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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The Desert In Bloom

The park contains two types of desert, mojave and colorado. Yesterday’s pics were from the mojave desert section. Today’s pics are from the colorado desert. First an oasis complete with palm trees.

A Desert Oasis

Then a south-facing bajada (slope below the mountains). Bajadas capture the runoff from the mountains and thus are lush with plant life. This one faces south so is among the first to bloom.

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Cacti are abundant.

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And on this bajada the desert flowers were making the most of recent rains and now sunny warm weather.

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Jean had a great time snapping photos.

She captured this pic of a humming bird feasting on the ocotillo blossoms.


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Flora and Fauna at Joshua Tree National Park

Here are a few of the wonderful and unique plants in Joshua Tree National Park.

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And here are some of the animals commonly seen in the park.

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I also saw desert cottontail rabbits, but they were too fast for me. There was one very large bird on a distant rock, probably either an eagle or a vulture.

And so it goes.


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On The Road Again

Leaving our house in capable hands we headed out on the open road again. At our first rest stop we saw our neighbors, Bob and Carolyn!

The four of us explored the tourism options of our fair state.

We stuck close to each other until they turned east at the Columbia River. We continued south to Rogue River, Oregon. It’s on of our favorite stops with a beautiful river, geese, ducks, and a couple of good restaurants.

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The second day took us through the northern half of CA. Mt. Shasta was clearer than we’ve ever seen it in the winter.

Our second night on the road was spent in Patterson, CA. The Best Western there is quite nice, but we didn’t see much else. The third day we slogged down the San Joaquin valley and into Los Angeles County, which was the longest and craziest part of the drive. There is a significant portion of the CA population who believe that cars must be operated at 85-90 miles per hour at all times regardless of speed limits, traffic, or road conditions. Signaling for lane changes or allowing safe intervals is not allowed. The object is to cut in front of cars so close that the back draft from their car sweeps the bugs from your windshield.

We arrived safe and sound in Indio. The Worldmark resort there is the largest complex in the entire chain. It has about 20 four-floor condo buildings, more swimming pools and hot tubs than I can count, a grocery store, a cafe, tennis courts, a small movie theater, a gaming arcade, and much much more. Here’s a view of it taken from a hill that we hiked behind the resort.

It had rained a good deal in January so we found flowers blooming on our walk.

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And broad vistas of the mountains that surround this desert valley.

Darkness descended quickly and I only caught this last glimpse of color.

Then it was time to play my ukulele.


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