Monday, February 29, 2016

Palm Springs, CA - Ocotillo Garden, Lost Palms and a Desert Tortoise

What a cool day. Nope, it was a hot day with temperatures hitting the 90’s but in another sense it was ‘cool.’ It’s another day for a hike. We’re trying to ‘hike’ our legs out these two weeks in Palm Springs since we’ll not be back for a while. And, what better trail to hike than the Lost Palms Trail in Joshua Tree National Park. We hiked this trail in 2012 so we ‘knew’ what to expect. Yeah, kinda. We remembered the good parts and forgot the long sandy wash slogs.

What we remembered was that it was a good hike: challenging, varied, fun, surrounded by rocks with fantastic shapes, and encircled by lush ocotillo and yuccas ready to burst into flower. We were right. A bit of geology and botany here: you know those are my strong subjects. Remember the San Andreas Fault? The fault lines go right through the mountains on the SW of Palm Springs the mountains of Joshua Tree. These fault lines not only encourage water to seep to the surface but also cause water to pool in certain locations. The Lost Palms Hike takes you right into one of these locations where a lush fan palm forest thrives.

But it’s not just the fan palms, it’s also the boulders which are piled in huge heaps all through the NP. These formed 100 million years ago when magma in the earth cooled, groundwater filtered through the joints to round the edges and then flash floods eroded the soil around them to create the piles that we see now. That’s Geology For Idiots - even I could understand it.

Lush fan palms, cool looking boulder piles but then, to top it all off, we were walking through gardens of ocotillos. Reminded me of the Beatles’ song ‘An ocotillo garden near the sea.’ Well, maybe those weren’t the original words.
We started out early since it’s a bit of a drive from our campground and it was going to be a hot day. We wanted to be back at the car by 1:30 or 2:00 to avoid the hottest part of the day. We were not alone at the trail head but many peeled off at the 1-mile marker when they took the Mastodon Trail up into a large rock pile. We kept going and going and going. The trail always seemed to be ahead of us even when we thought we had reached the 3.4 miles that was supposed to be the length of the trail. Look, there it is ahead of us. Haven’t we reached it yet?
But along the way we loved the views on either side of the trail. Every step took us higher and the views of the Salton Sea off in the distance got larger and better.
We loved the ocotillo gardens that we saw along the trail. Lush, green, with trunks bigger than my arm. Getting ready to burst into flowers.
And, the yuccas, the flowers on some of these are ready to spring into blossom. They will be huge. It won’t be long now. That rain that we had in the beginning of January is having its effect.

But, here is the piece de resistance: the desert tortoise. We’re hiking along through a narrow wash when Gary told me to hurry and get my camera ready. I rushed over readying the camera as I went. WOW, a desert tortoise (maybe I didn’t have to rush so much.) In all our desert hiking, we’ve never seen one of these in the wild. A real treat. We both took pictures and movies. Poor thing, he needs a good agent to get him a better fee for all the tourist pictures.
Then I looked down and saw another desert creature: hiker with Go-Pro. Oh, no, that’s his iPhone in the video mode.
‘Hey, Big Gar, should I buy you a Go-Pro to capture your adventures?’

’Naw, then I’d have to jump off a cliff.’


Then we reached the Lost Palms hidden down in the canyon crevice. The trail down is a steep scramble but, if I can do it, almost anyone can. To walk among these tall stately beauties is amazing, long grasses, big boulders and these trees. The last time we were here, we took time to eat our lunch. This time, we were a bit earlier and not ready for lunch. So, we sat in the shade and just soaked in the solitude. Not many get down this far.

Time to head back. We looked at our iPhone GPS which we have every time we hike and noticed that there was an alternate trail out. But how to find it. No signs, no cairns and, because few take the trail down to the palms and even fewer take this alternate trail, there weren’t many trail indicators like broken twigs or footprints or moved rocks. We missed it the first time through but Gary checked the GPS and we backtracked to where it said the trail started and we peered up this small bouldered valley. Where in the heck is a trail? Ooh, look up there? Is that a cairn? I got out my camera, zoomed in - sure enough, it’s a cairn about 50’ up. So, cairn by cairn we headed up the hill, boulder over boulder, scrambling and using our arms as much as our legs.
Yep, I’d follow that tush anywhere, he got us down here, he’s gotta get us out.

