Joshua Tree


Ants come out in force after a rain event in Joshua Tree, new hills popping up everywhere. I suspect that this is for the same reason that we humans here break out our shovels after rain: the digging is easy.

I got out my seldom-used macro lens and got photos of all of the ants you can normally see around here. I’ll show them from biggest to smallest. If I had more time, I’d identify them with Latin names (maybe with my new app Lookup Life) but I don’t, so I’ll leave it up to you. (If you know, please tell me!)

We call these "big purple ants." They are not too common, and it's a good thing because their bite hurts the worst of any ant in the area, throbbing for an hour or more.

We call these “big purple ants,” about 5/16″ long. They are not too common, and it’s a good thing because their bite hurts the worst of any ant in the area, throbbing for an hour or more.

We call these "big red ants" or "big red and black ants." They are a little smaller than big purple ants, and their bite hurts a little bit less. You still want to avoid them. They are the most common ant around, these days, though it seems like that's a change from when I was a kid, when black ants dominated.

We call these “big red ants” or “big red and black ants” if we’ve got a lot of time on our hands. They are a little smaller than big purple ants, and their bite hurts a little bit less. You still want to avoid them. They are the most common ant around, these days, though it seems like that’s a change from when I was a kid, when black ants dominated.

We call these "black ants." They don't bite, or if they do, you can't feel it, so we think of them as the good guys. They are significantly smaller than big red ants, here seen moving a creosote seed.

We call these “black ants.” They don’t bite, or if they do, you can’t feel it, so we think of them as the good guys. They are significantly smaller than big red ants, here seen moving a creosote seed.

We call these "little red ants." They are significantly smaller than black ants and are very fast. I had a hard time getting a photo. They are prolific biters and their bites itch pretty bad. And they tend to swarm you. I once had to play a drumming gig barefoot with super itchy feet from getting swarmed while I was loading my kit.

We call these “little red ants.” They are significantly smaller than black ants and are very fast. I had a hard time getting a photo. They are prolific biters and their bites itch pretty bad. And they tend to swarm you. I once had to play a drumming gig barefoot with super itchy feet after getting swarmed while I was loading my kit.

Head shot of a little red ant, peering over a tiny fragment of a stick.

Head shot of a little red ant, peering over a tiny fragment of a stick.

These ants are unusual to see, so we don't really have a name for them, but they are tiny, significantly smaller than little red ants, so let's call them "tiny black ants." They move really slowly. I don't know if they bite.

These ants are unusual to see, so we don’t really have a name for them, but they are tiny, significantly smaller than little red ants, so let’s call them “tiny black ants.” They move really slowly. I don’t know if they bite.

Tiny black ants seem to live with these giant-headed ants. They were crawling in and out of the same hill. Also, the honey-colored ant in the picture was just wandering by. You very rarely see them. This was the only one I saw all day, and I looked all over the property. They get into the trailer sometimes at night, so maybe they're nocturnal.

Tiny black ants seem to live with these giant-headed ants. They were crawling in and out of the same hill. Also, the honey-colored ant in the picture was just wandering by. You very rarely see them. This was the only one I saw all day, and I looked all over the property. They get into the trailer sometimes at night, so maybe they’re nocturnal.

That's all the ants, but dang, isn't our sand photogenic? I got a lot of shots like this, trying to photograph little red ants without getting bitten.

That’s all the ants, but dang, isn’t our sand photogenic? I got a lot of shots like this, trying to photograph little red ants without getting bitten.

Not Back to School Camp is one of my very favorite things to do, and advisee group is one of my favorite things to do at NBTSC. At the recent Joshua Tree session, I led my 40-somethingth advisee group, and documented our getting to know each other:

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1/20/2015

 

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1/20/2015

 

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1/21/2015

 

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1/23/2015

 

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1/24/2015

 

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1/25/2015

 

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Last day of camp, 1/26/2015

 

Joshua Tree is my home town, so a session of Not Back to School Camp here is a dream come true. I love our sites in the forests of Oregon and Vermont, but the desert is where my heart is, and now I get to share my rocks and sand, mountains, sunsets, and mild mid-winter temperatures with a new set of NBTSC campers and my dear fellow staffers…

See my post and all the photos at the Not Back to School Camp blog.

 

I’ve been learning to ride a motorcycle for about a year now. Lately, that’s looked like taking my youngest brother’s old dirt bike out to find microconfluences.* This gives me a reason to take longer and longer rides from home, and takes me to spots I wouldn’t have thought of to go. Each of the following three that I found last week took me on the longest ride of my life so far.

They turned out to be on Sunny Sands Drive, the road I used to live on with family friends, the Murdys, when my family moved back to Joshua Tree in the early 1980s. The first microconfluence was so close to their house that I dropped by for a visit, but they weren’t home. It was just off Sunny Sands and Border Avenue:

Sunny Sands Drive. I used to spend evenings on this road with my friend, Chad, as a kid, playing "Don't Break the World," AKA trying to tunnel through big dirt clods without breaking them.

