We live in the Colorado Desert, part of the Sonoran Desert extending southeast from California to northern Mexico. The Colorado Desert is the lowest, hottest, most arid region of the Sonoran Desert. Wishing for snow is non-negotiable unless hell freezes over. By definition, a desert receives less than 6 inches of rain per year. The desert in Southern California barely receives 4 inches per year. 😳
So, taking liberties with Irving Berlin’s bestselling “White Christmas” song, please bear with my desert adaptation set to the tune of his iconic holiday classic:
I’m dreaming of some rain on Christmas,
So that flowers bloom and grow.
And later in the Spring,
The blossoms shall bring,
Colors delightful to show…
I’m dreaming of some rain on Christmas,
With every week that passes by.
May the mountains be snowy and white,
And melt down to make the desert bright.
And then… what to my wondering eyes did appear? A sudden rush of dark clouds, And 8 raindrops right here!
Ah, every raindrop has 15 minutes of fame, to paraphrase Andy Warhol… Not long after Jeff and I did our happy dance, the sky’s canvas brightened into a muted sunset.
Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Whatever you prefer… I realize I say Merry Christmas but I really mean Happy Solstice that we celebrate. Somehow this whole year had been a winter solstice hanging over our heads. But, for now, let’s be children again and look forward to bright surprises dropped down the chimney or brought by Hanukkah fairies or shared on Zoom calls with our families.
Jeff and I drive to Joshua Tree NP to watch the sunset and observe the “great conjunction” aka, the closest alignment of Jupiter and Saturn since July 16, 1623, a little more than a decade after Galileo first used a telescope to discover Jupiter’s 4 largest moons. Unfortunately, because of the planets’ position to the sun, this great conjunction was virtually impossible to see. So that takes us back to March 4, 1226, when Genghis Hahn was still roaming Asia, as the last time the planets were this close and as visible. (scientificamerican.com)
What makes this event even more special is the fact that is taking place on the Winter Solstice of 2020.
We enter the NP from the west entrance around 4:00 and are surprised that the rangers are just ushering all cars through. Jeff heads to Keys View overlooking the San Andreas Fault and Thousand Palms Oasis where we live right now. (We packed sushi, olives, cheese, a baguette, and nuts to eat when we arrive, but snacked on them on the drive up to the high desert.) Apparently lots of other people decided to choose this spot too.
We find a makeshift parking spot and ascend the walkway…
We hear a beautiful voice singing “Oh, Holy Night” and then “Ave Maria”…
So special and such a clear, angelic voice… Wow!
I start taking pictures of the setting sun…
And the Salton Sea…
And the moon…
A shared heavenly experience… And a shooting star! While Jeff was looking at Mars through his binoculars, I saw a shooting star approach the two planets, visible with the naked eye. A collective, “Ahhh” erupted…
That’s the Coachella Valley below and the lights are from Palm Springs. The road riding into the sunset is Interstate 10.
And here’s a view of Palm Desert and some of the other desert communities…
It gets darker…
And finally, it’s dark enough that I can capture the 2 planets with my iPhone… look closely…
The next rendezvous, according to scientificamerican.com, where Jupiter and Saturn are separated by just six arc minutes will arrive on March 15, 2080.
Jeff and I first visited Amboy Crater, located on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, in July during the triple digit heat of summer. Today we return for a proper hike into the cone itself to explore the caldera and hike to the rim.
This National Natural Landmark, an anomaly of black rock rising in the earth-toned desert, is formed of ash and cinders. It is 250 feet high and 1,500 feet in diameter. The crater is situated in one of the youngest volcanic fields in the United States. It is located in the Barstow-Bristol trough, an elongated tectonic depression running west-northwest, which approximately straddles the boundary between the Mojave Desert and Sonoran Desert tectonic blocks.
To get there from where we live in the Coachella Valley, we take Thousand Palms Canyon Road north to Dillon Road and head east on Highway 62 toward Twenty Nine Palms past Joshua Tree. We turn north (left) on Godwin Road and east (right) on Amboy Road. Amboy Crater is about 45 miles from Twenty Nine Palms. We cross Bristol Lake, once a prehistoric sea, now a dry lake mined for the calcium chloride used to de-ice roadways in colder climates. (desertusa.com)
The volcanic field was created by at least 4 distinct periods of eruptions, resulting in a coaxial nested group of cinder cones. (I understand this to mean that the group of nested cinder cones share the same center or axis.) The most recent eruption of Amboy Crater was about 10,000 years ago. The lava flows consist of basalt rich in minerals of magnesium, iron, and calcium. If you look closer, you might observe minute green-colored olivine crystals. The red color indicates the presence of ferric iron, the result of steam on heated rock. (from kiosk in parking area)
The trail to the crater is only 1.1 miles from the parking lot/day use area. This well-marked trail leads to the west of the cinder cone, taking you to a wide opening where an explosive eruption breached the crater wall. From here you can descend into the caldera and/or climb to the top. Round trip, the trail is about 3+ miles, depending upon how many trails you descend and ascend within the cone before returning to your car.
The trail leads you through sand and lava fields:
Up close and personal, the crater is less intimidating. (I know it looks like there is a trail here leading to the rim. Trust me, this is not the way up…)
The trail wraps around the back to the right and then starts to head up. Here the uphill is steep and uneven but fortunately this part is a rather short climb.
Once you climb up, you are inside the crater.
Four trails lead up to the ridge.
Naturally, Jeff and I choose an “iffy” and steep trail to the top. These pictures are deceiving in that the trail looks well-established and an easy climb… NOT in my humble opinion. I am scared to look down. I am scared to lose my footing. I am just plain scared. I end up crawling my way to the top, latching on to any secure rock I can find.
