Saturday, December 28, 2013

A New Year's Greeting from Margaret Dodd

Photography © 2013 Margaret Kay Dodd

Which is worth more, a crowd of thousands
or your own genuine solitude?
Freedom, or power over an entire nation?

A little while alone in your room
will prove more valuable than anything else
that could ever be given you.

Many thanks to my friend, Margaret Dodd, for sending the above new year's greeting--a pairing of her photograph with a poem by Rumi. Like last year, she has graciously given me permission to post the image along with the poem.

Margaret is a photographer, publisher, and graphic designer who divides her time between Santa Barbara and the Netherlands. A book of her photographs is in the works.

May we all find peace within. Happy New Year to all! 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Two Bunch Palms Resort & Spa

I had wanted to visit Two Bunch Palms forever, ever since seeing the movie The Player decades ago. I even signed up to receive emails of special offers, hoping one day I could afford it. Lo and behold, that day arrived a couple of weeks ago: half off on a midweek overnight stay, with free breakfast, free activity program, and 20 percent off spa treatments! It was an offer my girlfriend and I couldn't refuse! Above: The Grotto, a meandering hot mineral water pool.

Here is the office, where you check in and get your spa robe. I was expecting something more pretentious, but everything was quite low key, even with undertones of desert funk. People walk around in their bathing suits and spa robes. The atmosphere is casual, laid back, and friendly.

The on-site restaurant, Essence, has been completely remodeled and has a brand-new chef to boot. We ate dinner and breakfast there, and the food by Chef Tom was both healthy and delectable. Plus, there is a stunning view of Mt. San Jacinto out those big windows. BTW: you don't have to be a spa guest to eat here.

Here is the entrance to the spa, where the relaxation magic happens. I had an excellent reiki treatment, my friend had Swedish massage. She is a veteran of Two Bunch Palms and says she always gets a good massage here.

The pond supports a large population of ducks, koi, and turtles. You can buy fish food and watch the turtles fight the fish for it. Or, you can save your bread from dinner and feed the ducks--just make sure they don't bite your finger! (which happened to a woman just before I took this picture)

This giant building with a palapa-style roof is the new yoga dome. We took a class in here. The class was fine, but the dome was freezing cold (it has a concrete floor)!

Our rooms were recently redone, and mine was decorated with historical photos--a big plus in my book. Bottom line: would we go back? Yes, we certainly would--especially when the next half-price offer comes around!

Monday, November 25, 2013

25% Off Our Blurb Books Through December 2--Plus Free Shipping!

Blurb has come up with a holiday offer that we can't beat. Buy any two books and get 25% off, plus free shipping! All you do is enter the code BETTER25 at checkout. The offer is good through December 2 at midnight.

You can go directly to our order page by clicking the "Check Out My Books" widget at the bottom right of this blog--or just click here for the Blurb website.

Thanks to all our friends for your enthusiasm and support. We love you!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Covington Crest: Big Trees, Big Views

 Our latest hike was Covington Crest Trail, a short and sweet loop trail that travels through a Joshua tree forest and ends at an overlook with sweeping views. It's 11 miles on a dirt road to reach the trailhead, which probably explains why it's a less visited area of the park. So much the better!

The trail parallels a wash for most of its length. At one point, there's a natural rock garden that looks for all the world like someone planted it, out in the middle of nowhere.

Here's Upper Deception Canyon at the overlook. In the background, both Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio would be visible in the high distance, if it weren't for the clouds and haze. We plan to go back on a clear day to really take in the view.

A view of the Joshua tree forest--quiet, unspoiled, and peaceful. The trees here are some of the largest in the park.

We learned about this hike from the book On Foot in Joshua Tree National Park, recommended to us by a park ranger as "the book the rangers use." Excellent maps and directions. Highly useful!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Views and Flowers at Chaparrosa Peak

The weather is unusually warm for November--just right for hiking. A friend and I tried our luck at climbing Chaparrosa Peak in the Pioneertown Mountains Preserve. We didn't make it all the way to the top, but got plenty high enough to take in the fabulous views. Above: looking east towards the buttes. 

