Joshua Tree National Park, CA: Cary's Castle, Hidden Valley, Night Sky, Light Painting, February 2013
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This isn't how the trip started off, no it's not. This is just a teaser of more to come, yes it is.

This trip started off with Cary's Castle, also spelled Carey's Castle, the more common spelling. I put that there in the hopes that this would pop up sooner on Google's mighty search engine, yes I did.

Next, we will talk about Cary and his castle. Read on, my friend, read on....


Title: Trinity Star Trails
Info: Nikon D7000, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens, Feisol tripod. 44 stacked photos, each one a 30 second exposure at f/4, ISO 500, totaling 22 minutes. "Light painted" with a Dorcy LED flashlight.
Photographer: Ken Lee
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, CA USA

Saturday morning, 16 February 2013:
The hike begins for the mythical Cary's Castle at the trailhead. Given our dubious orienteering skills, Lisa and I elected to take a hiking class with the Desert Institute. Instructor Mark Wheeler led the way, with two Desert Institute volunteers helping out, and were joined by veteran hikers, including one person who worked for Joshua Tree National Park.

What is Cary's Castle? And is it actually a castle?

Let's let someone else with a stronger sense of hyperbole build it up for you:

"In what is now the Joshua Tree National Park, the exploits of characters such as the Keys, Ryans, McHaneys and Johnny Lang are established history, but the stories of many others are lost in the desert sands, with only a few rusting artifacts left to recall their existence. One such legend surrounds Carey's Castle, a Joshua Tree mystery, sought by many but found and visited by few.

I first learned of The Castle in a campfire story over twenty years ago, but the teller did not know of its whereabouts. Or he was not saying. Its location was a long-held secret, probably because The Castle was, at the time, still full of the possessions and furnishings of the former inhabitant, about whom little is known, including where he came from or what became of him."

Many blogs I've run across have mentioned how they've heard of this for many years, but never knew where it was. Patricia Furbush's hiking book on Joshua Tree mentioned it, stoking the curiosity of intrepid desert explorers.

Hiking up the wash, we soon came across many Ocotillos and Cholla (Teddy Bear Cactus, or Cylindropuntia bigelovii).

This fuzzy-looking cactus is also known as Jumping Cholla. Seemingly, if you walk even remotely close, it seems to "jump" onto you rather easily. Spiny segments easily separate from the cactus and was often found laying in the wash. And yes, I got nabbed by one of these, yes I did. One of the pleasant volunteers from the Desert Institute helped pick 'em out of my pants. And my leg.

As for the Ocotillo, this is a Dr. Seuss plant if I ever saw one. Or maybe a plant from "Fantastic Planet".


Lots of boulder scrambling ensued as we ventured further up the wash. Here's a description of the "Discover Cary's Castle Class" from Desert Institute:

Put on sturdy walking shoes and prepare to explore one of the most stunning mountain ranges in Joshua Tree National Park, the Eagle Mountains. Mark Wheeler will lead participants on a ten-mile cross-country loop, ascending through canyons and washes to a desert wonderland hidden behind the mountain’s rocky slopes. Wheeler will discuss the unique geology and ecology of the Colorado Desert as participants test their strength and stamina against a landscape of beautiful rock exposures. The class will hear about the rich diversity of flora and fauna in the area that is home to bighorn sheep, desert tortoise, and some of the most stunning wildflower displays in the park. Participants should be fit and prepared for a strenuous ten-mile route with rock scrambling and a minimum elevation change of 2,000 feet.

It was probably between 8 and 9 miles round trip in reality. And while I'm in reasonably good shape, I was fairly tired at the end of the hike, and so was Lisa, mostly due to climbing up and down rocks continuously.

Many more photos of the hike up to Cary's Castle can be found here:

EXTRA PAGE: Cary's Castle Hike

Cary's Castle in all its glory. The "castle" is a shelter underneath a large, balanced boulder, filled in with stone masonry - complete with windows and a door - by Mr. Cary. Long before Mr. Cary built this "castle", the boulders provided shelter for Native Americans, as evidenced by some writing on the "ceiling" inside.


If you look hard, you can see some Native American petroglyphs in the interior of Cary's Castle.

At this point, you might be wondering, "Just who was Cary? And why did he build this shelter?"

Good questions.

Most sites simply say he was a prospector. Or a mysterious figure.

But one fellow claims to have discovered who Cary - or Carey, as it's more commonly spelled - was, utilizing a variety of sources, including Federal census records, Riverside County records, a brief visit to, and the Mormon website.

