Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Palm Springs and Palm Springs

After 5 days in the natural beauty of Joshua Tree National Park, we decided to fully immerse ourselves in the opposite extreme of desert life: we headed into Palm Springs, CA. We passed giant fields of windmills which provide some electricity to Palm Springs and surrounding desert cities.

Cities require both energy and water, and Palm Springs uses copious amounts of H2O to transform the desert into a verdant valley. There are green golf courses (one after another) and fountains and pools everywhere in this urban oasis. The streets are lined with bright green grass and beautiful flowers.

The valley which cradles Palm Springs, Palm Desert, and other towns is also home to (and created by) the San Andreas Fault. This fact, coupled with the high water demand in the middle of the desert, makes this area seem very precarious to me. Nonetheless, we indulged in a night at the Spa Casino Resort.

We didn't do any gambling during our brief stay, but we did enjoy a nice soak in their huge hot tubs, which are fed by natural underground hot springs.

The next morning, we headed to the botanical garden and "cactarium" that was down the road. This place was really neat, and we all had a great time finding spiny surprises around each bend. It reminded me of a desert version of "Mountain Gardens" in Celo, or the "Gulf Specimen Marine Lab" in Panacea, FL that we visited last spring. It was not real fancy, but it had a huge variety of life that you could get up close to and touch - if you dare!

This cactus "touched" Adalaya back!

The botanical garden was arranged around a winding pathway, and exhibited various desert ecosystems from around the world.

There were all kinds of desert treats to behold.
The world's first cactarium . . .

desert tortises . . .

and even a fossilized dinosaur footprint?

We continued south for a few more miles and entered the Agua Caliente Reservation, home to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. They are named after the hot springs which are now located under the Spa Casino Resort, whereas the city of Palm Springs is named after the several palm-oases that are now contained in the reservation. At the heart of the reservation is the largest "California-Palm" oasis on earth, appropriately named Palm Canyon Oasis. This is not the best photo, but it will give you an idea of the size of this oasis.

We spent most of our time exploring another canyon oasis which has a more consistent flow of water from the mountains during this time of year. Andreas Canyon Oasis is a palm-lined stream located behind an uplifted wall of red rock.

It felt amazing to be walking along a cold, clear, bubbling mountain stream, surrounded by massive palm trees, in the midst of the desert. It made Adalaya and me feel quite energetic and bubbly too!

Here are some neat stone houses built above this "Palm Spring", as seen from the farthest point we were allowed to venture on the trail.

There is also a huge slab of rock at the base of the trail, and scattered on its surface are many ancient mortars for pounding grain.

What an extraordinary and magical place!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Joshua Tree

We recently spent a wonderful week exploring the desert of Southern California. First, we headed up to Joshua Tree National Park, a park that I've wanted to visit for a long time. There is no running water in the northern part of the park, where we planned to spend the first 3 nights, so we filled the van's reservoir and extra water tanks and headed into this amazing desert landscape.

There is something very special about this desert. I felt a pull to live there, at least for a while, amid these trees that are so full of personality.

And these rocks just beckon me to explore their secrets . . .

Our first night in Joshua Tree, we slept outside under the starry light of the new moon. We camped beside this beautiful collection of boulders,

and Adalaya slept at the base of the concave rock-face, which had been charged by the day's warmth and, to Adalaya's delight, radiated heat all night long.

Here's another cozy camper.

After an invigorating night's sleep under the (often shooting) stars, we were ready to explore the park. Adalaya and I biked to White Tank Campground, which is the most interior campground in the park and only has a dozen or so campsites.

We wanted to find the perfect campsite to share with our friends, Susan and Jonah and their boys, for the weekend. They had warned us that campgrounds fill up quickly on the weekends, and indeed they did. By 5pm that afternoon (Friday) all of the northern campgrounds were full. Luckily, we had found a huge campsite that wrapped around some boulders, so there was plenty of space and shade for everyone.

Then we were off on foot to explore this geologic playground while we waited for our friends to arrive. We found arches,

peaks and valleys (Hello, George!),

and more of these beautiful trees . . . Joshua trees, the namesake of this park and the key species of the Mojave Desert. They're not considered to be real "trees" biologically, but these yucca relatives are very important to their ecosystem. They share a symbiotic relationship with the yucca moths, who are their sole pollinators. In return, the yucca moth lays it's eggs in the ovaries of the flowers, where it's larvae develop and eat some of the developing seeds. There is also a bird, the loggerhead shrike, who kills its prey (lizards and such) by impaling them on the needle-sharp leaves of the Joshua Tree. Ouch! It's prickly business around here!

