Thursday, December 20, 2007

The South Side of Joshua Tree

Note: I still have a few installments to make from my November trip out to Joshua Tree. Here's one of them!

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So, when I headed away from the BLM land, site of the JTree SushiFest, it was about 10am. After heading into town, waiting...and waiting...and waiting for a shower(when finally a nice, clean couple stumbled out the door with big grins on their faces), it was after noon. I quickly went to set up a site in Hidden Valley(where, as I had hoped, I got the Stem Gem site - #23). My partner for the next day was in Jumbo camp so I needed to go leave him a note, and I figured I'd spend the rest of the daylight taking a drive down toward the southern part of the park.

And so, after dropping the note, I headed back down the road and turned right at the road that heads towards the Cottonwood entrance. This area of the park I had never been through, and had been told it's interesting how the land transitions to a more lush terrain.

The person had told me there were a different sort of cactus in the area, very unlike what I would see in the sections of the park most frequented by climbers. I had never heard of the type of cactus he mentioned, and was not all that familiar with much beyond the Prickly Pear and Barrel catus' anyway, so what I was imagining was the giant saguaro. I couldn't wait to see these icons of wild west lore.

As I headed down the drive, I did notice the subtle shift in colors and textures and as I rounded a bend, suddenly I saw hundreds upon hundreds of the cutest little cacti imaginable! I wanted to stop and get out and walk amidst the friendly-looking fellas. Really. They were that inviting....

But a road sign said "no!" and also mentioned a "Cholla Cactus Garden" coming up, where presumably one could park their vehicle and get up close and personal. Even though I'm not a huge fan of taking the "tourist trail," I felt it would be okay this time, since these were an additional surprise on my way to the big cacti.

The road wove circuitously amidst these fields of cacti, first on one side and then the other, and then the entrance to the gardened area appeared. I pulled over, got my camera out and headed down the path along with 3 or 4 others who had happened along at the same time.

There is a large WARNING sign as you enter the site, telling you these cacti may LOOK friendly, and they may have been nicknamed "Teddy Bear Cactus," but it was all a ruse.... Apparently, the quills practically jump off and spear you(hundreds of micro jabs at a clip) if you so much as wander within their airspace. That's an exaggeration, the sign says, but it seems so, because the spines are so tiny that you don't realize you've gotten too close until... you have gotten to close. The sign warns, very clearly, to keep children and/or animals roped in, and that removal of the barbs is tedious, difficult and worst of all, painful.

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Here's what the famous Cholla, or Teddy Bear Cactus, looks like. Notice the overgrowth of brush at the base of the dried bush in front? What looks like dark patches? If you've been to Jtree, you've probably noticed this around a bit. I always thought it was that the wind blew loose bits of dirt, dry twigs and stuff, and when they snagged on things, eventually the mess would build up, looking thusly... Wrong. The piles of junk(literally) are the homes of desert packrats, who will take whatever they can find, and build a beaver-like den. This photo is actually not a very good example. In another installment of the trip, where I visit an abandoned mine, you will see what I'm talking about.... I hope I'll get to that sooner than I did on this page.

When one rat moves out, another will take up residence, and there are actually some rats nests in Josuha Tree that are more than two thousand - two THOUSAND - years old! The nests have multiple entrances, and the sharp, barb-like branches of fallen desert fauna allow for a great protective barrier. The small rodents can race between the sabres, whereas a larger animal, in hunt of the rat, will get poked in the eye, nose, tummy, and/or foot if they try to dig in!

After learning about the pack rat homes, I started seeing them EVERYWHERE, as I wandered around this time out in the park.


The bottoms of the Teddy Bear cactus die off, but remain solid enough to support the upper sections of the plant, as you can see here. The appearance is that of having had a fire sweep through, but that's not the case.

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Here is a close-up of a Cholla that has been weathered for who knows how many years. The dry air decreases the rate of decomposition so drastically that a plant one sees one year may very well be there the next year, in exactly the same condition. That's a good example to show just why it's really very important that we take care in these type of environments. One might think tossing a banana or an orange peel aside as we stop trailside for a snack is okay, but how long will that trash remain? The timeframe is measured in years.


