Learn Something New Every Day!

Wikipedia Photo

Wikipedia Photo

Today, Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known and loved by all as Dr. Seuss, would have been 111 years old.  He died in 1991.  In honor of his great contribution to the love of reading for children, the National Education Association adopted his birthday as the National Read Across America Day.  It is a logical honor.  He wrote 46 books for kids—that they actually like to read!  In 1980 he was awarded the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal from children’s librarians; they lauded him for his “substantial and lasting contributions to children’s literature.”  Then in 1984, he was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize for his “contribution over nearly half a century to the education and enjoyment of America’s children and their parents.”

Horton hears a whoOh the places you'll goDr. Seuss may be best known for The Cat in the Hat (1957) or maybe Green Eggs and Ham (1960), but my favorite has always been Horton Hears a Who! (1955) followed closely by The Lorax (1971).  [The fact that they are respectively about an elephant and about saving the environment might have a little to do with it!] And is there a better Christmas story than How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957)?  His later works are fun too, even more appropriate than his others for “obsolete children” otherwise known as adults:  Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (1990) and You’re Only Old Once (1986).

160px-Dr_Seuss_signature.svgBut what I like best about Dr. Seuss’s life are the anecdotes that show he finds ways around obstacles and loves a challenge.  For example, when he was in college at Dartmouth, he got caught drinking gin with several friends.  His punishment was to stop all his extracurricular activities, including writing for the humor magazine.  But he did continue his efforts as a contributor to the Dartmouth Jack-O-Latern, albeit secretly—that is when he first simply used “Seuss” as his pen name.  He permanently added the “Dr.” to his signature once Dartmouth awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1956.

cat in the hatAnother fun story is what prompted him to write The Cat in the Hat.  It happened in 1954, just after Life published an illiteracy report noting that one reason kids were not learning to read was because their reading material was so boring.  In response, W. E. Spaulding, the director of the education division of Houghton Mifflin, created a list of 348 words he figured first-graders should know.  He then challenged Geisel to trim the list to just 250 words and write a book using only those words to create “a book children can’t put down.”  Less than a year later, The Cat in the Hat was ready for publication, using only 236 words.  Within its first three years, this little book sold about a million copies. And it has been a favorite of kids around the world ever since.

Green eggs and hamIn 1960, Bennett Cert, co-founder of Random House, bet Geisel $50 that he couldn’t write a book using only 50 different words.  Geisel accepted the challenge and produced a book of 681 total words from a list of 49 monosyllabic words and one polysyllabic word (anywhere).  That book was Green Eggs and Ham, which encouraged all its readers—along with its main character Sam-I-Am—to try new things.  Not a bad lesson for life!

No wonder I love Dr. Seuss and his books so much.  He loved life and encouraged his readers—young and old—to get out there and have fun.  If you have kids in your life, read to them and give them their own books to treasure.  And maybe thank Dr. Seuss for helping to make reading for kids of all ages such fun!  Ice cream would help the celebration as well.  Always does! And the fun of reading is always worth celebrating.  Happy Dr. Seuss Day!


For little ones, I really like Animalia by Graeme Base and have recently enjoyed The Book with No Pictures by B. J. Novak.


“Today you are you!  That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!”

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

“The more that you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells.  Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.  Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”

“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.”

“You can get help from teachers, but you are going to have to learn a lot by yourself, sitting alone in a room.”

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Wikipedia Photo

Wikipedia Photo

I cannot believe that Leonard Nimoy died today from complications of COPD.  He was 83.  His final tweet offers a good reminder that we will always have his memory to cheer us:  “A life if like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.  LLAP.”

Wikipedia Photo

Wikipedia Photo

Throughout his life, Nimoy worked as an actor, author, director, musician, and photographer.  He is, of course, best known for his portrayal of Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek television show that ran from 1966 to 1969 as well as in the following movies and cartoons based on Star Trek.   He even directed two of the best films based on the original series and played the older Spock in the new movies.  I was reminded a few weeks ago that he had acted in so many other shows and films before and after Star Trek when I saw him in reruns of Perry Mason, Rawhide and Columbo.  He looked so young!  And he was a bad guy in several of those old shows.  Not very Spock-like!  I also remember being impressed by his one-man show Vincent back in 1981, when he told the story of Vincent Van Gogh as Theo, Vincent’s brother.

