All About Oliver

Following Diagnosis Day…

Oliver’s Mom, Jen, writes…

Following diagnosis day, Brian and I met with the Geneticist. The doctor was so loving, and even she’d some tears with us. He said there were reasons to be hopeful. There were clinical trials underway for Sanfilippo Syndrome Type A and Type B that he believed would improve both lifespan and, most important, quality of life. Life. More hugs, more laughs, more meals together, more playing chase, more “Ugga Mugga” Eskimo kisses, more hand holding, more snuggles. He gave us great hope that Oliver’s story isn’t written yet. His words carried me, gave me strength, filled me with hope. There was significant medical progress for his Sanfilippo Type.

I also remember all the brave parents in my new community who reached out and offered their support. I remember one parent saying, “The beginning is SO HARD.” I needed to hear that. That it doesn’t get progressively harder but instead, you’re hit by a truck, and then hold on for dear life over the rocky terrain. I remember seeing a beautiful mother with a photo of her and her friends. She was smiling. It encouraged me that one day, I’d smile again. I remember a dad Michael Dobbyn adding a 💪 emoji to all of his posts, and I needed every one of them. There was strength and even lightness that I so desperately needed.

For that dad, when he got hit with the truck, he was told there were no clinical trials for his son’s Sanfilippo Type C. His son Connor is fighting for his life. As his dad says, “He’s just all love, it’s all he has in him.” Another Sanfilippo child running at the Speed of Love. And a parent running at the Speed of Love to save him. If you have it in your heart, please watch, please share his video:

All our love for continuing to be with us.

It’s a beautiful Fall day in the neighborhood!
The ONE and ONLY Aunt Jess reading to her nephew and niece…

All About Oliver

The Anniversary of His Diagnosis

Oliver’s Dad writes…

On this day, the anniversary of his diagnosis, I wanted to share my thoughts with everyone who has shared our journey and supported us along the way. There are so many people to thank and if I listed all of you, I fear you might stop reading from the long list! So, I won’t do that. But what should I share? I have so many thoughts and reflections and emotions — there is no singular place to start.

This is a heavy duty day. I remember the crying phone call from Jen in my office— seconds before my very last moments of blissful normal life. The only words were: “Come home now.” The drive home, not knowing anything, but knowing it was bad, but hoping, begging, it was not that bad, strangely wanting the drive to be longer, delayed. I mean, how often I wish he had something that was not life-ending . . . those, those thoughts don’t leave.

They root.

They endure.

But you can’t let them take over. And I don’t. And we don’t. You prune. You cut back. You weed. Of course, you make sure to never mulch or soil. A certain narrative, as they often do, oh the stories I have in my head seem countless, has bubbled up. It’s simple. It’s pure. And so, I just thought I would let you know about Oliver and his super strength because it’s an absolute privilege to spend every day with him, spend every struggle with him, spend funny moments with him . . . be his dad.

One of the most coveted phrases in the English language is the three-worded “I love you.” I prefer a fourth-word phrase that Oliver likes to tell friends and strangers: “This is my dad.” Oh, if you could only know because he’s beaming, and he’s pointing and not everyone can understand what he’s saying.

This is not a statistically proven fact because there is yet to be invented such an instrument that can measure it, but believe me, when there is, the results will tell you that Oliver runs at the Speed of Love. With that, I have no doubt.

He loves baths so much that if you don’t watch close, your kitchen ceiling will start leaking.

He loves movies so much that he shrieks at impossible decibels at his favorite parts.

He loves the outdoors so much that he will run outside . . . even if there is snow on the ground . . . even if he doesn’t have a jacket on . . . even if he doesn’t have shoes on . . . even if he doesn’t have socks on . . . even if it’s still dark . . . even if it’s 5:30 in the morning.

He loves people so much that he always says hello to anyone walking by and asks “what’s your name?” — always.

He loves his sister so much that the main way to tell her is in a HUGE tackling-hug. And he loves telling me ‘that’s my sister, be nice’ if I am trying to discipline Reagan.

He loves his family so much that he points to pictures around the house and says “that’s my family.” He smiles with pride. It’s infectious.

He loves school so much that he runs into the building, backpack bouncing, water bottle erupting, lunchbox jostling, him almost tripping, up the steps.

He loves life so much that to him there is nothing better than looking at one of his favorite books, in the sun, munching on a piece of pepperoni.

He loves people so much that he tells the nurses at Nationwide (Children’s Hospital) ‘thank you’ after they are finished with another one of his numerous blood draws or procedures; and this is after all the screaming. What a tough kid. What a brave boy. What a compassionate kid. My personal hero. I shall never have another.

He loves . . . he loves all of you, he loves being here, he loves being present, he loves being hugged, he loves giving hugs, he loves being where the action is, he lives trying to help, he lives saying “I love you” at the end of the day, and in the middle, and in the beginning and all of those many, many, many times in between. I will stop here. I am crying and I fear my list is getting long.

We need more people like Oliver in this world. Wouldn’t it be so healing and curing if we just said I love you more and accepted things for their good? It’s truly unconditional. It is not an easy love but it has sheer muscle and it breathes and it is relentless — oh dear God is it unstoppable.

Why then do these special people with Sanfilippo get such little time? Maybe all this active love actually breaks their heart. I think that it is not surprising that Oliver’s favorite color is Red.

I also think that it is wondrously fitting that his name is in fact, Oliver. Quite telling really. Rearrange the letters if you will. I see: I, Lover.

