Category Archives: Out & About

I’m well on my way before I even start!

Flowers in Russel's cactus garden

Ever since I joined my first cactus & succulent club in February 2017, I had been wanting to do a presentation of nature’s geometry using the Fibonacci sequence of numbers (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144…..). It’s an additive sequence, meaning that the next number in the sequence is the sum of the two previous numbers.

The program chairperson for the first club told me in April 2018 that they had just had such a speaker a year ago, that he was very good, and that I would be hard-pressed to follow him. I told him that, since 1973, I had been studying the Fibonacci numbers and how they are expressed in nature, so I wouldn’t be hard-pressed to follow anyone. However, having a speaker just a year ago meant that having another speaker on the same subject the following year probably would not go over well. I got the name of the previous speaker, and it turns out that “a year ago” was defined as “five years ago.” More importantly, though, I since found out that the program chairperson for that club doesn’t schedule anyone who is not already on the cactus & succulent club speaking circuit. That, of course, begs the Catch-22 question, “How do you get on the speaking circuit to begin with?”

Turns out that one has to make contacts in a club which will take a chance on you, and that happened in June 2019 for me with the Palomar Cactus & Succulent Club of Escondido, California.

I recently found out two other ways: (1) write many articles throughout the years and have them published in reputable books and magazines, and (2) to publish a book, which I did in October 2019:

"Nature's Geometry: Succulents" front cover

Nature's Geometry: Succulents back cover

My book is for sale at my Etsy shop, $30 with free shipping to United States locations: etsy.com/shops/russelrayphotos

Many decades ago, being an author of a book was a pretty good indicator of expertise. In today’s world of self-publishing, not necessarily. That’s a problem that I dealt with with my own head when looking at publishers.

I wanted desperately for the Texas A&M University Press to publish my book since Texas A&M University is my alma mater, Class of ’77. However, the cost of having the Press publish it would have been about $44 per book, so I would have wanted to sell it for $50 to make at least a little money. The only books that are 174 pages that sell for that much money are academic books by academic publishers. So that was out.

The other problem was the time frame. It would have taken up to 18 months to publish the dang thing.

So self-publishing it was…. inexpensive and as fast as I wanted it to be. I chose BookBaby because they are a print-on-demand service. I can have one book printed, hundreds of books, or thousands of books. Of course, the more books one has printed, the less expensive the cost per book.

I could choose to have BookBaby completely involved in everything, or nothing. I chose nothing because I have been doing writing, editing, graphic design, book and magazine design and layout, and publishing all my life.

If I used all of their services, the cost would have been right up there with the Texas A&M University Press, and the lead time would have been up there, too. By buying an ISBN number from BookBaby and then using their printing services, I kept the cost low and the lead time short.

I am extremely happy with BookBaby’s printing, paper, and binding.

Having a book published immediately got me on the cactus & succulent club speaking circuit. I’m also exploring many other speaking circuits, including horticulture clubs, gardening clubs, community retirement homes (I had no idea that so many of them have regular programs; two already have expressed an interest), and city and county libraries, many of which have up to five programs each week.

The reception of Nature’s Geometry: Succulents also has me looking at doing another book. My two immediate choices are Nature’s Geometry: Flora and Nature’s Geometry: Fauna. However, my main goal is to stay on the cactus & succulent speaking circuit where I already know my intended audience and their likes.

I have noticed that a great majority of the cactus & succulent speakers give presentations on their travels to foreign countries. The Atacama Desert region of Chile and the Oxaca region of Mexico are two of the most popular. That, though, caused me to think that maybe, just maybe, the southwestern United States has a lot to offer.Fishhook barrel cactus

There are a lot of cacti & succulents that grow in our region, many of which are found only here. Carnegiea gigantea (the saguaro) comes immediately to mind, but there also is Ferocactus wislizeni, the Southwestern barrel cactus (picture at right), Agave utahensis (which, you might guess, occurs in Utah), Ferocactus cylindraceus, the California barrel cactus, and Yucca brevifolia, the Joshua tree.

Knowing this, I have decided to do a second book, tentatively titled
SSS: Southwest Succulent Staycation. For my purpose with this book, I will define “southwest” as California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.

United States SSS map

During 2020, I will be endeavoring to go to all the national parks, national monuments, botanical gardens, zoos (many zoos in the southwest also are botanical gardens), state parks, and cities with a population of at least 50,000. There will be exceptions, I’m sure. I already have a few million photos from excursions in the southwest, so I’m well on my way before I even start!

