A ”Wild” Hike

To Car Wreck Canyon and Back Again

Spring Blooms in December!

We start in the wash below Pushawalla Ridge and find it alive with colorful wildflowers blooming.

Below spindly Spanish Needle buds start to pop open in a natural arrangement of rocks, creosote, and primrose leaves… priceless!

Sandpaper Bush so aptly named for its unmistakable rough texture…

The fragrance tells all! Desert Lavender blooms pale but it’s smell vibrantly bursts out loud…

Lavendar and Desert Trumpet strike a beautiful pose.

This Desert Trumpet shows off from head to toe… tiny yellow flowers, skinny green stems, thicker red spines, swells of carbon dioxide, and a bouquet of lacy leaves.

Glancing up, I capture this surreal view of a dead palm and some desert mistletoe against a winter sky.

Purple Phacelia brighten the day.

Desert daisies rock!

But wait, there’s more!

Curly pods of Cat’s Claw…

Surrounded by the Indio Hills, the valley is awash with wildflowers.

The trail leads us up and out of the wash and onto a plateau.

Yellow creosote flowers fade into white fuzzy pom-poms.

We follow the trail signs and head down, in a  counter-clockwise loop, to  Pushawalla Palms and “Car-Wreck Canyon.”

Water still trickles through the grove of palms. But here’s where it gets interesting… Notice how the clear runoff suddenly turns orange.

Nestled in its own private canyon, Pushawalla Palms is off the beaten path.

We even encounter a dead coyote.

As we leave the palm groves a bright green bush with yellow flowers captures my attention.

I quickly identify this shrub as creosote with its yellow flowers. However, upon closer inspection, Jeff points out the pine tree-like leaves. Later we learn that, indeed, this is not a creosote bush but a Pygmy Cedar.

And here’s the old rusted car…

Someday we’ll follow the canyon instead of taking the loop.

As we climb back up onto the plateau a new flower greets us.

Usually the desert wildflowers don’t start blooming until March. What a fantastic time to be in the Southern California desert!

Seeing is Believing

A Day Trip Around the Salton Sea

  ontheworld.com

The Salton Sea

About 50 miles east of Palm Springs lies one of the largest inland seas and lowest spots on earth at minus 236 feet below sea level. Located on the San Andreas Fault in the Imperial Valley of Southern California, the Salton Sea is really a huge lake with a shoreline of 115 miles. (en.m.wikipedia.org and visitgreaterpalmsprings.com)

Over millions of years the Colorado River has flowed into the Imperial Valley depositing fertile soil for farming, building up the terrain, and constantly changing the course of the river. For thousands of years, the river has alternately flowed into and out of the valley, alternately creating a freshwater lake, an increasingly saline lake, and a dry desert basin. This repeated cycle of filling occurs about every 400-500 years.

The most recent inflow of water from the Colorado River occurred accidentally in 1905. In an effort to increase water flow into the area for farming, irrigation canals were dug from the river into the valley. The canals suffered silt buildup, so a cut was made in the bank of the Colorado River to increase the water flow.

The resulting outflow was too much for the engineered canal to handle. The river flowed into the Salton Basin for 2 years, filling the dry lake bed and creating the modern inland sea, the largest lake in California. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

We head east on the 10 to Highway 86 and then pick up Highway 111 through Thermal and Mecca.

 americansouthwest.net

We arrive.

The Salton Sea State Recreation Area covers 14 miles of the northeastern shore. It has been a popular site for campers, boaters, birdwatchers, and anglers. The increasing salinity in the sea basin, however, has reduced the types of fish that can be found here. Currently tilapia are mostly caught here. (parks.ca.gov)

It’s hard to believe this was once a resort area. The increasing salinity and pollution from agricultural runoff, however, ran tourists off with offending smells from the Salton Sea and the stench from decaying fish washed ashore.


