Meat-a-Palooza

Dan Carefully Measures the Internal Temperature of the Meat

One of the highlights of my weekend trip to visit my brother and family in Palm Desert is a growing family tradition known as Meat-a-Palooza. Dan is an incredible chef, and he loves to prepare a feast featuring a variety of meat dishes. Incredibly, he is able to single-handedly prepare a multi-course feast that is all ready to be served at the same time. I can’t even do that with two dishes, let alone a dozen.

I don’t think I’m a bad cook, but I simply can’t compare with Dan. Everybody always asks him why he doesn’t open a restaurant. In answer, he merely smiles and begs to differ. He knows that running a restaurant is more than anything a form of slavery, involving long hours seven days a week. Visiting Dan’s place is always a special treat for me.

The Same Beef Dish on Serving Plate

The curious thing is that I am gradually turning into a vegetarian, but that all is put on hold when it is Meat-a-Palooza time. Dan’s dishes are always top drawer and worth eating irrespective of one’s foodie beliefs.

The Groaning Table Gradually Fills Up

 

Family Portrait

A Family Portrait at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

Standing in the above picture (left to right) are me; my sister-in-law Lori Paris; the children’s nanny Katia from Toluca, Mexico; my brother Dan; Lori’s son Danny Duche; my niece Hilary Paris Moorman; Lori’s daughter Jennifer Duche. In the front row are Oliver Moorman, Joseph Moorman, and Ely Moorman. The photo was snapped by a friendly tourist who was reciprocating for a picture we took of them. I kind of look like a fire hydrant who wandered into the picture.

The ten of us came to Palm Desert from L.A. (me), Seattle (Joe, Hilary, and sons with Katia the au pair), San Francisco (Jennifer), and Denver (Danny Duche). It was nice to see the whole family all in one place.

The Next Generation

Oliver Moorman, Age 4, with Palo Verde Tree in Background

I just returned today from the Coachella Valley where I attended a family reunion on the occasion of several birthdays appearing close together. Plus I had the chance to spend more time with the youngest members of the family, my niece Hilary’s two sons. Oliver and Ely. As she lives in the Seattle area, I don’t have too many occasions to see her, her husband Joe, and their two boys.

Yesterday, we spent several hours at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert, where my brother Dan lives. You will see several pictures taken there over the next week or so. According to Condé Nast Traveler, it is one of the ten best zoos in the United States. In my opinion, it is the very best. At present, it concentrates on the desert animals on two continents: North America and Africa. Under construction is a small enclave dedicated to the plants and animals of Australia.

My Niece Hilary with Youngest Son Ely, Aged 1½, at the Living Desert Petting Zoo

One of the most fun things about visiting a place like the Living Desert is to see its effect on young children. Ollie and Ely were as if in a magical realm, in which awe predominates. Even the goats in the Petting Kraal were a revelation to the two boys. Then there was the feeding of the giraffes, with their long tongues wrapping around the Romaine Lettuce the boys held out to them. Even the carousel, featuring endangered species worldwide, caught Ollie’s attention, as he rode on a giant hummingbird.

Ollie with My Brother Dan on Carousel

Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind spending more time at the Living Desert. I am not immune to being overawed.

 

Oasis

The Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery

As each breath I take fills my lung with ash from the Getty Fire, which is just a few miles north of my front door, I look back to the unexpected highlight of last week’s trip to the Eastern Sierras. I am referring to the Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery in Independence, California.  Built in 1916, the hatchery was run by the California Department of Fish and Game until 1996, when the State found they couldn’t afford its upkeep. It was then that a nonprofit organization called the Friends of Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery was formed to run the former hatchery as a museum, with an interpretive center and gift shop.

The real highlight are the grounds, which include a pond well stocked with rainbow trout and visiting ducks. A small number of fish (mostly trout) are still hatched there as part of the museum.

Martine fell in love with the gift shop, which included two items of special interest to her: some attractive and reasonably-priced quilts made by a woman in Bakersfield and a bucket filled with packets of fish food. We purchased one of the quilts, and several packets of fish food.

It turns out that the ducks were more aggressive about begging for the fish food than the trout. That was all right with Martine, as she enjoyed feeding the ducks more, while I thought of them as shameless beggars.

We actually visited the Fish Hatchery on both Thursday and Friday last week. It was a beautiful and peaceful place.

