Sunday, December 30, 2007

December 2007-- Joshua Tree National Park--Part I

JTNP December 2007, Twentynine Palms Visitors Center

Our family spent the 2007 Christmas holiday at my in-laws in 29 Palms. My husband and I journeyed into nearby Joshua Tree National Park for two days of exploring and hiking, scrambling on boulders, snapping photos. The weather was nippy. At night, lows were in the 20's. Daytime temperatures in the park rose to about 40 degrees. When the wind kicked up, the chill air cut through me. If a storm blew in, there would have been snow.

The skies were an unbelievable blue, the clearest days I've seen in the desert. William and I drove up to Keys View, the highest point in the park at an elevation of 5,400 feet. We could see Palm Springs in the distance, Palm Desert and Indio. Of special beauty was the Salton Sea, usually buried under clouds or haze, Signal Mountain and Mexico beyond. Standing at Keys View, I envisioned being carried away in a strong gust like the red hawks soaring nearby, their wings gracefully outstretched.

Joshua tree forest, Lost Horse Mine turnoff

Allison mingling with a Joshua tree shadow

Split Rock, 20 feet tall

Split Rock area

view of the Salton Sea from Keys View

JTNP April 2005, cactus flower

JTNP April 2005, chuckwalla on rock

April 2005, Old Dale mining district

Santa at a campsite in Hidden Valley

Walking in the park this week, I pondered why I'm so in love with the desert around Joshua Tree. Words that came to me are:

Random: Giant boulders found at the park look like they were scattered randomly. In reality they were pushed up over eons from the earth's core. Walking around the desert, you'll come across things that are truly random--a crossword puzzle speared on a cactus, a piece of tortoiseshell, a set of rusted box springs, an old book. The park is cleaned and maintained more than other spots in the open desert, so you'll find less trash there. The sense of randomness offers a spirit of adventure, never knowing what you might find, what might be over the next ridge or turn in the road.

Dramatic: The desert is nothing if not dramatic. The white sun, blue sky, black mountains, the bursts of life and color found at your feet--an animal or insect, a flower or shadow. In the desert I feel as if I'm standing face to face with God.

On the next post... more words, more thoughts, more adventures...

Friday, December 28, 2007

original sign from the Harmony Motel

In a previous post I mentioned that the band U2 stayed at the Harmony Motel while traveling the Southwestern deserts shooting the album's cover. The popular motel, built in 1952, originally named The Roadside Refuge, is located in Twentynine Palms.

The neat, aesthetically decorated motel attracts artists. Its decor includes original paintings in some of the rooms and sculptures on the grounds. Over the years, several films have been shot there. Reasonably priced, tucked near the mountains that border Joshua Tree National Park, the Harmony Motel is one of the small, pleasant surprises you'll find in the desert.

Here's what the original sign looked like. Not sure what happened to it but I'll check into that. I hear there's a photo of the band in the lobby.

Monday, December 24, 2007

from Jazzy...

Okay, this blog is about the desert, but our cat Jazzy wanted to say a few words...

Do you think they'll find me?

My eyes look like strands of lights...

I wonder what Santa brought...

oh yeah...


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Snow in Joshua Tree National Park

Many people think of the desert as a hot, barren place. The desert has seasons. In springtime cactus flowers bloom after a heavy rain, starting at the lower elevations. By May the blossoms begin to die although there are late-bloomers at higher elevations. Desert flora takes on a browner tone in summer. Heat rises from the pavement in shimmering waves.

In fall, the skies are blue and blustery. Puffy white clouds appear. In winter, the shadows grow longer under the vivid sky. Some years, snow falls in the desert. The whiteness makes the landscape look surreal. It's weird to see a snow-covered Joshua tree. Weirder still to make a desert snowman (isn't that an oxymoron?)

Photos, Christmas 2004: snow in Joshua Tree National Park

Monday, December 17, 2007

U2--the 20th Anniversary re-issue of The Joshua Tree album

Twenty years ago, in 1987, the rock band U2 released the mega-selling album, The Joshua Tree, that includes two of my favorite songs, "Where the Streets have no Name" and "I Still Haven't Found what I'm Looking for."

In the autobiography U2 BY U2, lead guitarist The Edge says that in making The Joshua Tree, the band wanted to create a "cinematic record" in which each song conjured up a physical location, and that the desert and the American Southwestern landscape became recurring lyrical themes. Bono adds, "I wanted something biblical."

