Thursday, May 30, 2013

RonnieAdventure #0057 – Cathedral Canyon, Nye County, Nevada

Cathedral Canyon is another one of those places that I waited too long to visit. Gone are the stained glass windows, statues, suspension bridge, stairs, soothing music, lighting, astronomical observatory and gardens. What was once a beautiful, sacred place to visit has now been totally destroyed by vandals.

Photographer and year of picture unknown

Roland Wiley, moved to Las Vegas in 1929 and established a successful law practice, later becoming the Clark County District Attorney. In 1936 he purchased the Yount Ranch located southwest of Pahrump and started spending all of his free time at the ranch. He eventually purchased an airplane so that he could make the trip from Las Vegas to the Pahrump quicker, but sold the plane after a near accident in the Spring Mountains.

Roland retired from his law practice in 1952; and while stricken with fever, he had a vision about a beautiful desert canyon decorated with various art objects. He was certain that the canyon in his vision was a small box canyon located on his ranch, so he started a life-long career of transforming the canyon (later to be called “Cathedral Canyon”) into a work of art. He built two trails into the canyon – one up from the mouth of the canyon and the other from the east rim to the canyon floor. Although the canyon was never completed to his dream, at one time a pump-fed waterfall cascaded down the box end of the canyon, while beautiful stained glass windows and art objects from around the world were set in alcoves along the canyon walls.  Statues (both religious and secular) and quotes from many famous people lined the walkways throughout the canyon. Benches were placed along the walkways for visitors that wanted to sit and relax and contemplate the canyon’s beauty. Roland also built a suspension bridge across the canyon so that visitors could have a special aerial view of the beautiful decorations, with the focal point being a replica of “Christ of the Andes.” No admission was ever charged to visit the canyon.

The canyon attracted thousands of visitors each year and became so popular that most road maps contained an icon depicting the canyon’s location. A registration book maintained at the site contained visitor comments from around the world with many messages indicating that the serenity found at the canyon was better than any other site they had ever visited.

Unfortunately, Roland died in 1993 and Al Carpenter, an old friend of his, tried to keep the canon intact; but without Roland and a full-time caretaker at the site, vandals soon destroyed everything in the canyon. Today, Roland Wiley and Cathedral Canyon are just a memory of a forgotten era when people enjoyed and respected such works of art!
The below-listed pictures were taken in May 2013.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

RonnieAdventure #0056 - Amargosa Opera House, Death Valley Junction, California

50 years ago Marta Becket was a ballerina in New York City, where she was in the Corps de Ballet at Radio City Music Hall. She also appeared on Broadway in Show Boat, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Wonderful Town, and several other theatrical productions. But, in 1967 she had a life-changing event. 

Marta was traveling cross-country performing a one-woman show in small theaters and school auditoriums, when she happened to have a flat tire in Death Valley Junction, California. While the tire was being repaired, she discovered a U-shaped complex of Mexican Colonial-style adobe buildings that included the Pacific Coast Borax Company offices, a store, dorm rooms for workers, a 23-room hotel with dining room and lobby, and a recreation hall that was used as a community center for dances, church services, movies, funerals and town meetings. Marta was intrigued by the recreation hall and decided it would be a great permanent location for her one-woman show. With the help of some benefactors, she leased, and then purchased, the entire complex. Marta immediately changed the name of the recreation building from Corkhill Hall to Amargosa Opera House, completely revamped the interior d├ęcor, and personally painted all of the interior murals herself.
Photographer Unknown
Opera House
Photographer Unknown
The Opera House opened in 1968, with very limited attendance. Then, in 1970 National Geographic magazine ran an article on the Death Valley area that included information about Marta and the Opera House. A few months later another article about Marta and the Amargosa Opera House appeared in Life magazine. Soon, there was International interest in Marta and the Amargosa Opera House. As attendance increased, Marta began performing for visitors from around the world, including notables as Ray Bradbury and Red Skelton.

Even though almost all of the residents have now moved from Death Valley Junction (current population was reported to be less than 20), Martha continued to perform her one-woman show at the Opera House over the years. Then, last year Marta decided to retire -- her last show was February 12, 2012. The Opera House is now owned and operated by Marta’s non-profit organization, with guest performers appearing on weekends during the cooler months of the year. (There is no air condition in the building; thus, no summer performances.) 

During our recent visit we were informed that your general admission ticket allows you to pick any seat in the house, except the stage-left front-row center seat that is permanently reserved for Marta. The adjacent seat is reserved in memory of Red Skelton, who was a close friend and frequent performer at the Opera House.

