Category Archives: Historic Sites

Umpqua River Lighthouse – Dean Elk Refuge, Oregon.

The Umpqua River Lighthouse is unique on the Oregon Coast. It has a red and white light that shines through a brilliant and beautiful, First Order, Fresnel lens.

The lighthouse stands 65 feet tall on a one hundred foot cliff to give it the 165 foot elevation required by the Lighthouse service at the time of it’s construction in 1884. The elevation requirement allowed the light to be seen 20 miles out to sea. The red ball atop this and all other lighthouses is called a bearing ball and was used by seafaring navigators, who could always see at least 2 lighthouses (barring fog), to triangulate their position and determine their location. The ball and it’s support also served as a controlled vent for the oil fueled lamp originally used for the light. In the picture below you can see the slots of the vent under the ball. This prevented the lamp from smoking and clouding the lens.

The Umpqua River Light is a handsome structure and tours are given hourly to view it. The tower is a double walled brick structure. This tower is actually the second one built at the Umpqua River, the first was built at the mouth of the river, on sand, years earlier and fell down after several years of erosion under the foundation.

The tour guide provided some history of the light and took us up into the light room to see the marvelous Fresnel Lens.

The Fresnel Lens, which concentrates the light of the relatively small lamp (now electric) was invented in France and made by one of several glass companies in France. The lens rotates on wheels, originally driven by a weighted clockworks – now by an electric motor, such that the light blinks out to sea every 5 seconds with a white-white-red sequence. The lens is a first order lens, the largest made, and is a work of art to see.

Not far from the lighthouse the Dean Elk Refuge protects one of Oregon’s herds of Roosevelt Elk. Roosevelt Elk are the largest sub-species of elk and exist mainly on the Oregon and California coasts.

All we saw on this day were bulls with there magnificent antlers still in velvet. This time of the year the bulls live in peaceful groups until the Fall Rut(breeding season) when they will start to collect harems of cow elk and aggressively fight each other to protect them.


John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon

The John Day Fossil Beds, named after the John Day River which flows through the area, contain the largest accumulation of mammalian fossils in the United States. There are no dinosaur fossils here, only mammal, birds, and plants, but they are extensive. Only a tiny portion of the more than 20 square miles of the beds have been explored.

This is a replica of an actual fossil found in the John Day beds. For protection most of the fossils on display are replicas made from the originals. The hills of the fossil beds are bentonite, that form of fossilized volcanic ash that we have seen so much of in the west, recently in the Petrified Forest in Arizona. As the Bentonite erodes due to wind, rain, and freeze thaw cycles, the fossil are exposed. The fossils are fragile and must be located quickly as they emerge, before they are damaged by the same forces that expose them.

We passed a couple of hours in the visitor center before heading out to see the Historic Cant Ranch (the Cant Families sheep ranch which originally contained much of the fossil beds). the ranch has been restored to the period it was most active, in the early twentieth century,

Mule Powered Hay Rake.

Horse Powered Hay Stacker.

Sheep Rock in the background and a contraption on the right, involving a very big bag, lots of wool to fill it with, two men to toss the wool, and a small boy to jump up and down on the wool to compress it into the bag. A full bag could weigh over five hundred pounds.

After the ranch we hiked the Blue Basin, a huge bentonite bowl just north of the ranch. This is the area where many of the fossils originate.

Wolverton Mill, Hanksville, Utah

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On our way north from Capitol Reef we stopped at a BLM visitor center to view the Wolverton Mill, a historic gold mining operation.  The mill was located in the nearby Henry Mountains and has been relocated and recreated here in Hanksville.  The only original part of the mill is the impressive overshot water wheel and some of the iron fittings for the wheel and the crushing mill.  We only have this one picture but here’s a link to the BLM information handout on Wolverton Mill.  It’s amazing to see what people accomplished in an era that we often consider as void of technology.

The Wolverton Mill

P. S. I know someone is going to mention it so right from the better writing skills guide “A historic is more common in online writing, but both usages are sufficiently common to be considered correct”. 🙂

Canyon de Chelly, Navajo Nation, Arizona

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Canyon sign

Canyon de Chelly (pr. Canyon de Shay) has a somewhat awkward political situation.  The park is a National Park, but it resides in the Navajo Nation and is essentially owned and run by the Navajos.  The difficulty with this is that unlike other National Parks, Canyon de Chelly is considered private land and with the exception of two rim overlook roads, and a single short trail down into the canyon, no one but Navajos are allowed to enter the canyon floor.  Unfortunately, while the overlook roads are nice, with some spectacular views down into the canyon, the Canyon floor is by far the best part of Canyon de Chelly.  Luckily the Navajo Nation has found a work around for this problem…hire a Navajo guide ($100 / day, please) and you can hike to the canyon floor.  Or, hire a Navajo jeep and driver ($55 / person for 2 hours, please) and you can get a ride through the canyon.  We elected to drive the rim roads, do the single hike, and make the best of it.

