Sunday, February 25, 2018

Palm Springs, Palm Desert & Rancho Mirage, CA (2/22/2018)

My interest in architecture blossoms in a place like this, primarily because there is such a variety of styles to see.  The affluence of this area allows individuals and entire communities to pick and choose architectural styles, whether it be something traditional or the latest trend.  When this area had a growth spurt in the 1940s and 1950s, the so-called "modern" architecture was in vogue.  Rather square, cinder block buildings with flat or angled roof lines were popular.  That style is now called "mid-century modern" to reflect the fact that it was a temporary popularity.  You can still find this style here, even some newer construction, but many of the older examples have been renovated to look more Mediterranean, with stucco walls and peaked roofs of barrel tiles.  I never accepted the "modern" style, preferring something like Bob Hope's "flying saucer" house, or the one in Woody Allen's movie "Sleeper" (located in Colorado).  Now those homes will look modern for a very long time.

I learned of a place called Sunnylands, the estate of the late Walter and Leonore Annenberg, and the fact that it can be toured.  Unfortunately, I also learned that tours of the home or grounds are sold out through March.  Tickets for any month go on sale the 15th of the previous month and usually sell out that morning (at $48 per person).  However, there is a visitor center and garden next door that can be visited at no charge, so I did that.

The visitor center is done in a very modern style and the garden consists primarily of desert plants, including several types of cacti and several types of agave.  Trees and water features are used to add texture and cool the area for comfort.  A movie tells all about the fabulous life of the Annenbergs and shows much of their 23,000 square foot home (with 22 guest rooms).  Rather than try to summarize their story here, I invite you to read about them at Walter Annenberg and about their estate at Sunnylands.

The architecture of individual homes presents problems for me.  Only in rare cases can one see inside a home, such as historic home tours, and even to photograph a home from outside could invite suspicion.  Churches are much easier to visit, often both exterior and interior, although its becoming less likely to see inside due to security concerns.

I found some beautiful and interesting churches in this area and will share just a couple.  First, the Saint George Greek Orthodox Church.  After photographing outside, I found the door unlocked to the Priest's office and got his permission to photograph inside.  He was very gracious in allowing me to do so.

 Looking back toward the entry, I noticed the sunlight coming through the colored glass windows cast a very soothing purplish light.
 One of the many icons on the walls was this painting of Saint George Slaying The Dragon.
Catholic churches are often left unlocked so worshipers (and tourists) may enter at their convenience.  That was the case at Saint Louis Catholic Church which I spotted because of its unusual spire.  The "modern" style of the exterior did not appeal to me, but I loved the interior design.

A small park alongside a major roadway caught my eye as I drove past, speeding in an effort to stay up with the locals.  It is a memorial to cancer survivors, and I think we can all identify with the message it conveys whether we have personally had this disease or know someone who has.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Desert Hot Springs, CA (2/20/2018) & Whitewater, CA (2/21/2018)

Some of you may remember my interest in the "Whispering Giants" scattered across North America.  These are large Indian heads sculpted by Hungarian-born Peter Toth to honor Native Americans. Last I heard, there are 73 of these works of art, but I've only visited about 30 of them.  Too often, I forget to look for them and then learn there was one in an area I just left.  That recently happened and I missed the very first one, carved into the rocky shore at La Jolla.  Too far to go back.  Anyway, I did remember there is one in the Palm Desert area and looked for it.  Turns out it is pretty close to where I'm staying, in Desert Hot Springs.  Its home is Cabot's Old Indian Museum and Trading Post.

That same day, I took a drive to Thousand Palms to check out the Coachella Valley Preserve.  This 20,000+ acre wilderness area is managed by the Center for Natural Lands Management, relying totally on donations as no fees are charged.  They have extensive hiking trails, including some along the San Andreas fault that runs right through the reserve.  I mostly walked along the fault and through the spring-fed wetlands.  Unfortunately, it was not a good day for wildlife and I saw only a few birds.  The do have a nice totem pole out of respect for the Indians who lived in this area for thousands of years.
The next day, I went to Whitewater Preserve located in Whitewater Canyon, one of five such parks operated by The Wildlands Conservancy.  I must say it is an excellent park with an abundance of hiking trails that may be why most people come here.  The grounds and trails could not be maintained any better, so I was happy to make my donation to the effort.