Finally near the top, we saw some people at the top watching our progress. Is that the trail, they asked? Yes, but don’t use it. Use the other one. It’s more obvious.

At the top, we headed back down the trail to the cut-off which led to the Mastodon Peak, more a huge rock pile than a ‘peak.’ Getting up to the small peak trail is all uphill. I especially liked these steps - carved into the rock. Someone carved them so that I could hike up to Mastodon Peak and it wasn’t easy. Thanks.
Then we faced the rock. Believe it or not, there is a ‘trail’ through those rocks. Scrambling is the name of the game though. The ‘trail’ is pretty vague here and actually climbs around the back of the peak and up through small cracks between bounders. If you like scrambling over rocks, ruining your fingernails, banging your kneecap on the rocks and scratching your legs - this is the trail for you. At the end you get an awesome view and you feel like the King of the Hill. Here are our pictures: one from 2011 and one from today
The views take you from the lows of the Salton Sea to the highs of Eagle Mt. at 5350’. Hey, whose knee and foot is that? Oh, gee, Gary has to get into every picture.
Oh, oh, now you’ve got to get down - more of that fingernail breaking, kneecap banging and leg scratching. What fun.
Taking an alternate trail down, we found the Mastodon Mine, abandoned a while back but with some pieces still intact. There were approximately 300 mines within what is now the Joshua Tree boundary. This one was established in the 1930’s and operated until 1971. Faulting severed the main vein and it could not be relocated. Thus what was once a promising mine never lived up to the dream the owners had.

Here Gary is looking at the original pit which has been covered over by heavy metal ties to keep explorers safe.
Here’s where they put the ores down a chute to separate them.
Back at the car, we changed shoes and took off our packs. My skin had lots of little white specks - salt or sand - you pick. But we liked the hike as much as we had before.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Palm Springs, CA - Pythons & Cycleangelo

Here’s a blog which has absolutely nothing to do with what we are doing. But, since we are doing nothing today, this is all appropriate. Well, I don’t want you to think that we are doing nothing, but I hardly think that laundry, vacuuming, awning lubing and whatever are really something of importance - so important that I’ll write a blog about them. Nope - I found some other interesting topics - at least interesting to me.


When we were in the Everglades we heard about how Burmese pythons are devastating the wildlife in the Everglades. At one point, we were on a cool tram ride through the north part of the park and we noticed that there were no small animals, squirrels, moles, deer, etc. None. Our guide told us that it was the pythons that were taking a toll on the wildlife in the park. Even the crocodiles. There’s a YouTube video of a python which had swallowed a crocodile. You can look it up. But the ending is: they both died. (The picture is online.)
Here’s a picture from
How in the heck did Burmese pythons get into one of America’s National Parks? You know the answer: people bought them as pets, found out that they grew to 18’ long and decided to dump them in the wild. In Florida, where Miami is a center for imported exotic ‘pets’, that means into the Everglades National Park. And, they multiply like rabbits. A typical female breeds every other year, produces a clutch of between 20 - 50 eggs and can live for 50 years. It is estimated that there are between 30,000 - 300,000 pythons in the Everglades. They are very secretive animals and difficult to detect. The vegetation of the Everglades is also so thick that they can’t be detected.
How to get rid of the pythons? One solution: have a hunt. And, so the National Park Service instituted a hunt in 2013 & 2016 called the Python Challenge. It’s been successful but they get so few.

Here’s what I read online just a few days ago.

’Hunters captured 106 Burmese pythons during the 2016 Python Challenge, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Over 1,000 hunters participated in the state-sanctioned hunt, wildlife officials said Saturday. The 2013 hunt drew more than 1,600 hunters, who captured and killed 68 snakes.

Some people refrained from hunting in 2013 because they did not want to kill the snakes, which was a requirement at the time. This year, though, hunters could capture the snakes, double-bag them, put them in a labeled, heavy-duty box and drop the live snakes off at state hunt check stations.

