Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ceanothus impressus ‘Vandenburg’

Ceanothus impressus 'Vandenburg'

Ceanothus impressus ‘Vandenburg’ is a variety of the California Lilac (or Santa Barbara Ceanothus) that was discovered at the Vandenberg Air Force Base – as some describe it. Other sources say it is a cultivar which implies it was intentionally cultivated. At any rate it is more dense and compact than the typical Ceanothus. We’ve had it in the ground in a sunny location for about ten years now and it has done very well. We water it little to none and throw a little mulch around the base once a year. We trim every year to keep it open enabling light to come through to ground covering beneath. We like to keep the Ceanothus at or about head-chest level so when you walk by you can enjoy it.

Ceanothus impressus ‘Vandenburg’ starts blooming around June 1st for us and the bees love it. For humans, the shrub is beautiful to look it and has a smell that we would describe as a mix of honey and fresh green pasture, a subtle scent.

The etymology of the word Ceanothus (pronounced: see-an-OH-thus) comes from the Greek keanothus, a name used for a spiny plant. The word impressus (pronounced: im-PRESS-us) refers to the pattern of leaf veins that looks as if they were impressed on to the leaf.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Progress: Myth, History, and Origin

A Short History of Progress - Ronald Wright

Recently we read three books on the subject of progress that are lumped together in one idea stew – for better or worse - in the Travelmarx mind. Two of the books, The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress and A Short History of Progress deal with the notion of progress directly. The third book, The Grand Design, deals with progress of our cosmological knowledge.

The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress (2010) by journalist, author, and war correspondent Chris Hedges is perhaps the most depressing read of the three. Yes we love Hedges’ insightful analysis and comments and call to action (really revolt), but it’s hard to escape psychologically unbruised from his writing and he does have a habit of invoking (at least in our minds) Marvin the Paranoid Android and his lament about a “… terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side”. That said, this collection of dispatches is essential reading if you think everything is hunky dory and humanity is just humming along swimmingly. Take this opening sentence from the “Calling All Future Eaters” dispatch: “The human species during its brief time on Earth has exhibited a remarkable capacity to kill itself off.” The state of progress: it’s a myth.

A Short History of Progress (2004) by Ronald Wright is a book that deals with where we’ve come from, where we are, and were we are going. Wright starts out by invoking Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) and his 1897 painting titled “D’où Venons Nous? Que Sommes Nous? Où Allons Nous?” or “Where Do We Come From? What are We? Where are We Going?” Gauguin, a French artist, went to Tahiti and the South Seas to escape “everything that is artificial, conventional, customary.” [Noa Noa – Paul Gauguin, 1919 by Nicholas Brown] In A Short History of Progress, Wright is interested in shining light on the last question: “Where are we going?” by first answering the other two questions. The state of progress: in jeopardy if we don’t seriously change, “…Homo sapiens has the information to know itself for what it is: an Ice Age hunter only half-evolved towards intelligence; clever but seldom wise.”

The Grand Design (2010) by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow is a fairly accessible account of the design of the universe and how it came to be. The progress aspect here is our understanding of the universe’s beginning and end, or shall we say universes’. The first good thing we’ll say about the book is that, refreshingly, there isn’t subtitle on this book. The second good thing is that there are some simple explanations of concepts like model dependent reality or the double –slit experiment that in case you hadn’t seen explanations of them before might be worth it. But, other than that, this book reads like an extended essay that wasn’t exactly finished and overall feels disappointing. And, at times the writing is corny.

The Grand Design sets out to answer three questions. “Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we exist? Why this particular set of laws and not some other?” In the process, the book gives a quick review of the state of progress in cosmology over the last few hundred years. The state of progress: according to the authors, we do not need to invoke divine beings to answer these questions.

Of interest to those watching the progress of media technology, the Grand Design was the first book read entirely digital and all of these were purchased and read on with the Kindle application on iPad. The process for making notes and using the notes is different in this medium. You make a note or highlight in the Kindle application and then you go the Amazon Kindle site and retrieve your notes. Cloud reading. We are still getting the hang of it so you could say that there is a lot more progress to be made.

