Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Headless Horseman of Yermo

Headless Horseman of Yermo display (MojaveDesert.Net)

By Matthew Cabe
Victor Valley Daily Press

In October 1965, Don Hughes was busy clearing land in Yermo when he inadvertently unearthed what local historian and author Cliff Walker described as a “highly mineralized axe head” in an article on the Desert Gazette website.

Near the axe, Hughes found part of a jawbone and skull buried in sand. Some 30 feet away, the skeletal remains of a man and horse were also uncovered. The man was seated atop what was left of his steed. Knives stuck out of what was left of him.

The proper officials were notified and an excavation followed. When the papers got wind, the man was dubbed the “Headless Horseman of Yermo.” In a later interview, Hughes said tests dated the bones to about 1850.

Analysis also determined the man was between 21 and 23 years old. He stood 5-feet-2-inches tall.

In a phone conversation with Walker — one that was cut woefully short by bad reception — I learned the initial theories on the horseman’s heritage.

“His teeth were ground down,” Walker said, which led him and others to believe the man was of Native American or Mexican descent. Teeth like his, Walker continued, were a common attribute of “indians and vaqueros” due to a grit-filled diet.

About five years ago, though, the director of the San Bernardino County Museum informed Walker that tests revealed the horseman was not a Native American.

“He could still be a vaquero,” Walker said.

In 1972, the horseman went on display for the first time at the Mojave River Valley Museum in Barstow, but it was in the custody of the county museum and was eventually returned. Rumor has it that the county must locate next of kin. Good luck.

This appears to be a sore spot for Walker. When he chatted with the county museum’s director, he asked about the horseman’s whereabouts. “She wouldn’t tell me,” he said before the line went dead.

Experts offered historical scenarios to explain the man’s grim fate for years after the discovery. Most involved horse thieves. More than 50 years later, much surrounding the “Headless Horseman of Yermo” remains shrouded in mystery.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Museum explores cultural significance of Route 66

A view of Route 66 in Arizona, circa 1960. HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

Associated Press

Tens of thousands of people visit the Arizona Route 66 Museum each year, aiming to get a feel for what it was like to take the old highway route that crossed eight states to connect Chicago to the West Coast.

Visitors to the Kingman museum spend hours looking at displays, photographs and life-size dioramas of the groups and events that depict the evolution of the highway that came to fame in the mid-20th century, the Kingman Daily Miner reported.

In his four years volunteering with the museum, T.R. Srigley said he sees just as many foreign tourists as Americans. The diverse appeal of the museum is evidenced by shelves of brochures, which describes the more than 20 exhibits in six different languages.

"It seems to me like a lot of people are from China and Europe. There's an awful lot of them," Srigley said. "They know a lot about Route 66; it's pretty amazing. They know more about Route 66 than the Great Wall of China."

Visitors can see a 1950 Studebaker Champion, originally priced at $1,487. Another exhibit features a rusty old Ford truck loaded with pots and pans, furniture and other worldly belongings of an Oklahoma family fleeing the Dust Bowl, emblematic of the Joad family in John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath."

The museum, operated by the Mohave Pioneers Historical Society, opened in 2001 and draws about 50,000 visitors each year.

"This really is the museum that helps explain the significance of Route 66 to our culture through the ages," said Josh Noble, Kingman's director of tourism.

The museum is located in the former Kingman Powerhouse, which once lighted the way for early Route 66 travelers, said Shannon Rossiter, director of the Mohave Museum of History and Arts.

The historic building was constructed between 1907 and 1911 to produce power for mines. The facility was mothballed following the construction of the Hoover Dam. It was restored and reopened as a visitors' center in 1997.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Mitchell Caverns is a time warp – and that’s why it’s so cool

Inside Mitchell Caverns in Essex, Calif. (Photo: Lance Gerber/DESERT magazine)

Rick Marino,
DESERT [Sun] magazine

Some years back, while I was out exploring the remote stretches of what is left of Route 66 in the remote desert east of Barstow, I happened upon a sign along Essex Road. It pointed to “Mitchell Caverns” but had a “closed” sign underneath it. Fascinated by this discovery, I immediately looked up the caverns, and found they had recently been closed with no date set for reopening. Bummer!

Well, time heals all wounds, as they say, and that it flies – and that it does. Mitchell Caverns is NOW OPEN again after being closed for about seven years for infrastructure upgrades. When you see how remote the caverns are, it makes a lot more sense why improvements would take so long.