The night we visited the Opera House, Jan McInnis, a professional comedian, was performing her comedy routine about the Baby-Boomer Generation, or a show for people that were born before seatbelts, computers, and Facebook. Jan has been featured in the Wall Street Journal as one of the top convention comedians in the Country, and the Washington Post said that her clean comedy was appropriate for the entire family. We hope that a friend of ours will be performing at the Opera House sometime  next season because we are looking forward to a return visit!

Visit the Opera House Web Site at
 Main entrance to Opera House
 Opera House front doors
 Opera House Stage
 Opera House Stage
Opera House Props
 Opera House painted walls and seating area
Opera House painted walls and seating area

Exterior of Hotel
Exterior of Hotel
Hotel Lobby

 Hotel Lobby

Friday, May 17, 2013

RonnieAdventure #0055 - Moorehouse Mine, San Bernardino County, California

There are numerous abandoned talc mines in the area of Ibex Springs, with the Moorehouse Mine being the most impressive. The Mine is the largest in the area and located about two miles northwest of Ibex Springs.

In the 1930s John Moorehouse filed 16 claims that yielded about 62,000 tons of talc, before the talc market completely disappeared in the 1960s. It turns out that talc contains asbestos, which isn’t the best thing to be breathing in as you pamper your body with talcum powder.

Because of its remoteness and more recent mining activity at Moorehouse Mine, the ruins are some of the most impressive in Death Valley. Metal oar cart tracks can still be found in their original positions and the metal lined chutes are some of the longest and best preserved in the State of Nevada. At most abandoned mines, any metal that had been used in the mining activity was salvaged years ago and sold for its scrap value.

The Moorehouse Mine is located toward the top of a mountain, so the views of southern Death Valley are spectacular when standing at the top of the loading chutes. However, you have to be very careful where you walk and stand because the old timbers are loose and deteriorating, One wrong step could lead to a long fall down the mountain and it is a long way to any medical services.

For safety reasons, the original mine shafts have been sealed by dynamiting the entrances or by installing metal gates in the main entrance shafts. As it turns out, there are a large number of bats that still reside in the mine tunnels, so metal gates are the preferred method for mine closures within the National Park.

Although not as extensive as Moorehouse Mine, located to the northeast of Ibex Springs are the abandoned talc ruins of the Pleasanton, Monarch, and Rob Roy claims. Various loading chutes and other mining paraphernalia are still scattered about the area and provide an insight to early mining activity in the area. 

This is an interesting area and worth a visit (when the weather is cooler) if you have a 4WD vehicle with “at least 15-inch heavy duty tires, good tread, 12 inches of ground clearance and a low gear transfer case, with a driver experienced with 4WD techniques."  

Saturday, May 11, 2013

RonnieAdventure #0054 – Ibex Springs Ghost Town, San Bernardino County, California

Ibex Springs is a ghost town located in the far southeast corner of Death Valley National Park and is seldom visited by anyone. The Park Service’s Backcountry Roads Map and trail description states that in order to make the trip to Ibex Springs, your 4WD vehicle must have: “at least 15-inch heavy duty tires, good tread, 12 inches of ground clearance and a low gear transfer case, with a driver experienced with 4WD techniques. 4WD road may be rocky, with deep sand or gravel, and steep hills, and may include rock ledges, deeply eroded ruts, tight corners, and cliff-edge washouts. May require a vehicle with a short wheelbase.” Sounds like a great RonnieAdventure!

After leaving California State Route 127, the first few miles on the Ibex Springs “Road” were a combination of sand washes and a rocky, rutted trail that was passable with 2WD, at slow speeds. Then, we came to a washed out section of the road that went steeply down a dry wash and an even steeper climb up the other side. Time for 4WD!

Going down the wash was easy, but trying to get up the other side was more problematic because the ruts were so deep that it wasn't possible to keep enough wheels on the ground at the same time to get any traction. (I’ve learned from experience that 4WD works best when you keep all 4 wheels on the ground. When you get tires on alternate corners of the vehicle off of the ground at the same time, and you don’t have limited-slip differentials, you are not going anywhere, even with 4WD.) When you find yourself in this situation, you have two options – get out and fill in the ruts with rocks, or back your vehicle up the hill and then go as fast as you can up the other side to bounce over the ruts. Since I decided to do the latter, part of the family decided to get out and watch, while Kolohe decided to ride along – only to throw a Big Gulp size cup of ice water all over the inside of my vehicle while bouncing over the ruts. Just to make me feel better, she informed me that she also got soaked. (On the way home we had the same problem keeping all four wheels on the ground at the same time; but with the help of gravity, we didn’t have to drive as fast going down the hill.) 