All About Oliver

One Year Ago…

Oliver’s Mom writes:

A year ago today was the worst day of my life. Oliver and I were simply going to an initial genetics appointment for what I thought was ‘ruling things out.’ I had no fear, no concerns going to this appointment. I answered endless questions about his history — when he started sitting up, walking, talking… his difficulties sleeping, his constant congestion, and eventually some of the regression we had seen. The doctor asked me to pull up photos of Oliver at different ages. I was happy to flash photos of his ear to ear grin at different ages. The doctor left the room and came back several times. Finally, he came back with a packet for me to take home and read. As I held it and listened, I heard “Sanfilippo” for the first time. I didn’t grasp what the missing enzyme… the accumulation of GAGs… the neurons dying…meant… I didn’t understand the magnitude, but I could tell by how slowly he spoke and his kindness in delivery that it was bad. I couldn’t form the words to ask, “Is this life-shortening?” When he left the room briefly again, I flipped through the packet, desperately searching for “Lifespan”. There it was…

“most children die in their late teens.”

I heaved big sobs and clung to my sweet boy. When the doctor came back in, Oliver held my crying face in his hands and looked at the doctor and said, “My mom needs a nap.” He said it over and over, showing love for others as he always, always has.

The doctor wanted to give Brian a chance to talk to him, so we set to meet again the next day. I waited in the lobby with Oliver for a blood draw that would eventually confirm that he had Sanfilippo Syndrome Type B. I texted Brian that we had an appointment the next day. When he texted me back, “Sure. How’s Oliver?” I couldn’t respond.

Oliver and I went home. It was a beautiful fall day and Oliver and our dog, Faelan, played in the backyard while I called Brian.

“Come home.”

“Is it bad?”


I waited for Brian, as I watched my beautiful boy, so happy, so happy, so full of life, running, laughing, throwing the tennis ball around.

I don’t remember much more about that day, except holding Oliver and crying. Reading the packet through tears, everything matching up — even physically — the coarse hair, the thick eyebrows. I googled Sanfilippo and my screen filled with photos of children who looked just like my son. His Sanfilippo brothers and sisters who would journey together — through losing their ability to speak, losing their ability to walk, suffer pain and seizures until they join the Sanfilippo angels that have gone before them, gone too soon.

But here he is today, looking for his friends — enjoying today for what it is — a gift.

Oliver waiting for his school friends to arrive on the bus…

All About Oliver

A Sanfilippo Story by Grammy L…

My daughter-in-law posted this on Facebook:

It’s the eve of the 1-year anniversary of Oliver’s diagnosis. Before we had a name for what Oliver was experiencing, we lived in a state of anguish and confusion.

Simply having one parent take two kids around the block proved too challenging most days. I remember telling a co-worker I couldn’t take both kids to the zoo by myself, and he said “What? You gotta work on that.” He didn’t mean anything by it, neither did loved ones saying we disciplined too much, too little, not the right way, or telling me that trick that worked that one time with Oliver.

I remember going to a kid’s birthday party with Oliver. When the kids went upstairs to play, I panicked having Oliver be out of my site in case he had a meltdown and hit another kid or destroyed a kid’s toys. I felt weird, though, inviting myself upstairs in their house. I stood awkwardly at the bottom of the stairs. And when he did have his impulsive meltdowns, I always quickly scooped him up and tried to get him away from where ever we were. I could often see the parent’s face saying, “What happened?” I couldn’t explain it. I also didn’t know the extent that my child was so much different from other kids. At that same birthday party, when I went upstairs, with inklings of Oliver starting to escalate, my first reaction when I saw the kid’s bedroom was amazement—there were toys?! How does the child not throw/break/eat them?! There was a GLASS vase?! GLASS?! GLASS?! That wouldn’t last 5 minutes in Oliver’s room…

And school, Brian always dreaded pick-up, as there were always the required incident reports he had to sign. Sometimes multiple in a day. I remember one time in particular, I was talking to the teacher as I dropped Oliver off, and he went right over and dumped a box of felt toys on an unassuming little girl playing by herself. His school was endlessly patient and loving, but I didn’t have any fixes for the problem. I felt like such a failure.

With the vast network of Nationwide Children’s, Brian and I attended regular behavioral therapy sessions, then moved to Mental Health services. I did an online Positive Parenting course; I plastered the walls with these visual charts to help Oliver identify his feelings and choose an action item to help him feel better. We did time out, we did time in, we did breathing. Shortly before diagnosis, I holed up one weekend with an armload of behavior books from the library. That weekend, I self-diagnosed Oliver with Oppositional Defiant Disorder and wallowed thinking how he could be so train his 4 years on Earth. I uttered more times than I can count, “What are we doing wrong? How are we such parenting failures?”

Yes, one year tomorrow, the confusion was replaced by grief. Deep, agonizing grief. However, this grief came with a community. We belonged. The confusion kept us in a state of “What are we doing wrong?”. The grief gave us names and faces of families who were celebrating the good moments, navigating the murky days, fighting with every fiber of their being for a cure, and selflessly sharing their experience to help others navigate this journey,

Where There’s Smoke…

There’s Fire!

This is what the skies over the Coachella Valley Preserve looked like Saturday, August 1st, in the late afternoon.

