Monday, December 31, 2007

January 2008 Hikes

The following are the hikes for January. I am starting to run out of ideas, so if anyone has any place they would like to explore, let me know, please.

As always, all hikes meet at 8 AM at Grace Christian School on Saturday.

January 5, Saturday - Hike to the Latte site above the Tinian Shinto Shine. There is a nice Latte site at the top of the cliff on the Carolinas Plateau. I have been only to this site once before, but it is an unusual site because of its location. This hike will be across some fairly steep slopes, and we may have to climb one small cliff at the top. The hardest part of the hike will be going up the slope from the shine to the cliff line.

January 12, Saturday - Latte site south of Tachonga and beyond. I have been requested to return to the Latte site at the south end of Tachonga. From here we will walk south to visit some Japanese bunkers and the dump platform. I hope to continue for a little ways past the platform to see what else there might be along this coast. I haven't been past the platform before. See the the October 15th hike for more details.

January 19, Saturday - Return to Chiget cliff line. We will try to explore the Chiget cliff line again. I hope to make this an all day hike, so bring plenty of water and a lunch. See the October 20th hike for more details.

January 26, Saturday - Climb Mount Lasu. This is something I have wanted to do for awhile. We will start at the Japanese defensive cave site on the bottom cliff line and climb up to the Shinto Shrine on the top of the plateau. After the climb, we will climb back down and explore the middle cliff line a little, depending on how much time it takes to do the climb. I have never been to the middle cliff line area before.

Everyone is welcome to join us on these hikes.
Just meet at Grace Christian School and be prepared to hike.

Atomic Bomb Assembly Buildings Hike - December 29, 2007

On December 29, I was a little surprised by the turnout for this hike. There were 14 people, including me, that were going on it. Even Dan and Ariuka had come back from Saipan to join the hike. Dan had been recently transfered to Saipan. Additionally, we had visitors form Japan and Saipan joining us on the hike.

The purpose of this hike was to find the other two atomic bomb assembly buildings on Tinian. I know about one of these buildings, but in the last few months, I had been informed that there were two more buildings. After looking on Google Earth, I thought I had found the outline of the berm for the other two buildings. They were about 0.2 miles apart, and north of the building that I knew about. From Google Earth, I was able to get coordinates to program into my GPS.

Because of the large number of people, I suggested that we carpool in more than just my truck. So, there were three vehicles that drove close to the first atomic bomb assembly building. Because the road gets real bad near the ruins of the first building, everyone had to load into my truck for the last quarter-mile of the drive. In the picture below you can see everyone loading into my poor old truck.
Once we got to the first atomic bomb assembly building, everyone got out of the truck and explored the foundations that remained at this site. In the picture below everyone is standing on the cement apron outside the building's foundations, I guess, listening to me talk about it. The rise in the background is the berm that surrounds the building, mostly for security purposes, and also, to protect the nearby airfield in case of an explosion when the bomb was being assembled. There are a lot of high explosive involved in building an atomic bomb, and probably this was the real concern more than an atomic explosion.

In the picture below are Deana and Patty standing inside the foundation of the first building. From my understanding, this was the building where the "Little Boy" bomb was assembled. This area had been cleared for the 50th Anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan. So it was still easy to see the foundation.

On some of the weeds near the foundations, I happened to see a Passion Flower (Passiflora sp.). While hiking, I like looking for the ripe fruits of this plant to snack on while walking. They have to be orange to be ripe. Unfortunately on this hike I didn't find any ripe fruits.
After looking at the first atomic bomb building sites, we headed out to look for the other two buildings. We had to walk back by my truck to start the hike and to get around the berm that surrounds the assembly building. Most of this hike would be through secondary tangantangan forest.
As we followed the berm on the east side of the first assembly building, we came upon a road just north of the berm. You can sort of see the road in the picture below, going from right to left. Where the down trees run across the middle of the picture is the road. I decided to follow the road to see where it went. It followed the north side of the berm and started to turn south, that is where I decided to leave the road and head north.
While following the road, we happened to come upon a coconut crab (Birgus latro) that was out in the middle of the day. You can see it in the bottom of the picture, just in front of Dan.

Below is a closeup of the crab, taken by Judy. If you look closely, you can tell it is a female because in has eggs below its tail (the orange dots between the legs and the claws).

Another picture, below, by Judy shows a nest with an egg in it. After a little research, I think this is an egg of the Tinian Monarch. The only other bird that could have laid this egg is the Rufous Fantail, but from what I read, their eggs are white with brown or olive spots on them. I happened to have missed this nest, which is one of the problems of being a leader. I seem to spend most of my time trying to find a path and avoid boonie bees (not too successfully on the latter most of the time).