During the time The Joshua Tree was being made, the death of stagehand and friend Greg Carroll affected the band members so deeply that his loss added even more emotion to the album, with its haunting guitar riffs, recorded in an old house in the foothills of Ireland's Wicklow Mountains. The album was dedicated to Greg Carroll's memory.

To shoot the album cover, the band traveled with a small crew to Southern California's Mojave Desert. The group drove around for several days and spent the night in motels including the Harmony Motel in Twentynine Palms. They visited Zabriskie Point in Death Valley and drove up to Bodie, a ghost town near Mono Lake in northern California.

As the band and crew toured the desert landscape, they all wondered what the funny, prehistoric cactus they saw everywhere were. Intrigued by the name--the Joshua tree--Bono decided to photograph the plants. The album's cover shows band members Bono, The Edge, bass player Adam Clayton, and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. in the Mojave Desert posing with a Joshua tree. Rumor has it that the band did not want to photograph a Joshua tree in the national park to protect the area from fans who in their enthusiasm might damage the surrounding terrain.

The Joshua Tree was released on March 9, 1987 and within a week climbed to number one on music charts worldwide. The album put U2 on the cover of Time magazine, was named Album of the Year at the Grammys, became a number one album and produced two number one singles in the U.S. charts. The band toured for two years following The Joshua Tree. U2 remember the period as a dizzying time in reaction to the public's unexpected and overwhelming response to their new work.

This year, to commemorate the album's 20th anniversary, U2 released the remastered The Joshua Tree 2007 that includes bonus materials such as a live concert DVD shot in Paris in 1987 and unseen photography from Anton Corbijn, who shot the album's original cover.

Besides making amazing music, U2 has raised the profile of the desert icon, the Joshua tree. For more information about the new release, or to find out more about the band check out

desert trivia: the Joshua tree is said to have been named by Mormon pioneers who, when they first encountered the gangly yucca, thought it looked like the prophet Joshua leading the way to the Promised Land

(photos: from The Joshua Tree; U2 BY U2
Harmony Motel, 2006 (missing two musical notes from the sign)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Minerva Hamilton Hoyt--the founding of Joshua Tree National Park

At the turn of the 20th Century, following the Gold Rush of 1848, population growth in Southern California exploded. Railroad lines expanded, linking the West Coast to the East. The lure of cheap land and warm weather drew thousands. In 1914, the opening of the Panama Canal made the port of Los Angeles the most heavily trafficked in the area. By 1920, the city's population swelled to one million, and soon doubled.

The local deserts, accessible by car, became a popular destination. This led to a gardening fad in the 1920s: the fascination with "exotic" desert plants. Visitors traveled to the desert and uprooted scores of indigenous plants to take home. By 1930, Devil's Garden, south of Joshua Tree, home to thousands of cacti and yuccas, was picked bare. The area has never recovered. Another popular trend of that time was to set fire to Joshua trees to use as torches to guide drivers motoring at night. While some people delighted in the new found desert fads, others grew concerned.

Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, an avid gardener and Pasadena socialite, had moved from Mississippi to Southern California in the 1890s. After the death of her husband and infant son, the local desert, to which she made frequent trips, provided comfort. Leaving her genteel life behind, she often traveled to the desert by wagon or horse.

Minerva Hamilton Hoyt did many things to raise the profile and the plight of the local desert. In 1927 she designed a desert conservation exhibit for the Garden Club at America's flower show in New York City. After, she headed the newly formed Desert Conservation League in Los Angeles. Several times she approached the National Park Service requesting that the area south of 29 Palms become a federal park. By that time the Depression had hit the nation hard, and President Hoover showed little interest.

In 1932 President Franklin Roosevelt took office. To create jobs under the New Deal, he decided to support Mrs. Hoyt's crusade, and set aside 825,000 acres of desert land. In 1936, Roosevelt signed a proclamation that established Joshua Tree National Monument. The remaining challenge was the 8,000 privately owned mining claims that lay scattered over the Monument. Over the next three decades, most of the mines became abandoned and were reclaimed by the government. In 1950, to satisfy mining interests, 280,000 acres were returned to the public domain.

Congress passed the Wilderness Protection Act in 1964. Then, on October 31, 1994, President Clinton signed the Desert Protection Act, which transferred three million acres of land to the National Park Service. 234,000 of those acres were added to the Monument, creating Joshua Tree National Park. Finally, the fruits of Mrs. Hoyt's labor were seen. Because of her efforts, Minerva Hamilton Hoyt has been named Apostle of the Cactus.

desert trivia: According the National Park Service, the current size of Joshua Tree National Park is 794,000 acres. Over 1.2 million visitors travel to the park each year.

