California’s Giant Relief Map

Much of the web has been wringing their hands over the giant relief map in China that someone stumbled across on Google Earth. It’s a cool map and yeah, there’s an element of mysteriousness to it but calling it “The Riddle of China’s Area 51” is pretty overblown, even for the web.

Believe it or not, there’s a similar relief map sitting out in the desert just east of Joshua Tree. The concrete map was built in 1942 as a training aid for Patton’s army who were preparing for the invasion of North Africa and covered the entire training area from Indio out to the Arizona border. The training center was built pretty ad hoc and not much was left out there except for tank tracks and foundations, but the map endured for a while.

I’m not sure when this picture was taken (I got it from Larry Digera who put together a sky trail route for visiting pilots), but it should give you an idea of what it used to look like.


I was first there in 1983 and armed with an old copy of Desert magazine I was able to find the map, but the intervening forty years of exposure had weathered the old map into an unrecognizable series of funny-looking hummocks. It’s still there now – it’s inside the fenced-off area in the middle of this photo.


San Clemente: Where The Stepfords Totally Lose It

Almost exactly twelve years ago, these cheerful-looking Stepford Wives & Children were celebrating their non-individuality and neighborhood “sameness.”


“SAN CLEMENTE-On Optima, as on all the surrounding byways, there is no room for ostentatious individualism.

The houses in Richmond Pointe are neatly packed and hygienically Mediterranean. Strict codes prevent homeowners from adorning their places with nonconforming colors or add-ons, or parking cars in front of their own driveways. Each house has one of four floor plans.

But the neighbors who live behind the stucco facades say the exterior conformity has bestowed a special neighborhood-ness – a secure, tidy, friendly feel – upon their little community.

Check out the whole article, it’s a hearty helping of that old-time Orange County xenophobia. Whenever you find yourself thinking that “OC”-fueled satire like Weeds or The Real Housewives Of Orange County might be going too far, just remember that the reality is probably far stranger. At the very least, you need to know who you’re sharing the planet with.

If you had asked me back then what I thought would happen to these people, I probably would have shrugged out a “dunno” or two with a side commentary about repression exploding unexpectedly. Of course, the reality is indeed far stranger and San Clemente has it’s share of oddness. It’s the home of Richard Nixon’s Western White House, the setting for the movie Brick, and a place where the locals don’t want an In-N-Out.

The formerly peaceful neighbors have declared all-out war in a neo-Ballardrian spectacle of public namecalling, “abortion” graffiti, and gallons of human shit and rotting animal parts. The OC Register is back on the case.

SAN CLEMENTE – Rick Collins said his children were shunned at the beach and the word “Abortion” was splattered on his house when he added a second story.
Al Cullen said 10 gallons of human feces and rotting animal parts were thrown into his yard after he began circulating a petition to ban the addition of second stories in the Shorecliffs neighborhood.

The two are on opposite sides of a festering dispute in Shorecliffs that has pitted neighbor against neighbor, disrupted city government and spilled over into county Republican politics.

Jane Graff grew up in the community and she is raising her three children in Shorecliffs. Graff is active in the faction that wants to maintain one-story homes.

“I received a threatening e-mail; it said ‘we should settle this the old-fashioned way, out in the alley,” she said. “These are bullies.” She said the neighborhood had prided itself on neighbors respecting the ocean views of others.

Brian Opp said he recognized that his family was being shunned after he built a second story and supported others who wanted one.

“We’d invite all the children in the neighborhood to our children’s birthday parties, but all of a sudden, our children were never invited to the birthday parties of other children,” he said.

I guess this is where my greying O.C. roots start showing. My hometown of Laguna Beach has had a planning commission in place for years and for the most part it’s been pretty effective. Why screw up something that benefits everyone? If you don’t like it, don’t move there. Do your homework ahead of time and don’t be like this dumbass:

Tuesday Price moved into Shorecliffs in 2004. She said she found herself ostracized by “the clique at the beach” after she revealed she wanted to remodel her home.

“We spent $1 million on a 40-year-old home and then found out there wasn’t much we could do to improve it. We thought we had found our dream house, and we’re totally disillusioned that government can do this,” she said.

