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.

01-30-2018 “Home” to Catalina Spa

Most years when we travel south, we slip into one of our favorite little spots, Catalina Spa and RV Resort.  Last year was a bit of a shock for us, since one of our favorite things about this particular park  was the hot spring fed swimming pool that was open all night.  I have watched moon rises and sun rises from this pool, watched stars at night and one time tracked the space station as it crossed the sky.  I love swimming in the dark without the sun in my eyes.

Last year the “adult” pool in the lower (older) part of the park was closed for renovation, and I had to either walk or drive in the middle of the cold night to get the the upper pool.  We knew that the lower pool renovations were complete and were excited and a bit nervous about the changes.

I discovered that I really am resistant to change.  It infuriates me.  Cracked me up when I realized how I was reacting to the shifts, just like an old person who can’t deal with change.  As time passed, I reminded myself, “change or die”, and I began to adjust to the shifts in our favorite place to camp in the Coachella Valley.

The new pool is quite modern looking.  The lovely old and somewhat amateur murals on the spa wall have been replaced with very spendy and lovely glass tiles.  The pool is spotlessly clean, with some kind of machine that runs during the night.  A very nice technician explained to me that California state law requires that all pools be treated with chlorine, and that not using it could result in the complete shutdown of the pool.  Sigh.  What I loved about that pool, in addition to the 24 hour open thing was the fact that it had no chlorine in it, and neither did the spa.  The hot springs at the resort completely replace the water in the pool every 3 days or so and in the spa more than twice a day.  Technician man said that even when he keeps the chlorine level up to state requirements, it is on the very low level of those requirements.  I only noticed it very faintly early in the morning, at 7am, when the pool now opens.  We also were told that the resort is now being billed as a “family resort destination”.  No such thing as an adult pool any more.  At least they still honor Passport America and our daily rate was a cool $22.50.  Not bad overall. Change or die.

The camping area has changed as well.  Half of the lower park (including the area we always chose to camp) has been closed off for repairs, and for eventual conversion to park models only. We were directed to our spot by a volunteer in a golf cart, unlike in the past where we were allowed to make our own choice.  It wasn’t a bad spot, actually quite level, and the sand had been freshly raked.  Instead of the tall tamarisk trees at the rear of our rig on 11th street as we always chose, we had campers directly behind us, and our patio was completely visible to them.  Not exactly private, but tolerable, since we were lucky enough to have nice, quiet campers in those spots.

The park seemed fairly full, but with half of it shut down, that would explain why.  We were given pages and pages of rules and activities, how to create a “safe bag” for exiting in an emergency and all sorts of other stuff.  TV thank goodness is still not digital, so we were able to get it via cable.  (We left our cable at home somehow and had to buy another one)  So much for knowing where everything is located after our move.

We were so lucky for our entire time in Desert Hot Springs with absolutely perfect weather.  It was especially lucky to be in a place with clear skies for the early morning spectacular show on January 31, the Supermoon and the Lunar Eclipse.  I didn’t even set an alarm, but woke up several times during the night to gaze at the moon, and was awake just after the eclipse started.  Didn’t pack a tripod on this trip, and thought that I really didn’t need to try that hard for a perfect photo.  So many good friends are really good at what they do, and they all have tripods.  I did want to at least try to capture the moment for my own memories, and the photos I got made me happy enough.  I was surprised at how many people around us in the park just slept through the entire display.  Of course, there were a few folks wandering about in bathrobes and slippers, smiling and laughing with me.

Once the sun was fully up the last morning of January, it was time to take Mattie walking in the big desert area just north.  The dog park is small and was muddy from the morning sprinklers, and the desert was much more inviting.  Within a few days, Mattie had made friends with several other dogs whose owners liked walking in the open, and several of us let the kids play off leash when everyone got along well.  As usual, Mattie likes the big dogs best, but there were a few little ones who were playful enough for her.  She can be a bit of a brat when she is on-leash, and gets all excited when she sees new dogs, wanting to play.  Her version of play can look kind of aggressive if you don’t know her, and I spent a lot of time saying, “No!!” 

I was glad for doggie play time for her since she will be going to visit a doggie care center while we are in Mexico next month, and the place requires her to be well behaved with other dogs.  Of course.  At least she had some practice during out three weeks out on this trip.

Time passed slowly for us at Catalina.  This year the weather was so great, with NO wind, an unheard of thing when visiting Desert Hot Springs at this time of year.  We had time to read in our chairs on the shady side of the rig, to swim mornings and evenings, to actually relax.  That is something we both really needed to do since we have been so much on the go for the last two years.  Real relaxation has been missing, and especially relaxation in warm sunshine!  Wonderful.

We had a few plans upcoming for the later part of our week, including some hikes, and some traditional treats like the Living Desert and Palm Springs Street Fair, but the quiet down time we enjoyed those first few days was extra special.

