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Thursday, April 3, 2014

The DNA of Adventure

Just yesterday I discovered that my love of adventure and the outdoors is more than just something I share with Mark. Yesterday I finally got a chance to crack open a very special box that was given to me after my father died; it contained some photographic slides taken by my grandfather when my father was growing up.

My 10 year old dad in a tree, 1948.
It started with what you'd expect: some family photos at the beach, a Halloween parade in which my second cousins were made up like scarecrows and princesses, my great grandparents holding their grandchildren. Then I slid open the other side of the box and it was like stepping into my own life, but way before I was even a speck of dirt in my father's eye.

Sunrise over the Panamint Range. Taken from Stovepipe Wells, 1955
Thankfully, my grandfather was much better about marking his photos with dates and places than I am. Almost every slide was notated with the place, names of the people in them and the year. It made it much easier for me to sort them out and figure out who the people were, since it's been years since most of them have passed away.

My great-grandparents were rock hounds. They belonged to the Rock and Mineral Society here in town and loved nothing more than to search the mountains and valleys for interesting specimens for their collection. My great-grandfather would slice them open in his workshop, polishing the nice ones and even making jewelry with the jade and granite he found. I was aware of that, having visited his displays in the county fair and being the recipient of some of his handiwork. What I wasn't aware of was that many items from their collection were found in Death Valley.

My great-grandmother (checkered shirt) and friends looking for rocks and minerals for their collections. (1952)
I was dumbfounded when I pulled out the first slide and saw some of the same scenes I have taken with my own camera: the Panamint Range, the Funeral Mountains, Scotty's Castle, Badwater. And then there were the photos from places I had heard of but have never been: Copper Canyon, Devil's Hole, Sauerkraut Trail out of Scotty's Castle area. These places have since been closed to the public because they contain prehistoric artifacts.

Devil's Hole where the endangered Devil's Hole Pupfish are found.
Today it is barred off from the public to protect the fish. (1952)
Prehistoric Mastadon tracks in Copper Canyon (1954)
The red cap was placed there to show the scale of the
huge footprints in the rock.
Petroglyphs along Sauerkraut Trail, Death Valley (1954)

Back in their day it was Death Valley National Monument. It was a huge tract of land set aside for the people to enjoy, without as many of the restrictions that a National Park designation would require. So it was ok to drive out into the desert and fill your car up with rocks as long as they didn't have petroglyphs on them. I think there were gentleman's agreements that some of the more fragile areas were to be respected, but for the most part it was an open playground. And I'm happy to report that my grandfather and great-grandparents were adventurous to the core.

This photo was labeled: "Ranger Alexander, Petroglyph Rock, Jayhawker Canyon" (1954)
I can't imagine how long it must have taken them to even get there: with today's freeway system and modern vehicles it takes us ten hours of driving at sixty-five miles per hour to reach Death Valley. In 1947 there was no straight-as-an-arrow Highway 5 to speed you all the way down to Bakersfield. They would have had to take a series of farm roads across the valley all the way down, then a smaller highway through Tehachapi Pass. All of this in a big Ford without today's luxuries of power steering, power brakes or air conditioning. Once they were in the valley, they tackled the gravel roads and back canyons without benefit of four wheel drive or special tires. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I feel like a wimp with our leather seats and hoity-toity high clearance and air shocks.

Of course, four wheel drive does come in handy sometimes.
(photo labeled: "Ford stuck in Amargosa River, 1953")
If you look closely, you can see the red cap that was placed near the mammoth tracks in the back window of the car.

In the photo: my great-grandfather (nearest car), my father taking off his shirt and a friend of the family.
There were a few photos of where they stayed while they were there: Stovepipe Wells seemed to be the accommodation of choice for them; it made sense if they were collecting rocks, as most of the geodes and more recent volcanic activity seemed to be clustered in the northern part of the valley. There were also photos of some of the popular attractions there:

Stovepipe Wells Hotel, 1952
Picnic at Scotty's Castle, complete with burro, 1955.
The yellow box says "Kids! Cut out this free action photo!" 
Good to know the cereal box offers were around even then. 
Death Valley Airport, still there today, but I don't think it can accommodate such large planes anymore. (1954)
Signpost in Marble Canyon, 1955
Mesquite Sand Dunes, 1955

I still can't get over the fact that I have been visiting Death Valley all this time without knowing my family's history there. And I can't stop looking at all the photos. It's funny, some of them could have been taken just yesterday, the terrain hasn't really changed that much. But then you notice the cars, and the clothes, and if you're very familiar with the place, slight changes in the attractions. Here's one of those "what's wrong with this picture" shots:

That's right: you were allowed to drive out onto the Racetrack back in 1953, a big no-no today.

The more I think about it, the more it all comes clear to me. It's not just that I'm a tomboy. It's not that I learned to love the outdoors just because my husband likes it. I had no choice, really; I've got dirt and adventure ground into my very DNA.

I can't tell you how proud that makes me feel.

~IMPORTANT NOTE: All photos in this post were taken by my grandfather, Wesley D. Temple. I want to give him full credit because a.) I wasn't even aware he was a photography enthusiast and b.) I think they're pretty awesome, especially considering the equipment available back then, and the challenging light conditions that exist in Death Valley.~

(Another note: I'm still working on scanning all the slides and plan a few more posts using the images. If you're interested, take a look at the blog in the next few weeks--we might both be surprised at what we find!)

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