Here you can see the dead base/living top again, but if you look on the ground, surrounding our Teddy's, you'll notice what looks like fallen parts of the cactus. Someone has been out abusing them, maybe some redneck striking them with a stick, is a reasonable first impression. But that's not the deal. The Cholla cactus is made up of a number of delicate, jointed parts, and the slightest breeze tears them away, depositing them nearby. A coyote brushing aside a low-bearing cactus might get a few pods snagged in their fur and carry them who knows where before they come off to rest.

Interestingly, this is part of the Cholla's adaptive evolution. It's how they regenerate! Amazingly, the spiny pods will take root very quickly and soon enough, a new Cholla is growing from that singular discarded bit. Here's one of them up close. The rock shown is about the size of an average man's fist.


The Teddy Bear Garden was a really nice exhibit, and I am glad I stopped. All the information I presented above is posted in a small pamphlet available at the garden's start, with a numerical index that helps you identify the various things to look for. I never would have found any of this out had I not taken this self-guided tour.

I got back in the car, happy with the detour, but still on the hunt for those giant cowboy cacti! As I drove along the road, I noticed pretty flowers and lots of greenery carpeting the desert floors.

Suddenly - I saw something strange! Giant cacti for sure, but of a different sort than I'd ever imagined... These succulents were the size of trees, and looked like the sort of plants one finds in a tropical fish tank. Several long, swaying tentacle-like branches emanating from a common base at the ground. WOW - They were magnificent!

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What can I say!? The Ocotillo are so cool, and so far from what I would have expected to see. Here
is a page telling a bit more about them, as I really know nothing myself.

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Here's a partially dried out section, close up. How beautiful!

As I mentioned, I saw some beautiful flowers along the way, and though I didn't seem to be having a very good photographer's day, I did manage to get a few to share. The size of this cluster of purple flowers was about three inches in diameter - the photo is actually larger than life-size.

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Here's a stunning beauty commonly found along the roadsides, and not just in this particular area. I don't know anything about the plant, but it differs from most desert flowers in that it almost seems like something found in a woodland environment. The actual flower is large, which also seems a paradox, in a land where water is so precious that living things seem to stay small in an attempt to ration the supply. In contrast, this plant seems oblivious to the drought-like conditions!

I wish I'd taken some shots of the mountains in that area, but I knew I just didn't have the equipment, patience and skill to capture an interesting image. What I learned, though, was that the fertile base blanketing the area was actually topsoil which had flowed down along weaknesses in the massive mountains so long ago. In the way a glacier is a giant frozen river coming onto a flat plane, the same had happened here, but the ice was swathes of silted rock instead, creating wondrous wide avenues amidst the formations.

The Cottonwood road is something that anyone interested in geology would probably like to experience, so if you have a rest day next time you are out climbing in Josh, I can definitely recommend taking the drive out there. There are a few established hiking trails, too, though I don't have any details.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Fire Sale! - Proceeds for Alpinist Magazine

Most of you have already heard about the warehouse fire suffered by Alpinist Magazine, and their huge loss of inventory. Luckily, nobody was injured in the tragedy.

People have been ordering subscriptions left and right, from what I am gathering. But here's someone stepping up with help in a way that is really heartwarming. Instead of going into unnecessary detail, I'll post the words he wrote himself.

From professional photographer Randy Wenzel, as posted on Supertopo:

I'm sure you all know by now about the tragic fire at Alpinist Magazine's warehouse. Referred to by a member on summipost recently as, The National Geographic of climbing magazines...", Alpinist magazine is quite a special publication. I really believe in what Alpinist is doing and can't think of a better group to support as my "good deed of the year".

To go a little further towards helping out, I'll donate 100% of the profit (profit = minus printing, matte, framing and shipping) of any of the prints on my website bought by supertopo members. I'll send the money directly to Christian Beckwith, the man behind Alpinist. I've worked with Christian - he's a great guy and believes in what they are doing at Alpinist. He'll put the money to the best use for the company.

To go a little further, as I know art is expensive (yet we make less than starving magazine editors, go figure), if you make a reasonable offer on a print, (below the listed price - above the cost), I'll accept the offer and donate the profits still. Kinda like Karl's "dirtbag special".

