Archive for April, 2010

Our five days in Palm Springs was a mishmash of varying activities. We did a lot of shopping, and in the process, saw a lot of the area. Palm Springs is actually a diagonal string of towns – Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Thousand Palms, Palm Desert, La Quinta, segueing into Indio and Coachella. All of them seem to have countless “gated communities” that have long, adobe walls around them. Some of them are lushly landscaped that abruptly stops, surrounded by undeveloped scrub land. Every time I see long strips of grass along the street or golf course after golf course, I think about what the California Aqueduct is watering down here. I don’t begrudge residential use of water, but I object to wasting it on grass in the desert.

After the camera replacement, our Sirius radio went haywire and we went looking for a new one, but the stores didn’t have the model we wanted.We checked out a Radio Shack that was in a mall and found a “ghost” mall where not only the anchor stores (Gottschalks and Von’s Supermarket) were closed, but almost every other store, except Radio Shack and a store that sold muu-muus. The former food court had a non-franchise pizza place open and that was it. There were a couple of people sitting there, two of whom were playing chess. It had a wierd deadly atmosphere. Amazingly, there was a movie theater across from the mall and it was playing independent films, including “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, a film we’ve been wanting to see. There was also a nice little cafe attached to the theater and they let you bring coffee into the film. Heaven! After the movie, we drove down Dinah Shore Road or Bob Hope Drive, Gene Autrey Avenue, Gerald Ford Boulevard (or Fred Waring (who’s he?), going to what we hoped was an Amici Pizza Restaurant. Instead, it turned out to be a nice little Italian trattoria, where we lounged around outside in balmy night air and had very good calimari, eggplant parmesan and chicken cacciatore.

Palm Springs is located at the entrance to valley with a lot of wind, so the pass is filled with wind turbines. Dave is interested in photographing them for his new project. These are accessible; some are right by the highway and you can get close to them. Never having stood next to one of the giant turbines, I was curious to hear what it sounds like. They definitely make a noise – I wouldn’t want one in my back yard, but it’s not as bad as I expected. We also walked around our RV resort to check out the neighborhood. People decorate their double-wides and rocky yards to differing degrees. This place has the nicest library room I’ve ever seen, with lots of books, a couple of couches and a table dedicated to jigsaw puzzles. (Oh joy!) But I don’t think we’re ready for this lifestyle for a decade or two (or ever).

We also went to Indian Canyons, an area on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. You know you’re there when all the walled and gated communities disappear. These are canyons leading into the high San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains. The trails are quite nice, with rushing spring streams, palm oases and lots of wildflowers. We walked one short trail, then went to another, but crossing and recrossing a lively stream over slippery rocks with my new camera in hand was making me nervous. When a lady in front of us slipped off a rock and and got her feet wet, I was ready to turn back. But I saw some wildflowers I’d never seen before, including the elusive Indigo Bush, which an Indian guide later told me was used to make dye: brownish-yellow dye. Why a deep blue flower doesn’t make blue dye, I don’t know. We also saw our first tanager, a bright little bird with a red head and a vibrant yellow breast. The next day we visited Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, but as Dave notes, preserves are not usually very attractive places to humans, and this one wasn’t very attractive to us. They did have a very old, wrecked car that looked like it had been driven hard right into the trail. The weather keeps getting hotter, so we visited the Palm Springs air-conditioned Art Museum. It is a nicely laid-out building with some nice exhibits. There is quite a bit of Western and Indian art and an interesting glass art gallery. There’s the requisite huge, vaguely threatening glass art piece by Dale Chihuly in an outdoor area. Why is this guy so popular? The pieces are intricate, but not that engaging to me.

We finally decamped from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree and the weather is hot. Our campground, Indian Cove, is a place that is remote from the main road through the Park. Like the rest of the Park, it has great rock jumbles. We got up at 5:30 yesterday morning and did the hike to the 49 Palms Oasis. This is one of our favorite hikes, climbing up a hill and then winding down into the canyon with the oasis. The wildflowers were great, big spreads of yellow Brittlebush, lots of Phacelia, Globemallow, Canterbury Bells, Fremont’s Pincushion and many blooming cacti. There were also leafy clumps with lots of small, pale-greenish white flowers that were wide open at 6:30 a.m. but closed up into little pink balls when we returned around in full sun at 9:30 a.m. It was a good hike, so we rewarded ourselves by lounging around the rest of day with Mojitos and snacks at Happy Hour. The moon is almost full right now, so though the stars are mostly obliterated, the rocks are clearly revealed in the moonlight. We went out to do some night photography and had fun with moonlight, flashlights and the deliciously balmy night air.