01-06-2017 Pasadena Delights and Sierra Madre Memories

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

First, a little bit about Catalina Spa.  Fellow bloggers who travel to this part of the desert sometimes enjoy time here.  I am thinking of Betty Graffis, who we met here a couple of years ago, also of George and Suzie, who have enjoyed this park as well.  Imagine my surprise when we drove in the familiar entrance, only to find the sweet little gate house empty, and the friendly guys who always welcomed us “home” nowhere in sight.

Always fun to be in the desert and see the bad weather stacked up on the western horizon

We checked in on the 4th, after leaving the busy days of the rally behind.  Friend Laura once again drove to the fairgrounds before we left and we had a great lunch at Walter’s in LaVerne.  It is nice to actually see her in person, for Mo to meet her, and for Mattie to get more pets from the person who went to great effort to make sure she was well cared for while we were gallivanting around during the Rally.  It was nice to thank Laura in person.

As we approached Catalina, I was having visions of warming up my chilly body in my favorite whirlpool tub in the world.  Uh Oh.  It was a bit of a shock to continue down the main entrance road to find this. The gate is still there, but the new management doesn’t feel the need to have anyone guarding it. Better be sure you remember your gate code, as it is closed all the time now.

Catalina Spa was sold to a new owner and he has big plans for turning it into a 5 star resort, beginning with gutting the old game room, store, showers, and spa area.  There are a lot of 5 star resorts around, they are a dime a dozen, and I find them quite boring.  Catalina is a bit funky, or at least it was.  The now gated pool was open all night, and was an adults only pool.  The spa was just steps away from where we like to camp in the 30 amp area, and my favorite thing was to walk there in the dark and slip into the pool at 4am, swimming and soaking while watching the stars and waiting for the sunrise.

It is a good indicator of my age that I discovered I am NOT very flexible.  I was furious, and frustrated, and especially angry that no one had mentioned a word of this when we made our reservation last fall.  The office building is gutted as well, and rumor has it that what we call “the lower park”, with 30 amp service, sites that are much less than level, and old trees to provide desert shade, will become an area of park model rentals and permanent homes.

Yeah, sure, the big pool in the upper park is still open, with its spa and game room available.  I would avoid that pool, and think in all the years we came here, only swam there a time or too.  You know…stuff like teenagers courting by jumping on each other and splashing isn’t really conducive to a relaxing swim.  It isn’t quite the same to walk the distance in the dark, or jumping into the car to go swimming.

We are here.  We are enjoying our site adjacent to the dog park, as is Mattie.  We have been swimming, so far just in the evening, with the aforementioned teenagers, and all the busy-ness that is part of the upper clubhouse, aka people.  The hot tub is a lot smaller, and more full, at least when it is usable.  So far that has been only once, when the rest of the time the temperature is hot enough to actually scald a tentative foot used to test the waters.  Ah well.  Only thing in life that is sure is change, but I sure don’t like it.  I guess other people have a bit of the same idea, at least the ones who are not here.  The park is about half empty.

Without knowing about the changes, we recommended Catalina highly to our new friend Claudia, co-owner of Adventure Caravans, and she is staying here as well.  With a big rig parked right next to the upper clubhouse and a great view over the desert, I think she is enjoying herself. With a personality as big as Texas, Claudia loves people, and can talk to anyone.  Our first night here she invited us to join her at the clubhouse for one of the dinners.  It was interesting, and we had a great time with Claudia, but we probably don’t have to try the clubhouse dinner again. 

Even though we are 90 minutes farther east than we were at the fairgrounds, Mo and I decided long ago that on this trip we would travel back to Pasadena for something special to us.  Friday morning, with the predicted rains expected to hit on Saturday, we drove back west.  We were blessed with gorgeous skies, views of the mountains to the north and light traffic on the 210 for the entire distance. Our destination was the Pasadena Museum of History.

As most family and friends are aware, we are building a house at the cottage property this year, and while it won’t be a completely traditional Craftsman house, we hope to incorporate some of the elements of style that make Craftsman homes so welcoming.  The history of the Arts and Crafts movement in America is fascinating, with several names that stand out.  William Morris, creator of designs that were rich with floral motifs, Greene and Green, architects famous for their Craftsman style homes, and another name not quite as familiar to many, Batchelder.

Ernest A Batchelder was a tilemaker who settled in the Pasadena area in the early part of the 20th century.  His style is unique, and his fireplace and fountain installations are well known throughout the Los Angeles area especially, but occur all over the United States.  We were thrilled to discover that the Pasadena Museum of History has a special exhibit scheduled while we are in Southern California, and we weren’t about to miss it.

We do have an extra special interest in the exhibit and Batchelder installations because Mo has been hauling around crates of antique un-set Batchelder tiles for a couple of decades.  She installed a few of them in her house and in the cabin in Rocky Point.  (The new owners had no idea what they had there, so we left a bit of literature for them).  Our plan is to use the tiles in the new house, including the fireplace. 