I suppose the best summation of this entire fiasco come from this political campaign manager (natch):

“As much as everyone appreciates an ocean view, there is no constitutional right to have one”

Translation: The world is ME ME ME, and my neighbors and everyone else can go hang. Pretty much the state of USA2006 if you ask me.

In case you were wondering if there was an old Indian burial ground that would helpfully suck all of these people into the Netherworld, there isn’t. However, there is radioactive water leaking from the nearby nuclear power plant. It all makes sense somehow.

Putting the Silver in Silver Lake

silverlake_sign.jpgLos Angeles City Nerd throws down the authority on the proper name for Silver Lake. Folks, it’s TWO WORDS, not one word. May the ghost of Herman Silver smite you otherwise.

People who contract it into one word are clearly newbie hipster gentrifiers who are not to be trusted. As a geography snob, misuses like this are a completely irrational hot button issue with me.

Still unsolved (so far) is the name origin for Silver Dry Lake – the basin just northeast of Baker. I suspect that it’s related to the long defunct Silver King mine, but during the era (1900 – 1940) when the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad was operating there was a small town on the line called Silver Lake. Only a few foundations and a cemetery are left, but on older road maps you still might see a “Silver Lake” listed there.

Dead Car - Silver Dry LakeI had no idea that folks had found meteorites at the desert Silver Lake. Best I was ever able to do was this wreckage of an indeterminate-looking car embedded in the playa.

More Harbies!

Harbie #1 (Harbor Blvd.)I recalled from some net research that there was supposed to be another Harbie The Harbor Gasoline Seal on Harbor Blvd. in either Garden Grove or Anaheim and a short drive revealed not just one, but TWO new Harbies – both of them cheerfully guarding the front of an RV park in Garden Grove.

These are actually Harbies #3 & #4, Harbie #2 is at a used car lot in Bellflower that I don’t have a picture of yet. Of course, there’s the Bisbee Harbie that started it all.


The Lope visited the California Route 66 Museum in Victorville awhile back and made note of the artifacts recovered from Hulaville.

Depending on which local legend you go with, Hulaville creator Miles Mahan was either a former carny or a Vaudeville performer who bought some land along US-66 in Hesperia and began collecting and creating things as a tribute to either a woman he fell in love with or to former vagabond friends. Miles lived in an old trailer on the site for forty years without running water or power – existing only on what he picked up out of the desert and on the books of poetry he sold to whoever came by. Mahan died in 1996 at the age of 100.

I swung by Hulaville while exploring the aftermath of the Landers earthquake in 1992. I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet Mahan, but I’m glad that his creations were preserved.

Hulaville Hula Girl Hulaville Horse Hulaville Owl Don't Let This Happen To You Hulaville Bottle Garden

Mahan was interviewed for NPR back in 1993. The audio is still online.

Flying Saucers over Orange County part II

Following up on the post from a couple days ago, I ran across this on UFO Reflections…

Well, might we have a solution for the Heflin photo case? According to an anonymous post to UFO Updates, the object is in fact a model train wheel, and the smoke ring in the final Heflin image is from an airshow. Let’s take a look, shall we?

First, here’s a comparison of model train wheels with two of the Heflin photos… and then a comparison of the final Heflin image and an airshow photo (including the aircraft which created the ring).

Not conclusive, but mighty compelling justification for a re-evaluation, wouldn’t you say?

Flying Saucers over Orange County


Along with every other ten-year-old, red-blooded sci-fi kid in the mid-1970s, I studied up on UFO sightings until I could reel off sighting details and photo analysis the way other kids tracked sports statistics. Since my crappy eyesight wasn’t going to get me a ticket off the planet via NASA, I figured that my best bet was to hitch a ride on an alien spaceship.

I was particularly fascinated by the famous set of saucer photos taken in Santa Ana in August 1965 by an O.C. highway worker. Most of the famous UFO photos were taken somewhere far away like Brazil, Spain, or Oregon (when you’re 10, everything is far away), but here was one taken a couple towns over on Myford Rd. in Santa Ana (Irvine now). Hell, I’d ridden my bike over that same patch of road. All I’d have to do was hang out a bit and stick my thumb out for a ride.

