Leave No Trace

Preserve Etiquette…

As we spend time outdoors, in the natural world and wilderness, it’s important to be aware of the effects our individual actions may have on plants, animals, other people, and entire ecosystems. By practicing the 7 principles of Leave No Trace, we can minimize our impact while still enjoying our outdoor experience. (nps.gov)


These principles were established in the mid 1980s by The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, LNT.org, and built on work by the US Forest Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management. (nps.gov)

  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  3. Dispose of waste properly.
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts.
  6. Respect wildlife.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors.

Our Preserve Manager, Ginny, knows how much I enjoy organizing, labeling, and creating signage so when she meets with our team of hosts and we discuss a need for communicating important information, I get to design a poster for Ginny’s approval.

Since we are a privately owned Nature Preserve and not a National Park, no overnight camping is allowed here. So I adapted the 7 principles to fit our environmental needs. Below is the poster I created:

Here are some examples of the “traces” various visitors have left behind this season:

Three pair of shoes left in the parking lot…

I guess they changed into hiking boots and then forgot about them. 😱

Leftover “props” from a photo op…

Here’s a good story…

A younger woman and older man walk in carrying a dress on a hangar. Now, this is not as unusual as you may think. We often have professional and amateur photo shoots on the Preserve. We prefer that the photographers or picture subjects give our Manager a heads up so we can expect them and let them know the etiquette of the Preserve, yadda yadda.

Something about this couple alerts Tom, our co-host, and me to check out what is happening. So, we take a quick walk on the Smoketree Trail and almost fall over them. The She is posing on a cooler in the middle of the trail. Her back is arched back and her legs are seductively exposed through the slit in the halter dress she obviously changed into. The He is standing off-trail on restorative habitat taking pictures. Strewn around the cooler are red and yellow flowers and green leaves. Before Tom and I can even open our mouths, she tells us not to mind them; they are just having some fun. They brought the flowers in and they will pick them all up. Dumbfounded, we just remind him to stay on the trail and leave.

Later our Manager tells us that blocking a trail is a “No-No”, I mean, can you imagine someone in a National Park sitting in the middle of a trail or someone coming on your property and making you walk around them to enter your house?

Anyway, She and He didn’t do a very good job of picking up after themselves… 🤨

A tennis ball to knock down palm fruit…

Here’s another good one from Tom.

A family is leaving the Preserve and Tom hears a loud raucous so he goes to investigate. Apparently a father just happens to have a tennis ball in his pocket.  Really? In front of his son and wife he repeatedly throws the tennis ball up into a palm tree to try and knock down the palm fruit. His attempts prove unsuccessful but for some reason he leaves the tennis ball. Tennis anyone? 😧

Orange peels that will not break down in the desert heat…

Organic litter is not okay!

We ask people not to feed the wildlife so what gives with leaving apple cores, and peels in the desert? What critters will eat it? Or will it just evaporate into thin air?

Leave No Trace has done experiments. Banana peels can take up to 2 years to decompose. In arid environments orange peels will last indefinitely. Citrus contains a natural insecticide. Even ants won’t touch orange peels. Chewing gum contains rubber, so it won’t rot.

Do we eat banana peels or orange peels? So, why would a squirrel or desert critter? An apple core is edible, but if it is not part of an animal’s daily diet, it can change the animal’s biome to the point where it can no longer digest its normal food.

Desert animals have a special difficulty. Many of these critters have no ready source of water: They get moisture from the food they eat. They cannot flush salt from their bodies, and excess salt will kill them. (hcn.org)

This busy ant actually picks up some litter in the parking lot… 🥴

It looks like a petal from some kind of flower not found in the desert, a trace someone else left behind maybe. Where is he or she taking it and why?

A swarm of bees “camps” here for several days before buzzing off…

We don’t confront them, however. 😳

According to perfectbee.com, when bees swarm, a single colony becomes two because the colony needs more space to raise brood (eggs, larvae, and pupae), and store honey and pollen.

To prepare for swarming the queen bee lays an egg in a queen cup. A queen cup is an enlarged wax cell built by worker bees in case the queen lays an egg for her heir. Bees may build one or dozens of these throughout the hive. The empty cups are sometimes torn down so the wax can be used elsewhere, or empty cups may just be left alone in anticipation of the need for swarming. (honeybeesuite.com)


When a queen lays an egg in a queen cup, she plans to leave and is preparing a new queen to take over for her in the existing hive.

