Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Day 17 - Contrasts

Out at first light, walking the resort for over an hour and determined to find a road runner for a photo shoot.  We ALWAYS see road runners here in the mornings, but thus far, none.  Maybe Wednesday will be the day.  (Or is it Thursday….keep getting the days mixed up.)

Mona, Monte & Aleta at JCs
We decided to start our day at JC’s Patio Café on El Paseo in Palm Desert.  Not only is JC’s a tradition for us, this little café seems to be a tradition for many other tourists, locals and celebrities.  The walls are lined with photos and autographs from big name stars and politicians.  We’ve never seen any of them, we just come for the breakfasts…My (Marvin) favorite is the Machaca Scramble, eggs scrambled with beef with a picante sauce on top, served with fresh sliced tomatoes and wheat toast.  Yum!

Piece of Art on El Paseo
Titled Ascension - Can you tell why?
As I said, JC’s is on El Paseo, The Rodeo Drive of the Desert.  The valley is a premier destination for many L.A. bigwigs, stars, producers, writers, you name it.  Of course, they wouldn’t dream of roughing it in the desert without their Coach, Versace, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, etc.  Many of these places have valet parking for their clientele; wouldn’t want to scratch one’s Maserati or Rolls while parking it next to our ’99 Intrigue! 

The street is about a mile long and is lined on both sides with high end shops, restaurants and art galleries.  Elderly highly-tanned and tight-skinned ladies drive bright yellow shuttle bugs to help you accelerate your shopping experience.  The street itself is gorgeous with palms on both sides and a well-manicured center median with works of art on every block. 

El Paseo Storefront
Over the years, we have spent many an hour walking this street end to end gathering packages from here, from there, from seemingly every shop on the street…until finally they can shop no more.  We don’t mind…seems like every other shop pushes a glass of wine, or maybe a cookie, into your hand as you walk in.  Not to mention the beauty of the street and all the Art that is about you.

More Street Art
There are about 50 pieces
along El Paseo
But, this year is different.  No shopping.  None.  Nada.  Zip.  Monte and I are dumbfounded.  (Not really sure what that word means….does that mean we were found to be dumb?  Don't answer.)  Anyway, off of El Paseo we go and on to Joshua Tree.

To get to Joshua Tree National Park you go twenty five miles east of Palm Desert and turn north.  First sign you see says, “47 miles to next services.”  We check our gas and head northward on a two lane blacktop road with very soft sandy shoulders.  El Paseo this is not!

This small park, about 550,000 acres spans two desert ecosystems, the Colorado Desert (which is an extension of the Sonoran Desert) and the Mojave Desert.  Each desert has its own flora and fauna and it’s very interesting to move from one to the other in a matter of hours.

Chuparosa in bloom
We enter the park while in the Colorado desert, the low desert.  The is the desert that we’ve been living in for the past two weeks.  Lots of creosote bushes, ocotillo cactus, and many types of yucca and agave.  We’re in luck as many of the plants are in bloom, something we haven’t seen before.  This is truly beautiful and exciting and we try to get good pictures of each species.  Note: we do this while treading carefully; there are six species of rattlesnakes in this park, including two types of sidewinders.  We’d love to see one, but at camera 3x distance…instead of short stick distance like last time!

Blooming Ocotillo
Ocotillo Bloom
Along this drive we come to a wash that is seemingly filled with blooming ocotillos.  These 30 foot beauties have long spinney stems topped off with red plumes.  What can top this?  That question was soon answered as we drove into the Cholla Cactus Garden.  This area is filled with Teddy Bear/Jumping Cholla.  They call them Teddy Bear Cholla because their golden spines appear fuzzy and huggable.  They call them Jumping Cholla because those same “huggable” spines seem to leap onto your skin and clothing and are quite painful because they are barbed.

Blooming Teddy Bear Cholla
See the blooms?
LOTS of Cholla!
We wander through the garden being very very careful not to brush up against these beauties.  We learn that this area happens to be the perfect ecosystem for these plants and they have taken over these many acres for hundreds if not thousands of years.  Many animals, other than humans, find these cacti to be very hospitable and make their homes here, most notably the Cactus Wren.  Unfortunately, none of these animals was willing to have their picture taken.

40' Joshua Tree - About 800 years old
Onward and upward we go…we’re climbing into the San Bernadine Mountains and as we approach the 4000 foot elevation we see very noticeable changes in the plants.  Very few cholla now, no ocotillo….and soon we see the emergence of the Joshua Tree plants…namesake of the park.

Another Joshua Tree
Budding Joshua Tree
How to describe a Joshua Tree…hmmm, let’s start with tall.  These giants of the Mojave Desert rival their Sonoran cousins, the saguaro, for height…reaching heights of 40 feet or more.  Considering that these plants grow at a ½ inch a year that means that these giants are about 800 years old.  Okay…we’ve got tall as a descriptor…should we next say graceful?  There are indeed some graceful and majestic Joshua Trees to be seen.  But wait, look at that one…I think it came from my last nightmare!   I guess the best way to describe these plants is to say that they are large agaves, growing to over 40 feet, with dagger-like spines and usually topped with bunches of green daggers.  There are thousands upon thousands of these giants throughout the Mojave and they make this desert like no other in the world.

Rocks, have I mentioned rocks?  This park has rock piles which look like building block toys of giants.  Some of the rocks are a few feet high, and some are hundreds of feet and people come from all over the world to climb them.  No climbers today in these 25 mph winds!  These amazing piles of rock were formed by volcanic granite, pushed up from the magma close to the earth’s surface.  Wind and rain wore away the surrounding earth and exposed these multicolored rocks for us to see. 
House Rock
After a few hours it’s time to leave Joshua Tree.  We exit the park on the north side of the San Bernardino Mountains at 29 Palms.  As we descend we begin to be buffeted by high winds.  The weather forecast was for dangerously high winds and the forecast was spot on.  Sustained winds at 37 mph with gusts up to 55 mph.  We now have to drive all the way around the western end of the San Bernardinos, cross the San Andreas fault and re-enter the Coachella Valley from the west through the San Gorgonio Pass.  Normally, this is a nice little 40 mile drive, but the high winds make it a challenge, which luckily, Monte is up to.

Sand is blowing and drifting like snow in a midwester blizzard.  People are running to get from their cars to their doors.  We catch a glimpse of Pooh Bear, tumbling along like the tumbling tumbleweed.  We come into Palm Desert with a 50 mph tailwind.  Great gas mileage, but not a good day for the cookout we had planned.  We head to Morton’s for dinner…stopping a bit for geocaching along the way.  Busy day and we hadn’t geocached until now.  Gotta keep that streak going!

We sat at the bar at Morton’s and shared appetizers and wind stories.  Great way to end the day!

A couple more pics.  These tiny desert clovers are only about three inches tall and I couldn't get a picture to do them justice without laying down...and umm, well, you know, that wasn't going to happen!

I love Cholla, but as Bette Midler sings,
"From a distance!"
Big Rocks, Rock!


  1. Great pictures once again. Thanks so much for sharing your vacation.

  2. Cool that you got to see plants blooming. I like the cholla too.