It’s been a very hot summer and we miss the cool ocean weather of Port Orford, Oregon where we usually stay in the summer. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we decide to stay in the Coachella Valley as CNLM graciously provides us this opportunity. Jeff’s yearning for the ocean, however, prompts our day trip to Oceanside, CA.
Located just 35 miles north of San Diego and 83 miles south of Los Angeles, O’side is less than 3 hours away from the Coachella Valley Preserve…
… and is just south of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on September 25, 1942 in honor of World War I Major General Joseph H. Pendleton.
This land was inhabited by the indigenous Luiseño or Payomkawichum people before the first European explorers arrived in 1769. Today’s city of Oceanside sits on the mouth of the San Luis Rey River on the locality that the Luiseño called Tacayme. Father Junipero Serra’s missionaries founded San Luis Rey de Francis Mission on the Luiseño Indian village site called Keith. Farming and cattle grazing changed the landscape of this area in the early 1800s. Like all of California, this area was under Spanish until 1821. Then it was under Mexican rule until 1848 when the United States took control.
Completed in 1883, the California Southern Railroad, a branch of the Santa Fe, linked the cities of San Diego and San Bernardino. The railroad and World War II brought tourism and Camp Pendleton to this sleepy little town and turned it into the modern city of today. (en.m wikipedia.org)
Today, Oceanside is a thriving coastal community that provides all of the convenience of a modern city without the disadvantages. Located just 35 miles north of San Diego and 83 miles south of Los Angeles, Oceanside offers a unique combination of outstanding coastal location, well-priced available land and multiple resources. California’s main highway, Interstate 5, runs through Oceanside, as does Highway 78, which provides southeast access to Interstate 15. Highway 76, which runs northeast, also provides access to Interstate 15. With the Los Angeles area to the north and the San Diego/Tijuana area to the south, Oceanside enjoys proximity to all major Southern California destinations, while at the same time maintaining its coastal beauty and autonomy.
City of Oceanside, California website, ci.oceanside.ca.us
And here we are!
The Pier is an Oceanside historical landmark, first constructed shortly after the city incorporated in 1888. Since then, there have been 6 different pier structures built, the present version completed in 1987. The 1,942 foot wooden pier is “the perfect location to take a leisurely stroll, go fishing, watch surfers, or grab a bite to eat at the charming restaurant located at the very end.” (visitoceanside.org)
A fun day and a great road trip destination… However, we were surprised at the number of visitors who had no masks available 😷.
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. (ktla.com)
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
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. (fire.ca.gov)
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.
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.
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:
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!
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!
Now that we have a new car, we can safely navigate dirt roads that were previously off-limits in our little purple eggplant of a vehicle.
We take our new 2019 Honda HRV to Joshua Tree National Park and drive part of the Geology Tour Road that intersects Park Boulevard, the main road through the NP.
We drive as far as Squaw Tank before turning back. After Squaw Tank the road gets rougher and is only recommended for 4-wheel-drive vehicles.
THE GEOLOGY TOUR
Rocks have stories to tell. Geologists listen and speak their language, sharing with us the tales of the long, dynamic history of Earth. The 1.8-billion-year geology in Joshua Tree National Park is capsulized along this 18-mile round-trip road. (plaque on site)
As we drive and bounce along this unpaved route on a hot but beautiful clear-blue day, I will do my best to explain the history of today’s landscape in Joshua Tree National Park while mostly just sharing my pictures along the way.
According to the Geology Tour Road Guide available at the “trailhead” of this motor tour, the landscape we see today in Joshua Tree NP is the product of at least 2 widely separated episodes of mountain building. The latest of these episodes was followed by uplift, very deep erosion and then further uneven uplift along fault lines.
Erosion exposed two rock bodies originally formed deep below Earth’s surface: the 1.7-billion-year-old Pinto gneiss and the 85-million-year-old White Tank monzogranite that intruded the gneiss as molten magma.
Let’s stop here for a moment! Gneiss? Okay… gneiss is a foliated metamorphic rock.
A metamorphic rock has been modified by heat, pressure, and chemical processes, usually while buried deep below Earth’s surface. There are 2 basic types of metamorphic rocks: foliated and non-foliated. (geology.com)
Foliation refers to repetitive layering in metamorphic rock. The word comes from the Latin folium meaning “leaf”, referring to the sheet-like structure. (en.m.wikipedia.org)
Here is an example of Pinto gneiss in Joshua Tree NP:
Monzogranite rock is formed when molten liquid, heated by the continuous movement of Earth’s crust, seeps upward and cools while still below the surface. (protrails.com)
According to nps.gov, this molten liquid (magma) beneath Earth’s surface hardened into stone and cracked under pressure some 100 million years ago. As the ground above the surface eroded, exposing the hardened stone beneath, water seeped into the cracks slowly turning rock into soil. Finally, as this rocky soil slowly eroded away, what was left were towers of disjointed rock intrusions.