As we were wandering around the campsite this morning, we got a special treat. Dave spotted a desert tortoise barreling across the road. This guy was not shy, so we got some good shots.

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We had a great hike at Joshua Tree at the southern end of the park. There’s a nice campground at Cottonwood Spring and a 7.5 mile hike out to Lost Palms Oasis. We got up at 6:30 a.m. but it was already getting warm. The trail goes up over little hills and down into canyons and through washes. The wildflowers vary at each different terrain. There are no gigantic stands of anythings, but a wide variety. So we are making up for the photographs we may have lost. The oasis itself wasn’t that great. The palm trees are distributed along a narrow, steep, boulder-strewn canyon and are difficult to photograph. There are only trickles of water. As we got to the center of the canyon, we heard the buzzing of bees. Bees are all over, chasing flowers this time of year, but this buzzing was louder than most. Then Dave noticed the swarm, not all that far from where we were. We went a little further downcanyon until we couldn’t hear them any more and then ate lunch. There was a couple of hikers who had their binoculars out and the swarm had landed on a rock (a resting place?) in a tight, dark grey circle. Very odd indeed. We hiked back and on the way, saw a large, white striped lizard. When we got too close, it curled up its long tail like a scorpion and ran for it. We later found out that it was a zebra-striped lizard, and the only one who curls up its tail. Cool.

Yesterday, we got up early and went on a drive in the park to see the Ocotillo Patch and the Cholla Garden, both odd, wonderful desert dwellers. We also spotted a Desert Tortoise ambling across the roadbed. We stopped and got out to chase it off the road. It made good time, headfirst into a bush where it appeared to be stuck. Dave picked it up and moved it well off the road, and it rewarded us by retracting inside its shell. If you got close you could see its little eyes peering out. We waited a while, but it was staying inside for the time being.

It was then I realized that my camera problems that had developed the day before (irregular episodes of the dreaded Error 99) were serious. Between continuous changing of camera settings and borrowing Dave’s lenses, I got the shots I wanted, but almost nothing was working by the time we got back to the RV. We moved on to Palm Springs, where I had picked out some promising hikes, but the weather turned very windy (gusts from 45 to 65 mph) which isn’t fun for being outdoors. So Dave looked up Canon Error 99 fixes (didn’t work) and then looked up the price of new lenses (expensive!). Sending in the old lens for repair or mail ordering a new lens would probably take a long time and force us to stay in one place, so today we went out to look at lenses. There is exactly one camera store in all of huge Riverside County, and we ended up buying a new Canon Rebel T2i with its own lens. Hopefully, the old lens can be repaired, and it and the old camera can be our backup for trips. We are learning the value of backups!

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It’s been quite a week. We had an accident with the laptop and lost the hard drive. (Don’t ever drop your power supply on your laptop.) That means one month of our images are gone, possibly permanently. Dave managed to retrieve the most recent images off our memory chips, so we have some poppy pictures. A data retrieval service may be able to retrieve the rest of them from the hard drive, or not. It’s depressing. On the one hand, they are only images. On the other, especially for Dave, they are his work. We no longer have Word or Excel on the laptop, but that’s small potatoes. Our friend Rick has sent us needed data from our home computers, so there’s really nothing else that’s vital, at least nothing we can think of right now.

We left Las Vegas last Saturday and went to Barstow, where we caught up with housekeeping chores and went to see Rainbow Basin National Natural Area. (Try saying that 3 times quickly.) It’s an area with a lot of upthrust rock formations and multicolored mud hills. There are desert tortoises there, but we didn’t see any that day. We continued west to Lancaster, north of the San Gabriel Mountains. Our goal: the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve. We were worried that the poppies might not have done so well after some heavy wind and rain, but they came through like troupers. The Preserve is located out in the middle of an agricultural area in Lancaster. After leaving the freeway, you drive through some housing divisions, then miles of flat, empty, platted areas with occasional numbered streets, some paved, some dirt, cutting through. I guess someone hopes it will all be filled with homes, eventually. That’s when you begin to see blotches of orange in the far off hills. Finally, you reach the hills and it is wonderful. The Poppy Preserve has 8 miles of trails and we walked all of them in two days. This is not the best year ever for the poppies, but it is probably the best time of this year. We were impressed. There is also a wide variety of other wildflowers. And we heard coyotes yipping, which is a sound we don’t hear too often these days. It was fun.