Bombay Beach

In the 50s and 60s Bombay Beach was a thriving resort where you could swim, water-ski, and golf during the day and then party all night at a yacht club. Today Bombay Beach is a bleached, rusted, abandoned wasteland… an apocalyptic landscape smelling of salt, petrol, and rotting fish. (slate.com)

By the late 70s the ecosystem was rapidly deteriorating. With no drainage outlet, almost zero yearly rainfall, and runoff flowing from nearby farms, the Salton Sea was polluted with pesticides and saltier than the Pacific Ocean. Periodic flooding brought the poisoned water further ashore. Depleted oxygen in the sea killed scores of fish and dragged their rotting bodies onto the beach where they shriveled in the sun, decomposed, and eventually coated the sand with a layer of fragmented fish skeletons. (slate.com)

Look closely. Notice the abandoned ship left high and dry on a rock in the center of the picture below.

It remains as a testament to once was the “Salton Riviera,a miracle in the desert.” (slate.com)

Circled below is a statue of a cow sitting on top of a roof.

Jeff likes this abandoned house so I obligingly take a photo.

Apparently the Ski Inn is a great place to eat.

As you can see, people do live here! Bombay Beach is home to around 250 residents who travel the barren landscape by golf cart and drive 40 miles to the nearest grocery store. (slate.com)


Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain is a unique and colorful outdoor art installation created by Leonard Knight. Made from adobe, straw, and paint, it is folk art-like consisting of murals and Bible verses.

Knight died in 2014. Volunteers have maintained the site and a charity has been established to support its future care. (visitgreaterpalmsprings.com)

The Folk Art Society of America declared Salvation Mountain “a folk art site worthy of preservation and protection” in 2002. In an address to the United States Congress on May 15, 2002, California Senator Barbara Boxer described it as “a unique and visionary sculpture… profoundly strange and beautifully accessible.” (en.m.wikipedia.org)


Slab City

Adjacent to Salvation Mountain is a community known as Slab City.

This abandoned Marine facility gets its name from the remnant slabs from the original military base. It is home to winter snowbirds and full time residents who choose to live “off the grid.” Makeshift campsites, a library, a nightclub, and golf course fill the large expanse that was once Camp Dunlap. (visitgreaterpalmsprings.com)

We drive around looking for the library but we never find it.


East Jesus

Out in the Sonoran Desert in Imperial County, California, is an experimental, sustainable, and educational art installation called East Jesus. Artists from all walks of life have built upon the original vision of Charlie Russell, who changed a trash-strewn patch of desert into a space for contemporary art. (atlasobscura.com)

In 2007 Charlie Russell quit his tech job and headed to the off-grid snowbird community of Slab City. He came to work on Leonard Knight’s famous painted mound, Salvation Mountain, but soon became involved in his own project. Russell began to turn a trash-strewn area, less than a mile away, into a quirky and colorful art installation. He called it East Jesus as in “the middle of nowhere.”

With a shipping container of his belongings and 2 carts, he began turning this patch of trash into a reflection of his vision: a world without waste, where trash could be repurposed into art. Russell invited other artists to contribute and East Jesus grew into a habitable cooperative compound that attracted free-roaming artists, musicians, scientists, and builders. Charlie Russell died in 2011. (atlasobscura.com)

For more info and pictures check out eastjesus.org.

So… if you are looking for a place to live off-grid, look no further!

And if you are ever in the Palm Springs area, you have to experience this places yourself!

Through the Wash and Over the Ridge

To Hidden Palms We Go… (first)

The trail that crosses Pushawalla Ridge is quite scenic, especially once you start heading down into the canyon where the hidden palm grove thrives. Flowers are starting to bloom everywhere! Jeff and I keep discovering new ones to identify and old favorites to recall…

Phacelia

Standing tall amongst cryptantha, or popcorn flower, phacelia bursts into purple.

LAVENDER

Don’t let the pale flowers fool you. Just crush a few in your hand and smell the fragrant essence of calmness.

We descend into the grove of hidden palms aka washingtonia filifera aka California fan palms. The “skirts” are a giveaway.