As we entered the exhibit, both of us were tickled pink and very excited to be there, and to see our tile guy so honored.  The show was small but beautifully done.  One of the largest installations of Batchelder tile is the  now closed Dutch Chocolate Shop in downtown Los Angeles.  It is inaccessible to the public, except for special tours, and we have never managed to get here at the right time to participate. An especially delightful exhibit at the show was a simple chair in a small alcove and a virtual reality headset.  Mo and I put on that headset and walked all around the interior of the chocolate shop.  There was also a visit to the interior of Batchelder’s home and gardens, now owned by Robert Winter who donated tiles and curated the exhibit. 

We loved seeing several of our tiles on display, especially the “City of Hearthside Dreams”, a 12×12 tile which will be the center feature of our fireplace.

I have always wanted to visit the Gamble House, another Pasadena Arts and Crafts site, and had no idea that the location was just a couple of blocks away from where we were at the Museum of History.  Our timing was perfect, and we snagged tickets for the last docent led tour of the day through the house.

The architects Greene and Greene were highlighted in a special exhibit that we saw last week at the Huntington, and it was exciting to enter the house for which they are most famous.  The artistry of this home is magnificent, with the connection to natural materials, and the simple ethic of the Arts and Crafts movement so well used.  Arts and Crafts style was a move away from the doo dad complexity of the Victorian style that was so popular during the late 19th century.

The tour was fascinating, and as is often the case, we were not allowed to take photos of the interior. I am sure they want to sell the expensive books that are in the lovely bookstore!  Here is a link to a ton of images from the web of the exterior and interior of the house.What we discovered was that no matter how impressive and wonderful the Arts and Crafts style can be, it is often quite dark.  The interior of the house was incredibly dark, and reminded us why we are going to go much lighter in the house that we build.  Light!!  Need Light!!

Southern California is a haven for old Arts and Crafts homes, from simple bungalows to huge mansions like the Gamble House.  We once again drove the streets of Pasadena’s Bungalow Heaven, only this time we had a different thought in mind.  Instead of simply looking for cute houses, we wanted to check out the stone veneers that grace so many of these homes.  Our new home will have stone veneer, but we want it to look like this, not like the brightly colored big fake stones that we see around Grants Pass.  Who knows if there is anything like the real thing around our part of the world that isn’t cost prohibitive.

I was born in Sierra Madre, where my grandmother bought a piece of property in the upper reaches of Sierra Madre Canyon.  It is an eclectic place, and has been so ever since 1929 when she bought the property.  She left in the mid 70’s, and her own home high on the hill burned in 1980, but she owned the lots and the second house that was lower on the hill until close to her death in 1993.  I lived in this little house in 1962 and 63 and my husband and I brought our first born daughter Deborah up these steps in January of 1963.

I have returned here with my girls, to show them where they came from, but never had been here with Mo.  Trying to explain how my grandmother spent decades climbing more than 100 steps to carry her groceries to the tiny 1 bedroom house high on the hill wasn’t easy.  Mo kept saying, “Where?  How did she get up there?”

The steps are almost gone now, and I had to hunt to find them.

One year Mo took me to visit her roots at the family home in North Dakota, and again in Columbia City, Oregon, where she grew up. Both homes were traditional bungalows, lovely and solid, much like Mo.  It was interesting to compare our roots, to think about how the people who were influential in our lives affected how we turned out. 

Here is a photo of my grandmother in 1955 at the lower end of her steps.

I keep saying I have a reason for my somewhat off the wall history, I can blame it on my eccentric grandmother who lived this canyon, drove this road in her 1937 black Buick, and climbed the stairs to her tiny house, so small the fridge had to be kept on the porch, for almost 5 decades.

This is the tiny house that was at the top of the hill, bought in 1929 and where my mother grew up

Mo and I drove around Sierra Madre, enjoying the old rock walls and home facades that are such a part of this town.  I realized that the reason I am so attached to the idea of rock facing and bungalow style might have to do with my roots so long ago in Sierra Madre. 

The city square in the hill town of Sierra Madre, California

Our return trip was later than we expected, with the extra time we took to tour the Gamble House, and traffic was as it often is on the freeway.  We ambled along Huntington Drive instead, with evening approaching and traffic so heavy, decided it was time to find food.  A quick check of “Chinese Food Nearby” on google maps yielded a restaurant just minutes from where we were.

We settled in for a great meal at Youngs, with orange chicken done right with lots of real orange and red peppers, crispy and perfect, and Mandarin beef, spicy enough and tender.  Daughter Melody always said never eat Chinese food in a town of less than 50,000.  I think Duarte has fewer people than that in the actual city limits, but as LA people know, all these cities run together and the Chinese restaurants are great.  Anything from current Asian fusion, to the more traditional “Chinese” that is like comfort food is available, and the traditional big aquarium was the perfect finishing touch.

Back on the 10, the traffic was pretty slow all the way east until we were almost to Palm Springs, but we didn’t mind.  The day was so fulfilling the drive didn’t matter in the least.