaller dams, one to stop the water from reaching the dam construction site from above and another to stop the water from backing up onto the powerplant below. After the tunnels and dams were finished they opened the tunnels and allowed the water to flow through and around the dam site. When the dam was finished they closed three of the four tunnels, allowing the water levels to slowly rise before closing the final tunnel for good.

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As they built the dam, inches at a time, but 2 years faster than anticipated there were over 100 deaths. Rumor has it that some of these bodies were buried within the dam, but it is highly unlikely. The rate at which the dam was built, literally inches at a time, allowed anyone that accidentally fell into the concrete to basically just step back out easily. Plus, if that was the case and someone was buried within it would cause serious structural damage that would weaken the dam. There were however 96 deaths identified as official “industrial fatalities”, which allowed the deceased’s family to obtain compensation. There were also another 96 are individuals who died from from pneumonia, what is now believed to be a cover which allowed the Six Companies to prevent payment of death benefits to those families.

As the dam’s construction neared it’s end there were 2 spillways built, one on each side. These would aid in sending the water safely around the power plant if the waters ever got too high hopefully prevent the water from going over the top of the dam and landing directly on top of the power plant below. These have only been used twice in all of the Hoover Dam’s life. Once for testing purposes and once in 1983 when water levels rose allowing more than 2 feet of water to flow over and through the spillways.

Our tour took the elevator again, but this time moved onto the powerplant. We walked down a hallway and into a huge room the size of two football fields that was very echoey and  loud. As our guide spoke I could barely hear him even though he was using a microphone. He spoke about the generators, how they work and how the water is used to cool them down. There were three generators running while we were there. We could tell by the light on top of them. He also spoke about the huge  crane that could lift heavy the center pieces out of the generators if there was ever a need for repairs.

We headed back to the elevator and to the main floor. Our tour guide finished with a little bit about how the dam is actually 36% below water capacity right now and how there only has to be 260 ft in the dam to reach the water intakes.  I asked him what happens if the water gets too low and he only responded with a slight I hope that never happens, but also almost as if it was impossible to happen.

Our tour ended there and we headed to the overlook which was soon closing at 4:30pm. We got an amazing view of the dam there and could hear on the speakers a little bit about the cable cars that run along the far side. We then headed to walk over the dam where we could see just how low the water levels really were. There were clear lines of pure white rock with darker rock above it and I wondered if that was were the water level was when the dam was first created or if the line was created by something else. Without any more guides around I could only guess.

We walked and took pictures over the dam and that is when I finally realized how magnificent it truly is. I just needed to get up close and personal to understand the what everyone was talking about. As I peered over the edges and down to the water below the sheer size had finally sunk in and I now knew why everyone is so impressed. We stopped on the border between the two states and I stood straddling the line, in two places at one time. I was glad I had finally made it to the Hoover Dam, a place were almost every Californian has visited at one time in their life.

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First Settlement at Indian Gardens & Oak Creek Visitor Center

IMG_8971On my friend and my way into Sedona Arizona we stopped at the first visitor center we saw, Oak Creek Visitor Center. It is located just 4 miles north of Sedona off 89A next to the Indian Gardens Oak Creek Market. We wanted to gather some information and find out about different sights that we might be interested in seeing while we were there.

We took a few moments to look around the tiny store about the size of a small bedroom and then went to speak with the employee behind the counter. She was extremely friendly and helpful, I wish I could remember her name. She told us about different hikes we could try, gave us a few maps of the area including one that stretched up to the Grand Canyon, and showed us an amazing book which I ended up purchasing.

As we headed out I remembered that right before we turned off the road to pull into the parking lot I had noticed a history marker on the opposite side of the road. I ran back inside to ask her about it and she told me how Indian Gardens was the homesite of the first settler in Oak Creek Canyon. In 1875 scouts from Fort Verde, now Camp Verde, captured a small band of Tonto Apache Indians. The following year, Jim Thompson took “squatter rights” to that piece of land. There he found the Indian’s deserted gardens where the Indians had grown corn and squash and healthy springs. He decided to built a log cabin and named it Indian Gardens Ranch.

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Since then the name has been changed to Indian Gardens and as the years past Thompson expanded his settlement to include more cabins, a 2-story building, and even a school. While the none of the structures are there today and development has occurred with new cabins and establishments where the old cabins and school were located, the river and some stone walls are still there. So, while there isn’t really much to see, it’s still nice to learn about the history of a place and be at the original location of where others settled long ago.

Joshua Tree Visitor Center

IMG_8973While at Joshua Tree National Park I stopped by the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center near the west entrance to the park early in the morning to see if there was anything I should know before I started my exploration that day. It was quite busy for a Monday, but the customers seemed to only be interested in the store section of the center. I decided to take a look at the other side.

I started by checking out the map on the wall to get my bearings to see if there were any other small hikes that I could explore on my own, but only came up with the few I already had in mind. Then I spent a little time watching a video about the older days of the park. Last, I took a look at Lichenologist, Kerry Knudsen‘s inventory of lichen that can be found through out the park. Currently, he has found 145 different species of lichen in the park.

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By the time I was finished study the knowledge part of the center most of the customers had left. I took a few moments to see what they had for sale and eventually decided to leave without speaking with the employees. I’m sure they would have been able to give me very knowledgable information had I asked, but I was excited to get my day started.

