A Botanical Garden Plus …

The big tourist attraction in the city of Palm Desert is the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. On my last day in the desert, while the male members of my family hiked Andreas Canyon, I decided to re-visit the Living Desert. Instead of frantically trying to see all the animals—many of whom, typically, were in hiding—I concentrated on the gardens, which are restful and lovely.

So I spent some time in the shade of a palm tree reading Philip K. Dick’s The Zap Gun, with a bag of popcorn and a bottle of water at my side.

There have been changes since my last visit. For one thing, there is a whole Australian section; and, in future, there will be a major rhinoceros exhibit in the African section.

Shown above is a Boojum Tree or Cirio from Baja California’s central desert. The scientific name is Fouquieria columaris, but the English name is taken from Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Hunting of the Snark”:

“But if ever I meet with a Boojum, that day,
⁠In a moment (of this I am sure),
I shall softly and suddenly vanish away—
⁠And the notion I cannot endure!” 

Tomorrow, I will describe some of the animals I saw at the Living Desert.

A Weekend in Palm Desert

No, I Do Not Plan to Visit Any Golf Courses

It looks kind of idyllic, doesn’t it? The damned thing is it can be idyllic, or it can be hellacious. Fortunately, the weather in the desert is cooling somewhat, and I don’t have to worry about losing any skin if I touch any of the metal surfaces on my car.

On Saturday, I will drive to Palm Springs for a mini-family-reunion, staying in a cheap motel in the area. I am primarily interested in spending time with my brother and sister-in-law, and I hope to take some pictures of the weekend. Martine will stay behind in L.A., as she is not feeling well.

Monday is Columbus Day. Although it has become something of a bogus holiday, it is still observed by governments, banks, and some school districts; so I will stay on until Tuesday morning, when I drive back to Los Angeles.

I may or may not post on Friday of this week.

Cherrapunji

Photo by Manish Jaishree of the Wettest Place on Earth

Here I am, reading about massive rainstorms in India circa 1990 while living iat the edge of a desert—and one in an increasing cycle of drought. I imagine, someone in Cherrapunji, India, might have dreams of living in a dry country in which, for all intents and purposes, there is no rainfall for six months of the year.

For your information, Cherrapunji is considered the wettest place on earth. It holds the record for the most rainfall in a calendar month and in a year: it received 9,300 millimeters (370 inches; 30.5 feet) in July 1861 and 26,461 millimeters (1,041.8 inches; 86.814 feet) between 1 August 1860 and 31 July 1861. in Alexander Frater’s book Chasing the Monsoon, the author talks of a friend of his father experiencing rainfall for several consecutive days in which between 30 and 40 inches of precipitation fell.

I miss rain. In Los Angeles, we only had one day of persistent rain in the last twelve months. There have been numerous instances of what I call a dirty drizzle, in which the windshield of my car is muddy as the result of an insufficient drizzle. To form a raindrop, there must be a bit of dust in every drop. But when not enough rain falls to operate the windshield wiper, then the dust predominates.

California and the American Southwest looks to be one of the big losers in climate change. The Colorado River is drying up, the Sierra snowpack is insufficient to fill the reservoirs the state needs, and horrible wildfires are destroying our forests.

There is not too much one can do about it except wait it out. Climate change has happened before. Up until the 13th century, Greenland was actually a fairly prosperous place, but then a little ice age set in and the colonists appear to have vanished from the pages of history. The town of Garðar was actually a bishopric, but nothing remains of its past glory.

Actually, I wouldn’t mind another “little ice age,” but who knows what will happen in the years to come?

Atacama Norte

Path at Sequoia National Park

John Muir understood the forests of California better than anyone: “And into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul.” There are beautiful forests in California, as well as beautiful mountains and even beautiful deserts. Thanks to climate change, however, in a very few years we might still find the mountains, but in place of the forests, we will have greatly enlarged deserts.

Currently, the driest desert on earth is the Atacama, which comprises parts of northern Chile and southern Peru. It is a major event there if the rainfall runs to several millimeters! As California becomes ever drier and the wildfires ever more uncontrollable, I can foresee much of this happening in the dwindling years of my lifetime.

California has both the largest and the oldest living things on earth in its forests. The Sequoia Redwoods can run to 115.5 meters (379 feet) in height. They can—under normal circumstances—live between 1,200 and 2,200 years. In the White Mountains on the other side of the Owens Valley are the Great Basin bristlecone pines, which, unlike the redwoods, look hardly alive. Yet the oldest trees of this species are 4,800 years old, making them venerable oldsters while the Greeks were conducting the Siege of Troy described by Homer in the Iliad.

Bristlecone Pine Tree of the White Mountains

Both types of tree are hardy and have survived multiple wildfires caused by lightning strikes in the last several thousand years. But man is a relatively new factor, and many of the fires that are decimating the forests of California are the result of arson or human carelessness.

Call me a tree-hugger if you will, but there are many things in California that I have come to love. Let me close with another quote from John Muir, who is the bard of the wilds of California: “Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill.”

Watch But Don’t Touch

Mohave Desert Scene with Joshua Tree in Foreground

Yesterday I did a search for poems about the desert and came up with a winner. “Desert” was written by Josephine Miles way back in 1934, but it has a contemporary feel. One thing for sure: There are no tree huggers in the desert, what with all the spiny plants. Moreover, the ground itself is unfriendly, full of sharp stones. The only thing Miles leaves out is the wind-blown dust.