A wildfire in July 2007 burned 55,000 acres west of the hatchery. Then, a year later that same month, a heavy thunderstorm caused a mudslide that damaged part of the hatchery as well as two of the employee residences. I am delighted that the Friends of the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery managed to clear the damage and re-open the facility.

If you find yourself on Highway 395 and desire a couple of peaceful hours in a beautiful locale, I highly recommend a visit to the hatchery. And say alone to the ducks and trout for me.

 

The Devil’s Postpile

The Columnar Basalt Formation at Devil’s Postpile National Monument

The last of the three major destinations of our recent Eastern Sierra road trip was the Devil’s Postpile National Monument near Mammoth Lakes. There are a number of locations around the world where thick lava formations, in cooling, form cliff faces of hexagonal columns. Probably the most famous are the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland and the Isle of Staffa in the Scottish Hebrides.

The nearest such formation to me is the Devil’s Postpile. The Monument can be reached primarily by taking a shuttle bus from the Mammoth Mountain ski area to Stop #6, from which there is an easy half-mile hike to the cliff face. The top of the columns looks like this:

What the Columns Look Like from Up Top

We didn’t actually take the hike to the top of the columns, but only because we didn’t want to push ourselves too hard at high altitude.

The hike to the basalt columns follows the San Joaquin River through a pine and juniper forest of surpassing loveliness. In fact we liked the surroundings so much that the columnar basalt formation was almost a letdown considering the lead up to it.

I would like to return in future and extend the hike to Rainbow Falls, which is also in the Monument.

 

Towers of Tufa

Mono Lake and Tufa Towers

On our way down the mountain from the ghost town of Bodie, we stopped at the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve and took a little hike. Mono Lake has numerous towers formed of pure calcium carbonate when the calcium of the underground water met the heavy carbonate content of the saline lake water. As the volume of the lake fell due to being siphoned off by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP), the towers, which were formerly underwater features, now appeared as pinnacles looming along the south shore of the lake.

The Yellow Water is Composed of Trillions of Brine Shrimp

Mono Lake is teeming with life, beginning with the brine shrimp which teem in the waters, along with the alkali flies that feed on them and the birds that feed on the insects and the brine shrimp. As one walks along the shore of the lake, one sees billions of bobbing alkali flies, visible in the photograph directly above.

Brine Shrimp

Because of a 1990s court decision that went against the DWP, an attempt will be made to allow Mono Lake to refill—up to a point. The intention is not to submerge all the tufa towers, but to encourage the life forms that dominate the lake.

 

Ghost Town

The Ghost Town of Bodie As Seen from the Cemetery

There are ghost towns scattered all across the West, but the one that impressed me the most is Bodie, just north of Mono Lake, at an altitude of 8,375 feet (2,553 meters). It is above the tree line and suffers from icy winters and occasional major snowfalls. Founded in 1859 and named after a prospector who froze to death before he ever saw the town named after him, it saw its greatest glory between 1877 (when it was the third largest city in California) and the early 1880s. After the main gold and silver veins gave out, there was still some mining taking place through the Second World War.

In 1962, Bodie became a California State Historic Park. Instead of Disneyfying the buildings that survived several major fires, the State decided to keep the buildings pretty much as they were—with the original furniture that the inhabitants left behind when they quitted the region. The only repairs have been to replace badly damaged roofs and shore up buildings that were about to collapse.

Buildings Shored Up from Total Collapse

The original outhouses behind the buildings remain, though they have been filled in to protect visitors from accidents. Several of the better preserved houses are current residences for California State Park personnel.

In the long run, this ghost town will become a total ruin. Until then, it provides a fascinating and totally unvarnished look at life in a 19th century mining town. Most of the buildings cannot be entered, but one could peek in through the windows and see store merchandise, gaming tables, coffins, as well as kitchen, bedroom, and living room furniture. Why is this stuff still here? Because Bodie is in an isolated area, the miners and others who left thought it was cheaper to buy new stuff at their next destination than to arrange for expensive transport of their shabby belongings.

The Standard Stamping Mill Reduced Ore into Its Mineral Elements

There are tales of gunfights—and people were shot to death in disputes—but when remains are not the gun fighting legends, but the stories of miners and their families, and the people who sold goods to them, ran the newspaper, the bank, the whorehouses and opium dens. There is no picturesque boot hill because the ne’er-do-wells who filled each other with lead were buried outside the cemetery without any monuments to commemorate them.