Christmas Tree Pass
|Date:||November 15th, 1997|
|Destination:||Christmas Tree Pass and vicinity|
|Departure Point:||Westwood Studios|
|Weather:||clear & mild|
A group of adventurous souls set forth on a quest to explore Christmas Tree Pass and to find ancient petroglyphs in the Nevada desert. Along the way they discover crusty miners, ancient astronauts, Dante's inferno, and a gargoyle! This is the true story of that adventure.
On November 15th 1997 a group of adventurous souls set forth on a quest to explore Christmas Tree Pass and to find ancient petroglyphs in the Nevada desert. This is the story of that adventure.
Preparation and Departure
The weather was predicted clear with temperatures in the mid sixties. The weatherman was right. It looked like a good day for an off-roading trip. The day's itinerary was as planned thusly:
- Meet at Westwood 8:00am.
- Acquire supplies (a.k.a. snacks) at Albertsons.
- Partake of a quick breakfast at Burger King.
- Leave for Christmas Tree Pass by 9:00.
Meet at Westwood 8:00am
Ted was first to arrive at Westwood. The others arrived shortly thereafter. By 8:18 all expected party members had arrived except for one -- Jonathan. He had not yet arrived and we were starting to get concerned. Although he lives only two minutes from Westwood, when Mike called, there was no answer. At that point, the "20-minute rule" was invoked. This rule states that at 20 minutes past meeting deadline, any party member not present will be ditched. Jonathan had 2 minutes left. We hoped that he was on his way and would arrive any moment. This turned out to be true. He had overslept. This was undoubtedly due to his playing the devil's advocate the previous night regarding a certain 36" Toshiba television, but that is another story.
Kurt arrived just as we left. Kurt had previously expressed interest in going on this trip, but bailed out at the last minute with a lame excuse regarding some task with the network server. Naturally, we had to make him feel guilty about bailing out. However, since he has now used up his "lame excuse quota", he will have to go on the next trip.
Angie too, was planning to go on the trip, but came up with some lame excuse at the last minute as well. I'm sure that both Angie's and Kurt's simultaneous bail out from the trip was just an amazing coincidence and not some kind of plan. Really. It could happen.
Acquire Supplies (food, gas, and breakfast)
We came supplied with equipment for this trip that included two GPS receivers, a compass, four flashlights (in case of mines), map books, USGS 1:24000 scale geologic maps, and a digital camera. However, we didn't have any food. The first task was to go to Albertson's to acquire some.
After arriving at Albertson's, we collected much food and drink. Probably enough provisions to last a fortnight. One can never be too prepared when it comes to snack food. Naturally, this required the purchase of an ice chest to hold the more perishable supplies. We had so much food that when an entire box of chicken (don't ask) spilled onto the ground, we just shrugged and said "there's plenty more where that came from" and continued to pack. Unfortunately, in spite of the food loss, it soon became apparent that one ice chest was insufficient. Jonathan was tasked to run back into Albertson's in order to purchase a duplicate ice chest. The rest of us waited for his return.
What could possibly be keeping Jonathan? Again, the 20-minute rule was invoked. As a last resort, Mike was sent in to rescue him and returned with Jonathan and the ice chest after some time. Whew!
Now we were running later than planned, so in order to save time, Ted and Jonathan would gas up the Explorer while the rest of us would order breakfast at Burger King. Naturally, they would join us in a few minutes since the gas station was right next door. It was expected that they would arrive before we would have a chance to sit down to eat. We ordered. They hadn't yet arrived. Burger King was busy so we had to wait for the food. They still hadn't arrived. We sat down and ate breakfast. They still hadn't arrived. What could be taking so long?
The 20-minute rule might have been invoked again but there has to be some kind of limit on how many times it can be used. Just then, Ted and Jonathan arrived. Ted offered an excuse about a "card not scanning" or a "pump not pumping". Some of us suspected it had to do with the 57 octane pump not working and instead of going to the higher octane pumps, Ted had the station attendant fix the low octane pump instead. I guess we'll never know.