There is a growing market for Burmese pythons caught in the Everglades. Brian Wood, owner of All American Alligator in Hollywood, makes everything from Chuck Taylor style tennis shoes to full-length python skin pants. He buys from hunters, paying $50 to $100, depending on the size and condition of the skin.

While these large constrictors are thriving in the Everglades, this species is endangered in most of its home range in Southeast Asia. Biologists there breed and release the snakes in hopes of rebuilding the shrinking population. Here, the snakes eat animals as large as adult alligators, which puts them on top of the food chain.’

So these pythons are still decimating the fauna in the Everglades.


The second article that I read recently is much happier. It was about Stephen Lund who uses his bike and the streets of Victoria, Vancouver to ‘paint’ designs on the map. Before he rides, he uses an app called Strave to pre-plan his routes through the streets of Victoria and then, as he bikes this route, his GPS ‘draws’ these routes on the map. He has ‘drawn’ giraffes, T-Rexes, Darth Vaders, unicorns and a multitude of animals. He’s also conveyed messages like ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘So Long, 2015.’
or design his bike ride to create a picture or convey a message or whatever his muse is at the moment. Michangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Stephen Lund designs in the streets of Victoria.
Here’s his Christmas Card.

Check out his website: Here’s some explanation from him of how he got started:

‘It was February 21, 2015 – one year ago yesterday – that I set out early on a Saturday morning to begin a GPS doodle that would profoundly change the course of all the days that followed.

A few days later I posted my GPS-doodled giraffe on, and within a few hours she was circling the globe via Facebook and Twitter. Traffic at this blog, which I’d launched just 10 days earlier, jumped from 59 page views one day to nearly 12,000 the next. It was wholly unexpected and utterly exhilarating.’


And, th - th - th - that’s all, folks.

Palm Springs, CA - 2/3

Hey, let’s take a spin around the block in the RV. A spin around the block in the RV, uh, isn’t that why we have a Jeep, so we don’t have to drive the RV around? Yep, that’s true so you know there must be lots more to the story of why Nancy and Gary are taking a spin in the RV. It all starts with our tank sensors, specifically the grey tank sensor. You know, the sensors that accurately tell you how full your tanks are so you don’t have to guess. Well, shiver me timbers, but our grey tank hasn’t said anything but 2/3 full since we left Everglades National Park in January of 2015.

Since then it has gone out to lunch and we don’t have a clue. Empty it: it reads 2/3. Use it a day: it reads 2/3. Do a load of laundry: it reads 2/3. Pretty consistent. As long as we’re not dry camping for longer than 3 or 4 days, it’s not a problem. However, in Alaska we’re going to dry camp for longer than that at a time and we need to know that our sensors are accurate. So, Gary bought some ‘Sensor Cleaner’ and the directions say to put it in, fill your tank, drive around a bit to mix it all up, then sit for 24 hours before emptying it. And, it works better in warm weather.

Since we’re going to Acton, CA a bit north of Palm Springs and a bit higher up in the mountains and going to have rain for 2 days straight, the temperature is plummeting. Plummeting, I tell you. From the high 80’s in Palm Springs to a high of 47 on Monday. Ouch. Thus we’ve got to do this tank cleaner here in Palm Springs. Today.

We got up at 7:00, ate breakfast, Gary emptied the tanks, put the Sensor Cleaner in the grey tank and filled it. Then we got the RV ready for moving. Put everything away, bring in the slides, pull up the levels, park the Jeep in our spot to save it and drive the RV down the road. How much fun is this? Gary always told me he’d take me for lots of adventures but I never thought that ‘mixing up the grey tank’ would be one of the great adventures.

And, that’s why we’re sitting in Flying J now. Yep, we made it a two-fer: drive around with the Sensor Cleaner AND get gas. And then we drove home, parked back in our space and put out the levels, opened the slides, got everything out and resumed our life. Well, not everything. Since we’re leaving tomorrow anyway, we kept the RV in a state of readiness.

Hey, not everything can be a great adventure. It’s the little ‘adventures’ that make the big adventures possible. No Sensor Cleaner, no dry camping.

In the evening I used paper plates and didn’t use too many dishes since I couldn't wash them. Then we took our showers in the camp showers and retired to the RV. Warm out so we opened the windows.