After a few more miles we could see palm trees in the distance,  so we knew that we had almost reached our destination. Arriving at Ibex Springs we found old abandoned buildings scattered through the hills and along some of the dry washes. Ibex Springs is somewhat unique in that there are more standing structures than most ghost towns in the area. When the Park Service acquired this area they had originally planned to bulldoze the buildings and clean up the debris, but Shortfuse convinced the Park Service to allow the structures to deteriorate naturally and made arrangements for the Mojave River Valley Museum to monitor and photograph the site each year. So far, this arrangement has worked out well for everyone


Picture by Kolohe
Ibex Springs History: In 1881 two young miners discovered outcrops of silver and copper near what is now known as Ibex Springs and with no proven mineral deposits (other than the surface veins) they sold their mining claims to a Chicago syndicate in 1882 for $48,000 (a lot of money for that time period). In 1883 a five-stamp mill was constructed and a fifteen-inch-wide vein was opened to a depth of 80 feet, with ore assaying at $300 a ton. However, finding wood and water to operate the mill hampered ore processing. A small smelting furnace was constructed in 1884, but it only operated occasionally because of the lack of fuel and workers had a difficult time working in the intense summer heat. In 1889 all mining activity in the area ceased and Ibex Springs was abandoned.

Then, in the 1930s talc was discovered at the Moorehouse, Monarch, and Rob Roy claims a short distance away and Ibex Springs was resurrected. However, because of its asbestos content, talc fell out of favor as a baby powder and the market for talc completed vanished by the mid-1960s. (I remember when we were kids our Mother use to slap talcum powder all over us – it’s a wonder we all don’t have mesothelioma.)   

The drive back to the highway was uneventful, but as we approached civilization, we could see a long line of cars on the highway. My family quickly put on their seat belts because they were certain that we were approaching some type of police road block. I assured them that it was just road construction and there was nothing to worry about because there wasn’t a policeman within 50 mile of where we were at. Much to my surprise, when we arrived at the highway there were law enforcement agents everywhere. Of course, my family immediately accused me of being wrong, but I explained that technically I wasn't wrong - I was actually right, because I said that there wasn’t “a” policeman within 50 miles , which is singular, meaning one. As it turned out, there were 8,000 law enforcement agents participating in the annual Baker-to-Vegas 120 mile relay race. The race is billed as “the world’s most prestigious and unique law enforcement foot race…Starting in Baker, California and ending in Las Vegas, Nevada, law enforcement officers from around the globe battle it out every Spring for the chance of winning the coveted cup trophy.” (Check out their "B2V" web site for more information.) With cars lined up as far as we could see in both directions, it was like being stuck in a Los Angeles traffic jam in the middle of the Mojave Desert; so, we decided to call it a day and head for home (by way of Baker because that was the opposite way the runners were traveling).

Saturday, May 4, 2013

RonnieAdventure #0053 - Kelso Depot & Ruins, San Bernardino County, California

Kelso, because of its location, is a town that was built specifically to service the railroad. There are nearby springs that could provide an ample supply of water for the steam trains and it was the ideal place to add additional locomotives to help trains climb the steep Cima Grade. As the town started to grow, a California Spanish Mission Revival style depot was constructed in 1923 that contained a restaurant, boarding rooms, telegraph office, billiard room, library, locker room, and recreation facilities. There was also a large room in the basement that served as the community center for the area residents.

Although Kelso was started to service the railroad, Kelso’s population boomed to about 2,000 residents when borax and iron mines opened and later gold and silver was discovered in the nearby hills. However, when the mines played out the miners started leaving. About the same time the steam locomotives were replaced with more powerful diesel engines that could climb the Cima Grade without assistance, which caused the population of Kelso to decline even further. In the 1970s there was reported to be about 70 residents in Kelso, and Kelso was one of the few remaining communities in the United States that did not have television service. However, that changed with the invention of the satellite dish.

After the train depot closed in 1986, the building began to deteriorate in the harsh desert environment and the railroad was on the verge of demolishing the structure when preservationists stepped in to save it. In 1992 the building was transferred to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and in 1994 it was transferred to the U.S. National Park Service (NPS). In 2002 the Park Service started a historical restoration and reuse project and in 2005 the building was opened to the public as the new Mojave National Preserve’s Visitor Center.

Most of the other historic buildings in Kelso remain in a state of disrepair.

Kelso Post Office (closed)
Kelso Homestead (vacant)
Kelso Depot (NPS Visitor Center)
Train Schedule
Depot Front Yard
Depot Front Porch
Railroad Tracks