Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pinkham Canyon

This past weekend I decided to drive a couple easy 4wd trails in Joshua Tree National Park; Pinkham Canyon and Berdoo Canyon. Here's the park page that describes their backcountry roads. Maps for these trails and other areas of the park are available on this page.

Pinkham Canyon loops from the southern park entrance visitor center toward the west and then turns south and exits the park. The length is about 20 miles and two of my trail books say that it takes 2.5 hours to drive. It only took me 1.5 hours. It was about 9 am and the weather was nice with the temperature around 70F and no wind. I didn't rush, so I don't know how it would take anybody 2.5 hours.

The trail was pretty easy. It kept my attention because of the constant need to turn the steering wheel. At first, that was to avoid scratches from the brush. Then later the trail endlessly twists through the scrub and then through the canyon. I probably won't drive this one again, but I had to do it just to see what it was like.

I'll just post some photos of the trail. Most of these were taken through the windshield while I was driving.

This photo shows an ocotillo in bloom. That was a new site for me. Neat red blossoms at the end of the branches.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Globe Canyon

Here's a few photos I took on an adventure I had one year ago. Mark and I drove up into Globe Canyon, which is north east of Kelso, CA in the Mojave National Preserve. It was partly sad because of all the dead trees, burned in the 2005 Hackberry Complex wildfires. Those fires burned over 70,000 acres and were fought by over 1,100 firefighters. Here's a link to a PDF file from the National Park Service that summarizes the fire.

You can see from the first photo that we had to stop when the road became too rough for Mark's VW Thing as well as my Acura MDX. I'm pretty sure that my new Land Rover can get aways further. Here's a Google Map centered on this area of the canyon.

I was surprised to see cattle there. We also checked out a guzzler that provides sheltered access to collected water for smaller animals and birds. The final photo is just one of those where I suddenly realize that I ought to take a photo of what I'm seeing as I drive.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Darwin Falls

A couple weeks ago I was in Death Valley and decided to hike to Darwin Falls. To make it more interesting, I drove the 4wd route from Darwin down to the falls. Here's a photo I took along that road with Panamint Dunes off in the distance. The road was much easier than the last time I drove it.

The book Hiking California's Desert Parks says this hike is 3 miles (round trip) and takes 2 to 4 hours. It took me 20 minutes to hike to the lower falls from the parking area. There are actually 2 sets of falls totalling about 80 feet, making it the highest waterfall in Death Valley National Park.

It was a pleasant hike. The falls area is shaded and a great relief from the sun and heat. It required some easy rock scrambling and crossing streams by walking across fallen trees. I strongly recommend bringing trekking poles or a big stick for balance (there are several left by other visitors at the parking area). Here's the NPS web page with a little information. All in all, this is a great diversion for anybody traveling in this area of the park.

Afterward, I drove up near Father Crowley Point to hike around Rainbow Canyon and onto the Darwin Plateau. Just because. Anyway, I was also hoping to catch a glimpse of military jets flying down Rainbow Canyon. It ended up being a good news - bad news experience. The good news: after I parked and while I was preparing for my hike, 2 F-18s flew right over me and dove down Rainbow Canyon. Wow! Very exciting. The bad news: my mopey camera is too slow to take a photo after power-on, and I didn't get a single shot. Here's a shot posted on Flickr by somebody luckier than me.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hiking Cowhole Mountain

Yesterday I hiked Cowhole Mountain with my friend Luke. This is a prominent ridge of rock piercing the desert playa south of Baker and is clearly visible to anyone driving along I-15 in that area. We didn't take the route described by Andy Zdon in his book Desert Summits. We also didn't take the route described on summitpost. Instead, we approached from the north east, along the Mojave Road and hiked up a small canyon on the eastern side. It took us about 2.5 hours going up and 1.5 hours down. The weather was great, with temps around 78F and a very slight breeze. My GPS receiver said the elevation gain was about 1200 feet. Here's a nice shot from the summit looking south and showing Kelso Dunes way off in the distance with the Granite Mountains looming behind them.

Here's a Google map centered on Cowhole Mountain. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I'd hoped to take some 4wd roads and park right at the foot of the mountain, but the BLM had blocked the way. The mile or so of open desert that we had to hike across was surprisingly smooth and level. I'm more accustomed to the severly rutted and weathered landscape that is common in other parts of the mojave desert. This photo is looking north toward Baker and shows Little Cowhole Mountain.

Here's a topo map showing our route in blue. Once we made it up the canyon to the saddle, the rest was relatively easy. The summit offered great panoramic views across the desert. Baker was off to the north, Soda Lake to the west, and the Kelso Dunes could be seen to the south.

I expected a jagged ridge of rock jutting out of the desert floor to have a small summit block, but was surprised to find a large flat summit area of almost a quarter acre. This photo shows the view west toward Soda Dry (sometimes) Lake.

While driving back to pavement, we were passed by a caravan of about 9 Jeeps and a Land Rover that appeared to be driving the Mojave Road. They warned us about a desert tortoise on the sandy road ahead. When we found the little guy, we stopped to take some photos.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Hard Drive Failure Alerting for Macs

I encourage mac users to use the free hard drive monitoring utility called SMARTReporter. It monitors the SMART telemetry from modern hard drives and will alert you to an imminent failure. I'm sharing this because I just got my first such alert on one of my home systems.

SMARTReporter is available here.

Here's a screencap of the alert that I received.

I started using this utility after reading a Google research paper published 2 years ago that was based on their extensive experience with huge numbers of hard drives. Here's a link to the Google paper.

A quote from the conclusions: "We find, for example, that after their first scan error, drives are 39 times more likely to fail within 60 days than drives with no such errors."

For the curious, here's the Wikipedia page on SMART.

After dismissing the warning alert, I started Disk Utility to see what it would tell me. It reported that the suspect drive was failing and did not allow me to try "disk repair" or anything else. Here are a few screencaps of that.

Disk Utility does not have an agent running int he background that can alert the user like the SMARTReporter does. That's unfortunate, and I hope future versions of Mac OS will include that capability.

Since the drive was still usable, I quickly copied all files to a healthy drive. A few days later I bought a replacement SATA drive at Fry's and it's now installed and humming away happily.

I also discovered a comparable free utility for Windows users called Active Hard Disk Monitor.