Here is an example of White Tank monzogranite:
These magnificent irregular boulders remain iconic symbols of Joshua Tree National Park!
This short, excellent, and animated video on the nps.gov website explains the unique geology of Joshua Tree:
Marker 1: Queen Valley (and Lost Horse Valley on the other side of Ryan Mountain) are formed by a difference in the rate of erosion between the rock underlying the valley itself and the rock composing the surrounding mountains. (digital-desert.com)
The rock making up these valleys is generally less resistant to weathering and erosion than the rock forming the surrounding mountains so it disintegrates more rapidly to form low-lying plains. (digital-desert.com)
As we travel through Queen Valley…
Marker 2: This knoll is the north-south drainage divide for Joshua Tree National Park.
From here water drains either to the northwest via the Quail Springs Wash…
…or to the southeast via the Fried Liver Wash that empties into the Pinto Basin. (digital-desert.com)
Of course, I have no idea what I am really taking pictures of (except for the monzogranite rock piles, Mojave yucca, and Joshua trees, that is…) The desert, rocks, sky, and clouds are just beautiful, that’s all! And no other cars are in sight.
Marker 3: Just ahead is a desert wash, aka nature’s gutter. Mineral grains, loosened from parent rocks are moved downslope during rainstorms. (Geology Tour Road Guide)
A desert wash is a dry intermittent stream channel where a sudden intense rainfall can produce flash floods. Mineral grains, loosened from rocks by weathering, are moved further down the wash by flooding. It may take a number of storms before the mineral grains deposit into an alluvial fan or dry lake.
The soil in the wash contains more moisture, allowing some plants to grow here more readily than in drier soil. (digital-desert.com)
I continue taking pictures as we drive along the unpaved road…
Marker 5: The monzogranite rock piles continue to amaze me. Once upon a time they were just a molten mass 15 miles beneath the surface of Earth. Then they cooled and crystallized to form solid rock that pushed upward and eroded into magnificent sculptures. (Geology Road Tour Guide)
Erosion over the ages has stripped away the overlying Pinto gneiss, exposing the monzogranite outcrops in the pictures above. The mountains to the west are composed of darker gneiss, which is more resistant to erosion than monzogranite. (Geology Road Tour Guide)
Marker 7: The twin peaks of Malapai Hill rise about 400 feet above the valley floor. According to the Geology Tour Road Guide the Hill is mostly composed of black basalt, which is more resistant to weathering than monzogranite, and most likely resulted from a shallow intrusion of molten magma that did not quite reach the surface. Geologists speculate that the basalt formed within the last 2 or 3 million years, which is quite recent as compared to the monzogranite at 85-million years of age and the gneiss at 1.7-billion years old.
Marker 8: We descend a pediment surface which is defined as a gently sloping rock surface at the foot of a steep slope, as of a mountain, usually thinly covered with a deposit of sand or mud formed by flowing water. (dictionary.com)
According to usgs.gov:
About seven to nine million years ago, the Mojave Desert was semi-arid, covered in soft rolling hills and vegetation, a vastly different scene than the dry, cactus-filled ground today. The granite bedrock was covered by soil which formed from water moving down through the rock, assisted by joints in the granite. Slowly, the jointed granite became more rounded, resulting in tall, elongated boulders encased by soil. As the landscape became drier, less water was available to chemically weather the rock and remove debris away, and soil stopped forming so rapidly. Rounded boulders and small rocks were left behind, no longer having enough water to carry away eroded material. Inselbergs…. look like islands of rock.
The “ocean” that these islands rise from is made up of pediments. Pediments are rock surfaces which appear flat but have slopes from half a degree to six degrees. There is some debate as to how pediments form. Some believe that they formed at the same time as inselbergs, by the same erosional processes. A more common belief is that they form when mountains retreat. When we talk about retreating mountains, it doesn’t mean the mountains are picking themselves up and moving. Instead, the front of the mountain has been eroded by physical and chemical weathering, and a pediment is left on the land that mountain front used to occupy. Pediments are subject to winds and sheet floods, that for the most part, relatively clear them of debris. In order to be considered a pediment, any debris on the plane must be less than ten feet thick.
Joshua Tree National Park Geology
Marker 9: We now approach Squaw Tank. This is our turn-around point as we are not driving a 4-wheel-drive vehicle.