Depart for Christmas Tree Pass
We departed for Christmas Tree Pass sometime around 10:00am. The caravan was Ted, Jonathan, and myself in the lead vehicle (Ted driving -- he knew the way). Following was Mike, Maria, Denis, and Joanne in one vehicle and Steve and Anne in another. It would take about one and a half hours to reach our destination. The route travels through Henderson. South through Eldorado Valley (past the dry lake and remote controlled planes). Then through Searchlight followed by CalNevAri. Shortly after CalNevAri, a dirt road branches left with a sign marked "Christmas Tree Pass". Except for one stop in Searchlight where Ted drove doughnuts in the parking lot of the Nugget casino, the trip was uneventful.
We drove east from U.S. 95 (just south of CalNevAri) toward Christmas Tree Pass. The dirt road was very well groomed. Our four wheel drive vehicles were certainly not required here. After several miles down the road and after consulting the map and GPS we determine that we had reached Christmas Tree Pass. In spite of the name, there were no Christmas Trees in sight. A more apt name would be Christmas Scrub Pass.
While examining the maps we noticed some areas to the north that had notations such as "shaft", "tunnel", "guzzler", "prospect", and "jeep trail". Owing the to tame nature of the Christmas Tree Pass road and the fact that we were decked out with four wheel drive vehicles, we decided to backtrack to a nearby northward leading dirt road to explore for these more interesting sounding map locations.
The Path North
The path north was new territory for all of us. Ted was busy driving so Jonathan took over map reading and I took the role of GPS reader. I would call out GPS readings, Jonathan would follow our location on the maps, and Ted would try to not get us killed. This was more of a danger than we first imagined. At one point the road tilted dangerously to one side. We made it through without rolling, but, as I later learned, Steve and Anne's vehicle tilted so far as to have one of its wheels leave the ground! Yikes!
After a mile or so north, Jonathan called out that a "shaft" should be to our immediate left. We didn't see anything, but stopped anyway to consult the map more closely. After careful study and using Steve Tall's GPS (which turned out to be most useful), we determined that a mine shaft should be some short distance south west of where we were stopped. Sure enough. It was about 50 feet south west of where we were stopped. Of course, since everyone else had already discovered and wandered over to the mine shaft while Jonathan, Ted, Steve, and myself were consulting the map, this let some of the wind out of our accomplishment. Still, it was a triumph of technology over nature, or so we convinced ourselves.
Farther along the road we could see CalNevAri down in the valley to our left. Far to the other side of the valley is where we went on the Fort Pahute four wheeling trip during the previous spring. The mountain skyline in the distance is the Castle Mountain range. The name is owing to the mountain's unusual silhouette against the horizon.
The northward dirt road eventually lead east toward a map symbol labeled "Roman Mine". This actually turned out to be a real occupied mine. The map indicated that we should have turned south at the Roman Mine in order to reach the interesting map locations we were questing for. However, the road appeared to dead end at this point so we stopped. One of the mine residents greeted us. We explained our desire to explore the "jeep trail", "tunnel", and "prospect" as listed on the map. His reaction was to strongly discourage us from going "that way". The old stories of what miner's do to trespassers didn't make us too eager to ignore this miner's "suggestions" to return the way we came.
All was not lost however, since while we were stopped we got a chance to greet some of the local wildlife -- both of the four legged and eight legged variety.
Here we are in front of the Roman Mine. Pictured (from left to right): Ted, Steve, Mike, Maria, Denis, Joanne, Anne, and Jonathan (he's not off camera this time). The two residents in the bottom row sauntered out to greet us as soon as we stopped. Combined, these dogs had about as much energy as a brick.
This is the most energetic activity performed by this dog. While Anne was petting one dog, the other was resting under a nearby bush. If these were supposed to be guard dogs, well, lets just say that they were "motivationally challenged".
Eight Legged Creature
While stopped, we discovered another resident of these parts. A tarantula. It seemed quite nonplussed by our attentions and continued to steadily travel on its way.
We took the advice of the miner and returned the way we came. The next task was to find where to go next. The map indicated that "petroglyphs" were nearby so we decided to head there. This path took us back through Christmas Tree Pass and then two more miles east followed by two miles south. The petroglyphs were marked as being located in Grapevine Canyon and would require about a quarter mile walk.
The petroglyph site was very easy to find. In fact, there was a parking lot there with several cars present when we arrived. Grapevine Canyon is a tourist spot of sorts. After a very short walk we reached the petroglyphs. Petroglyphs covered nearly every rock on both sides of the canyon. A small hike up the canyon resulted in the discovery of even more surprises. Much to our amazement, there are actually grape vines in this canyon. It seems that Grapevine Canyon is more truthful than Christmas Tree Pass. This bodes well, for there are secrets to unlock in this canyon. Truths to uncover. The truth is out there. We will find it.
