Don’t touch

Our friend, Jeannie, came to visit. We decided Moorten Botanical Garden should be at the top of our things-to-do list in Palm Springs, since she is an amazing gardener (more on her garden here). On Wednesday afternoon, we walked over to the Garden and saw the sign on the gate: “CLOSED on Wednesday.”   Nooooooo!

Jeannie had to leave before she could visit Moorten, but we were intrigued by what lay behind that gate so returned on our own a few days later.

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Moorten was established almost 80 years ago.

Moorten Botanical Garden

Hair brush cactus has intriguing needles and reminded us of little stars.

The many small balls of the mammalaria cactuses were nicely paired with agave plants. Those reddish-brown lava rocks really set off the green desert plants.

The many small balls of the mammalaria cactuses were nicely paired with agave plants. Those reddish-brown lava rocks really set off the green desert plants.

Moorten provides a perfect setting for birds. We saw Anna’s hummingbirds (photo), verdins, and white-crowned sparrows.

Moorten provides a perfect setting for birds. We saw Anna’s hummingbirds (photo), verdins, and white-crowned sparrows.

Moorten Botanical Garden

Have you ever seen a plant like this?

Agave americana 'Variegata', the century plant, had octopus-like leaves.

Agave americana ‘Variegata’, the century plant, had octopus-like leaves.

And this plant had curly tendrils.

And this plant had curly tendrils.

The rustic sign outside and the small size of the property might have misled us to think that this might be a waste of time and money. (There’s a $4 entry fee). Fortunately, we had read reviews before we went and those encouraged us to pay a visit. The garden was splendid, and we spent a couple hours there enjoying everything we saw. The only caution we would offer: Please don’t touch the plants.

 

January 2016

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A short drive north where treats await

After several weeks in Palm Springs, we pinned down our favorite activity. If you guessed golf, the casino, or lounging by the pool you’d be wrong. We headed north on Wednesday mornings (early!) to Big Morongo Canyon Preserve for their free, guided bird walk on Thursdays. What a treat! You’re thinking, “Really?” and we say “Really!!”

Our volunteer guides took time to fill us in about what we were seeing – not just birds, but the natural setting as well. The scenery is beautiful and the variety of birds better than anywhere else in the area. On our last visit, we saw 35 different species.

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After the hike, many of us birdwatchers headed over to the Morongo Valley Café to enjoy brunch, lunch, or an occasional giant cinnamon roll together. A treat after the treat.

We sometimes headed back to the Preserve after lunch to hike the Mesquite and the West Canyon Trails.

We sometimes headed back to the Preserve after lunch to hike the Mesquite and the West Canyon Trails.

The desert can often appear to be only shades of muted beige, and we appreciate vivid splashes of color.

The desert can often appear to be only shades of muted beige, and we appreciate vivid splashes of color.

 

We learned about bean pods from the honey mesquite tree. Native Americans used to eat them green as a vegetable and, when dried, used them to make flour for baking.

We learned about bean pods from the honey mesquite tree. Native Americans used to eat them green as a vegetable and, when dried, used them to make flour for baking.

We looked up at the branch above us and saw a Western scrub jay observing us. Could we actually get his photo? Well, yes, but it was a rather goofy portrait.

We looked up at the branch above us and saw a Western scrub jay observing us. Could we actually get his photo? Well, yes, but it was a rather goofy portrait.

Joshua Tree National Park is a short drive further east, down route 62. The park is huge (bigger than the state of Rhode Island) and hiking trails are mostly off the main park road. We spent a delightful day with our cousins, Susie and Tom, hiking shorter trails in search of rock formations we particularly liked.

Joshua Tree is superlative for landscapes combining massive rocks and desert “plantings.” What happens naturally could hardly be matched by a gardener’s touch.

Joshua Tree is superlative for landscapes combining massive rocks and desert “plantings.” What happens naturally could hardly be matched by a gardener’s touch.

The late afternoon threatening sky was a gift to photographers.  

The late afternoon threatening sky was a gift to photographers.

A few drops of rain in the desert increased to a steady shower. We drove to a restaurant and sat by the window, watching the rain hitting the swimming pool so hard that little waves formed. Everyone was happy, munching the good fresh bread, as we recalled the many treats from a day well spent at Big Morongo and Joshua Tree.

 

January 2016

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A sad tale: will all be lost?

On our trip to Palm Springs last year, we walked by a vacant lot that must have had over 100 empty, discarded liquor bottles of all shapes and sizes spread out over the desert floor.   We shook our heads and passed by quickly.

