Thursday, January 31, 2008

Windmills in Palm Springs

Driving the Interstate-10 Highway that passes by Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, you can't miss the desert windmills. The wind turbines, a renewable energy source, numbering over 4,000, were strategically placed in wind farms in the San Gorgonio pass, one of the windiest spots in the country. Wind is created there when cool ocean breezes mix with hot desert air.

The largest wind turbines are 150 feet tall. The blades are half the length of a football field. One turbine can produce up to 300 kilowatts an hour, the amount of electricity used by a typical household in a month. Electricity produced by the wind turbines in the San Gorgonio Pass is enough to power Palm Springs and the entire Coachella Valley. The windmills were featured in a scene from the film, Rain Man.

A few years back, while researching my novel, The Way Home, I took a guided tour of a wind farm. I was fascinated to see how the windmills work and what goes into running a wind farm. You don't realize how big the turbines are until you see them up close. Here's the link to the windmill tour I visited:

Local residents love or hate the windmills, thinking that they're a useful source of green energy or a blight on the landscape. What do you think?

desert trivia: people who repair the desert windmills are called windsmiths. The term intrigued me so I made Rex Barnett, a character from my novel, The Way Home, a windsmith

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Interview with Curt Sauer--Part II

In Part I of our interview, I talked with Curt Sauer, superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park, about how he came to work here, what his job is like, and favorite visitors' sites. Check it out if you missed it.

Allison: Curt, what do you take pride in at Joshua Tree National Park?

Curt: That people love Joshua Tree National Park. Old-timers still call it The Monument (the park was a National Monument until ...). That's an amazing statement for a superintendent to be able to make.

Allison: Talk about the Centennial Act.

Curt: To prepare for the National Park Service's 100th annivesary in 2016, Congress recently passed the Centennial Act, the first of ten years of additional funding, with a $100 million base this year alone--over and above a cost-of-living increase--for the national parks. This will enable us at Joshua Tree to double our volunteer staff by 2009 and hire 14 additonal employees for six months to work in the areas of interpretation, ranger patrols, and maintenance. Maintenance is crucial to help preserve the park.

Allison: What are your concerns regarding Joshua Tree National Park?

Curt: I'm concerned that Joshua Tree National Park park will become an island surrounded by human development and walled communities, with population growth specifically increasing outside the north and south park boundaries. Wildlife will not be able to migrate and move through those communities. In the next ten years, 100,000 people are expected to move into the Morongo Basin. The coming arrival of a Super-K and a Super-Walmart predicts future growth. The cities of Yucca Valley and 29 Palms would also like to preserve those open spaces.

Allison: What other concerns do you have regarding the park?

Curt: The proposed Eagle Mountain landfill would put garbage in the middle of pristine land. In Paradise Valley, north of the Interstate 10 in Pinkham Canyon, four miles from the park, plans were underway for a community of 30-40,000 people. Feral cats, domestic cats and dogs, and the lights at night in that community would impact the park's insects and owls.

Under Keys View, in the Joshua Hills near Thousand Palms oasis, another development is being planned in a sand migratory pathway, the oasis and habitat of the fringe-toed lizard. In pioneer times, it would take days to make it through the sand dunes from Keys View to Thousand Palms.

By 2017, in Ivanpah, Nevada, when the Ivanpah ValleyAirport is in operation, it will grow larger than Las Vegas's McCarran Airport. According to a state report, an additional 8 million people will move into Southern California from Bakersfield south. They'll need to recreate somewhere. Mountain lion, deer, and bobcat populations will not be able to go into the San Bernardino Mountains, a wildlife corridor.

A DWP Green Path is in the works, which will be a 200 foot tall, 500 kilowatt transmission line that will start east of Highway 62. Gained in part through emiment domain, the line will run through Big Morongo Canyon Preserve and Pioneertown, and feed into Victorville. The term "green" is a misnomer. Only 20% of the energy will come from geothermal solar fields near the Salton Sea and the Imperial Valley. It's the cumulative effect of all these things that will impact Joshua Tree National Park.

Allison: What renovations are taking place in the park in the future?

Curt: We will be using $17 million of federal funds to repair roads to Route 12 and to Keys View Road. By 2011 we'll start to work on improvements on the portion of the park road to Cottonwood.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Patry Francis Day

Today my blog is dedicated to author Patry Francis. Though I don't know Patry personally, both of us belong to Backspace, a great writers organization. Patry's first novel, The Liar's Diary, was released last year by Plume. Patry is the mother of four. She worked as a waitress and wrote in her spare time while writing The Liar's Diary.

