Sunday, March 22, 2015

ON THE RADIO: Answer Me This!

As the Answer Me This! jingle says, you can ask Helen, Olly and Martin any question and they will -- or attempt to in the funniest way -- answer it. Sometimes the answers seem researched and sometimes it seems like there's a lot of guessing going on, depending on what category the question falls into. Of course, funny is the point here as much as answers, and that's always delivered. This one is definitely rated R for language and subject matter, so adult roadtrips only (or when the kids inevitably fall asleep).

Thursday, March 5, 2015

DEATH VALLEY: Sand and household cleaning products

Looking at the picture on a box of 20 Mule Team Borax is one thing; standing next to a seven-foot wagon wheel, imagining the animal power needed to haul the thousands of pounds the wagon this wheel is attached to would hold, is quite another.

Every once in awhile, it's fun to stand in a huge open space and contemplate how the hell people did shit before the internal combustion engine.

Luckily sodium tetraborate is kinda just laying around on the ground out here, but still, there was mining and packing and hauling to be done with little or no motorization. And all in heat most of the country never experiences. Heat that has death associated with it.

The teams (actually mixed mules and horses) hauled 20 million pounds of borax ore in 16-foot wagons made of solid oak, weighing almost 8,000 pounds empty. The wagon trains consisted of three wagons, two with borax and one with water. They would pick up supplies along the way, left for them by an "empty" wagon train coming back the other way. Each wagon train was 180 feet long and managed to get about 17 miles every day. Basically, sheer will got borax out of that desert.

The mule teams were only hauling borax out of Death Valley for about six years, from 1883-89, until the railroad could be built to carry the powder. But the image was so powerful that the Pacific Coast Borax Company put mules on the box, where they still haul borax today -- for Dial.

Monday, February 23, 2015

ROADTRIP: All roads lead to Virginia City

There are always attractions where one lives that residents view with disdain: too touristy, too expensive, crowded, no parking. The way Southern Californians view Disneyland, Nevadans the casinos, or Londoners everything in the city 100 years or older. I feel this way about Virginia City, and am surprised when everyone who lives where I do (i.e., anywhere in the West) doesn't feel the same way.

After a Fourth of July there two years ago -- in which The Boy had an uproarious time laughing at everywhere not having what I wanted to eat -- I swore I never needed to go back. Which is why now it seems to be a hilarious thing to have every weekend roadtrip somehow end up there. Every back road and Jeep trail in western Nevada leads to the freaking place! Last weekend, an innocent trip to Fort Churchill ended up rolling into VC from the east, and then this weekend we managed to find out way there north-ways from Fernley (and visited the Lagomarsino petroglyph site on the way back). And I have to say it's growing back on me a little, especially since they do have good barbecue.

But I do still enjoy listening to my roadtrip partners grouse about the parking.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

ROADTRIP: Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is home to the oldest trees on the planet, and they are spectacular to see. Especially when you realize they've been spectacular to see longer than we've had a country to see. The trees live in extremely harsh conditions and poor soil, and for some reason it makes them live a very long time and grow very strangely. They can live in better soil and conditions, but they don't live as forever or as twisty.

These ancient bristlecones are in Inyo National Forest, west of Big Pine. There is also the ruin of an old mine to look at when you get tired of trees. Not that I ever do. In fact, the idea of seeing the oldest tree in the world -- more than 5,000 years old -- is exciting to me in the way most people reserve for say, George Clooney. Especially when you stop by the Visitors Center and it's manned by Forest Service personnel just as excited about trees as I am (and who say, of course Wonder Dog can come in the new beautiful Visitor's Center. How cool is the Forest Service?). And I completely understand why the tree is not marked. I would not want the oldest tree on the planet vandalized, and it's fun to try and guess which one is the great tree.

If Great Basin Bristlecones weren't too busy growing into twisty shapes at an exceedingly slow pace, they might have time to argue with mesquite and creosote about what's the oldest organism on earth. Or maybe they don't think of themselves as separate.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

ROADTRIP: Unionville, NV

We've been spending the last couple of weekends hunting ghost towns in northern Nevada. I80 north and south of Lovelock is studded with old mining towns. Unionville is not actually a ghost town, since people still live there (about 20), but I use it as a landmark because it does still exist. Plus, it has an awesome history: The town was called Dixie by the Southern sympathizers who settled there, but was renamed Unionville by the more North-leaning citizens in the 1860s.

Most of the photos here are from Humboldt City, a deserted silver mine. From I80, head south on SR400*. There is a marker for the Unionville turnoff; continue south on 400 and turn west on the Lovelock-Unionville Road. The road makes a beautiful loop around Indian Peak to meet back up with I80. Humboldt City and other ghost towns can be found all the way around.

*Depending on what map/GPS/sign you are looking at, all the roads in this area could be called something different. Some of the names are pretty awesome.