Internet Photo

Internet Photo

Even though he has done so much other than play a logical Vulcan, it is hard to think of Nimoy as any character other than Mr. Spock.  I was eleven when Star Trek started, and he was always my favorite.  He was a wise and logical Vulcan, but he was always conflicted by the human emotions he struggled to control. In the process he was the most humane of all the characters.  Of course, the best scenes in either the television show or movies were when he was surprised or otherwise let some emotions sneak out.  It is hard for me to imagine a world—and Star Trek‘s promise of a better world tomorrow—without Mr. Spock.  As Spock, he valued friendship and was willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the many.  If only he could be come back to life as he did in Star Trek III: The Voyage Home.

At least he will live on in our memories and our hearts.

mircale quote

I know I am planning to re-watch all the Star Trek movies one more time—and yes, I do have them all!  I agree with the reaction to his death shared by George Takei (Star Trek’s Sulu): “The word extraordinary is often overused, but I think it’s really appropriate for Leonard. He was an extraordinarily talented man, but was also a very decent human being. . . . He was a very sensitive man. And we will feel his passing very much.”

Nimoy himself felt his connection to Mr. Spock.  He wrote two autobiographical books.  The first was I Am Not Spock (1975), but the latter was I Am Spock (1995).  In the second he seemed to come to terms with being the foil of Spock throughout his life—striving to embrace what is best of humanity while realizing how difficult that challenge is.  Still, as Mr. Spock, Nimoy helps  make it seem possible that the future will be better.

If you look on You Tube, there are many videos that will show Nimoy in action.  One of my favorites is the following one that is actually a commercial.  But I like it because it shows Nimoy playing at being Spock with his younger counterpart from the newer movies Zachary Quinto—and having a good time in the process.  I choose to remember him this way!

These final two videos are fun as well.  The first shows the two Spocks (Nimoy & Quinto) talking about playing that character, and the second is Nimoy’s cameo on The Big Bang Theory.  Nimoy’s Mr. Spock is really a science fiction icon!



Green, Green, Wonderful Green

water lily vista

“Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.”  Pedro Calderon de la Barca

Fallen TreeI know Kermit says it’s not easy being green.  And I commiserate with him and his plight.  But in the natural world of plants and trees and vistas, green is really wondrous.  No matter what season, green is always present, covering mountainsides, supporting flowers or standing tall among the trees.  Basically, green—although occasionally jumping out on its own—is the ever present “wind beneath the wings” of the rest of nature.


Tree Twisted Trunk“Be like a tree in pursuit of your cause.  Stand firm, grip hard, thrust upward, bend to the winds of heaven, and learn tranquility.”  Dedication from Father of the Trees

“For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.”  Martin Luther

“When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy, and the dimpling stream runs laughing by; when the air does laugh with our merry wit, and the green hill laughs with the noise of it.”  William Blake

Oak Grove Carmel CA


Jedediah Smith State Park 2

“On and on they flew, over the countryside parceled out in patches of green and brown, over roads and rivers winding through the landscapes like strips of matte and glossy ribbon.”  J. K. Rowling

Roadside Hwy 1 Northern CA

redwood path

Horse in Gorman Hills

“When I go out into the countryside and see the sun and the green and everything flowering, I say to myself, “Yes indeed, all that belongs to me!”  Henri Rousseau

cactus orange flowers



orchids“April prepares her green traffic light and the world thinks GO.”  Christopher Morley

cactus white flower

yellow flower

water lily

young aspens

Gorman Hills

This post is my response to the weekly challenge by Sunday Stills.  See all the other responses here.

Several years ago, I also championed green and its presence in our world in a post called God’s Favorite Color.

National Love Your Pet Day!