Dubbed the Apple Fire, dry conditions and triple digit temperatures became the ideal conditions for a small vegetation fire to burn out of control. The fire began Friday, July 31st, in the late afternoon. It doubled in size from 1,900 acres on Saturday morning to 4,125 acres by 3 p.m. and by 11:00 p.m. 12,000 acres, or more than 18 square miles, were on fire with 0% containment. (

google maps, Apple Fire

The cause at this time was still undetermined. An ignition spark from a car, a trailer dragging a chain, and arson were all being investigated. Later I read that witnesses called 911 on Friday afternoon to report seeing a man lighting 3 fires in the area.

Here are some pictures from news footage I gathered online:

courtesy of Terry Pierson

CBS News

CBS News

KESQ News, Channel 3

KESQ News, Channel 3

According to an article published in the Desert Sun, a Palm Springs newspaper, the Apple Fire started as at least 2 small fires shortly after 5 p.m. Friday in a community known as  Cherry Valley, a few miles from Beaumont, CA.

Here are some more pictures taken outside of the RV…

Sunday, August 2nd…

I took these pictures in the early afternoon as we headed toward Ramon Road from Thousand Palms Canyon Road.

And from the online news later in the day, I learned the fire continued to grow, scorching some 20,000 acres so far and forcing 7,800 people to evacuate. It is only 5% contained as of today.

CBSN, Los Angeles

CBSN, Los Angeles

CBSN, Los Angeles

CBSN, Los Angeles

CBSN, Los Angeles

CBSN, Los Angeles

CBSN, Los Angeles

CBSN, Los Angeles

CNN, Alta Spells

Monday, August 3rd…

A news update from Cal Fire and Riverside County Fire Departments reported that 26,000 acres have burned so far. The official cause of the Apple Fire is determined to be a malfunctioning vehicle shooting out “hot objects” from its tailpipe. (CBSN, Los Angeles)

Wednesday, August 5th…

As Jeff and I returned from a day trip to Green Valley Lake outside of Big Bear, we cut over from CA-247 and took Pioneertown Road back to CA-62.

We noticed an intermittent scattering of parked fire vehicles and hiking fire persons along the route. As we descended from Yucca Valley into the Morongo Valley we were met with murky skies…

Friday, August 7th…

As we drove toward Palm Springs on Ramon Road, we could still see clouds of smoke from the Apple Fire.

Friday, August 14th…

With 90% of the Apple Fire now contained, the command of the fire has been transferred from Cal Fire to a local team led by Incident Commander Matt Ahearn of the San Bernardino National Forest. Suppression repair efforts will continue for several weeks. Rehabilitation includes mopping up along the fire line and repairing impacts on the landscape.

Fortunately no one died as a result of this fire, but 4 people were injured and 4 structures were damaged. (

On August 16th lightning ignited a new fire in the San Francisco Bay Area, named the CSU Lightning Complex Fire, CSU being the geographical code  used by Cal Fire to designate the Santa Cruz Unit.

google maps

The very next day, August 17th, another fire started burning out of control near Sacramento, CA. The Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit (LNU) fire was also the result of lightning.

google maps

Then, on Saturday morning, September 5th, a pyrotechnic device used during a gender reveal party sparked a fire at the El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa.

Here’s an example of such a device:

And here’s a map of where the fire is burning:

google maps

You’re right for noticing that the area looks familiar. It is not far from the Apple Fire from the beginning of  August…

On Sunday, September 6th, we noticed a dark cloud billowing from the Little San Bernardino Mountains over Joshua Tree National Park. Smoke clouds… On Monday the air was gray and dingy and smelled like a campfire.

Tuesday, September 8th, Jeff and I pulled tamarisk seedlings from the stream. I took some pictures of the sky. The mountains had disappeared.

To date, California is burning up!

google maps

The overcast skies and smell of smoke surrounding us on the Coachella Valley Preserve is nothing compared to the orange skies in San Francisco and the terrorizing drives evacuating residents are documenting as they flee from fire zones!

Green Valley Lake

A Perfect Place for a Picnic…

Green Valley Lake is about 15 miles from Big Bear Lake.

google maps
google maps

Small, picturesque, and uncrowded this secluded “Hidden Gem” of a town in the San Bernardino Mountains is the “best kept secret on the mountain.” Nearly 4 miles away from State Highway 18, this resort community sits at an elevation of 7000 feet surrounded by a National Forest.

The town of Green Valley Lake offers clean air, blue skies, serenity, and the calm beauty of a quiet forested community. The 9-acre lake is stocked for fishing. Boats can be rented and a swimming area is also available. The small downtown area hosts a market, 2 restaurants, a post office, a bait and tackle shop, and a community church. A public campground with 40 spaces is available as well as cabins and summer homes to rent. Three times a year (Memorial Day weekend, Labor Day weekend, and Thanksgiving weekend) artists and musicians open up their homes and studios to visitors for the Artisan Tour. (

Population statistics gathered online varied from 203-300, but according to 2020 data on, 410 people live within this almost 8 square mile area. Only 14% of all households are occupied, leaving 84% vacant for seasonal recreational/occasional use and the rest for sale.

To escape the intense heat of the Coachella Valley, we pack a picnic and head for the hills…

After lunch we drive through town and circle the lake.

We head back to CA-18 and Big Bear Blvd. via Green Valley Lake Road. Our stomachs and curiosity satiated, we take the time to enjoy the view we missed before.

