The Palm Springs Air Museum

“Mitch the Witch II” with Two Confirmed Japanese Warship Victims

The Coachella Valley means a lot more to me than giant rock concerts. There’s Mount San Jacinto brooding over the valley, the Living Desert Zoo and gardens in Palm Desert, delicious Deglet Noor dates, and, of course, the Palm Springs Air Museum.

Apparently, a lot of WW2 pilots found their way to the Coachella Valley and contributed their efforts to making the Palm Springs Air Museum one of the best in the United States. While they are still walking the earth, these are the best and most learned docents on the subject that you can find anywhere.

“Bunny”—Is She African-American?

The Museum is located on Gene Autry Trail on the east side of the Palm Springs Airport. As you see the exhibits parked outside, you can watch passenger jets take off and land just a few hundred feet away.

You can even climb up on one of the WW2 bombers and walk through it, marveling at how lightweight and flimsy it appears to be.

“King of the Cats”

I find I can spend hours wandering among the hundred or so aircraft, stores inside and out, and dreaming what it must have been like to fight two enemies on opposite sides of the globe.

The Indian Canyons at Palm Springs

California Fan Palms at Palm Canyon

The area around Palm Springs is dominated by the huge mass of Mount San Jacinto. Nowhere else in California is there such a precipitous ascent from base to peak, 8,000 feet (2,438 meters).

While much of the surrounding landscape is bone dry, there are a number of lush canyons on Indian reservation land around the mountain. The Indians in question are the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, who own a crazy quilt of checkerboarded land in and around Palm Springs.

I have visited Palm and Andreas Canyons, and would welcome a chance to see Tahquitz Canyon (below) which was out of bounds to visitors for decades after having been desecrated by hippies in the 1960s. I have never been to Murray Canyon.

Waterfall at Tahquitz Canyon

There is also a Visitor Center (closed during the coronavirus outbreak) near Palm Canyon, where the Cahuillas sell books and souvenirs. Please note there is an admission charge to visit the Indian Canyons.

Because the area is bone dry most of the year, the tribe requires that visitors come equipped with between 16 and 48 ounces of drinking water.

Going to the Desert

Joshua Trees at El Mirage Dry Lake

This next weekend, I will break quarantine for the first time to visit my brother Dan and sister-in-law Lori in Palm Desert, near Palm Springs. It will still be hot as Hades, but for the first time I will have a chance to talk face to face with someone other than just Martine.

She, by the way, will not be coming with me. Having lived and worked for a couple years at Twentynine Palms in the Morongo Valley, about an hour north of Dan, she hates the desert with a passion.

I would not live in the desert, as my brother does, but I enjoy visiting it from time to time—especially when the dead heat of summer begins to let up.

Perhaps I can visit a couple of places that I particularly like, such as the Thousand Palms Oasis or the Indian Canyons south of Palm Springs. More likely, I will be reading some books and taking advantage of Dan’s air conditioning and swimming pool. And, of course, his cooking.

As usual, I will be leaving L.A. before the sun rises. I will stop at Hadley Fruit Orchards In Cabazon to do some shopping before making a beeline to Palm Desert. Right around Cabazon, I will set my car radio dial to MOD-FM 107.3 to listen to their parade of classical 1950s hits with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, and their ilk.

Family Interlude

Palm Trees and Snowcapped Mountains

I will be taking a few days off to go to Palm Desert in the Coachella Valley for a family get-together. In addition to my brother Dan and sister-in-law Lori, my niece Hilary with husband and sons; step-niece Jennifer; and step-nephew Danny will be present. Martine won’t be coming with me because she hates the Coachella Valley, having lived and worked in nearby Twentynine Palms back in the 1990s.

As I am quite sterile and prefer not to adopt, my brother’s side of the family has become increasingly important to me. In the same way, I have always maintained close relations with the children of my best friends. It’s either that or spend my declining years shouting at kids to get off my lawn.

When I get back to Los Angeles on Monday, I hope to have some good stories to tell you and pictures of my family to show you.

The Moorten Botanical Garden 2

A Dense Array of Cacti

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.


The Moorten Botanical Garden 1

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.

Most interesting of all was the Moorten Botanical Garden, a few blocks south of the museums. The only collection of succulents I have seen that could compare to it is the Cactus Garden at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Garden in San Marino. The Moorten is much smaller, but it shows the guiding hand of a dedicated collector, who, unfortunately, is no longer with us.

Cactus Close-Up

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!


Ruddy’s General Store

Ruddy’s General Store Museum in Palm Springs

When I have to take a long drive somewhere, I generally prefer to leave early in the morning. Last Friday, that meant I would arrive in the Coachella Valley several hours before my brother Dan got off from work. So I decided to visit several small museums clustered along South Palm Drive in Palm Springs.