Another Spider Rock

Spider rock

Spider Rock is pretty spectacular and justifiably famous.  We were there just before sunset and there were lots of cameras focused on it.  I imagine a lot of rock climbers lust after Spider Rock.

Canyon de Chelly is a pretty place and I have to tell you I would love to have free access to that canyon, but it is what it is.  Personally, I think Canyon de Chelly should be a Navajo Tribal park, privately owned and funded, not a National Park.  Access to our National Parks is for everybody…In the world.

White House Ruins

Trail down to W H ruin

View from hike down

Upper WH ruin

WH ruins

White House Ruin – Note the petroglyphs on the walls above the ruin.

We did the very nice hike down to the White House Ruin one afternoon.  It’s a great trail, cut into the canyon wall with switchbacks, tunnels and precipitous dropoffs.  The ruin itself is impressive, but fences prevent you from getting too close to it so the pictures are from about about 50 yards away.  Actually some of the ruins we saw from the overlocks on the rim roads were even more impressive due to the unbelievable inaccessibility that makes one wonder how they built them, why, and how they lived day to day in such places. Some of the ruins, with no sign of restoration, are in very good condition.  The canyon was occupied by primitive people as early as 2,000 years ago, but the ruins were built mostly in the 12th century by people known as Ancestral Puebloans.  Their descendants are the Pueblo Hopi and Zuni tribes which live in parts of Arizona, but mostly New Mexico.  The Navajo settled the area about 300 years ago and a few still live on the canyon floor grazing sheep, goats, and cattle and tilling the canyon floor for crops.

Mummy Cave

Mummy cave ruins

The two rim roads are each about 30 miles with frequent pull offs for the overlooks.  The Canyon is around 1000 feet deep for the most part and the sheer sided red sandstone walls are beautiful, especially in the photographers golden hours just after sunrise and just before sunset.  The rock just glows.

Above and below

Canyon Del Muerto

Canyon Del Muerto

The South rim drive runs along the top of Canyon de Chelly, The North Rim Drive runs along Canyon del Muerto with views into Black Canyon.  All are part of the National Park.

More canyon floor

Many canyon layers

Canyon features

We were frequently approached by Navajo craftspeople who are allowed to sell their wares at pulloffs, the White House Ruin, campgrounds, and at the trailheads to the short trails to the overlooks. We did buy some beaded jewelry and some pottery from a couple of artisans that we were convinced were genuine, but the constant huckstering gets old after a while.  I’m glad we visited Canyon de Chelly, and if you are in the area I recommend it, it is one of the prettiest canyons in the west.

Heading down in

The trail to White House Ruin

Next stop, off the reservation and into southern Utah’s “Valley of the Gods”.

Petrified Forest / Painted Desert National Monument, Arizona

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I had an interesting preconception / misconception about Petrified Forest National Monument.  We had been talking about visiting for a couple of years, but it’s in an out of the way place and there’s no camping, so it just didn’t seem to happen.  This year our route north from New Mexico was going to take us very near the park so I did a little internet research to find a place to camp nearby.  I visited several forums looking for info and came away with the impressions that many people see it as a quick stop with a couple of interesting things to look at, and that’s about all. Hmmm! I did find a place to camp, a gift shop right at the entrance to the park, “The Crystal Forest” gift shop, has a free campground.  How unusual, but oh so nice, so we figured we’d give the park a look. (we love free camping).

Fortunately my preconception was entirely false, the park is wonderful and I recommend it to anyone who is willing to walk a bit and open their minds and eyes to a unique natural wonder.  Now it is true that petrified wood can be found in all 50 states, we ourselves found a small petrified forest in Yellowstone NP a few years ago, but nowhere on earth has such a concentration of petrified wood artifacts as this park. This is in spite of many, many, years of rampant collecting before the park was adequately protected.

Here’s the process.  225 million years ago some trees were felled, quite a few trees actually, maybe from a volcanic eruption like Mt St. Helens a few years back.  Many of these trees floated downstream to calmer waters, gradually became waterlogged, and sank; to be covered by 100s, maybe 1000s of feet of silicon rich volcanic ash. The sediment cut off Oxygen and prevented decay of the wood. Over many eons the silicon migrated into the wood and replaced the organic materials of the wood turning each cell into quartz.

Quartz often contains impurities which give it color.  Manganeses for dark purple & blue, carbon for black, Iron for red, Chromium for yellow, and many others.  Cyrstal inclusions are often found in gaps in the wood.

There are 13 extinct species of conifer represented at the park, and one deciduous tree closely related to Ginko.  Several of the softwood species are antecedents of the Giant Sequoias, although the largest of the park trees were only about 200 feet tall. The biggest log we saw was maybe 4 feet in diameter.  By comparison we saw logs in yellowstone that were 6 feet or more in diameter.  This Petrified Wood is much more colorful, and there’s a lot more of it.

At the Blue Mesa, halfway along the 30 mile park road, the topography of the park changes into a badlands type landscape similar to The Badlands in South Dakota or Theodore Roosevelt NP in North Dakota. Hills of Bentonite (a soft clay like rock) are eroding away and exposing yet more petrified wood.