Up until this point the old queen has been busy laying eggs (not in a queen cup) and is heavy and not in a position to fly well. To lighten up for travel, she stops laying eggs and the worker bees reduce her feedings, leaving a gap in the egg-to-adult timeline of the colony.

The swarm starts with the old queen and 50% – 60% of her offspring leaving to relocate to a new home. Tens of thousands of bees will stream out of the hive together and choose a nearby location as an intermediary place to rest because the queen is not a great flyer at this point. (perfectbee.com)

Here’s what’s crazy though… Ginny, Harlan, some docents, co-hosts and I walked through this Arrow Weed lined path of the Smoketree Trail earlier to assess rain damage. A few hours later the swarm of bees chose to set up camp here. I can only imagine what it looked liked to observe tens of thousands of bees landing here!

And this squawking raven… 🤫

These hawk-size members of the crow family, or more technically, corvids, are everywhere in Southern California, the center of a Common Raven population boom plaguing the American West. Raven populations in the Mojave Desert have increased more than 700 percent over the past 40 years. Often considered the raccoons of the bird world, ravens are opportunistic feeders willing to feast on everything from trash to other animals. Because they will feast on the eggs and young of other desert animals, raven predation has been detrimental to many desert species. (audubon.org)

During the winter months, ravens enjoy wreaking havoc through the palm trees to eat bugs among the fronds and pick off the palm fruit. Coyotes enjoy the dropped purple berries the ravens leave behind.

According to mentalfloss.com, the collective noun for ravens is an “unkindness” of ravens. Ravens aren’t exactly friendly as they will often gang up on their prey or animals. And because of the impression that they are an ominous presence, an unkindness of ravens can also be called a conspiracy.

All I can say from firsthand experience is that these magnificent black birds appear in a noisy cloud of flapping wings rustling through the air and palm trees, calling out loudly to each other as they show off their acrobatic flying skills. They are not considerate guests. They are boisterous and not only drown out the melodies of the other birds, but completely take over the canopy of palm trees on the oasis. They’re the thugs, bullies, gangstas of the bird world. But they mesmerize me!

So… a birds’ eye review of how to be a VIP Visitor of the Preserve:

  • Check our website for our hours by going to coachellavalleypreserve .org
  • Leave your dogs at home.
  • Bring water, lots of water, and drink it.
  • Stay on the designated trails and respect the areas that are off limits. We are a Wildlife/Nature Preserve, not a park or playground.
  • I don’t care if you need to smoke in the parking lot. Just please take your butts with you, okay. I am the one who picks them up… along with dirty diapers, beer cans, straws, discarded water bottles, etc.
  • Walk, enjoy, listen, look, and take pictures. Stacking rocks into cairns serves no purpose. Spelling names or messages with rocks or sticks in the sand might be meaningful to you but no one else gives a hoot… seriously. Enjoy nature and get over yourself.
  • Plants and wildlife, even anthills, have the right of way. We are the visitors and we respect and enjoy their habitats.
  • And finally, but most importantly, know that your acts of respecting the environment and other visitors do not go unnoticed. From all of us volunteers, we thank you for sharing this magically special and spiritual space with us!

The Perks of Pulling Mustard Part 3

Pushing Through the Pushawalla Washes to Pull and Pause…

On a Sahara mustard mission, the bag lady strikes again! And once again I am not disappointed with the treasures I find…


Silver or golden cholla is a highly variable member of the Cactus Family. The spines on the stems can be silver or golden. Flowers are usually greenish-yellow but can age to dark red. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

These shrubby cacti have cylindrical stems composed of segmented joints. The stems are actually modified branches that serve several functions including water storage, photosynthesis, and flower production. (desertusa.com)

Later I spy more cholla… an open blossom this time…

Desert Tobacco

A member of the Nightshade Family (nicotiana trigonophylla), desert tobacco is related to domestic tobacco (nicotiana tabacum). The leaves are dark green, very sticky, and ill-smelling. Although extremely toxic, Native Americans often smoked this plant during religious ceremonies. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

Jimson Weed

Another member of the Nightshade Family, datura meteloides is also called moonflower, a reference to the fact that the flowers usually open later in the day. (Not here in the desert, though.) Georgia O’Keeffe enjoyed painting its huge blossoms. She said, “When I think of the delicate fragrance of the flowers, I almost feel the coolness and sweetness of the evening.”