Desert
When with the skin you do acknowledge drought,
 The dry in the voice, the lightness of feet, the fine
 Flake of the heat at every level line;

 When with the hand you learn to touch without
 Surprise the spine for the leaf, the prickled petal,
 The stone scorched in the shine, and the wood brittle;

 Then where the pipe drips and the fronds sprout
 And the foot-square forest of clover blooms in sand,
 You will lean and watch, but never touch with your hand.

“Cactus Slim”

One of My Favorite Places in the Coachella Valley

During my weekend in the desert, my brother and I didn’t get much of a chance to go gallivanting around. I did manage to introduce him to one of my favorite places, which, surprisingly, he had never visited. I am referring to the Moorten Botanical Garden on South Palm Drive in Palm Springs.

The garden was founded by Chester “Cactus Slim” Moorten who had come to California during the silent film era and acted in Mack Sennett’s Keystone Cops films. By the 1930s, he had received a diagnosis of tuberculosis and was urged by his doctors to check into a sanitarium. Instead, he moved to the Palm Springs area and opened a cactus nursery. The story is told in Garden Collage magazine in a 2016 article by Molly Beauchemin which you can find here.

Acres of Incredible Cacti and Other Succulents

Dan and I enjoyed an hour exploring the paths overgrown with thousands of varieties of the desert foliage. The garden also does a land office business selling potted cacti to visitors.

One of the Most Photogenic Places in the Coachella Valley

Chester Moorten’s son Clark now runs the botanical garden. Plant varieties are carefully labelled with the plants’ scientific and popular names. There is even a greenhouse with hundreds of rare varieties which normally wouldn’t otherwise grow in the Palm Springs area.

For more information, you can visit the garden’s website: Moorten Botanical Garden.

Desert Bound

Cabot Yerxa’s Pueblo in Desert Hot Springs

This weekend I will drive out to the Coachella Valley to see my brother. It won’t be long before the temperature goes up to 100° F (37° Celsius) and over each day. Although Dan has air conditioning at his place, I don’t want to step outside only to be instantly dehydrated.

At this time of year, the desert can be beautiful. Alas, it has been a dry year, and thus not a great time for wildflowers. I remember times when I visited the desert in February and March to find it filled with uncounted millions of wildflowers, ranging from tiny blossoms to large cactus flowers.

Consequently, I will not post again until Monday, March 1. I hope to take a lot of pictures to use in next week’s posts.

The Quarantine Makes Us Boring

An Empty Restaurant

Things being as they are, I have a hard time thinking of interesting things to write. During the quarantine, I am involved primarily in four activities: food shopping, cooking, reading, and film viewing. There isn’t much I can write about food shopping and cooking, primarily because of Martine’s irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), most of what I cook is pretty bland. When I cook a dish for myself, I tend to go crazy with spices and chiles—because I can!

I would love to write more about places that I have visited recently. Except I have not visited many places recently. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Restaurants are usually closed, and the weather does not encourage picnicking.
  2. If you have to go to the bathroom, you pretty much have to buy gasoline.

I’d love to go driving in the local deserts, but I am uncertain as to filling these two basic needs which all travelers have. Let’s say I want to go to Boron, California, home of the Twenty-Mule-Team Museum. Not only is the museum closed, but I have no idea where I can get food locally, and whether the local restaurants are serving diners outdoors. There is just too much uncertainty.

Sometime this February, I will pay another visit to my brother in Palm Desert. My last visit there was at the end of October. There are some places we can go, and he knows which local restaurants are serving food. (Though the best food there is likely to be cooked by my brother.) To be sure, I will take my camera and try to find some places I can write about.

Until then, you will hear more about my reading and film viewing.

Struthioniformes

Birds at OstrichLand USA in Solvang, California

Back in the days when there were places to go and when coronavirus was not rampant in the land, Martine and I liked to visit Solvang, about three quarters of an hour north of Santa Barbara. There was a great bookstore (the Book Loft), yummy Danish smorgasbords, Santa Inez Mission, great cookies, and OstrichLand USA.

Ostriches are considered part of the order of Struthioniformes, which includes, in addition to ostriches, kiwis, rheas, emus, and cassowaries. At OstrichLand, there are ostriches and emus.

There is something confrontational about ostriches. One would never consider petting one without risk of being attacked by a sharp beak. You can feed them, but many visitors are afraid to. They’ll take your proffered food, but only while casting a baleful glare at you.

Joshua Trees in the California Desert

Although they are not native to the Southwest, I think of ostriches the way I think of desert cacti: One would no more pet an ostrich than hug a cholla cactus or a Joshua Tree. They’re interesting to look at, but not pleasant to touch.

Breaking Quarantine

California Fan Palms Growing from Sulfurous Ponds

This last weekend, I spent a long weekend with my brother and sister-in-law in Palm Desert. Atypically, the weather was perfect. Dan mentioned that until I arrived, the temperature had risen to over 100° Fahrenheit (38° Celsius) for over 100 days in a row. While I was there, the high was closer to 80° (27° Celsius).

It felt good to see my brother again after 7 months of close quarters in West Los Angeles. We went swimming three days in a row, and even re-visited a couple of local sites.

These included the lovely Thousand Palms oasis and the Sunnylands park on the Annenberg Estate in Rancho Mirage.

One of the Cactus Gardens on the Annenberg Estate

Not all the facilities at both locations were open due to the coronavirus outbreak, but seeing anything beautiful these days is a rare pleasure—especially during a particularly ugly election year.