Our National Parks

A new film by Ken Burns, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea“, will be presented by PBS in six episodes starting Sunday, September 27, at 8 pm Eastern Time. Filmed over a course of more than six years, this series will show some of the most beautiful places in our country, at the best time of year, in the best light, along with the history of our national parks, people who made a difference, and park profiles.

“The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” is directed by Ken Burns and written and co-produced by Dayton Duncan.

See a behind the scenes tour of this new Ken Burns series, “The National Parks”, in this PBS Preview.

Ken Burns points out that the concept of a national park is an American idea and ideal, and that Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872, is arguably the world’s first truly national park.  Our national parks are living symbols of democracy, and are special places of discovery and inspiration, building human happiness, and should be preserved for all people to enjoy (not just for royalty or the rich).

Talking about national parks and monuments, President Theodore Roosevelt is quoted in the film as saying, “It is the preservation of the scenery, of the forests and the wilderness game for the people as a whole.  Instead of leaving the enjoyment thereof to be confined to the very rich, it is noteworthy in its essential democracy, one of the best bits of national achievement, which our people have to their credit.  And our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children, and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.”

On June 8, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Antiquities Act of 1906, giving the President of the United States authority to restrict use of particular land owned by the federal government by executive order, bypassing Congressional oversight, and avoiding partisan gridlock.  The Antiquities Act resulted from concerns arising about protecting mostly prehistoric Native American ruins and artifacts.  The intent is to allow the President to set aside and protect certain valuable public natural areas as park and conservation lands, which are given the title of “National Monuments“.

The first declared United States National Monument was Devils Tower, established on September 24, 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt.  Devils Tower is a monolithic igneous intrusion or volcanic rock in the Black Hills of northeastern Wyoming.  Native American tribes including the Arapaho, Crow, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Lakota, and Shoshone had cultural and geographical ties to the monolith long before European and early American immigrants reached Wyoming.  More than 48% of land in Wyoming is now owned by the United States Government (as noted in Wikipedia’s article, “Wyoming“).

On January 11, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt (struggling against mining interests) proclaimed more than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon as a National Monument (it was declared a National Park on February 26, 1919).  This is an example of an early success of the environmental conservation movement, which may have helped to thwart proposals to dam the Colorado River within its boundaries.

On October 14, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson created Cabrillo National Monument, which is located on the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego, California, and commemorates the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542.

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At the highest point in the park stands the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which became operational in 1855.

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People come from all over the world to enjoy the views of the region’s mountains, San Diego harbor, Pacific Ocean, Mexico and the Coronado Islands.  Pacific gray whales can be seen migrating from late December to early February.  Cabrillo National Monument contains one of the finest (and protected) rocky intertidal areas (tide pools) on the southern California coast and is one of the last refuges of coastal sage scrub habitat.

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Ken Burns film, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”, also highlights other heroes who have made a difference in preserving our natural resources and wilderness areas, such as Stephen Mather (first director of the National Park Service, which was established by the National Park Service Organic Act signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916),  John Muir (naturalist, author, early advocate of the preservation of the wilderness, and founder and first president of the Sierra Club), President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Civilian Conservation Corps, Marjory Stoneman Douglas (friend of the Everglades), William Gladstone Steel (“father of Crater Lake”), and George Melendez Wright (National Park Service naturalist).

George Melendez Wright was noted as saying, “Our national heritage is richer than just scenic features… perhaps our greatest national heritage is nature itself, with all of its complexity and its abundance of life”.  See this wonderful video clip on George Melendez Wright.

The most recent national monument was designated by President George W. Bush on January 6, 2009: The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.  The Marianas trench reefs and waters (95,216 square miles) are among the most biologically diverse in the Western Pacific and include the greatest diversity of seamount and hydrothermal vent life yet discovered.  The Mariana trench is the deepest point on Earth and five times longer than the Grand Canyon.

Our national parks and monuments are our national treasures that bring us happiness and a sense of well-being…  a sense of comfort, like going home… and like a home, they need to be protected, restored (including restoration of native species), maintained and kept functioning for all to enjoy for all time.

See one more video selection from this new, beautiful mini-series, along with a moving interview of documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, shown in this clip from The Rachel Maddow Show of September 24, 2009.