Jimson weed is also known as “sacred datura” and has been revered as one of the sacred visionary plants among almost all cultures around the world that have encountered it. Daturas have been used as poisons, medicines, and ritual intoxicants since the beginning of time. Some scholars believe Delphic oracles in Ancient Greece used datura to induce their legendary visions. The Aztecs used datura as a painkiller in initiation rituals and as a narcotic for ritual sacrifices. (fs.fed.us)

The plants produce large white trumpet flowers tinged with purple.

There are 9 to 12 known species of datura, each with its own characteristic narcotic tropane alkaloid, making datura one of the most dangerous and poisonous plants known. Jimson weed is a major cause of accidental poisonings and death by those looking to get a cheap high. (fs.fed.us)

I come across a new wildflower that resembles desert milkweed and I send pics to Ginny, the Preserve Manager, to identify it for me.


Hoffmannseggia glauca, also known as Indian Rushpea, Hog Potato, and “Camote de Ratón” or mouse yam, this plant is a member of the Legume Family. (southwestdesertflora.com)

[I just found out how to add an accent mark over a letter on my iPad, DUH 🙄 and I am so excited 😆!]

But the more research I do, I discover that the leaves of the hoffmanseggia glauca…


and the leaves on the plant below are different… 🤔

So, maybe this is Desert Rock-Pea, a common perennial shrub found in washes and on rocky hillsides. (Yep, that’s where I found them: along the side of Bee Mesa and the wash.) A member of the Pea Family, the flowers are yellow and turn red with age. The plant is somewhat woody (not sure about that), multi-stemmed, and less than 3 feet tall. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

Perfectionist as I am, I am just not sure…

Then I get even more confused. I spy another plant with similar yellow and orange flowers, but the stems and leaves look different. As always, I lean on Ginny, the Preserve Manager, and Harlan, the desert professor, for answers.

Heart-Leaved Primrose

Camissonia cardiophylla is a member of the Evening Primrose Family.

Most of the leaves are found at the base of the plant with the flower stalks rising leafless and growing to about 16 inches. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

The younger flowers are yellow, but as the blossoms age, they turn red and give us a plant with 2 beautiful colors. (Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association, abdnha.org)

The seed pods remind me of mustard but are thicker.

Rock Daisy

A common wildflower on rocky slopes and in sandy washes, peristyle emoryi is a member of the Sunflower Family. The flower heads are the size of dimes with white fringed rays and a yellow center. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

These tiny daisies pop up in low growing clumps of dark green, crisp white, and brilliant yellow-orange:

Desert Poppy

This common little poppy resembles the California poppy but has yellow flowers instead of orange. The flower stems grow to 1 foot and can either be leafy or naked, like the one below. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

The displays of wildflowers I encounter today are pretty spectacular for this season’s scarce rainfall. And now I know why; I have reached the stream that flows under Thousand Palms Canyon Road, the literal dip in the road…

In the picture below, the palm trees in the distance surround the boardwalk and Visitor Center along the San Andreas Fault separating the Pacific tectonic plate from the North American. The hill you see is part of the Indio Hills separating the 2 strands of the San Andreas Fault: the Banning strand and the Mission Creek strand. The line of palm trees, parallel to the Indio Hills in the foreground, grow along the stream seeping up from the fault strands.

I’ve never been here before but I have driven past more times than I can count.

You can hear the water trickling as it ripples along.

The stream snakes it’s way south to Washington Street.

My trash bag is almost full of mustard weeds so I head back to the Pushawalla parking area via the road, pulling more mustard along the way.

I am hot and getting tired, until I look down at this perky patch of purple.