The blue splatter beneath the hills in the distance is Lake Arrowhead…

I zoom-in on my iPhone…

Lake Arrowhead is located in the town with the same name, about 15 miles from Green Valley Lake. Nicknamed “The Alps of Southern California,” Lake Arrowhead is a tourist resort consisting of almost 18 square miles. Six private communities provide the only access to the lake. ( and

As I walk away and return to our car, I discover this cool pine tree in front of me…

Back on CA-18, we pass by Snow Valley Mountain Resort…

Crystal blue skies, evergreen trees, massive rocks, and mountain tops entertain us along the descent into Big Bear.

There’s Big Bear Lake down below…

Sometimes we stop at a pullout to smell the pines, feel the fresh air, and enjoy the scenery.

The view from the car through a dirty windshield is not too shabby either…

We are definitely not in the desert anymore!

Ah, we arrive back at Big Bear Lake…

In contrast to Green Valley Lake, Big Bear is a bustling alpine community of of 21,000 full-time residents. The fresh water lake is 7 miles long and about 1/2 mile wide. Fishing, water sports, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding are popular recreational activities in spring, summer, and fall. Summer temps average 80 degrees during the day and 45 degrees at night. Winter brings about 100 inches of snowfall with temperatures in the low 40s during the day and mid 20s at night, and offers the best skiing and snowboarding experiences in Southern California. (

All of a sudden we get confused. We continue to follow Big Bear Blvd/CA-18 but it does not look familiar with the way we drove in… (?) We end up on CA-38. Fortunately it intersects with 18 and takes us back to 247/Old Woman Spring Road toward 62. Ahhhh…

Back on CA-18 heading down the hills toward CA-247, Old Woman Spring Road…

Instead of taking CA-247 to CA-62 in the Yucca Valley, we decide to take Pioneertown Road to 62.

We notice an intermittent scattering of parked fire vehicles and hiking fire persons along the route. The Apple Fire is not far away…

As we descend from Yucca Valley into the Morongo Valley we are greeted with yellow skies and realize just how close we actually are to the Apple Fire!

From fresh air, cooler temps, and blue skies… to smoky breaths, triple digit temps, and yellow skies… What a difference a day trip with altitude makes!

All My Critters… Part 3

Great and Small on the Preserve

the american white pelican

Sometimes, but not always in a V-formation, a flock of black wings appears overhead in winter. Then suddenly, as they turn, white wings flash through the sunlight.

These wings belong to the American White Pelican, one of the largest birds in North America. These pelicans rarely winter inland, however the Salton Sea* (in Southern California) is an exception. They often travel and forage in large flocks. They soar gracefully on broad, stable, black and white wings, high in the sky between thermals of warm air. (   *The Salton Sea is about 50 miles southeast of the Coachella Valley Preserve.

According to an April 26, 2019 article published online at, many bird species, once abundant around the Salton Sea, are rapidly leaving. As the water increasingly evaporates, salinity increases and kills off the fish  upon which the seabirds thrive. The most pronounced desertion involves the American White Pelican, whose numbers reached about 20,000 in 2008, but, at the time this article was written, have dwindled dramatically to below 100.

The story of the Salton Sea, could be appropriately titled, “From Paradise to Purgatory”. What’s strange about this accidental tale of how an inland sea became the largest lake in California, is the fact that it is located in the middle of the Colorado Desert, the hottest portion of the Sonoran Desert. In 1905 the  Colorado River swelled, breached its levees, and flooded a portion of the desert valley known as the Salton Sink. For 2 years the water continued flowing in, creating a 15 x 35 mile lake dubbed the Salton Sea. Shorebirds flocked here, fish thrived, real estate developers built homes, hotels, yacht clubs… creating a tourist mecca along its shores. By the 1970s, however, what was too good to be true began rapidly falling apart. With no drainage outlet, 5 inches or less of annual rainfall, and runoff flowing in from nearby farms, the Salton Sea became polluted with pesticides and saltier than the Pacific Ocean. Periodic flooding pushed the toxic water further ashore. Depleted oxygen in the Sea killed fish, dragging their rotting bodies onto the beaches once lined with sunbathers, to shrivel in the hot sun. The sand became coated with layers of fragmented fish skeletons. (

(Check out my post Seeing is Believing to learn more about our visit to the Salton Sea in 2018.)

But let’s get back to the American White Pelican…, courtesy of Gordon Dimmig, MacCaulay Library

The American White Pelican dips its pouched bill to scoop up fish, then raises its head to drain out water and swallow its prey, unlike the brown pelican that dives upon its  meal from above. These pelicans also forage cooperatively. Groups of birds dip their bills and flap their wings, driving fish toward shore corralling them for synchronized bill-dipping feasts.

Females lay 2 eggs but only 1 chick usually survives. Another strange but true fact of nature reveals that one chick will harass or kill the other, a behavior known as siblicide.

Predators of the American White Pelican include coyotes, ravens, and great-horned owls.  (

Finally, one last fact about this large, graceful bird that majestically soars through the air: During mating season a yellow plate, called a nuptial tubercle, forms on the upper bill of breeding adults. This fibrous plate falls off after the birds have mated and the female lays her eggs. (


Ducks have returned to Simone Pond since the restoration project has begun!

The Mallard is the ancestor of nearly all domestic duck breeds. The male has the dark green iridescent head and bright yellow bill. Females and juveniles, however, have orange and brown bills and their body feathers are a mottled brown. (

These large ducks with rounded heads and wide, flat bills can live in any wetland area, and may even hang out around your pool in the summer.

