Out & About—Cajon Pass, Mormon Rocks, and the Blue Cut Fire

Out & About The World

My wise old grandmother was the epitome of efficiency. She never just went for a drive, or went for a walk, or went out just to go out. I’m the same way. I always have a purpose for going out, and I always try to get several things done in one long trip rather than making several short trips.

So when I’m out and about and run across something interesting that’s not on my list of things to do, I have three choices:

1. Stop and do it.
2. Ignore it.
3. Make a note of it and come back some other time.

I usually prefer to stop and do it since I’m rarely on a schedule, just trying to get things done on my list.

When I was out in the Mojave Desert last week on Highway 138 heading to Cajon Pass, I was zooming along at 69 mph when suddenly I came upon the Mormon Rocks. Look exactly like these:

Mormon Rocks

The mountains are rugged and the desert floor is flat, so to have those suddenly pop up in front of you is like something out of a Stephen King novel… “The Stand” or “The Dark Tower.”

The Mormon Rocks basically are at the intersection of Highway 138 and Interstate 15. According to Wikipedia, “In 1851, a group of Mormon settlers led by Amasa M. Lyman and Charles C. Rich traveled through the Cajon Pass in covered wagons on their way from Salt Lake City to southern California. The Mormon Rocks are where the Mormon trail and the railway merge.”

The Mormon Rocks are visual evidence of the San Andreas fault that runs through the area. They were so big and enormous that I couldn’t get them all in one picture, so I took 17 pictures and then used the Photomerge function in Photoshop to create two panoramas:

Mormon Rocks

Mormon Rocks

The vegetation in the pictures, coastal sage scrub and chaparral, is black and leafless because a wildfire roared through this area in August last year. Scrub and chaparral tend to be brittle, dry, and oily, perfect for wildfires.

Here in California we name our fires, kind of like the southeast names their hurricanes. We don’t consider fires to be people, though, so we usually name our fires after some landmark in the area where they started. This wildfire is known as the Blue Cut Fire since it started on the Blue Cut hiking trail.

The Blue Cut Fire was first reported on August 16, 2016, at 10:36 a.m. A red flag warning, also known as a fire weather warning, was in effect with temperatures near 100°F and winds gusting up to 30 miles per hour. By August 18, the fire had burned 37,000 acres of land and destroyed 105 homes and 213 other structures.

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Out & About—Signs that you’re in a huge city

Out & About The World

Usually when I come across a numbered street name and the number is high, I’m pretty sure I’m in a big city. Recently, though, I came across this street sign.

233rd Street East

Obviously I was in a huge city, and since that’s East, implying that there is a West, this city must have a population in the millions.


I was out in the middle of the desert.

Here is what 233rd Street East looks like:

233rd Street East

If you’re thinking, “Maybe it’s the newest street and they haven’t finished building and paving it,” well, you would be wrong.

First Street looked just like that.

So did 101st Street.

So did 201st Street.

Many of the streets were missing. Street names would skip 10 or 20 numbers.

When I got to 101st Street, I decided to pull over at the highest numbered street and take a picture. That was 233rd Street East.

Is someone expecting a population and housing boom?

I did not go looking for 233rd Street West.

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Music on Mondays (2-13-17)—Sweet dreams in a mad world

The Music Chronicles of Russel Ray

All my life I have been a catnapper, never getting more than 4 hours of sleep at any one time, and getting that much sleep at one time usually meant that I was drunk. The last time I was drunk enough to get 4 hours of sleep was somewhere around 1980. I decided that getting an extra couple of hours of sleep didn’t justify the effects of being drunk. I just don’t like being drunk.

I spent tens of thousands of dollars at the UCLA Medical Center, Houston Medical Center, and Boston Medical Center trying to find why my circadian rhythm was all wacko. Nothing. Until about five years ago when I tried to get involved in a sleep research study right here in San Diego. I failed the entry questions because I was diagnosed as a “polyphasic sleeper.” Since the mid-1990’s that has been the official medical term for catnappers.

Being a polyphasic sleeper means that I rarely dream, and I never reach REM sleep which is where those really active dreams occur. Lately, though, since November 8, 2016, I have been getting more sleep, and much more REM sleep. I have been dreaming for the first time in my life.

Active dreams.

Some might even call them nightmares.

I have been dreaming about dictators, dystopian worlds, battered and abused women and children, the disabled, LGBTQ people, sexual assaults, racism, the Holocaust, Nazi Germany, Hitler, Mussolini, Putin, nuclear war, animal abuse…. Everything that our current President represents has appeared in my dreams. It hasn’t been pretty.