We follow the wash out of  Hidden Palms and pick up the Horseshoe Palms Trail that meanders through another wash and around this linear grove of palm trees.

Pygmy cedar

What? A fir-tree like bush in the desert? Is it some kind of pine tree with yellow flowers? The pygmy cedar is a member of the aster family. The species form is similar to a creosote bush… small, greenish, and hemispherical with yellow flowers in the spring. (calscape.org)

Indigo

This thorny wisp of a bush splattered with deep purple flowers gives off an ethereal vibe.

Primrose

This brown-eyed primrose is blooming along with cryptantha and possibly pincushion or desert dandelion. We’ll talk later…

The grove of Horsheshoe Palms is tucked along the south side of Pushawalla Ridge.

As we meander through the wash I turn around and take this picture of a flowering indigo bush with Mt. San Jacinto in the background.

When you crush the deep purple petals they smell like, as Harlan says, basil on steroids.

Looking down, we notice ants carrying small bits of petals to their ant hill. Maybe they like the smell too!

Desert sunflower

A single stem stands tall with one radiant flower unfolded and the promise of more to come. Bright pink verbenas hug the sand.

Desert star

This low growing mat-like plant usually blooms in the spring.

We arrive at the palm log fence overlooking Pushawalla Palms.

Pushawalla Palms lead up and out of Car Wreck Canyon that loops onto a plateau on the north side of Pushawalla Ridge. Or, you can stay in the wash and continue hiking into Pushawalla Canyon where it dead ends.

But we are not hiking down into Pushawalla Palms today anyway. We head toward the Ridge instead, which still requires an uphill hike.

Desert holly

This blooming plant greets us along the way up to the plateau where we connect with Pushawalla Ridge. Did you know there are male and female holly plants? The female has reddish buds that pop out berries. The male plant, well, if you crush the blooms in your hand, they turn into a grainy dust.

We head back on the Pushawalla Ridge.

Mt. San Jacinto smiles down on us.

Can you tell we really love it here?

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

One day while hosting in the Palm House Visitor Center, I met an incredible woman named Judy who had just hiked to Horseshoe Palms and back via Pushawalla Ridge. I soon learned that she was a Sunday docent at Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, 16 miles away in Desert Hot Springs. Not only is this a place on our “Must See List”, but Sunday is one of our days off work. So… you guessed it, we plan a visit to the Museum and purchase tickets for Judy’s guided tour.  All I can say is, “Wow!” Thank you Judy!


Cabot Yerxa… Adventurer, Visionary, Humanitarian (1883 – 1965)

findagrave.com

Cabot was born on a Lakota Sioux Reservation in the Dakota Territory where his parents had a Trading Post, thus beginning his eccentric life of traveling, learning, and entrepreneurship.

His father eventually moved his family to St. Paul, Minnesota where they ran a General Store. Next they lived in Mexico where the elder Mr. Yerxa taught merchandising skills and learned how to make cigars.

After his family settled in Seattle in the early 1900s, Cabot left for Alaska lured north by the gold rush. Young Yerxa wasn’t hit by gold fever, however. Instead he seized the opportunity to work behind the scenes, so to speak, by driving dog sleds and stagecoaches and selling imported Cuban cigars to gold miners flocking to Nome. Living with an Inuit family, he became fascinated with their culture and language and compiled a 320-word vocabulary of their dialect which he later sold to the Smithsonian Institute. He set up a mobile grocery business in Alaska taking orders which were filled at his father’s General Store in Seattle and shipped to the clients.

Leaving Seattle, his father moved to Cuba to build tract houses outside Havana. Political developments forced the family to move to Key West, Florida where they manufactured cigars. At some point Cabot joined his family in these endeavors and then headed back west where he married and fathered a son, Rodney. After his divorce he joined his family, who were now living in Riverside, California, to become citrus barons. Unfortunately, a freeze wiped out their crop.

