09-30-2018 Day 6 The Path of the Gods

Montepertuso, Italy Clear, Sunny and 75 Degrees F/ 24 C

View from the Path, with smoke from the fires showing on the mountain above Montepertuso and over the sea

Waking up on Sunday morning was lovely.  The bells on the big church just behind our apartment started ringing early, and the clarion call sounded lovely echoing around the village.  We had noticed the bells on other days, but on this day they rang several times. I am sure that the odd hours were announcing another mass for the townsfolk.  99.7 percent of Italian people are Roman Catholic.

When we first arrived in Montepertuso, Enzo was emphatic about making a reservation for us at a local restaurant, famous for its fish and wonderful food.  We finally settled on Sunday night for the reservation, but by the time Sunday rolled around we knew that we needed to be ready to catch the train on Monday morning and didn’t want to go to dinner.

Neither of us are particularly attached eating fancy meals at expensive restaurants so it was an easy decision.  Dinner at Ristorante la Terra would have cost at least 100 EU.  We chose instead to spend that extra money on our tour day of the ruins and skip the expensive dinner.

The day was gorgeous and sunny, with only a slight breeze.  Both of us were so appreciative of the fabulous weather we had enjoyed throughout our entire week on the Amalfi Coast.  In spite of the winds, it was a perfect week.

We saved the famous hike along the cliffs for this last day.  It seemed like a fitting end to our visit.  There is much written about the Path of the Gods, and it is something that should be experienced during any extended trip to the Amalfi Coast. 

The path itself follows the cliffs along an 8.7 kilometer trail from the town of Bomerano to Positano, along routes that have been used for centuries by farmers taking their products to market on the backs of donkeys. Each end of the trail has magnificent views of the Amalfi Coast and the beautiful farmed and grazed terraces gracing the steep slopes of the limestone mountains.

We knew that we were a bit worn from our week of stairs and hiking and with a bit of discussion decided that we would rather hike only part of the trail.  The length was less daunting than the fact that we would have to take the Mobility bus down to Positano, catch the Siti Bus to Amalfi, and catch another bus to Bomerano to access the trailhead at its southernmost entrance.

Instead, we decided to take the Mobility bus up to Nocelle, get on the trail at the access point there, and hike as far as we could manage before turning around to retrace our steps.  With my knee and vertigo, this seemed like a much smarter idea. 

The bus was a bit late, as usual, but wasn’t a deterrence since we knew we could spend as much time as we wanted on the trail and catch the last bus going back to Positano via Montepertuso from Nocelle at 7pm.  The bus was also quite crowded, with many people choosing to hike only part of the trail as well.

It was a hot afternoon, and right at the entrance to the trail in Nocelle was a lemonade stand with lemon granitas.  On my!  This is nothing like ordinary lemonade although I have no idea what makes it so luscious.  Perfect start for our hike.

We walked a bit through Nocelle, meeting many folks coming our way from Bomerano.  Mid afternoon was a perfect time to be walking in the opposite direction as all those very tired hikers.  The standard question, “How much further”? was repeated often, with smiles and laughter and some big sighs for some.  The village is a lovely place, much smaller than Montepertuso, and the path is lined with small villas, a tiny grocery store, and a few eating places. Cars must park at the entrance to the village near the bus stop.

The path is through Nocelle is well marked

If you look closely, you can see our path on the right beyond the stone building along the cliff

I am not sure how long we walked, but after we climbed this particular set of stairs, we came to an area that was basically a rocky cliff.  There was nothing to break a fall to the sea below, far below.

We had been hiking for 90 minutes or so, and according to the map were about half way along the trail.  It seemed like an opportune place to turn around.  It made us doubly glad that we hadn’t tried to to the entire trail from the far end.  We would have had no choice but to climb those cliffs.  I suppose we would have managed, but I wanted to remain alive for another day. I had to face the fact that with the bad knee and vertigo coming and going I probably would never manage Angel’s Landing in Zion in this lifetime either.

Retracing out steps just a bit led us to a charming picnic table in a ravine surrounded by wildflowers and shaded by huge trees.  There were just a few small pools of water remaining from what I could imagine were rushing waterfalls during the springtime.

People passed by on the trail and we were happy to have the table for our evening picnic of Sara’s goodies. The shade felt great and we were grateful for the water bottles we had carried on what turned out to be a rather hot afternoon on the trail.