I think I want to go back to a time before November 8, 2016….

With that said, here are some of my favorite songs about dreams:

“Mad World” by Tears For Fears, 1983

“All I Have To Do Is Dream” by The Everly Brothers, 1958

“Dream On” by Aerosmith, 1973

“Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House, 1986

Sweet Dremas (Are Made of This) by Eurythmics, 1983

“Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac, 1977

“Dream Weaver” by Gary Wright, 1975

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Out & About—The Tehachapi Loop

Out & About The World

When I go out exploring each day, I have a specific goal in mind. When I went out on Sunday, February 5, one of my goals was to visit the Tehachapi Loop, a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, and California Historic Landmark #508 .

At the Tehachapi Loop, if the train is at least 4,000 feet long, it will pass over/under itself, as in my video below. Keep your eye on the video at 4:13; I want his job.

The Tehachapi Loop is a .73-mile loop owned by the Union Pacific Railroad. The BNSF has what are called “trackage rights” to use the Loop. The difference in elevation between the lower and upper tracks in 77 feet.

The railroad line through the Loop connects Bakersfield to Mojave and, in addition to the cool Loop, has 12 tunnels and tracks with lots of twists and turns.

Railroad tunnel on the Tehachapi Line in California

Construction on the Tehachapi Loop began in 1874 and was completed in 1876 by three thousand Chinese laborers under the direction of Southern Pacific engineer William Hood and Chief of Construction J.B. Harris. It is one of the seven wonders of the railroad world.

The Tehachapi Line itself is one of the busiest single-track mainlines in the world. An average of 36 trains each day use the Tehachapi Loop, and they tend to be long trains, up to two miles long. During my two hours at the Loop, I saw six freight trains. The shortest was about 3,500 feet long and the longest was probably up there in the 2-mile-long range. The train in my video is the second-longest one I saw on February 5, 2017.

With frequent trains and beautiful scenery, the Loop is a prime hotspot for railroad fans.

The last picture here is of the first train I saw. I had not found a location to set up yet so it was just luck that I got this picture.

BNSF on the Tehachapi Loop

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Friday Flower Fiesta (2-10-17)—Living stones

Friday Flower Fiesta

Many decades ago when I was but a youth of 11 and living with my wise old grandmother, she gave me a small area in her yard where I could have a garden. She had the most beautiful yard, except for that one area where she could get nothing to grow.

She delegated that area to me, and I went to work, turning it into a cactus rock garden. I had dry rivers, a dry lake, and lots of rocks.

I went with a friend and his parents to a huge cactus nursery almost a hundred miles away and came home with some unique cactus to plant in my little garden. I had no idea what kind of flowers, if any, those little plants would have.

The sun hit my little garden from about 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. It was relentless, and hot. This was deep south Texas.

One day I came home from school at 3:30 and found my little cactus garden all abloom with flowers of all colors and sizes. Some of the smallest cactus plants had the biggest and brightest flowers.

Ever since that day I have been a fan of cactus and succulents.

At one point 18 years ago I had a 3,984-SF house on 1.83 acres of land with a 35,000-gallon pool and a 5,000-gallon spa. The whole place, inside and out, was an arboretum with over 500 different species of plants. When Jim and I no longer could physically take care of that property, and downsized, I decided to depend on the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, SeaWorld, San Diego Botanic Garden, and Balboa Park for my gardening fix. I have only a few plants at home now, all of them succulents so that Zoey the Cool Cat won’t get a cactus needle in her nose.

After all the rain we have had this year, my little succulents seem to be perking up, and yesterday one of them bloomed:

Succulent orange flower

That is a Lithops species, commonly known as living stones, pebble plants, mimicry plants, and flowering stones. They have only two thick leaves and no true stem, and the flower comes up between the leaves. They are small plants, usually no more than an inch above the soil surface. Very easy to grow with a unique appearance and beautiful flowers.

All succulents are cactus, but not all cactus are succulents. For the most part, succulents do not have those nasty thorns, which makes them that much more pleasant to grow. For more information and pictures of these little ones, see the Wikipedia entry on Lithops.

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They still need to make the same amount of money

Did you know?

Humanity has known for several days—alright, several millenia—that water is necessary for survival. Then we learned how to save water for future needs, such as showers, cooking, brushing our little teethies. Then we learned how to transport it to areas that didn’t have much of it, like deserts, like, uh, Southern California, like Los Angeles and San Diego. The average rainfall for San Diego currently is 10.15 inches. Heck, I have been in many thunderstorms and hurricanes in Texas that dropped 10.15 inches of rain in 24 hours!