Surrounded by Mojave National Preserve, the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area is where the Mitchell Caverns are located. It’s more than 100 miles east of Barstow, about 60 miles west of Needles and 16 miles north of Interstate 40 on Essex Road. At an altitude of 4,300 feet, this location is very remote to say the least. The nearest gas station is 24 miles away to the east in Fenner, or 40 miles west in Ludlow (Grab cheap gas and a classic diner meal at the Ludlow Café!).

Named after Jack and Ida Mitchell (who led tours of the caverns as a Route 66 attraction from 1934 to 1954), the caverns are now part of the state park system. It is essential to have a reservation for tours, which take place Friday through Sunday only. There are only two of them per day, at 11a.m. and 2 p.m.. Each hold a maximum of 15 people. Reservations are NOT available online at this time and must be made by phone to the visitor’s center during the week.

This road trip is a long day-trip unless you are passing through or plan to camp out, so it’s best to get an early start as it is about three hours from the Coachella Valley. After breakfast and fueling up in Twentynine Palms, I take Amboy Road all the way until it ends in Amboy on Route 66. Amboy is sort of a ghost town – home to Roy’s Motel and Café that no longer serves any food – but is now a last chance for gas and cold drinks, snacks and souvenirs. Roy’s is a great place to take photos and is becoming popular with the Instagram crowd. The motel rooms are home to art exhibitions, too.

Down the road is the Amboy Crater, an extinct volcano that you can hike up to and around – best to do this in the wintertime! Right now, Route 66 is closed about 4 miles east of Amboy, so make a left on Kelso Road and head north to Interstate 40 before winding east on the interstate. Take the Essex Road exit and follow the signs all the way to Mitchell Caverns.

The road slowly gains altitude, and the desert plants get thicker and more diverse as does the terrain, all the way up the parking lot. When you arrive at the visitor’s center, a cabin built from rocks and stones which is located in the Mitchells’ original home, you really have to wonder how rugged it must have been to live up here, let alone build out the other buildings as guest quarters and clear a path from the road down below. I learn there is a spring about three-quarters of a mile away, which Jack ran a pipe from for water.

Inside the visitor’s center are many displays showing how the caverns were formed over millions of years as well as those that contain fossils of ancient animals and artifacts of the Chemehuevi tribe that have been using the caverns for approximately 1,000 years. Check in with the ranger to pay your fee and the trip to the caverns begins.

Ranger Andy Fitzpatrick has been working at the caverns for a couple years and knows everything you could ever think to ask about the place. The trail to the caverns is about a half-mile hike, pretty level and very easy, and the view is worth the drive alone. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Arizona!

Along the way, there are a few prospecting holes that Jack mined looking for silver back in the day. As you round the bend, you see the entrance to the caves looking at you, the “Eyes of the Mountain,” Andy says is the Chemehuevi name. Crossing the footbridge over a ravine, above your head are ancient pinyon pine, junipers and scrub oaks in the canyon below the red rocks of Fountain Peak.

At the entrance, ranger Andy asks if I have been in any cave systems recently or if anything I am wearing has been. There is a fungal disease, White Nose Syndrome, affecting bats that has been spreading across the country over the years. With a firm “NO” we walk in, and it is every bit of awesome that I imagined.

First off, the temperature is a cool and perfect 65 degrees (always, I’m told), and the formations cover every inch of the place. It feels like drips of molten wax – like an ancient candelabra, just bigger! LED lights are part of the renovation and are perfectly placed to get the maximum effect. We follow a concrete pathway (keep in mind there are some stairs here and there), stopping in different areas while the ranger shows and tells about the many different features we are seeing. Turns out, we find a bat hibernating!

We also look and look for two different albeit tiny insects, a Niptus beetle and a pseudo scorpion (kind of like a land crab) that are found nowhere else on earth but here in the caverns. (Don’t worry, they are only about an eighth of an inch in size!) I am bummed we do not find any this trip.

There are two large main caves: El Pakiva (The Devil’s House) is at the entrance and Tecopa, named after a Shoshonean chief, is at the exit. The trail inside is only about a quarter-mile, and there are some narrow passages between some of the areas, but none of it bothered me at all. I was worried it would! There are several different formations you will see – all are spectacular. My favorite is when a black light brings the texture of the cave to life.

These are the only limestone caves in the California state park system, I learn, with the oldest rocks. The quick and easy explanation of how the caverns got here is this: Think 300 million years ago, a warm shallow sea covered the area, and tiny shells and corals piled up to create limestone layers. Between earth movement and wet and dry periods, the caverns were created and drip, drip, drips over those millions of years carrying calcified water created stalactites from above to the stalagmites below. Some even meet to form large columns!

After coming back out, I understand how and why the Mitchells sought to share this with the everyone – I would, too. Well, I guess I just did! After all, it’s just a road trip away.