Here’s a hint about tomorrow - we got to our new campsite in Acton, Gary emptied the grey tank and, guess what it read?


Friday, February 26, 2016

Palm Springs, CA - Memory Tricks

Prayer of the tired hiker:

        ‘If you pick them up, oh Lord,

        I’ll put them down.’

We’ve spent two days in the RV, Gary was working on some maintenance and I was spending bundles of money - making reservations for campgrounds and adventures in Alaska for this summer. Let’s stop this fixin’ and spendin’ - let’s get out of the RV for some hikin.’ Let’s have some fun. How about the Araby Hike? You know, the one that climbs a hill behind Bob Hope’s Palm Springs home for an awesome view of the home and Palm Springs? We did it 5 years ago, remember? Wasn’t it fun? Let’s do it again.

Isn’t memory wonderful? Often you forget all the bad things in the past and remember the good. I remembered the views, the many spur trails, the choices of where to go after the Araby trail, sitting at the top with some other hikers just looking out over the valley. Cool.

I forgot how steep this hike was.

I forgot how long this hike was.

I forgot that all the spur trails involved lots more climbing and descending - more work.

I didn’t remember the temperature, but today it was 88 degrees.

Ugh. This is our third major hike this week. Even in Mesa when we were in hiking shape we didn’t hike 3 times in one week. What kind of fools are we? My legs and my lungs weren’t ready for this rigorous a hike today. Not my best effort.

We hiked only 5.93 miles BUT we got 1562’ in that 5 miles. At times we were climbing at a 19.2% grade. A stair stepper of a hike. I had forgotten all that. Oof - da.

Saw this little fellow on our way to the trail head.
As we climbed our views expanded. Here is a view of Palm Springs with the circular black-roofed Bob Hope home in the foreground.
Higher up the hills the views were as spectacular as before. We could see the peak of Mt. San Jacinto on the left and Gregornio off in the distance across the valley.
We could see across Palm Springs to the sand dunes across the valley and the mountains of Joshua Tree National Park.
We found this rock man - looks like someone had lots of time on their hands.
Wasn’t hard to see this trail marking cairn.
We could look across the wash and see the switchbacks we had just come down. BTW - we were climbing up the same switchbacks on this side of the wash.
Coming off the trail we walked by this beautiful floral display. It’s spring in the Coachella Valley.
Back at the car we were sweaty, my skin had little flecks of sand on it, my hair was matted to my head and I had sand between my toes. We had a congratulatory kiss and we both thought we were deer at a salt lick. Yecch. Salty lips. Cripes, we got 85% of our daily salt requirements in that one kiss.

Would I do the hike again? Sure, give me another 5 years.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Palm Springs, CA - Spendin' and Mendin'

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: every grocery store is a new adventure. As we travel, we sometimes have a hard time buying the things we like the best. I haven’t been able to find Honey Nut Shredded Wheat for Gary to mix with his Wheat ’n’ Bran Shredded Wheat to make a sweet healthy cereal for breakfast nor decaf Hazelnut coffee for me. No one in San Diego likes them, we guess. Gary’s been putting some honey on his Wheat ’n’ Bran Shredded Wheat as Plan B. I’ve been putting some flavoring in my regular decaf coffee. And, Spice Drops. Forget it. Every company has its own brand: CVS spice drops, Good Life spice drops (don’t ask what company this), Walgreens spice drops. These were not good but then we got some from Vons in San Diego that were nasty. How low can we go?

Today we went shopping here in Palm Springs and bought all these things;

        3 boxes of Honey Nut Shredded Wheat,

        4 boxes of decaf Hazelnut coffee,

        3 bags of Brachs spice drops (the best),
        then for extras we bought some pineapple cottage cheese (my favorite but the only place I’ve ever found this is Hoods in New England) and then we got some Walden Farms no-cal Raspberry Vinaigrette salad dressing.

Our next major stop is a small town on the north side of the San Bernadino Mts. followed by San Francisco for a month. I’m not expecting great grocery shopping in either. Funny thing, there are very few grocery stores in San Francisco - most shopping is done is small corner grocery stores. We’ll stock up here in Palm Springs.