(photo, 2007: mural of Minerva Hamilton Hoyt at the Joshua Tree National Park Visitors Center in 29 Palms)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

random shots--29 Palms

These photos were taken in Twentynine Palms on Thanksgiving Day 2007. From the top: a cholla cactus in the Joshua Tree National Park Visitors Center cactus garden; signs on the Twentynine Palms Highway (Highway 62) welcoming Marines home for the holiday; a sculpture at the Visitor's Center; a message on the side of an empty building.

Desert trivia: the Marine Corps Air/Ground Combat Center in 29 Palms is the largest in the world in terms of land mass--about the size of Rhode Island.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Monday, June 14, 1948--Greetings from Arizona

When my husband William is out or about, or when we travel, he likes to collect things. Over the years, he's picked up stacks of old colorized photos and postcards of the national parks. The top photo, dated Monday, June 14, 1948, is the inside flap of an envelope full of postcards. The middle and bottom photos are the front and back of the packet.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

My desert bookshelf

People typically have one of two reactions to the desert: they hate it or love it. I've heard comments like:
"It's too hot!"
"The weather dries out my skin."
"There's nothing but cactus."
"The desert's a pit stop on the way to Vegas."

Those who love the desert enjoy the vastness, the quiet, and serenity. Their eyes light up. They say things like:

"It's peaceful in the desert."
"The sky is such a beautiful blue."
"The clouds. I love the clouds."
"There are so many stars at night. You can't see them in the city."

The desert is about extremes--summer heat and winter freezes. Austerity and abundance. The desert inspires and intimidates. You want to go on a walk but you'd better get your bearings (easy to do in Joshua Tree National Park where trails are marked). Wear sturdy shoes and carry lots of water. I only needed to brush against a cholla cactus once to stay away. The fine white needles stuck all over the knees of my jeans and I had to use a pair of tweezers to remove them from my skin.

There are many wonderful books--written by desert-lovers--about our Southern California deserts. On my bookshelf are some favorites. While spending the night at Roughley Manor, I glanced through The Desert was Home. The novel's author, Elizabeth Crozier Campbell, founded the bed & breakfast inn, originally a homestead property, with her husband Bill. The Desert was Home is out of print and hard to find, by now a collector's item with a price tag of about $100 dollars.

My shelf of desert books is growing larger by the year...

Does anyone else have a favorite desert read?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Roughley Manor

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, while visiting my in-laws in Twentynine Palms, my husband, daughter, and I spent a night at Roughley Manor, a charming bed and breakfast inn located on the east end of town near the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park.

Roughley Manor is a former homestead site founded in 1924 by Bill and Elizabeth Campbell. The original three-story house, made of native stone, is the Manor's central building with two upstairs suites, a small office, kitchen, and beautiful great room where meals are served. Lodgings include seven unique buildings, five of which are cottages.

The Campbells moved to this part of the Southern California high desert as did many World War I veterans of the time. Suffering mustard gas poisoning, Bill Campbell found a cure in the clean, dry air. While living at Campbell Ranch, the couple mined many archeological sites in the area. They teamed with the Southwest Museum of Los Angeles, logging thousands of artifacts unearthed in an area which includes the 7,500-year-old Pinto Basin located in what is now Joshua Tree National Park. At one time, the Campbells exhibited their finds in a small stone house on the property, The Museum Room, now a guest quarter. In 29 Palms,on the side of a building you'll find a mural of the Campbells, part of the city's "Oasis of Murals."

Following the Campbells, composer Allie Wrubel purchased the ranch. Wrubel wrote "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah," "The Lady from Twentynine Palms," and composed the soundtrack to "Gone with the Wind," "A Farewell to Arms," and many other films.

Since 1994, Jan and Gary Peters have been the innkeepers of Roughley Manor. Jan bakes delicious desserts served evenings in the great room, among them a banana cream pie that rates in my top 5 desserts. Breakfast was equally delicious, fat slabs of blueberry french toast with blueberry and lemon topping. Our family stayed in the newly remodeled Cholla Room, with couches, a kitchenette, and comfy beds, one of three guest rooms that were once part of a barn. The property is fronted by a line of enormous palms, and dotted with over one hundred rose bushes. A family of great horned owls live in the giant athol tree in the courtyard. They were out in the daytime, peering down at us.

Located at the edge of town, Roughley Manor overlooks Wonder Valley, the open desert east of Twentynine Palms, and the mountains bordering Joshua Tree National Park. During our visit the weather was gorgeous--70 degrees, clear, windless skies. At nighttime the Manor was quiet and serene. William and I watched the sun rise Thursday morning from our window. We went on a hike and I collected rocks for my desert garden at home. We returned to hot coffee and breakfast in the dining room prepared by Jan, served by Gary. A perfect way to start Thanksgiving... lots to be thankful for.