Entering Whitewater Canyon, I was struck first by the high, steep, rugged cliffs on either side.  This is clearly neither a city park nor a simple walk in the woods.  The warning sign at the entrance added a little emphasis to that feeling.  If one thing doesn't get you, another will.

 When he saw I was photographing birds, a young ranger opened the gate to their wetlands, normally closed to visitors, so I might see more wildlife.  There were lots of birds (I won't post all of them), including peregrine falcons that nest high on the cliffs.  Too bad they soar so high that good photos are not possible with my gear.  There were also a band of desert bighorn sheep moving about on the ridges.

Peregrine Falcon

Dark-eyed Junco

Savannah Sparrow?

California Thrasher

Spotted Towhee

Cassin's Vireo

Gray Flycatcher?


Desert Bighorn Sheep
Any of you birders out there should feel free to correct or supply bird IDs.  I've learned that many species have a California-only range, which makes it difficult for an outsider to make a positive ID.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Julian & Anza-Borrego Desert (2/17/2018) and Coachella Valley, CA (2/19/2018)

One of my objectives while visiting the SoCal desert area was to take a tour of the California Wolf Center, located in the nearby mountains just outside the village of Julian.  Due to veterinary activities at the center, it became necessary for me to extend my stay in order to get a reservation.  I was surprised at the number of attendees, around 50 or so, most of whom had driven long distances.

I'll say right up front, the conditions for photography were pretty bad.  The wolves were behind a chain link fence, in an area with lots of trees and a wide range of light from shadow to extremely bright sunlight.  The wolves naturally preferred the shadows, but came out occasionally.  The crowd didn't help, preventing me from moving about freely to see the wolves as they moved around.  Of course, each person paid and was entitled to the same space as anyone else.  Actually, a number of people invited me to take their spot, wanting to help me get better shots.  In the end, I got enough "acceptable" photos to make me feel it was a success. 

The staff and volunteers at the center do a wonderful service to help restore the wolf population in areas where it has been seriously depleted.  It does not house "rescue" wolves, only captive born.  If a wolf is considered capable of living in the wild, it is released as soon as possible, collared for constant monitoring.

 That last night in the Anza-Borrego Desert had a pretty special sunset, too.

My next stop, the Palm Desert area, was only a little over 100 miles away, and included a stop for groceries I had been running low on.  I was amazed at the number of campers in so many places along the route.  In addition to state and private campgrounds, most of the desert is available for "dry" camping with few restrictions...and it's free.  A great way for folks from the cities to spend a week-end in nature at low cost.

Coachella Valley is home to many desert communities, the most famous of which is Palm Springs.  The valley was one of the first locations for a wind farm in the 1980s, and still has the third largest production of electricity in CA with over 3200 units (as of 10 years ago).  The state itself was first  for many years, but has fallen behind several other states, with Texas being the leader.

This area frequently gets high winds, like yesterday with 50 mph winds all day.  Moreover, all the on-shore winds that strike along the southern CA coast are trapped by the Santa Rosa and San Bernardino Mountains.  One small gap between those ranges, San Gorgonio Pass, allows the wind to escape into Coachella Valley, giving it a funnel effect in the process.  Needless to say, it is a good location for wind turbines.  They were all turning very well yesterday.  However, with today's calm, very few are turning.  I doubt their feasibility for investors without government subsidy.

Solar panel farms are also in use here, probably growing much faster than wind farms.  The wind turbines make noise, kill birds and are an eyesore for most people who live near them.  Solar farms are ugly, too, but less noticeable.  Further, the cost of solar panels tends to go down much faster as technology improves.  I hope we can eventually have solar panel material usable as roofing for homes and businesses.
 I enjoy the unusual architecture that can be found all over the valley.  My favorite is the Bob Hope home, built on a mountainside and called by many the "flying saucer" house.  Since it's in a gated community, I took a photo from down below with a long lens.  Hope's estate offered it for sale at $50 million, but eventually sold it for $13 million.  More photos of it can be found at Bob Hope's Home
Here are a few of the other special buildings I've seen here.  I'm sure with some time I could find lots more.  In fact, I plan to look for the home occupied by Elvis and Priscilla Presley in the 1960's.
Non-denominational church

Armenian Apostolic Church

Chamber of Commerce

Convention Center
Part of a hospital

They have some nice sunsets here, too, especially when sand fills the air.  These were taken the night before the wind storm, however.