The nice thing about this second book is that, for people back east, going to the southwestern United States can be very much like going to a foreign country, so I might be able to get on cactus & succulent speaking circuits outside of my home territory of the southwest.

The Ocean Institute at Dana Point, California

Out & About       Halls of History

On September 6, 2019, I was in Dana Point, California, for the 35th Annual Tall Ships & Ocean Festival hosted by the Ocean Institute.

Surprising to me, although I had been to Dana Point, it was on a technicality: I had driven through it on Pacific Coast Highway. I never had stopped to go exploring. This time, I did. There is lots to do in Dana Point, but I do admit I was more interested in the harbor and the Ocean Institute. In the picture below, at the bottom center, several masts from tall ships are visible. That’s the Ocean Institute, at the bottom of the cliff.

Dana Point, California, harbor

The front of the Ocean Institute was undergoing repairs and renovations, so I chose not to take a picture of all the fencing. I suspect you’ve seen fencing before. It’s usually not pretty. It wasn’t. Here’s a picture of the landlocked back side, though:

Ocean Institute at Dana Point, California

Although it is the landlocked side, it is the side that faces the Pacific Ocean, which is why there are so many trails through the vegetation there. People want to see the mighty Pacific, and it’s no wonder with views like this:

The Ocean Institute is located at 24200 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point, California. Its mission statement:

Using the ocean as our classroom, we inspire children to learn.

The Ocean Institute was founded in 1977 and educates over 100,000 children, teachers, parents, and visitors each year through over 60 programs on marine science, maritime history, and outdoor education. It occupies 2.4 acres  and also is adjacent to a State Marine Conservation Area.

“Immersion-based field trips” sponsored by the Ocean Institute range from one-hour science labs to multi-day programs at sea and at the Lazy W Ranch in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains. Programs are designed to maximize immersion, spark curiosity, and inspire a commitment to learning.

There are state-of-the-art teaching labs, including the awesome Maddie James Seaside Learning Center, and two historic tall ships, the Pilgrim and the Spirit of Dana Point. I got to take a 3-hour ride in the Pacific Ocean on the Spirit of Dana Point on September 6.

Passengers on the Spirit of Dana Point

The Pilgrim is a full-size replica of a hide brig, i.e., a brig participating in the California cattle hide trade for her Boston owners, Bryant & Sturgis. The original Pilgrim was built in Boston in 1825 and sank in a fire at sea in 1856. It weighed 180 tons and was 86½ feet long.

The replica was built in 1945 in Denmark, originally as a three-masted schooner. It was converted to its present rigging in 1975 in Lisbon, Portugal. Its deck is 98 feet long with a beam of 24.6 feet, a mainmast height of 98 feet, and a net tonnage of 64. In September 1981 it became part of the Ocean Institute.

Full size replica of Pilgrim, Ocean Institute, Dana Point, California

If you’re a film buff, the Pilgrim might look familiar to you since it was used in the 1997 film, Amistad. If you’re a history buff, Amistad should be on your list of films to watch. I have not seen it and did not know about it until this blog post, which was another surprise because it was directed by Steven Spielberg (one of my favorite directors) and starred Morgan Freeman (one of my favorite actors), Anthony Hopkins (who can forget Silence of the Lambs), and Matthew McConaughey.

As an aside since I’m a graduate of Texas A&M University, Matthew McConaughey now is a Professor of Practice in the Department of Radio-Television-Film in the Moody College of Communication at my arch rival, the University of Texas at Austin, where he graduated in 1993.

Amistad is a historical drama film based on the true story of the events in 1839 aboard the slave ship La Amistad, during which Mende tribesmen abducted for the slave trade managed to gain control of their captors’ ship off the coast of Cuba, and the international legal battle that followed their capture by the Washington, a U.S. revenue cutter. The case was ultimately resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1841.

The screenplay was based on the book Mutiny on the Amistad: The Saga of a Slave Revolt and Its Impact on American Abolition, Law, and Diplomacy by historian Howard Jones. The case, United States v. The Amistad (1839) is quite interesting, perhaps the most important decision regarding slavery before the Dred Scot decision in 1857.

The movie is not available on Hulu or Netflix, but I did find it on YouTube for $2.99. As soon as I finish Altered Carbon, I’ll be watching Amistad.

The Ocean Institute also owns an oceanographic research vessel, the Sea Explorer.

Sea Explorer of the Ocean Institute

My Photoshop eye was quick to see that with just a few minutes of work, I could rename the Sea Explorer:

Sex Explorer

Double R Creations & Photographic Art by Russel Ray Photos

Out & About—The All-American Canal

Out & About

Canals always have fascinated me. When I was running around as a juvenile delinquent in Brigham City, Utah, in the earl 1960s, I used to climb in the canal that directed water around the Mormon Temple and ride the water all around the plaza.

