02-01 Days in the Coachella Valley

Palm Springs at Night is always lit up beautifully

Often when we are visiting this part of the desert, we fill up the days with lots of “doings”.  This time we decided that we needed a bit more “being” and a little less “doing”.  That didn’t mean we wanted to sit around all the time doing nothing but hanging out, but we did limit our excursions to one thing per day for the rest of our week at Catalina Spa.  Not counting swimming and reading of course, those two were on the list every single day. 

I finished knitting a winter scarf in camo colors for my great grandson, who loves all things camo.  Managed to get it mailed from the Desert Hot Springs post office in plenty of time.  On our first afternoon in town, after setting up at Catalina, we decided that it was time, after 8 years of driving east on Dillon Road from Indian Canyon road, past the Dillon Burger and Grill that we needed to stop for one of their down home hamburgers. 

The ambience of the bar was great, funky old bar with fun people eating and drinking, a bunch of guys from some plumbing company on a work break, and a bunch of bikers on the patio enjoying the sunshine.  The burgers were decent, not fancy or fabulous, but decent, and at 4.95 each our lunch was under 20 bucks including the beer and wine.

On another day we explored the stone sculptures at the big yard down on Dillon Road.  Another place we have passed often and never visited.  The sculptures were amazing, the artist was a character, and he talked to us about the cost of installation and transportation for these gorgeous pieces of nature’s art.  He has installations all over the country.  We imagined one the of pillars with windows sitting by our driveway at the entrance to the new house, but probably will never pop for the $5000. it would cost to do that.

On Thursday afternoon, we made the half hour drive into Palm Springs to enjoy an early dinner at a restaurant we enjoy.  Macarena’s is  Mexican place right in the center of town, with outdoor seating along the main street where every Thursday night there is a great street fair.  We got a streetside table and good service while watching the vendors set up their booths for the evening festivities.  The Happy Hour appetizer menu had perfect choices for each of us to share,and I had a killer good marguerita to go with it. I like it when a Mexican restaurant has good flavors that surprise me, instead of the same ole same ole.  Dinner was delicious and we ate every bite, no leftovers!  It is easy when you order appetizers instead of the full course deal.

As darkness fell, we joined the throngs walking down the center of the road, enjoying all the vendors and art for sale.  Before we left home, Mo and I scoped out some large exterior walls of the new house, thinking we needed a bit of house art.  I thought at the time that we might find something either in Palm Springs, or Tubac, Arizona, and we scored in both places.  We found a beautiful sun sculpted in stainless steel by a local artist at the street fair, and I managed to get through the crowd of people without puncturing anyone with the pointy sun rays.  Photos will come later for this piece, waiting now in our garage for the bad weather to lift before we decide exactly where it will be placed on the house.

As the evening wore on, the crowds thickened to the point of being tiresome. We were really glad that we came early and had supper before strolling the street fair.  We were back home by 7 fully satisfied with our meal and our outing and ready to settle in for another swim.  It was hard to share the pool with all those other people, you know the ones, the noodlers.  It seems that evening time is when folks like to “noodle”, where they all gather in little pods, floating on their noodles and chatting and laughing.  I have no problem at all with that, but I do wish that they would at least leave me a tiny lane on the far edge of the pool to actually swim.  Another reason I miss my 3 AM swims.  I actually like to swim!

The next day we woke up early to travel south again to Palm Desert to visit the Living Desert.  We went there for the first time in the winter of 2016, just after the little giraffes were born.  Those babies are now 2 year olds, and there are more young ones that are part of the group now. 

We arrived in time for the morning feeding, and while we were on the other side of the feeding fence, we laughed watching all the little kids holding out carrots to be wrapped up by those long black tongues.  Their responses were almost more fun than watching the giraffes.

The Living Desert is a zoo, but an accredited one that does great things for endangered species.  Our timing was good for this visit because unlike last time, the animals were out and about, including the wolves and especially the jaguars.  Those are truly amazing cats, who kill by using their powerful jaws to crush the head of their prey rather than going for the jugular as most cats do when killing. 

The 3 cheetah sisters were a new addition since our last visit, and they were wonderful to watch.  Each day they have the cheetah runs, where the handlers feed them at opposite ends of their enclosure, both for our enjoyment and exercise for them.  Cheetahs need to run.  It was amazing watching those long lanky bodies stretch out even for short distances.

We had to find the meerkats, of course.  I still think that Mattie is part meerkat.  I know I know, but she sure does look like one when she sits on her hind end, straight up, and turns her head from side to side with her little pointy nose in the air.  Pure meerkat.  We confirmed that when we saw the meerkats once again.  They have to be on the list of cutest animals ever.

The gardens are beautiful, even in winter, and walking the pathways will get in a good 3 miles of walking without even trying.  It is spendy, at $17.95 per senior person, but worth it.  I think we might have to go at least every other year, if not every year.

We returned to another favorite place for a lovely morning hike.  The Big Morongo Canyon Refuge is just half an hour up the hill to the north in the Morongo Valley.  It is a no dog hike, but thankfully Mattie is happy to wait at home in her MoHo bed if we want to head out for some non doggie entertainment.

We had hiked this area in the past, and knew it would provide lovely views and great open space.  It was quite chilly when we started out at 7:30 in the morning, but by the time we returned we had shed sweaters and were back to sleeveless shirts.

