Thursday, March 13, 2008

Amboy redux

BACK, AND NOT UNHAPPY TO BE SO — this is a pretty nice place too — from a three-day drive in search of wildflowers, as I mentioned the other day. Four quite memorable events crowd out a number of only slightly lesser ones, and I’ll revisit them here, one at a time, now that I’ve uploaded the two hundred photos I took.

Let’s begin with Amboy Crater, which we visited Tuesday (and which I wrote about here that evening). It appears first off to the northwest, as you approach it along Amboy Road driving north from Twentynine Palms. You cross a dry lake, Bristol Lake, and Amboy Road dead-ends into the old Highway 66, the town of Amboy just to the right (“town” is a bit grand, “settlement” might be better), the crater a few hundred yards to the left.

Here you see the cindercone from the turnoff onto the road leading to a parking lot a hundred yards or so in, out of sight off to the right. It’s about a mile and a quarter away, and rises about 250 feet above the desert floor. The footpath from the parking lot is also about a mile and a quarter long to the base of the cone, meandering a bit across sand and scree and taking you around to the other side of the cone, where there’s a natural opening.

Here there’s a bit of a scramble up some loose lava scree, and the footing’s not so easy. Then you’re inside the cone, with your choice of three more scrambles to get up to the rim. (All this is very clearly seen on Google Earth: do a search for “Amboy Crater” and put a slight tilt to the view.)

From the rim, looking north, this is what we saw: you can see the footpath leading north toward the parking lot, and the incredible fields of Desert Sunflowers.

What you don’t see are the other flowers: primroses, desert stars, dandelions, yellowcups, the infrequent stately lily, great expanses of sand verbena, and (perhaps my favorite) the desert fivespots.

You can see them, however, online; where you can download photos sized just right for your iPod or PDA, in case you don’t like carrying field guides. (We do.)

We arrived at the parking lot at one o’clock: the day wasn’t too warm, and there was a pleasant breeze: even with dozens of stops for photographs we were on the rim by 2:30, and the walk back was quick and, once down from the rim, easy. The morning had been eventful enough — I’ll post about that tomorrow or next day — but this was a real highlight. There was one disappointment: the town of Bagdad, six miles west on the “National Trails Highway” (as old 66 is apparently now officially known) has completely vanished, reclaimed by the desert as Wikipedia puts it. But Amboy Crater is one of those sights, and sites, that will always be in mind, from now on.

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