Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Joshua Tree Hike – Willow Holes Trail


The Willow Holes Trail hike in Joshua Tree National Park is a flat, 7 miles roundtrip – in and back – enjoyable hike. You walk among the Joshua Trees and then enter in the west side of the Wonderland of Rocks and end up in a canyon with water and willows, aka Willow Holes.We hadn’t expected to do this hike but had a change of plans when we arrived at the park.

The park web site lists nature walks (shorter) and day hikes (longer) so we selected the Lost Palms Oasis hike without knowing too much about the park. A hike to a fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) oasis sounded nice. So when we came we entered from the south at the Cottonwood Visitor Center (from I-10) since that was closest to the planned hikes. That’s when we learned a little bit more about the park (two different deserts: Mojave and Colorado). The Lost Palms hike is in the Colorado part and while the hike is interesting we were recommended with the limited amount of time we had (1 day) to see the something in the Mojave desert and specifically to take in the Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) and Wonderland of Rocks. So we drove about 35 miles across the part to the Boy Scout Trail head (located here) and hiked from there. The drive itself was nice as you get a good view of the different parts of the park and there are many scenic and informative (signed) pull-offs.

This was our first time in this park and we were impressed. The Joshua trees are really a treat to see, some of them righteous and upright, others with drooping, contorted branches looking cartoonish. The common name, Joshua tree, came from Mormon settlers passing through the desert in the 19th century who thought the tree resembled Joshua, a Hebrew Bible character, reaching up and praying. The scientific name of the Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia, means a yucca with short leaves (brevifolia). The word “yucca” itself comes from the Carib language because early reports of the Yucca genus of shrubs and trees got confused with the cassava - a plant common where Carib was/is spoken. The genus Yucca is part of the agave (Agavaceae) family.
Willow Holes Hiking Map
Willow Holes Trail Map

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain - God Never Fails
We hadn’t been to Salvation Mountain (wikipedia page) for over ten years and thought it would be fun to check in. So on a late Sunday afternoon recently we stopped by on our way back up to Palm Springs. The creator, Leonard Knight, had already gone to bed and we were left to talk with a guy who was helping Leonard out, but otherwise, we just wandered around. The setting is whimsical and colorful; don’t forget to follow the yellow road to the top of the hill. The Balloon Museum is a bit Gaudi-esque in its organic construction. Maybe Leonard Knight is a road-side Gaudi?

What attracts one to this place? Is it the message of God is Love in endless variations? No, though I give Leonard high marks for picking a theme and sticking to it. Is it the Mad Max setting with brightly painted surfaces juxtaposed with the dusty brown surroundings? No, though it’s fun. Is it the fact that this “outsider art” piece must constantly be maintained with new paint or else it would be reclaimed by the desert? No, but it feels better somehow that used paint is going on this mountain than in a landfill. I think what attracts me is simply that Leonard Knight created Salvation Mountain as his statement and continues to do so, until he dies.When I think of that I feel partly envious that he did and does. What do we dedicate our lives to really? What kind of statement do we leave? For Leonard Knight, the answer is a bit easier to answer than for most people: Salvation Mountain.

Salvation Mountain is located just east and slightly north from Niland, California here.
Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain - Mailbox
Salvation Mountain - Looking Down From the Top
Salvation Mountain - Looking Down From the Top
Salvation Mountain - Inside the Balloon
Salvation Mountain - Inside the Balloon

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Date Shake: Shields v. Hadley

Shields Date Garden - Indio
On a recent trip to Palm Springs, we got to compare at least two different date shakes. Dates, as in the sweet fruit from the date palm Phoenix dactylifera. The Coachella Valley, south of Palm Springs, is the primary date-growing region in the United States and you can’t help but notice places like Hadley (Cabazon), Shields Date Garden (Indio), Oasis Date Gardens (Thermal), or Brown Date Garden (Thermal) which are the places we stopped at (the first two) or knew of. Of the two we tried, we thought the Shields’ date shake was richer and a little bit better than the Hadley shake. Also, the Shields retail area had more a selection of different types of dates. We were partial to the Blonde (exclusive to Shields) and Honey cultivars. Most folks will be familiar with the Medjool cultivar that commonly appears in grocery stores.

Dates were introduced to California in the 1800s but not much happened production-wise until the 20th century when the industry started to take off. Dates originated (they think) somewhere in the desert oases of northern Africa and/or Western Asia. What struck us as we learned about the date palm is that they are found in oases (where there is water) because these palms require a lot of water. Associating date palms with desert can lead you to falsely believe that they are okay with little water. Besides requiring a lot of water, at least to get good fruit production, date palms are a labor intensive crop to produce. The other benefit of going to Shields is that you can learn all of this and more when you go into their old-time movie theater just off the main showroom and watch the very interesting short film The Romance and Sex Life of the Date starring Floyd Shields. You can bring your date shake to the movie.

