Saturday, November 24, 2007

Hike to an A-4 Skyhawk Crash Site

I spent yesterday on an adventure in the Mojave desert to find the crash site of an A-4 Skyhawk.
Joined by my friend Steve, we drove to Pisgah Crater and parked near a lonely building on Route 66. I didn't know the exact location of this crash site, but I'd deduced it using clues from other Internet posts and Google Earth imagery.
Here's a Google Map centered on the crash site. The crash occurred on a large lava field that was very rugged - ok, mostly it was very jagged and sharp. We hiked around for what seemed like hours watching the damage to our boots accumulate. I must have stubbed my toes a hundred times.
The photos show how rugged the landscape is, making progress very slow in places. Finally, we used our hand held GPS receivers to guide us to the coordinates where I spotted white spots in the Google imagery.
After reaching each rise on the landscape we failed to find anything. I was ready to give up. Then Steve spotted some unnatural objects that turned out to be wooden crates. That's when we came upon a depression containing large pieces of debris from the crash.
We saw what appeared to be an impact crater. The crater side showed the rocks and dirt below the lava surface. Several of the pieces of debris are pretty large, and they all have sharp edges so we were very careful.

The weather was perfect. Clear blue sky. Hardly any wind. Temperature around 65F. According to my GPS receiver, we wandered around for 4.2 miles total. You can see from our route map that we didn't return the same way we came. The lava is so rough, there was no "easier" path. During our return, the Sun was setting and we were anxious to get off the lava before it got dark so we headed northeast to the nearest edge of the lava field and back to desert sand.

Warning: This hike is not for everybody, and certainly not for kids. If you go there, then take leather gloves, since this makes it a lot easier to balance yourself against the sharp lava without scraping your skin off. Also, you will absolutely need a GPS receiver and the crash site coordinates, otherwise it's almost impossible to find the site.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Mojave Desert Megaphone

This summer I ventured into the Mojave desert with some friends to visit the famed "Mojave Desert Megaphone" and a few other odd things located nearby. I was joined by Mark and his dad who drove his Honda Ridgeline truck. The Ridgeline had a suspension lift and is a much more capable off road vehicle than my stock Acura MDX.

I learned about these interesting places from Bill Mann's book "Guide to 50 Interesting and Mysterious Sites in the Mojave" Vol. 1. Bill has authored several books about strange and historical things in the deserts of southern California. Even though I had a hard time finding a website with photos of the books (here's one), they are easy to find at major book stores. It looks like plenty of people visit the desert megaphone because googling it yields several hits.

We started at the Basin Road exit off I-15 south of Baker and drove down the dirt road to the railroad tracks where we turned east. The road that follows the tracks gets a little sandy in places. Our first stop was the grave of Delores Holland. I've seen many grave sites in the mojave desert and this one is the best maintained. The grave is just north of a stand of Athel trees on the north side of the tracks at the location of the old King watering stop. The story goes that Delores was the child of a railroad worker at King. She died as an infant in July 1931. Here's a Google Map of the location. You can see the grave site for its rectangular border in the clearing to the upper left of the trees. In my photo, you can see Cave Mountain in the distance behind the grave. Athel trees and tamarisks (both saltcedar variants) were planted in the desert by the railroads to help block blowing sand from covering the tracks. They are both from the middle east and are now considered invasive species.

Our next stop was the old town of Crucero, which is no more. Crucero was a watering stop at the intersection of the Southern Pacific and Tonopah and Tidewater railroads. Here's a Google Map of downtown Crucero. My photo shows no signs of those streets shown on Google's map. The place was really desolate and depressing. I can't imagine living there. I read that telegraph operators at Crucero had nicknamed the place "Rattlesnake Flat" due to the "carpet of sidewinders that covered the ground at night."