Blue Mesa Overview.

There’s a one mile loop trail that winds through the hills along the mesa top. Unlike the northern badlands, these badlands are colorful and many of the same minerals present in the petrified wood turn the hills pink, gray and blue.  Blue Mesa is on the fringe of the Painted Desert.

Iron, Copper, Manganese, and other minerals make the vivid colors.

Just north of the Blue Mesa is Newspaper Rock, an ancient petroglyph site.

As we traveled north, we found less petrified wood, but entered into the Painted Desert area of the park.  The Painted Desert, only a small portion of which is protected by the National Park, stretches south from Utah to areas east of the park.  Here, the bentonite hills exhibit even more color from pale to deep greens, blues and grays, and rich vibrant reds and pinks.  Often chunks of petrified wood or sparkling crystals coat the eroding hillsides.

The first look at The Painted Desert.

The step like features on these hills are due to areas of the hillsides sloughing off during heavy rains.

After almost 2 days exploring this “Quick Stop” of a National Park we made a final stop at the Painted Desert Inn

The Inn was originally built around 1920 though it never successfully functioned as a lodge, but as a lunch counter where travelers could get meals, or a cold beer in the downstairs taproom.  In the 1930s the CCC restored and enlarged the inn and it reopened for business, again mainly as a lunch room, after World War II. In 1963, due to structural damage, the inn moved to a new building near the southern visitor center and the old building was scheduled for demolition.

After much wrangling a public campaign to “Save The Painted Desert Inn” succeeded, and in 1975 the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  In 1987 the Inn was declared a National Historic Landmark and the Park Service restored it to it’s present condition.  Today it functions as a small bookstore and public attraction.

The Lunchroom at the Painted Desert Inn.

There are some fine murals by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie that alone make the visit worthwhile and I couldn’t help but wish the taproom still functioned.

Mural at the Painted Desert Inn.

Glass ceiling tile paintings by some unknown CCC artist.

The stone pillars on either side of the doorway are made of blocks of petrified wood.

I know someone will ask so here’s a little petrified wood factoid:  You probably noticed that many of the logs look like they have been sawn apart with a chainsaw, and the log ends often have smooth, flat surfaces.  Why?  After the wood turned to stone it was buried deep within the earth for millions of years.  The movement of the earth at times exerted immense pressure on the brittle unyielding logs, snapping them like glass rods.  (They are essentially glass after all.)

Fracture Lines.

Wood Turned to Stone.

Some Petrified Specimens.

Next stop:  One from the bucket list – Canyon de Chelly National Monument.

Mogollon – Not Quite a Ghost Town

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Welcome to Mogollon

Just to the northeast of the Catwalk Trail, up on the Whitewater Mesa, is the town of Mogollon, (pr. mug’-gy-yon or sometimes muggy-own’) New Mexico.  The town was created by the gold & silver boom of the 1880s and built by convict labor.  The town is named for the steep and severe Mogollon Mountains, which are named after an early Spanish Governor of the territory.

Mining car

The Little Fanny mine, the most significant of the mines here in the Silver Valley, at one time employed over 2,000.  The mine produced until about 1950 when the decreasing quality of the ore made it no longer profitable.  When the mine closed it took most of the town with it…but not quite.

Rush hour on the 159 highway

17 People still live in Mogollon, there are businesses to serve the tourists, and a stroll through this funky little town is delightful.  The road to Mogollon is 9 miles from Route 180 in Alma.  The road is paved, and winds through grazing land,but much of it is classified single lane, with a few wide spots for passing.  Most of the single lane sections is narrow and twisty with lots of hairpin turns and drop offs.  The town is at around 6,500 feet.

159 the road to Mogollon

On the road to Mogollon

We were too early in the season for any of the businesses to be open, but here’s a few pictures of the town.

Heading uptown Mogollon

Mogollon General store

Gas station

Mogollon theatre

Purple Onion Cafe


The Museum looked interesting, but doesn’t open for a couple more weeks.  We peeked in the windows.

Woodworkers shop

The Nellie Rose Bakery

We found a business up here making truck campers and we have put in an order for one of their newer models.  Of course it looks like we will have to upgrade our truck to an F-550.

Our Next Truck Camper.

We camped in the Forest up on the mesa above Mogollon at 8,000 feet and just barely got out in time the next morning as the Gila Invitational Bike Race, the first stage of which races up the Mogollon Road, was set to begin that morning.  The race starts at the town of Alma, below 4,900 feet, and the road tops out at over 8,000.  Whew!

The Houses of Mogollon, New Mexico

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Many of these houses are lived in year round, some only summer.

A cute one

Another local cottage


The Catholic Church

Local home

Thayers cottage

Bus home of a local

I think they actually live in the bus.

Mailbox row

The town has electricity although we did see quite a few solar panels which might attest to the electrical system’s reliability.  Cell phones do not work, but they have a microwave system for land line phones within the village.  Water is from individual wells.


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Winter in the Desert, Summer in the Mtns

Sharing our love of America's Natural Wonders


Sharing our love of America's Natural Wonders