Notch-Leafed Phacelia

Phacelia crentulata is a member of the Waterleaf Family. The violet flowers are arranged into a tightly coiled scorpion-tail. The plant is ill-scented and the foliage is known to cause a rash similar to poison oak on some people. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

I find this picture of purple poison quite pleasing to partake…

Arriving at the Pushawalla parking area, I set my bag down and decide to double check if the trail to Indian Palms is clearly marked from here. (Since the 880 acres of the Coachella Valley Preserve we live on is privately owned by the Center for Natural Land Management, CNLM, I often direct disappointed visitors to park at Pushawalla on Mondays and Tuesdays when we are closed and suggest they hike to Indian Palms.)

So I pretend I have parked here and want to hike to Indian Palms to make sure there is an appropriate trail marker. As I leave the parking area and take the rock-lined trail, I discover a pale pink flower growing on a slender green stem.

Annual Mitra

A member of the Sunflower Family, stephanomeria exigua is a common late season wildflower. Because the plant is light green and it’s branches are spread about, it’s easy to walk by without noticing it. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

Indeed, during last year’s superbloom, I never noticed this delicate pink flower.

After taking pics of annual mitra, I look up and see more mustard weeds. I can always cram a few more in my garbage bag and, as I proceed to pull, I come face to face with red spiny thorns and yellow blooms.

Barrel Cactus

Bisnaga, ferocactus acanthodians, is California’s second largest cactus, (the largest is the saguaro). The stems can grow up to 9 feet and are usually solitary, but it’s not uncommon to see plants branched at the base. The flowers are produced in a ring at the top of the trunk.

A popular myth suggests that lopping off the tops of these cacti will produce life-sustaining water. This is not true, however, as lopping off the top ruins the plant for life.  Due to increased poaching, barrel cactus is now fully protected in California and Arizona and cannot be removed legally from the wild. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

Have I convinced you that the perks of pulling outweigh the mission yet?

I’ve Looked At Clouds From Both Sides Now

Sometimes My Head is in the Clouds…

And I look up and start singing Joni Mitchell’s song in my head…



Most days the sky over the Coachella Valley is an endless sea of blue floating above the Colorado Desert.

But sometimes the wind hits the San Jacinto Mountains just right pushing the air upward. As the wind moves over the mountains, it cools down enough for condensation to develop and brushes the sky in strokes of white.

Local AccuWeather Meteorologist Jesse Ferrell explains that these clouds are called lenticular clouds and need moisture, a stable atmosphere, and strong winds perpendicular to a mountain range. “They are continually reformed over the same location by new air rising up and over a mountain, condensing and producing the clouds.”

Here’s a beautiful example of a lenticular cloud over Squaw Hill…

But not all clouds are lenticular clouds. Some are just cool clouds, like these in Moon Country…

And these hovering over the Little San Bernardino Mountains of Joshua Tree National Park…

Then there are “rows and flows of angel hair”…

“And feather canyons everywhere”…

And instead of “ice cream castles”, there is popcorn in the air…

But sometimes “clouds got in my way”…

And “they rain and snow on everyone”…

I wannabecreativeblog.wordpress.com


















The Perks of Pulling Mustard Part 2

Hidden Treasures Among the Weeds

Today I head out on my own, close to home, to pull Sahara mustard along the wash by Squaw Hill. I really look forward to this time alone. Yes, the staggering amount of weeds frustrates me but with every garbage bag I fill I feel fulfilled because I can see my progress and I know I am doing something good for the desert environment.

And the native plants and flowers thank me in their own way as I stumble across some showy blooms…

Beavertail Cactus…

Desert Sunflowers and Sand Verbena hanging out together

Desert Dandelions and Pincushions…

More Beavertail getting ready to burst

A patch of purple Phacelia…


Five Spot…

Rock Daisies growing on the side of Squaw Hill

Sahara mustard grows abundantly beneath creosote and other prickly shrubs and bushes resulting in bloody scratches on my arms and legs. Just when I think I’ve pulled all the weeds, I look back and find several more hiding in the center requiring  me to kneel down and just about stick my face into the thorns as I reach and pull.

But today I discover a  desert iguana watching me as if to say thank you for all my hard work. His visit makes my battles with thorny branches worthwhile!

The Perks of Pulling Mustard Part 1

The Sahara mustard is an invasive plant native to the Middle East. It was introduced to Southern California sometime in the late 1920s, inadvertently hitching a ride with the palm trees imported from northern Africa when the Coachella Valley’s now thriving date industry was just beginning.