Patry was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. She's had surgery and needs time to heal, so she's unable able to promote The Liar's Diary, just released in trade paperback. She also blogs about her illness but with a sense of humor and spirit that encourages.

That's why today, on Patry Francis Day, over 300 bloggers, authors, publishing professionals, and readers are joining together to help promote The Liar's Diary.

Patry Francis is a three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize whose work has appeared in the Tampa Review, Colorado Review, Ontario Review, and the American Poetry Review. She is also the author of two popular blogs.

The Liar's Diary REVIEWS:
"A quirky, well-written and well-constructed mystery with an edge.” —Publishers Weekly

“The new questions and revelations just keep coming…Readers will be heartily rewarded.”
—Ladies’ Home Journal

THE STORY: When new music teacher Ali Mather enters Jeanne Cross’s quiet suburban life, she brings a jolt of energy that Jeanne never expected. Ali has a magnetic personality and looks to match, drawing attention from all quarters. Nonetheless, Jeanne and Ali develop a friendship based on their mutual vulnerabilities.

Jeanne’s secrets are kept to herself; like her son’s poor report card and husband’s lack of interest in their marriage. Ali’s secrets are kept in her diary, which holds the key to something dark: her fear that someone has been entering her house when she is not at home. While their secrets bring Jeanne and Ali together, it is this secret that will drive them apart. Jeanne finds herself torn between her family and her dear friend in order to protect the people she loves.

A chilling tour of troubled minds, THE LIAR’S DIARY questions just how far you’ll go for your family and what dark truths you’d be willing to admit—even to yourself.

Follow this link to to purchase a copy of The Liar's Diary.

In support of Patry Francis and this remarkable blog initiative, Penguin Group USA would like to offer 15% off the paperback edition of The Liar's Diary when purchased online from until 2/15/2008. On the shopping cart page, enter PATRY in the coupon code field and click 'update cart' to activate it.

Visit Patry at her website:

or at her blogs:

Let's support Patry Francis today!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Jet trails--Joshua Tree National Park

When you're visiting the desert, look at the sky and you'll see streaks of white called contrails, or jet trails, many more than you see in the city.

Contrails form when hot humid air from jet exhaust mixes with environmental air made of low pressure and temperature, similar to what happens in cloud formation.

desert trivia: Jetstream, different from jet trails, is a flow of wind that blows horizontally through the upper layers of the troposphere, usually west to east, at an altitude of about seven miles. A jetstream develops where air masses of different temperatures meet. The greater the temperature difference, the faster the wind velocity inside the jet stream, sometimes reaching up to 200 miles per hour. Jetstreams can be hundreds of miles wide, thousands of miles long, and over a mile thick.

photo: Joshua Tree National Park, 2000

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Random desert shot--Roadkill Cafe

In July 2005, on a trip to Sedona and the Grand Canyon, my family and I came across this restaurant in Seligman, Arizona on old Route 66. We used the facilities but did not sit down for a meal...

desert trivia: U.S. Route 66 was established in 1926 as the first of America's numbered highways. Originating in Oklahoma, designed to connect Chicago and Los Angeles, Route 66 stretched over 2,400 miles. During the Dust Bowl of the 1930s it became a primary artery for migrant workers traveling to California. In 1985 Route 66 was decommissioned and replaced by U.S. Interstate highways.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

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

A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.

--Antoine de Saint-Exupery, from Flight to Arras

I love this quote from the author of The Little Prince. In Joshua Tree National Park there are so many things to contemplate--rock piles in the shape of whales, clouds that become horses pulling chariots, swirls of sand that look like miniature Grand Canyons. Much of my fiction is set in the desert... a land of cathedrals and hidden wells.

(JTNP, 2000)

(Rock climbers, Hidden Valley, December 2007)

(Hidden Valley, 2007)

(Skull Rock, Live Oak, 2007)

A final word to describe the desert:

Inspirational: The desert inspires in so many ways. Its vast beauty, serenity, how from a distance the landscape seems barren but on closer inspection is full of life. The way the roadrunner lives in harmony with its environment, how the Joshua tree and the female yucca moth are interdependent for survival. How an oak tree grows in sand and the creosote bush sends down deep roots to survive for a thousand years.

