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Time Capsules

Since Stacey has been writing so much I figured I should write another post.  One every 3 to 4 months may seem relatively pathetic, but I have Congress to thank for setting the productivity bar so low that my pace makes me look like a superstar blogger.  I also have Congress to thank for finally opening the National Parks again so I could write about Joshua Tree National Park.

I’m not going to write about Joshua Tree the way Stacey would.  She can write a more extensive narrative of the park if she wants but what I am going to write about is time capsules.  Not the grade school projects where you stuff a box with notes to yourself, lists of ambitions, newspaper clippings, et cetera.  Rather, the type of time capsules that serve as reminders for me and everyone reading this blog of the importance of being mindful of how we live our lives and why we protect public spaces for future enjoyment and education.

Time Capsule #1: A Mountain Dew Can

The first time capsule is a very old Mountain Dew can I found at our campsite at Jumbo Rock.  To give some background, when we got to Joshua Tree the wind was whipping at 40-60 mph and given the elevation and time of year, that meant we would be facing brutal wind chills and sleepless nights with an angry 2 1/2 year old.  In order to make our stay more hospitable (really to make it even possible) we had to find a site that would protect our tent from the wind on all sides.  Given how the sites were positioned, this was not an easy task and we ended up putting the tent in a space so far back from the road, so squeezed in between giant boulders and bush that it was not remotely close to the normal tent space/picnic table area established for the campground.  In other words, no one had probably been back there for years.

I happened upon the can (pop where I’m from, soda for Stacey) as I was setting up the tent.  It was wedged deep between two very tall and skinny boulders.


At first I thought it was just normal litter as we’ve been enough places and seen enough abuse of campsites in one form or another that I was about to pick it up and throw it in the recycling.  As I am a sucker for noticing details, immediately I could tell this can had a very old design (the diameter of the aluminum top was much larger than cans of today, and the size of the spout was much smaller than today, not a wide-mouth) and I estimated the Mountain Dew logo was something I had not seen since my early childhood.  Given that the color was somewhat faded but in relatively good condition, and given the area where it was sitting received almost no direct sunlight, I was struck by the fact that most likely what I was staring at was a pop can that had been tossed aside by some camper 25-30 years ago never to be disturbed until I visited the park in late October 2013.


Rather than move the can I decided that it had been there so long and had been preserved so well that I would rather not disturb it.  It had become part of the park, a time capsule that illustrates how much damage can be done by such routine and unconscious actions as tossing a can aside.  I will not forget that can for the rest of my life; how it is still there, will still be there tomorrow, the next day, and probably until I die.

I hope that everyone reading this blog will remember that can, as well, and carry it with them when they are making decisions that if made without thinking could have serious long-term consequences even though on the surface they seem innocuous.  Because so many of that can’s brethren are invisibly living a similar life below ground; they are still there, will still be there tomorrow, and the next day…

Time Capsule #2: The Disneyfication of Ancient Petroglyphs

My little joke at the beginning of this post was in part driven by the fact that what has been politically dividing D.C. and dividing this country has been ideologically driven by people’s views about private versus public functions.  I do not want to take up an exhaustive debate of the issue here because I think it would be inappropriate given the tone and subject matter of Stacey’s blog to date (yes, I consider it her blog, I’m just along for the ride).  But, I think examining the question of public space (specifically parks and recreation space) and whether the private sector could improve upon it is best answered through the lens of Joshua Tree and what Disney did to it in the 1960s.

Simple question – can Disney enhance a National Park?   Joshua Tree National Park has proven that to be a resounding no.

As the story goes, as explained to us by a ranger at the park, Disney wanted to shoot a movie, and they wanted to specifically feature the petroglyphs that make up part of the Barker Dam trail in Hidden Valley in Joshua Tree.  However, Disney being Disney, didn’t think the natural petroglyphs were appealing/photogenic enough for their audience so they wanted to paint over them with washable paint.  After filming, the paint would be removed and, of course, everything would go back to normal.

I didn’t live in the 1960s so I am only speculating here, but I imagine things must have been a bit different in the National Parks Service then to even consider such a proposal, and I assume Disney was offering to pay quite a large bit of money to film.  From Disney’s perspective I imagine the impetus for painting was the same bit of “magic” that makes things like “Pleasantville” appealing to some people.  But, this of course is what Disney does.

And what Disney does is Orlando, not National Parks.  They do semi-real, sanitized, cushy versions of the real world (and charge quite a premium for taking the edge off).  That is all well and good and I am not being critical of that market, but Joshua Tree proves quite definitively in my opinion that Disney should not do National Parks.  Because, and you’ve already guessed it, the washable paint was not what it was cracked up to be.  Although it could be “washed off” in some fashion, what also happened was that the petroglyphs were being completely destroyed at the same time.

So, what we are now left with is a Barker Dam trail with petroglyphs that have Disney paint on them.  In some cases you can actually see where Disney began to wash off the paint and where they stopped once it was determined that this historical site was being destroyed.  From top to bottom the color goes from full to faded/semi-washed to absent with the exposed petroglyphs almost totally removed from the face of the rock.




These Disneyfied Petroglyphs, like the Mountain Dew can, have become part of the park now.  Another time capsule that illustrates how much damage can be done when action is not directed with a view to the long term.

Thank you John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, et al who decided creating and preserving public space was a good idea.  Now next time Disney or anybody else decides it wants to mess around with what I believe is one of the most successful government functions of all time, the National Park System, one that has been replicated throughout the world; or next time someone spouts off about how the private sector could do it better, I have only one piece of advice.  Politely, but sternly, directly them to the Disneyfication time capsule when you are showing them out the door.


2 thoughts on “Time Capsules

  1. Pingback: Joshua Tree National Park | Bottling Moonlight

  2. Pingback: Weekend Roundup: Ithaka, Vandalism, and the Holidays

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