So, in 1913, at age 30, Cabot homesteaded 160 acres in what is now Desert Hot Springs. Sleeping outdoors and cooking over a campfire, he lived a rugged life until building a 10 by 12 foot cabin out of  1-inch-wide boards. He painted desert scenes on postcards and sold them to train passengers at the nearby rail stop in Garnet, outside of Palm Springs. One of the first items he obtained was a burro he named Merry Christmas which he purchased on December 25th. With her aid he built his first permanent shelter, a one room cabin he nicknamed Eagle’s Nest. A lack of water forced Cabot and Merry Christmas to haul water from Garnet, a 14-mile round trip, several times a week.

With just a pick and shovel he dug a well for water and discovered the hot mineral waters of Desert Hot Springs. Six hundred yards away, he dug a second well and discovered cold water. Cabot later learned  from geologists that this unusual result occurred because each well was located on different sides of the San Andreas Fault. He named the site Miracle Hill, in honor of the difference in water temperatures.

In 1918 Cabot enlisted in the Army and left the desert to serve in World War I. When he returned, a year later, he ran a grocery store and post office near Indio. Sometime later he left for Europe to travel and study art in Paris but came back to California to run a grocery store. By 1941 Cabot Yerxa had finally returned to the desert for good. He helped found the city of Desert Hot Springs and resumed his painting career specializing in works depicting the Native Cahuilla Tribe.

Cabot’s pueblo began as a one-man project in 1941 and was still a work-in-progress at the time of his death in 1965. Inspired by Hopi Indian architecture, the 5,000 square feet structure consists of some 35 rooms with 150 windows and 65 doors. Construction material includes adobe bricks made by Cabot himself with a cup of cement added to each brick. He seldom bought new building materials. Instead, he scavenged the desert as far as the Salton Sea for used timbers, masonry, glass, and wood. The pueblo’s exterior presents a flat irregular facade broken by windows and projecting beams. He shared the Native American belief that evil spirits dwell in symmetry so he purposely left walls somewhat uneven, floors not perfectly level, and doorways aslant.

Today Cabot’s Pueblo is a museum. The ground floor used to be a trading post and living quarters for Cabot Yerxa himself. Dominated by a huge stone fireplace, the living room floor is dirt and tucked beside it is his tiny bedroom.  A kitchen, dining room, office, and storage space take up the remainder of the first floor. The second floor was an apartment suite for his second wife, Portia, known for her work in metaphysics and the belief in other life in other worlds. She and Cabot welcomed contact with these beings. The third floor consists of one large room with many windows, affording views of San Jacinto, Santa Rosa, and San Gorgonio Mountains. This room was once used as a classroom for metaphysical and theosophical studies pursued by Portia and Cabot.

In 1965 Cabot Yerxa died of a heart attack in his pueblo, the home he had worked on but never finished for the past 20 years. He was 82.

After Cabot’s death the pueblo was nearly destroyed, but his friend, Cole Eyraud, stood in the path of a bulldozer with a shot-gun in his hand. Eyraud purchased the property in 1970 and when he died, in 1996, he left it to the city of Desert Hot Springs as a museum and art gallery dedicated to preserving the legacy of Cabot Yerxa, a lover of people and the desert.  (desert.us)


A Map of the Pueblo Museum

We park in Lot #3  and the first stop on the map we encounter is Number 8, a tall carved sculpture of a Native American…

Waokiye was carved on site by Peter Toth in 1978 as part of his “Trail of the Whispering Giants.” It is 43 feet tall and carved from a fallen sequoia. The feather is 15 feet tall and carved from an incense cedar. In Lakota Sioux language, Waokiye means “traditional helper.” ( Museum brochure)

A palo verde tree greets us on our way to the Upper Courtyard, Number 4.

The Tool House and Ancient Weather Rock are located here.

We visit the Trading Post, Number 3, and purchase our tickets. Then we step outside into the Main Courtyard.

This bright succulent is called a pencil plant. Drought resistant, the plant’s green sticks turn bright orange when under stress. Gardeners often deliberately deprive the euphorbia tirucalli of water and nutrients to encourage its colorful display. (ftd.com)

Abutting the Courtyard is Cabot’s Old Indian Pueblo, Number 1… an eclectic mashup of repurposed materials utilizing the 3 Rs- reuse, reduce, and recycle.