When I was over in Yuma, Arizona, this past week, I saw a lot of the All-American Canal. Looks like this:All American Canal

All American Canal

Yes. I wanted to jump in.

The All-American Canal is an aqueduct 82 miles long in southeastern California and is the only water source for the massive Imperial Valley. It provides drinking water for nine cities, irrigation water for the Imperial Valley, and electricity via its many hydroelectric dams.

Along with the Hoover Dam, the All-American Canal was authorized by the 1928 Boulder Canyon Project Act. Construction began in the 1930s and was completed in 1942. It is the largest irrigation canal in the world and moves a maximum of 26,155 cubic feet of water per second. Most water for the Canal is diverted from the Colorado River by the Imperial Dam, located about 30 miles northeast of Yuma.

Originally one of the driest places on earth, the Imperial Valley now is a huge crop land comprising about 630,000 acres, all due to the All-American Canal. Agricultural runoff from the Canal, comprising silt, selenium, and sales, drains into the Salton Sea, sadly, because there is no way for water to drain out of the Salton Sea, leaving a large, polluted lake with pollution becoming even more concentrated due to evaporation. Any fish caught in the Canal should not be eaten since they are known to have high levels of mercury, PCBs, and selenium.

There are five smaller canals which branch off the All-American Canal to help move water through the Imperial Valley, as well as a large network of even smaller canals. The main canal has a total drop of 175 feet, a width between 150 feet  and 700 feet, and a depth ranging from 7 feet to 50 feet.

All American CanalEight hydroelectric power plants have been constructed along drops in the All-American Canal system, all relatively small and providing a combined capacity of 58 MW.

The Canal runs through the Algodones Dunes, an extraordinarily dry and hot area, losing a lot of water due to evaporation. It used to lose 68,000 acre feet per year due to seepage, especially in the Algodones Dunes. Eventually, 23 miles of the canal was lined with concrete to prevent seepage, but that created other environmental problems. In some areas, a parallel, lined canal was constructed and water diverted into it to help control seepage.

Over 500 people, mostly Mexican citizens attempting to cross have into the United States, have drowned in the Canal since its completion because of deep, cold water, steep sides that make escape difficult, and swift currents of up to 5½ miles per hour. It has been called “the Most Dangerous Body of Water in the U.S.” In 2011 the Imperial Irrigation District started installing lifesaving buoy lines across the canal in 105 locations, as well as bilingual signs reading “Warning: Dangerous Water” in 1,414 locations.

All American Canal

All American Canal

All American Canal

All American Canal

All American Canal

All American Canal

Out & About—Laguna Dam

Out & About

 

Dams always have fascinated me. I remember making dams along the street curbs when it rained and then playing in the huge lake the dam created.

When I was in Yuma, Arizona, a few days ago, I discovered the history of dams on the Colorado River.

Laguna Diversion Dam, 1905
Price-Stubb Dam, 1911
Hoover Dam, 1936
Imperial Dam, 1938
Parker Dam, 1938
Headgate Rock Dam, 1941
Shadow Mountain Dam, 1946
Morelos Dam, 1950
Granby Dam, 1950
Davis Dam, 1951
Palo Verde Dam, 1958
Glen Canyon Dam, 1966
Windy Gap Dam 1970

Hoover Dam, original named Boulder Dam, created Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States by volume. The Glen Canyon Dam created Lake Powell. Both Lake Mead and Lake Powell are huge recreational areas.

Notice the first dam on the list, the Laguna Diversion Dam. Prior to 1905, the Colorado River was a major steamboat passageway. The Laguna Dam effectively ended steamboat travel on the Colorado River.

Tourist displays in Yuma indicated that the Laguna Dam, Imperial Dam, and Morelos Dam were nearby, so I set off in search of them.

The Morelos Dam was closest, but it also happens to be in Mexico. Since I don’t have a passport, I did not go into Mexico.

Imperial Dam was not accessible because the dam is on U.S. Goverment property and the road was gated.

Laguna Dam, the first on the list, was accessible. Looks like this:

Laguna Dam in Arizona

Laguna Dam in Arizona

The Laguna Dam originally connected Arizona to California, but when the Imperial Dam was completed in 1938, the California part of the dam no longer was needed, and its diversion outlets were closed on June 23, 1948. What you see in the above pictures is on the Arizona side, all that is left of the original dam.

