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Monday, July 24, 2017

Costa Rica 2017 - Rafting the Rio Pacuare!

The republic of Costa Rica has existed since its separation from Spain in 1821. Its natural wonders, amazing biodiversity and the warmth of its people are key factors in the success of tourism there. This industry is the GDP leader over other sectors: communications, construction, insurance, financial services, information and IT.

Our group's first adventure in Costa Rica was exciting whitewater rafting on Rio Pacuare's lower section. The river flows almost 70 miles from the Talamanca Mountains to the Caribbean Sea and the Lowers area of class III and IV whitewater is what the Pacuare is famous for. Flowing approximately 23 miles from Finca La Cruz to the town of Siquirres, this section includes the challenging rapids and stunning waterfalls flowing into the Huacas River Gorge. The rapids include Upper and Lower Huacas (class IV), Double Drop (class III), Cimarones (class IV) and multiple other excellent rafting sections through riotous jungles and stunning waterfalls.

Pre-trip ritual of packing our gear onto the roof of the bus where it was carefully covered with waterproof tarps.

While en route to our launch point we were treated to many interesting sights. I was captivated by the story of the Santiago Apóstol (St. James Apostle) Parish ruins that our bus passed in Cartago.

Numerous churches have existed at this site since 1575. The first building was damaged in 1630 by an earthquake, demolished in 1656, and the new one was finished in 1662.  In 1718 an earthquake heavily damaged this church and numerous repairs were required. In 1756 yet another earthquake damaged the church, forcing further repairs. This church was completely destroyed in 1841 by the San Antolín earthquake. In 1870 a fresh effort to rebuild the church was initiated but construction was halted for thirty years. Finally restarted in 1903, construction proceeded until the 1910 Santa Monica quake canceled further efforts. The fortress-like walls are all that are left to see where they are surrounded by manicured hedges and lawns.

We spotted many roadside vendors who offered locally grown produce at impromptu roadside stands.

Our chief guide Carlos gave us a fun lecture about obeying his rafting commands and he illustrated potential mistakes quite well with the model raft, humorous sound effects and animated hand motions.

The Rio Pacuare is surrounded with dense forest and occasionally is spanned by small suspension bridges.

These narrow, swaying suspension bridges are used by tourists and locals as a safe way to cross the river.

Crossing the bridges makes you feel like a famous action hero!

All of our luggage and supplies were handled by this type of raft, piloted by just one guide on each.

Ready for action!

Carlos, a great river guide! His wonderful sense of humor and amazing knowledge of the river made for a great time. I have to say that all of the guides were really great people.

For rafting photos I was relying on a simple Canon camera in a waterproof case. I was only able to take quick pictures during the calmer moments when my hands were free.

It was fascinating to see the skill of the cargo guides when piloting the river.

Our rescue crew consisted of a brave guide running the rapids in his kayak. He definitely had fun performing his job and luckily no one fell out of a raft on either day.

The Rio Pacuare is known for not only the natural beauty but also wildlife sightings and our guides did their best to share sightings.

In some areas we stopped to view amazing waterfalls and swim in the pools of cool water.

At another location we were served a complete lunch with the guides using a raft as a large buffet table.

If you paid attention you might spot the mighty leaf cutter ants displaying their skills. This one reminded me of a small sailboat cresting waves of sand.

Taking a short break before reaching el Cañón de las Dos Montañas

How is this for a great waterfall picture?

One of the few "I was there" selfies with a good reflection in the sunglasses. Water drops on the camera case's lens cover were something I forgot to watch for. I also forgot to smile!

Are we having fun yet?

Yes we are!!

Towards the end of the trip we passed under this narrow gauge railroad bridge, part of an old Northern Railway line that originally ran from San Jose to Limon. One of my rafting mates had mentioned how his Costa Rican grandfather died during the construction of the bridge during the early 1900's. The structure has an arch of 15 meters in height, 25 meters in length and served as a vital river crossing for freight and tourist trains. 

I was asked by a river guide what sort of blade I carried on the trip and it was this ESEE Izula neck knife that I wrapped in orange paracord. It is 1095 carbon steel, 6.25" long and weighed 2.4 ounces as seen here.

A short YouTube video of the rafting fun!

I hope that you've enjoyed the Rio Pacuare trip as much as I did. Stay tuned for > Part 2 < of the trip report when we journey to the Arenal Volcano region for ziplining and amazing hikes!

 That's 2!

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Mystery Of Cady Canyon

There is an excellent web resource for explorers of the historic Mojave Road at http://www.davebarton.com/mojave and it features many illustrated satellite photos with the route painstakingly marked and annotated with GPS coordinates.

Here is a snapshot of the high level map of the Mojave Road that Dave drew.