The coordinates I got from Google Earth lead us to the second building with no problem. It was overgrown and the foundation was barely visible. In the picture below is Mr. Hoshi standing on the foundation of the second atomic bomb building. This is the building that the "Fat Man" bomb was assembled in.

The foundation was hard to see for the building because of the ground cover. It the picture below the foundation runs horizontally through the middle of the picture.

After visiting the second atomic bomb assembly building, we headed to the third building. I happened to travel a little to east of the direction that we needed to follow to the third building site. We came upon a large clearing, with lots of grass and vines that I did not want to cross. In the picture below, you can see some of the weeds and vines in the clearing. They are covered with a parasitic plant called dodder (Cuscuta and Grammica family).

Below is a closeup of dodder. It is the twisting green vines in the picture that don't have leaves. Dodder grows roots into the stems of other plants and sucks their sap. It is sort of like a plant vampire.
After the little detour, I got us back on track to the third atomic bomb assembly building by using my GPS. We ended up just to the east of the berm that surrounded this building. I asked if everyone wanted to walk around the berm or go over it. Of course the two boys on the hike, Micky and Patty, wanted to go over the berm. So it was over we went. The berms are fairly steep as can been seen in the pictures below.
In the picture of above is Micky standing at the top of the berm while Judy and the rest struggle to reach the top.

This building was more open and the foundation was easier to see than the second building site, most likely because of the larger tangantangan trees growing here. I am not sure if this building was completed or not. As we entered the site, there was a trench on the south end of the building. It looked like it was dug for the installation of either water or drainage pipes. Judy is standing by the trench in the picture below. If you look carefully in the picture below, you can also see the other hikers coming down the berm.

Below is a picture of all the hikers on the trip at the site of the third atomic bomb assembly building. From left to right, front to back, are me, Judy, Aruika, Yoko, Mitch, and Dan in the first row. In the middle row are Micky, Patty, Mr. Hoshi, and Erica. In the back row are Peter, Deana, Yuki, and, barely visible, Stacy.

Here is a better picture of the group taken by Judy, with Ariuka taking a picture at the same time. There are always a lot of pictures taken on these hikes.

Below is a picture of the foundation for the third building, As you can see in the picture, there is a lot less undergrowth obscuring the foundation, unlike the second atomic bomb assembly building.

Additionally, the trees have started to invade the concrete slab that is part of the foundation for this building, as you can see in the picture below and above. This is most likely the reason for less ground cover on this building's foundation. The trees are shading it out.

We did a quick hike back to the first assembly building after visiting the third building. We got to the berm on the north side of the building site and I asked everyone if they wanted to walk around the berm or climb it. All said they wanted the shortest route (I guess they were tried of walking over downed tangantangan trees and fighting vines). So it was over the berm and back to the truck.

We quickly loaded up in my truck and headed back to the cars. As we got near the cars, I decided to hijack the group and go to Lamlam Beach, one of the beaches used by the United States armed forces to invade Tinian during World War II (click here to learn more about the invasion). Lamlam Beach is a little over a quarter mile from where we parked the cars. In the picture below, Stacy is taking a picture of Ariuka on the point above Lamlam Beach, with Peter standing to the left.

Lamlam is a really small beach. It was an amazing feat that the U.S. was even able to land troops on this beach. It is no wonder that the Japanese were completely caught by surprise during this invasion.

Everyone really enjoyed this trip. It was not the most spectacular trip, but it was very interesting because of its historical aspects. I have to thank Judy and Mitch of some of the pictures in this posting.

As for the boonie bee count, it was two people, and not me this time. Mitch got stung as we started out at the first building site and Dan got stung on the return to the first building site from the third site. It seems that the StingEze I carry on these hikes. After applying it to the bee stings there seemed to be no more complaints.

On the next hike will be to look for the Latte Stone site above the Tinian Shinto Shrine near Carolinas Heights. The hike will be fairly steep in some places but not too bad. We may have to climb one small cliff (not too hard) to get to the largest stones at this site. Of course, I am not sure if I can find them again since I have only been to them once before. We will meet at 8 AM, on January 5, Saturday, at Grace Christian School as always. I will be posting the rest of January hikes in a day or so, so check back for updates.

Everyone is welcome to join in on these hikes.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Mt. Lasu Hike - December 22, 2007

On December 22, Saturday, four of us set out to explore the Mt. Lasu area. I used to take my BI201, Natural History of the Mariana Islands, on part of this hike, and I had just explored more of this area with James Carmichael on a private hike two weeks ago. I knew that we would find a lot of remains from World War II, and walk through some great limestone forest.