My site, for those who haven't been there is (Note: hotlink enabled by the myself, the artist did not directly link on his post) You can use the ordering process there or contact me directly here (my email link here works). If you use the online order forms in my galleries, please be sure to leave a note in the comments section stating that you are a supertopo member. Thanks.

Also, I haven't yet gotten the blurb up, but there is a 20% special on my "Print of the Month" selection. I haven't gotten them all up yet, but you know... It's the holidays, end of year, etc. It's a busy time.

Renewal and Gift Subscription links are available right on Alpinist's front page HERE.

note: I thought a bit about doing this, before I posted, which is sad. I'm sure there are those who will try to find a negative in this. Well, so be it and that's their personal issue. I spoke with Christian last week and he's appreciative of all of the support the community is giving. That's pretty much all that matters.

Thanks Folks!


I am enjoying Randy's work right now, viewing his site as I write this entry. He's wonderfully gifted. Please take a moment yourself to see if you might like to take him up on his offer, helping the folks at Alpinist and receiving a beautiful piece of artwork in the act. As well - if you know people who aren't all over the web, or may not check in at Supertopo - please, send them a link to the thread mentioned above, or forward this entry directly by clicking the button below.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Posture, Please!

According to recent study, as written about here, in an article from story has been all over the news recently; this is one citation), women's bodies have evolved differently then men's, to assist them coping with weight shifts that occur during pregnancy.

An excerp from the article states:
"The maternal center of mass shifts forward about three to five centimeters during pregnancy, so that it's no longer beautifully aligned with the hips and feet," said study author Katherine Whitcome, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University's department of anthropology who began the research as a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin.

Whitcome explained that the female body compensates for this shift in several ways. One is to recruit more back muscles. Solely using these muscles, Whitcome said, would quickly cause muscle fatigue and make women more prone to injury. Instead, the female back has evolved to allow three lower vertebrae to form a larger curve to support the growing fetus. In men, only two vertebrae form this curve, called lordosis, she explained.

Females also have a key hip joint that is larger and can flare out further, according to the study, published in the Dec. 13 issue of Nature.

I'm 45 years old, and it's likely I'll never have firsthand experience with the pregnancy issue, but I am thinking I still may gotten benefit from this evolutionary process. Namely, I climb like a girl!

Now I'm thinking that the climbing world isn't really backed by the kind of funding that entailed to make this physiological study, and so there's probably not much data on how this change in women's vertebrae and hip joints affects our climbing. But I have the feeling it may just be one of the keys in unlocking that mystery as to why women are almost always more graceful as climbers then their male peers.

I decided to take my query to the streets, and have posted it here, in the Techniques and Training forum of the most-visited rock climbing website I know of. Of course, the place is....odd...and I have no idea how the thread will develop. There's as good a chance that the topic will devolve into grunts, groans and unintelligible acronyms as contain useful information from climbers in fields that may have insight into the topic. Follow the link, and see what happens.....

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

An Update on My T-Shirt Shop - Just in Time for Xmas!!!

Well..... My blog byline does say "where I've been"... And where I have been since the cold weather started kicking in is here at home, wishing I had logistics in place to head off for a nice long road trip. But one can only spend so much of their day wishing around.... And so I have been filling in by doing some new designs for ClimbAddict, my online t-shirt shop.

It's true - that this is a blatant plug for the shop - you've got to understand that going in! But I'm not begging, not pleading or any of that, for you to go and buy anything. But - some people actually do, on occasion, and so I have to believe that it's worth the effort I put into it. So...if you are wondering what to do with that extra cash just lying around, or just want to see what I'm doing, might as well pop over.

The most recent design I added(just yesterday) is this one, based on one of Picasso's well-known pieces, that I am calling "Your Lead/Nut Bouquet."
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But, as you can guess, shipping time is getting tight for the xmas rush, and even with the guidelines, they have included the caveat "your experience may vary." Here's what they have listed:

For delivery by Dec. 24, please order by 11:59 p.m. EST on:

Shipping Method
Economy Sunday, December 9
Standard Thursday, December 13
Premium Tuesday, December 18
Express Wednesday, December 19
Canada Friday, December 7
International Saturday, December 8

Order deadlines apply for all items except books which have a longer processing time. Delivery dates are not guaranteed and may include extra transit time in case of unforeseen delays. Late deliveries are always a possibility, but CafePress will do its best to ensure late deliveries are as infrequent as possible.