They are “dabbling ducks”, which means they feed in the water by tipping forward as opposed to diving.

Generally monogamous, mallards pair off in the autumn and court throughout winter. Only the female incubates the eggs, cares for the ducklings, and makes the familiar quacking sound of a duck. The male produces a quiet rasping sound. (

Another “Cool Fact“ from…

Like other ducks, mallards shed all of their flight feathers during the summer molting season. They are flightless, vulnerable, and secretive during these 3-4 weeks as their body feathers slough into a concealing “eclipse” plumage that can camouflage their appearance.

This spring, 10 ducklings with their Mama paid us a visit at Simone Pond. (A very good sign that the waters are healthier after eradicating the invasive fish.)

courtesy of Ginny Short, CNLM Preserve Biologist/Preserve Manager

courtesy of Mary McKay, Preserve Docent

courtesy of Mary McKay, Preserve Docent

courtesy of Mary McKay, Preserve Docent

Unfortunately this “paddling” of 10 ducklings kept dwindling almost daily, until only 2 survived. Ah, the cycle of life… We suspect our great-horned owls, barn owls, and red-tailed hawks may have scooped them up.

GreaT-horned owl

The palm grove around Simone Pond, known as McCallum Grove, is a favorite nesting place for this thick-bodied gray-brown owl with a reddish-brown face and 2 prominent feathered tufts on its head that look like horns, but are not.  (, courtesy of Christopher Schwarz

The Great-Horned Owl is the most perfect embodiment of what I picture when I think of the phrase, “the wise old owl”. Its piercing yellow eyes stare right through me as if this bird can read the story of my soul, my most intimate and raw thoughts.

One of the most common owls of North America, the Great-Horned is equally “at home” in deserts, wetlands, forests, backyards, cities, and almost any other semi-open habitat between the Arctic and the Tropics. (

On Easter morning, Mary (docent) and Frank (bird hike guide) visited the Pond with our Preserve Manager, Ginny, to assist her in setting crayfish traps. Mary found this “Easter Basket” of 3 Great-Horned fledglings up in the palm tree fronds and sent me these pics…

Last spring 3 owlets or nestlings were born in McCallum Grove and we watched their furry faces peak out of the nest, Mama Owl sitting nearby, of course.

Owls, like other modern birds, do not have teeth for chewing so they eat their prey whole and later regurgitate pellets of undigested material. (

Here’s a close up of one of these owl pellets…

And here’s the palm tree in McCallum Grove under which all these owl pellets were found…

Owls feed mostly on small mammals and other birds, but did you know that they are one of the only animals that will include skunks in their diet? They also have some unique adaptations that earn them their reputation as birds of prey. For example, their sense of hearing is so acute that they can detect a mouse stepping on a twig 75 feet (23 meters) away. And their eyes are so large in proportion to their head that they cannot move their eyes back and forth like humans, having to turn their heads up to 270 degrees (a 3/4 turn) to look in different directions. (

Long-Eared owl

These long and slender owls with tall ear tufts, orange faces, and yellow eyes roost in the palm trees along the boardwalk over the oasis on the Preserve. They appear in winter and are a special treat to look for and observe., courtesy of Jim Edlhuber

This past spring our bird gurus spotted a pair of juveniles which was a special thrill.

And from Jeff’s pics…

Below are pictures of these same 2 owlets watching Jeff and me pull and trim rushes along the boardwalk. They just stared at us with their piercing yellow eyes, their heads following us as we moved to and fro. What an incredible experience to be in their presence for such a long time!

Barn owl Clark

Barn owls live all over the lower 48 United States, parts of southern Canada, and in much of the rest of the world… basically in any open habitat with an abundance of small nocturnal mammals to eat. In the desert this includes rats, mice, bats, and rabbits. (Fortunately, the round-tailed ground squirrels and white-tailed antelope squirrels are diurnal mammals and are relatively safe from the clutches of hungry barn owls.) Besides possessing excellent low-light vision, barn owls have an amazing ability to track and locate their prey by sounds alone. (

My first introduction to the barn owl on the Coachella Valley Preserve was out at Simone Pond. Jeff and I were newly vetted Preserve Hosts in the fall of 2018. We took a personally guided hike with Harlan who shared his vast knowledge of the Colorado desert… it’s flowers and shrubs, birds and reptiles and mammals, and of course the geology of the oasis created by the San Andreas Fault. We hiked the mile to Simone Pond and stopped briefly under the shade of palm trees in an area of the grove known as “The Citadel”, when suddenly large white wings sailed overhead and I felt something hit me lightly and splatter down the front of my t-shirt. Owl poop! A shit show! My baptism to the desert!

Barn owls are not particular in choosing where to place their nests… holes in trees, cliff ledges, cliff crevices, caves, burrows in river banks, and many different human structures, including barn lofts, church steeples, houses, haystacks, and even drive-in movie screens… or even in your own backyard in a homemade nest box. On the Preserve, we see them nesting on the ledges of the palm skirts.

