In The Desert

They Remember Your Name

They do know our name at Alaska Airlines and we were treated to a wonderful flight from Kona non-stop to San Diego, our home port before setting off in search of the California desert. Kudos to Rick for running a first class operation on board. We love it when flying feels effortless and we know how much effort goes into making us feel that way.

That said, San Diego was not the destination for this trip. So its into the car and off into the sunrise on Interstate 8. It wasn’t long before we were heading up to Mount Laguna for some spectacular panoramic scenes of the desert valley below it. At 6000 feet, it is high enough to get snow. It was a bit cool as we arrived, but the sun provided the perfect foil. Into those distant views resides the Cleveland National Forest. It contains over 720 square miles of mostly chaparral, a dry Mediterranean ecosystem that is prone to wildfire. In fact, the forest has hosted the two largest California wildfires on record.

Following the wonderfully scenic drive down the other side, we thought of our good friends Carl and Deb driving through here in a few years as they wrap up there 50 state tour with their Air Stream Stella and her monster truck companion Blanche. We channeled them all the way to the Julian Pie Company in Julian California. One of the things we love about Carl’s emails from the road is that they seem to find the original this or that. There’s a lot of balls of twine out there, but they often stumble upon the original one. So it was with great pride that we walked into the original Julian Pie Company store that opened in 1982. They now produce thousands of pies a day at a factory store up the road, but this was where it all began. Although they now have a dozen kinds of apple pie, we had to have, you guessed it, the original.

Out of the Rain

IMG_20151101_083959Full of pie, we headed out from Julian into the Anza-Borrego State Park, the second largest state park in the United States. The drive took us through the town of Borrego and then onward through a flatland of washes towards the Salton Sea, a high saline lake dotted with abandoned settlements whose dreams had long since sifted into the salty desert sand. The carved miniature canyons and long stretches of flat desert were host to several movies of yesteryear, including The Desert Fox and The Andromeda Strain.

From there, we headed north through a rather remarkable area of desert farming. Date palm farms, what appeared to be vineyards, citrus groves, and some vegetable farming turned the desert green. We had to guess they got their water via canal from the Colorado River. With the drought that is currently gripping California, there is a big effort underway to improve the efficiency of water use by desert farms in the Coachella valley. For the casual drive by tourist, it seems amazing that they grow anything at all in the middle of the desert.

No One and No Pain

Just north of the Salton Sea, we veered left and began a beautiful journey on Box Canyon Road. We learned that the name Box Canyon is actually a generic reference that applies to the type of canyon and that California has over a dozen box canyons. Thankfully for us, this box canyon has a lonely road running right through it. Given how pretty it was to drive through, it is amazing so few people do, especially when you figure that it pops out at Interstate 10 and crosses right over to the entrance to  our next destination, Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park is the meeting point of two desert ecosystems, the Colorado and the Mojave.  Elevation distinguishes the variety of plants and animals found in each.  The lower Colorado, below 3000′, supports predominantly creosote bush and stands of ocotillo and cholla cactus.  The higher Mojave is wetter, and the distinct Joshua trees stand as sentinels that support food, shelter, and moisture for a variety of insects, birds, and animals.  It is pollinated by a moth that is key to it’s continued survival.  The Mojave landscape includes massive granite rock formations that add to the beauty and awe of an rugged and yet delicate ecosystem.  The landscape has also been home to the early Pinto Culture, nomadic hunters, gold miners, and homesteaders but,gratefully, is now a protected area  of nearly 800,000 acres.

Lots of Names

Palm Springs was our stopping point. Here in the Coachella Valley, Palm Springs reins supreme. House after house has someone famous attached to it. Although many are residents in name only, there are some famous residents that are fixtures in town. However interesting you may find the list of stars, the real stars in Palm Springs are the mid-century modern homes they lived in. Palm Springs is currently all about the architecture. We saw many homes that had been stripped back to there original skin and were being restored to their previous glory. Of course, there are plenty of homes that have already been restored and if you like the mid-century modern style, this is the place to be.

Some Horses, Some Camels, and Just Deserts

The return drive from Palm Springs to San Diego took us up on Route 74. It was pretty cool winding up through the mountains whose view we had been enjoying for the previous few nights. There’s quite a panorama of the valley below before you head off into the pass and away from this ever growing desert world. While the Mojave hung on for a bit, the climate began the shift from desert to semi-arid highlands. About an hour or so along in our journey, horses appeared, some signs of recent rain were visible, and a bit of farming popped up. The most interesting was the Oasis Camel Dairy. We haven’t looked for it in the store here, but somebody is drinking camel’s milk.

Having never been here before, we were grateful to be visiting at the end of October when the weather was just this side of perfect. Dry and sweet – we enjoyed our Just Deserts Tour.


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