In 2005 researchers from the University of California Riverside Campus (UCR) Center for Invasive Species Research Department (CISR) and volunteers from the US Bureau of Land Management set aside a series of 1/4 acre naturalized plots. On half the plots Sahara mustard was removed by hand-weeding; the other half of the plots were left alone to measure the effect of Sahara mustard.

Results were dramatic. On control plots containing the mustard, native wildflowers germinated in numbers similar to those in the weeded plots, HOWEVER underneath the dense canopy of Sahara mustard the native wildflower plants grew taller, putting energy into height growth, and produced very few flowers or seeds. There was a 90% reduction of numbers of flowers and seed pods… 90%!

Measurements on the plots continued to determine whether the effect of weeding Sahara mustard would last more than one season. Up to 2 growing seasons after hand-weeding, without any further treatments, there were still, albeit slightly, more native wildflowers and less mustard on the plots that were weeded in 2005.

In the Coachella Valley the Sahara mustard densities can reach proportions as high as 300 plants per 11 square feet. Yikes! There is no need to do any math here. If we do not hand-weed mustard the annual native plant seed bank will become increasingly depleted and native wildflowers will become increasingly scarce as Sahara mustard becomes more dominate and takes over the landscape. (cisr.ucr.edu)

Now, hand-weeding mustard is not in our job description on the Preserve, but somebody’s gotta do it! So I start going out with the Preserve Manager, Ginny, several mornings a week to Moon Country to pull mustard.

Just between you and me, I discover that I actually enjoy pulling mustard! It’s a quiet, meditative, repetitious experience. It’s addictive. Once you spot and pull your first Sahara mustard weed you can’t stop spotting and pulling more. And even if we only make a dent in the density, it’s a good feeling lugging a filled trash bag or 2 over my shoulders and looking back over the areas cleared, knowing I am helping to preserve the Preserve.

Besides, I get to visit places that are off the beaten path. Shhh! Please stay on the trails! (Unless you want to pull mustard WITH us…)

The Ride

Sometimes I ride with Ginny in the pickup truck out to Moon Country where the wash is wide enough to navigate through. But a real treat is riding in the newly purchased Kawasaki MULE (Multi-Use Light Equipment) UTV (Utility Task Vehicle).

Spectacle Pod

Today I literally run into one of my favorite flowers while bending over to pull a mustard weed.

Spectacle pod is one of the first wildflowers to bloom on the sand dunes. The white flowers consist of 4 petals and 6 stamens characteristic of the mustard (brassicaceae) family. So, yes, spectacle pod and Sahara mustard share a family tree, but let’s just say that’s all they have in common. (Jon Mark Stewart, from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

What tickles me about this plant are the round, spectacle-shaped fruits.

The pond

Since May 2019 Simone Pond has been undergoing a restoration process towards the reintroduction of the desert pupfish, cyprinodon macularius.


The desert pupfish was listed as federally endangered in 1986 due to habitat loss and modification, pollution, and predation from non-native species. Establishing refugia habitats, such as Simone Pond, is part of the Federal Recovery Plan to support and recover the population.

The introduction of several non-native species, such as red swamp crayfish (procambarus clarkii) and tilapia (oreochromis aureus), ultimately led to the demise of desert pupfish in Simone Pond.

usgs.gov, courtesy of Angelica Aguilar Duran

nas.er.usgs.gov, courtesy of Howard Jelks

Both crayfish and tilapia have rapid reproductive cycles and can produce numerous offspring, which makes them difficult to remove. Furthermore, crayfish can burrow, walk on land, and persist out of water. Consequently, previous removal projects have proven unsuccessful.

As of January 2019, the Center for Natural Land Management (CNLM) estimated there were over 23,000 crayfish and 4,000 tilapia in Simone Pond!  That same month a new restoration plan was launched. Through a grant, an aquatic biologist was hired to spearhead this effort which included unique and integrative approaches to remove the invasive species: trapping, draining the pond, electrofishing, and the application of naturally-derived pesticides. (coachellavalleypreserve.org)

Ginny takes me on a private tour of the fenced off Simone Pond…

Still a breathtaking sight, even cleared of reeds and with remnants of blue-green pesticide spray on its banks…

The forest of mighty Palms…

Secret passages…

Healthy algae…

A makeshift watering hole for the wildlife…

And finally the water reflected in the pond creates this dramatic illusion with the palm skirts.