Ocean breeze

Surf’s up and cool ocean breezes are zipping up and over our South Carlsbad State Beach bluff campsite where we enjoyed a break from the desert heat. We camped for four nights on the edge of a 3-mile long bluff, where we were bathed in the continuous sounds of the wind and surf. Seagulls sailed by, both inside and outside the trailer.

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Seagulls by John Perry

The area of Carlsbad was once inhabited by the Luiseno Native Americans who had a village near the Agua Hedionda Lagoon which was a resting place for Gaspar de Portola and Father Juan Crespi on their expedition up the coast in 1769 to establish outposts and missions for Spain. In 1883 the Santa Fe Railroad passed near here and land was opened to homesteaders and real estate speculators, including John Frazier who tapped an artesian spring yielding mineral water which was thought to be curative and likened to the old Bohemian spa of Karlsbad (in Czechoslovakia).

Five miles north of Carlsbad is Oceanside, where Marshal South, once known as Oceanside’s Poet Laureate, met his wife-to-be, Tanya, whose parents were orthodox Jews from the Russian Ukraine and emigrated to New York in 1906. See an image of Marshal and Tanya’s “honeymoon accommodations” while camping on an Oceanside beach in 1923.

Marshal South probably would have found our trailer accommodations interesting even though he apparently had no desire to use or generate electricity at Yaquitepec. Here at South Carlsbad State Beach we are self-contained and, with our two solar panels, we generate more electricity than we use during the day, even through the marine layer. Typically by late morning each day our AGM batteries are 100 percent at 13.5 volts.

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If we did a lot of this coastal camping, a portable wind turbine could possibly take advantage of the almost constant ocean breeze.

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We found that this South Carlsbad bluff is really the turf of the California Ground Squirrel.

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 Their accommodations are underground burrows on the other side of the fence and their favorite activities are surveying the campers and obtaining campers’ food and water. Bungee cords were used to secure outdoor items that contained food or other items of interest.

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A family of nearby squirrels paused for a moment and seemed mesmerized by Larry’s ukulele playing and singing.

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 More beautiful sunsets and summer breezin’ are just around the corner.

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Yaquitepec spring

Yaquitepec (pronounced YAKeete-PECK and coined by Marshal South from “Yaqui”, the fierce freedom-loving Indians of Sonora, Mexico, and “tepec” referring to the hill) was Marshal South and family’s home from 1930 to 1946 on an obscure ridge they named Ghost Mountain, owned by the Bureau of Land Management before it became part of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  Yaquitepec, where Marshal and family lived close to nature in an experiment in primitive living, was bathed in spring flowers earlier this month.

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A beavertail cactus greeted us as we approached Yaquitepec after trekking up the 1 mile trail.

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Marshal South described a spring scene at Yaquitepec in his article, Desert Home 1, in the May 1941 issue of Desert Magazine:

The squaw-tea [Mormon tea or ephedra] bush in front of the house is sprinkled thickly with clustering chrome-yellow blossoms; and down by the yuccas the white and yellow headings of my tiny desert daisy bushes nod beside the budding beavertail cactus. The barrel cacti too are crowned with flower circlets and the lone creosote bush by the great rock is already dressed in its bright new covering of varnished green leaves and is sprinkled with yellow blossoms. New pink and cream heads nod on the buckwheat. The whole world of desert growth throbs to spring.

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(Note: all 102 articles and poems written by Marshal South for Desert Magazine from 1939 to 1948 can be read in Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles: An Experiment in Primitive Living, 2005, Edited and with a Foreword by Diana Lindsay and Introduction by Rider and Lucile South, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, CA.)

Ephedra funerea, Mormon tea bush, has tiny leaves and most of the photosynthesis takes place in its green jointed stems. Most Native Americans in the Southwest and some of the Mormon pioneers brewed or boiled the Ephedra stems to make a tea that was considered refreshing and therapeutic.  Marshal’s ephedra, which he called squaw-tea, was just a few feet from his front door.

Encelia farinosa,  or Brittlebush, is prolific at Yaquitepec, and helps to soften the look of its dump of rusting cans a ways down on the southeast side.  (Marshal drove his 1929 Model A Ford 14 miles monthly up the Banner Grade to the nearest town, Julian, where he mailed in his articles to Desert Magazine, bought gasoline, and brought back library books, goods and supplies, including canned goods.)