The female prepares the nest by collecting her regurgitated pellets. She shreds them with her feet and molds them into a cup shape. About a month before laying eggs, her monogamous partner begins to bring hunted prey to the nest to both nourish Mama Owl and store for later when the babies hatch. (

I  could not find a suitable picture of a barn owl’s nest in its natural habitat. Apparently the popularity of attracting barn owls on one’s property has led to the abundance of homemade nest boxes. The one below at least gives you an idea of what the contents of the nest look like with the shredded pellets, the Mama, the owlets, and the yummy anticipation of a meal., courtesy of and Christophe Perelle

Last spring (2019) we discovered 2 baby owls along the boardwalk oasis who had fallen out of their nest. Ginny rescued them and took them to the Coachella Valley Wild Bird Center, another non-profit organization, for the care and rehabilitation of injured, orphaned, or sick birds who will eventually be released back into their habitats. We just say, “Ginny took them to Linda.” … as in Linda York, the Executive Director.

This spring no one fell out of their nest. Here are some photos of the newest juvenile barn owl on the Preserve:

The wind kept blowing the palm leaves in front of the owl, so I just kept clicking pics…

Amboy Crater

Ash and Cinders…

This 6,000-year-old volcanic remnant is an almost perfectly symmetrical cinder cone, an example of geology creating geometry. Amboy Crater is situated in one of the youngest volcanic fields in the United States, halfway between Barstow and Needles, CA off Historic Route 66 National Trails Highway. ( and

It is about 2 hours away from Thousand Palms Oasis in the Coachella Valley. We take Dillon Road to Desert Hot Springs to connect with State Route 62, traveling through the Morengo and Yucca Valleys past Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms… 

From SR 62 we turn north on Godwin Road and then head northeast on Amboy Road…

Amboy Crater was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1973 for its visual and geological significance.

The site offers picnic tables, restrooms, a hiking trail to the rim, and an ADA shaded overlook.

Amboy Crater is 250 feet high with a diameter of 1,500 feet. It’s most recent eruption was about 10,000 years ago.

You can hike to the rim of the crater and descend into the center. Unfortunately for us it is way too hot to even think about this 2-3 hour hike! It’s 117 degrees in the shade out here! Best to come back in the winter…

We did manage to sample the trail before heading back to an air-conditioned car…

The inside of the crater contains 2 lava dams behind which have formed small lava lakes that are now flat in appearance, covered with light colored clay, creating the impression of miniature “dry lakes.” (

There is a breach on the west side of the crater where lava poured out over 24 square miles, which contains lava lakes, collapsed lava tubes and sinks, spatter cones, and massive flows of basalt. (

According to the kiosk information, in addition to basalt, the lava flows were also rich in magnesium, iron, and calcium. Red colors from the rocks are the result of ferric iron created by steam on heated rocks. Tiny specks of green are olivine crystals.

Four years ago? Marco Paganini shared this photo on Google Maps

“The crater as seen from the rim. On the bottom left, the trail I used to hike up here. Ahead on the right, the rough trail I’ll use to get back down (but I don’t know it yet.)”

You bet we’ll be back this winter to hike to and down into Amboy Crater!

Native Lands

Then and Now…


Archeologists have discovered evidence of human activity in what is now Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (ABDSP)as early as 6000 years ago. Very little is known about these native people except that they hunted with spears and stored their food underground in rock-lined storage units. Their technology did not yet include the bow and arrow or pottery.

When the first Spanish explorers entered this desert, over 200 years ago, the land was home to the Kumeyaay and Cahuilla people.

Archeologists speculate that the Kumeyaay, sometimes referred to as the Kamia or the Southern Digueno, moved from the Colorado River area, between 2000 and 1200 years ago, to the mountains and desert of what is now San Diego and Imperial Counties.

The Cahuilla are thought to have migrated out of the Great Basin 1500 to 1000 years ago to settle in what is now southern Riverside County across the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains to the Borrego Valley.

Although the Kumeyaay and Cahuilla spoke different languages and possessed different ancestry, they were both semi-nomadic peoples who adapted to the desert environment in similar ways, spending winter in the desert lowlands and moving to the higher mountains from late spring through fall.

Throughout ABDSP there are many examples of Native American technology left behind by the Kumeyaay and Cahuilla people. Upon flat-topped boulders and bedrock, you might see evidence of grinding surfaces where plant foods, such as mesquite beans, agave, pine nuts, and grass seeds, were processed. Rounded depressions in the rock are called morteros; basin-shaped indentations are called metates; smooth, flat, shiny surfaces are called slicks. ( courtesy of Rae Schwaderer, ABDSP Archeologist)

Where agave is growing you might see evidence of a roasting pit, an area of darkened soil approximately 13 feet in diameter, as agave was an important source of food. ( courtesy of Rae Schwaderer, ABDSP Archeologist)

And you might even see some Native American rock art in the form of pictographs and petroglyphs. Pictographs are painted or drawn on rock walls while petroglyphs are designs and symbols etched into the rock. Ethnographic science suggests that the shaman, or holy man of the community, may have produced most of the rock art in connection with puberty rites of passages, fertility ceremonies, and weather control.( courtesy of Rae Schwaderer, ABDSP Archeologist)


We circle our way back home to Thousand Palms Oasis through Cahuilla and Anza where descendants of our Native Ancestors live today. And then we wind our way down through the Santa Rosa Mountains where the Cahuilla used to live in the summer to escape the oppressive heat of the Colorado Desert.

So… we pick up 79 just before Warner Springs, a small community in northern San Diego County, named after Juan Jose Warner who received a Mexican land grant of almost 27,000 acres in 1844. Warner’s Ranch served as a way station for refugees on the Southern Emigrant Trail from 1849-1861; was the only trading post serving travelers between New Mexico and Los Angeles; and was a stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach line from 1857-1861.