Friday, 20 February 2015

NellieWhen I was about five years old, we took a trip to the zoo.  Most of the day, I wanted to stay by the elephant enclosure.  There was a really cute baby elephant there.  Dad complied.  At that point, I knew exactly what I wanted for Christmas:  my very own elephant.  I had it all planned out.  She could live in the back yard and the basement, and I was sure she would love to eat cheerios.  I never did get that elephant as a pet! I once visited one and took her for a walk in the Lancaster Hills, but that is not quite the same.

cornymurphy and stuffed animalOver the years, however, I owned lizards and frogs, a tarantula, a rescued kangaroo rat and a parakeet.  As a family, we had a cat for a short time, but then got Toodles—a great little mutt.  Once we all grew up and left home, Mom had a couple other dogs who were really part mine as well, as I recall.  Of course, my best pet was Murphy, the almost full-bred Yellow Labrador who went with me everywhere for nearly 16 years.



murphy and bridget






cat 1


cat 4_0001

fat cat

turtleOf course, it does not matter what animal is your pet; the love shared is what makes the pet so terrific.  In dire circumstances, a Pet Rock might even work!  What pets do you have or fondly remember?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


“There are no ordinary cats.”   Collette

cat 5

“A really companionable and indispensable dog is an accident of nature. You can’t get it by breeding for it, and you can’t buy it with money.  It just happens along.”                     E. B. White

Wags and puppies

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend.  Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”  Groucho Marx

“If a dog jumps in your lap, it is because he is fond of you; but if a cat does the same thing, it is because your lap is warmer.”  Alfred North Whitehead

“It’s funny how dogs and cats know the inside of folks better than other folks do, isn’t it?” Eleanor. H Porter

“Animals are such agreeable friends—they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.”  George Eliot

puppies playing

“Cats are smarter than dogs. You can’t get eight cats to pull a sled through snow.”  Jeff Valdez

“Old age means realizing you will never own all the dogs you wanted to.”  Joe Gores

“A boy can learn a lot from a dog:  obedience, loyalty, and the importance of turning around three times before lying down.”  Robert Benchley

“I like pigs.  Dogs look up to us.  Cats look down on us.  Pigs treat us as equals.”  Sir Winston Churchill

“You know what I like most about people?  Pets.”  Jarod Kuntz

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”  Anatole France


“I made myself a snowball as perfect as can be. I thought I’d keep it as a pet, and let it sleep with me. I made it some pajamas and a pillow for its head. Then last night it ran away, but first—it wet my bed.” Shel Silverstein

“I tell you, that dragon’s the most horrible animal I’ve ever met, but the way Hagrid goes on about it, you’d think it was a fluffy little bunny rabbit.”  J. K. Rowling

cat 3

“I care not for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.”  Abraham Lincoln

“It may be a cat, a bird, a ferret, or a guinea pig, but the chances are high that when someone close to you dies, a pet will be there to pick up the slack. Pets devour the loneliness. They give us purpose, responsibility, a reason for getting up in the morning, and a reason to look to the future. They ground us, help us escape the grief, make us laugh, and take full advantage of our weakness by exploiting our furniture, our beds, our refrigerator.  We wouldn’t have it any other way. Pets are our seat belts on the emotional roller coaster of life—they can be trusted, they keep us safe, and they sure do smooth the ride.”  Nick Trout


IMG_4806I really did not know much about Death Valley, other than its name, its role in westerns as a harsh landscape, and the image of 20-Mule Teams trudging across its terrain.  That impression was confirmed when I heard that parts of Death Valley were used as a backdrop for scenes of isolation in Star Wars on the planet Tatooine.  The basics were clear:  Death Valley must be a harsh desert that offers scorching heat, little water, and not much else. People must have died while trying to cross its expanse, giving rise to its name.



SOME FACTS ABOUT DEATH VALLEY: Geology, Biology & Climate

Wikipedia Photo

Wikipedia Photo

I have wanted to visit this remote locale for some time and see its wonders for myself.  In preparing for my trip, I learned some details about Death Valley.  Herbert Hoover named it a National Monument in February 1933.  By September 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps was put to work for the next nine years making the area more accessible to visitors by building roads and buildings and installing water and phone lines.  In 1984 the area was named an International Biosphere Reserve.  In 1994, Death Valley was expanded by over one million acres (darker green area on map) and upgraded to National Park status, becoming the largest national park in the contiguous United States with 91% of its lands designated as a wilderness area.

IMG_4897IMG_4649Death Valley National Park covers close to 3.4 million acres and is traversed by almost 1,000 miles of road.  Of that total, roughly 350 miles are unpaved, often requiring four-wheel drive vehicles.  Many of the existing roads were built in the 1930s and follow narrow serpentine routes across the countryside.  My favorite drive in the park is actually part of the entry portal from Lone Pine, California (the closest California city).  It traverses a windy, steep path through a canyon offering many dips and sharp turns with signs noting that the grade at times ranges from 5% to 9%.  There are several mountainous drives throughout the park alternating with long straight stretches across flat open spaces.



