12/10/01, 9.52 PM:

For the last three days, I've been hard at work with a hammer and chisel carving a slot into my hillside. In the process, I finally figured out where all these rocks may have come from.

My theory is this:

1.    A long time ago, this was all flowing mud; probably some kind of accumulating sediment, perhaps on an island because there are no shell or fish fossils as far as I can see, though I did find the occasional imprint of a low grade vegetation, perhaps a fern or vine.

2.    The mud solidified and became rock - sandstone - one enormous endless flow of light gray bedrock.

3.    In time, this solid mass of rock began to split across its surface as extremes of hot and cold hammered away at it. These splits were more or less parallel; some a half inch apart; some many feet apart. Splits also ran at right angles to the former. So this massive stone now looked something like the windshield of a car that has fragmented due to extreme internal heat.

4.    In time, the wind and the rain blew and flowed through these endless sun baked cracks wearing them down and away to become sand.

5.    As these cracks widened and deepened, their edges likewise wore away, rounding them off, eventually to become large rounded monoliths which would ultimately break loose through the forces of gravity, earthquake, sun, rain and wind to become rocks and boulders of all sizes, though basically round or squarish.

6.    Surfaces exposed to the elements and organics would eventually turn brown - tannish at first, but to become a very dark brown as the eons passed.

7.    This describes my hill - one large mass of bedrock covered by stones, boulders and sand into which nature has added a large variety of hardy vegetation and wildlife.

8.    Of additional note is that many of those cracks did fill with other types of sediment giving us quartz, some sort of black stone, etc. (no gold - yet).

Moving the water tank

This is a 260 gallon solid steel tank about 8.5 feet long and 2.5 feet in diameter. I am not good at estimating weight, but I would guess a ton for the tank and a half ton for its stand. The stand has been moved and it is in place. The tank is on its way across perhaps an 80 foot stretch, slightly but very definitely moving uphill. The tank was actually on my neighbor's land; a few feet in from the border. I did not know that when I first set it up 30 years ago. However, my primary objective is to place it uphill from our new site-to-be, so that the gravity feed will give us some water pressure. I also want to get it more or less out of temptation's way, since, being near the road, water has been stolen from it in the far past, and pellets have been shot at it more recently - so it is being placed behind a very large boulder, which shall also keep it partially shaded.

The water will be delivered by truck for $50 a load, but first I plan to attach a PVC pipe and hose to run it to wherever we need it.

To place the stand on the hillside, I cut a slot into the bedrock to create a level area. I moved the tank by flipping it over and over - one or two "flips" at a time, then take a break - also by leverage bar, as needed. The tank is half way along and is being moved by attaching a comealong (winch) between it and the van and cranking it across the sand and rock. This also involved iron leverage bars and will probably involve my 12 ton hydraulic jack as it begins to crawl uphill.

The tent and box trailer were in the way, so they had to go. We moved them to where the tank used to be, which also provides the tent with a wall of rock behind it, reducing the power of the wind.

It is 11:35 PM now, so I'll continue this tomorrow...

12/11/01, 8:45 pm:

When we woke up this morning at about 7:00, it was snowing. I sighed and took a few pictures.

After my second coffee, I began moving the water tank. I couldn't use the van this time because there were too many projecting rocks that would take out the undercarriage. I had brought along Mo's 1/4 inch cable (aka: dog run), so I laid my 8 foot pry bar behind two boulders, attached the cable to the bar, ran it around various other boulders and then to the winch which was attached to the tank. Then I winched it. This is what I did all day. By dusk it was up the hill and resting nicely on top of some boulders next to the stand.

Tomorrow it goes up and on the stand. I have not worked that one out yet. Keep in mind that I cannot even lift one end of the tank by hand - it won't budge - it is that heavy. So this is a brain power thing, about as challenging as a good chess game because you have to plan ahead and think through your next move very carefully. That's what those coffees are for. Sometimes it takes all I can muster with my various tools to move the front end 1/2 inch uphill over a slightly projecting rock. At other times, if I get it just right, I can slide it along 3 or 4 feet about as fast as I can pump the handle.

I have learned to double up on my gloves - the sandstone makes short work of the fingers. Never the less, my hands are beginning to look and feel like that sandstone. However, I do have a supply of little moisturizers I found at the VFW yard sale in a plastic planter. The moisturizer, also for cuticles, is a bit aromatic so I rub it into my hands and let it soak in before I get into the car for the night. Seems to work.

Household Companions

A couple of nights ago, Eileen and Mo awoke to the quiet commotion of a pack of coyotes checking out the tent (which was closed tight, fortunately) and the van. I slept through it all but found that she was right when I went out for my coffee at daybreak - their tracks were all over the place.

There is a pair of birds nesting on the house trailer in one of the roof vents. The nest will have to go, but I'm holding off as long as possible. A few days ago, while I was asleep in the tent during my siesta, I woke to one of them hopping around on my legs. When my head popped up from under the blanket, he realized he had made a mistake and catapulted out the door.

San Juan Capistrano

Last week, we went down to Capistrano, a 3 1/2 hour early morning drive through farmland, around Lake Elsinore and up over a breathtakingly high, magnificent and narrow hairpin road called The Ortega Highway. Back in the '60s, my dog, Hobbit, and I used to drive out here just to enjoy the natural hot springs and heavily wooded terrain. The springs had once been commercialized but the buildings had long since burnt down and been reclaimed by the natural undergrowth. Now it is fenced in but still appears to remain undeveloped.