A Date Shake
A Date Shake at Hadley
Hadley Fruit Stand - Cabazon
Hadley Fruit Stand - Cabazon
Shields Date Farm Samples
Samples At Shield Date Garden

Monday, April 19, 2010

Cabazon Dinosaurs

Cabazon Apatosaurus
We were looking forward to seeing the Cabazon dinosaurs, but, anticipation turned to dread after we found out that they are now owned by some Young Earth Creationists (YEC-kys). We were torn. These dinosaurs make a brief appearance in some of the media collateral of our youth: a Tears for Fears video, Everybody Wants to Rule the World, (had to work that in and boy is that video dated) and in the movie Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and we sort of wanted to see them, but, on the other hand supporting YEC was a hard pill to swallow. In the end, curiosity won out and we went with pills in throat. Besides, on the drive from Ontario Airport to Palm Springs you need a break from the barrage of billboards advertising oh-I-remember-them bands coming soon to a casino that you’ve never heard of.

The dinosaurs are located here in Cabazon, California. There are two exits for Cabazon, the exit closer to Palm springs (east exit) is where they are located. The dinosaurs include a 45 foot high concrete Apatosaurus with a gift shop in its belly (you walk up inside its tail to get there), a T. rex, a bit smaller that was not open, and a robotic dinosaur exhibition or maybe that was the museum – I don’t know because we didn’t go much further because we’d had enough after the Apatosaurus and T. rex and the rest requires some money to enter.

The dinosaurs were the idea of Claude Bell, a cast-iron sculptor for Knott’s Berry Farm. He built the Apatosaurus and the T. rex from 1964 until his death in 1988. He created the dinosaurs to help attract customers to his Wheel Inn Café located nearby. (Claude most likely supported evolution as does the scientific consensus today.) In the mid 1990s the dinosaurs were acquired by owners whose beliefs are essentially identical to Answers in Genesis (AIG), a YEC group. Once you get past the seemingly respectable credentials of the owners (Dr., Neurosurgeon, etc.) and the impressive pseudo-scientific references, listed with some authority I might add, the actual positions are just pure silliness. I find it easier to swallow a toy dinosaur than some of these “freaky facts”:

  • Freaky fact 1: The dinosaurs arrived 6,000 years ago with Adam and Eve.

  • Freaky fact 2: The dinosaurs were vegetarians in the Garden of Eden until someone (not naming names here) ate an apple, and then they became meat eaters.

  • Freaky fact 3: The dinosaurs waited it out on Noah’s Ark like the rest of the animals and in case you were wondering how they actually all fit on the ark (you would think of that wouldn’t you!) the AIG folks have doozy of an explanation for that. It goes something like this: scientists have been confusing us all along giving dinosaurs all sorts of different names when in actuality there are just a few dozen dinosaurs species that could very comfortably get on the ark.

  • Freaky fact 4: After the great flood, dinosaurs were probably called dragons because the word dinosaur wasn’t yet invented and then, they just sort of died out. Though some particular hardcore YECs might be looking for them in some remote jungle.

I spent some time reading the AIG site’s information and was put off by how they (un?)intentionally twist and turn facts into strange shapes that they then project for their young earth puppet show. There are many sites that easily debunk AIG, but who better to debunk then, well, some OLD Earth Creationists (Answers in Creation). Too bad they didn’t purchase the dinosaurs.

Cabazon T Rex
Is Evolution True SIgn
Everything is Branded
Cabazon Postcard

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Welcome to Bombay Beach

Bombay Beach - A Chair at the Water's Edge
Bombay Beach Spa?
It’s easy to pick on Bombay Beach, California. It’s had its share of ups and downs on the east side of the Salton Sea. First and foremost, what’s the Salton Sea? The Salton Sea is a very salty lake that was created when the Colorado River overflowed in 1905 into the Salton Sink and continued for approximately two years. It’s almost twice the surface area of Lake Tahoe by comparison and is entirely below sea level. It was hoped that the Salton Sea could somehow become a major tourist attraction, a sort of next-Palm Springs. That never happened due to a range of problems like increasing salinity of the sea, pollution and nutrients pouring into it with no outflows, and the vagaries of weather. For more on Salton Sea facts and myths see this article. For more on the history of the Salton Sea's wet/dry cycles over thousands of years see this timeline.

Now, about Bombay Beach. First, it’s on the edge of the Salton Sea (remember, no outflows, pollution, and increasing salinity?) and was flooded in 1976 and 1977 by Hurricane Kathleen and Doreen, respectively. Next you have smell and fish kills - tilapia that die because of an algae bloom in the water (due to nutrient rich waters) and wash up on shore en masse. (It's kind of a catch 22, nutrient rich waters nourish an underwater forest that the tilapia dine on. Migratory birds, for which the Salton Sea is an important feeding ground, in turn dine on the fish.) Finally, add to this list of challenging conditions, brutally hot summers. It’s a bit of a hard sell but anything can happen in the next thousand years. To learn more about the Salton Sea and Bombay Beach check out Plagues and Pleasures, a documentary about the Salton Sea and surrounding locations.