We have time before the tour begins, so we head into the Meditation Garden, Number 10. Oleander, cacti, and brittle bush escort us to the Garden, through it, and up to…

…the Well House, Number 9.

The well-house stored hot water that was pumped from a well inside the Pueblo building, which then flowed by gravity into its rooms. Cabot built himself a small spa tub inside the well-house where he enjoyed the healing mineral waters. (Museum brochure)

From the Well House overlook I take a picture of the unfinished portion of the back of the Pueblo.

And now I greet Judy with a hug as we recognize each other. She starts the tour in the Main Courtyard before we proceed inside the Pueblo where no picture-taking is permitted.

My head spins learning about Cabot and his parents! What an incredible life he lived filled with the spirit of risk and adventure, the thirst for knowledge and enlightenment, and the compassion and love for Native Americans to adopt and share their wisdom.


Before we leave we revisit the Well House and take more pictures.

Walking back to the car we stop at Number 5 on the map, the Studio House.

Cabot encouraged artists to come, stay, and work at the Pueblo. Two small apartments with surrounding roof decks were available for visiting artists, friends, and family. (Museum brochure)


Even though Jeff and I walked less than a mile in total, I am exhausted… mentally! But I am so inspired by this incredible man’s story! Cabot Yerxa was truly struck with desert fever and the preservation of Native American spirituality. That’s what happens here. The desert lures you in slowly, one sense at a time. Then, you discover the wisdom and strength of our native elders who respected the land and in turn were provided for by Mother Earth. You are changed forever. At least that has been our experience. Our hearts melt in the hot sun with appreciation and our thirst can only be quenched by learning more. Yikes, we are becoming desert rats!

Herman’s Hike Again

Counterclockwise This Time…

Today we want to hike up the switchbacks and along the ridge of the Willis Palms Loop in search of the trail that cuts through the palm grove, the trail we couldn’t find on November 14th.

We head out on the McCallum Trail toward Simone Pond and cut through to the wash of Moon Country. Purple rain clouds compete with white cumulus clouds for attention in the sky.

Three autumn rains send wildflower seeds spinning into confusion, bringing early blooms and blossoms and making Jeff and me crazy with trying to identify the flora that we see.

Cattle spinach, sandpaper, or burro bush?

Now you know… but we still confuse these 3 plants until you touch and smell. Cattle spinach has no smell and the leaves feel soft. Sandpaper is distinctly coarse. Burrobush smells lemony when you crush its yellow buds.

Here’s something new that we identify later. The caterpillar gives it away.

This caterpillar will turn into a monarch butterfly, we learn later.

We arrive at the trailhead to Herman’s Hike wondering how many switchbacks there are to the top. I start counting.

Moon Country Canyon lies below.

After almost a mile of 9 gradual switchbacks, we stand on a plateau of desert gravel where I take a picture of the Salton Sea. (It’s the bright white radioactive-looking horizontal line below the clouds.)

The snow-topped peak below to the west is Mt. San Jacinto hovering over Palm Springs.

To the “other” west is San Gorgonio, the highest peak in Southern California.

This pile of rocks adorns the highest point of Herman’s Hike. Last time we were here we stopped to rest, hydrate, and grab a snack. Today we just take pictures and head down toward Willis Palms identifying flowers along the way.

Now the 2 snow-capped mountain peaks can be seen in the same picture frame.

Meanwhile, we discover a plant we recognize…

And another we don’t…

Until I send a pic to our Preserve Manager, Ginny Short, who identifies it as alkali golden bush. We know this plant that blooms in October! But we have never seen a smaller version with prominent green leaves and wilting flowers that don’t look straw-like…

The erosive fractures on the hills remind me of stalagmites.

We descend along the trail ahead. And, just in case you were wondering, that IS Mt. San Jacinto in the background.