Sunny Sands Drive. I used to spend evenings on this road with my friend, Chad, as a kid, playing “Don’t Break the World,” AKA trying to tunnel through big dirt clods without breaking them.

This was as close as I wanted to get to the spot (34.2x-116.3 or N 34 12′ x W 116 18′), as it was in the driveway of this house. It’s about 200 feet directly in front of me in this photo. You can see the Bartlett Mountains in the background, AKA Rollie‘s Mountain.

The next was east on Sunny Sands all the way into Sunfair, which is technically a neighborhood of Joshua Tree, though we all tend to think of it as it’s own place.

This is looking down into Sunfair from the north tip of the Bunker Mountains. Sunny Sands is the road heading off into the east. The microconfluence is close to where Sunny Sands ends.

This is looking down into Sunfair from the north tip of the Bunker Mountains. Sunny Sands is the road heading off into the east. The microconfluence is close to where Sunny Sands ends. You can see the dry lake to the right, where all the washes in the area empty to. You could call our valley the Sunfair Dry Lake Drainage Basin.

 

The spot, 34.2 x -116.25, or N34 12' x W116 15'

The spot, 34.2 x -116.25, or N34 12′ x W116 15′. The closest mountain is Bunker Mountain. To the right of that is Bartlett Mountain. Beyond them to the left are mountains in Joshua Tree National Park. I believe these are called the Little San Bernardino Mountains. Behind them, just left of center, you can see the peak of San Jacinto Mountain. Reanna and I just took the tram up there last week.

Pano from the spot

Pano from the spot

Screenshot from Maps With Me

The third spot was technically not on Sunny Sands, because of a weird jog in the road. It was on Fairmont:

Looking west towards the spot.

Looking west towards the spot. You can see Pipe’s Canyon, the gap in the mesa in the distance, and the San Bernardino Mountains beyond that, with San Gorgonio. Big Bear and Big Bear Lake are up in those mountains.

You don't want to get too close to people's property in north Joshua Tree. They are probably nice but may have a gun and might not like you taking a photo of their yard. The spot is just outside their fence.

34.2 x -116.35 (N 34 12′ x W 116 21′) is about 100 feet into the desert across the street. You don’t want to get too close to people’s property in north Joshua Tree. They are probably nice but may have a gun and might not like you taking a photo of their yard.

Pano from the spot

Pano from the spot

Screenshot with Maps With Me

Screenshot with Maps With Me

 

*As defined by Charlie Lloyd, a microconfluence is a spot with latitude and longitude even at 100ths of a degree. I’ve been finding microconfluences which are also even at minutes of latitude, which I think of as “minute-microconfluences.” This puts them a few miles apart at my latitude. Links to my microconfluence adventures are here.

Reanna and I took a drive into JT National Park after work today, to see the wildflowers before she leaves for a natural building workshop at Quail Springs Permaculture. We parked along the road and hiked a few minutes south to see a microconfluence. It ended up being a fair scramble, too, 3/4 of the way up the pile of rocks behind Reanna here:

pano

It was a bigger challenge to find the exact spot up on steep rocks than in previous, flat spots (here, here, here & here), because of the climbing and being a bit out of breath, but more fun, too. Here’s the spot:

microconfluenceAnd the view from the spot:

pano from microconfluence

And the proof according to Altimeter and Maps With Me:

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photo 4

 

I drove to a nearby microconfluence today, on my lunch break. (Others here, here, and here.) It was beautiful. It’s just north of Rincon and east of Quail Springs in Joshua Tree:

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The area

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The spot

Dr. Renato Guzman

Dr. Renato Guzman

On June 23, 1994, this man saved my mom’s life by performing emergency surgery. I got to meet him when my mom was in the hospital two weeks ago for a repeat of the same ailment. He was ready to save her life again, but it turned out that she didn’t need it this time. He didn’t strike me as a person who would enjoy this kind of accolade, but I feel compelled.

At the time of the surgery, I was 22 old and appropriately egocentric. I remember being scared that my mom was in the hospital, had a tube coming out of her nose, and seemed suddenly so helpless. (As far as I know, the only other time she’d been in the hospital was for my delivery.) It did not occur to me to seek out and thank Dr. Guzman. I never felt much gratitude towards him in the years since, either, possibly because of how long and arduous her recovery was.

This time around I was much more involved and met Dr. Guzman several times. This time it became very clear: This man allowed my mom to live twenty more years, and hopefully a lot more, than she otherwise would have. He allowed my mom to see my brothers grow up, meet their wives and children, meet my wife, and take part in all of our lives as fully as she has. He made it possible for my mom to do all the wonderful things she has done, with and for our family and community, for the last twenty years. I am grateful for him, his skill, and all the choices he made that brought him to be a surgeon in Joshua Tree. Thank you, Dr. Guzman!

(Read my mom’s account of her recent hospital stay here.)

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