Saturday, October 09, 2010

Desert sojourn, day 30

Queen Valley, Joshua Tree National Park

Christine and I went hiking in the Queen Valley area of Joshua Tree National Park (here's the official map [PDF] if you're interested) and had a great critter experience: we saw two tarantulas. Here's video of the first one:

The second one was motionless at the edge of a hole right at the spot where the first one had appeared -- they live in holes in the ground. Christine pointed out that it was mating season and that "males usually don't survive mating... Maybe she bit his head off."

After our hike, we drove a little ways to a parking area for something called Wall Street Mill, a historical attraction we didn't actually visit. Instead, we took a different, unmarked path that led to these ruins:

She said that this used to a store of some sort and that it was open as recently as the early 1970s -- or so she had heard; there was nothing to tell us what we were looking at. We had already been talking about the officially approved activities in the park -- camping, hiking, rock climbing -- differ from the things you can do in the park but which the park staff doesn't want the public to see or know about, such as precolumbian petroglyphs and other relics. She told a story about going to an officially undocumented archeo-astronomical site -- a place where the indigenous people of the area had arranged rocks to mark astronomical events (of which Stonehenge is the best known example) -- one solstice before dawn, and being detained by park rangers who literally jumped out from behind bushes to ask what they were doing there. It was very different when the park ranger assumed his or her police function, she said, suddenly they're no longer this friendly person in a Smokey Bear hat, suddenly they're a cop. And the rangers were very uncomfortable with anyone knowing about the archaeoastronomy site.

Of course, I understand why the park wants to protect culturally significant sites and objects -- they don't want them to get trashed (like, for example, these vandalized petroglyphs). Other sites, such as the Wall Street Mill mentioned above, or events such as the shootout between two crusty pioneers, fit into the Old West narrative the park wants to present.

But the ruins of the store -- if that's what it was -- have no explanatory plaque, no signs pointing to the site, no mention of it on the map. (Here it is on Google satellite.) The 1960s aren't part of the official history.

By now we were standing beside a large piñon pine tree about a hundred yards from the ruins, close by some sheltering cliffs. "There will never be," I said, "a commemorative plaque about the 7000 great acid trips that people took while lying under this tree." And Christine laughed, because that's the kind of thing we used to do.

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