Looking south.

Looking west in the general direction of Mt. San Gorgonio. This is as high as we got.

The big surprise was the wildflowers--lots of them! Shown here: above, desert bells (wild canterbury bells) and desert poppy. There were many more varieties, and the flowers increased in number as we climbed higher.

As it turned out, we petered out and turned around simultaneously with losing the trail near the top. The Preserve offers free guided hikes up the peak occasionally, which seem like a good idea. For more information about the Pioneertown Preserve, click here. The trails are open seven days a week now, after only being open weekends for some time, and the plants have made a great comeback after the devastating fire of 2006.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Michael Hannon: Imaginary Burden

I had the good fortune to hear Michael Hannon read his astounding poem "My Mother Walked Out" at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History in the 1980s. It was an experience I will never forget. Over the years I have continued to be a fan of his work, which is now celebrated in the just-released volume Imaginary Burden: Selected Poems. (Available at

If you live on the Central Coast, you might be able to catch one of the readings Michael is doing in support of this new book. The next one is coming up on November 8, 7 pm at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art. Poets like Kenneth Rexroth, Sam Hamill, Gary Young and Joseph Stroud have sung his praises. He has collaborated for years with artists like William T. Wiley and Mary Heebner.

More good fortune: a dear friend sent me the above book and also Who On Earth (also available on after Michael's recent reading at Granada Books in Santa Barbara. I have many favorites in this small volume, including "The Thrush," "Tick Tock," and "Cold Snap." His poems have a sparse yet lyrical quality, evoking the unseen equally with the visible world.

And, he has a sense of humor. One of my all-time favorites is "The Poet At Fifty," which sums up a lifetime in one brief line: "Not only more than meets the eye, but less."

P.S.: Two of Michael Hannon's crow poems appear in the anthology A Bird Black As the Sun: California Poets on Crows & Ravens.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Studio 13, Hwy. 62 Art Tours--First Weekend

The first weekend of the Hwy. 62 Studio Tours was a big success at Studio 13! The four happy artists, left to right: Paul Klopfenstein (gourd art), Kathi Klopfenstein (sculptural basketry), Deane Locke (watercolors), and Bill Dahl (photography).

Dave and Deane Locke's garage is transformed into a gallery for the occasion.

The above photo of Bill is by Steve Brown, publisher of The Sun Runner Magazine and host of the PBS TV show "The Real Desert." See Steve's blog for a report on Studio 13 and other stops on the tour's first weekend.

There's something in every price range at Studio 13--including free! Stop by and get your free Bill Dahl Photography bookmark. The final weekend of the tours is this Saturday and Sunday, October 26 and 27, 9 to 5 pm. For directions to the studio, visit

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hwy. 62 Art Tours Start This Weekend: Studio 13 Preview Friday Night

The 12th Annual Hwy. 62 Art Tours start this weekend, with over 100 artists throughout the Morongo Basin opening their studios to the public. This year Bill was invited to team up with three other artists in our neighborhood. Their venue, Studio #13 on the tour, will kick things off with a preview night this Friday, October 18, from 5-8 pm. Weekend hours will be Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 19-20 and 26-27, from 9 am to 5 pm. Along with the great art, there will be food and live music at Studio #13. Please stop by, we'd love to see you!

Here are some brief blurbs about the artists and their work. For more information, and for directions to Studio #13, visit

Kathi Klopfenstein’s introduction to the world of basketry came in 1995 when she took her first basket class at Idyllwild Arts. She has studied basketry with over 20 teachers. She specializes in sculptural basketry, incorporating elements such as antlers and ceramics into her unique creations.

Gourd artist Paul Klopfenstein is inspired by traditional Native American images. He draws his designs by hand and then uses a power-carving tool to create the depth and texture. He has demonstrated his technique at gourd festivals and taught numerous classes for the California Gourd Society.