Southern Emigrant Trail… courtesy of Giles Weaver and Tom Jonas

Butterfield Overland Mail Stagecoach Trail…

Today Warner Springs is a resort and recreational destination featuring a natural hot springs, 4 wineries/vineyards, fine dining, swimming pools, horseback riding, golf, tennis, sky sailing, and a private airport. (

Outside of the town of Aguanga we pick up SR 371 and head east, passing by several horse ranches before entering the Cahuilla Indian Reservation and Anza Valley.

Facilities in Cahuilla have addresses on Highway 371 and use Anza, CA (4 miles east) as their postal code. The Cahuilla Casino opened in 1996 and the Mountain Sky Travel Center, a convenience store and gas station opened in 2015. Both are owned by the Cahuilla Band of Mission Indians of the Cahuilla Reservation. Despite some delay from the coronavirus, a new casino and hotel replaced the original buildings and opened in May of 2020. (

The population of Anza, CA has more than doubled since 2010. Today almost 8,000 people live in this high desert valley nestled in the mountains between Los Angeles, Palm Desert (outside of Palm Springs), and San Diego.

The Cahuilla inhabited the Anza Valley more than 2,000 years ago. Spanish expeditions  brought the first Europeans to this valley as late as 1774. Explorer Juan Bautista de Anza first passed through here in March of 1774, and again in December of 1775. During the early 1800s European settlers included ranchers, miners, and honey producers. From the late 1860s on, Anza was largely settled by families seeking to build ranches under the Homestead Act.

The famous comedy entertainer, Red Skelton (1913-1997), owned a 600-acre ranch In the Anza Valley and lived here until his death. Who knew?  (

Established in 1893, the Ramona Band of Cahuilla is a federally-recognized Tribe situated in Anza, CA. Hugging the base of Thomas Mountain, the Reservation encompasses 560 acres of land that has been developed entirely off-grid. Solar arrays and battery systems, coupled with small-scale wind turbines, provide power to the Tribe’s residential homes and facility buildings. (

Please visit the Tribal website of the Ramona Band of Cahuilla, ramona-nsn.govand scroll down to HISTORY where you can view a 4 minute video from a native Cahuilla woman…  I love it!

I take some quick pics as we pass through Anza…

The Little Red School House of 1914 once painted red? I think so…

Before we know it, we reach 74, nicknamed the Palms to Pines Highway. It’s a scenic drive filled with glorious views and harrowing switchbacks descending from the pine trees into the palm trees of Palm Springs and the surrounding desert cities.

I recommend you take your time and enjoy the scenery. And make sure you stop and stretch your legs at Cahuilla Teewwenet Vista Point before descending into the Coachella Valley.

Cahuilla Teewwenet Vista Point

The rugged lands seen here and along these short trails were the traditional homeland of the Mountain Cahuilla. Their culture is intimately connected to this landscape, a place they have called home for millennia.

All of the information that I am sharing with you at this beautiful vista comes from the plaques along the trail and the incredible woman whose first-hand knowledge is the source of them all.

Katherine Siva Saubel (1920-2011) was a Cahuilla tribal member dedicating her life to preserving her heritage as author, lecturer, museum developer and co-founder of the Malki Museum Press, an academic outlet for current California Native American  research.

The Cahuilla learned to adapt on the desert floor in the heat and on tops of mountains in the cold. Within these environments they created a life that they appreciated and were thankful for, so much so that their culture became an extension of their environment.

“If you don’t have land you have nothing. And this land, to us, the Indian people, doesn’t just mean a piece of land. This is a sacred area. This was given to us by our Creator, to take care of it, to live here in harmony with it, and that’s why we were put here—to protect it.” (Katherine Siva Saubel, 1993)

“…if they went harvesting they never took it all. You didn’t exhaust the supply to the point where you stripped everything.” (Jay Modesto)

Natural Resources

Sugar Bush ( Nakwet) courtesy of Keir Morse

The berries were gathered in the spring and either eaten fresh or dried and ground into flour. The leaves were steeped into a tea to suppress coughs and treat colds.

Pinyon (Tevat) courtesy of Daniel Mayer

Pine nuts were collectively gathered by several clans because the nuts could be plentiful in a certain area one year and scarce the next. A single tree produces a great crop every 5-7 years. Did you know it takes 2 years for a pine cone to develop?

Pine pitch was used as an adhesive to mend pottery and baskets, and to attach arrowheads to shafts.

Buckhorn Cholla (Mutal)

The fruit was eaten fresh in the spring or gathered, dried, and stored. The buds were boiled or roasted on hot stones before eating. Even with the prickly spines, all of the plant was used either as food or as medicine. The ashes from the roasted stems were used to treat cuts and burns.

Mojave Yucca (Hunavet)

The Cahuilla ate the blossoms and roasted the fruit pods and stalks. The roots were mashed to make soap. The leaves produced a strong fiber used to make rope, bowstrings, sandals, baskets, mats, carrying nets, and saddle blankets.

Scrub Oak (Pawish) courtesy of John Doyen

Acorns were one of the most important foods. Just as areas were shared to collect pinyon nuts, acorns were also shared gathering areas.

The acorns from Pawish were shelled, ground into flour, and leached to make it edible. According to, the leaching process was done by digging a shallow sand pit near a creek or stream. The flour was then spread in the bottom of the pit and water was continuously poured over it until it was sweet. This could take several hours. After leaching, the flour was mixed with better-tasting flour from other oak species.