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On another day and another walk, we spotted the resident of this property: a greater roadrunner.

After that, we always detoured over to the wall on our walks. Very quietly, we would scan the lot, and we often spotted that roadrunner.

Fast forward a year….

Our first day back in Palm Springs this winter, we hurried down to the vacant lot, but we saw troubling signs ahead. We could see from afar that the wall was partly demolished and piles of construction rubble came into view. New houses were under construction.

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We stopped and just looked – and who did we see but the roadrunner! (“Lost” in the center of the photo.)

The bird seemed confused by it all. After all, this once empty lot had been its grounds long before the construction workers had shown up.

The bird seemed confused by it all. After all, this once empty lot had been its grounds long before the construction workers had shown up.

Later we saw the roadrunner skirting the back of the property not so far from a worker at his truck. A second roadrunner appeared, and they both continued on their way past the worker to the far corner of the land. Free to roam what’s left of that empty lot, but for how long?

What will the roadrunners do as construction continues, and the entire property becomes little walled lots with boxy houses on them? Will they be forced to abandon what they know as “home” and move far away?

It seems a familiar tale of development, losing land and home, being forced to move to a new and strange place. It’s a tale not just for roadrunners.

Then one day we saw that the roadrunner had – for a short while – left his home turf.

The roadrunner had flown up from the vacant lot onto a neighbor’s wall.

The roadrunner had flown up from the vacant lot onto a neighbor’s wall.

The bird seemed to blend right in. Maybe there’s hope….

 

January 2016

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Sliding into soothing warm weather

We had never lived in a warm climate in the wintertime. Thinking how we wanted to spend our traveling years centered on spending time in far-away, long-dreamed-of warm places. We stayed for a few winter months last year in sunny Palm Springs, California, liked it, and decided another visit was in order this year.

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We walked a simple path with great views.

For the month of January, we settled right back into the same AirBnB where we stayed last year. It felt like coming “home.”

For the month of January, we settled right back into the same AirBnB where we stayed last year. It felt like coming “home.”

We often took our daily walk to the nearby La Mesa neighborhood where we discovered a private lane passing through land once owned by MGM, where stars like Clark Gable and Cary Grant once lived. We don’t look for “stars” as we stroll but rather for birds – as well as architectural and landscaping details. That’s what sparks our interest and brings us joy.

A Northern mockingbird posed for us.

A Northern mockingbird posed for us.

Every time we pass this house we admire the cactus designed landscaping.

Every time we pass this house we admire the cactus designed landscaping.

The composition of the rock, cactus, mailbox, and metal wall is well-balanced and beautifully designed.

The composition of the rock, cactus, mailbox, and metal wall is well-balanced and beautifully designed.

A cheery point in our walk comes when we pass a rather common plant of the desert southwest, an agave plant.

Who thought to decorate this stunning plant, sitting by the side of the road?

Who thought to decorate this stunning plant, sitting by the side of the road?

Sliding into Palm Springs for awhile in winter, we not only enjoy the warm weather but the fascinating Sonoran desert, an unexpected gift.

 

January 2016

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Photographers (everywhere) around the world

We take lots of photos as we travel. And now, in a world filled with cellphones, just about everyone has a camera. It seems that everybody wants to record the special things they see.  But here’s where we’re different. We rarely take photos of people.

Why? Maybe we’re a bit shy; maybe we don’t want to impose on people. We just don’t seem at ease photographing strangers. Our exception is to photograph people who are taking their own photos. They’re a photographer like you and me, totally distracted, framing their picture. They don’t usually notice that we’re even there, let alone taking their photo.

Porto, Portugal on the Douro River

Porto, Portugal on the Douro River

Barcelona, Spain at Parc Gruell

Barcelona, Spain at Parc Gruell

Sometimes if we’re lucky, we photograph these strangers and their subjects while they’re taking photos of other people.

Hanoi, Vietnam for graduation at the Temple of Literature

Hanoi, Vietnam for graduation at the Temple of Literature

Daytrip to Guimarares Guimaraes day trip - visit to the Castle Huntington Gardens

Guimaraes, Portugal at the castle

Shanghai, China on The Bund

Shanghai, China on The Bund

Taking photos of friends of ours in unguarded moments while they’re concentrating on taking their own photos – or showing a photo just taken – works well.

Bangkok, Thailand at the Grand Palace

Bangkok, Thailand at the Grand Palace

Photographing other photographers might just enhance your travel photography repertoire.

 

January 2016

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Company

We travel all the time; just the two of us. We welcomed the rare occasions when friends flew out to join us in far-flung places: Thailand, New Zealand, Tanzania, Canada, Washington State, and now California.