Taking our time as the trail evolved from rough rocks to stone steps near Nocelle, we loved seeing the view from a different perspective.  We saw that the fires were still burning, and watched the big bellied planes dipping into the sea and flying over the ridges to drop water on the fires.

The few tiny establishments along the way tempted us, but we didn’t want to miss the last bus from Nocelle back to Montepertuso.  As luck would have it, the bus was on time and showed up not long after we arrived at the stop.  The pushing and shoving were a little less obnoxious by that time in the evening and we were grateful for that. We were ready to be home in our little apartment for what would be our last evening on the Amalfi Coast. Time to pack and prepare for our travels north to the city of Florence “Firenze” and a completely different world.

09-29-2018 Day 5 Montepertusso, the Hole in the Mountain

Montepertusso, Italy, Clear and 22C 72F

After our very long day yesterday, Deanna and I thought that it would be great to have a nice quiet day at home We imagined a perfect “jammie day”.  We did realize that we would have to dress to walk to the nearby market in the local square to get more bottled drinking water.  I put on my most comfy shorts and top, a pair of sandals, bringing my walking stick and the phone. The short walk is still a bit rough, so the stick was a good choice.  Who knows about the phone, but I thought it might be nice to get a photo of the square and anything else that popped up.

The market is small,and quite charming, with a very good deli in the back, a small hidden area for household items, some fresh produce, and lots of yummy pasta and olive choices.  We chose a fat swirly pasta called Trecce to go with the homemade tomato sauce from Sara’s garden offered to us this morning.  At the register the kind woman was very helpful with figuring out our change and what we needed to pay.  Somehow the 16 EU charged on the register became 36 EU after she helped us with the currency.  First lesson learned.  Don’t be stupid and think that just because the sweet little lady in the market has served you several times and been really sweet that she won’t attempt to confuse you and cheat you.  The market is called Marrone New Shop Di Cuccaro F.  As I said a delightful little shop, but know your euros and count your change.

Leaving the market we counted our losses, laughed at ourselves a bit in frustration, and wandered off through the square toward the back of Il Ritrovo  This restaurant is highly recommended however we will not have time to try it out.  A beautiful colorful map posted by a nearby stairway showed us the route we had been wondering about: how to get to the famous Hole in the Mountain, Montepertuso il buco.

We looked at each other and said, “Why not?”  I had on sandals but I at least had my stick for hiking the stairs and my phone for taking photos.

The stairs looked quite familiar, but unlike the stairs down to Positano, the stair depth was more like real stairs.  One step per stair instead of 3 or 4.  Up up up we went with a group of young people sometimes in front of us and sometimes behind us, but never intrusive.  A few other folks my age were huffing and puffing and stopping now and then to catch their breath, so I didn’t feel too badly when I had to stop as well. We loved being slowed a bit by a young man sweeping the steps, taking care of all the debris from the previous night’s winds.

I also enjoyed stepping aside at several terraced gardens, rich with ripening squashes, grapes heavy on the vines, and tomatoes at the end of their cycle.  These terraces are the rich legacy of centuries of farming  and eons of rich volcanic soils.

On our return trip we encountered a farmer with his machinery going down the steps.  Can you imagine having to do this to get to your gardens every day?  Notice the tracks on the garden machine for climbing the stairs.

For me, however, the biggest problem was the dang vertigo that I have been fighting for some time now (like years).  It gets to me at the most inopportune times, like when climbing stuff.  Such a pain.  I have discovered that I can crawl up really steep weird things, and have also learned that with one stick, all I need to do is simply touch something with my other hand to make it ok.  Deanna’s shoulder was a very welcome addition to the hike, both up and down.

Not too far from the summit is a “park area”, and I was happy for a flat place to get my balance.  I guess you can see from my expression I was a bit unnerved.

The last portion of the hike is quite steep and a bit rough, with crazy steps and rocks, and I was very happy when we reached the top. The small group of young people were ahead of us, standing around in the magnificent arched opening in the mountain. 

One of them kindly took our photo and then Deanna decided to walk out on a very narrow rock ledge to a pinnacle overlooking the village below and the sea.  I wasn’t able to get a photo of her adventure since she had the phone with her, but the resulting photo is one of my favorites of our trip so far.