Acorn flour was used to bake Sawish, a flat bread, and was also used to prepare a mush called Wiwish.

Prickly Pear Cactus (Qexe’yily)

The pads of the cactus were harvested in spring and summer, then boiled and roasted before eating. They would also grind the pads raw into a drink. In early fall the fruit was collected and eaten raw or mashed into a sweet beverage.

Desert Agave (Amul)

An abundant plant, Amul was one of their staple foods. A spring harvest festival, called Kewe’t, was celebrated in the spring when the desert agave was gathered. The mature hearts, young stalks, flowers, fruit pods, and seeds were eaten. Cooked agave was also traded for other foods that were not so plentiful.

The fiber was made into carrying nets and sandals. By pulling a thorn off a dried plant with some fiber attached, a ready-made needle and thread could be used to sew other materials together.

Although women mostly gathered and prepared food, cooking agave was a job done by men. It took 3 nights to roast the agave hearts and was a special time for young men and boys to learn ceremonial songs and stories that were passed from generation to generation.

California Juniper (Yuyily)

The berries were eaten fresh, added to other foods as seasoning, or dried and ground into flour.

As a medicine the Yuyily berries were used to make tea or simply chewed to cure colds and fever.

Just beautiful…

Unfortunately, perhaps, we are living on what was once Cahuilla land a long time ago. Fortunately, we do appreciate the way our brothers and sisters lived in harmony with the plants and animals, giving thanks for the use of these natural resources and taking only what was needed. Jeff and I understand we are living on a sacred parcel of the desert in Thousand Palms Oasis. We are honored to be caretakers here and to share the Cahuilla traditions with visitors.

Unfortunately, the world is losing its focus and ability to live in harmony with all of our natural resources. We have taken more than we need and what we have left behind is not enough to replenish the supply.

I wish I had a “fortunately” to add, but I don’t.

Borrego Springs

A Day Trip…

We try to get off the Preserve one day a week to explore the area around us. Today we decide to visit the metal sculptures that dot the Colorado Desert in Borrego Springs. This little town is completely surrounded by the largest State Park in California, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, (ABDSP), encompassing over 600,000 acres of badlands, slot canyons, mud caves, cactus-studded hills, a palm oasis, and plenty of dirt roads for 4-wheel-drivers to enjoy. Elevations range from 8,000 feet to below sea level. The park is named for the 18th century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and borrego, the Spanish word for sheep. Borrego Springs is also a designated International Dark-Sky Community. (,, and

google maps

Here we are heading north toward the Santa Rosa Mountains.

Ten minutes later we encounter the famous 350-foot-long sea monster sculpture that gives the illusion of snaking into and over the top of the desert sand.

Ricardo Breceda is the sculptor of this magnificent serpent. Born in Durango, Mexico, he has lived in California for over 25 years. He discovered his passion for creating metal artwork when his daughter Lianna, who was 6-years-old at the time, asked her father for a dinosaur of her own after watching Jurassic Park III.

Breceda was a cowboy boot salesman at the time and it just so happened that he had recently traded a pair of boots for a welding machine. So, he welded a dinosaur out of metal for Lianna and the rest is history, as creating sculptures became a new hobby and he accidentally discovered his talent as an artist.

Eventually Ricardo crossed paths with Dennis Avery, an heir to the famous label maker family. Avery owned a large estate in Borrego Springs called Galleta Meadows which he wanted to turn into an outside art gallery. So, Avery commissioned Breceda to design and create over 130 pieces of art scattered throughout Borrego Springs. His creations include, besides dinosaurs, prehistoric mammals, historical characters, insects, and animals. (

The area around the sculptures is roped off so we respectfully enjoy the artwork from a distance.

We discover this grove of saguaro cactus down a dead end side street…

We head back home by  continuing west through Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs, and the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park on Montezuma Valley Road (County Road S-22) which slithers its way up from the Borrego Valley into the hills of the San Ysidro Mountains before leveling off at Ranchito.  (

We begin heading northeast at Highway 79 near Warner Springs where we will then catch Highway 371 that will lead us onto Highway 74 that takes us back onto Monterey Avenue in Palm Desert to Ramon Road and Thousand Palms Canyon Road… back beneath the palm trees towering over the oasis… which we call home.

google maps

Up, Up, and Away…

We drive into a pull-out and take pics of the desert valley below…

At an elevation of 2,300 feet, we overlook the immense Anza-Borrego Desert State Park…

These hills are the home of bighorn sheep, the borrego of Anza-Borrego.

plaque at overlook

plaque at overlook

They live nimbly on these rocky slopes in the rugged and open environment they call home. Their climbing skills and excellent vision help them avoid predators. Their horns are useful tools for opening cacti to drink the moisture stored within.

But these icons of the desert are endangered. Since the 1800s, grazing of cattle and domestic sheep, disease, hunting, mining, and loss of habitat and water holes have reduced the herd to a fraction of what it once was. (plaque at overlook)

Yes, the desert is hot in the summer but, as you can see, it is worth enjoying within an air-conditioned car. The landscape is still beautiful when barren, but is it really barren? Look closely and you will discover that plants thrive and blossom all the time. The rocks speak. The sand speaks. The plants live to tell their stories.

And humans, who lived here as early as 6,000 years ago, continue to enrich this desert landscape with their ingenuity, creating a place to discover, enjoy, and be amazed.

I am always amazed!