When I first started writing this post yesterday our little corner of desert in the Northwest corner of the Coachella Valley was engulfed in low black clouds. The rain came in bursts, carried on the strong winds that have battered the valley during the last couple of days. By the time I got back to finishing this present tense paragraph, the clouds broke, the winds died down, and brilliant sunshine broke through the darkness. By the time I begin the next paragraph, the skies may go dark again. That is how quickly it happens in the desert.
Unlike rain at home during the winter which comes and stays, here we get breaks now and then. We have experienced many types of weather traveling in the desert, but long-lasting, socked-in dark gray doesn’t happen very often. Another little benefit of desert rain is that it is usually a little bit warmer than Oregon rain. Maybe, as it is this morning, only 10 degrees warmer, but that ten degrees can raise to 30 degrees, and here we go again, the brilliant sun is breaking through the sky again, blinding me a bit as it reflects off the windows of the MoHo. It makes it a bit hard to write as I usually do, writing in the present, describing the present moment before I step back into the past to talk about our time here. The present moment just keeps changing.
This is our last day at Catalina Spa and RV Resort at Desert Hot Springs. It has been a full week now, with one extra day as a gift for our early arrival last week. I went down to the office this morning to book two full weeks for next January. One week isn’t nearly enough. Eight mornings that start with a leisurely swim in a warm pool under the moonlight that turns to sunrise aren’t nearly enough.
There is much to do in this desert valley. There are literally dozens of amazing hikes in the Coachella Valley. In the past, much of our entertainment included many of these hikes at various locations throughout the area. We are still walking, but partly because of the cool rainy windy weather the hikes this year took a back seat to swimming, and daily walks in our local desert spot right behind the park. This little piece of the desert can be delightful for Mattie, where she often can run off leash when there aren’t many other dogs around. It is a favorite spot for dog walking for park residents, and sometimes dog owners aren’t particularly careful to leash their dogs when another dog is nearby. The walks are fun for us, and for Mattie, but require a bit of diligence to avoid confrontations. Dogs get territorial when on a leash and Mattie is no exception.
Something that adds to our desert visit this time is sharing much of it with friends Jimmy and Nickie Wilkinson. Without any planning on the part of either of us, we managed to book our time at Catalina for an overlapping week. Their rig is just a few doors south of ours, which makes for easy running back and forth for incidentals, and yet Nickie and I still text each other to keep track of what is happening and when. Nickie and Jimmy have e-bikes, and I was excited to see them, knowing full well that my leg strength and balancing abilities wouldn’t let me even think about mounting one of them. It was fun to watch Nickie ride around though, and hear their stories.
In the midst of writing this blog, I will head over to the lower clubhouse for a game of hand and foot with them, a game the three of us love and Mo had no interest in doing. On Tuesday, Mo and I decided to go to the theater in Cathedral Valley that we love, but the only thing of interest that was playing was the Avatar sequel, a movie that Mo doesn’t care to see. I drove alone with Nickie and Jimmy following me across the desert to the southern side where my favorite movie theater of all time exists. We saw the Avatar movie, which Jimmy loved. By the time I got out of the theater, I was bug-eyed with color and flashing images of wondrous stuff. My ears were bleeding with the shouts of battles and wars and a ton of other stuff. The movie was long, and I was ready for it to be over. The animation was incredibly creative and wondrous, but the movie somehow didn’t move me the way the first one did. I was glad Mo didn’t go because she would have given up before it ran for fifteen minutes.
Our favorite theater is Mary Pickford is d’Place, a gorgeous venue with many screens, very huge, very comfortable recliners, a screen at least twice as big as our theater at home, and wine, beer and food available in addition to the typical popcorn and sodas. Mo didn’t completely miss out because we found a good movie later in the week.
Yesterday in the rain Mo and I traveled once again across the valley to the theater to see Tom Hanks in “A Man Called Otto”. We had barely settled into our comfy seat in the front row when Jimmy and Nickie arrived to settle in as well. A great choice for a rainy day and truly a very enjoyable movie that all four of us loved.