Photos, 2007: Roughley Manor entrance, The Museum Room, palms, the main house, original water tower, my desert shadow, collecting rocks (a hobby), breakfast in the great room

Monday, November 26, 2007

Desert critters

Before I started exploring and hiking in the desert--specifically in Joshua Tree National Park--I had no idea how many animals, insects, and birds lived there. From a distance, driving by in a car, wildlife is not easily seen. Desert animals are camouflaged and blend into the sandy terrain. Anyone remember what your mom used to tell you before you crossed the street? The trick to viewing desert birds or animals is to stop and look both ways. I'd add in, to listen.

Sometimes out hiking, you''ll startle a covey of quail or a jackrabbit hunkering behind a creosote bush. A hawk or golden eagle soaring overhead might track you. Occasionally when we're walking along a deserted road, we'll see vultures. William always jokes, "Don't sit down too long or they'll think we're dying and swoop on us." Once, tired after a long hike in the sun, we both spread out flat across a boulder to rest. A pair of turkey vultures circled for a closer look and then flew off.

Most of the time though, if you're walking along a road or trail, stop. You'll notice the sharp scent of mesquite and creosote. You'll hear the wind rustle. Maybe a bird call. Slowly, the critters, predators and prey, will start to creep, run, scurry past. If you sit long enough you'll see more movement than you might have imagined--a stinkbug waddling along, roadrunner speeding by, a coyote skulking for a meal.

Unfortunately, due to the encroachment of man, animal species that inhabit our Southwestern deserts have become endangered. Bighorn sheep, majestic creatures that can grow to be 250 pounds, used to number over one million. The Joshua Tree National Park population is now around 250. Bighorns are shy animals and usually prefer to gather on rocky cliffs. Sadly, a number of Bighorns are killed each year when they wander onto the highway in the Coachella Valley and other desert areas and are hit by cars. In many dozens of trips to the desert I've never seen a Bighorn, but I'm still hoping.

The desert tortoise is listed both on the California and Federal Endangered Species list. Adult tortoises weigh 10-15 pounds, and can live up to 100 years. When two male tortoises meet, they'll sometimes try to flip the other one over. An opponent left helpless on his back will often die of exposure or suffocation. Tortoises spend most of their time underground and stay within a few miles of where they're born. Tortoise populations are declining in the desert due to the road kill factor, habitat loss, and exposure to diseases from pet turtles released in the desert. I've never seen a desert tortoise in the wild but have found pieces of their shells.

Photos taken at Joshua Tree National Park: a sidewinder, a jackrabbit (whose outline can be seen at the far right of the image), snakeskins, a chuckwalla, a tarantula

Photo taken at Grand Canyon National Park, 2005: a raven

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Random desert shots

On this blog, every so often I'll include a random photo taken somewhere in the Southwestern U.S. deserts. By random I mean odd or perhaps out of place. Something that looks like it doesn't fit; you wonder how it got there, or why. Or maybe its oddness fits perfectly.

In the desert, unlike in other populated, "civilized" communities, you'll find a higher degree of randomness. You'll be driving along the I-40 to Needles, or on Highway 62 east of Twentynine Palms, and there will be a building, sign, or object by the side of the road, or in the distance, that looks like it was dropped from the sky. Part of why I love the desert. Besides its vastness and stark beauty, there's a sense of adventure, of stumbling upon the strange and unknown.

When driving on a desert road, I muse about earlier travelers, whether they decided to stop at a certain spot and plant themselves and then one day suddenly left. People dump stuff in the desert. You see all kinds of junk. People do things in the desert they wouldn't do in the city because it's big. No one can eavesdrop or see.

There are spaces in the desert... long gaps in time and miles before you come across a town or another car. In the desert there's a sense of freedom and at the same time engulfment, as if that big sky might close in. The desert can be frightening or a comfort. Maybe it reflects what's in our hearts.

April, 2005: my husband William took this photo in Shoshone, California, of a store boasting a UFO Expo. The shop was closed that day so we couldn't go in. Shoshone is a little gateway town at the southeastern entrance to Death Valley National Park. My family and I traveled to Death Valley after a 100-year rainfall in the park a month before. We drove out to see the record number of wildflowers, whose seeds lie dormant for many decades. The abundance of flowers was unbelievable, considering the climate of Death Valley (more on that later...)