Saturday, September 16, 2006

A 3 Hour Tour...

The Desert Tour: A One Act Event

Scene I: The Hummer

Imagine a dusty Hummer, originally bright shiny yellow. Now knock the doors off and replace the roof by a canvas sheet just over the roll bars. Add rock-sized dents and take it out into the hot, hot desert driven by a chatty local named Jeff who can name each hill's tetonic plate and says "we come in peace, it's all good" to appease strangers holding loaded center-fire rifles.

The Hummer holds 10 scared tourists easily, but we were only 5 and had plenty of room to be extra scared. Seatbelts were required as doors were not. Later, MM's brother revealed his seatbelt was Missing In Action. He was sitting safely next to MM, buckled in, and then made the dubious tradeoff of a better topside view for no seatbelt. At one point he was hanging onto the canvas top and started feeling grommets popping off, one by one! He was laughing as he told us, so I'm not sure it's as dire as it sounds :)

The tour started with driving out of Palm Desert on Thousand Palms Canyon Road, a long straight flat road that took us through creosote bush, sagebrush, and dried grasses. And a lot of sand. As we drove, Jeff pointed out the mountain straight ahead. The gray mountains in the back are some of the oldest on the planet, while the sand-colored range in front are some of the youngest. Between them is the San Andreas Fault. We stopped for a while at the 29,000 acre Coachella Canyon Preserve with an oasis right on the San Andreas Fault. Apparently the action of the 5 mile deep Pacific Plate grinding away at the 50 mile deep American Plate makes the rock at the edges porous. Since the desert is sitting on the 10th largest aquafer on the planet, the porous rock draws the water to the surface.

An Oasis in our Path

The oasis was choked with enormous indigenous palm trees, shaggy with dried fronds. Some were straight and tall, others leaning, still others felled completely and rotting in the shallow water. Swimming in the water were small guppy-like fish with teeth. Jeff took all our cameras and had us stand on a bridge which spans the fault and then took our group shot picture. As you can see, the environment was pretty SPOOKY with all those huge trees! After the ritual picture-taking, we clamored back up into the hummer, via a stool, to drive down Dillon Road to the Berdoo Canyon turnoff. What a great ride! Dillon Road cuts across all the runoff gullies from rainwater erosion and it was like riding a roller coaster up and down. Wheeeeeeeee!

Scene II: Berdoo Canyon

Ten miles down the road we hooked a left onto the Berdoo Canyon turnoff (can't really call it a road, or even a track). We were now driving on a dry riverbed, rocks, boulders, and scree. The hummer bumped along past some locals who were getting ready to do some target shooting, climbed a 12" hump where the scree road met a dilapidated paved single track, on into the canyon. Such beauty! We still had some daylight and the landscape was washed to a pale sand color all around with sagebrush, creasote bush, cat claw acacia, lavender, teddy bear joya cactus, mesquite, and a whole bunch more I can't remember. Huge boulders were everywhere. Along the drive Jeff mentioned the ways local Indians used some of these plants in their daily lives:
  • mesquite: used for food; the sap crumbled for a perfume
  • native palm trees: used the dried fronds for thatching their homes; ate the fruit berries
  • teddy bear joya cactus: ground the roots into a paste and used it as an antibiotic ointment
  • creosote bush: used the creosote to line their baskets. When it was cured, they could actually carry boiling water in them.
  • cat claw acacia: they used it as a black hair dye - an Indian version of "Miss Clairol".
  • There were others, but I didn't have enough available neurons left to remember them!
Scene III: Wildlife Sighting

OK, enough mental wandering. Back to the tour... So there we were, admiring the high ridges, taking in the flora, etc. Jeff casually mentioned he had seen a male big horned sheep that morning. A nice robust, healthy male. He was concerned about the animal because he hadn't seen it's harem, and usually at the lower levels, the animals tend to be scrawny. Jeff thought it might be stalked or hunted by a bobcat (bobcat?!? Now he tells us we need to watch for carnivorous toothy things!)

