Letters From a Bus
January 2008: Heading Home
2nd entry for January
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Boron, Mule Teams, Mines & Dodging the Big Storm

Mountain View, CA, Day Three at Walton & Sons Masonry, Site: 1

Tuesday, January 8, 2008 — Seven Months

Wednesday,the second day of the new year found us still lollygagging by Lake Havasu. A big Pacific storm was brewing all along the west coast stretching from the Mexican border to British Columbia. Flooding rains and hurricane force winds were expected by January third. This storm was expected to extend with heavy mountain snows across the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain chains as well as Idaho, Utah and Colorado. Although we were near southeastern California, we worried the storm might spill over on us and delay our homeward progress. We had deadlines in terms of doctor’s appointments in the Bay Area and we felt like it was high time we pointed northwest and headed for home — some 570 miles away.  So despite gray skies and glowering dark clouds on the western horizon we pulled in our slides and headed out.  Not that I was a bundle of energy.  My ankle hurt and I felt tired, tired, tired.

We figured to sneak up on the storm but not get into it, so our destination was Boron, CA. Mapquest predicted 3 hours 20 minutes.  Distance 219.96. We left at 9:40 AM and went north on US-95 and stopped at I-40 to fuel up at Pilot.  (People have asked us about fuel costs. We can report that it is cheaper in Texas and more expensive as we draw closer to California. Why is that? We purchased 113.425 gallons and spent $375.34.)

It was only 58° and the day was overcast. At 10:25 AM, we headed west on I-40 passing the Topock marshlands and the Colorado River lake that stretches north towards Golden Shores and Oatman.  We crossed the river into CA and turned north, running parallel to the river. At Needles we left the river and turned west again.  We passed the exit for the National Trails Hwy that runs SW towards Amboy and Bagdad by Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base.  On our north side we skirted the Mohave National Preserve as we passed through Fenner.  After Newberry Springs and Minneola we began to recognize the hills behind Yermo and Calico Ghost Town.  We drove through Daggett and in Barstow switched from I-40 to I-15. At Lenwood we turned northwest onto CA-58, passing Santa Fe Ave. and Old Ca-58 at Hinkley.  CA-58, the Old Barstow-Bakersfield Highway stopped being a freeway as we approached the major north-south crossroad of US-395 at the eastern perimeter of Edwards Air Force Base.  Just after we left the gigantic county of San Bernardino and entered Kern County we took exit 199 onto Boron Ave and stopped in the tiny town of Boron near Desert Lake. With fuel and a fifteen minute rest stop in Newbury Springs it took us four hours thirty minutes and we covered 223 miles.

1/2/08 at 11:29:20 AM. We're about an hour west of the state line. 1/2/08 at 11:37:48 AM Now we are in the Mojave Desert.

Our destination was the Arabian RV Oasis, 12401 Boron Ave., Boron 93596.  With our Passport America card, this oasis cost us $11 per night.  After a month of $35 per night “resorts” this park seemed like a joke — but not necessarily a bad one.  A neighbor greeted us and told us we could park anywhere .  She told us that the manager was gone and we could find her and pay the next day.  The sites were level, if old, with cracked and bumpy paving and old hookups in odd locations.  Nevertheless I quite liked it as the people were pleasant and the place was quiet.  About half or more were mobile homes with permanent residents.  There was a dangerous sounding chow-type dog tied up on a porch nearby so we hastened to walk our dogs in the opposite direction.  Other than that, we had no problems with the place.

Our view across the street features a sign, a parked car and a row of mailboxes in front of some buildings. By 2:47 PM we're settled into our site at Arabian RV Oasis. This is the view out of our bedroom window.
We arrived early and had our pick for an optimum site. RVs park double, one behind the other.