His name was Arthur Loyd Cary, born in Bogue, Kansas on July 18, 191. He was married and had one son, Harold, and worked as a vegetable truck driver making $1,820 annually, and also worked as a mechanic and a tractor operator. And he voted Democrat, yes he did.

He lived out here around 1938. And this website, Other Hand, mentions: "Also note that Cary wasn’t the old grizzled desert prospector we normally would think of, he was only about 24 or 25 years old." But I submit to you that perhaps he was in his mid-20s AND grizzled, we don't know. :D

But at this point, you're scratching your head, wondering why he would live out here in the middle of the desert. Glad you asked. Read on, my friend, read on....

THIS is why Arthur Loyd Cary lived out here. Yes, this giant hole was a mine. And he was the sole claimant of what was apparently called the Welcome Stranger Claim, which was Cary's mine. The mine was in operation from about 1938 to perhaps 1940, 1941, according to the Other Hand website.

I've done no research, simply cherry-picking this guy's site. Otherwise, I might join the hordes of people he labels "lazy", perhaps echoing what others say. After all, the Joshua Tree National Park people don't really want to draw too much attention to this castle to preserve its condition.

The instructor and the Park employee knew that I was taking photos of the hike for the blog, and asked me to simply mention that it is located in the south part of the Park, which I agreed to do. But I will also mention that this "secret" is not really a secret with the internet, Google Earth, the easy availability of GPS coordinates on a smartphone, the proliferation of blogs, and other sources. It honestly would take anyone a short time to figure out where it is located and where to access the trailhead, all with directions far better than I could give since I don't have a smartphone or GPS coordinates. The instructor and the Park employee are not idiots. They know that it's all there. They just asked that I didn't add to it.

According to the instructor and Park employee, Joshua Tree National Park intends on closing this to the public soon. This led to a discussion on what the exact purpose of this was. After all, as people reasoned, isn't the idea of the Park to preserve and protect " the natural and cultural resources for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations". But closing it would make be a major fail for allowing present and future generations to benefit and enjoy. While recognizing the importance of preserving history, I hope the Park has some sort of middle ground in mind, not allowing people to continue taking things from the shelter and keeping it intact, but still allowing people to visit, whether through guided tours or some other means.

EXTRA PAGE: Cary's Castle Hike with many more photos of the hike up to Cary's Castle.

Petroglyphs from Native Americans as we made the return trip from the "castle" and mine.

The area in this less-visited south section of the Park was absolutely gorgeous, with tall rock canyons, Ocotillos, and more. We got back from the hike tired but quite satisfied. Excellent hike, and a thoroughly enjoyable day. We were thoroughly happy with the class and the companionship, and couldn't have imagined the day going any better. I drove northward in the Park with Lisa, drinking a nice cold peanut butter milk shake on the way, which probably killed some of my appetite for dinner at 29 Palms Inn later that evening. :D


And any time someone is heading up through the Park, they should stop off at the Cholla Cactus Garden. Although we had hiked through a wash full of Cholla cactus, the sheer density of this garden defies belief.

Clean desert air. Cholla cactus. Lisa. Peanut butter milk shake. Camera in my hand. Yeah. I'd say it was all good.

Continuing northward through the Park, on our way to 29 Palms, we also stopped by the Belle Campgrounds to observe this gorgeous rock formation in the setting sun.


Sunday 17 February 2013:
After our day of rock scrambling for something like nine miles, we were in the mood for more casual walks. The 2-mile loop around Split Rock fit the bill. Woulda loved to have had Mark Wheeler around to describe what was going on with this rock formation here.

Seemingly precarious boulders around the 2-mile loop in the Split Rock day use area. I don't know how long the loop has been here, as neither Lisa or I had any recollection of it from a previous visit years ago, but we found it quite beautiful.

There were a few places I wanted to photograph at night near Face Rock, toward the end of the hike, taking photos of the night sky. It's a thing, you know? I ended up taking night sky light painting photos around Hidden Valley the next evening, which was fun. You'll see those photos in a bit, starting on the next page, although you got a preak sneview above.

An ant's eye view of some of the cool rock formations in the 2-mile loop by Split Rock.

And no, actually, this isn't the Split Rock, although it is indeed a split rock.

Go to Page Two (or use the stagecoaches to go forward or backward)

Ken's photos of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as photos of Peru, Burma, India, Morocco, China, Thailand, Ghana, Ecuador, and elsewhere, have appeared in many books, magazines, websites, and galleries.  Visit the Ken Lee Photography Website. Some of Ken's select photos may be purchased through his Imagekind Store.

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Joshua Tree National Park, CA: Cary's Castle, Hidden Valley, Night Sky, Light Painting, February 2013

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EXTRA PAGE: Cary's Castle Hike

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