Armstrong Redwoods

Any time we visit Sonoma County we must make a trip to Armstrong Redwoods. This magical place of giant trees, eerie moss, rushing streams and endless tranquility is a small gem in the Russian River valley.

We were particularly interested in seeing these woods since forest fires in the past two years have threatened these ancient trees. We found the old trees faired better than the young ones, but even some of those survived the onslaught of flames.

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The Russian River was flooding, so were the streams in this park.

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However, the intimate still lifes in the mossy forest beckon us to stop for a while.

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Damp trails lead to secret places and invite your imagination to run wild.

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Back out on the Russian River road the flooding had overtaken vineyards. Grape vines were immersed in the muddy water.

Some have escaped so far.

Another treat in this area are the wonderful trees. Many different species provide a variety of shapes and winter skeletons.

And at the end of the day, a rainbow.




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Bodega Bay

One of our favorite stops on the California coast is Bodega Bay. Despite the rain and wind we had to visit.

The winter heather colors the hillsides.

There is abundant wildlife.

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And a variety of plant life, including a wonderful crooked tree. We have taken enough photos of this tree over the years to fill a thumb drive!

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Even on this blustery day young lovers found the site enchanting.

Jean decided that sitting in the car was the best place to do some drawing and painting.

More to come from our February trip.


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Border Wall Blues

While in California we observed how many of the people serving us were of hispanic origin, most of whom spoke Spanish to each other. They contribute to the community and pay taxes through payroll deduction. What does the prospect of a border wall mean to them and their families? What does it mean to California business?

Driving down through northern California and then upon our return to Sonoma County we saw the effects of two years of devastating forest fires. Were these really caused by our failure to cut trees as our President implied? Could climate change be part of the cause? Are we listening to scientists? Will 2019 see more fires?

I was moved to write and record The Border Wall Blues.


Posted in CA, Indio, Music, Travel, Ukulele, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Escape From the Desert

On February 10th we escaped the California desert. We left in beautiful Indio sunshine. Palm trees swayed in the breeze with blue skies and mountains in the background.

Thirty miles later we left Palm Springs and the desert behind to go over the mountains to L.A. What happened?

Rain, wind, and eventually snow at El Tejon Pass made this an interesting day of driving. Even the California drivers slowed down for this weather. We passed four snow plows heading up the pass as they prepared for the coming storm. The pass was closed before we reached our motel that night. However, we got through safely to the central valley.

After a peaceful night in a Best Western motel we continued northward. The central valley is long and sometimes boring, but when the rains have brought life to the hills it provides endless views of rolling hills.

After traversing the hills and passing through Oakland we crossed the bridge into Sonoma County.

Time for a rest.


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Desert Regional Park and Indio Hills Badlands

Just behind our condos and the adjacent golf course we had spied a rough parking area and a sign the said trailhead. A bit of sleuthing and we discovered an area called Desert Regional Park and Indio Hills Badlands. The trail close to us was the East Indio Hills Trail.

To get a sense of the landscape you first must see the landscape on and around the golf course. Here is a pic of a foursome on a tee. This is target golf. The greens and grassy landing spots are watered . Hit it anywhere else and you are in the desert with the rattlesnakes.

We parked in the rutted parking area, crept over an embankment, crossed the irrigation canal on a golfers’ bridge, and found the trailhead. It led up into seemingly barren desert hills.

However, you might note the lupine blooming at Jean’s feet. They weren’t the only flowers in this desert.

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The canal was filled as well from recent rains.

When we return to Indio this is a place we want to visit again.




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Coachella Nature Preserve

Our next adventure took us to the Coachella Nature Preserve, a wonderful mix of desert and palm oases just a few miles from the cities. The McCallum Grove is the first oasis you encounter in the preserve. A spring bubbles up from the desert and feeds this lush forest of native fan palms. Boardwalks protect the sensitive area.

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After a brief walk through the oasis you are once again in the desert. Recent rains had washed out some of the desert trails, however it was possible to hike to Thousand Palms Oasis. We demured and instead took a desert trail back to the entrance. Here we found flowers blooming and lizards basking in the sun.

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One of the things I love about the desert are the wonderful abstract shapes and images that you see if you let yourself focus on the close ups.