I found that I was unexpectedly enthusiastic about seeing the tiny town of Boron.  After all, since the fifties, I’d watched all those true stories of the old American West about the Death Valley area.  Remember “Death Valley Days”, a syndicated television show hosted by “The Old Ranger”, Stanley Andrews?  Remember that cleaning powder in a can, Boraxo?  Well somehow, it came from this little town. I wasn't clear as to why because so far as I knew the boron mines were in Death Valley and the mineral hauled elsewhere (by those mules) to be processed.  I wanted to learn all about it.

We drove into town in search of dinner.  We’d seen advertising signs along the highway for Domingo's Mexican Restaurant, so I was on the lookout for that.  It wasn’t hard to find.  Nestled up against the railroad line, the downtown is all of a few blocks with two restaurants and two grocery stores. 

Domingo's turned out to be a great little find.  They threw open the door before we got to it and greeted us enthusiastically with many Happy New Year’s greetings.  We had a good meal and were entertained by the large scale train that circled around the room near the ceiling.  Outside in the parking lot we stopped to laugh at a big sign, ostensibly placed by the Chamber of Commerce.

Two blocks away from the downtown means we are on the outskirts of town looking north towards the highway and the Mojave Desert.
"The rock" sits below the very weathered sign which explains how to interpret the weather, ie. "If the rock is wet, it's raining." A train circled the room in Domingoes Mexican Restaurant. The engine is about to go over a trestle.

Television news was all about the storm and we got some calls from friends and family warning us not to drive towards the coast.  A strong low-pressure system was responsible for much of this extreme weather.  What actually developed was a series of three storms crossing the Pacific Ocean.  The first main wave arrived late on January third.  So we decided to stay put in Boron and wait for this storm to pass through. Besides we wanted to see the museum.

Thursday morning we sought breakfast at the second restaurant in Boron, the K & L Corral.  I had high hopes for this little coffee shop with booths and a counter.  It looked cute and fixed up in a country cottage way. It seemed popular and the waitresses were humorous and talkative.  I enjoyed the atmosphere but marveled at the damp heavy biscuits, and lack of butter or half ‘n half (only margarine and non-dairy creamer available).  Oh well. After breakfast we walked across the street and presented ourselves at the Twenty Mule Team Museum. 

"Boron was originally founded as a mining town.  It is composed primarily of Oklahoma descendants who came to California during the Great Depression.  The town is popular with filmmakers.  The movie Erin Brockovich (2000), starring Julia Roberts, and various other movies have been filmed in the town and often citizens are used as extras.

Boron's primary employer is Rio Tinto Minerals (formerly U.S. Borax).  The company counted Ronald Reagan as one of their pitchmen on “Death Valley Days” when the future state governor and U.S. president was an actor.  Advertisements for the company's best-known products, 20 Mule Team Borax, a laundry additive, Borateem, a laundry detergent, and Boraxo, a powdered hand soap, were often done by the program's host.  Death Valley was the scene of much of the company's borax mining operations."  Paraphrased & quoted from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_Valley_Days

We look around outside the museum at some of the old machines. Many of these are familiar to Dennis. Above is a truck and right is a little crawler tractor.

"Francis M. "Borax" Smith established the first successful borax mining operation in 1872 at Teel's Marsh, Nevada.  He founded the Pacific Coast Borax Company, predecessor to U.S. Borax.  In 1881, William T. Coleman, filed claims on the richest fields of crude ore yet discovered — hundreds of glistening, isolated acres of "cottonball" in formidable Death Valley. By the early 1880s, he established the Harmony Borax Works near what is now Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley. The challenge lay in discovering how to transport the ore out of a desolate wasteland. 

The answer came with the Borax twenty mule teams, one of the most memorable icons of the American West.  The route from Death Valley to Mojave covered 165 miles from Harmony to the first water at Bennett's Wells, 53 miles to Lone Willow, 26 to Granite Wells, an easy six miles to Blackwater, then a 50-mile waterless stretch to Mojave. The rugged topography and climate added to the distance to create a treacherous journey. Blistering temperatures often ran as high as 130° F (or 55° C) in summer. Work crews blasted and hammered a roadbed of sorts over this rugged wasteland — the mules and wheels of the wagons had to do the rest."