Unlike the Indian Canyons at Taquitz and Palm Canyon, this hike is free, but doesn’t have the waterfalls and streams, but also doesn’t have the crowds, at least when we went.  We passed a few people on various portions of the trail, but most of the time we had the refuge to ourselves to enjoy. 

In between all the activity, we still managed a lot more down time for walks with the dog, swims, reading in the chairs in the shade, and just enjoying the 80 degree temperatures, heaven after a foggy winter in Grants Pass.

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

Current Location: Catalina Spa and RV Resort  Desert Hot Springs California

The morning dawned over the desert yesterday like something in an old European landscape painting.  As we glided  silently in the pool, empty except for the two of us, we watched the puffy clouds shift from gray to pink to white and yellow, a slight breeze ruffling the nearby fine leaved eucalyptus trees. 

The temperatures were predicted to be in the mid 70’s, with some cloud cover and a 9 percent chance of rain.  Nothing to deter us from exploring a new place to hike.Big Morongo Canyon (1 of 63)

Not far north from Desert Hot Springs on Highway 62 in the Morongo Valley, is a lovely desert oasis of one of the largest riparian habitats in California, Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, with the upper part of the canyon in the Mojave Desert and the southern portion entering the lower Colorado Desert.  The preserve is administered by the BLM, and supported by the Nature Conservancy, and The Friends of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, a non-profit group. 

There are no fees to enter the area, but the signs are loud and clear about no dogs allowed.  The preserve is for plants and wildlife and there are mountain lions and other animals that would be terribly disturbed by the presence of dogs.  I understand completely.  It was with a bit of sadness that we traveled there for our day of dog free hiking, but a bit of relief as well.  Much as we miss them, the animals, like children, often called for adjustments in daily life and otherwise.  I certainly don’t miss cleaning the cat box!Big Morongo Canyon (63 of 63)

There is an excellent kiosk with information about the area, trail maps and guides and other brochures at the entrance.  There are bird lists for those who want to use them, but we didn’t bring binoculars or bird books, with apologies to Judy and Carol!  Yes, Carol, I am going to someday get those binoculars that you showed to me.  Today, however, our bird sightings were a bit thin, except for many of your famous “little brown birds” we had no clue about, and one exception, which I write about a bit later.

Big Morongo Canyon (6 of 63)By the time we entered the Mesquite Trail, the sun had come through the clouds and the temperatures were warm enough for shorts and sleeveless shirts.  The skies were beautiful.

Big Morongo Canyon (7 of 63)The excellent trail maps helped guide us to the trails of our choice and the markers were clear and exactly where the maps said they would be.  Hikers know this isn’t always the case. 

Big Morongo Canyon (8 of 63)We chose to walk all the trails except the Canyon Trail, a 9 mile round trip down Big Morongo Canyon ending at Indian Canyon Road and returning uphill to the starting point.morongo canyon hike 2

We did however, manage to see all the other trails, ranging in length from a few tenths of a mile to a mile or so.  In all, we managed 3 miles of easy hiking through several different habitats in the preserve.

Big Morongo Canyon (16 of 63)The preserve is most known for its bird population, and there are several large wooden viewing decks scattered throughout the lower trails in the riparian portions of the park.  After walking the beautiful Yucca Ridge trail with its wide open views, we slipped down into the thick willow, mesquite, and Fremont cottonwood covered trails to enjoy the shade and the sound of birds.  I wish I could learn bird calls, because I think that might help a lot with identifying what is impossible to see in the thick brush.

Big Morongo Canyon (52 of 63)Best moment of the day came at a small observation bench hidden in the thickets.  We sat down and Mo asked, “What do you suppose this is for?”

Big Morongo Canyon (45 of 63)Big Morongo Canyon (50 of 63)I said I thought it was a place to sit and watch for birds, and the words no more than left my mouth than a very friendly, very curious western scrub jay flew right in front of us and landed on a branch not two feet away, checking us out for quite some time before deciding that we had no food and flying off in search of something more enticing.

Big Morongo Canyon (26 of 63)On the higher Yucca trail, that skirts the eastern perimeter of the preserve, there are many plants that are identified with signs, and while the minute differences are visible up close in person, overall all those shrubs looked like gray twiggy things with thorns!  Big Morongo Canyon (32 of 63)We laughed about hiking the beautiful desert in the dormant time of January.  The only sign of life was new green grass on the ridges and near the trails, evidence of the recent rains in the area.Big Morongo Canyon (22 of 63)

Although we only hiked 3 miles, we did spent more than a couple of hours enjoying the viewing platforms, the strategically placed benches, and shaded boardwalks meandering through the marshy areas.

Big Morongo Canyon (10 of 63)Big Morongo Canyon (23 of 63)Big Morongo Canyon (59 of 63)I do think that Whitewater Canyon may be a bit more picturesque, but does not have the big cottonwood and willow forest that makes this preserve a special place to visit. We especially enjoyed the variety of plants, habitats and terrain that we encountered in a reasonably accessible area.Big Morongo Canyon (62 of 63)


01-08-2015 Big Morongo Canyon

Current Location: Catalina Spa and RV Resort Desert Hot Springs

We drove a bit north to the Morongo Valley yesterday to hike in the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve.  More to come later, but for now I thought this collage of the wonderful, colorful, varied plants so well marked along the trails would pique your interest. Desert hiking in January can be interesting.1-01-08-2015 Big Morongo Canyon

While the plants may be less than spectacular this time of year, the views are worth the hike.

Big Morongo Canyon (19 of 63)