Deciphering The Petroglyphs
Jonathan wastes no time in deciphering the ancient messages. He has recently been studying time travel and ancient astronauts. The question is whether the ancient astronauts were actually aliens or were they time travelers from Earth's future. The petroglyphs promise the answer to this question -- if only we could decipher their hidden messages.
The Search For Clues
Sensing the urgency of the search. The party spreads out looking for clues. Looking for truth. I see Ted head left toward the canyon floor. Denis heads right and across the canyon toward my direction. Steve covers the central area and Mike scours the opposite canyon face. We will not leave until the canyon has revealed the secrets of ancient past.
Big Horn Sheep!
A startling discovery! A heard of big horn sheep! Upon careful examination, the herd turns out to be a skillful rendering of big horn sheep. Six sheep in fact. The ancients were skilled artists indeed. A more thorough study of this rock face reveals some interesting clues. There is a shadowy figure of a man walking among the sheep, yet the sheep don't appear to notice. Is this man cloaked with some high technology cloaking device? The figure of a sun appears in the lower left. But is it a sun? The rings could indicate planet orbits. The search for clues continues.
The first solid clue! Clearly this is a petroglyph of a spacecraft [left]. The command module is to the right while the engine module is to the left. The thrust from the engine can be clearly seen. Even the four sensor antennae jutting from the command module are shown. The jagged lightning bolt impacting the command module might indicate the cause of the spacecraft's forced landing in ancient past. With much buoyed hope, we continue to search for clues.
Portrait of an Astronaut
Yes! Yet another petroglyph giving clues to the ancient astronauts. Here we see a central cloaked (space suit?) figure wearing a bubble helmet of some sort [right]. To the left is an hourglass. Possibly signifying that this astronaut's time is running short? We may never know what thoughts this ancient astronaut had during his last days in Earth's past. We must find the answer. Ever onward, ever upward I climb. Searching for the final petroglyph that will provide the missing clue needed to unlock these ancient secrets!
After a nearly vertical climb upward I reach the top of the cliff. Denis is close behind me. Maybe we will be the first humans since antiquity to unlock the secrets of the ancient astronauts? Are we the the first white men to tread in the footsteps of the Indians of old? What secrets await us at the top of this forbidding cliff?
I rest briefly at the top and notice Jonathan, Mike, and Steve at the bottom of the cliff [left]. They are merely specs. I must be 80 feet above them. I flip the camera into telephoto mode and snap a picture. Through the magnification of the camera I can confirm my identification of these individuals. I dare not slip. The fall would surely be fatal.
Panning to the left, I can see Joanne, Anne, and Maria across the canyon [right]. They are patiently waiting while we unlock the ancient secrets. Wait! It looks as if Anne is holding something and Maria is examining it. Have they discovered the final clue? Could it be that the far side of the canyon holds the secret of the petroglyphs? I then remember that the far side of the canyon is being searched by Mike and Steve. I will remain on this side of the canyon, for now.
Ted Searches for Artifacts
Further to the left and down in the canyon I see Ted in search for Indian artifacts. Maybe he will discover the key to the mystery of the petroglyphs down there? I weigh the possibilities and conclude the odds of discovery are greater on the cliff tops. I resume my search.
The Final Discovery!
Stepping back from the brink, I turn around am startled by what I see. How could I have missed this? Carefully carved in a hidden face of the cliff is what must be the answer to the secret of the petroglyphs. This rock face is covered with mathematical symbols of some sort. I cannot recognize their exact meaning, but their mathematical nature is clear. Unlike previous petroglyphs, these do not depict images. They are far too angular, geometric, and patterned to be anything but equations of great significance.
As I carefully examine the mysterious symbols I discover a shocking truth. Just at the point where the critical information would be, the rock face has been violently blasted away! What weapon could have the precision and power to blast the rock face in such a manner? The blast point was much too precise for the natives (even if they had weapons of that power). I can only conclude that the damage was deliberate in order to forever silence the mysteries of these petroglyphs.