The perks of pulling mustard outweigh the bending, sweat, and lugging of cumbersome garbage bags filled with weeds and seeds!

Howl at the Moon

Full Snow Moon

According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the Full Moon we see in February is called the Snow Moon because, on average, February is the snowiest month in the United States according to data from the National Weather Service.

In ancient times Native Americans looked to the Moon to track the seasons on a lunar calendar. So it makes sense that each month’s Full Moon was given a name.

Other February full Moon names include:

  • Shoulder to Shoulder Around the Fire Moon (the Wishram people of the Pacific Northwest)
  • No Snow in the Trails Moon (the Zuni of the Southwest)
  • Bone Moon (the Cherokee of the Southeast)… The Bone Moon meant that there was so little food that people gnawed on bones and ate bone marrow soup. (almanac.com)

Tonight we receive 2 gifts from the skies. First, the Full Moon begins to rise from behind the San Bernardino Mountains.

Later, the International Space Station passes overhead as the blue dot below.

More about the Moon

According to the short video from The Old Farmer’s Almanac website, still another name for the February Full Moon is the Hunger Moon because the snow made it difficult for native peoples to hunt and trap.

Full Moon names corresponded to seasonal changes, but country wisdom also describes the phenomenon of moon weather. The Full Moon brings frost in the Spring and the Fall and periods of extreme cold in the winter. Researchers have indeed found distinct correlation between a Full Moon and cloudiness, rainfall, and thunder. Weather records also confirm that the first few days after a Full Moon or New Moon tend to be rainy or stormy.

Other weather folklore related to the moon has to do with its shape, color, and position in the sky. For instance, when the New Crescent Moon holds its points or horns upward, it is able to hold water so a dry spell can be expected.


When the New Crescent  moon stands on its points or horns, precipitation will spill out.


Hum, Hum, Hum, Hum, Hum, Hum


Jeff and Harlan hike the Indian Palms Trail one morning…

and discover the purple blooms of the Fremont Box Thorn…

buzzing with bees…

courtesy of Tyler Goodearly 

and Costa’s Hummingbirds…

ebird.org (courtesy of Laura Ellis)

ebird.org (courtesy of Herb Elliott)

The next day Jeff escorts Elise, docent extraordinaire and birdwatcher, along the Indian Palms Trail to observe this phenomenon.  When she returns and reports this “charm of hummingbirds”, well it’s my turn to go see this for myself! I know exactly where the Fremont Box Thorn is located on the trail.

So, Harlan, Mary, Ginny and her friend Noel, and I head for the Fremont’s Box Thorn  to observe hummingbirds a day later…

Also known as Wolfberry, Lyceum Fremontii is a species of flowering plant in the nightshade family. Fremont Box Thorn is native to northwestern Mexico and the southern mountains and deserts of California and Arizona. It often grows in areas with alkaline soils, which are clay soils with a high acidic level, poor soil structure, and a low infiltration capacity. Alkaline soils contain a great deal of sodium, calcium, and magnesium. (gardeningknowhow.com /en.m.wikipedia.org)

The numerous native palm groves in the Coachella Valley Preserve are fed by water pushed to the surface by underground pressures from the San Andreas Fault. (Docent Don, our geology expert)

A minute later, after capturing these photos of Hummingbirds on my humble iPhone,  I look up and… wow! … I find this beautiful photo op I just can’t resist. The desert is filled with hidden wonders, subtle colors, and natural landscape architecture!

Meanwhile, back at the Fremont Box Thorn…

I am amazed that my iPhone can take such good pictures.

Costa’s Hummingbirds are small, short, and stocky- looking when perched or at rest. They are easily recognized by their vibrant iridescent blue or purple throat. Without appropriate lighting, they appear black and colorless. The female, of course, is quite bland. The Costa’s is a true desert-dweller and can be observed in the Coachella Valley throughout the entire year. (Anita K. Booth)

A “Paint Out”

On the Preserve…

Today a group of artists arrived with box easels and paint tubes for a “paint out” excursion.

I couldn’t wait to see what this meant and looked like!