The brightness and clarity of the next set of photos let’s you know we have arrived at the parking area and are taking pictures outside of the car:
By now you are an expert in correctly identifying the make-up of these boulders… monzogranite, you got it!
The pits and hollows on rock surfaces in this area are a product of cavernous weathering. This process begins with irregularities on the rock surface that trap water. The water promotes a chemical breakdown of the rock into clay, which in turn holds more moisture and promotes more breakdown of the rock. (Geology Road Tour Guide)
It’s too hot to explore this area and hike to the “tank” of Squaw Tank. I never even questioned the term, to be honest, until I started doing some “homework” for this post and became curious about a White Tank and Squaw Tank. I thought tank was a geologic term…🥴😳🥴
According to joeorman.shutterace.com, tanks were small dams built by local ranchers some hundred plus years ago to collect rain runoff for watering cattle. This concrete dam, known as Squaw Tank, was built by cattlemen in the late 1880s. And according to joshuatree3d.com, a short walk from this ample parking area leads to a sandy, rock-enclosed wash leading to Squaw Tank, a watering hole found behind a human-made wall that spans the width of the wash.
In 2008 Joe Orman posted this picture of Squaw Tank on his website joeorman.shutterace.com:
So, unfortunately, we have to turn back.
But there are 7 more points of interest that I can only read about and describe and wish I could experience.
Marker 10: This section of Geology Tour Road becomes a one-way loop in Pleasant Valley.
Pleasant Valley lies between the Hexie Mountains and the Little San Bernardino Mountains. (According to nps.gov, there are 6 mountain ranges in Joshua Tree NP. Who knew? Right?) The Little San Bernardino Mountains are in the southwest. The Cottonwood, Hexie, and Pinto Mountains are in the center of the Park. The Eagle and Coxcomb Mountains are in the east.
Between the mountain ranges there are valleys identified according to their method of formation. As previously discussed, Queen and Lost Horse Valleys were formed by the difference in the rate of erosion between the rock underlying these valleys and the rock composing the surrounding mountains. The mountainous rock is more resistant to erosion and therefore rises above the valleys. Pleasant Valley was formed by a collapsed block of rock along faults that formed basins called grabens, meaning ditch or grave in German. (nps.gov)
Joshua Tree is also crisscrossed with a number of earthquake faults, the most familiar being the San Andreas Fault which borders the south end of the park and can be seen from Keys View.
The Blue Cut Fault is in the center of the park extending roughly 50 miles through the Little San Bernardino Mountains, under Pleasant Valley, and into the Pinto Basin. Blue Cut is named for the igneous rock, blue granodiorite, that is exposed along the main branch of the fault. (digital-desert.com)
Activity along this fault zone uplifted the Hexie Mountains while dropping Pleasant Valley.
Fault zones create localized natural springs. Movement by faults result in impenetrable zones of shattered rock fragments that form an underground dam forcing ground water to rise. Fault-caused oases support the native palm tree, Washingtonia filifera (California fan palm), and supply food and water to a variety of wildlife. (digital-desert.com)
Marker 12: Extensive mining activity took place throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s. Gold, silver, copper, lead, and other metals of economic importance are believed to be deposited when intruding magma cools and crystallizes, and various gasses and liquid solutions rise from the magma. The Hexie Mountains are riddled with tunnels and shafts dug by miners in search of gold and other precious metals. Very few mines, however, were profitable.
Here are some pictures of abandoned mines in the Hexie Mountains. No, they are not visible from Geology Tour Road…
Marker 13 crosses a dry lake or playa, evidence of a wetter climate during which a periodic lake existed in Pleasant Valley.
Sediments carrying sand and clay from higher elevations are deposited in depths of several hundred feet. As these lake beds rise, the slopes from canyons lessen and the desert heat turns the sand and clay into silt and evaporating salt deposits that level off the bottom of the valley creating a dry lake, or playa. (digital-desert.com)
Marker 15: Pinyon Well Junction is an alluvial fan at the upper end of a bajada.
The usgs.gov website explains alluvial fans and bajadas:
Joshua Tree National Park has many mountain ranges with flat-lying areas between them. Alluvial fans form at the base of a mountain as eroded sediment carried within a stream is dumped out when the slope becomes flat. When it hits the flat-lying area at the foot of the mountain, it slows. The faster a stream flows, the more rocks and sediments it can carry, so when the stream slows down, it drops the debris that it is carrying. This debris spreads out in a shape that often resembles a wedge, or a fan. Alluvial fans are often poorly sorted, meaning that they have rocks ranging from small sediments to larger rocks. When multiple alluvial fans meet and overlap, they are referred to as a bajada.
