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Desert vacation recharges the spirit Richard Peña | Sat, Feb 04 2012 12:00 PM

When those relatives and friends from down south or on the east coast used to ask us why we loved to live in Southern California we gave the usual stock answers: location. 

This always included our close proximity to the desert. The latter always elicited derisive remarks akin to “Ugh, who would want to live near the desert?”

They, of course, had visions of huge mounds of sand surrounded by huge mounds of sands. They recalled images of men and women crawling through those mounds, lips cracked, eyes showing despair and uttering the one thought,

“Water, water.”  And all of them looked like Humphrey Bogart or Katherine Hepburn.

We took a trip to the desert the other day.  My son, David, who was here on one of his periodic trips, had made arrangements for us to spend a few days at a desert resort, this one in Palm Springs.

Now, I know that Palm Springs is not exactly roughing it but it is getting away from home for a few days, something that everyone thought I needed. And if one is going to rough it why not go first class.

It has been some years since I was in that part of the country. I recall that in the heyday of the Bonita Valley Tennis Club my late wife, Zula, had a sort of a working agreement with Paul Hartson, who used to own the club.  She would be a tennis club member if he would furnish her with tickets to the tennis tournaments in Palm Springs. These were some of those big tennis extravaganzas that used to attract the big names in the sport.  I remember that she had a strong liking for Boris Becker, a star in his day.

This time the trip had nothing to do with tennis. It did, however, have much to do with exploration. Palm Springs, if you will recall, is a large valley that is almost entirely ringed by a range of the highest mountains in the state. Some would say that it consists of one huge golf course in the middle protected by mountain ranges, and they may be right. 

Almost makes me wish that I was still up to the game.

On Thursday we arose early and made it out to the south entrance of the Joshua Tree National Park. The literaturetells us that we owe this park to the efforts of the desert lover and activist, Minerva Hoyt, who in 1934, saw the danger inflicted on the area and petitioned then president Franklin Roosevelt to make it a preserve.

Thanks to the efforts of Hoyt and others, today the park covers 794,000 acres of land, much of it in wilderness.  Thus, where the uneducated eye of the ordinary visitor might see nothing, Hoyt saw the beauty of the spiny bushes and the myriads of wildlife that made up the life of this vast mass of countryside.

We learned that the park is made up of two separate deserts, the Colorado and the Mojave. The Colorado Desert is at the eastern end of the park, that area that is 3,000 feet above sea level.  It is part of the much larger Sonoran Desert that spans Southern Arizona and Northern Mexico.  Creosote dominates this area with some spidery ocotillos and cholla cactus.

On the western half, which is the elevation above 3,000 feet, we have the Mojave Desert.  This is dominated by the huge expanses of rocks, some as large as the average house, that are interspersed with a variety of vegetation.

Chief among these is the wild-armed Joshua Tree that is not really a tree but a species of yucca.  It is the plant that gives the park its name.

We must remember that civilizations were in the area long before the explorers came along. We visited many of these sites, much of them situated in groves of palm trees that sought and found the moisture that would sustain life.  We marveled how nature could conform to that that was on hand to sustain life.

All too soon our jaunt came to an end and we returned home. The desert is out there, however, for whoever wishes to explore and learn more about the land around us. And the good part is you don’t have to traverse mounds of sand to get around.

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