The World As It Is - Chris Hedges The Grand Design - Stephen Hawking, Leonard Mlodinow

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Lavandula Summer – Raspberry Ruffles, Madrid Blue, and Lemon Leigh

Lavandula stoechas ‘Lemon Leigh’
Lavandula stoechas 'Lemon Leigh'

This season we picked up three different cultivars of lavender varieties: Lavandula stoechas ‘Mulberry Ruffles’ (patent pending), Lavandula stoechas ‘Madrid Blue’, and Lavandula stoechas ‘Lemon Leigh’ (patent pending). The first two are in the front yard where we don’t go so often to experience the plants. Both look great. The ‘Mulberry Ruffles’ has a nice deep pink color and well defined parent plants as detailed in the patent – it comes from good stock. It is part of a the Australian lavender ‘Ruffles Series’. The bracts on top look ruffled.

‘Madrid Blue’ is striking because of the combination of yellow (top, showy bracts), purple (flowers), and green (bracteole we believe) in the flower. It’s definitely different than your typical French/Spanish lavender which all three of these derive from.

The third cultivar, ‘Lemon Leigh’ we potted and placed on the deck where we often pass by it. This turned out to be a good decision because it’s generally a pretty plant and its foliage is nicely lemon-scented which is surprising at first. The flower spike is mostly green, due to those parts we think are called bracteoles, with white flowers and yellow top, showy bracts. They only negative we would mention about ‘Lemon Leigh’ is that the actual flowers tend to turn brown and hang around for a while. Though small, they don’t necessarily add up to a pretty spike, whereas some of your other stoechas age gracefully. The photos shown here of ‘Lemon Leigh’ were selected to not show the brown. According to the patent, ‘Lemon Leigh’ was “discovered growing in a cultivated area of Wairau Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand in 1998. The exact parents are unknown.”

Lavandula stoechas ‘Raspberry Ruffles’
Lavandula stoechas 'Raspberry Ruffles'

Lavandula stoechas ‘Madrid Blue’
Lavandula stoechas 'Madrid Blue'
Lavandula stoechas ‘Lemon Leigh’
Lavandula stoechas 'Lemon Leigh'

Friday, June 3, 2011

Camacho’s Place Mexican Restaurant in El Centro California

Special Quesadiall at Camacho’s
Inside of the Special Quesadilla

Well I can’t say that we really travel to the Imperial Valley for its cuisine, but one of us (the one not from this area) has latched on to the special quesadilla as my cause cuisine. Sure, there is always Johnny’s Burritos – which is good, don’t get me (the one not from the area) wrong – but you can’t eat there all the time can you? Besides, I always order the egg sandwich when I go there which seems like the least ordered item on the menu and almost gets me laughed out of the place by my hosts.

In the past we tried the special quesadilla at Celia’s Restaurant in El Centro. And this time, the goal was to try the special quesadilla at Camacho’s restaurant in El Centro. Camacho’s Place is located 796 West Wahl Road, El Centro, California. To quote the commemorative stone slab plaque outside the restaurant: “Camacho’s Place was opened for business on December 12, 1946 by Richard Camacho and his wife, Juanita. It is erected on the site of a former Seventh-Day Adventist church and school that had been damaged and abandoned following a major earthquake on December 31, 1926.” Speaking of earthquakes, just a half mile away on Nichols Road as it crosses over the New River, there is still some road damage from the last earthquake shown below.

So on the day we were to leave the Imperial Valley we planned a lunch at Camacho’s Place. Our table of 5 ordered three special quesadillas. The verdict: very tasty and in an original setting. Can’t remember back to the quesadilla we had at Celia’s but we’d guess they are comparable, but the atmosphere in Camacho’s Place has the edge. Just pulling up to the Place surrounded by fields and ditches itself is fun if not a welcome relief from the sun. Oh, and the tortilla chips were fabulous.

Judging by the traffic on Camacho’s Facebook page they are a special part of peoples’ lives and it is especially hard on those who have moved away from the area. But, alas, Camacho’s Place ships. Uh oh.