IMG_4836IMG_4835Spending several days in Death Valley, I am now aware of how expansive this place really is and the great distances separating one key location from another.  Although the area looks desolate, it actually covers three biotic life zones and is home to over 1,000 plants, several found only in Death Valley.  Typical animal life includes coyote, bobcat, bighorn sheep, cougars, and mule deer. On my trip, I enjoyed sharing the road for a few minutes with a couple curious coyotes.


The area’s great extremes are seen most vividly through its wide variety of geographical features.  Within its boundaries are lakes, springs and aquifers; mountains, valleys and canyons; and deserts, sand dunes and salt flats.


IMG_4828IMG_4697Other extremes are also evident throughout the park.  The highest temperature recorded was 134 degrees Fahrenheit in 1913; typical summer temperatures range from highs around 120 and lows in the 90s. The average high temperature in July (the hottest month) is 115 degrees Fahrenheit.  In the winter, low temperatures at some locales consistently drop below freezing. There is very little rain in the area, with the valley floor receiving less than 2 inches a year; some years, no rain makes it to the valley floor.  On my trip to Death Valley in February 2015, I enjoyed a high of 82 degrees. With blue skies and slight breezes, it was a glorious visit! I also loved seeing the many “Sea Level Elevation” signs!



Technically, Death Valley is a graben, not a valley.  A graben, from the German word for trench, is a depressed block of land bordered by parallel fault lines.  This technicality clarifies that Death Valley was formed more by plate tectonics, mountain uplifts and volcanic activity than by erosion from winds and water rushing down canyons.  Geologic history shows the area was formed by alternating major periods of volcanism, sedimentation, tectonic deformation and glaciation.  When the large lake that once covered the valley floor started to dry up about 10,500 years ago, the many salts and minerals were left becoming today’s salt pan that covers more than 200 square miles.

Wikipedia Photo

Wikipedia Photo

Much of the area around Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells sits at sea level.  Badwater Basin allows access to the great salt pan and is the lowest point in North America (8th lowest in the world), sitting at 282 feet below sea level. Fifteen miles from Badwater lies Telescope Peak, the highest point in the park, rising to 11,049 feet.  The vertical drop from Telescope Peak to Badwater Basin is twice the depth of the Grand Canyon.  This fast uplift from the floor to the mountain peak kept the more traditional v-shaped valleys from forming. Telescope Peak is in the Panamint  Range, one of three mountain ranges in the area that keep rain out of the valley through what is called the rainshadow effect, meaning storms lose their rain as they travel over the mountains.



SOME HISTORY: Mining Efforts & Father Crowley

Wikipedia Photo

Wikipedia Photo

Despite these extremes in geography and climate, the area has been home to Native Groups as early as 7000 B.C.  Most recently the Timbisha Shoshone have been in the area for at least a 1,000 years.  As is fairly typical for America, the history of the area is often ignored until settlers or miners move into the region. Mining is one of the draws to Death Valley, starting in the 1800s.  Some of the ores and minerals mined in the area included gold, silver, quartzite, lead, and dolomite, but never in great sustaining abundance.

IMG_4682Borax was the primary mineral that offered commercial success in the area. The iconic 20-Mule Teams hauled borax 165 miles from the Borax Harmony Works near Furnace Creek to the railroad near Mojave.  These grueling trips took 10 days and were only conducted for six years from 1883-1889.




IMG_4857An earlier mining operation was conducted by the Modock Consolidated Mining Company that worked lead-silver mines intermittently from the late 1870s until about 1900.  In 1877, the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns were built to provide a suitable fuel for two lead-silver smelters.  These ten kilns, beehive shaped masonry structures that stand about 25 feet high, were built by Chinese, Indian and Mexican laborers.  These airtight kilns charred the trees, creating charcoal, a substance that retains the shape and texture of the wood but is converted to 96% pure carbon content.  As a result, charcoal burns slower and hotter than wood, providing the greater heat needed to refine ores.  These kilns, however, were only used for two years. Documentation is missing to suggest why—either a closer source of charcoal or another fuel altogether must have been found.   These kilns’ limited use and their remote location makes them the best preserved kilns of their type in the United States.