I’m not a big fan of rain, but I am a big fan of water since I like to take showers, cook, and brush my little teethies, not to mention garden. We know that because of the Mediterranean climate that San Diego has, all we need to do is provide water and virtually anything will grow here. There even are two redwood forests here in San Diego County—one at the San Diego Zoo and one at Safari Park—which survive simply because they get the water they need.

Although there are lakes in San Diego County, there is not a single man-made lake. All of them are artificial lakes, also known as reservoirs. Here is a picture of the Sweetwater Reservoir on April 3, 2010:

Sweetwater Reservoir near San Diego, April 3, 2010

On November 12, 2008, it was announced that capacity was down to 23%, the “lowest level in years.”
February 10, 2013, it was 48.7%.
March 2, 2015, 13%.
January 19, 2017, 12%.
February 9, 2017, 20.4%. So the very wet January has helped tremendously.

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in 2014 due to the drought, directing water agencies to cut urban water use by 25% of 2013 levels. Good thing I cooperated by taking just one shower a week (not really). The public was so good at cutting water use that the water agencies raised our rates. After all, they still need to make the same amount of money, or more, yes?

San Diego has declared that the drought here is over because of the rain we have gotten, the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the level of the Colorado River. San Diego gets 60% of its water from the Colorado River, 20% from the snowpack, and 20% from its local reservoirs.

The water coming to San Diego from the Colorado River comes via the San Diego Aquaduct, a series of pipelines and canals stretching 225 miles. The water coming from the Sierra Nevada snowpack comes via the California Aqueduct. When I was chasing trains on February 5, I was going over one of our Southern California concrete rivers when I noticed that it was 100% full, almost overflowing. Then I saw a sign telling me that it was the California Aquaduct, so I kept my eye on it and turned off the freeway and the next safe area to take this picture:

California Aqueduct

Now I have to get out and about to see if I can get some pictures of the San Diego Aquaduct.

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Mother & Father Nature are not dumb

Did you know?

Shortly after I arrived in San Diego on April 27, 1993, one of the weekly tabloids ran an exposé on rivers in San Diego and Los Angeles counties. It noted that San Diego was in the process of “Los Angelesizing” its rivers. “Los Angelesizing” means that the river bed was being cleaned of soil and vegetation, and being replaced with concrete. At one point every river in the city of Los Angeles, and many in Los Angeles County, had been Los Angelesized. Here is a picture of one concrete river that I took in Los Angeles County on April 13, 2014.

Los Angeles concrete river

The theory was that soil and vegetation caused the water to slow down and build up, thus being more likely to cause flooding. We thought we knew more than Mother & Father Nature did. Turns out that Mother & Father Nature are quite smart.

When the water flows more slowly, it has a better chance of being soaked up by the soil and the vegetation. When there is nothing to slow it down, it speeds right along until it hits an obstruction, like a curve in the river, or bridge abutments, and that’s where the water piles up and floods. With more water continuing to rush in, the flooding gets worse.

Now that we know the purpose of soil and vegetation, concrete is being removed from the channels, returning them to being rivers full of soil and vegetation, returning them to their formerly natural beauty.

A few days ago I was up in Los Angeles County and saw the Santa Ana River being returned to Mother & Father Nature. In the first two pictures you can see the concrete river bed.

Concrete river bed

Concrete river bed

You can see that the concrete at the right actually was removed. That’s because there is a bridge downstream about 500 feet, so instead of just letting the concrete deteriorate and silt over, they actually removed it, allowing the vegetation to come back more quickly and the soil to absorb the water, slowing it down. Here’s the downstream bridge:

Bridge over the Santa Ana River

Notice the silt and vegetation. If you have ever stuck a branch into a flowing stream, you might remember how the water rushed around the branch. Same thing when flowing water hits a bridge abutment, so you want to slow down the water as much as possible. Soil and vegetation do that.

Unfortunately, many decades ago people didn’t seem to understand that concept, so in some places where they needed to slow down the water, they put in mini-abutments, as in this picture:

Concrete river bed

That might have worked if they had staggered the mini-abutments. Instead, they lined them up perfectly and spaced the rows out evenly so that the water increased in speed each time it rushed around another min-abutment. Mother & Father Nature are not dumb.

I’m not sure when they decided to let this river return to its natural state but I’d sure like to visit it in 50 years to see how Mother & Father Nature have progressed. If I make it another 50 years to age 111, somehow I suspect that I won’t be out & about with my camera…..

Santa Ana River returning to nature

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