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.
This morning, I returned from a restful and enjoyable weekend with my brother and sister-in-law in the Coachella Valley. It seems that it takes half again as long to return to Los Angeles as it does to leave it. That’s because I usually leave early in the morning, a full hour before rush hour begins. It means staring into the rising sun as I approach Corona, but that lasts less than an hour. As Dan was working on building a home on Friday, I re-visited the Moorten Botanical Garden and hung out there for a couple of hours: It seems I never get bored looking at cacti. Then I went to Sherman’s Deli & Bakery for lunch, and spent the afternoon at a large Barnes & Noble close to where Dan lives. I picked up copies of Henry Green’s Back and Ross Macdonald’s The Way Some People Die. By then, Dan was back, and I drove the mile or so to my final destination.
Saturday was a special day, about which I will probably write a number of postings. In Desert Hot Springs, there is a museum named after and started by Cabot Yerxa, the man who discovered the hot springs at Desert Hot Springs. There was a Mexican Dia de los Muertos celebration, a few weeks before the November 2 date that is the Feast of All Souls in the Catholic Liturgy. Dan and I wandered around the premises, but did not take the tour because of the number of people present. I promised myself to return to Cabot’s Museum and lose myself in the wonderful zaniness of one of those original minds that seemed to blossom in the deserts of the Southwest.
Sunday, Dan, his wife Lori, and I went to see Damien Chazelle’s First Man (2018) starring Ryan Gosling about the space launches that culminated in the U.S. astronauts first walking on the surface of the Moon. The film was so intense that I was not conscious of two and a half hours passing, which I normally would be. I highly recommend this film.
Ever since I first started spending time in the desert, back in the 1970s, I have loved cacti. Mind you, the beauty of the plant is a little harder to appreciate when the temperature goes into the high nineties and above. At such a time, I tend to avoid the desert: It’s just too damned hot. My first experiences were in Desert Hot Springs (just a few miles north of the Moortens Botanical Garden). I used to stay at one of the motels and go back and forth from the sauna to the cold pool. I even took my parents there, and they enjoyed it as much as I did. Of course, what made their enjoyment peak was a decent Hungarian restaurant in town named, I think, the Budapest.
Opuntia Cactus with Purple Coloration
The Moorten cactus collection was so good that I can see myself visiting it every time I go to see my brother in Palm Desert. Dan has driven by the Garden at various times and even stopped to marvel at it—though from the outside only.
A World of Cactuses
Sometime this spring, I will also re-visit the Huntington Gardens in San Marino. What I like about their cactus collection is that so much of it comes from Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
Cashier and Gift Shop at the Moorten Botanical Garden
Last Friday, I visited three museums and a botanical garden. The first museum was Ruddy’s General Store, followed by the McCallum Adobe (home of the Palm Springs Historical Society) and the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum , which had a display of Cahuilla Indian pottery. Since the latter two did not allow photographs to be taken, I have chosen not to write about them. All three museums are adjacent to one another and can be visited in under two hours.
If I were a botanist, I would regale you here with the names (in Latin and English) of the many varieties on display, but all I know about cacti is that I love them; and I love photographing them. I find the cacti to be astounding, growing as they do under such hostile conditions.
Rare Cactus Species in the Moorten’s “Cactarium”
There is a greenhouse with rare cactus species which the Moorten calls the “Cactarium.” I wish I could regale you with more pictures of what I saw. Wait a sec, I can continue this post tomorrow!