IMG_4871The drive out to view the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns follows Emigrant Road to the Wildrose Campground and then goes another seven miles; the last four miles are on a gravel road.  The twists and turns of the road and its various vistas are breathtaking—and worth the drive, even if one never makes it all the way to the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns.





Distant View of Sierras from Road Leaving Kilns

Distant View of Sierras from Road Leaving Kilns




In 1904, two prospectors found quartzite laced with gold, and a new gold rush was on.  Soon there were over 2,000 claims in a 30-mile area.  Although several camps were set up, the main town established was called Rhyolite for the silic-rich volcanic rock prevalent in the area.  The town boomed with buildings springing up everywhere. A stock exchange and board of trade were formed.  There were houses, hotels, stores, two electric plants, foundries, a hospital, an ice plant, and a school for 250 children.  A three-story bank building was constructed and various entertainment opportunities were set up as well, including an opera house and an ice cream parlor. Population reached 10,000 residents. In 1907, electricity was brought to town, and a mill was built to handle 300 tons of ore a day.

Bank Building

Bank Building

Bottle House Rebuilt by Paramount Studios for a Film

Bottle House Rebuilt by Paramount Studios for a Film

IMG_4910IMG_4909However, over the next several years, finances took a down turn.  Mines closed, banks failed, and newspapers went out of business.  By 1910, there were only 600 residents left in town, and mill production had dwindled to almost nothing.  The main mine closed in 1911, and electricity was cut off to the town in 1916.  Now all that is left of Rhyolite, this once booming mining town, are some of its buildings, at least the foundations and outer walls. Of the several ghost towns in the area, Rhyolite is the best preserved.  It sits in Nevada, just outside of the Death Valley National Park boundary line but remains a popular attraction for Death Valley visitors.



 Area Near Rhyolite En Route to Las Vegas




Mt. Whitney Not Visible from Death Valley

Mt. Whitney Not Visible from Death Valley

By the early 1920s an interest in Death Valley and the entire area was growing for its natural wonders as a tourist attraction.  Father J. J. Crowley served the Owens Valley and Death Valley areas in the 1920s and 1930s.  In 1919, he was given this remote parish that served four counties and 30,000 square miles of desert.  His area ran from Bishop, California, to Barstow, California, and included both the lowest point in the country (Badwater Basin in Death Valley) and the highest (Mount Whitney in the Eastern Sierra).

Eastern Sierra Nevada as Seen from Lone Pine, California

Eastern Sierra Nevada as Seen from Lone Pine, California

For a time, Crowley served as the priest for Fresno, California, but returned to the Owens Valley in 1934.  Devastated by the changes brought to the area by the diverting of water to Los Angeles, Crowley became determined to build community and emphasize the natural wonders and activities of the region.  His efforts brought success, triggering the creation of a new dam. Some water was slowly returned to the area and tourism started to grow, especially in Death Valley, which had just been named a national monument in 1933.

Father Crowley is perhaps best known for his efforts coordinating what was called “The Wedding of the Waters.”  This three-day celebration in October 1937 commemorated the completion of a paved road from Mount Whitney to Badwater Basin, connecting the highest and lowest points of the country through the city of Lone Pine.  Lone Pine, California, sits today on Interstate 395 and serves as the portal to both Mount Whitney in the Eastern Sierra Nevada and Death Valley.

Crowley’s three-day event was a dramatic public relations dream.  It involved the entire county and participants included the United States President, the California Governor and historical figures and their descendants from the local area.  For example, descendants from both the Donner Party and the Lost 49ers who wandered in Death Valley for months were involved.  Each night was marked by feasts and extensive entertainment.

The actual event moved water from the mountains to the desert in a relay reminiscent of the carrying of the Olympic flame.  For this event, the water was drawn from Lake Tulainyo, the highest lake in the Western Hemisphere.  An Indian runner scooped the water into a gourd and ran it down the mountain to the start of the paved road at the trail head to Mount Whitney.  He handed the water—called “crystal clear tears of the clouds”—to a man on horseback who rode for five miles and handed off to another man on horseback for a seven-mile stretch.  They rode along the highway that was lined with close to 100 cars.  That night, the gourd was kept safe in a bank vault.  The next morning the Governor handed the gourd to a veteran prospector who used his burro to move the water to a covered wagon that had been driven through Death Valley in 1849.