In Capistrano, Eileen bought my Christmas present - a real leather American made cowboy hat, and she bought one for herself. Mine is more like the Indiana Jones stetson and hers is a cocky Aussie design. I wear mine almost all of the time now - it really does keep the head warm, and on hot days provides some welcome shade. Also, since I tend to be a head banger, it softens the blows. And, well - it looks cool, but that is of course inconsequential to me. One additional benefit is that I don't have to comb my hair now.

We had lunch on the El Adobe De Capistrano patio. Eileen and Mo walked the town while I took my siesta and then later joined them.

We returned home via the Ortega Highway at 4:30 - big mistake. That is when people are getting out of work and deciding to take the casual and scenic shortcut instead of the congested freeways.

Interstate 5 passes by Capistrano at the west end of the Ortega and I-15 crosses it at the east end beyond Elsinore, a stretch of about 33 miles. It is one of the last remaining wilderness areas in Southern California, cutting through The Cleveland National Forest and a few other parks, with the freeways wrapping far to the north and to the south to get around The Santa Ana Mountain range, so the Ortega Highway really is a 'shortcut'.

Much of this highway was simply cut into the sides of steep hills a century or so ago with no room for widening, so you get a precipitous drop on one side or the other much of the way. I can easily imagine that it began as a wild game trail that the Indians made use of on foot, and then on horse when the Conquistadors introduced them, and then by buggy as the settlers moved in.

This was one almost unbroken line of vehicles moving between 60 and 80 miles an hour over a dark narrow twisting road - harrowing enough that I felt extremely uncomfortable at anything over 40, so I persisted; I did not want to die that kind of death. I did pull over whenever I found a spot that I could safely get into fast, wait a few minutes for the current backup of vehicles to pass, and then get back on.

Then back through the farmlands where the signs are very lacking, especially in the dark. We made a few wrong turns but eventually found our way home. We vowed never to return home from anywhere after dark again - we'll sleep in the car if not a motel.


December 10, 2001 12:38 PM
I heard the message that they are automatically routing the call to voicemail. I can stop having dire imaginings of you two slowly dieing of hypothermia and/or getting hurt by brigands and bandits. If there had been no e-mail I was going to get the number of your local police or sheriff or whatever and get them to look for you. Love, Hannah.

December 13, 2001 2:10 PM
Hi Van and Eileen, I just love receiving your news and progress. What an incredible adventure. The water tank story is an amazing tribute to your fortitude, Van. I am impressed! I will be looking forward to a photo of you both in the hats! Take care.....Love, Marcia

December 13, 2001 7:28 AM
Van ... please keep me on your list of 20. I do read every word and enjoy your wonderful writing.   Happy Holiday to all, Bernie

December 13, 2001 9:47 AM
Van & Eileen, Good to get your updates. If you want I could have Ellen grab the geologic maps of Joshua Tree for you and give you a bit of the geologic history of the region. Cheers and Happy Christmas. Jody & Ellen

December 13, 2001 5:33 PM
We did not get to Joshua tree but did go up the aerial tram and had dinner at Tony Romas. Sounds like you are really roughing it. Love Ann


December 18, 2001, 10:00 PM:
You all have been great. Many if not most have responded to my above request by asking me to keep you on the mailing list. So for you, it is done; you're stuck with us.

This is just a quick note to tell you there are more pictures at The main 2001 web page which is now an index page from which you can choose which series of shots you want to look at.

This batch, about the tank, took three nights to upload. There are that many, but also I'm uploading at 9600 bps which is cell phone speed, whereas an upload on a normal phone is generally about 50,000 bps.

We love your comments sent by email, especially the praise. :-)  If you like, you can also leave comments back on our home page (click on the icon of me at the top left of any of these pages). When I can remember to, I'll add a comment box to the above index page. Just remember to mention in the comment what you are actually referring to since the comment box is available to the entire site. I need to know what the commenter was actually looking at.

I'll just add that it appears as though a coyote and I our competing for territorial rights. I have a certain spot in which I mark my territory during the night. This morning we woke to Mo (in the van with us) barking at a coyote running off into the rocks. When I climbed out of the van and went to do my thing, I saw that he had dropped his contribution right into the middle of mine (though not of the same composition). If you've read Farley Mowat, you know what I'm talking about.


December 18, 2001 2:52 PM
HI Eileen & Van, It sounds like you are definitely having an adventure!!!  Love Kathryn

December 19, 2001 6:35 AM
Allen and I are enjoying your email and would love to continue receiving news from the road. Happy Holidays, Sue

December 21, 2001 12:56 PM
Van, We will be leaving for about six weeks so if you want to put somebody else on your mailing list we would understand.

December 21, 2001 8:23 PM
Thanks, but you're one of the special people, so you'll get to enjoy them when you return. Van

December 21, 2001 7:00 AM
Hi Van,     We love your pictures! Keep them coming.   I'm using Netscrape 4.72 on my big Mac and everything works perfectly. Merry Christmas from the clan,     Janie

December 30, 2001 8:33 PM
Hi Eileen (and Van, too), I hope it is warm there....as it is freezing here with a promise of lower temps tomorrow night for New Years Eve. Take care and continue to enjoy your adventure.....Is the trailer restored? I do know camping gets old after awhile. It is amazing that you have the cat and dog with you, too. My best wishes for a happy 2002...Love, Marcia