Next time your at Joshua Tree National Park, stop by the visitor center and see what they have in store for that week. Who knows, if your timing is right maybe you can join one of their guided tours or catch a short patio talk by a park ranger to learn even more about the park. Next time I go back I’m for sure going to schedule a Ranger Program such as their Keys Ranch Tour.

Mara Oasis at Joshua Tree Oasis Visitor Center

IMG_8973A friend and I went to Joshua Tree National Park for a weekend. Our first stop was the Joshua Tree Oasis Visitor Center. The main building was currently closed for renovations, but they did still have a temporary building with a small gift shop to explore. The staff was very knowledgable about the area and the best hikes and places to explore as well. We bought a couple postcards and I purchased a chap stick that is the best I’ve ever bought. I’ll be sure to go back just for that chap stick when I start to run low.

Outside the temporary building there are a few things to explore, starting with the front of the main building where you can learn the different plants from the jumping cholla to the barrel cactus to the creosote bush. They even have the history of who started the park. Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, the leader of the Garden Club of America, saw beauty in the desert and was determined to protected it from those who saw it as an empty wasteland. In 1936 she persuaded President Franklin Roosevelt to establish Joshua Tree National Monument. In 1994 the park was renamed it to Joshua Tree National Park when the California Desert Protection Act added 234,000 acres.

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My friend and I headed into the park quickly after our short look around, but I returned the following day to check out the Oasis of Mara nature trail. The trail is a .5 mile loop that is paved and easily accessible for everyone. It starts off very close to the oasis where what used to be a .5 mile stretch of marsh plants surrounding several small ponds back in 1855 has been reduced, due to earthquake activity, to several tall palm trees sitting in a tiny pipe watered 15ft wide pond. If the water drops more than 10-15ft below the surface, resource managers are prepared to water the palms.

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Native Americans used to use this oasis as a camp and trading spot. Water was so plentiful they grazed cattle and irrigated a 5 acre garden. But they also recognized the usefulness of the plants grown here including the honey mesquite and fan palms for food, firewood, building materials, and habitat for game. It’s hard to imagine how differently it must have looked back then when today it is surrounded by dry desert.

As you walk around the loop there are several stops along the way pointing out the plants and animals and how culture, landscape, the Pinto Mountain Fault have changed today. Take your time learning about all these different aspects of the area and before you leave be sure to walk around the back of the main visitor center building and check out the Chilean Mill. Built during the gold rush in the 1930’s this mill was actually used in Chile. Ore was broken into gravel sized pieces and then loaded into the hopper. It was then fed into the mill tub with water and reduced into a slurry. The slurry, created by two wheels rotating in opposite directions, was then strained through a fine mesh screen on the concentration table. This table was then shaken, separating the debris from the gold.

There is so much to see here and it’s much more than just the oasis so take a little time to walk around, explore and learn about Joshua Tree National Park’s history.

Eaton Canyon Waterfall

IMG_8973I arrived at Eaton Canyon Falls mid day on a Monday and thought for sure that would mean there wouldn’t be too many people up there. Boy was I wrong. There were tons of people, though I have to believe that there were less than a weekend.

Turns out the park visitor center is closed on Monday so if you want to check that out go another day during the week, though you can check out the outside short nature walk where they give you local plant and animal names. I briefly walked through it and then headed straight to the hike.

The hike starts out as a flat narrow pathway with brush on each side. Follow it until it meets up with some other paths at a semi steep decline through a dried up wash. Up the other side and it turns into a wide dirt path similar to Griffith park. When you reach the fork choose left and follow that for a while until you come across another trail sign. Under it is a handwritten carving with an arrow, “<- Waterfall”. It looks super sketchy, but it is absolutely 100% correct. Follow the path it points to and continue a little further. You’ll reach  one last sign. Honestly, if you miss it or choose wrong it’s not a big deal. Going up the hill just leads to the top of the bridge that you need to go under which you can just slide down the side of the mountain and be on the right path again. If you don’t want to check out the bridge and scurry down the mountainside then take the lower route which brings you directly under the bridge and to the creek.

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Lots of climbing the rocks along the creek’s ridge and crossings the creek back and forth once you reach the bridge. You follow the creek for about a 1/2 mile. Zigzagging and up and down the whole way. There is not always a clear correct choice of path especially at the creek crossings and often the most traveled route is not the easiest so if you don’t want your feet to get wet take your time and exam which way is best for you before you start to make your across. It’s not very deep, but it’s nice to try to keep your feet dry.

We finally reached the waterfall and it was beautiful. You would never expect a waterfall to be there. You start to hear the water running more rapidly and turn a corner and it’s just there! There were a lot of people there. They were climbing the rocks around it, cooling off in it, and just resting for their trek back. I wondered what it would be like on a rainy day or extremely early. You could barely hear the waterfall with everyone one around.

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I hung out for a while trying to get some nice pictures without any people in them. It was basically not possible. I could only imagine how busy this place gets in the summer. I headed back the same way I came. How nice and cool the trek back was through the trees. Luckily it was getting later in the day so it wasn’t too hot on the wide path either.

It was a great hike. About 3.5 miles in distance. Definitely easy enough for children to do and there are all kinds of little places for them to explore along the route too.