Other than musing about shopping, I got to spend and Gary got to mend today.

I’m finishing up reserving campsites in Alaska and for good measure I made two reservations for our Arctic Ocean - Prudhoe Bay adventure and our reservations for a 1-day trip through Denali NP. Boy, did I spend gobs of money today. Whoo-eee. Macaroni for dinner for the next month.

Gary worked on the RV with some maintenance. He’s got a small leak in two of his basement storage compartments - right in front of the rear tires. When we travel in rain, the compartments get wet - he thinks that the tires are spraying water through a tiny leak in the walls of the compartment. He’d caulk them but can’t even get his hand in close to caulk the spot because there’s a piece of metal in the way. And, he sure doesn’t want to take the tires off their axles to get into the area. Ah - how about drilling close holes in that piece of metal and saw it away. He did, and now can get the caulk in.
Lots of fun here. I spend and he mends.

‘Many hands make light work but too many cooks spoil the broth.’ Huh?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Palm Spring, CA - Slots, Caves and Canyon Walls

Windy yesterday. We couldn’t even see the mountain ridges behind the campground. We did see little sands swirls twisting around the RV ’s across the road from ours. Our mat was covered with sand. AND - we had sand in our window tracks. It must have snuck in between the window panes. Oof - da. I had just vacuumed them on the 20th when we arrived here in Palm Springs, the 21st was a beautifully clear day for our Bump And Grind Hike and now they need to be vacuumed again.

Absolutely. It was windy and dusty or should I say ‘sandy?’ We stayed in most of the day except for our walk in the afternoon (keep your mouth closed so the sand doesn’t get into your teeth.) so had avoided it most of the day. On the 22nd, I vacuumed again.

But, hey, if that’s all that I have to worry about, I could be Alfred E. Neumann. Ha, ha.

OK, how about today’s activity. We read about a hike in what is called the Mecca Hills, 20 miles SE of Palm Springs in which the colors of the walls were supposed to be the best in early morning sun. Oh, shucks - and we set out alarms for 6:00. Did we get there early? Ah - depends upon what you call ‘early.’ If you think 6:00 is early, then, no, not our time. Ah, how about 8:30? Got it.
Called Pyramid Canyon, it was a sandy wash for most of the way.
Named for this rock formation in the middle of the hike, it was through a wide canyon most of the way. We could call this section ‘Wall Street.’
Then we hit the slots.
In fact, if you know us, you know that this is why we chose this hike - the slots.
I thought I was standing ot of his way in this picture. Nope. I look like I’m worried about what’s around that corner.
Looking up we could see the blue sky though the rock walls.
Interesting rock we found. Look at the colors.
Wide canyon, slots then the cave at the end. First we noted that we had come to the end - a steep uphill. Oh, shucks, I forgot our ropes and pitons. We’re not going to get up that cliff.
But, look, off to the right, a cave.
Gary took movies of the rock structures in the cave.
Wondering how these rocks folded over like this. Funny thing about these canyon walls - they are what I might called petrified sand. Actually, rub your hand against them and the sand sloughs off. Just like a sand castle. How long have they been here? How long will they last? Will they eventually be just like the sand in the bottom of the canyon, the wash. Will this area sometime be all flat sandy desert?
The walls were all colors between light yellow to deep rust to beige to orange and all colors in between. Beautiful and all due to minerals in the earth that have been contorted and compressed and eroded by wind and water. But the flowers and ocotillo along the trail were beautiful too.
On our way back, Gary climbed the Pyramid and posed. What a guy. Can’t see him? Check the little guy sitting on the top.
But, we’ve had enough, time to get back.

We hiked 12 miles - lots more than I had planned. Wwe got back to our Jeep feeling fine, took off our boots and put on regular shoes. put our packs away and got into the car. Drove 5 miles to get some gas and sodas (our apres hike treat). When I got out of the car, I walked like a drunken sailor. I was so stiff, every leg muscle hurt. What happened in that 5 miles? I was fine until I got out of the car. I turned to Gary and asked what had happened. He looked at me with those big baby blues, smiled, put his hand on my shoulder and said: ‘age.’ Isn’t he sweet?