The railroad tracks are right behind the museum. I caught a train going by. The old Boron train station has been moved to the museum.
This model of a Borax 20-Mule Team stands in front of the US Borax Visitor's Center. The mule team and wagons are actual size. (Looking down from the roof of the Borax Visitor's Center.

"According to legend, Coleman's local superintendent J.W.S. Perry and a young muleskinner named Ed Stiles thought of hitching two ten-mule teams together to form a 100-foot-long, twenty mule team. The borax load had to be hauled 165 miles up and out of Death Valley, over the steep Panamint Mountains and across the desert to the nearest railroad junction at Mojave. The 20-day round trip started 190 feet below sea level and climbed to an elevation of 2,000 feet before it was over. (See maps at the bottom of this page.)

Built in Mojave for $900 each, the wagons' design balanced strength and capacity to carry the heavy load of borax ore. Each wagon was to carry ten tons — about one-tenth the capacity of a modern railroad freight car. But instead of rolling on steel rails over a smooth roadbed, these wagons had to grind through sand and gravel and hold together up and down steep mountain grades.  Iron tires — eight inches wide and one inch thick — encased the seven-foot-high rear wheels and five-foot front wheels. The split oak spokes measured five and one-half inches wide at the hub. Solid steel bars, three and one-half inches square, acted as the axle-trees. The wagon beds were 16 feet long, four feet wide and six feet deep. Empty, each wagon weighed 7,800 pounds. Two loaded wagons plus the water tank made a total load of 73,200 pounds or 36 1/2 tons.

Between 1883 and 1889, the twenty mule teams hauled more than 20 million pounds of borax out of the Valley. During this time, not a single animal was lost, nor did a single wagon break down — a considerable tribute to the ingenuity of the designers and builders and the stamina of the men and mules."

20 mules pulled 36.5 tons — two wagons filled with ore plus a water tank.
Wait a minute. 73,200 lbs. ÷ by 20....
Can one mule pull 3,660 pounds???
"Chosen for their intelligence and ability to lead the others, the first two mules in the train were aptly called the "leaders." The next 10 mules were known as the "swing team," workers that did not need special training beyond responding to commands such as "stop" and "pull." Following the swing team came the "pointers," "sixes" and "eights" — the pairs specially trained to leap over the chain when the mule train turned a corner. These mules were trained to respond to commands by name. Finally, the "wheelers" were the last pair in the train. These mules, or sometimes draft horses, were the largest and strongest of the pack animals."
Twenty Mules — Ten Teams

These are the team names counting from the wagon forward to the front team.

01-02 Wheelers - (Largest & strongest. Sometimes draft horses.)
03-04 Pointers - (Leap over the chains,
05-06 Sixes - & turn sideways, & walk
07-08 Eights - sideways on a curve.)
09-10 Swing - (Workers
11-12 Swing - with
13-14 Swing - no
15-16 Swing - special
17-18 Swing - training.)
19-20 Leaders - (Intelligence & ability to lead.)

"Swinging the team around a curve in a mountain pass tested both driver and team: one mistake could spell death for all. As the team started around a sharp curve, the chain tended to be pulled into a straight line between the lead mules and the wagon. To keep the chain going around the curve and not pull the team straight over the edge, some of the mules were ordered to leap the chain and pull at an angle away from the curve. These mules — the pointers, sixes and eights — would step along sideways until the corner had been turned. Swinging a curve successfully was an awesome demonstration of training and teamwork."

"Muleskinners — also called drivers or teamsters — were responsible for harnessing the mules each morning, inspecting each piece of harness and hooking up the outfit. Maneuvering the team across the rugged desert was only part of the muleskinner's job. He also had to serve as a practical veterinarian and mechanic, caring for any sick or inured animals and repairing the wagon along the way. Characteristically, these were solitary men with short tempers, used to enduring extreme hardships. For their efforts, muleskinners earned from $100 to $120 per month — very high wages for the time.