Be sure to see all of his detailed section-by-section images and notes that guide you through a journey along the road. You will also want to purchase Dennis Casebier's  "Mojave Road Guide"  as well as Bill Mann's Guide to 50 Interesting and Mysterious Sites in the Mojave”.

Further down Dave's page was a note on a mystery site along with this image that he captured.

That image fired up my imagination and I spent a lot of hours pouring over Google satellite images, old maps and then Dave's images and notes. Once I was convinced that I knew the potential routes into the area I contacted some friends and planned a day-long excursion. This location is not very many air-miles from the highway but it is a great off road journey to get there, involving trail reading, map interpretation and fun driving. While in the area I planned to visit a couple of other areas if time permitted. For this journey I invited Peter, Chris and his son Ali, Chris' friend John and his friend Bush.

Leaving at 6AM we assembled at the Afton Canyon exit on Highway 15 so that we could take the scenic route along the Mojave River. This canyon is sometimes called the Grand Canyon Of The Mojave but what it lacks in sheer depth it overachieves in the areas of color and picturesque erosion.

One of the great features of the canyon is the Mojave River where it briefly comes to the surface and provides a river crossing for 4x4 drivers to enjoy. The Mojave River headwaters are in the San Bernardino Mountains and normally the river only comes to the surface where there are underground layers impermeable rock.

Over long periods of history this canyon has been a route for Native Americans, explorers such as Jedidiah Smith, the Spanish, wagon trains, miners and even now, the railroads. 

As we drove deeper into the canyon we were treated to steep, colorful and fancifully eroded canyon walls. 

High on a cliff face the canyon wall is the abandoned Arbuckle Mine where they extracted magnesite ore once used in the linings of open hearth steel furnaces. The ore was brought to the railroad siding on a high-flying  aerial tramway that was 1900 feet long.

Hidden in the deep fissures of Afton Canyon's forbidding walls are some amazing slot canyons.

Sometimes they are so deep and narrow that flashlights and headlamps are required if you dare to enter them.

 Proceeding further into the gloom may require ropes and other climbing aids

Back in the warm May sunshine we proceeded along our route but stopped to take some photos under this iconic railroad bridge.

Soon we were approaching Cady Mountain, enjoying the desert landscape and the sense of adventure as we closed in on the mystery site's isolated hiding spot.

Sometimes the route was barely visible and we'd stop and consult maps and the GPS devices.

The route also provided a number of interesting terrain formations!

Soon the canyon walls closed in on us as the trail beckoned us forward.

And just around the last bend..... was something that looked as if you would expect to see crazy Nazi occultists marching the Ark Of The Covenant up the canyon for a test run.

(found this on the web, all rights belong to LucasFilm)

At long last we were seeing the actual mystery site with our own eyes!

Maybe a long forgotten 1950's era fallout shelter?

A refueling station for secret government flying machines?

All kidding aside, my research had painted a picture of a group of very dedicated volunteers who build and maintain a series of rainwater collection systems to provide water for bighorn sheep and other wildlife. The group is known as the Society For The Preservation Of Bighorn Sheep. These water storage systems are know as "guzzlers" and are strategically located along the desert migration route of the bighorn sheep.

On the hill above the tanks are large rainwater collection basins

In each basin is a collector made of PVC with very fine slits that act as a debris filter

The Society replaced this older system that used a small dam to bring water into the tanks

 This is one of two sheltered openings for the sheep to drink water. The rectangular tank is custom designed by The Society.

Having resolved the mystery we took time for a good lunch before heading back onto the trail. 

We made an attempt to find a mine location in the hills but our only reward was some fun four wheeling and views all the way back to Highway 15

We had time to head out to see one last mystery, a puzzling emplacement that is well known (similar to the pyramids of Egypt) but no one knows how they did it. To see his odd duck of the desert required a little more driving across the desert's high speed roads.

Before too long we were able to spot this odd icon of the desert known as the "Megaphone"

There are no explanations for this Mysterious Mojave Megaphone that have yet made sense. Dragging all of the pieces up there and welding them in place would have been a Herculean undertaking. A crane could not have maneuvered close enough to lift it up and drilling the mounting holes in the rock was no easy feat. 

It employs some old school nuts and bolts similar to those used on old mines and railroads. That is an interesting touch. Note that they were tack welded in place.

Some think it is some sort of homage to the old Tidewater & Tonapah Railroad whose abandoned rail bed runs nearby. I propose it was created by an artistic Army prankster at Fort Irwin who employed a helicopter to lift the 10 foot long and very heavy steel sculpture up into place. Makes as much sense as all of the other goofy theories! The galvanized pipe and rebar used for mounting date this item as being constructed no earlier than the 1950's.

We had a very long but successful day exploring this corner of the Mojave, enjoying friendship and adventure. There are many more mysteries to be enjoyed so I hope you'll come back to enjoy the next one!

Picture courtesy of Chris C.