The rocks now stand in mute testimony of the past. We may never know exactly what happened here, but it is clear, the ancients didn't want us to find out. Maybe the truth is too shocking for us to know? Maybe they will return one day and unlock the mysteries of the past in person? I can only speculate. I descend the mountain in silence.
There are some things that man is not meant to know.
Ted's Futile Search
As I descend the mountain, I notice Ted still searching for artifacts. Little does he realize the secrets of this canyon will remain forever silent. Forever hidden from the mind of modern man.
We Break for Lunch
We return to our vehicles for lunch. We soon recover from the silent legacy of the petroglyphs and resume our adventure plans. After a hearty 12 course lunch we pack up and head onward. After Grapevine Canyon, we proceeded southward. Since it was now approaching 2:00pm, we only had time for one more stop on our journey. The route south would loop back to CalNevAri but on the way it would pass a site that only appeared on one of our maps. This map was last updated in the '50s. It appeared as if all later maps had this site deliberately erased. Naturally, if the authorities didn't want us to go there, we just had to go there.
We Lose Our Way
This site was called Hiko Spring and was quite difficult to find. In fact, it was so hidden we passed by it without noticing. We stopped and consulted the GPS and maps to confirm our location and the location of Hiko Springs before setting off again in search of it. How ironic that the authorities on one hand tried to hide the presence of Hiko Springs through map manipulation yet on the other hand, through GPS (another government service) we were able to locate it! I could just hear the voice of Rod Serling narrating a Twilight Zone episode with us as the central characters. Maybe our next stop would be the Twilight Zone? At the time this was a funny thought, but it later proved to be frighteningly true.
As we approached Hiko Springs we knew something was wrong. With the exception of one large tree, the entire area had an other worldly character. It was as if fire had swept down and burnt everything. Yet not everything. The strange part was the scorch marks were not consistent. Some parts were burned yet they would be right next to other parts that were not burned. A few short feet later the burned earth would appear again. Even the ground was burnt to ashes at some points. Is was as if Dante's Inferno had been unleashed on the surface of the Earth.
The brush that was burnt had been sawed off. This was not a natural or random fire. It was deliberate. It was strange.
Ted and Steve discover evidence of a past traveler to this area. This car will probably never run again. Perhaps this is a sign. A warning for us? The sides of this gully are steep. The only paths are forward down the valley of fire (literally) or back the way we came. It was then that I turned and noticed a disturbing sight!
Hiko Springs is supposed to contain petroglyphs. We searched for them but didn't find anything of much significance. However, turning back up the gully, there perched on a rock, blocking our return was ... the gargoyle!
As can be seen in the previous photo, the "gargoyle" is perched upon the rock. Silhouetted against the sky and directly in the path of our return. This was a disturbing turn of events. We were already in an unsettling situation what with the scorched earth around us. The presence of a foreboding gargoyle figure blocking our return path was the last thing we needed. The fact that it appeared only after we were cut off from our vehicles, only made things worse. Consulting with the others, we concluded that the plan of action would be to return cautiously. We had no other choice but to approach this figure directly. Our vehicles were on the opposite side of the perch.
We Approach the Gargoyle
As Ted and I approached the gargoyle the sun began to set. Long shadows crept across the gully. The cloak of darkness was filling the gully. Fortunately, the sun still shone upon the top of the perch and we could make out that the gargoyle was in fact human. A man of about 40. Much relieved that we were not dealing with a supernatural creature we proceeded with newfound boldness around the perch and toward our vehicles.
All Is Well
When the group rounded the perch some of us briefly conversed with the man. He filled us in on the situation at Hiko Springs. It seems that three months prior, the BLM came through and burned out the undergrowth of the spring. This man is watching over mining claims in the area and is convinced that the BLM is trying to evict him by means of intimidation. He lives out of his truck and has been doing so for quite some time it seems. It appears that as long as he pays his yearly claim fee, the BLM has no legal right to evict him and can only use intimidation as a means of removing his presence.
In addition to watching over the mining claims he told us of a lost mine in the region that he is looking for. This sounds similar to the Lost Dutchman Mine story and it may have a kernel of truth.
We wished him the best of luck with his vigil and then returned to our vehicles for the trip home. The trip home was uneventful. However, when we stopped at Searchlight for gas, I was able to snag the last chocolate dipped nut sprinkled ice cream cone at the mini-mart! Whoo Hooo! :)