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Spring also brings warmer nights to Yaquitepec. Marshal South described one such night in his article, Desert Refuge 9, in the April 1942 issue of Desert Magazine:

Last night was warm and at midnight I went out to open another shutter of our screened sleeping porch… I did not at once go back into the house. Instead I sat down on the upper of the two rock steps that lead past the cisterns to where the woodpile is. Upon my bare body the chill of the night air struck with a tingling, electric glow that was almost warmth.

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 Far off, through a mist-rift above the shadowy ridges, the North Star gleamed. Almost I seemed to hear the deep, measured breathing of the earth…

 

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 The night air was like a garment of peace, and the overhead arch of the desert stars, appearing and disappearing through rifts in the canopy of haze, was a glorious procession of the Heavenly Hosts, streaming forward triumphantly across the fields of Paradise… One gets very close to the heart of things, sometimes, in the desert silence.

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(All 102 articles and poems written by Marshal South for Desert Magazine from 1939 to 1948 can be read in Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles: An Experiment in Primitive Living, 2005, Edited and with a Foreword by Diana Lindsay and Introduction by Rider and Lucile South, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, CA.)

Ghost Mountain spring hikes

Plans were already in place for us to spend four nights just below Ghost Mountain, so when Rich L. and family arrived in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park with their friends Adam and Susan earlier in the week we were poised to go on a joint hike with them and celebrate their last full day in the desert with a sumptuous feast prepared by Larry.  We had already agreed on a hike to see the pictographs near Ghost Mountain and I was especially interested in seeing the nearby morteros for the first time. Adam and Susan had recently viewed the short film, Ghost Mountain – An Experiment in Primitive Living, shown in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park’s Visitors’ Center, and they were interested in hiking up to see Marshal South’s former home site, Yaquitepec, on Ghost Mountain. So we decided to do all three hikes in one afternoon.

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(Pictured above are Adam, Susan, Emma, Rich and Eleanor)

Zoe the cat enjoyed viewing the sites from the vantage point of Emma’s day bag while both Rich and Emma kept their eyes open for any curiosities along the trail.

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Bright yellow flower mounds of  Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) are prolific here at Yaquitepec right now. (The Laguna Mountains are seen along with the Mason Valley below.)

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The Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata) and the Brittlebush brighten Marshal South’s dissolving adobe ruins.

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Desert Agave (Agave deserti) is also very abundant here.  Standing below are two Agave flower stalks.  Native peoples (as illustrated in Marshal South’s frieze in the former Julian Library) once roasted young agave stalks in rock-lined roasting pits for two days which resulted in a sweet, molasses-flavored agave which was consumed.

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Marshal South wrote in his article, Desert Refuge 35, in the June 1944 issue of Desert Magazine:

Mescal roasting is a family affair. Tanya and I find and bring in the sprouting plants that are ready for the baking.  Rider helps dig the pit and fetches stones to line it.  Rudyard and Victoria trot hither and thither, lugging in fuel…  you leave your mescals cooking in their primitive oven for two days… Take a knife or a hatchet and carefully trim off the outer crusting, and the prize lies before you.  Brown and golden and rich!

(All 102 articles and poems written by Marshal South for Desert Magazine from 1939 to 1948 can be read in Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles: An Experiment in Primitive Living, 2005, Edited and with a Foreword by Diana Lindsay and Introduction by Rider and Lucile South, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, CA.)

After hiking the mile back down to Rich’s Armada, we piled back in and continued down a sandy road to our next stop, Morteros Trail.  This .25 mile walk leads to an area where Native Kumeyaay women used rock pestles to pound seeds in the bedrock mortar (mortero).

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Along the way we spotted numerous lizards of various colors.  Emma wanted to see a large one so she performed her “Homage to the colored lizard” by repeated bowing with arms outstretched.

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We then climbed back into the Armada and continued down the road to our next and final hike of one mile into Smuggler Canyon to see the pictographs.  Emma’s homage worked because the next lizard that we saw was the largest one of the day.