On Thursday, the four of us crossed the valley to Palm Springs for the weekly Palm Springs Street Festival. Lovers of tradition, Mo and I shared our favorite streetside Mexican restaurant with our friends for a delightful dinner. I think the food is good, but the company and watching the happy people on the streets make it seem even more wonderful.
After dinner we walked the streets a bit, enjoying the art and creativity that a fair like this brings out in people. I saw another favorite shop/gallery that I love, filled with gorgeous expensive stuff and also gorgeous inexpensive stuff. I bought a painted gecko for an exterior wall at home and Nickie fell in love with something equally colorful for their walls. A photo of my gecko will have to wait until we return home and I find a place to hang her and take her photo.
Mo and I planned to read sitting in our outside chairs, and the second day we were here, with the sun shining we optimistically put out the awning and added the colorful chili pepper lights that we bought in 2007 in Bourne Texas when we first bought the MoHo. They still worked, almost. Mo had to fiddle with one of the strings to get it going again, but after 15 years I would say that is pretty darn good.
The sun and rain came and went, but it was never really warm enough to actually sit outside in our chairs to read, but we did manage a few minutes enjoying the views of the snow on the mountains before returning to the cozy MoHo.
I have a hard time remembering how we passed the time, with only a few highlights coming through the simple pleasures of morning swims and daily walks with the dog, evening suppers in the MoHo with home-cooked food except for that one night, and long nights of sleep sometimes as much as 9 full uninterrupted hours.
Last Wednesday, after we were here just a couple of days, the weather was predicted to be sunny and almost warm, with a high of 65 here in Desert Hot Springs and a truly remarkable 70F across the valley in Palm Desert. The wonderful Living Desert Zoo and Gardens are located in Palm Desert. We first visited in 2015 right after the birth of a baby giraffe. This zoo is much more than a zoo, and as one of the docents explained to us, in the last few years they have moved from an entertainment venue toward a true conservation effort.
There are fewer “shows” and more space for habitats for breeding pairs of animals to live and help maintain populations that are dwindling in the wild. I know some people despise zoos, but all zoos are not created equal and the work of this particular zoo, in addition to the San Diego Zoo and others is stellar.
We went with our friends, traveling in two cars because they have a Smart Car and the Tracker is our traveling extra space, not easy to empty enough for two more passengers. The zoo wasn’t crowded when we arrived around 10:30 and the entry fee for seniors of $27.95 was perfectly worth every penny.
Mo and I headed immediately toward the giraffes, but along the way we enjoyed a new habitat created for a young pair of black rhinos, an endangered species mainly due to poaching in their native continent of Africa. The young female was very photogenic, posing for portraits. The male, Jaali, wasn’t as visible but we did see him climbing a hill in the enclosure before we were entranced by the visible female. The docent said they will eventually have “many dating opportunities” and they hope for some offspring to help with the worldwide population of these animals.
We laughed as we watched her crunch on branches and twigs, but she also gets squash and watermelon, her favorite. The habitat is created in such a way that it is shared with waterbucks, springboks, pelicans, and many other birds in addition to some very strange naked mole rats. This way the habitat approaches something closer to what the rhinos might experience in the wild.
Continuing along the paved pathways we, at last, came to the savannah which is the home for the giraffes. They are very popular here with a feeding station where people can buy lettuce and feed the curious and always hungry for treats giraffes. I think that giraffe faces are one of the most endearing in the world of animals and have so many photos of those faces that it is hard to choose which ones to share here.
Our favorite photos have always been the ones in 2015 when the giraffes were on the other side of the hills with only their tall necks and faces showing. Makes me smile every time I look at them. I can only imagine what it must be like to see these magnificent, graceful animals in the wild. Another species that is threatened more by loss of habitat than by poaching, but the loss is every bit as tragic.
