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,

All About Oliver

A Sanfilippo Story by Grammy L…

Receiving the clinical trial gene therapy treatment means follow up tests and visits to the hospital for Oliver.

Mom writes…

Three really long days for Oliver this week. He was able to come home each evening and play and spend each night snuggled with us. He knows the hospital and let’s me know I missed the garage entrance. We have familiar faces there who know how to find Paw Patrol for him. And he’s charmed all the incredible nurses who know him from his blood draws. He says ‘thank you’ and ‘hello’ to the valets and doctors. And he still hates that bandage with the red dot, always refusing it and suggesting ‘maybe later’.

Our boy is tougher than nails and sweeter than pie!

Oceanside, CA


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…

google maps

… 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

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,

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.” (

A fun day and a great road trip destination… However, we were surprised at the number of visitors who had no masks available 😷.

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!

Geology Tour Road

Joshua Tree National Park

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.

Notice the CA license plate…

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.


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. (

Foliation refers to repetitive layering in metamorphic rock. The word comes from the Latin folium meaning “leaf”, referring to the sheet-like structure. (

Here is an example of Pinto gneiss in Joshua Tree NP:, courtesy of Blizo

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. (

According to, 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 website explains the unique geology of Joshua Tree:

Geologic Formations…

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. (

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. (

As we travel through Queen Valley…

Marker 2: This knoll is the north-south drainage divide for Joshua Tree National Park., courtesy of Walter Feller

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. (

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.

a juniper bush

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. (

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)

Joshua Tree “Geology Tour Road” 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. (

According to

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
Joshua Tree “Geology Tour Road” Guide

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, 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, 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

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, 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. (

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. (, courtesy of Walter Feller

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. (

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…

Silver Bell Mine, courtesy of

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. (

Marker 15: Pinyon Well Junction is an alluvial fan at the upper end of a bajada., courtesy of Walter Feller

The 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. (

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…, courtesy of 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.

All About Oliver

A Sanfilippo Story by Grammy L…


His Mom writes:

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

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!