Twenty mules were hitched to single- and double-trees, then latched to an 80-foot chain running the length of the team. This chain was fastened directly onto the lead wagon. A long rope ran through the collar ring of each left-hand mule up to the leaders. Although the driver also wielded a whip with a six-foot handle and a 22-foot lash, his primary method of giving orders lay in manipulating this rope — called the jerk line — which ran the length of the team. A steady pull on the jerk line turned the team to the left, a series of jerks sent it to the right. The driver also rode the "nigh wheeler" (the left-hand mule) on downhill stretches to operate the brake." Quoted from: http://www.scvhistory.com/scvhistory/borax-20muleteam.htm

I thought the borax mines were in Death Valley.  What I didn’t understand was that there was an absolutely enormous borax mine just outside of Boron. After we finished looking at the 20 Mule Team Museum, we drove a few miles NW of Boron to the US Borax Visitor’s Center.  I saw the processing plant and the train cars and I still thought the borax was mined elsewhere and shipped to Boron. 
Right inside the entrance was a photo of a giant mining pit. I still didn't understand that I was standing right by that same pit.  
We drove up a hill to the Visitor’s Center.  There is a viewing platform above behind the roof. The center is built on the "overburden" dug out of the mine pit.
 We saw a movie and then the curtains were pulled and we looked out of a big long window. I saw this gigantic open pit mine right below us.  And here I thought it was far away but we were right on top of it.  I was stunned. After they finish mining a section they reshape the hill into an angle of repose like this one in front of the museum. The sign says, "Final Slope, Do Not Disturb, Year Seeded: 1998"
Dennis tried to zoom in on one of those humungous earth movers but it is an ant in this photo. From the roof of the Visitor's Center we took photos of the mine. Here, to the left is the processing plant.

Back when the mule teams were running, borates were a household staple. Today, boric acid, borax and other compounds of boron are used in almost every major industry — and the company is working throughout its worldwide facilities to develop new applications and products every day.

Just a few of the modern products that depend on borates are: glass (pyrex, optical lenses), porcelain enamel (stoves), ceramics (glaze), detergents & soaps, aircraft & automobiles (clean engines), cosmetics & medicines (face creams, powders), building materials (flameproof), flame retardants, electronics (treatment to silicon), and agriculture (soil micro-nutrient). Quoted & paraphrased: http://www.scvhistory.com/scvhistory/borax-20muleteam.htm

Boron is one of the simplest of atoms. Boron has chemical symbol B, atomic number 5. Boron is found in a variety of similar minerals all related to borax, sodium tetraborate, Na2B4O7·10H2O. The name comes from the Arabic buraq, "white." It is a relatively rare element in the earth's crust, representing only 0.001%. The natural deposits are dried-up lake beds. Molten borax reacts with metal oxides to form borates that dissolve in the melt, so it is a useful as a welding and soldering flux, and in colored enamels for iron. In fact, this was the earliest use of borax, as a pottery glaze. Borax hydrolyzes in water to form a slightly alkaline solution that is good for cleaning, since it emulsifies grease and oil. It also softens water by precipitating calcium borate. Borax is necessary in small amounts for plant growth, one of the 16 essential nutrients. Paraphrased & quoted from: http://mysite.du.edu/~jcalvert/phys/boron.htm
The mine was not always an open pit. It began as an underground mine. This contraption was used to lower and raise miners into and out of the underground tunnels.
Dennis couldn't get a closeup photo of the big earthmover but he did get this indication of the size of the tires.
From the Visitor's Center we drive back down the overburden hill to the processing plant, passing Borax train containers.
On both the approach and exit road we saw these odd speed limit signs. Huge trucks pass on these roads and the company wants to emphasize safety. So they make you think about speed by posting odd speed limits. Pretty clever!
My photos all day Thursday show a gray and cloudy overcast desert sky — but no rain. This was sunset from the Arabian Oasis RV Park on Thursday night.

By Friday morning I was questioning the wisdom of walking around. My foot and ankle were very swollen and painful. I kept it elevated and I used ice whenever I could.