Down off Herman’s Hike we take the ridge trail toward Willis Palms. Desert trumpets blast through the sandy soil.

Below is the trail along the wash.

This rounded shrub is a popular plant around the Preserve. Its branches are brittle and woody with a fragrant resin. Small but radiant yellow flowers bloom on long stalks sticking up above the leafy stems in late winter or early spring. This year’s late autumn rains, however, have started early blooms.

We follow the ridge trail heading toward Willis Palms instead of the trailhead parking area. It’s narrow, steep, muddy, and rocky.

Finally we are inside the palm groves.

As we exit the grove we see a trail sign, the one we missed last time.

We exit into the wash and walk right into another new plant blooming. I’ve seen this plant before but always wondered why I could not see the shape of a wishbone in its leaves. Duh, it’s the stems that carry the shape!

Instead of heading back to the Willis Palms parking area and trailhead, we plow our way through a cutoff suggested by Harlan. (Please don’t do this on your own!)

Finally, we see Thousand Palms Canyon Road which we follow back to the Preserve.

Flowers, familiar bushes, and the Indio Hills escort us.

Whitewater Preserve

And The Wildlands Conservancy…

Just 20 minutes northwest of Palm Springs off I-10, lies 2,211 acres of dog-friendly, hiking trails open year round. Besides providing free access to public wilderness, The Wildlands Conservancy offers outdoor education and restores and protects critical habitat for:

desert bighorn sheep…

 en.m.wikipedia.org

least bell’s vireo…

  fws.gov

and southwestern willow flycatcher…

  ca.audubon.org

The Conservancy opened its first Preserve in 1995. Today, 15 Preserves later, TWC continues to save remarkable landscapes and open them free of charge for recreation and education. All of the Preserves and programs are maintained solely with private funding and donations. Connecting with nature… priceless (Preserve brochure)


Canyon view loop trail

From the Preserve trailhead, we follow the rock-lined path and cross the dry riverbed of the Whitewater Canyon River.

It’s a beautiful sunny day…

…and the blooming flora and foliage radiate against the clear blue sky…

I don’t know the names of these plants yet, but I will find out and identify them later, as in the nearish future. They are stunning.

We climb up several steep switchbacks before reaching the Pacific Crest Trail where the ridge levels off. (A good cardio workout!)

Along the ridge we spy cows grazing below and then walk through a plateau of their “plotchskis”, a mesa of manure.

Beaver-tailed cactus line the trail.

We reach a trail sign for the Canyon Loop Trail, leave the PCT and head back down.

The 3.5 mile Canyon View Loop Trail eventually reaches the road driving into the Preserve. In approximately 300 yards a trail marker leads back to the Visitor Center and off the road again. Today, however, the rest of the loop trail is still closed from the October 13th flash flood.

So, we walk back along the road enjoying these photo ops…

Ah… more flowers to identify later


Whitewater Preserve’s campground, park, Visitor Center, and Ranger Station are built on the foundation of the former Whitewater Trout Hatchery which closed in 2006. The Wildlands Conservancy acquired the 291-acre property through a partnership with Friends of the Desert Mountains and the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy.

A picnic area and shaded shelter are available for families and group outings. A wading pond helps relieve the hot summer heat. (Preserve brochure)

The nearby Mission Creek Preserve is also part of The Wildlands Conservancy. These 2 Preserves are outlined in blue on the map below.

The brown boundaries encompass the 154,000-acre Sand to Snow National Monument established on February 12, 2016 by President Obama. Sand to Snow rises from the desert floor of Whitewater and Mission Creek Preserves up into the snowy peaks of the San Gorgonio Wilderness that was named after the tallest peak in Southern California, 11,500-foot Mount San Gorgonio. This National Monument is a recreational wonderland providing opportunities to snowshoe, fly fish, bird-watch, and hike. (Preserve brochure)


Whitewater Preserve is open year round, free of charge. Guided hikes, stargazing, and bird walks are offered.

We will be back!