Deane Locke creates paintings, drawings, and illustrations in watercolors and pastels. Her subject preferences lean toward barns, blooms and birds. She is a member of the Chaparral Artists, Morongo Valley Art Colony, Desert Art Center and Watercolor West.

Bill Dahl is especially inspired by California’s deserts and the Eastern Sierras. His photographs have appeared in juried shows and won awards in Santa Barbara, Ojai, Yucca Valley, and Twentynine Palms, California. He has three books: Shared Visions I, Shared Visions II, and In the Mojave, where his photos are accompanied by poetry by his wife, Cynthia Anderson.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Elfin Forest: Pygmy Oaks in Los Osos

We had never heard of the Elfin Forest, and found out about it just by chance while looking for new things to see on our trip to the Central Coast. It's a unique spot: a coastal forest that got its name from the pygmy oaks that grow there. They are the same coast live oaks that elsewhere grow up to 50 feet tall--here, though, they top out at around 12 feet. This photo was taken in the Rose Bowker Grove, a maze of twisted trunks that rise up, turn back into the ground and come up again.

A boardwalk leads you through this dense habitat, which has many different kinds of coastal vegetation--areas of coastal dune scrub and maritime chaparral as well as the pygmy oak woodland. The draping plants here are called lace lichen--a combination of fungi and algae. According to the forest brochure, these lichens help the trees by gathering "moisture and nutrients from the foggy air."

The air was certainly foggy on the day we were there. Here's the view from Bush Lupine Point--such as it was! On a clear day, Morro Rock would be sitting just out to the west, beyond the wetlands.

The boardwalk has interpretive panels that relate some of the Native American history associated with this spot. Apparently Indians inhabited the area for at least 9,000 years. Some of the present-day pygmy oaks are 200-400 years old--but the implication is that this has been an elfin forest for a long, long time.

For more information about the El Moro Elfin Forest, including how to get there, click here.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Piedras Blancas Light Station Tour

One of the highlights of our August trip to the Central Coast was a tour of the Piedras Blancas Light Station. Located just north of San Simeon, the light station was closed to the public until a few years ago. Now it's being renovated, and the two-hour tour is really informative--well worth it for a look at the buildings and a walk along the coastal nature trail.

On the day we were there, it was quite foggy. Still, the views of the rocks were spectacular, and the sounds of barking seals and sea lions nearly deafening! Hordes of seabirds were roosting on the rocks as well. The native landscape is an amazing comeback story: what you see here used to be covered in iceplant. Once all the iceplant was removed and carted away, the native plants came back on their own--bringing the rest of the ecosystem (land birds, rabbits, rodents, reptiles) with them.

This picturesque building, c. 1905, is known as the "fog signal building," which housed the equipment for a sound signal. As part of the restoration, it's going to be painted white as a faithful replica of the original. Plans also include restoring the upper levels of the lighthouse, see below.

There is a small gift shop in a separate building, plus displays of Indian artifacts found on site. This was a major center for the manufacture of arrowheads from chert. You can also see many tiny shell fragments on the ground beside the boardwalk nature trail.

Signs of present-day human habitation--I love the red union suit!

For more information about the tours, click here

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Mission San Miguel

In August, Bill and I took a trip to the Central Coast, visiting friends plus a few places we had never been before. Mission San Miguel had been on our list for years--but it was damaged in an earthquake awhile back and was closed for some time. Renovations are now to the point where we didn't notice any damage.

The mission is located just north of Paso Robles in the town of San Miguel--a little corner of California that time forgot. Father Junipero Serra founded it in 1797.

The front courtyard has a number of relics from the olden time (e.g., an olive press) as well as many specimen plants and this lovely fountain.

The real treasure is the chapel with its original, unretouched paintings--over 200 years old. They say that the church artist drew some of his inspiration from pattern books--copying designs used in classical buildings. The columns are tree trunks painted to look like alabaster marble. (Thanks to Bill for this photo)

I especially like the pulpit, with the white dove in flight symbolizing the holy spirit.