The first was the Ruddy General Store, whose sign indicates they are “A General Store of the 1930s.” This is one general store in which the goods on the shelf are not for sale. It was originally the private collection of the late Jim Ruddy. For a token admission fee of $1.00, you can see the thousands of items on the shelves and even take flash photographs if you want.

Rubber Jar Rings for Home Canning

The collection can be viewed in an hour. You can take longer if you talk to the nice ladies behind the counter, who can tell you the story of what you are seeing.


Flying Tigers

The Sharks of the Air

The Sharks of the Air

If you should find yourself in the Coachella Valley, one of the best places to visit is the Palm Springs Air Museum. There are flying museums all across the country, including one within walking distance of me in Santa Monica. But none I have visited could hold a candle to the one alongside the Palm Springs International Airport.

One would think you can do justice to such a museum in an hour or so. Well … not exactly! There are not only three large hangars full of WWII warbirds, but several dozen planes are also scattered outside on the tarmac. Along the walls of the hangars are numerous exhibits, some with videos on a loop, about selected topics.

What interested me the most was a unit called the Flying Tigers. In 1941-1942, there were pilots from all three air services recruited and organized as the 1st American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force (probably because they were originally constituted before the United States entered the war). Included also were also a number of Chinese pilots trained by the Americans. All were led by General Claire Lee Chennault.

The mission of the Flying Tigers was to defend China from the Japanese Air Force. And this they did with a vengeance using a hundred-odd fighters painted with a fierce shark face as in the photo above.

Their success was stunning. The Japanese planes were not well-armored against fighter attacks, with the result that the Japanese lost some 296 planes to the Flying Tigers’ 14. In time, the Japanese had come to fear the sharks’ teeth aimed at their throats.

B-17 Walkthrough

Martine with Boeing B-17 in Background

Martine with Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress in Background

Aviation museums run the gamut from “gearhead” airplane body shops to extensive collections of aircraft and exhibits. In this latter category is the Palm Springs Air Museum, adjacent to the Palm Springs Airport on Gene Autry Trail. We allotted four hours to seeing this museum, and—to Martine’s point of view anyway—it was about four hours too short.

Apparently, the Coachella Valley is home to many aviation veterans of the Second World War. The museum was crowded with volunteers who knew the planes intimately and were willing to answer questions.

Near the little café in one of the hangars was a huge Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress that was being restored by aficionados. For a five dollar donation, we could walk through the plane from the cockpit to the rear door. It was a tempting challenge, though I knew it would be a tight squeeze for my portly frame. So we ponied up the ten bucks and did it.

B-17 Cockpit

B-17 Cockpit

For starters, the highly analog cockpit controls (see above) were a revelation to a digital denizen such as myself. We barely managed to make it up the ladder to squeeze in the space behind the cockpit. The B-17’s crew of ten must have been immune to claustrophobia, especially the tail gunner and the gunner in the 360-degree rotating gun position under the aircraft. The former was totally cut off from the rest of the aircraft by the rear bomb bay.

The B-17 was featured in a number of war films including Memphis Belle (both versions: 1944 and 1990), Flying Fortress (1942), Air Force (1943), 12 O’Clock High (1949), and Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970).

If you ever find yourself in Palm Springs, and if you are as much of a history nut as I am, you could do worse than spend a whole day at the Palm Springs Air Museum. (I had to promise Martine that we would return so that she could finish viewing all the exhibits.)



A Family Christmas

Lori, Hilary, Danny, Jennifer, and Dan

Lori, Hilary, Danny, Jennifer, and Dan

I just returned from Palm Springs about an hour or two ago after spending one of the best Christmases in my adult life. My brother and sister-in-law rented a house in PS’s “Movie Colony” neighborhood.

Present were Dan and Lori, my brother and sister-in-law; Hilary, just returned from Guatemala by way of her home in Seattle; Danny, from L.A.’s South Bay; Jennifer, from San Diego; and Martine and me from West Los Angeles.

As you know, I tend to be something of a Grinch; but the events of the last five days have melted the residual ice that encased my heart. It was great fun talking with my nephew and nieces, and spending the days touring the Coachella Valley with Martine while the kids were involved in hiking, swimming in hot pools, and such like.

Martine and I got to visit the Living Desert Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Palm Desert, which we’ve seen two or three times before; the Palm Springs Air Museum, a labor of love by WW2 veterans; the Oasis Date Gardens in Thermal, California; and the Shields Date Gardens in Indio, California. (Yes, I guess I really do enjoy eating dates.)

In the days to come, I will post blogs about the first two places above, which I think are world-class tourist destinations. And I will try to write something about the Coachella Valley’s date palms.

In the meantime, I hope all of you had a Merry Christmas!