We waited a bit for the young folks to come down, but when it seemed they weren’t about to go anywhere we joined them in the arch.  They were very sweet, and I got a kick out of the fact that I wasn’t the only one wearing sandals.  Actually the sandals were a great idea, since they are the least slippy of any of my hiking shoes, have plenty of toe room, and I love hiking in them. 

After exchanges mostly in broken Italian, I asked, “Di Dove Sei?”, and it turned out they were Italians from a town just over the mountain near Sorrento.  The young men were in suits and the women in dresses, and they were carrying man purses, which seemed a little strange for a hike.  One young man finally spoke to me in English saying, “We are here to share the Bible knocking on doors of homes.  We are Jehovah Witness”.  Wow.  In Italy, where 99 percent of the population is Catholic. They were sweet kids, and with the language barrier, they at least declined from asking us if we wanted to learn about the Bible and Jesus. 

The hike down was a piece of cake, with the elevation difference of only 300 feet or so and Deanna’s shoulder in front of  me for balance, we made it in no time.  Returning through the square in the gorgeously brilliant sunshine, we ambled back to our home and spent the rest of the afternoon “doing nothing”. This meant we spent several hours processing photos from the previous days, and making sure we had all our spending tracked and recorded.

Supper was early by Italian standards, with the yummy pasta, a fresh zucchini stir fried as an addition to Sara’s tomato sauce, and a yummy salad with fresh greens, tomatoes, a truly fabulous balsamic from Valenti’s and some of Sara’s olive oil.  The zucchini wasn’t anything like ours at home, much more dense and flavorful, and less watery.  Fabulous.  The tomatoes are a treat in themselves and can only be found with flavor even close this at home in farmer’s markets.

Dessert was the last of our pistachio cannoli we had saved from our walk in Positano and a sip of the incredible limoncello we purchased the night before at Valenti’s. (See the post from Day 4 with more about this)

I fell into bed so looking forward to a night of good sleep.  As lovely as our little BnB has been, the beds are not the least bit lovely.  The bedding is fresh cotton, all ironed and embroidered, the coverlet is nice, the blanket is good, however the mattress feels a bit like cardboard with a plank of plywood beneath it.  I have only managed to figure out a bit of comfort by adjusting some of the 4 large pillows around my body here and there to try to get the pressure off the hips.  Not a surprise, as I do remember some hard beds from previous trips on this side of the pond.  Deanna and I are both really hoping that our bed in Florence is a bit better.  Firm is good, but hard isn’t so much.

With all the photos we took, with two cameras and two phones, we had a bit of trouble trying to keep track and attempted to process and upload often so as not to lose them.  We didn’t completely succeed, and some of the photos I took of the interior of our apartment are forever lost.  If you would like to check out the space, here is the link to the Airbnb website for La Selva Santa, our Home Away from Home.  The people in the photo sitting at the table are Enzo and Sara.

A link to the photos for this day that I did not manage to lose is here

07-05-2018 Playing Close to Home

Current Location: Grants Pass Oregon at 86 degrees F with strong breezes and mostly clear skies

It has been a precious summer so far.  For the entire month of June I breathed in the blue skies and fresh air without a touch of smoke from wildfires to mar the loveliness.  Sometimes during a simple quick run to the grocery store I would be completely awed by the technicolor blues and greens that made me wonder if I hadn’t perhaps ingested some sort of mind altering substance without knowing it. 

The colors were almost psychedelic, cartoonish, so brilliant that I would just breathe and drive and gasp out loud all alone in the car.  I know the fires will come eventually, the clear air will go gray and dingy when the smoke from the wildfires that are already beginning to dot the maps of the west finds our valley once again.  Then again…could we really be lucky enough to skip the smoke this year?  I haven’t lived here long enough to really know if that is a possibility.  Smoke always seems to come when everything is at its most beautiful.  Maybe not this year, I’ll wait and see.

This is our first summer actually living in Grants Pass full time.  Mo and I are enjoying having more time to fiddle around with projects.  Mo’s most recent creation was an arbor for the old front gate area, where she used two old doors that we saved from the cottage as side walls.  Thank you, Pinterest, for the ideas!  We loved the old doors in the cottage, built in 1926, and I think these doors were originals.  Mo cut and sanded and painted, figuring out the puzzle of using the old existing gate posts as standards, and making the whole thing fit in, level and even.