The drive up to the Mt. Lasu Shinto Shrine was fairly uneventful. The road had not been cleared for awhile and was really overgrown. This area was a popular tourist site (and may still be), but it has not been maintained for a long time. In the picture below, you can see Stacy, Yoko, and Mitch (Mitsue) starting on the hike to the cliff line below the top of Mount Lasu. Mt. Lasu has three cliff lines. I have only explored the top and bottom one. It looks like a hike to the middle one is in order for the future.

Traditionally, a visitor to the Mt. Lasu Shrine follows the steps to the main shrine where there is great view of Tinian and Saipan. The shrine was overgrown and the view was blocked by small trees growing along the cliff's edge. In the picture below, you can barely see the steps that lead up to the main shrine.

Right next to the Shinto Shrine is a small man-made hill. I had always thought it was a gun emplacement, but I later saw pictures of this hill, from World War II, with it holding a Japanese radar antenna. When this area was cleared, you could see a large flat round metal base sitting next to the west side of this hill. Today this metal base is covered with vines and not easily visible.

From the shrine, we headed south, following the ridge line. There is a great little saddle on the ridge that always gets a breeze, which was not needed today because of the steady winds. This saddle used to be open limestone forest, but a typhoon knocked down many of the large trees, and understory plants have grown up making it difficult to walk in certain areas. In the picture below is Mitch near the saddle.

After the saddle, we head back along the ridge line toward the shrine. As we started to leave the saddle, I happened to find a cluster of flowers that I had never seen before (in the picture below). This cluster was coming from a vine that normally grows in the tree tops.

The reason why we headed back toward the shrine was because I was looking for a tunnel that goes through the ridge. It is well hidden by a berm and you have to look carefully for it. Below is a picture of Mitch, Yoko, and Stacy about to enter the tunnel.

The entrance to tunnel is fairly steep and you have to watch your footing fairly carefully. In the picture below is Mitch in the steepest part of the tunnel. Once you are past the entrance, the floor of the tunnel is fairly flat.

Below are Mitch and Stacy walking out of the other side of the tunnel.

From here, we headed a little to the north to look at a cave which is very near the tunnel. On the way to the cave are some 6-inch shells. Most likely these are from U.S. battle ships, shot at the Japanese during the invasion of Tinian from World War II. In the picture below, Yoko is taking a picture of Mitch as she stands next to a shell.

The cave, next to the tunnel, is also man-made. It opens up into a good size room. Below, in the picture, are me and Stacy standing next to the entrance to the cave.

Usually, I would walk down the steep slope with my NMC class to a Japanese road that leads back to the shrine. But, today we were here to explore, so we headed south, around the slope to get clear of the rubble from the construction of the tunnel and cave. The picture below gives a good idea of how steep the slope is.

Just to the south of the tunnel are two caves and two flat platforms. Just to the right of Stacy, Mitch, and Yoko, standing on one of the platforms in the picture below, is a small man-made cave. I am standing on a second lower platform, while taking this picture, which leads to a second cave.

On the second platform were some metal support, as shown in the picture below. They seem to have a swivel base, and also attachments that would allow what they held to be swiveled up and down. I really don't know what they were used for. Next to the supports were what might be some 3-inch shells. They might also be some type of rollers, but I didn't look too closely at them so as to be able to really tell what they were.

Also on the platform where lots of bottles from the Japanese, left here most likely during the battle for Tinian in World War II. In the picture below, you can see Mitch and Yoko coming out of the second cave.

A little ways from the two caves discussed above, I found a little stone wall, which led into a tunnel. I decided to crawl through the tunnel and everyone else followed me. It is amazing what you can get people to do when you are the leader. Below is a picture of Mitch in the tunnel. It was a fairly tight crawl.

Below is a picture of me, taken by Mitch, outside the tunnel taking a picture of her. A lot of pictures get taken on these hikes!

After the tunnel we came upon a huge stone wall. You can see me in the picture below standing next to the wall, getting ready to find my flashlight to explore the cave that is most likely behind it.

I was a little disappointed with the cave behind that large stone wall. It was fairly small with one tiny room carved out of the cliff in its rear. Most likely it could have held 20 soldiers during World War II, but it would have been very crowded. In the picture below are Stacy, Mitch and Yoko in the small cave behind the stone wall in the picture above.

As we walked along the cliff line, we kept finding stone walls and what looked like craved platforms made by the Japanese during World War II. Most were natural shelters in the cliff line, but a few had man-made additions. Below is one of these additions to the a natural shelter. This one was fairly small and may have held two people.

Besides being steep, we ended up in some places were we had to climb down a few cliffs. You can see one of these small cliffs that we climbed down in the video below.

When I was hiking with James, we discovered a large cave. We finally got to this large cave and found a lot of stuff around it and in it. Here is a wheel hub that is slowly be surrounded by a nunu tree, Ficus prolixa.