It meant plein air painting and it looked like this:

The practice of painting “en plain air” or “in the open air” goes back for centuries but was truly made into an art form by the French Impressionists who were intrigued with capturing outdoor light and its changing ephemeral qualities.

On a clear, sunny day, 3 different sources of light are at work: the sun, the blue sky, and the reflected light from illuminated objects. So, to paint in direct sunlight it is important to understand that the sky and illuminated objects derive their light source entirely from the sun and should, therefore, be painted convincingly subordinate to its brightness.

On an overcast day, the layer of clouds diffuses the sunlight and eliminates the extreme contrasts of light and shadow. Overcast light allows the artist to paint objects in their true colors without dramatic contrasts of light and shade.

Painting outside is challenging because of the transient lighting and constantly changing atmospheric environmental conditions. Plein air paintings are prized for their spontaneity and freshness. (artistsnetwork.com)

Here’s an 1868 oil painting by the American artist Winslow Homer entitled, Artists Sketching in the White Mountains. His subjects… plein air painters, no less!


Artists have portrayed the landscape for hundreds of years. Landscape sketches were certainly turned into paintings in the studio, and many believe the artists could not have so accurately represented these scenes without having done some painting outdoors, on location. Leonardo Da Vinci and Rembrandt are thought to have painted outdoors, but this is more a conjecture than fact.

The first documented outdoor painters were Italian artist Agostino Tassi (1578-1644), who taught French artist Claude Lorrain (1600-1682), who is considered by many as the father of outdoor painting.

Agostino Tassi’s Landscape with a Scene of Witchcraft


Claude Lorrain’s Pastoral Landscape


Within the 16th Century the landscape itself became an accepted subject for artists. Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750-1819) in France and John Constable (1776-1837) in England encouraged their students to go outside to draw and paint, working quickly against the changing light and rapidly moving clouds.

Artists known as the Barbizon School painted scenes of the everyday life of farmers in the fields of Barbizon, France from 1830-1870.

British-born Thomas Cole (1801-1848) moved to the United States in 1818. As he became a recognized landscape painter from New York, he founded the Hudson River School of painters, which was not an actual school but a group of artists. After his death, a second generation of the Hudson River School evolved and continued to paint landscapes on location in the open air.

In the early 1860s, 4 art school students in France convened in the countryside together to paint in the open air, but not for the purpose of making sketches, to later be developed into carefully finished works in the studio as was customary during the Barbizon movement. Claude Monet 1840-1926), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Alfred Sisley (1839-1899), and Frederic Bazille (1841-1870) painted complete works on location. Considered rebels in the art world, these young painters had discovered that by painting in sunlight and making use of the vivid synthetic color pigments that had recently been invented, that they could produce a lighter and brighter style of painting.

At this time in Paris, however, an artist was not accepted or considered important unless his work was juried into an annual show of artworks called the Salon de Paris. Rejected by the Salon, Monet and his friends organized their own month-long show of their paintings.

During this show, Monet displayed his painting entitled Impression—Sunrise. (paintoutside.com)


An art critic at that time reviewed this avant-garde exhibit of paintings in a local satirical newspaper of 1874. He derogatorily referred to the works of Monet and his friends as impressionism. As a result of this article mocking the artists, an estimated 3500 people attended the small show to criticize the works as well. But many ended up embracing the paintings, some of which were sold to those in attendance! Thus began the Impressionists’ style of loose, spontaneous brushstrokes that would soon become synonymous with modern life.

Theodore Robinson was the first American artist to visit Giverny, France where Monet built a home and his famous gardens after becoming a successful and wealthy painter. Robinson and Monet became great friends and painted together. After living next door to Monet for 10 years, Robinson returned to the United States where he heavily influenced the American Impressionist movement.

As Impressionism and plein air painting spread across America, art colonies popped up in:

  • Cos Cob and Old Lyme, Connecticut
  • Taos, New Mexico
  • Laguna Beach and Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
  • New Hope, Pennsylvania
  • Brown County in Indiana

Though the practice of plein air painting has never stopped, it seemed to die down for a few decades until a resurgence began, mostly in California, in the 1980s.