I love the arbor, and the old gate that it surrounds.  Somehow it feels like a portal to me, a portal from the outside world into a magical world of our own making.  I love the feeling of memories of the old cottage contained in those old doors.

July 4th was quiet this year.  Daughter Melody and her family had other plans.  For years she has missed sharing time with her old theater friends from the days she lived in Albany, and now that she is in Eugene, just an hour away from Albany where those friends live, she was able to attend the annual Fourth of July party with the theater group.  She told me a year ago that she would NOT be available this year for our traditional family time.  

Instead she and Robert drove down from Eugene on Saturday to spend the weekend with us, and on Sunday daughter Deborah showed up for yummy brunch, family time, and the traditional game of Bocci Ball, which seems to show up every year on the 4th, no matter where we are.

On the actual 4th, Mo and I decided that we needed some sort of entertainment that was out of the ordinary house work, yard work, book work, and such, and decided to try out the trails in our nearby county and BLM park.

Cathedral Hills is a big park, with several miles of trails for mountain bikes, hiking, and horseback riding, no motorized vehicles allowed.  Still, when hiking, a mountain biker barreling down those trails can seem quite fearsome, especially when getting off the trail involves negotiating the thick stands of poison oak and corralling Mattie!

This view from the Hogback Trail is facing east toward our house, which lies on that terrace at the base of the mountain to the right of the big pine tree.

Close friends know that Mo has been having some ankle trouble lately, and it has kept our hikes short and to a minimum.  She has been seeing a physical therapist and felt good enough that she thought she could handle at least a couple of miles of walking.

We started early in the day, while it was still cool, and found our way to the main entrance to the park, farther west than the Walker trailhead that is just half a mile down the road from our house.  I hiked the Walker trail a couple of years ago, and knew it was terrifically steep with tight switchbacks to the Hogback trail on the ridge.

There were quite a few people in the parking lot when we arrived, but the multiple trails were not the least bit crowded.  In our entire 3.5 mile hike we passed just a few people, horses, and dogs.  Mo’s ankle held up well, and she was only a little bit sore the next day.  Both of us were encouraged, since for the past 16 years one of our major forms of entertainment has included hiking and walking.  We surely don’t want to give that up!

My crazy hip did fine as well, with the buckets of Aleve that the doctor said I should take, insisting that my kidneys were strong.

After our hike, we came home and relaxed a bit, did some chores, had a early supper, and decided to brave the city crowds for the fireworks show at Reinhart All Sports Park in Grants Pass.  Once a long time ago, when we first bought the property in Grants Pass, I discovered the pedestrian bridge, but hadn’t explored the park.

Official parking was less than a mile from the park grounds where the fireworks were going to be set, and the walk through the park and across the river was lovely.  Mo’s ankle did start barking, and we decided that if we do this again, we will save the big hike for another day and save our steps for the park.

The music was loud, but in the distance, the crowds were pleasant, and not too thick, the police presence was there but not intrusive.  We set up our chairs and waited, hoping we were in the right place.  Many people around us hoped for the same thing since the city fireworks show hadn’t been in this location in the past.  In fact, last year, Grants Pass didn’t even have a fireworks show.

The show itself was interesting, and quite different from any I had seen before.  Gone were the big loud booms, with the wait, and then the bursting flower of color high in the sky.  Instead, some sort of machine shot out many bursts at once, in all directions.  They were lower in the sky, but very colorful and there were a LOT of them.  We enjoyed the show, but I did miss the big ones.  There were no fireworks allowed in the park, so the scary prospect of a firecracker set off underfoot by some crazy person wasn’t a problem.

The parking was handled exceptionally well, and we were surprised at how orderly and easy it was to exit the parking area and within minutes afterward we were back home.  It wasn’t a typical July 4th celebration for us, and I did miss the family time on a lake somewhere, but it was still very nice.  My kids know I get all silly about July 4th if I don’t have family around, but this time I was perfectly fine.

When Mo and I returned from our trip to South Beach, we left the kayaks on top the baby car, thinking that we would find a lake to kayak soon enough.  On the last Wednesday in June, we traveled south through the Applegate Valley beyond Ruch and the wineries, to Applegate Lake.  It is actually a reservoir, with only a little bit of shoreline showing and the water wasn’t terribly low as is the case in some of the other reservoirs in this area on the west side of the mountains.