The Laguna Dam now regulates water outflow from the Imperial Dam into the All American Canal, a huge aqueduct 80 miles long that that feeds Colorado water into the Imperial Valley for irrigation, as well as providing water to nine cities. More on the All American Canal in tomorrow’s post.

Out & About—Ogilby, California

Out & About

 

Long-time readers know that I’m a big baby when it comes to trains. I love them. Trains often are part of my explorations, so when I went exploring a couple of days ago looking for the Wood Plank Road, I spent a lot of time wandering around looking for trains, too.

Yuma, Arizona, happens to be one of those places where my favorite railroad, Union Pacific, runs a lot of trains, fifty or more each day. They are not short trains, either, some being up to two miles long. Sadly, the layout of Yuma with all its little mountains and valleys meant that there was not a place to get good pictures or videos of all the trains.

That left me wandering around out in the desert looking for trains and train history. I went down Ogilby Road where my source book told me there was an abandoned Southern Pacific settlement and an old mine. The settlement, Ogilby, is a ghost town, and although my source book said there were remnants of building foundations, I didn’t find any. My source book was published in 1994, so 25 years of drifting sands might have obscured the remaining foundations.

I did find the old Catholic cemetery. Looks like this:

Ogilby Cemetery

Ogilby was founded in 1877 as a railroad stop for the Southern Pacific Railroad. The American Girl Mine in Obregon was on the other side of Ogilby Road. The mine was closed in 1939, and Obregon was abandoned the same year. Ogilby, named after E.R. Ogilby, mine promoter. The post office closed in 1942, and by 1961, the town was abandoned.

Interestingly, there were three grave markers that indicated people were buried there well after 1961, and one indicated that the person was born in 1963, a couple of years after the town was abandoned.

Ogilby Cemetery

Ogilby Cemetery

Ogilby Cemetery

Although there are grave markers, I could not if there actually were graves there. If there were, they are well below ground as is done in modern times. My own belief is that a family would not bury a loved one out in the boondocks, in spite of the fact that they might have been born and raised there. I think the loved one is buried in a city cemetery somewhere and a memorial marker was placed in this cemetery.

The Ol’ Road Grader was 75, but the other two were 38 and 50, not only indicative of the lower life expectancy of the times but probably indicative of life in the area as well. There also were a lot of small graves typically of children and babies.

Ogilby Cemetery

Ogilby Cemetery

Ogilby Cemetery

Ogilby Cemetery

Ogilby Cemetery

Ogilby Cemetery

Ogilby Cemetery

After having visited the area a couple of days ago in my nice, air conditioned 2019 Honda Insight, I really can’t imagine what life was like out there in the desert 150-200 years ago.

Out & About—The Plank Road

Out & About

 

In January 2017, I found a book by Christopher Wray titled The Historic Backcountry. That led me to another of his books titled “Highways to History.”

Yesterday, I decided to embark on an Out & About expedition to find the Wood Plank Road because the pictures in his books were so intriguing.

I found it.

Looks like this:

Wood Plank Road

The Plank Road was a 7-mile long road of wood planks built to get vehicles through the Imperial San Dunes in far southeastern California. It was comprised of sections eight feet long and twelve feet wide that were built off-site and moved into place using a team of horses. Double sections were installed at intervals to permit vehicles to pass. Horse-drawn plows were used to clear the drifting sand from the roadway.

According to some sources, the Plank Road was built from 1912-1914 and in use from 1915 through 1926. Tourist information displays at the site tell a different story:

The story of the Plank Road began with the era of automobile transportation and a spirit of competition between the cities of San Diego and Los Angeles. San Diego was determined to become the hub of the Southern California road network. Civic and business leaders recognized the benefits of establishing roads to link their communities and promote commerce. Businessman and road builder “Colonel” Ed Fletcher was a key promoter for San Diego who sponsored a race from Southern california to Phoenix, Arizona. The Examiner, a Los Angeles newspaper, issued a personal challenger to Fletcher for the race.

The race took place during October 1912. Fletcher completed the race from San Diego to Phoenix in 19½ hours. He beat the Examiner’s reporter who had been given a 24-hour head start and was racing from Los Angeles to Phoenix, by 10 hours! Fletcher managed to have his car pulled across the Imperial San Dunes before there was an established road by a team of horses. He also got his car across the Colorado River in Yuma on a railroad bridge, winning the race.

The approval to build the Plank Road through the Dunes was decided with support from Imperial County Supervisor Ed Boyd, the local newspapers and local communities. Also a factor in the decision was the recent State and Federal Government decision to build a bridge over the Colorado River in Yuma. With great fanfare, the first planks for a 2-track road were installed on February 14, 1915. Traffic and maintenance quickly wore the road. A second plank road, consisting of a continuous 8-foot planks was built in 1916. The second plank road remained in use until 1926 when a 20-foot swide, asphalt-like concrete road, was constructed by the State Highway Commission.