Joshua Tree National Park Geology
Further up this canyon is the site of Pinyon Well, a source of water for processing ore and watering cattle. (digital-desert.com)
Marker 16: Apparently this place affords a great view of many of the geological processes along this tour of the Queen and Pleasant Valleys. Below is a panoramic view captured by Walter Feller…
Geology studies the history of the constantly changing earth; the processes of mountain building, erosion, and rebuilding. Rock records of nearly 2 billion years present evidence of mountain building along the Blue Cut Fault, the igneous rock intrusions in Malapai Hill, and the monzogranite rock piles. Alluvial fans, bajadas, and dry lakes/playas are evidence of how erosion slowly destroys mountains. And even more amazingly, this tour shows the evidence of how indigenous peoples and their descendants survived in the desert utilizing the products of geology. (1975 copy of “Geology and Man: An 18-Mile Self-Guided Motor Nature Trail” by Elden K. Wanrow, Park Naturalist)
All I have to share are my pictures as we return from Squaw Tank and head back to Park Boulevard:
I highly recommend this geology tour, even if you have no idea what you are seeing. There are plenty of resources to help you decipher the views and learn so much about the dynamic history of this scenery. I hope I helped you understand and appreciate these ever changing processes as well.
His smile melts my heart every time, melts away my worry and fear, melts away my frustration and confusion. In these moments, he’s just my little boy on his first day of kindergarten without a care in the world…
Green Valley Lake is about 15 miles from Big Bear Lake.
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. (green-valley-lake.com)
Population statistics gathered online varied from 203-300, but according to 2020 data on unitedstateszipcodes.org, 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…
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. (lakearrowhead.com and en.m.wikipedia.com)
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. (bigbear.com)
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!
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. (allaboutbirds.org) *The Salton Sea is about 50 miles southeast of the Coachella Valley Preserve.
According to an April 26, 2019 article published online at nbcpalmsprings.com, 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. (slate.com)
(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…
allaboutbirds.org, 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. (allaboutbirds.org)
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. (nhpbs.org)
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. (allaboutbirds.org)
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. (allaboutbirds.org)
Another “Cool Fact“ from allaboutbirds.org…
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.
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. (allaboutbirds.org)
audubon.org, 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. (allaboutbirds.org)
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. (nwf.org)
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. (nwf.org)
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.
windowtowildlife.com, 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 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. (allaboutbirds.org)
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. (allaboutbirds.org)
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.
freedomok.net, courtesy of arkive.org 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…
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. (visitcalifornia.com and blm.gov)
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.” (desertusa.com)
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. (blm.gov)
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…
You bet we’ll be back this winter to hike to and down into Amboy Crater!
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. (desertusa.com 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. (desertusa.com 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.(desertusa.com 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…
slideplayer.com 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. (warnerspringsranchresort.com)
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. (en.m.wikipedia.org)
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? (en.m.wikipedia.org)
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. (ramona-nsn.gov)
Please visit the Tribal website of the Ramona Band of Cahuilla, ramona-nsn.gov, and 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)
Sugar Bush ( Nakwet)
calscape.org 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.
calscape.org 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)
calscape.org 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 nativeamericannetroots.net, 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.
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.
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. (yournorthcounty.com, desertusa.com, and visitcalifornia.com)
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. (ricardobreceda.com)
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. (sandiegocounty.gov)
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.
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.
Gambel’s quail have round bodies with a feather plume on their heads. These ground-hugging desert dwellers prefer to run than fly. Gathering in groups, called coveys, we see them strutting along bushy washes as they run between the cover of one bush to the next. Sometimes they will suddenly break into flight to hop up across a barrier or post a lookout on a low shrub. (allaboutbirds.org)
I’ve never been quick enough to get a picture of these guys before, until we heard their distinctive clucking/crowing calls while “streaming” (pulling tamarisk seedlings and pulicaria along the stream of the Coachella Valley Preserve), and I saw one fly up onto a nearby smoketree branch to assume a lookout position.
Gambel’s quail tend to live in washes and wetland areas where there are dense thickets of honey mesquite, cat’s claw, arrowweed, and four-wing saltbush. Their diet consists of plants, leaves, seeds of grasses, and seeds from coyote scat. Newly hatched chicks, however, only eat insects for the first few days of their lives.
Females build their nests on the ground, concealed and shielded beneath a shrub, clump of cactus, or other protective vegetation. Mom lays 5-15 eggs (clutch) and after 21-31 days the eggs hatch. Upon hatching, this brand new brood of baby quail are able to leave the nest and follow their parents. (allaboutbirds.org)
The male’s plumage is more vibrant and distinctive than the female’s plumage. After all, the females benefit from a more camouflaged appearance to protect her brood when laying her clutch of eggs and incubating them until the babies hatch.