On the other hand, CafePress(the company that hosts the store, and handles fulfillment) has introduced Gift Certificates this year. They are sent by email, which is a good thing for last minute people like myself.

So - You can go to the shop, pick out a gift for someone and add it to your shopping cart. Then, when you get to the check out, there is an option to give a gift certificate instead. You can set it up so the item you chose is featured, with a note saying "(Mr. Wonderful Friend) thought you might like..." with a link to the product you chose. The recipient can adjust the order - sizing, color choice, change to a different item - and then they're done. The only thing I would suggest, if you choose the gift cert option, is to include a little extra on the amount, so they aren't stuck paying additional for shipping. There is an option listed that enables that.

Confusing...But I think it's pretty user-friendly in real life. Plus, CafePress has awesome customer service. Even though it's print on demand(each item is made up after ordered), if there is something you don't like - wrong size, whatever - they will refund or replace(or credit for something else, in the case of gift certificate) with no hassle whatsoever.

Anyway - I ramble, as always.

Thanks for taking the time to read my self-promoting blog entry, and also for your continued interest. It really makes me happy to see that I have a nicely developing community of readership, people checking in as new items post. It's definitely appreciated!

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Beam Me Up Some Beta, Scotty!

A while back, I was following someone on Bloody Bush. On the ground, he'd asked if I would like to take the second pitch, but for some reason the decision wasn't made before he set off.

Worried about the lead, because I had no idea where the route went, I tucked my guidebook in my windjacket so I could review it at the belay. The pockets weren't big enough, of course, and so I just slipped it in through the front opening and zipped up. My harness was cinched over the jacket's bottom, and I figured the book was secure.

Within a few moves, the book navigated from flat against my torso to a side-poking position, and eventually settled uncomfortably, prodding various places along my backbone.

Continuing on my way and enjoying the climb, I soon came to the crux move - a crouching, reachy and insecure, committing lunge move over a bit of air. Gulp....

Timidly I went for it, scared as I was, since the fall would have been a pendulum. There was no other choice. Halfway through I knew I could do it and was beginning an exhaling sigh of relief. But then I had to stretch just a liiiiittle more, reaching for the security of a hand hold.

Suddenly - a fluttering noise broke through the quiet in the autumn afternoon. My first thought was that I'd unknowingly disturbed a nest of bats! AAACCCKKKK!!! I crouched further, dropping my head to my chest in a protective reaction, almost sliding off the slab-like feature I was perched upon. At the same time, I hear my partner yelling ROCK!

"ROCK! ROCK! ROCK!" he screamed, warning anybody below.

"What the...?" I thought to myself. My fear of bat attack was quickly replaced by a more ominous dread; that I'd dislodged a rock and sent it on a downward spiral, possibly directed at some innocent below. And not only that, but I'd done it completely unaware - the absolute WORST error a climber can make in a populated area.

I looked down, ready to yell further warning, since I had a more direct view, and saw that my boulder had transformed to a beautiful white dove, fluttering it's wings upward. Time stopped, and with joy I watched the sunlight glittering off it's wings, realizing no one would die at my hand that day.

Of course, it wasn't a dove. It was my guidebook, which had slipped out the bottom of my jacket as I pushed for that reaching move..... The white feathered wings were the paper pages sandwiched between the dove grey cover of my Dick Williams guidebook....

I felt like a jackass gumby.
Which brings me to the point of this post.

Scotty, a local Gunks climber most anyone who's ever been there would recognize by his long thin beard and beret, has been making and selling an excellent pouch that perfectly fits the Gunks guides. They are simple in design, which is important in climbing. No extraneous doodads to snag in your rack while you're sketched and run out, with only enough left inside to make a grab for your nuts.

And, of course, no loose guidebooks flapping in the breeze, sailing off the cliff like skittling gravel under a fool's foot on a belay ledge.

His web page modestly compliments the humbleness of the design. Take a look for yourself!

My friend and climbing partner Irina has one of Scotty's bookbags, and so I can say from experience that the thing does what he says it does! Lots of experience...for Irina always makes me clip it on my harness, along with her small Nalgene of water, whenever I am seconding her on a multipitch. I draw the line at carrying her camera, though, although that doesn't stop her from trying to get me to snap that on, too.