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Cholla Garden

After a day of rest we again ventured into Joshua Tree National Park. This time we visited the Cholla Cactus Garden located in the Pinto Basin. The center of the park features a large relatively flat basin surrounded by mountains. Desert bighorn sheep stand sentinel on the peaks, but we failed to see them.

Cholla are one of the most interesting cacti. They form little balls covered with extremely sharp spines that stick to anything and are difficult to remove. The slightest breeze can send these balls skittering off the plant to root and create a new plant. Therefore, just a few cholla in one place can multiply into a garden.

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The spines on the ground stuck in the vibram soles of my hiking shoes! If you happen to get stuck do not use your hands to try to remove them! Find a couple of sticks or stones to use to tweeze the spines out or you will find them stuck in your fingers as well.

Cactus wrens nest among the spines without impaling themselves. The dead cholla stalks provide shelter for desert animals.

Cactus Wren Nest

Next we stopped at a wonderful outcropping of rocks. These granite lumps loom out of the landscape and invite you to walk among them. We explored the shadows and crevices.

It was another great day in this unique national treasure.


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New Hard Drive and Ready to Resume

My last post about a repaired computer was premature. Now with a brand new hard drive I think the problems are resolved.

Let me pick up the narrative of our desert trip with a few pics of the flowers around our condo. We had many evening walks here and with the rain the flowers increased daily.

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I also took time to do some watercolor impressions of the area. This below sea level valley is surrounded by arid mountains. The brown sandy soil was beginning to be dotted with clumps of yellow flowers and purple lupine.

One of the most interesting aspects of this visit were the oases. Previously we spent most of our time in Joshua Tree National Park‘s high desert country. However, one day we stopped at an Cottonwood Spring, an oasis near Cottonwood Visitor Center. That opened our eyes to this very different side of the desert. Subsequently we visited other similar oases. They are populated by the California fan palm, the only native palm in the southwest. I made this quick sketch of them.

Left untrimmed, the leaves fold down as they age and die, creating a shaggy thick covering over the trunk. In town the leaves are trimmed as they die, leaving a skinny smooth trunk. We prefer our palms au naturel.


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Home With Functional Computer

My last post was Feb. 1. We have returned to Seattle and now that I have a functional computer I will recap the rest of our travels to California. While we were gone Seattle endured winter storm Maya that dumped over a foot of snow on the city and kept temps freezing for days. We have lots of downed limbs in our yard, our car’s battery had to be replaced, and the portable garage that protected Picasso (our camping trailer) is toast. It’s still in the mid 30’s, but we don’t anticipate more snow in the city today.

Overnight in Indio on Feb. 1 we received a huge rainfall that flooded streets. The next day we planned to visit a Whitewater Preserve near Palm Springs, but when we arrived the road was washed out and the trails were closed.

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With that option closed to us we decided to explore the west side of Joshua Tree National Park. The highway to that side was close to Whitewater Preserve. At Yucca Valley we drove over streets filled with water, sand, and mud from the storm, but made it to Black Rock Nature Center. After a brief stop for lunch and bathroom we drove with 4 wheel drive up a rutted track to a trailhead. This part of the park is at almost 4000 feet elevation. (Indio is at 0.) It was in the 30’s and the wind was about 20 mph…what were we thinking?

However, the scenery in this high area was interesting. The joshua trees were just beginning to bloom. They are a most interesting plant that genetically are closely related to yucca and asparagus!

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A Mile of Elevation Gain and Loss in One Day

Anza Borrego Springs State Park is a gem of unbelievable quality. At over 600,000 acres it is the largest state park in the entire country. It is about 3/4 the size of Joshua Tree National Park. To visit this lovely place one first has to go below sea level and to truly appreciate all the park has to offer you then rise to over 5,000 feet! Here’s a pic looking down to sea level from a couple of thousand feet up. The red blossoms in the foreground are ocotillos.

There is an extensive “badlands” area that is accessible only by 4×4. We visited a desert portion at the base of the mountains.

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Then we ascended into the mountains for a gorgeous 65 mile drive through desert mountains and high lush green valleys. There was a bit of snow on top of the mountains and the roads had signs warning of ice.

Growing up in the midwest and spending 20 years in Wisconsin I was led to believe that cheese was made from milk. At Anza Borrego State Park I learned the truth.


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