Prior to being National, State, and other protected public lands, California’s eastern deserts were honeycombed with a variety of mining claims. While some of these claims were more successful than others, all of these claims had a variety of unique structures, and methods to extracting minerals. Today, many of these structures have disappeared, or have been closed off by various governmental agencies. Those that remain, fall into a number of categories ranging from easily found and known about (such as Bodie State Park), or unknown and visited, to known or unknown and closed off (such as Carey’s Castle in Joshua Tree National Park). The first and third categories are easily dealt with, as they provide explorers and visitors with clear direction. The second category, however, provides writers with difficulty in both reporting, and describing them, but in general, my approach to such things is to provide information, as they are on public land, and the best way to preserve them is to allow people to appreciate them and experience them.
Dotted across the deserts of California are remnants of mining history. Some areas, like the Pegleg Smith Memorial, represent the more otherworldly aspects of this time period. Other areas, like Scotty's Castle, and the Rock Spring Cabin represent the more practical aspects of this time period. During the late nineteenth century, and early twentieth century, physicians would regularly recommend patients head to various deserts in an effort to cure a variety of ailments. While there are no definitive statistics on the success rate of this placebo, it did ensure that the patients lived out the remainder of their days with warm weather and lots of sunshine.
From the United States-Mexico border, up through the high desert near Bishop, California is spotted with a number of unique locations that are now protected as public lands. However, as any history buff knows, these public lands were once a variety of wild locales marked by official and unofficial mining claims that were inhabited by scoundrels, mountain men, prospectors, and general never-do-wells. During these times, the men who lived in these areas were in some respects, bigger than life because of the lives they had lived, and the stories of those lives that may or may not have occurred. While John Samuelson of Joshua Tree, Gus Lederer of Corn Springs, and Shorty Borden of Death Valley all had fantastical tales and lives, the desert dweller with the most impressive tales that remain to this day was none other than Pegleg Smith.
From the Salton Sea to the east, and the expanse between near the Mexican border to the south and the Santa Rosa National Monument to the north, Anza-Borrego State Park has a number of interesting geologic features that can be seen with a little effort. Some, like Font’s Point require at times, four wheel drive to visit, but have a great payoff in terms of sunrise and sunset. Others, like the Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves require both four wheel drive, and a willingness to explore and adventure. Out of all of these locations, none is more accessible than Clark Dry Lake Bed.
Dijon is one of the oldest cities in France, and one of the most storied cities as well. The former home to the Dukes of Burgundy is now the capital of a well-established wine region, and is also home to world-renown cooking and food. Dijon, however, also has a more surreal side, with one of its oldest buildings, the Church of Notre-Dame of Dijon having not one, but two sculptures reputed to have magic or mystical powers. The first, the Notre-Dame de Bon-Espoir (Our Lady of Good Hope) is located in the church, and is one of the oldest, if not the oldest statues of the Virgin Mary in France, dating to around the eleventh or twelfth century. Over the centuries, many miracles have been attributed to the statute, which remains a popular pilgrimage point.
From the south to the north, San Diego county has over seventy miles of pristine coastline that, among other things, is honeycombed with a variety of sea caves. Over the years, these caves have been used for a variety of purposes, including bootlegging, tourism (or in the case of the Sunny Jim Cave, both), and everything in between. While some of these caves are inaccessible without a boat, and some of these caves are flat out inaccessible or unsafe, the best place to visit and experience sea caves is in one of San Diego’s most popular public spaces, Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. While the sixty eight acres of Sunset Cliffs Natural Park are perhaps best known as a great place to watch the sun set for tourists and locals alike, its most popular - and striking area is an eighteen acre linear portion south of Ocean Beach leading down to Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument.
One of the most fascinating things about any desert region are the things that have been left behind, either unintentionally, or intentionally, along with the attendant legends that surround these modern or ancient historical artifacts. From the Mexican border up through the volcanic tablelands near Bishop, California is honeycombed with strange and unique spots, such as Ballarat and Corn Springs. In Joshua Tree National Park alone, however, there are numerous unique locations, both known - like the Desert Queen Mine - and unknown. Out of all of these spots within the park, Samuelson’s Rocks are one of the better preserved locations, and one of the more unique as they comprise the thoughts of a strange man who lived a very interesting life. For those visitors with a map or GPS, the rocks also present an “off-trail” adventure that, when prepared for properly, allows one to experience a side of the park that typical visitors may not see.