Desert Critters

Bighorn Sheep at the Living Desert

It’s always a bit frustrating to look at zoo animals. They seem to be hyper-aware of the human gaze and prefer to avoid it. It reminds me of a former trip to Nova Scotia, where Martine was determined to find a moose. So we went to the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park north of Halifax to see their moose. Well, the moose was there, but didn’t want to be seen; so he hid behind some plants. When we tried to circle around to see him, we found the route closed. Not only closed but guarded by a determined naturalist. So much for that!

I have seen bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) only two or three times in my life: once at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego County, and the rest of the time at the Living Desert Zoo in Palm Desert, CA. And not all the time, either. This particular day, they seemed to congregate in full view of park visitors.

Another Bighorn Sheep Right by the Fence

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I wasn’t particularly upset at the animals that were in hiding. I had visited three or four times before, and I was more interested in just taking it easy in the shade during a typically hot desert day. Still, it was nice to see the bighorns come crowding down from the hill.

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.

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.

 

The Living Desert

Mountain Lion at the Living Desert Zoo in Palm Desert

Not to worry: There was a thick layer of glass between me and that mountain lion. I took this picture ten years ago when I went with Martine to one of my favorite zoos in Southern California, the Living Desert in Palm Desert. (The other one is the small but otherwise perfect Santa Barbara Zoo in the city of the same name.)

This was before my brother and sister-in-law moved to Palm Desert. Martine and I had just done an overnighter, staying at the local Motel 6. J know it wasn’t exactly ten years ago because I can’t see myself visiting the lower desert in the Coachella Valley in the heat of July.

Martine and I will be taking something of a risk visiting the Owens Valley next week, as the daily temperatures are expected to range between 60º and 98º Fahrenheit (16º to 37º Celsius) with the humidity hovering around 20%. The only thing that will make that bearable is that, if it gets too hot, we can always drive to higher latitudes and relax. There are only a few things we want to see in the floor of the valley, but those are all things we’ve seen before.

We will have a large cooler with us filled with block ice and plenty of water, along with a few goodies in case we feel like roughing it at high altitude. After all, for most of our trip, we will be in the shadow of the highest mountain range in the contiguous forty-eight states.

 

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep at Palm Desert’s Living Desert

Bighorn Sheep at Palm Desert’s Living Desert

Christmas weekend was our third or fourth visit to the Living Desert in Palm Desert, California, but it was the first time I actually saw any bighorn sheep close enough to photograph. Bighorn sheep are famously shy with regards to human contact—for good reason. Every once in a while, one could see them at a great distance wending their way across some remote crags.

Once, at Capital Reef National Park in Utah, we saw a group of them close up. But this is the first time we saw any of them in California, though I’ve looked at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley, and other places over the last thirty years.