I grew up in the Coachella Valley; my parents were "heavy earthwork" contractors, mostly building government projects, so I spent a lot of time on the back roads of the West. I'm a graduate of Vassar College (history major) and the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William & Mary. Retired from the Law, I now grow dates, sweet limes & figs on the family ranch, and am the State Senate appointee to the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy.
COVID-19 has most of us staying home or only working in essential industries; a large part of my work is the farm I live on, so I’m doing both. In my “spare time,” I’m going through some of the things stashed away when a family lives in a house for 70 years; among the gems I found when my mother passed away 20 years ago was a red box of photographs with a gold label: “Yellowstone National Park in Water Color. Published by F. Jay Haynes, St. Paul, Minn.”
She loved books, new, used, antique, so I assume she purchased it in a bookstore. Inside the box was handwrotten “1897” so I think they were purchased at Haynes’ store in Yellowstone that year. Haynes was the official photographer for the Northern Pacific Railway and received his first photo concession in Yellowstone in 1884.
I hope you have enjoyed this tour in time and space.
My heart goes out to everyone who has lost someone; Stay Strong!
As most of you know, I love the real life stories that make up the history of the Southwest. But, my time is now taken up with living through what will be tomorrow’s history.
While most of California has been very quiet as we try to stay at home, I live in an agricultural area where life goes on with many, many precautions. We have fruit trees, dates, figs & sweet limes, so we’re in a “Critical Infrastructure Industry. ” We wear home made face masks, wash our hands constantly, & try to talk to our workers at a distance, which is a challenge to my hearing as I get older. My knees and back are also complaining.
Often the beginning of April is marked by a heat wave, and the attendees of the Coachella and Stagecoach Music Festivals walk around sporting lobster red sunburns from standing in the sun. However, this year even the weather is sad this year as the sky cries rain. I took this picture during a clearing in the middle of the storm that is slowly making it way east.
To anyone who reads this, STAY STRONG & WELL. I pray we will all come out safe on the other side.
Prehistorically, the Gulf of California extended north through the Imperial and Coachella Valleys; over time geologic shifts and water borne silt changed the topography of the land near the Mexican Border, cutting it off from the Gulf to create the Salton Sink. Subsequently, the Colorado River would change course, on and off creating a vast inland sea, now called Ancient Lake Cahuilla. Around 1580, the last vast lake evaporated.
Before construction of Laguna Dam in the early twentieth century, the Colorado was still an active river, draining much of the Western US. Springing from watershed high in the snowy Rockies, the “Red River” raced southward and downward, carving the Grand Canyon and other marvelous canyons as it dashed on to the Sea of Cortez. As it approached the Gulf of California, the landscape changed, leaving behind the rock canyons and allowing the river to meander, creating an alluvial delta with the material carried downstream. Captain J. H. Mellon, who operated steamboats on the Lower Colorado, estimated the silt extended the delta fan into the Gulf by more than 6 miles over the course of the 40 years prior to 1905. (H.T. Cory, The Imperial Valley and The Salton Sink, Part IV, (John J. Newbegin, 1915), a reprint of Irrigation and River Control in the Colorado River Delta, from Vol. LXXVI, Transactions American Society of Engineers, p. 1214.)
Smaller overflows of the Colorado River banks continued into the nineteenth century, down the New and Alamo River channels, flowing into the Salton Basin and duly evaporating.
The winter of 1890/91 was the wettest since readings began being kept in 1850. In February, 1891, a number of breaks in the west bank of the Colorado allowed water to spill over into the delta and the New River channel. In June, when Spring runoff brought high water again, more water spilled into the streams running north into the Salton Trough reaching Salton, site of the New Liverpool Salt Works.
The sea was approximately 40 miles long and 10 miles wide, but only 4 feet deep. (B. A. Cecil-Stephens, “The Colorado Desert and its Recent Flooding,” Journal of the American Geographical Society of New York, Vol. 23 (1891), pp. 367-377)
In July 1891, the New York Times printed remarks by John Wesley Powell, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, that even if the lake were filled to the level of the river, it would evaporate at the rate of approximately 6 feet per year.
The first Salton Sea did indeed evaporate due to the extreme heat and lack of sufficient incoming water sources. The situation was totally different following the 1905/07 flooding, as the entire river was diverted into the trough creating the lake, and runoff from agriculture in the Imperial Valley provided a new source of water to replenish that lost to evaporation.
For information on the 1905/07 flooding that created the current Salton Sea, my blog page Creation of the Salton Sea has a preview of a book I’ve written. historytrove.com/creation-of-the-salton-sea/
Snoopy’s brother Spike lives near Needles with his Cactus companion. As he said in Peanuts on October 12, 1993: “Life in the desert is exciting. Last night the sun went down and this morning the sun came up. There’s always something happening.”*
Needles was, and is, a railroad town
The Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad founded the town in 1883.
Needles is also on Historic Route 66
*As a boy, Charles Schultz lived in Needles 1928-1930.
Artist John Hilton burned paintings in bonfire in Box Canyon
According to Katherine Ainsworth’s 1978 biography of John Hilton, Maynard Dixon and Nicolai Fechin, both, advised Hilton to discard “unworthy” paintings. As noted in the biography as well as numerous newspaper and magazine articles, Hilton invited friends to a dramatic annual party in Box Canyon (east of Mecca, CA) when he would throw his rejects onto a bonfire at the stoke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. As the years passed, the party grew and others added to the bonfire, but Hilton reserved his painting burning for last.
One particularly memorable New Year’s was 1940/41 when the Los Angeles Times printed a photo of him tossing a painting into the fire.
Immediately to the right on the page was an article by Ed Ainsworth:
After several years the parties were discontinued; this may have even been the last, as a year later the US would be at war. Of course today, one would need a permit for such a fire, which the County Fire Department would never issue!