Today tens of thousand of professional and amateur artists have taken up plein air painting across the world. The movement has become a kind of sport called “the new golf.” (paintoutside.com)

The Waaaaaaay Back

Pushing the Boundaries with Mary

Speaking of boundaries, this is the most confusing detail to get across to our guests! (And for me to understand as well.) The sign from the road says we are the Coachella Valley Preserve, but our RV is parked on the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve. (And don’t get me started on the city of Coachella itself or the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival which is actually held in the city of Indio at the Empire Polo Club…)


I like this map of the area too…


The Coachella Valley Preserve is the bigger boundary.


The Coachella Valley Preserve is not owned or managed by any single entity. It is  a model of cooperation between federal, state, and private conservation efforts for preserving sensitive natural areas:

  • Bureau of Land Management
  • United States Fish and Wildlife Service
  • California Department of Parks and Recreation
  • California Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Friends of the Desert Mountains
  • Center for Natural Lands Management
  • Coachella Valley Conservation Commission
  • Coachella Valley Water District
  • The Coachella Valley Association of Governments


Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve is the smaller boundary within the Coachella Valley Preserve.  The Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM), founded in 1990 in California, is a nonprofit tax exempt organization that assures the perpetual protection of  the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve by establishing stewardship endowments. CNLM protects sensitive biological resources through professional, science-based preservation. (coachellavalleypreserve.org)

Here’s what we look like on Google Maps:

Here’s what we look like on our map of trail systems:

So, with all this map stuff in mind, Mary, a tenured docent, took me, with our manager’s permission, on a trailblazing journey to the outer limits of the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve.

At times we had to bushwhack our way through arrowweed and slide down a sandstone wall into the wash. But we had a blast as we giggled our way off trail. This is just one of the perks of volunteering here.




Just enjoy the pics from 2 silly, senior, sassy-assed gals, former schoolteachers I might add, having fun and enjoying the dazzling sights of the Sonoran Desert.

Pure unadulterated desert…

A smoke tree in the wash…

We finally arrive at the end of our CNLM property. Note the stakes in the pictures below.

Ahead of us, to the northeast is Dillon Road and Sky Valley.

We head southeast now toward Thousand Palms Canyon Road.

We approach the hills commonly referred to as “The Indian Fort”. I’ve only ever seen them from the ridge of the Moon Country Trail.

And now I get a closeup view from the base of the hills.

We head back now, but first I take a pic of the other side of the road…

And slowly capture some more photos of Indian Fort as we retreat…

The palm grove surrounding the Simone Pond appears ahead of us.

But first we pass through a small cluster of palms

Just look at this tree “druping” with palm fruit!

It’s tough being a volunteer here. But somebody has to do it! 💜

And speaking of doing it… I am currently researching the history and life of the Native Americans who first lived in this magical sacred place that I now have the privilege to call “home” for the winter just as their tribe did centuries ago. I look forward to sharing what I learn.

I Spy With My Little Eye

Sightings on the Preserve

A Roadrunner…

Along Bee Mesa… He poses on a rock just long enough for me to snap a pic. I got it!

A Raven nibbling on a drupe of palm fruit…

Did I forget to mention that the palm tree and fruit are directly over our RV?

Desert Holly…

Along the switchbacks to Squaw Hill…

The Rockettes Trail… 

An offshoot of the Smoke Tree Ranch Trail, leading across Thousand Palms Canyon Road to Hidden Palms and Pushawalla Palms…

Newly established last summer, this trail is a work-in-progress for our Preserve Manager, Ginny. Too many hikers’ shoe prints are off-trail so Ginny is posting signs to remind guests that they need to stay on-trail and off delicate habitat.

I helped her one day to line the trail with rocks, sweep off shoe prints, and post signs. This led me to my personal goal of lining the rest of one side of this 1/3 mile trail with rocks.

Since then, Mary, a tenured volunteer and docent, and I are slowly lining the other side. Harlan christened it with the name Rockettes.

An abandoned bike way off trail next to Squaw Hill…

Mary and I schlepped this unrideable vehicle back to the dumpster.

A Costa’s Hummingbird on the Indian Palms Trail…

There’s always something new and different to see in this magical sacred space we call home for 7 months.

And finally…

“Frozen” hot cocoa for the Keurig!

This one’s for you, Reagan💜