At the entrance to the cave are some strange pipes, about 6 feet long, that have a spiral along their outer edge and a pointed tip. They almost look like drills, but I really don't know what they are. If anyone does, please let me know.

Inside the cave are a bunch of bones. In the picture below is Yoko inside the entrance of the cave. By Yoko, in the picture below, is a femur bone form a cow (on the rock near her knee).

Below is a picture of a skeleton from a cow that got into the cave and died. You also can see roots that hang down form the roof of the cave. This area of Mt. Lasu was divided into cattle ranches in the 1990's and earlier. As we hiked, we would come upon old barbed wire fences that had not been maintained for a very long time. Most likely the cow that died in this cave wandered into it a long time ago.

Besides the skeleton, there were a lot of pipes and 3-inch rounds in the cave, which are visible in the picture below.

While hiking, I sometimes would leave the group to climb up to the cliff to see if there is anything interesting. Usually I am only gone for five or ten minutes. One time after I went exploring, as I got back, everyone was sitting down having a snack, as you can see in the picture below. I had been gone less then five minutes.
We continued on a litter farther along the cliff and found a few more stone walls, but not much else of interest. So, I decided it was time to turn around and head back to the shrine. We dropped down to a more flat area below the cliff line, where the hiking was a little easier. This area was mainly limestone forest, with some secondary forest intermixed with it. These forests also had a lot of small understory trees in some places. These understory trees were mainly gulos and paipai.

In some places, especially next to umumu trees, were strange saprophytic plants blooming. I really don't know what these plants are, but they spend most of their life living under the leaf litter, absorbing the breakdown products from the decaying leaves. The only time you see these plants is when they flower. In the picture below you can see a lot of these plants blooming.

Below is a close up of the flowers of the saprophyte plant. You can see the small white flowers that this plant produces.

Below is a picture of the largest umumu tree, Pisonia grandis, that I have ever seen. The umumu is the largest tree found in the limestone forest. This one had three main trunks and must have been 20 to 25 feet across.

Below is a picture of me next to the tree, pictured above, to give you an idea of the size of this tree's trunk.

As we walked back to the shrine, I found the old Japanese road (at least I think it was made by the Japanese) that goes up to the shrine. There is even an old Japanese toilet next to the road! I did take a picture of it, but it didn't come out too well, so I will not be posting it.

Once we got near the shrine, we left the road to walk below the cliff that is near it. We found an old crane near the road. I really don't know if the crane was used by the Japanese or Americas. A picture of crane is below.

Below the hill that held the old Japanese radar antenna may be the antenna itself. You can see some of this antenna in the picture below. It is hard to see the wire grid that was on the metal frame, but it is there. The mesh was about four inches square. Near the antenna was something that look like a gear and axial assembly, that can be seen in the bottom picture below, which may be part of the mechanism that turned it. There were also a lot of other metal parts laying around in this area.

After visiting the crane and radar antenna, it was a quick walk up to the shrine on the old road. At the top of the ridge, there was an old cattle guard. Below are Yoko and Mitch standing on the guard. That is why I really don't know when the road was built. Most likely it was an old Japanese road that was used by the Bar-K ranch. The Bar-K ranch was owned and operated by Ken Jones from Guam during the Trust Territory days. To learn about Ken Jones, follow this link to an article in Time Magazine (click to see article).

From the cattle guard, it was a quick walk back to the Shinto Shrine. One of things that the vines, weeds, and grass have not covered up at the shrine is the marker in the picture below. I really like the tortise shell design on the bottom of the marker. Now if I can get Mitch to tell me what the marker says. (In a comment to this posting, Mitch says the marker has written on it "Lasu Shinto Shine".)

Below are Mitch, Yoko, and me standing next to the marker in the picture above. It was not too bad of a hike and I am not wet for a change. Of course, this is the start of the dry season and the hikes should be dryer for the next few month. Maybe, it is time to start exploring caves.

I would like to thank Mitch for some of the pictures in this posting. As for the boonie bee count, it was none. We all lucked out, especially me. I walked right through a vine that contained a nest, disturbing the bees. Luckily, Yoko saw it and stopped. There was even a second nest right next to the first one. I think those were the only nests we saw on this hike.

The next hike will be on December 29th, Saturday. We will drive into the first atomic bomb assembly building. From there we will hike north through secondary forest looking for the two other assembly buildings. Afterwards, we may visit Lamlam Beach, one of the American invasion beaches during World War II. This should be a fairly easy hike over level terrain. We will meet at 8 AM at Grace Christian School as always.

Everyone is welcome on these hikes.
Please feel free to join us.