Outside Camacho’s Place
Camacho's Place Sign

Chile Rellenos, Two Tacos and a Special Quesadilla

Special Quesadilla and Super Taco

Chips and Salsa at Camacho’s Place
Camacho's Chips and Salsa

A Peek Into the Kitchen

Camacho’s Place Dining Room
Camacho's Place Interior

Commemorative Plaque Outside of Camacho’s Place
Commemorative Plaque Outside of Camacho’s Place

Nichols Road Earthquake Damage
Nichols Road Earthquake Damage

Update: May 26, 2012 – Intrepid Imperial Valley Out-and-About Food Critics (D&M) sent this photo of a Special Quesadilla at Camacho’s Place. We also learned that Camacho’s Place has been inducted into the E Clampus Vitus organization.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Red Hill Marina Boat Launch–Salton Sea

Red Hill Marina Boat Launch

After the passing another rapture opportunity recently, we couldn’t help but have the end-of-world concept in our heads as we stopped at the Red Hill Marina boat launch. Maybe it was the end of the day and the light, but it felt like the end, in a scenic way. The boat launch here was not really operable as the level of the Salton Sea has dropped recently. And, darn it is boating season, April 1 to September 30. The Red Hill Marina boat launch is located at the south end of the Salton Sea.

Years ago we had stopped at Red Hill Marina County Park and the water was higher, you could go boating. On that day we were bird watching (the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge is nearby) and hunting around for obsidian. Obsidian is typically found within the margins of rhyolitc lava flows. Across the way from Red Hill, to the southwest is the geographical feature called Obsidian Butte. Some good photos and experience exploring Red Hill can be found here.

The Boat Launch High and Dry
Red Hill Marina Boat Launch

Informational Sign – It’s Boating Season!
Red Hill Marina Sign

Looking West From the Boat LaunchView West From Red Hill Marina Boat Launch

Looking Across to Obsidian Butte
View South Red Hill Marina Boat Launch

Looking South at Geothermal Plants
View South From Red Hill Marina Boat Launch

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Salton Sea Mud Pots

Salton Sea Mud Pots

In past trips to the Imperial Valley we visited Bombay Beach, Salvation Mountain, Desert View Tower, and the Imperial Valley Pioneer Museum. This time around the agenda included: mud pots and another sampling of the special quesadilla. The special quesadilla is discussed in the Camacho’s Place entry. In this post we discuss the mud pots.

What is a mud pot? A mud pot is bubbling pool of mud that is found in geothermal active areas where there is a shortage of water. When the mud pot is colored due to minerals it is called a paint pot. Which mud pots are we talking about? The mud pots we visited are at the corner of Davis and Schrimpf roads located at the south end of the Salton Sea just east of Red Hill Marina. In this empty lot you will find mud pots and formations called gryphons – small mud-volcanos usually shorter than three meters. The gryphons form as mud splatters and spews out over time so that a cone builds up.

Every now and then as we walked around we caught a wiff of petroleum. Apparently, researchers have found that mud pots at the Davis-Shrimff seep field can contain juvenile oil and gas. These particular mud pots emit mostly carbon dioxide and at the area at one time was formerly used to commericially collect carbon dioxide [ref]. Moreover, the mud pots in this area are throught to be a southern extension of the San Andreas Fault [ref].

The sound coming from the mud cones is interesting. You don’t hear anything until you get close. Then you hear what sounds like a udu drum – a deep, slurping sound that is part creepy and part soothing. For some cones you can carefully walk up the side and peak into the top to see the bubbling mud. On this early June day, humid and gray, it was just us, the mud pots and gryphons and their hypnotic udu sound. The Davis-Schrimpf mud pots are close to Red Hill Marina and the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, so that’s a natural stop while in the area.

Mud Man
Salton Sea Mud Pots

Looking Out Over the Gryphons
Salton Sea Mud Pots

Different Mud Flow From a Gryphon
Salton Sea Mud Pots

Mud Bubbling On the Ground
Salton Sea Mud Pots

Mud Bubbling on a Gryphon – Mud Cone
Salton Sea Mud Pots

Mud Bubbling Inside a Gryphon Cone
Salton Sea Mud Pots

A Greenish Pool With Briney Edge?
Salton Sea Mud Pots

Aerial View of the Davis-Shrimpf Field (from Google Maps)Salton Sea Mud Pots

A Blue-Eyed Darner Dragonfly Near the Mud PotsSalton Sea Mud Pots