I remember a couple of decades ago when Melody lived in Ruch, and saw Applegate Lake for the first time.  I still lived in Idaho, and she called me in a panic saying, “What is wrong with this lake??  It has a huge bathtub ring?!!”.  She had the luxury of being raised in the Northern Idaho Eastern Washington lake country, where every lake is real, and very few have dams that let out the water to levels that make for those ugly steep brown exposed shorelines.  Here on the west side, every lake we have found is actually a reservoir, with associated levels that are affected by the spring rains, snowmelt, and irrigation.  This year, with a drought officially claimed, those levels are going down fast.

Still, our day on the Applegate was perfect.  The skies were again that technicolor blue, with only a light breeze.  We first checked out the official campground and boat launch site, but it really didn’t have much to offer and was at the northern edge of the lake, without much to see on the shoreline.  There was also a $7.00 fee to launch and the manager of the place was rather rude.  I told him nicely we would look for another launch, and he said, “Your stuff won’t be safe there, why in the world would you want to be on that end of the lake?!”  Duh, we are kayakers, not boaters, and we want complex shoreline, little coves, and no big fast boats getting in our way!

The Copper launch was just about perfect.  Clear water, no silty mud, and nice long paved launch where we could take the car right to the water. Something I read on Wiki was fascinating.  The boat ramp is the upper part of the road that once went to the town of Copper, buried forever when the lake was filled in 1980.

Once on the lake we traveled south, and found a beautiful little cove the meandered back into the forest, shrouded with shady firs, and huge rock cliffs.  It was back here that we did see some birdlife, mostly geese, but with their little ones they were very entertaining.

There were a few more kayakers on the water, but they weren’t intrusive, and told us about another cove farther south past a place they called “The Orchard”.  Sure enough, we continued south and found this inlet, along with a big open park that looked like a campground.  Still planning to check if it is a day use area only or includes overnight camping. 

We spent about 2 1/2 hours on the water, enjoying every single moment of crystal clear skies. clear clean water, and brilliant sunshine. I am sure we will return to this lake in the future, since it is the best place so far on this side of the mountains for kayaking.  As I said before, the mighty Rogue River is a bit much for us, with a strong, fast current.  It is a big river, with lots of rapids in between the quiet places, and neither of us is particularly interested in that kind of kayaking in our long lake boats. 

I packed a picnic for us and we shared it on a real picnic table overlooking the lake.  I have no clue what we did for the rest of the afternoon, but were back home by 2. 

Being on the road and traveling in the summer can get so tiresome, with overcrowding, parks full of kids, hot weather, and no vacancies plaguing so many folks any more.  Our idea of good summer times is enjoying all the beauty of our own local world.  I think we are off to a good start.

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.

01-15-2017 Wonders of the Coachella Valley

Current Location: Orange Grove RV Park, Bakersfield, California  46 F with a foggy overcast

We are parked this evening at Orange Grove, once again picking oranges to brighten winter days at home.  I am watching the big rigs roll in, up to 4 and 6 at a time, and once again the park is completely full tonight.  It is such an easy stop, after the long drive down the slopes of Tehachapi Pass.  Level pull-through sites, full hookups, nice people to check you in, quick and easy, and yes, the oranges.  It is always about the oranges.

Leaving the Coachella Valley today was bittersweet.  It was perhaps the most blue sky day since we arrived, with temperatures predicted to be in the mid 60’s.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky when I slipped into the pool at 6am to swim through the sunrise lighting up a few small, low clouds in the east and turning the snows on Mt San Jacinto to the west a brilliant pink. 

That sea of green are the tops of all the domestic palms planted in the landscape of Palm Springs

With a short goodbye to new friend Claudia, we were on the road a little after 9am, enjoying the gorgeous light.  We decided again to take the slightly longer and a little bit slower route  through Yucca Valley, north on Highway 247 to Barstow, before intersecting I-40 West.  As we drove through the wide open desert, through what Mo called “A whole lotta nothing”, I basked in that whole lotta nothing.  It is why we love the desert, and this last nostalgic drive north on 247 is a fitting leave-taking of Southern California.