I love desert ecology. You've got to be either tough or clever to live here!

Susan, Jonah, and their boys joined us for the weekend, and we all had a great time exploring the rocks together!

By the end of the weekend, we had found both elusive "tanks", after which this campground was named. There are 2 old dams located amongst the rocks, which used to serve as watering troughs for cattle. How anyone could raise cattle in this dry, desolate, rocky place is beyond me! In this photo, you can see the dam and the high-water mark where the cattle ranchers used to flood this narrow valley.

Susan and I found both of these hard-to-find "tanks" in our explorations together. One tank we found with the whole family (as seen above) and the other we found during our fun "mommy's only hike". There were no "trails" to these tanks, just vague directions on the campground map noting their locations to be south and southeast (respectively) of the campground. We were very proud of ourselves for finding them!

I want to take a moment to thank Susan and Jonah for helping us organize this trip to the desert and bringing their telescope! Adalaya is still talking about seeing 4 of Jupiter's moons all lined up. Most of all, we send you an IMMENSE THANK YOU for letting us crash in your driveway for so long and for van-sitting while we're in Costa Rica!

Most folks left Joshua Tree on Sunday, and once again we seemed to have the place to ourselves. We headed into the southern part of the park, which is lower in elevation and generally warmer. The ecosystem shifted from Mojave Desert to Colorado Desert, which is part of the greater Sonoran Desert. No longer did we see Joshua trees; as the ground descended into an open valley surrounded with jagged, arid mountains, we came upon the "Cholla Cactus Garden" area of the park. Here at the transition zone between the 2 desert ecosystems, there is a large patch of these "teddy-bear" cacti. But don't go hugging these bristly bears!

This is what happens when you misbehave on this trip!

And look at this well protected home of a cactus wren!

We spent our last night in Joshua Tree in the Cottonwood Campground, not too far away from a natural palm oasis, which undoubtedly leads to the existence of other human oases (aka bathrooms with flush toilets).

We enjoyed a beautiful desert sunset accented by a sliver of the moon that evening.

Then we got cozy in our little home and did a little reading before bed.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Friends in Fallbrook

For 2 weeks, we set up camp in my dear friend's driveway. Long ago, Susan and I spent a summer camping together on Roan Mountain, where we released and monitored 5 fledgling Peregrine Falcons. She and her family now live in a beautiful little house in Fallbrook, CA. It was a real treat to spend some good time with her and meet her cute little boys. We arrived in time for some fun Halloween festivities: a great Halloween party with crafts for the kids at a friend's house one night, and Halloween games at the Fallbrook Community Center, followed by trick-or-treating. Here we are dressed-up for Halloween. Adalaya is a gypsy, and looks like she fits right in with Susan's pirate family. I should have been a parrot instead of an owl!

It was Jackson's first time trick-or-treating, and Adalaya showed him the ropes. They would hold-hands while they walked up to a door, and Jackson would yell "Trick-or-Treat" and Adalaya would say "Thank you". Jackson was quite a trooper, because the neighborhood that we picked to trick-or-treat in took Halloween very seriously! Adalaya and I are used to the mellow Celo Halloween hay-ride scene, but this one involved chain-saws, mangled mannequins, and actively scaring kids. But together they braved all for the ultimate loot! Arrgh, sugar!

We took a few side trips during our stay in Fallbrook. We drove back to the coast for a night in Carlsbad, CA, the city where George came a year ago to buy our van (remember it's VW central around here). We paid an all new-high of $50 for a campsite in the South Carlsbad State Beach Campground. But we did have a nice ocean-side view!

We biked into downtown Carlsbad and went to a great pizza and brewery place - The Pizza Port.
Here's George sampling some of the micro-brews on tap.

The pizza was delicious and we were happy to be biking home at sunset!

Susan and her boys met us at the beach the next morning for some wave-dodging and pond-digging in the sand.

Adalaya is really good at entertaining the boys, and today was no exception.

Another day, we went into San Diego for a morning at the zoo. Among our favorites were the Koala Bears and Giant Pandas, neither of which I had seen before.

The "Skyfari" was a fun way to travel over the zoo.

We had other adventures with Susan's family, but that will have to wait for another blog entry.