Saturday, April 30, 2011

Eureka Peak

I tried to visit Eureka Peak once before, but the road was washed out. A couple days ago my friend Phyllis and I tried again. Good news: the right road is in perfect condition, just graded. Just don't take a wrong turn, like we did! (Go left at the sign for Covington Flats; right at the fork where there's two gates; right at the sign for Joshua Tree National Park; right at the sign with pictures of a camera and a hiker; and finally, right at the sign for Eureka Peak).

To me, the entire area is like "the park before the park." There are no paved roads, and few visitors come here. The road becomes narrower and more winding as you go. Finally you reach a parking area where this gate marks the short trail to Eureka Peak.

The view is astounding--the snow-covered peaks of both San Jacinto (left) and San Gorgonio (right) laid out in front of you. (To reproduce this view, I had to stitch two pictures together in Photoshop Elements--another learning curve for this newbie user!) The real view is much bigger and in-your-face--you can even see the windmills turning at the junction of Hwys. 10 and 62.

At Eureka Peak, not all the flowers have bloomed yet. We did see this desert sunflower, and slightly lower, some fine lupine.

All along the route, carpets of yellow coreopsis are in bloom, and the hillsides are orange with mallow.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Art in the Park

Last weekend I went to an all-day Mixed Media art class, taught by Ellen Hill, that took place in Joshua Tree National Park. The location was the Lost Horse Campground--a quiet, isolated spot that is closed to the public. One of the only ways to go there is to take a class like this one through the Desert Institute. Above is the view across the valley from the campground.

It was a warm, perfect day, and we spent it under the trees of a shady picnic area working with watercolor and collage to make what Ellen calls "love letters from home." Ellen is one of my favorite artists in the Morongo Basin. She has a deep love of nature and uses her combined Native American/Scandinavian heritage to sublime effect in her art. Visit her website by clicking here.

Artists at work: above, Noreen Lawlor; right, Phyllis Schwartz and Ellen.

More lovely surroundings, and a poem about a rock goddess that made her way onto my watercolor paper.

Goddess of the Rocks

She is the alchemy of blue,
solid earth becoming sky.
She raises her arms,
stone piled on stone,
in radiant sunlight.
Every story resides
in her world of form,
every color meets
its ultimate shadow.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The White Heart of Mojave

I've just finished reading a lovely desert memoir, "The White Heart of Mojave," written by Edna Brush Perkins in 1922. It's the chronicle of a journey she took across Death Valley with her friend Charlotte Hannahs Jordan. These two women of privilege from Cleveland went to California on a vacation with no particular destination in mind. They saw the Mojave Desert from the train and were hooked.

At the time, virtually no one took pleasure trips to Death Valley. Perkins writes: "We went to the Automobile Club; they received us with enthusiasm and told us about all the places California is proud of and how to get to them, but California seems not to be proud of the desert, for when we mentioned it our advisers became gloomy." The women persevered and ultimately ended up traveling across Death Valley, and up the surrounding mountains, for a month in this grocery wagon pulled by Molly, a white mule, and Bill, a red horse. ("They were absolutely desert-proof, they could live on nothing at all and drink soda-water forever.")

Their guide was Julius Meyer, an old-timer who had lived in the desert for 20 years. Perkins describes him thus: "He had a fine face, very somber in repose as though he had met with some lasting disappointment, but wonderfully lit by his occasional smile. His eyes had a hard clearness which living on the desert seems to produce. They looked straight at you. He said little, the kind of man who announces his decisions briefly and carries them out."

Perkins waxes poetic about virtually everything she sees and feels:
"We walked on and on, full of a strange, terrible happiness...every link with mankind was gone. We stood still listening to the silence. It was immense and all enveloping. No murmur of leaves, nor drip of water, nor buzz of insects broke it. It brooded around us like a live thing. 'Do you hear the universe moving on?' Charlotte whispered."

If you would like to read this book, you're in luck! The entire text and illustrations are available online, click here There are also several later editions available on, including one edited by Peter Wild (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001) with bonus material like the photos of Edna Brush Perkins and Julius Meyer reproduced above.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Borrego, Day 3: Slot Canyon at South Palm Wash

We love the free organized tours led by volunteers from the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association. On this day, we joined a group and went to South Palm Wash, at the eastern edge of the state park near Calcite Mine. A very short, and very steep, 4-wheel-drive road led to a slot canyon. There we parked and hiked for about 1.5 miles round trip--a relatively easy walk with some narrow spots and rock scrambling.

Here are some more views of the canyon. BTW the trail ends abruptly, where some car-sized rocks fell during a big storm a few years back.

Along the way we learned about some new plants: above, the coachwhip (long and slender, just like the snake of the same name); to the right, mezaluna, a small, delicate flower reminiscent of a ghost flower.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Borrego, Day 2: Font's Point and Galleta Meadows

One of the things we like best about Borrego Springs is the warm temperatures. On this trip, we hit some unseasonably cold weather. We didn't see a lizard the whole time we were there! That tells you something. On the other hand, we saw dramatic clouds, a smattering of rain, and some glorious rainbows. Above you see part of a bow that went across the whole sky, taken just outside our room at Stanlund's.

We tried to get to Font's Point by sunrise and almost made it--a half-hour late. It's named after the priest on the De Anza expedition of 1775. We went to Font's Point on our first trip to Borrego in 2000 and made it out there in our Honda Accord. The road was solid washboard. Now, it's soft sand--definitely 4WD only. The view above shows the Borrego Badlands, a treasure trove of ancient fossils--one of the best places in the U.S. to view sediments of the Pliocene and Pleistocene. This spot is where I first learned about the existence of prehistoric camels in Southern California--and so my fascination began.

The Salton Sea, just to the east, is easily visible from Font's Point--here's the sun shining on the water.

After a stop at the Friday morning Farmer's Market, always a treat, we drove out Borrego Springs Rd. to enjoy the sculptures of prehistoric animals scattered around Galleta Meadows. There are plenty of camels, of course--and much more, too.