Suddenly, he shouted "THERE HE IS!" He turned the hummer around and drove really fast back the way we came, scanning the ridge for the beast. (Of course, I thought he should have been watching the track for those pesky rocks and other things to avoid.) He stopped the truck and got out to walk behind the last ridge the sheep was spotted, poking a walking stick into bushes and piles of gravel (for hidden rattlers)We stood and watched. Then, HOT DAMN! There they were! Two female Big Horn sheep, scampering up the mountain and finally over the ridge. No sign of the male, but we were pretty excited to see the others. Jeff said it had been 100 tours since he had the last sighting of any sheep. What a treat.

Scene IV: Desert Sunset

Back to the hummer to drive past a decommissioned presidential bunker big enough to house 92 people, food for two weeks, tanks, hummers, and army equipment. It was installed at the beginning of the Cold War, and filled in with concrete, buildings torn down, etc in 1988 when the Berlin Wall fell.

We drove to the top over broken pavement and scree to take some beautiful pictures of the sunset over the Little San Bernadino Mountains. In the fading light, the desert took on a beautiful soft quality full of color. What a difference from the daylight landscape! The mountains in the distance were rosy pink from the sunset with gray and blue ranges behind. Around us, the walls of the canyon showed pink areas of rock with gray and black features, shadows washed purple over the riverbed. Time to head back home. Suddenly the light was gone and everything around us was BLACK! I mean, we could see a whole lot of nuthin' - no way to see without the hummer's headlights, top spots, and sometimes even the interior light. Jeff seemed to know where he was going, but to me, the rocks we had driven over on our way into the canyon loomed large in our headlights.

Epilogue: Singing for our Supper?

We got home safe and sound at 8 PM, and we were a mess: hair windblown, filthy from dust, and super SWEATY. Ugh! We were also super hungry. So, we went to the only restaurant we thought would take us in that condition. It was an Italian restaurant with a big sign out front proclaiming "KARAOKE!" Now normally, I'd see that and run the other way, but I was with 4 other people who were also hungry. So I thought, "what the hey" and in we went. We had a nice dinner fortified with really big mugs of beer. Then the karaoke started. It wasn't as bad as I thought. For the most part people were really pretty good. A couple of guys sang some country songs and people were dancing the two-step and Cowboy Cha Cha around the room. Then Paula and Jane started singing and they were great. What fun - I think this was the best day of the vacation.

That's it for this trip. I finally got to see a desert - something I have looked forward to all my life. And I loved it.

Shibori Girl

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Family tripping

It's been quite a while since my last post, so there is a lot of catching up to do! I can't believe I haven't written anything since Marbleman's (really dry) follow-up to the vacuum. [Marble Man says it was done on request.]
Marble Man and I are here in Sunny Southern California for a mid-September family wedding. (We'll post the photos in a later entry.) Our family needs no urging to gather for a party, so the exodus from Philadelphia, Boston, and North Carolina commenced. We flew into Palm Desert. Man is it HOT! *mops her sweaty brow* My sister-in-law, Paula, and I went to a flea market to seek out her favorite bead vendor. We both made the woman's day by handing over a heavy sack of cash for some very nice shiny and sparkly things. When we get home, we'll make some gawgeous jewelry.

After the flea market, we headed to LA where the wedding would be held. On the way, we drove past what must be thousands of windmills. Seeing them all lined up, churning away, it looked very otherworldy. Two hours later we were in LA. Ahh, much cooler, but what's with all that smog? I know there are mountains on the horizon, but where? We had a lovely lunch at the LA County Museum of Art and afterwards toured the art glass exhibit there with Paula. Wow. I was so surprised at what attracted me. I thought I'd go for the delicate twiddly pieces, but no. I went straight for the BIG (I mean MASSIVE) sculptures. They really spoke to me. Now, I just need to find a nice big house to hold them all :) AND ditch Marble Man for a millionaire to buy them for me! (Just kidding, MM) [Marble Man says "get a job!"]