Through the years and with little use the Plank Road began degrading. In the 70s, a major effort took place to revitalize the area and create a monument in recognition of the Plank Road. The Bureau of Land Management, Imperial Valley Pioneer Historical Society, California Off-Road Vehicle Association and Air Force personnel collaborated to assemble a 1,500-foot section of the Plank Road using various portions of it remaining in the dunes. This revitalization stands today to memorialize the determination and vision of those who forged the first automobile highway across the dunes. CORVA’s volunteers and mission were recognized by the Bureau of Land Management naming their efforts the “Preservation Project of the Year.”

Over 400 volunteers worked to recover and preserve the Plank Road.
CORVA volunteers transported unearthed portions of the Plank Road and moved them to be reassembled at the monument site.

Wood Plank Road

Wood Plank Road

Wood Plank Road

Wood Plank Road

Wood Plank Road

Wood Plank Road

Before you go there, though, be sure your car is full of gas, that you have lots of water, and that your phone and/or GPS works, because it’s hotter than hell there.

117 effin degrees fahrenheit

The Plank Road is California Registered Historical Landmark #845.

Out & About—Abandoned!

Out & About San Diego

When I explored the East San Diego County boondocks for the first time, I was searching for history, not really thinking about why that certain history became part of history. I was following Highway 94 using a highway history tour book as a guide.

Highway 94 used to be a major east-west thoroughfare in San Diego County…. Until the mid-1960s when Interstate 8 was built. That caused vehicle traffic to abandon Highway 94. People who relied on that vehicle traffic had to move, leaving their former homes and businesses behind.

Chimney from a long-ago abandoned home

I never really thought about the connection between vehicle traffic, businesses, and even who cities until I drove part of historic Route 66 from Santa Monica, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada. Suddenly I understood. The price of progress. People enjoyed getting from here to there much faster on Interstate highways.

Former service station

Whole cities had been founded along railroad tracks, then along the first roadways, all to serve the people who traveled on the railroads and roadways. When the Interstate highway system came along, people no longer had a need to stop for a meal or sleep for the night. Driving from here to there could be accomplished easily in hours instead of days, weeks, or even months.

Abandoned home

Those who understood what was happening, or going to happen, quickly moved their homes and businesses near the Interstates, simply abandoning their former homes and businesses.

Abandoned home

Of the places I have visited, Jacumba and Barstow, both in California, seem to be the hardest hit. I can kind of understand Jacumba because it is out in the middle of nowhere. Barstow, however, is home to a huge railroad classification yard used by both BNSF and Union Pacific. Interstate 15 also runs smack dab through the middle of Barstow, so I’m not fully understanding what happened there unless people simply pass it by in their haste to get to Los Angeles or Las Vegas; Barstow is the midpoint.

Jacumba used to be Jacumba Hot Springs. It was a playground for the rich and famous from the Los Angeles movie, film, and recording industries, those who wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles for the weekend. Here are two pictures of what once has a thriving Jacumba Hot Springs bath house:

Abandoned business in Jacumba, California

I wanted to explore the interior so badly, but Jacumba is a small town and there are No Trespassing signs posted, so I didn’t want someone to see me go inside and call law enforcement.

Sadly, I see the same thing happening now with our shopping malls. Few people want to get dressed, go outside, and drive to a mall to shop when they can simply join Amazon Prime Now and have virtually anything delivered today or tomorrow.

It’s getting worse because the brick-and-mortar stores are losing foot traffic, and with the loss of that foot traffic comes a loss of inventory, so even when one does go to the mall, it’s rare that they have the item that one is looking for. People go back home and get those items from Amazon Prime Now. Eventually those same people learn that it just isn’t worth the time to go to the mall.

Some malls and shopping districts have lost so many shoppers and the resulting revenue that they have implemented parking fees. Huh? All that does is encourage people even more to shop at home on the computer with a cat on their laps, a dog by their sides, and a margarita sitting on their desks.

I don’t have an answer, which is why I’m not a politician with all the answers. I did read recently that some abandoned malls have been renovated into office complexes. I liked that. I’m wondering if the likes of Amazon could, perhaps, turn some malls and buildings, or parts thereof, into warehouses for the products they carry. Then other parts of the malls or buildings could be personnel support centers for those bigger businesses.

Abandoned building in Jacumba, California

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