January in Palm Springs, California is generally sunny and very pleasant. Our friend, Dale, came first to visit, and he and Joe spent days bicycling the back roads of Palm Springs. Jeannie came later, and that’s when we all headed out to see boulders and Joshua trees in the desert.

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Joshua Tree National Park is famous for its fantastic rock formations. The rocks are monzogranite and the formations are called inselbergs. No kidding!

On the drive in to the Park, we did some quick reading to orient ourselves. Turns out that Joshua Tree National Park is a “connecting” park between the Mojave Desert (higher elevation and wetter) and the Colorado Desert (lower elevation and drier). The northwest side of the park is in the Mojave Desert and the southeast section is in the Colorado Desert.   We weren’t really sure what desert we were in as we headed off to hike the Barker Dam nature trail, which is near the middle of the park.

The greater area received quite a bit of rain in the past few weeks, and this is what we found as we approached the dam. We had expected a bit more water, but then realized, this IS California and a desert.

The greater area received quite a bit of rain in the past few weeks, and this is what we found as we approached the dam. We had expected a bit more water, but then realized, this IS California and a desert.

The simple loop trail threw us off. We couldn’t find our path through the rocks. It took a minute but then Dale found it. We scrambled on.

An unexpected highlight on the trail was viewing pictographs on a protected rock wall. The little interpretive sign indicated Native People had created them, but didn’t say when. It did indicate that “Disney” had added brighter paint colors to some before filming a movie.

An unexpected highlight on the trail was viewing pictographs on a protected rock wall. The little interpretive sign indicated Native People had created them, but didn’t say when. It did indicate that “Disney” had added brighter paint colors to some before filming a movie.

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The path left the huge boulder fields and continued through the flat, never-ending desert. Here we could really appreciate the many Joshua Trees.

Most of the desert plants weren’t familiar to us, though helpful signs pointed out creosote and manzanita bushes (pictured). Did you know Native Americans used manzanita leaves as toothbrushes?

Most of the desert plants weren’t familiar to us, though helpful signs pointed out creosote and manzanita bushes (pictured). Did you know Native Americans used manzanita leaves as toothbrushes?

After travelling so many days with just each other’s company, having friends along made the past week all the better.

Four friends enjoying Joshua Tree National Park

Four friends enjoying Joshua Tree National Park

 

 

January 2016

 

 

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Learning as we travel

Never stop learning, they say. We say – the easiest way for us to do keep learning is by traveling, observing, and asking questions.  Sometimes it’s so easy, we don’t even know it’s happening.

When we drove further south through California, our biggest decision was where to have lunch. Morro Bay, a scenic town on the Pacific coast, seemed just right. We pulled up to a sweet café with views of the harbor.   As we ate our pitiful, little sandwiches, we watched tourists streaming by. We hurried to finish so we, too, could head outside to see what was happening.

Morro Bay

Word traveled fast among the brown pelicans and gulls that fish scraps were being thrown overboard. It was interesting to watch the scramble to see which bird was victorious. (Their lunch was probably tastier than ours.)

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Sea lions were right under the dock. A nearby sign explained that seals, sea lions, and sea elephants all live along the California coast. Other tourists told us that the much larger sea elephants are found further north in San Simeon.

We enjoyed watching birds, but some can be difficult to identify. We tried taking their photos, and when we pulled their images up on the computer screen, we referred to our thick Sibley bird guidebook to try to ID them.

Gulls are not always easy to ID. We’re pretty sure this is a Western Gull, common along the Pacific coast.

Gulls are not always easy to ID. We’re pretty sure this is a Western Gull, common along the Pacific coast.

western gull - 2nd winter Morro Bay

The challenge with gulls, and many other birds, is that the bird can look different both as a juvenile and in breeding season. We think this gull is a Western gull in its 2nd winter, not quite an adult. Tricky, huh? Well, we’re still learning.

Time to move on and head for our friend’s house where we’d spend the night.

Henriette’s fire in Los Osos

A fire was going in her little stove. We settled in and talked about traveling.

We thought back on all we’d done that day when an “aha!” moment came. Mission accomplished! We’d learned so many new things in just one day.

We celebrated with our new favorite local California treat. Yummy! One more thing learned: take a small piece and then quickly seal the bag. Otherwise, the whole bag will be consumed in just one sitting.

We celebrated with our new favorite local California treat. Yummy! One more thing learned: take a small piece and then quickly seal the bag. Otherwise, the whole bag will be consumed in just one sitting.

 

 

January 2016

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