Assuming that the whole thing wasn’t a hoax of course…

I hadn’t thought about those pictures, or even UFOs in awhile until recently so I figured I’d poke around some sites and see what folks were talking about. And if you’ve been reading so far, take a wild guess…

The Society for Scientific Exploration has a 40 page report on the photos along with some details I didn’t know. After the photos got some media attention, photographer Rex Heflin was approached by some NORAD personnel who asked him for the photos and warned him to not discuss the sighting any further. Heflin obliged, and to no one’s surprise now, the photos disappeared. That is until 1993, when they mysteriously reappeared in Heflin’s mailbox.

Honestly, the whole thing smells like fish with claims of hoax, brief legitimacy, and counterhoax but I still love the photos as some local pop culture.

By the way, there’s a lot of words expended in those links on the “dust cloud” below the saucer in photo 1. It’s not a dust cloud, but a cluster of weeds growing next to a water canister used in the irrigation for that field. You used to see these canisters adjacent to the roads all over south county but they’re gone along with the fields. Hell, even Myford Rd. is gone now – it’s old alignment (as seen in the photo) is now part of the Jamboree / CA-261 interchange.

Rock-A-Hoola: water park in stasis

Rock-A-HoolaBoing Boing posts about a run-down kiddie amusement park in Egypt and I was reminded about Rock-A-Hoola.

Rock-A-Hoola is (was?) a mostly closed-but-not-quite-totally-abandoned water park out in the Mojave Desert in Newberry Springs, CA. The park has been kicking around irregularly since at least the early-70s – I remember ads for Lake Dolores (as it was known back then) airing on KTLA in the cheap post-midnight airspace alongside Truckmaster School Of Trucking and Cal Worthington. Presumably the idea was for it to be a tourist/camping stopover on the road between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. I couldn’t imagine anyone being excited to to there – it’s too far for a day trip from LA and not much there to give you a reason to stay. I suppose there’s always the Vegas crowd, but it seem like they always REALLY want to get to Vegas.

Anyway, I snagged some photos of the place in October 2003. The main water slide part of the park was fenced off (and patrolled by dogs) but I got some pictures of the surrounding facilities. I still have to question the long-term viability of a water park in an area with little water and abundant evaporation, but that’s not stopping folks from dreaming.

Lake Dolores / Rock-A-Hoola on Wikipedia
Rock-A-Hoola in better days.

Flying Flying Wing

The Flying Wing & Bond Bread
A chance to see a 60 year old UFO fly doesn’t come by that often, so the big event this weekend was a drive out to the Palm Springs Air Museum to see the original N9M flying wing prototype fly.

The old Northrop flying wings are one of the few planes I still obsess over. I still vividly remember the flying wing scene from the 1953 War Of The Worlds (and the audience in the Orange Theater cheering when L.A. City Hall gets blown up) and getting worked up over something that looked like it stepped off of the front cover of a vintage SF pulp magazine. Cue a lifetime of general obsession over retrofuture technology that was just too ahead of its time to be of any practicality. Somewhere I still have a beat-up poster of the B-49 that lasted through three years of high school dorm living.

N9MB Flying Wing Anyway, one of the few remaining flying wing third-scale prototypes was restored a few years back and makes the occasional flight demo here and there. Even after all the pictures, films, etc. I’ve seen of it, I couldn’t help but sputter out an “illbegoddamned” when it took off.

Here’s the requisite Flickr set from the day and some some short movies I took (pass 1, pass 2, pass 3)

Of course any trip to Palm Springs requires two additional things… Modernism and the Sonny Bono statue.

Palm Springs modernismSonny

The New York Pizza Department of San Diego

A couple months ago, the guys at Geek Squad got into trouble because the CHP thought that the Squad’s black and white Beetles looked too much like police cars. Sure, it’s another silly incident that disguises another case of runaway copyrighting (note the CHP spokesman line about “protecting our unique color scheme”), but it reminds me of another story…

Back in the late 1970s there was a San Diego-based pizza parlor called The New York Pizza Department. Nothing particular special or remarkable about the place – I was only there once and I remember the old pictures of NYC on the wall more than the pizza. However, one day the owner thought that it would be clever to use an old black-and-white police cruiser as a delivery car – complete with “N.Y.P.D.” and a pizza-themed city seal on the sides. It was a cool gimmick and I felt bad when the San Diego police killed it but the NY Pizza Department put up enough of a fight for it to become a regional news item all over Southern California.

Nothing on Google yet, but I’m sure someone else Out There will remember the place.