For years now, the ruins of Bombay Beach seem to have become the main tourist attraction. And, that’s what attracted Travelmarx there besides the fact that ½ of Travelmarx grew up just down the road and there was family to visit :-). We stayed a few days in the Palm Springs area and then left the manicured lawns and neatly trimmed palm trees and headed south for the wilds of the Salton Sea and Bombay Beach. We met a guy who has been visiting Bombay Beach for decades and he said it’s actually been cleaned up quite a bit. Things are looking up.
Bombay Beach - Ruined Trailer Home
Dead Tilapia Near Bombay Beach

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Giulia non esce la sera

Giulia non esce la sera
We caught a showing of the Italian film Giulia non esce la sera (2009) at Kane Hall Wednesday night. The movie was sponsored by the Division of French and Italian Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle. The title translates to “Giulia doesn’t go out at night.” Trailers here. You’ll have to watch the movie to see why Giulia doesn’t go out at night.

The director Giuseppe Piccioni was on hand to present his film and answer questions. A humble and funny guy that we got to (for some luck on our part) have dinner with the next night at Ray’s Boat House. It sure woke up our rusty Italian synapses. Piccioni was gracious even with our bumbling Italian. He is one of the partners of the Libreria del Cinema in Rome. I hope we get a chance to stop by the next time in Rome.

We both enjoyed the movie and recommend it. We were recommended to check out more of Piccioni's movies, in particular, Luce dei miei occhi (2001). One aspect of Giulia that caught our attention was the music by Baustelle.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Pike Place Market - Ciao Creminelli

Creminelli Salami Case in Pike Place Market
Oh sad salami day. Creminelli in Pike Place Market is closing it’s little booth at the end of April. Yes, Whole Foods will carry Creminelli (and possibly DeLaurenti), but you are at the whim of buyers as to what they carry. We’ve heard that Whole Foods won’t carry wild boar for sure. Since first discovering the booth in 2008, we’ve enjoyed our periodic trips down to the market to get salami. No tears here if a T-Bell or Golden Arches disappeared, but our favorite salami place? In all fairness it sounds like it is a corporate decision to discontinue the presence at Pike Place Market and we'll assume they have a good reason, albeit one that doesn't take our pleasure into consideration.
Pike Place Market Sign

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Oh, Possums! Dries Van Noten


I seldom understand high-concept, fashion displays in windows of stores. I don’t find them playful or artistic or informative or really all that interesting. I tend to just walk on by. However, the other day while passing Barneys @ the Pacific Place Center I had to do a double take at the window display shown above by the Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten. It has mannequins doing what looks like housework. It was the yellow Playtex gloves that got me. Later that evening we were watching Dame Edna clips and I was wishing I were witty enough to figure out what she would say about this window display. Maybe something like this: “Oh, Possums! Call me old fashioned, but the last time I was in a window display, I was working it, not cleaning it.”

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Alexander Calder: A Balancing Act

Calder - Polychrome Dots and Brass (1964)
On a recommendation we headed over to Seattle Art Museum and caught the Alexander Calder: A Balancing Act exhibition. We were glad we did, because Alexander Calder (1898–1976) was truly an original American artist. The exhibition will please you even if sculpture is not something you know a lot about or appreciate. You can’t help but marvel at the mobiles he created.

Did you know that the word “mobiles” was coined in the 1930s to refer to Calder’s work? Calder invented mobiles; the term was coined by Marcel Duchamp. (Oh to be young and creative and living in Paris in the 1930s.) The Calders on exhibit in this SAM show are from the private collection of Jon and Mary Shirley. Besides mobiles (and there are small and some very large ones), there are stabiles (stable mobiles), lots of photos of Calder by Herbert Matter (1907 – 1984), some works on paper by Calder, some jewelry, and a 15 minute or so movie featuring bits of Calder performing one of his famous Cirque Calder performances from the 1960s. Here are some clips: clip1, clip2 (the best to start with), clip3, and clip4 from the movie which seems to be part of this French DVD release called La Magie Calder. To note from some of the circus clips: his wife playing the records providing the music for the circus (and her expression), her necklace made by Calder, the elephant and lion defecating (peanuts and beans, respectively), and the simultaneous silliness and sublimeness of the circus.

We’ll confess that though we’ve seen the monumental Eagle (1971) in the Olympic Sculpture Park we did not remember that Calder was the artist. Now it makes much more sense. We also spent some time in 2004 at the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona ogling Calder’s mercury fountain installed there, but again, did not know much about Calder or remember him as the artist.

Other Info: The Calder Foundation web site has more information and photos of Calder. The show at SAM runs from October 15, 2009 – April 11, 2010.

Mercury Fountain at Foundation Joan Miro in Barcelona
SAM Exhibit Information