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We found the rock art pictographs (pictures with applied color, as contrasted with petroglyphs which have pictures etched into rock) on a prominent boulder.  Manfred Knack says in his The Forgotten Artist – Indians of Anza-Borrego and Their Rock Art, 1968, Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association, this rock art may have been associated with girls initiation ceremonies… The diamond chain or “rattlesnake” may have represented a messenger from the god Chinigehinish (or Chinigchinix), who would punish those who disobey his divine laws… Paintings at the conclusion of the rites of passage reaffirmed the final lessons of the ceremonies.

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So after a total of 4.5 miles of hiking…

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We were ready to find out what Larry had been preparing back at camp just southeast of Yaquitepec.

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In Larry’s own words: “Wednesday afternoon involved preparing dinner while Bill went hiking with our friends. A majority of that time was used to assemble the vegetarian pot stickers and cook the falafels. We found that another picnic table had been moved to our campsite. We aligned them end-to-end and set out a Mexican serape as a table cloth and hung 2 Chinese bamboo flutes with red tassels, which danced in the wind, on the branches of the grove of picturesque mesquite trees. This made for a festive ambiance with plenty of seating and a buffet table for serving. The weather was beautiful with mild breezes.

I had fixings out for salad and/or pita sandwiches, which included falafels, tomatoes, onion, pepperoncini, hummus, tahini, pita wedges, vegetarian pot stickers (which were a favorite), lemonade, poppy seed short bread cookies, and celery sticks. Allowing guests to pick and choose their favorite eats always makes for a successful meal. Our guests (Rich, Eleanor, Emma, Adam and Susan) brought a bottle of wine and a delicious Julian apple pie topped with a crispy streusel topping.”

Larry enjoys researching and preparing food, recipes, and menus that are inclusive and compatible with guests’ dietary limitations.

I enjoyed the food and company so much that I forgot to take out our camera to capture the moment.  Perhaps we can entice the Man In The Maze to post some of his shots of this dinner gathering in his next post.

Pegleg Smith’s gold

On January 24, 1848, James Marshall, a Mormon immigrant from New Jersey and foreman for John Sutter’s saw mill in Coloma, Ca. (50 miles northeast of Sacramento), waded into a stream to see if the current was strong enough to turn a mill wheel and saw a shiny small yellow rock.  A few days later Sutter’s headquarters verified that it was gold and newspaper articles a few months later triggered what became known as the California Gold Rush (1848-1855).  Argonauts poured into the San Francisco area from around the world, including Chinese gold seekers dreaming of wealth on “Gold Mountain“.  Gold fever also spread to the desert and legends arose.

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Pegleg Smith is one such legend.  Thomas L. “Pegleg” Smith (1801-1866) was a mountain man who was also known as a fur trapper, prospector and horse thief.  During a trapping expedition, he was shot in the leg by a local Indian resulting in an amputation and a wooden leg.  There are many legends about Pegleg Smith and his “lost gold mine”.  Some say that he found black pebbles while crossing the desert and held on to them until he reached Los Angeles, thinking they were copper.  When he was told they were gold, he boasted about his gold stories for drinks in the saloons and sold maps to his mine.  He became a celebrated liar and Hollywood set designer Harry Oliver started the Pegleg Smith Club, erected a monument in 1947, and held the first official Pegleg Smith Liars’ Contest in 1949.

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The sign beckons, “Let those who seek Pegleg’s gold add ten rocks to this pile.”  Many have come here over the years and the rock pile has grown substantially. Bert Gildart photographed this pile last February while camping here.  Rich L & family, Rich C, and Bill & Larry also boondocked here in March, 2007.  Pegleg Smith Monument is at the junction of Pegleg Road and Henderson Canyon Road at Highway S-22, 6.7 miles northeast of Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs, Ca.  Nearby is the field that was covered with Desert Sunflowers seen in my recent article, “Desert Blooms 2009“.  Earlier this month on our way to the flower fields we stopped at the Pegleg site just in time to see “gold” glittering on Pegleg’s rock pile…

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in the form of the Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa).

dsc_0178-peglegs-insect-trap-sign.jpgThe Pegleg Smith Liars’ Contest starts at sundown on the first Saturday of April each year and attracts storytellers from all over the world…

 along with other interested parties and/or creatures…

Watch DesertUSA’s video, “Riding on Gold“, which tells more about the legend of Pegleg Smith.