We drove down Wilshire Blvd to Santa Monica and saw lots of sights along the way (Rodeo Drive is pretty posh!) Wow, it's even cooler here - about 70 degrees. Now, where is that jacket? We spent two fun-filled nights in Santa Monica at a high class joint, Le Merigot, right on the ocean, 2 blocks from the pier. I have never in my life been so pampered. We had the softest sheets and duvet. Oh, I didn't want to get up! (Just five more minutes, puh-leeze? This cloud is so fluffy.) The bathroom was fit for a king and queen. Beautiful rust colored marble, a lighted magnifying make-up mirror, a little mirrored shelf next to the tub with a votive candle on it, and on the edge of the tub, on top of the bath mat: a goldfish squeaky toy for the bath!!! How much fun is that? It was exquisite. The first night, a few of us walked down to the Santa Monica Pier to people-watch and ride the ferris wheel. LOTS of fun. There is nothing like getting stopped at the top and looking down to see nothing but ocean rollers coming in. (Marble Man screams like a girl: OHMIGOD We're all going to DIE! HELP!)

The next day was sunny and beautiful, and it was time for the wedding. All decked out, (and looking quite fab, I must say), we headed up to Northridge to the wedding site. What a nice wedding! Marble Man's cousin married a very sweet, beautiful young woman with a gracious family. The ceremony was outside the clubhouse of a country club, right next to the sand trap. While the rabbi kept us all very entertained, people were zinging past in golf carts, and I was thinking, what do we all do if some guy shouts "FORE"? Do we all hit the deck and hope the ball hits the person next to you? Body armor does not go with my outfit. Luckily we didn't have to find out. (Shibori Girl & Marble Man pictured at right)

The reception was raucous and highly entertaining. We sat with the rest of MM's family AND the very same entertaining rabbi and his wife. The guy was a laugh riot. He kept us in stitches right up until the cake cutting, and then he and his wife cut out. After a luscious meal, we danced our little tuschies off and partied right up to when the DJ packed up. We left knowing that we had gained a new and loving branch of the family who made us feel welcome.

After the wedding, we drove back to Santa Monica and walked the 3rd Street Promenade, watched street jugglers and break dancers and gawked at storefronts. We had the BEST hamburgers for dinner (loaded with fresh avocado, onions, and tomatoes). I bit into mine and felt like I had just had a religious experience. My taste buds were singing.

Another blissful night in that gorgeous hotel, and it's time to pack up and head down to Laguna to visit more family. Many reminiscences later, we went to Laguna Beach and strolled the boardwalk. Marble Man's parents decided to sit there and people-watch some more while the rest of us wandered some shops. What a nice town - not many chain stores, lots of personality. We ate a delicious dinner and piled back into the car to drive back to Palm Desert for the rest of our vacation.

Today the temperature is supposed to be 108 degrees. That's just inhuman. (Don't tell me "but it's a dry heat"; hot is just plain hot!) Marble Man and Paula are out playing tennis as I write this. Better them than me. Oh, they just staggered in the door, slightly red in the face. They CLAIM it wasn't too bad, but I don't believe it... Oops, Marble Man just exploded.

The rest of this day is devoted to recovering from the pace of the trip so far *pant, pant* We spent a good part of the day at the swimming pool. Nice breeze, palm trees, mountains in the background, and lovely cool water in the pool. I took off my flip flops by my chair and duck-walked over to the side of the pool. Those paving stones around the pool were SUPER HOT!! I think I might have seared my feet to the medium-rare stage. One experience was all the learning curve I needed. After that, I wore my shoes to the side of the pool stairs and left them there for the return trip to my chair. Later in the afternoon, I felt both eyes burning ("like, they were on fire, man!") and my lids were swelling shut. Oh good, that was the look I was going for (not). Turns out I'm allergic to the sunscreen we chose. I've almost recovered now that I sat with an ice pack on my eyes for an hour. Tomorrow, I wear a BIG hat to cover up - no more sunscreen.

Wednesday evening we took a 3 hour open-air hummer tour of the outlying desert. Way cool.
We were picked up at the hotel by our tourguide "Jeff" in a bright yellow hummer that looked like it had driven over a few rocks in it's day. No doors, just an open framework with a canvas top for shade. Thank GOD for seat belts! We learned so much on this tour that it will have to be a post all on it's own. Stay tuned...

Thursday we pack up and flapped our wings back home. I love traveling, but there is nothing like sleeping in your own bed after being away, if only I would GET sleepy. How is it possible that while in California I was on EST, and once I get home, I'm suddenly on PST? It's Midnight here and my bod tells me it's only 9AM and time to go party!

All in all, I love California. Lots of different ecosystems, lots of beauty, (some not so beautiful). I have many mental images to help spur some more creativity into new work.