We headed to the east of Crucero to find an oddity called the rock igloo. Along the way the road became very deep with sand. It was the closest I've come to getting stuck. The Acura MDX is a great SUV, but it's horrible in sand because you want to drive between 20 and 30 mph to keep up your momentum, however the computer will disengage the center differential once you're going faster than 18 mph. Practically speaking, that limits me to sand that's less than about 4-6 inches deep. I ended up stopping and radioing the guys that I needed to find a way off the road. I got out and found a parallel road that was much better. In fact, it had old pieces of asphalt. Mark and his dad helped me to get my car across 40 feet of desert to the better road and I was a happy camper.

In the photo, Mark is standing in the remains of the mysterious rock igloo. He's posed like a giant who has just defeated the liliputian villagers, surveying the spoils of his victory. Bill Mann's photo showed it to be intact, and he reported that in 1998 you could still crawl into it. Maybe it had significance to the local indians, or maybe it was made by the kids in Crucero. The rock igloo is located at the center of this map. This area is riddled with tracks from ATVs and such. Right in the middle of one such track, the BLM had posted a sign prohibiting motorized vehicles.

For the next stage of our adventure, we returned to Crucero and turned south. The small map is cropped from this large (6 MB) map of the T&T Railroad in 1907. It shows their main line running north from Ludlow through Crucero, as well as the many water stops along the routes. We drove the sandy road south following the route of the old T&T line. The rails and timber are long gone, leaving the sandy overgrown berm that was the railbed. this area was devastated by floods in 1916, 1933 and 1938. Flood repair costs along with reduced traffic due to the Great Depression led to T&T's demise in 1940. The line between Ludlow and Crucero was last run on October 8, 1933.

Three miles south of Crucero we found the "mystery furnaces" described in Mann's book. They're not in good condition and a few appear to have been thoroughly destroyed.

It took us a while, but we finally found the Mojave Desert Megaphone, which was our primary goal for this adventure. This is very strange. At some unknown time in the past, somebody bolted this 6 ft long metal thing to the rocks on a small hill. Bill Mann couldn't discover its history and we could learn no more with the all-powerful Google. There were once two railroad water stops nearby (Mesquite and Broadwell), so maybe it was put there by railroad workers. It's GPS coordinates are: latitude 35.0054 deg, longitude -116.1964 deg. Google's satellite imagery in that area is very poor so I won't post a link to a map.

We stopped off at Mesquite Spring to rest and eat. You might never find the spring, if you didn't have directions. This was once the site of a large indian encampment, due to the year-round availability of water. Mark set off to find the actual spring and inspect the water while I hunted for the petroglyphs on the hill of rocks behind the trees.

The spring is located down amongst those Athel trees in the photo taken from the rock hill. The petroglyphs are in pretty good shape, probably because the remoteness means very few people visit.

On our return, we attempted to drive through Afton canyon but were stopped by the high water. The Ridgeline could probably make it, but I didn't think my MDX would. Before we left the canyon, we stopped a few times to explore some of the side slot canyons. All in all, it was a fun day in the desert.

UPDATE: I recently visited the Mojave Megaphone site taking a different and more difficult route.  See here for details.

UPDATE: I recently returned to the Megaphone taking an easier route.  The post is here.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Little Book That Makes You Rich

Another audiobook I just finished is "The Little Book That Makes You Rich" by Louis Navellier. It currently has 4.5/5 stars from 10 Amazon reviewers. Navellier is a famous stock picker whos firm in Reno, NV, manages over $5 billion in assets. The book describes and promotes Navellier's method of identifying the top growth stocks. He uses 8 factors to judge stocks: (1) upward earnings revisions, (2) positive earnings surprises, (3) sales growth, (4) operating margin growth, (5) cash flow, (6) earnings growth, (7) earnings momentum (changes in earnings growth), and (8) return on equity (ROE). On top of these, he also explains the use of alpha and beta to add further discrimination.

I enjoyed this book and I recommend it to anybody who invests or trades in individual stocks. The book also pitches one of Navellier's websites that offers a free tool to grade your stock picks. He calls it "PortfolioGrader Pro" and it employs the above described factors as well as many more indicators to give a letter grade to each of about 5,000 stocks. I've signed up and am now using that to further examine candidate stocks.