Our day in Boron and the museums we toured were very worthwhile.  I thought it was fascinating to learn about Boron the town, with all it’s history, and Boron the mineral, the way it was mined and all it’s uses.  But the most intriguing part to me was how they trained those mules — the pointers, sixes, and eights to turn sideways and walk sideways to hold the wagon and pull a straight line into a curve.  Think about it — we applaud for dressage horses that prance sideways. These mules jumped a chain and pulled sideways... and I thought mules were stubborn....

I wish I could have seen that.    What an engineering and performance feat! They say muleskinners — the Driver, Teamster, and Swamper, were characteristically solitary men with short tempers.  Maneuvering the team across the rugged desert, they were used to enduring extreme hardships.  But they also acted as vets.  They must have liked their mules and been good to them to get them to perform like that. 

While we remained dry in Boron our friends and neighbors in the Bay Area got hit hard with high winds and rain on Thursday and it looked like more of the same for Friday.  We figured it would blow out by the time we got home so on Friday we got ready to head west.  We planned to stay at Harris Ranch near Coalinga on I-5 in the Central Valley.  We thought we might get rain but not the heavy coastal storms. We hoped that by Saturday it would be mostly over and we could slip into Mountain View without too many problems.  It’s a good thing we missed this storm because much of the Bay Area lost power on Thursday and there was flooding and blocked lanes from downed trees.  What a mess!

What with our sightseeing, as usual I was on my feet too long. By Friday morning I really regretted it.  My ankle was very sore and it hurt a lot.  I began to wonder if I should have gone to a doctor.  We saw a small medical center near our RV park in Boron.  We were ready to leave but Dennis offered to take me over there.  However, I didn’t want to take the time.  “In for a penny, in for a pound.”  We were almost home so I decided to wait and see my own doctor.  By this time I was beginning to wonder if perhaps this was something more than just a sprain. 

I decided I wanted to be a muleskinner.  I’m already solitary and short tempered.  Now all I have to do is be self sufficient and tough.  A muleskinner would not pay any attention to a sprained ankle.  That would be nothing to him!

It was 57º and overcast when we pulled out at 9:22 AM on January fourth.   We retraced our route back to Harris Ranch crossing the 4,000’ Tehachapi Mountain summit with wind gust warnings posted.  We estimated gusts were about 35 to 40 mph.  The temperature dropped to 44º.  I got calls from my sister, Sally, and my son, Chris.  They told me they were experiencing high winds and rain.  Sally said the Golden Gate Bridge was closed to high profile vehicles — like us.  Chris said the power was out in Santa Cruz.  Dennis called the masonry and Steve said they still had power.  We continued at a cautious 55 mph.  There were big cross winds in the valleys between the mountains around mile 154.  By 10:30 we were back in oak savanna country and then we dropped down into Bakersfield farmland.  But the wind was still blowing hard.  Ahead of us I could see a yellow band on the horizon.  It looked like a dust storm to me. 