We were getting set to go to Joshua Tree when the laptop accident occurred. We took it to an Apple store in Northridge; they couldn’t do anything. We left it overnight with a guy who put in a new hard drive. To cheer ourselves up, we went to see “Date Night” with Tina Fey and Steve Carell – it’s very funny. The next day we drove 40 miles back to Northridge, picked up the laptop and damaged hard drive. As long as we were so close to Santa Monica, we went to the J.P. Getty Museum, one of my favorite places in the U.S. The architecture is great, the gardens are wonderful to wander through, the cafes are good, there are a few good Impressionist paintings, including one of irises by Van Gogh. The place exudes calm. I love it.

So tomorrow we head for Joshua Tree. Hopefully, there will still be some wildflowers going there. Actually, we lucked out having to wait extra days in Lancaster. There is a gigantic music festival in Coachella (80,000 people a day) running this weekend and Coachella is just west of Joshua Tree. So that should be breaking up by the time we get down there.

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After a few days at the good ol’ Hitchin’ Post RV park, we went to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Once again, we were in luck; we got the next to last campsite in the campground, which is only 2 miles from the entrance to the park. It feels very remote, although it’s only about 5 miles west of the Las Vegas suburbs.

We did our initial tour of the 13-mile one-way drive through the park on Wednesday. It was amazingly busy – lots of cars and lots of families. We’ve been seeing school-aged kids since we hit the road three weeks ago. When do these kids go to school? Anyway, Red Rock Canyon is pretty spectacular. Its claim to fame is that one type of boring gray rock thrust itself up and over younger red, gold and white rock. (Or maybe vice versa.) So 2,000-feet high mountains encircle the canyon and multiple canyons lead into the hills. From 20 miles distance, you can clearly see gigantic red stripes running horizontally across the face of some of the mountains. Others are jumbles of white and golden rock. And then there’s the cross-hatched rock of Calico Hills.

So we picked a couple of hikes and did them. Our first choice wasn’t so special. We hiked up to an overlook of Turtlehead Peak (Yes, from some angles it does look like a turtle head.). The trail just kind of petered out at an overlook that wasn’t that great. We did another hike that was great into Pine Creek Canyon. Pine Creek is a small stream that has two branches running upcanyon on either side of Mescalito, a high huge rock formation that climbers attack like ants. The boulders falling from the surrounding mountains are of every color and composition. Many of the boulders have a condition we haven’t seen before: they are spotted with round rust spots, like measles.

The next morning we got up before dawn to photograph the mountains, but dawn occurred before we got to our chosen spot. Oh well. We started off on our hike at 7:30 and the air was cool and pleasant. We hiked up a rocky trail to La Madre Springs – a pleasant little pool. On the way down, we ambled over to look at a house foundation and found the floor covered with thin slices of multi-colored stone that were cemented into the floor in a strange way. They looked like those footprint charts showing you how to perform dance steps. We went part of the way on another trail and ate an early lunch on a saddle between two valleys. We finished the 7-mile hike and were back at the campground by noon. The afternoon was desultory and sybaritic; we drank Mojitos and ate potato chips, followed by barbecued t-bone steaks, potatoes and broccoli. Yum!

Today we got up pre-dawn again and after attempting to capture the rosy light of dawn, we revisited Pine Creek Canyon. Once again, we enjoyed ourselves, going further up the canyon and following the creek a little ways. On the way down, at 7 a.m. we noticed little white flowers we hadn’t seen before. We looked for them as we returned, around 10:30, and found that they had almost completely closed up; their protection against the sun. So the time of day has a big impact on what wildflowers you see.

After an early dinner, we went into the park a final time for sunset. The light was beautiful on the hills, but it is difficult to photograph massive rock formations. We wandered around a few spots and watched a group of people on a photographic outing. About 8 of them were photographing. We joked about going up to them and asking “What are you photographing?” as is often done to us.  It seems some people can’t understand why someone will make images of rocks and other inanimate objects. (Inanimate objects are easier to photograph because they don’t move.) Finally, the light slipped away and we went back to camp. The final thing we saw just outside the park were two wild burros, hightailing it right by the side of the highway.

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We had our adventure in Las Vegas. It was exhausting. We reached the casinos around 4 p.m. , checked out the inside of Paris Las Vegas (not too exciting) and started hiking towards the Luxor. Even though it was a fairly cool, sunny afternoon, we were still pretty tired by the time we got down there. The inside, which is one of the largest atriums in the world, was not as astounding as when I first saw it in 1997. We left fairly quickly and started the trek back up to New York New York. We opted out of riding the roller coaster and instead found the America Restaurant at which to eat dinner. It was a good choice; Dave had ribs and I had grilled salmon that had barbecue sauce on it – delicious! By the time we were back on the street, it was deep dusk and the lights were on. The photography was good. The Eiffel Tower, the Bellagio water show, the Chihuly glass chandeliers, all good. By the time we hit Caeser’s Coluseum fountain, we were tired again and found a comfortable cushion-covered bench to sit at and people watch. They have a fair number of homeless people, mostly looking drunk, begging in the street. We saw one guy go up to a homeless person sitting on the sidewalk, bend over and quietly ask “Are you all right, sir?” “NOOOOOO!!” was the reply.