We are timing the trip north to slip between storms, with good forecasts for the next two days as we travel home to Grants Pass.  We also decided to try something different this time, and we will take the old route 99 toward Lodi instead of the wide and incredibly bumpy Interstate 5.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

The title of this blog post is also the title of a great little book that I found at the Indian Canyons visitor center a few days ago when we hiked Palm Canyon.  Wonders of the Coachella Valley, by James W. Cornett, is a lovely small guide to ten of the best natural places to visit in the area.  After 7 annual visits to this area, we are still finding new places to explore.  Finally, after our hike yesterday, we have been to all ten written about in this great book about some of the local natural history. 

Taquitz Canyon is one more treasure, another beautiful canyon at the edge of Palm Springs.  It is owned by the Aqua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians, as are the Indian Canyons we visited previously.  This canyon, however, has a separate visitor center and a separate entrance.  The cost to hike the 2 mile trail is $12.50 per person and worth every penny.  There are no senior discounts, but it is free to folks with a military ID, either active or retired.

The history of the canyon goes back at least 2,000 years, with evidence of humans occupying the area at that time, traveling to the Ancient Lake Cahuilla for fish, and building materials for their homes, and returning to the lands near the canyon for other plant and animal food sources.  Included with the entrance fee is the opportunity to view the short film about the legend of Taquitz, and the reason that no Native Americans have chosen to live within the canyon itself.

More recent history of the canyon is interesting, with hippies living in caves during the 60’s, and vagrants and trespassers ignoring the no trespassing signs.  Even though it belonged to the tribe, they didn’t have the resources to maintain the trails and keep out the vagrants.  We read several newspaper articles displayed from the last few decades that document the problems in the canyon, and the eventual successful restoration of this magical place.  The tribal people have cleaned it up, kept it clean and free of scary squatters, and allow us to walk the beautifully maintained trails to one of the loveliest waterfalls I have seen in this part of the world. 

There are lots of stone steps leading up the canyon, and the small stone bridges crossing the active creek are works of art.  I love a loop trail, and this one follows both sides of the creek to the falls, so there are options to go in either direction.  I think we picked the best, staying toward the right as we left the visitor center.  I don’t mind climbing up all the steps, with a knee that likes ups much more than downs, and I think there were fewer steps on the other side of the creek on our route downhill.

Even on a sunny Saturday around 11 there weren’t so many people on the trail that it was uncomfortable.  It is a hike that can be completed by just about anyone willing to climb the steps and we saw families with kids, runners in bright shoes, and old people with walking sticks enjoying the trail. 

The falls is enclosed in shadow, and judging from the high walls surrounding the cascade, I would imagine that the sun never shines in that alcove.  The sound was beautiful, but even with only a few people on the trail, it felt as though it would be hogging the scene to hang around too long.  Everyone wanted their photo right in front of the falls, and it was only fair to take turns.

With the dark shadows and dim light it was difficult to capture the beauty of the white bark of the huge old sycamores that thrive in the moist soils of the canyon floor and at the base of the falls.  With the brilliant yellow brittlebush that covers the hillsides not yet blooming, our only spot of color was Justica californica, Chuparosa, with a salvia type flower that was brilliant red.  Chuparosa is a colloquial Spanish word for hummingbird bush, and I did see a hummingbird hanging around in the lower part of the canyon.

Our hike was a perfect finale to the 11 days we spent in the Coachella Valley, finally visiting a beautiful place that no one should miss when traveling to this area. We now have seen all ten places listed in the book, and yet there are many more trails to explore within each of those sites. 

I know we will come back.  Whether for a day or a few, this valley is on our way to whatever desert we chose to explore.  No matter the shifts and changes at Catalina Spa, I am reasonably certain we will park there again as well.  Who knows what we will find the next time we come.  I still miss the “lower” pool, and the bigger one in the upper park is a substitute.  But it worked, I still was able to swim in the middle of the night or at sunrise, and had the pool to myself.  That is still the best part of Catalina Spa for me.

For Mattie, I think the dog park is fun, but the best part for her is the open desert to the north of the park, filled with debris from park cleanups, but also filled with rabbit smells and open space where she can run off leash a bit.  Mo and I like walking out there as well, watching whatever lightshow appears for us on the distant mountains.

I do feel incredibly lucky to have the chance to escape to the deserts, no matter how long or how short the trip may be.  There was a time, as my daughter reminded me on the phone today, when February would put me in a dark place. I don’t take for granted the shifts in my life that allow me the freedom to roam, to wander, to swim at dawn or hike on a weekday, or sit in a fabulous movie theater on a rainy afternoon.  Retirement really is incredible.