Threatening gray clouds over the Tehachapi Mountains. 01/04/08, 10:16:24 Several tunnels cut through the Tehachapi Mountains for the railroad. 01/04/08, 10:18:34
Dropping down into Bakersfield farmland. 01/04/08, 10:35:46 AM On CA-46 going west from CA-99 to Wasco on I-5. Very bad visibility. 01/04/08, 11:40:10 AM
About two hours away from Harris Ranch on CA-99 at exit 39 we stopped at a Flying J.  We didn’t need to but there are no Flying Js in the Bay Area so we decided to fill up.  (38.750 gal. @ 3.479 cost $134.81).  The temperature came up to 65º but it became extremely dusty and overcast and there was still a high wind.  It was a dust storm and it made for a weird looking scene.  We took the CA-46 junction to Wasco and crossed west to I-5.  We figured visibility was one or two miles.  We saw a number of RVs pulled off the road and, where possible, parked facing into the wind.  But our heavy bus handles wind better than a lighter weight motor home or a trailer so we continued.  Pushing north on I-5 we had heavy clouds, dust and a strong tail wind.  We traveled 192 miles and arrived at Harris Ranch by 1:00 PM.  By then it was raining hard and I felt like we pulled off the road and arrived in a safe harbor just in time.
Headed north on I-5 approaching Kettleman City. We have a strong tailwind. 01/04/08, 12:12:46 PM We're happy to pull into the entrance of Harris Ranch. The wind is strong. 01/04/08, 1:01:22 PM
I planned to go to Sommerville's Almond Tree RV Park in nearby Coalinga — but their phone was disconnected, so I cancelled that idea. 01/04/08, 1:01:34 PM I hope this line of bushes will give us a little protection from the wind. Feels like protection, anyway. 01/04/08, 1:03:04 PM
The dirt trucker's lot at Harris Ranch — home, sweet, home. 01/04/08, 1:03:58 PM Early dinner in the Harris Ranch Restaurant. 01/04/08, 1:58:20 PM
We've got the place to ourselves but that will change by late afternoon. 01/04/08, 2:23:38 PM Dennis has gotten stuck doing the dog walks and potty duty while I try to stay off my feet. 01/05/08, 8:06:38 AM

We put out our slides and make ourselves at home in this lot.  We were tired and planned to go into the restaurant for either a very late breakfast or a very early dinner.  Normally we would walk and I sure hated to see Dennis go out in that weather to unhook the car.  But he insisted and I was glad to be driven the short distance to the restaurant.  (Some muleskinner I am.)  Too late for breakfast so we went for comfort food — roast beef dinner. On the way out we bought two Harris Ranch meat packages — roast beef and beef stew. They are cooked and preserved in plastic bags — just microwave and serve. You don't have to freeze them. They keep in the refrigerator for a long time and they are very convenient and very good. 

Our bus looked lonesome when we drove back to the empty lot but it wasn’t long before noisy trucks surrounded us.  I hate those reefers that pull up right next to us at two AM and keep us awake.  All those loud engines — they do not make for a good night’s sleep.  (Some muleskinner I am.) California passed a law that truckers can't stop and run their engines for more than five minutes. Of course it isn't enforced. I know diesel burners like we have are being developed that will be installed in trucks to keep the interior warm. Then it won't be necessary to run the engine. The diesel burner turns on and off as needed and it's much quieter.

But, short of noise, we were snug and cozy during a rainy, windy night.  After a Harris Ranch breakfast we set out at 9:35 Saturday morning and made it home to the masonry yard by 12:30 PM.  There were heavy low clouds and we were worried we would be held up either by winds or flooding or by debris still across the road.  But we timed it just right and passed over CA-152 by the San Luis Reservoir without incident.  As we dropped down to CA-101 it began to rain.  The second (or third?) storm had begun. The last hour of our drive on the busy freeway was a slog through a heavy downpour with poor visibility.  Poor Dennis was on his own, because I got a call from Dale and talked for nearly the entire hour.  Maybe it was just as well.  I didn’t have a chance to pay attention and worry.

A little bit of blue sky looks hopeful as we start up I-5. 01/05/08, 9:55:14 AM But it's not looking good by the time we get to San Luis Reservoir. 01/05/08, 10:58:02 AM
Heading down the hill towards Casa de Fruta. 01/05/08, 11:09:24 AM We're in Gilroy on US-101. 01/05/08, 11:39:46 AM
Just pulled into the masonry yard and parked in front of the Pettibone — just like home. 01/05/08, 12:26:58 PM View from the bedroom. It's been raining hard and things are looking very wet. 01/05/08, 12:48:18 PM

We were home early so we made plans to meet our friends, Dale and Frank at Peninsula Creamery in downtown Palo Alto at 4:30 PM.  This is an old fashioned diner owned by the local milk company.  There are booths and a loud juke box and plenty of retro foods like burgers, fries and milkshakes.  It was raining hard so we all went for another comfort dinner — turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy.  Afterwards we met at Century 16 and obliged Dale by agreeing to sit in the very last row of seats.  We saw “Atonement” and it was a beautiful movie.  On Sunday we met up with my sister, Sally, and we all went to Century 16 to see “The Golden Compass.”  At last I’m getting caught up on my movies.