From there the relay gets even more inventive.  The water was carried by a 20-Mule Team, a stagecoach, and a railroad, staying overnight in the Talc Company for safe keeping. The next day, after an early morning mass in Lone Pine, the gourd was handed off to a 1938 Lincoln Zephyr that was driven to the dedication summit where Western Union had set up a temporary telegraph, so the President of the United States could signal the ribbon cutting where the roads were joined together.

Telescope Peak Seen from Charcoal Kilns

Telescope Peak Seen from Charcoal Kilns

The car ride then continued delivering the gourd to a plane that flew toward Telescope Peak.  En route, the water from the gourd was dumped over the Badwater Basin.  As the clear mountain water hit the lake at the lowest point in the park, the gathered crowds cheered, and a flame was ignited signaling the completion of “The Wedding of the Waters.”  The flame triggered spotters—including a boy scout troop—to light their torches back along the entire route, sending the completion signal back down the line to Lone Pine and Mt. Whitney.  It must have been quite a spectacle!


Photo from Death Valley Jim's Website

Photo from Death Valley Jim’s Website

Father Crowley died in 1940, after hitting a steer with his Model T-Ford on one of his many trips throughout the state.  An overlook in Death Valley near the western entrance is named in his honor, and a memorial cross is displayed further down into the valley, reachable by a short hike.  The Father Crowley Vista Point was my first official stop on my trip into Death Valley.  I did not learn his story until later, but I can certainly understand why someone who so loved the communities and the natural wonders and activities of the area would be so honored.

Father Crowley Vista Point

Father Crowley Vista Point



TWO POPULAR DESTINATIONS: Artist’s Drive & Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

DV Trip MapI spent two days playing in Death Valley on this trip, and I need to go back many more times because I left so much unseen.  Staying mainly in the middle of the park, I did not make it yet to Scotty’s Castle, Dante’s View, the Devil’s Gold Course, or the Racetrack Playa, to name a few of the popular destinations. Some of these are only reachable via four-wheel drive vehicles or hiking. Other than the locations already mentioned (Crowley Vista Point, Harmony Borax Works, Charcoal Kilns, Badwater Basin and Rhyolite), I also visited Artist’s Drive and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.  Both were impressive.

IMG_4705IMG_4712Artist’s Drive is a paved one-way nine mile scenic loop through multi-hued volcanic and sedimentary hills that cut into the Black Mountains. The drive itself starts from Badwater Road and rises to the top of an alluvial fan fed by a deep canyon. The Artist’s Palette is on the face of Black Mountain and showcases various colors of rocks:  red, pink, yellow, green and purple.  The colors are caused by the oxidation of different metals, such as irons salts, tuff-derived mica, and manganese.  The entire Artist Drive Formation is evidence of a violent explosive volcanic period in Death Valley during the Miocene epoch.









Variations in light and in local rainfall enhances the ever-changing colors of this canvas that at times does seem to be painted by artists.  The best viewing would be in the late afternoon.  I was there a bit earlier than that, but the sights and colors were still dramaric.  [In Star Wars, the Artist’s Drive area is the locale for some of the scenes where R2D2 is being abducted by Jawas.]


IMG_4668The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, located on the western side of the park just past Stovepipe Wells, are one of three sand dunes in Death Valley.  The other two are Ibex Dunes and the Eureka Dunes.  Of the three locations, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are easiest to get to, so they remain one of the most popular locations in the park.  The dunes rise 100 feet, changing with every wind storm and breeze.  At times, the trunks of the dead Mesquite trees visible in the dunes are totally covered by sand.   [In Star Wars, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes were the backdrop when R2D2 left C3PO after their escape pod crashed on Tatooine.  I can almost see them trudging along.]







IMG_4641IMG_4775Traveling through much of the park myself this February, I was constantly impressed with how varied the landscape was.  I could drive 15 miles through a narrow, steep canyon and then another 20 over a long flat stretch of road.  It was not always easy to get from Point A to Point B without re-tracing my steps.  For example, the 27-miles leading to the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns went mainly to the Wildrose Campground and then on to the kilns; to get to other popular locations in the park, I needed to head back over that same route to reconnect with Highway 190, one of the main roads through the park.