Just beyond the giraffe savannah is another habitat for the warthogs. There are seven girls with their mom and dad in this group of warthogs. Such strange-looking creatures, and yet as we watched the caregivers attempting to vaccinate them in a chute and then petting their very bumpy noses, it was easy to see that they were also kinda sweet. They loved the scratching.
Next to the warthogs was a breeding pair of leopards. Huge and muscled, these great cats are impressive hunters, with warthogs being one of their main prey animals. The keeper said they liked to watch “warthog tv” through the windows of their enclosure next to the warthogs. Really? The warthogs were perfectly calm, no doubt knowing they had no threat from the nearby leopard.
We continued wandering the park through the African Continent section to our most favorite of all, the meerkats. They remind us so much of Mattie, with similar faces, and their ability to stand upright and look all around. Mattie does this all the time, balancing on her bottom on just about any surface without a bit of trouble. We love to watch the meerkats and laugh. They are so adorable.
They weren’t as active as they were on our last visit where the keepers showed us how fast they could run, encouraged by food treats. As the docent said, no more “shows’’, and more emphasis on species protection and restoration.
I loved the African Painted Dogs, great hunters who work in groups and have up to 90 percent success when they hunt. I thought they were beautiful, Nickie not so much.
Beyond the African Continent toward the north end of the park is the North American Continent section, with animals that we are familiar with in a different way. We watched the Bighorn Sheep gracefully tiptoe over the steep rocky slopes in their habitat and saw pronghorn antelope. I noticed that both the sheep and the antelope were subspecies that are localized to Southern California and Mexico, but they looked very similar to the animals that we find in the desert mountains of Eastern Oregon and Nevada.
We walked the paths from eagles and snakes and the big American cats, including a lovely puma/couger/mountain lion/catamount depending on which part of the country you are from. All the same animal. Wolves and coyotes were lazing in the sun, and defied any sort of deccent photograph.
Returning toward the entry gate the habitat gardens are filled with plants from the different deserts of the Americas, and the cactus gardens are spectacular. Down a deeply shaded pathway is the enclosure for one of the most incredible cats in all the world, the jaguar.
At first I didn’t see her walking along the high ridge inside her enclosure, but I watched in awe as the great muscled cat meandered down the rocks and toward us at the thick glass window. These cats even swim the Amazon River. Maybe you will see one in the wild on your Amazon trip, Nickie?!
After four hours of meandering, the four of us were ready for a bit to eat, and Jimmy and Nickie found a table at the Kooabora Restaurant near the exit of the park. Lunch was surprisingly yummy, with thick sub-type sandwiches and a chocolate muffin.
As we drove home back across the valley we laughed at all the fancy cars that surrounded our twenty year old Tracker.
I am finishing this blog post a day after I began, and once again the skies are a brilliant blue. It is still quite chilly, and the high winds make the 50F temps feel a lot colder than it is. We slept well again last night, and woke to the strong winds and a clear sky. Another morning swim, our last of the season was accompanied by breezes that almost pushed us across the pool. It was a chilly damp walk back to the MoHo when we finished.
Next year we will stay for two weeks, and yesterday I made the reservation. Georgia in the office was very helpful with choosing the best sites. While the park retains the prerogative of moving you from your first choice, if you pick a few favorites they will do everything they can to accommodate you. Georgia warned me from a site I had chosen and pointed me to one more level and closer to the pool. Nice. After three years away we had forgotten how quickly a week in the desert can go by. Two weeks may not be enough next January, but it will definitely be better than a single week with the morning swims in the perfect pool.
Today we will travel just 90 minutes or so toward the east and a bit south to Anza Borrego State Park. We met Kathie three years ago on a day trip to the park and I texted her to inquire if there were spaces available. Due to the bad weather in California, we were lucky to reserve a nice full hookup space in the state park campground.
I am looking forward to our time there. The weather may be chilly and the winds still strong, but the skies are blue and Kathie said there are a few flowers already blooming. It has been a great week in a park we love with friends we care about and plenty to keep busy enough and happy. Such a treasure, such a life, so lucky we are to be able to travel like this. Onward.