Scotty's bags are just the right size for the Gunks books. He says they hold both sizes of the local books - Swain's or the Big Grey Dick. We use William's grey book, and it does slip easily inside the pouch. With a gentle pull of the zip, which does seem to be of a high quality(Believe me, I know from crappy zippers, having been a designer of cheap, imported handbags for many years), the closure holds securely. Despite many days at the crag, the zipper still pulls without a snag along the way.

Finally, not only is the bag good for carrying a guide on multipitch, but it also helps to keep the book clean and in good condition between cragging days. Bag it and toss it in your gear bin; you won't have crumbled or dirty-stained pages as happens to most guidebooks that see a lot of use.

The reason I am writing this bit of a promotion is not just to promote a good, locally made product, but because I noticed that Scotty has posted an announcement of the goods in the for sale section at You can see what others have written as well, so don't take my word for it!

I'm going to ask if Scotty can do custom sizes, since other areas may have books that are larger than our Gunks books. Check the thread above to see what his answer is!

EDIT 12/12 - Scotty says that, yes, he can do custom sizes. Just email him to discuss!

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Alpinist Magazine Warehouse Destroyed by Fire

While scanning the forum pages over at Supertopo this morning, I was jolted on the sight of a thread title "Alpinist Warehouse Burns to the Ground".

The magazine is undeniably the best available when it comes to print media reportage and photojournalism in the field of climbing. They shun commercial advertising from their pages in order to bring a more intensive experience for the reader, and thus run it out on a thiner cord than most any shoestring-budgeted company out there.

The depth of such a catastrophic blow registered immediately to me. And in reading a provided link to the Alpinist website, my thoughts were confirmed.

Their entire back inventory has been lost, along with all their stock in promotional items such as t-shirts, hats, stickers, etc. (NOTE: Since the link brings one to the current front page of their site, I've pasted the story below, for future reference. The buttons on this image do NOT bring you to working links.)

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Within the story is a hotlink to a local news article, with just a little information, as would be expected. For a municipality, this is not a sensational story. Of course in the climbing world it is big news.

For updates on details, you can follow the Supertopo link I first listed. Here it is, again, for easy reference.

The folks at Alpinist ask a favor of support in this difficult time, and I think most of us are all too happy to step up and do so. I'll be ordering a subscription right away(as soon as I get back from walking Teddy....he's wondering why his walk is delayed!). And I also need a new calendar for 2008 - Can't think of a better one to have. Hopefully my local dealer still has one when I contact them, but if not - that's a good thing too!

Please - help get the word out to others who may not be as much an internet junkie as myself. Email this page, or the links to either the Supertopo thread or the Alpinist site to those you know.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Ranger Gord Helps Me Tide Things Over

I knowwwww..... I have been remiss in my personal storytelling!

Ever since I got back from Joshua Tree, and the season ended at the Gunks, I have been procrastinating on this blog. In one way, it's bizarre, since I actually have tons more time right now. Stuck in the city, hunkering down for the winter.... But on the other hand, it makes sense. I haven't got new, exciting inspirational adventures to go on and on andonandon(That's really a word, you know. If you don't believe me, Google it!) about.

I've uploaded some pictures from the Jtree trip that I want to tell about, but need to go through my notes to get some information for the text. And the devil certainly IS in the details, because I just can't seem to garner the energy to see where I left those papers once I unpacked.....hahaha.

So, in the interim, I'm going to pull another internet 'EZ Post' and post about an item I found while whiling away my hours on the web.... Third time's the charm, they say. Since this will be my 3rd EZ, maybe it'll help me get back to my usual format; the one which so many of you love dearly - the The Blah, Blah, Blah Blog Entry.

But - as usual - I digress. Let's get to the point.

I'm gonna send you over to Ranger Gord's Campfire Stories for a while. But don't click the link yet!

Why? Because I need to say that I think this is a great find; a blog from a ranger who has got some really good stuff, and is a damned fine writer! His byline reads "Stories about parks, the people who work there and the people that visit them." And that is exactly what you will find. Let's hope what you don't find is a story about yourself....

This is one of my favorites. I'm not going to give the title. You'll just have to trust me.....

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