I am not complaining!  I loved those drives, where I often saw no other cars so could enjoy not just the vistas but the solitude as well.  But those roads also made me wonder about all who traveled this land before the roads.  What native peoples lived here? What specific events gave this beautiful area its deadly name?  With a little research, I learned that the ordeal endured by The Lost 49ers gave rise to the park’s name.  I also learned that the Timbisha Shoshone have lived in this area for hundreds of years and continue living here to this day.

Here is the story of The Lost 49ers:

In 1849, a group of emigrants seeking the gold fields in California arrived in Salt Lake City too late to follow the traditional route into California if they wanted to avoid the fate of the Donner Party (1846-1847).  Rather than staying in Salt Lake City until spring, the group decided to take the Old Spanish Trail that promised a passable more southern route.  After several weeks making slow progress, a man showed up with a map claiming a short cut that would take 500 miles off the trip.  About 20 wagons decided to try the short-cut and ended up spending at least two months wandering in what later came to be called Death Valley.


This group splintered further, and one cluster was terribly weakened and arrived in the current area called Stovepipe Wells.  To continue their journey, they killed several of their oxen, smoking the meat on the fire built from their falling-apart wagons.  This group then continued on foot, eventually coming out near the present day city of Ridgecrest, California.  This event is now commemorated as California Landmark #441.  Its plaque offers this explanation:  “Near this monument, the Jayhawker group of Death Valley Forty-Niners, gold seekers from Middle West, who entered Death Valley in 1849 seeking short route to the mines of central California, burned their wagons, dried the meat of some oxen and, with surviving animals, struggled westward on foot.”

Wikipedia Photo

Wikipedia Photo

Wikipedia Photo

Wikipedia Photo

The other splinter group was blocked by the Panamint Mountains when their first attempt across the range proved impossible. The group returned to the valley and sent two men out in search of safe passage across the mountains. Thinking the Panamint Range was the Sierra Nevada, the group in the valley expected their scouts to return quickly with supplies and help. When their absence dragged on to over a month, several families struck out on their own to find a different passage over the mountains.  Two families with children waited to be saved and were not disappointed.  The two scouts finally returned and led them out.  As they left the valley, one woman turned back and said, “Goodbye, Death Valley.”    This statement generated the name for the area, even though only one person died from those who waited to be rescued.



The Timbisha Shoshone call Death Valley home:

What is called Death Valley today was called “Burning Land” by the Timbisha Shoshone who have lived in the valley since “time immemorial” as explained by the tribe’s oral history.  This name makes perfect sense, especially given the volcanic activity evident throughout the park.  Lava rock formations are strewn along many of the roads and fields, and signs of recent volcanic activity can be viewed at the still active Ubehebe Crater in the northern part of the park.

IMG_4671IMG_4868The Timbisha still live in the valley today, after enduring struggles and hardships initiated by the miners and other developers and explorers who diverted water, displaced the tribe off their traditional lands, and introduced new plants that compete with native vegetation, especially the mesquite trees. The mesquite trees had always been the life source for the tribe, providing food as well as building materials.  The Timbisha cared for the new sprouts in the spring and cleared debris from the base of the mature trees. The tribe was sustained by cakes made from ground mesquite pods throughout fall and winter.

The mesquites continue to be in trouble because local developments (past and present) have diverted much of the area’s water and the introduced tamarisk (salt cedars) dominate the usage of what water is left.  The mesquite trees, once so prevalent across the area, are now stunted and dying. The Timbisha Homeland Act, which Congress finally passed in 2000, has set aside lands for tribal use and made possible The Mesquite Traditional Use Pilot Project that is working to restore the mesquite to healthy existence in the valley.


When many outsiders wonder how and why the Timbisha have remained in the valley even after being displaced so many times since the mid 1800’s, the tribe is surprised.  What is called Death Valley is their home, and they see its many virtues and have always lived in harmony with its extreme conditions.  As Pauline Esteve, Timbisha elder and former Tribal Council Chairperson wrote: “The Timbisha people have lived in our homeland forever and we live here forever. We were taught that we don’t end. We are part of our homeland and it is part of us. We are people of the land.  We don’t break away from what is part of us.”



I certainly appreciate that sentiment.  We are all part of the natural world around us and should value and protect it.  Wouldn’t that be great?  I just wish we could officially change the name of this great national park from Death Valley back to Burning Land.







If you have not visited Death Valley yet, you should do so!  Just be careful, carry lots of water, and maybe avoid the summer months.