Rock climbers inspire me, their trust in their limbs, ropes, and climbing partners. Mostly their patience as they work their way up a rock.

The big, blue desert sky inspires me. The sun, gentle breezes, rain clouds, and stormy winds.

The rocks inspire me. No two are alike. They cling together in societies of their own, standing against the elements, against the sun and rain and sand. The desert, more than any place, causes me to contemplate.

desert trivia: the female yucca moth has special organs she uses to collect pollen and spread it onto the surface of a Joshua tree flower. Only the seeds produced in pollinated flowers can scatter at enough distance to establish Joshua trees in new areas. In turn, the Joshua tree provides food for the moth's larvae that hatch in the blossom.

Until next time...

Saturday, January 5, 2008

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

In an upcoming series of posts, I'll be featuring an interview with Donna Charpied. She and her husband Laurence are organic jojoba farmers in Desert Center, 75 miles east of Palm Springs. The Charpieds have worked for many years to thwart the construction of a planned landfill at Eagle Mountain in close proximity to Joshua Tree National Park, and are involved in other desert conservation projects.

(photos: Barker Dam, Hidden Valley and vicinity, December 2007)

(photo: JTNP, Split Rock area December 2007)

(photos: JTNP, wildflower bloom April, 2005)

And more words that describe the desert:

“What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.”
--Antoine de Saint-Exupery, from The Little Prince

serene: In the 1800s and early 1900s, grasslands abounded in the local deserts. Cowboys drove cattle through the area that is now Joshua Tree National Park, stopping to water their herds at tanks--small reservoirs of water. Barker Dam, a dammed pond, or tank, built at the turn of the 20th Century by cattleman C.O. Barker and rancher Bill Keys, is located in Hidden Valley at the south edge of the Wonderland of Rocks. A storm passed through the park before we arrived in 29 Palms on Christmas Eve 2007, and rainfall filled Barker Dam. The sight of water was serene, as are many sights and outlooks in the park.

beautiful: Cactus flowers bloom months after a heavy rainfall, when seeds lying dormant for sometimes many years are released. Besides the flowers, there is the vivid desert sky and cloud formations, the vistas, and the night sky. Hidden by city lights, it's easy to forget how many stars are visible at night. In the park, especially at higher elevations, stars can be seen in the thousands. (more on desert astronomy later...)

desert trivia: a desert is an environment where the annual rainfall is measured at 10 inches or less

more desert trivia: Circled by rock formations, Hidden Valley was named when it became the place where the notorious McHaney gang stashed stolen cattle

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

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

JTNP 2007, Skull Rock area

Skull Rock area

Skull Rock

near Skull Rock

William and me

Split Rock area

The desert evokes so many thoughts and emotions. As I visited the park this December, I reflected on more words that describe the desert, and why I love it.

Immense: I tried rock climbing a time or two. It's hard work and a bit scary to be clinging to a cliff side trusting only your hands, feet, belay, and rope. Instead, when at the park, I like to scramble on boulders. It's fun to try to find a way up the side of a rock formation, looking for footholds, making my way up the crack between a pair of rocks, leaping from boulder to boulder, then climbing back down, often sliding on my backside.

After I scramble to the top of a rock formation and look down 20 or 30 feet, my heart pounds, my palms scraped from the pebbly monzogranite stone. I gaze at the azure sky and feel overwhelmed by the surrounding landscape, by the length of the horizon that curves under distant dark mountains. Each time I think, Wow. This is awesome, as if I've just climbed Everest. I never grow tired of that feeling or of looking out at the splendid view and all that beautiful, uncluttered space.

Still: So often in the desert the only sound is of my hiking boots crunching on sand. On a windless day, this still silence fills the air so that at times my thoughts spin in a deafening conversation. It's like in the Woody Allen movie Annie Hall where Alvie Singer jokes that he can't live in the country because it's too quiet. I stop and take a deep breath. Breathe in and out, and remember that soon I'll be back in the city. For me, the desert stillness feels peaceful.

The next post will bring yet more words...

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year 2008

This photo was taken in Death Valley National Park in April, 2005 after a hundred year rainfall that created a lake at Badwater, a salt flat, and produced an unbelievable show of wildflowers (more on this later..) Talk about new life, and new beginnings.

Taking a break from my December 2007 Joshua Tree National Park series of posts to wish you all a very Happy New Year!