On Monday morning I called my doctor and she made an appointment for me in radiology.  I saw her afterwards and oh, man. Big surprise!  The anklebone has a fracture.  I walked out of there with crutches.  Not happening — I’ve been walking on my foot for this long and I don’t see how I could manage on crutches.  On Monday we also went to Enterprise where we rented a car and then took the Honda to a body shop.  It will take a month to get it fixed.

On Tuesday Dr. Machello sent me to Dr. Eiken in Sports Medicine.  He operated on Dennis’s knee to remove a torn meniscus so we know him.  I asked Dennis to come with me.  (Shucks, no handsome, injured athletes in the waiting room.) The doctor said it was a very small fracture, like a notch taken out of the vertical bone.  He says it probably won’t fill in.  The injury functions more like badly torn ligaments.  He said I could continue to do as I’ve been doing and I don’t need a cast or a bootie or crutches.  I’m to keep doing RICE — rest, ice, compress, and elevate.  It will take two or three months to heal and it will take a long time for the swelling to go down.

All right!  I’ll take that.  My gamble paid off, thank goodness.  It will be two weeks tomorrow since I fell and hurt my ankle.  I celebrated by getting my nails done that afternoon with my friend, Gina, at Haircuts Etc.  My nails were way overdue and I got a chance to catch up on news with Gina.

Ben Margot/The Associated Press
"A surfer rides a wave churned by a winter storm underneath the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge on Friday, Jan. 4, 2008, in San Francisco Bay. A fierce arctic storm pounded California on Friday, threatening to soak mudslide-prone canyons already charred by wildfires and to paralyze the mountains with deep snow."
"storm1.jpg" borrowed from Oregon Live.
http://blog.oregonlive.com/breakingnews/2008/01/storm1.jpg

The big storms bring the big winter waves for surfers.  I love the photo of the surfer near Baker Beach.

During this storm I thought of my son, Jeff, and wondered if he was catching some good waves. The Mavericks Surf Contest is always held sometime between January and March in Half Moon Bay about a half-mile offshore from Pillar Point. I figured it would be announced soon.  (Maverick’s is one of the world’s best “big wave” surfing spots — famous for its huge 50+ waves.) I wondered if Jeff might be out there watching. Sure enough he sent me some photos after I got home.  A friend snapped these of him surfing in front of Pigeon Point where he manages the Pigeon Point International Hostel.  Thanks, Jeff.  Looking good.

Jeff Parry surfs on the beach by Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Pescadero, CA.
Tomorrow we go to San Francisco to UCSF radiology for Dennis to have his CT-scans and MRIs done.  These are part of our preparations before Dennis meets his new dermatology/oncology doctor at UCSF.
Elsa Walton, Walton Masonry, Mountain View, CA, Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Maps of the Borax Twenty Mule Team Road from the Harmony Mine in Death Valley to the Railroad in Mojave.
Above, I took a faint red trail from a mapquest map of the area and traced it in dark red. The outline of a red star at the bottom marks the location of Boron on CA-58. Compare it to the BoroxMap I found, below. The two routes seem to be more or less similar. Another mining trail on the Borax map led to the ghost mining town we visited, Calico, and then Daggett, near I-15 and I-40. On Mapquest above, Calico is near Yermo, east of Barstow.
The Route of the Borax 20-Mule Teams
165 miles in 10 days (16.5 mpd)

Harmony - 30 miles to first water at
Bennett's Wells - 53 miles to
Lone Willow - 26 miles to
Granite Wells - 6 miles to
Blackwater - 50 miles (waterless stretch) to
Mojave

Map obtained from USGS, Death Valley Field Trip Map: http://www2.nature.nps.gov/Geology/usgsnps/deva/fthar2.html