Whew! I hug the ground when I safely make it to the rim! Then I stand up. And look back down.
More views from the ridge…
Here we descend into the caldera again on the most friendly trail.
I pause and look back up to the top…
And down again…
One last curve…
And we are in the caldera. I look back one last time…
And we descend onto the trail leading back to the parking area.
We walk back toward our car and turn around for a last close-up and personal look at Amboy Crater.
Looking ahead again, a train runs parallel to Route 66.
Amboy Crater is so worth the “off the beaten path” drive! There is no shade or civilization at all as you travel through the desert. The feeling of solitude is intense, but welcoming, if you know what I mean. But if you need to feel connected again, head to the town of Amboy before returning back to Twenty Nine Palms. Look for the giant neon sign on Route 66 that advertises Roy’s Motel and Cafe.
The exact population of Amboy, originally founded in the 1850s by salt miners, is less than 10. It was the first stop in a series of railroad stations constructed across the Mojave Desert in the late 1800s. In 1938 Roy’s Motel, named after Roy Crowl, opened as a rest stop for travelers, the only respite from the desert heat for miles and miles around. With the rise of automobiles, Roy’s Motel included a gas and service station. At it’s heyday, the town of Amboy, owned by Herman “Buster” Burris, had a population of 700. Buster eventually sold the town and moved away. Albert Okura, a businessman, Historic Route 66 activist, and philanthropist purchased the town of Amboy in 2005. (roadtrippers.com)
According to desertusa.com, Amboy is a time capsule of 1950s Americana. After Albert Okura purchased the town for $425,000, he has slowly been restoring it. Roy’s is open for gas and there’s a little store where you can buy water and a postcard and use the restroom. On November 16, 2019 the iconic neon lights of the Roy’s Cafe & Motel sign were lit after 20 years of darkness, lighting up the roadway again for travelers on Route 66. In the future there are plans to restore the 20-room hotel and 6 bungalows.
“There is an old cemetery, a church and a post office nearby — all closed now — but the grave markers remind us of the history and the residents who used to live there.” (desertusa.com)
Nestled among the Little San Bernardino Mountains, this desert oasis is one of the 10 largest cottonwood and willow riparian (stream) habitats in California. The Preserve is an internationally-recognized birding site. It includes 2 desert vegetation zones: the Mojave and the Sonoran. The lush vegetation of Big Morongo Canyon stands in sharp contrast to the surrounding desert slopes. A high water table in the canyon has made possible the growth of tall trees in a desert climate. (bigmorongo.org)
Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is located in the Morongo Valley, a community between Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park.
The Preserve entrance is located off of State Hwy 62 on East Drive. Adjacent to the parking area is an information kiosk. On the ceiling are pictures of the various birds you may see inside the Preserve painted in their actual colors, as if you were looking up into the air and seeing the bird fly over. On the ground floor, beneath each flying bird, you’ll discover each bird’s own unique shadow. This shadow is how the ground animals recognize which predator lurks in the skies above. (bigmorongo.org)
All trails begin at the Info Kiosk.
Trails range from 3 tenths of a mile to an 11-mile round trip hike. Elevations on the Preserve range from 600 feet on the canyon floor to over 3,000 feet at the ridge tops. The Morongo fault running through the canyon causes water draining from the surrounding mountains to form the creek and marsh habitat. (bigmorongo.org)
This color-coded map sets the trails apart and also offers a one-way COVID-19 compliant loop to follow:
We take the Marsh Trail to the Mesquite Trail where we pick up the Marsh Trail again and complete the Desert Willow Trail. And then we complete the entire loop of the Marsh Trail. We will return another time to “take the high road”of the West Canyon Trail, Canyon Trail (maybe), and Yucca Ridge Trail.
Here are pictures from our hike:
The Marsh Trail meanders over and along a stream under Fremont cottonwood trees, red willow, and white alder. This wetland area supports the 2nd highest density of breeding birds known in the U.S.. (bigmorongo.org)
The Mesquite Trail continues along the stream through a marsh habitat…
… then briefly travels along the base of the Yucca Ridge…
A large outcropping of ancient gneiss rock, along this trail, is the result of the Morongo Valley Fault.
More views of the Yucca Ridge…
Boardwalks along the trails are environmentally appropriate. Composed of 60% recycled plastic milk containers and 40% sawdust, they last longer than wood. (bigmorongo.org)
An airy canopy of twisted limbs and branches…
“Spikerush” growing along the trails can grow to 7 feet high. When the stems can no longer support themselves, they tip over forming a dense ground cover providing small animals a home and protection from predators. (bigmorongo.org)
The Desert Willow Trail is a dirt trail wandering through open fields and honey mesquite thickets that drop down into a desert wash.
More mistletoe… Notice how green it is.
On Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve the mistletoe is red and found clinging to mesquite bushes.
Even dead trees add color and ambiance to the desert habitat…
And now we are back where we started, outside the Visitor Kiosk, as we retrace our steps and complete the Marsh Trail, a 6-foot wide boardwalk trail accessible to everyone who is other-abled. There are 3 decks for relaxing along the .65 mile trail.
*Sand to Snow National Monument
Established by President Obama on February 12, 2016, the Sand to Snow Monument stretches from the sands of the Sonoran Desert to the top of San Gorgonio, the highest mountain in Southern California. With an area of 154,000 acres, Sand to Snow ranges from 1,000 feet to 11,000 feet in elevation. It protects a wildlife corridor connecting the San Bernardino National Forest/San Gorgonio Wilderness area, Joshua Tree National Park, and the Bighorn Mountain Wilderness area. (desertusa.com)
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 😷.