We were getting tired again, but I wanted to see Treasure Island’s Sirens show, so we trundled further up the strip. It got so crowded, we couldn’t get anywhere near the show, so we headed south again to see the Mirage Volcano show. We got there early and waited 20 minutes. As people gathered around us, I felt like the rich people who ran Vegas were putting on a circus for the poor schmucks, giving us a little free spectacle as they parted us and our money via bars, restaurants, shows and gambling. The volcano show was okay, not great. It was 9:15 by then and we were exhausted. We still had to navigate about a half a mile to our car. It was nightmarish. The street was so crowded and as we inched along, the music and ads blaring from speakers outside the casinos were nerve-shattering. We were so happy to get back to our quiet car, and managed to get home without getting stuck on “The Strip”. We won’t do that again, but I liked some of the pictures I got. The things we do for photography.

We headed out fairly early on Friday, hoping we would be able to camp at the Valley of Fire State Park, about 50 miles northeast of Vegas. We got in around 10:30 and the two campgrounds were both full. The Atlatl Campground Host told us about some other places outside the park where we could camp and sent us on our way. We circled around the campground to depart and as we came back to the entrance, a camper came up to the host and said he was about to leave. The host told us to pull over and wait, and just like that, we were in! It’s a great little campground, surrounded by red rock formations on three sides.

A while later, we headed to the Visitor Center, got ourselves a trail map, and headed down the park road. The rocks here are spectacular – red, white and and gray, with a virtual rainbow of stripes running through them every which way. We pulled over to the side of road at one spot and spent about 30 minutes photographing rocks that looked like striped hard candy. Amazing. This park is like an amalgam of Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef and a few more of our favorite parks. We went on a short hike and saw a few hundred petroglyphs along the canyon walls. There are also petrified logs here that we haven’t seen yet. As were hiking, a couple of young kids were behind us talking about Easter, and one said to the other: “Did you know that Jesus rose from the dead?” The little girl replied “Yes. It’s really scary.”

We did a few more short hikes on Saturday. Valley of Fire has a slot canyon, where a very narrow passage leads between high rock walls. The bands of color in the rocks just blows us away. It was hot, so we cut our planned hike short and went to some other sites. Today was Easter Sunday, so we had a leisurely breakfast and just relaxed. Luckily,  the Easter Bunny showed up at the campground, so we each got a piece of Easter candy.

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I finally finagled a trip to Las Vegas. The main purpose was to stock up to see Red Rock Natural Conservation Area and Valley of Fire State Park. But a short bout of windy (up to 55 mph, enough to knock over a truck in town yesterday) and possibly rainy weather has left us sittin’ at the Hitchin’ Post RV Park in northern Las Vegas. We’re scheduled to get new house batteries installed tomorrow; our old ones are 5 years old and have become a little unpredictable when we’re dry camping. So I’ve made a list of the casinos I want to see and we may check it out tomorrow night. The temperature has gone from 82 yesterday to 62 today, so it’s quite comfortable. We’ll try to get in to one of the parks on Friday.

We hit a few more places in Death Valley before we left. Rangers said that the bloom was pretty good in the southern part of Death Valley, near Ashford Mill, so we took the 44-mile ride down to look. There was a lot of Desert Gold on the foothills of the Black Mountains, but not as great as a past trip. There was a lot of the lavender-colored Sand Verbena, which the ranger said was unusual. I found out that Desert Five-Spot likes to grow around Sand Verbena, so saw quite a few of those. I also managed to photograph some blooms that aren’t in our wildflower books.When we got back to camp, we had our big night out: had a drink in the Furnace Creek Saloon, got a takeout pizza and ate it in the comfort of our Lazy Daze.

On Monday, we paid $10.95 to get internet access for 24 hours and caught up with email and online research. It was hot, so we didn’t do much until late afternoon, when we went to Dante’s View, an overlook that is 5,475 feet above Death Valley. There was a lot of particulate matter in the air, but it is still an amazing sight.

On our way to Las Vegas on Tuesday, we stopped at Death Valley Junction, a place we hadn’t been to for many years. It’s a very run down little town, home of the Amargosa Opera House, operated by Marta Becket for more than 40 years. She is 85 now, and no longer dances, but appears every Sunday afternoon anyway to tell stories.

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