Today, it is certainly our turn to cry!

Wikipedia Photo

Wikipedia Photo

Lesley Gore died of lung cancer today, even though she was a non-smoker.  That fact proves that life is not fair.  I remember her songs fondly from when I was a kid.  Back then, in 1962 when I was just seven years old, the fact that she was a singing sensation at the age of 16 did not impress me.  I realize now that was quite a feat, especially so long before American Idol.  Her first hit was “It’s My Party” followed closely by “Judy’s Turn to Cry,”  Of course, my favorite even then was “You Don’t Own Me” from 1964.  I must have always been a budding feminist.

Over the years, she may not have had a high profile as an artist, but she stayed in the business as a singer and songwriter.  For a short time in the 1960s, she even played Catwoman’s sidekick in the TV series Batman.  How cool and kitch is that?!  In 2012, her “You Don’t Own Me” women’s rights anthem was used in a PSA Campaign for reproductive rights and getting out the female vote.

Internet Image

Internet Image

At her death, she was working on a stage version of her life for Broadway.  To realize that her life and talent have been cut short is very sad.  Lois Sasson, Gore’s partner of 33 years, shared this view of Lesley Gore:  “She was a wonderful human being — caring, giving, a great feminist, great woman, great human being, great humanitarian.”

In her honor and memory, I share with you two versions of my favorite song by Lesley Gore: “You Don’t Own Me.”  The first is the 2012 PSA version that Gore introduces.  The second is the version sung by Better Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton as a great ending to the fun film First Wives Club.  Enjoy!

I dare you to watch either (or both) and not tap your feet and sing along.

Lesley Gore. She will be missed.

Plumb the Depths

hawkWhenever I think of the word depth, I automatically think of depth perception and its application in photographs and paintings.  Depth perception adds that element of reality, gives three dimensions to a two-dimensional presentation.  The depth is what allows us to see the horizon, to focus on not just the surface or immediate object but the big picture as well, to capture a glimpse across the miles that suggests an ongoing reality.  With depth, the photographs seem to become more than just a moment captured in time; the depth suggests an endless quality, an ongoing view into tomorrow.

Arches National Park, Utah

arches national park

 Big Sur Coastline, California

big sur coast

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

bryce canyon national park

Crescent City, California, Lighthouse

crescent city lighthouse

Grand Canyon, Arizona

grand canyon squirrel

Monument Valley, Arizona

monument valley 2

Rainbow Bridge, Lake Powell, Utah

rainbow bridge lake powell

Yosemite National Park, Glacier Point, California

yosemite glacier point

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Of course, the same basic idea of depth applies to people as well as photographs.  Some might suggest it is through the eyes that we can see the insights, the dimensions within people that make them more than their outer appearance. But depth of character is more fully seen through words and deeds, through the consistent, continuous repetition of the qualities that matter, that help move beyond the superficial or occasional. Depth of character shows the truer broader sense of what each person is all about, highlights the qualities—demonstrated over time—that deem someone worthy of being a lover, friend, leader, hero.

Plumb the depths wherever you find them—vistas or people—for it’s in that dimension that the beauty of life and relationships exists.

Treasure it when you find it!


 “Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.”  Peter Adams

 “In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”  Albert Camus

 “And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”  Khalil Gibran

 “The moment you have in your heart this extraordinary thing called love and feel the depth, the delight, the ecstasy of it, you will discover that for you the world is transformed.”  Jiddu Krishnamurti

 “It’s our challenges and obstacles that give us layers of depth and make us interesting.  Are they fun when they happen?  No.  But they are what make us unique. And that’s what I know for sure. . . I think.”  Ellen DeGeneres

“Success comes from taking the initiative and following up. . .persisting. . . eloquently expressing the depth of your love.  What simple action could you take today to produce a new momentum toward success in your life?”  Tony Robbins

“It is not length of life, but depth of life.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Depth of friendship does not depend on length of acquaintance.”  Rabindranath Tagore

“The depth and strength of a human character are defined by its moral reserves. People reveal themselves completely only when they are thrown out of the customary conditions of their life, for only then do they have to fall back on their reserves.”  Leon Trotsky

“You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth.”  Evan Esar

“We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers.”  Carl Sagan

NOTE: This was my response to the Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge: Depth.  Visit here to see how other bloggers responded.

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