Monday, September 29, 2014

More labyrinths in the desert

Awhile back I posted on various Labyrinths and medicine wheels that I found peppered through the deserts. That called to mind other desert labyrinths unnatural and natural, as seen below. I found these while scouring google earth to see what lay beyond the boundaries to the Air Ground Combat Center that I may not legally traverse by foot.

The first two are old targets with their proximate coordinates, though I think these may be scrambled some so you might have to search around in the vicinity to find them.

The next is an old tire pile on the base. A person or persons unknown took the time to arrange these into a giant ring approximately 400' across and add the editorial comment, "ugly." Why the Marines would drag thousands of tires out to this particular spot in the desert remains a mystery.

34.407706, -116.273074
Though not technically labyrinths these natural craters resonate with the concept of labyrinths and draw attention, especially as seen from above. You'll have to navigate down the screen from the coordinates - look for a black smudge and zoom in. If you look to the right, about 200 feet, you'll see another pile of tires. It looks like someone has started to partially mark out an even bigger circle.

34.461790, -115.970811
This one captivates me with the complex texture and subtle colors. Of all of these, this is the one I'd urge you to examine in detail. Just copy the numbers into google, select earth/satellite and zoom around. Again, you'll need to scout around a little to find the exact spot. I believe the white scars are from shelling. What we do to our beautiful planet..., don't get me started.

34.544707, -115.790223

This is the Amboy Crater which is accessible to the public. The second photo, above is a closeup of the interior. You can see that someone did create a simple labyrinth within, as well as a heart.

If you know of any other such examples of labyrinths or circles in the landscape, please share with us.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Fall planting in the Mojave Desert

A katydid shopping at Theodore Payne California Native Plants
The little people* were out shopping yesterday at Theodore Payne in Sunland.
On March 4, 2014 I posted From Theodore Payne native nursery about the desert plants we bought. Althogether 13 trees and 7 other small bushes. We lost 5 - one mystery tree from an online nursery, one apache plume, one desert peach, one jojoba and our native grape.

Here is our fall planting, though I still want to buy some shade trees and some Callistemon citrinus “Little John” dwarf bottlebrush for bee and hummingbird fodder.
The only thing we duplicated from our spring planting was Atriplex canescens - Four wing saltbush, which the rabbits wouldn't touch and has never flagged and has about doubled in size since we planted it.

The Vitis girdiana - Native California grape - replaced the one we bought and killed in the spring. If we kill this one the next will be Flame grape from Home Depot which seems to thrive here. We almost lost our fairy duster - it was touch and go for some time, but I finally mulched it with lots of hay and our neighbor's pony poo and now it's happy.

Romneya grows crazy in LA and is big and beautiful but they made no promises for it at the nursery. I'm crossing my fingers. The coastal oak is another 'maybe', but I'm feeling hopeful.

The desert willows kicked into overdrive with the August rains, shot up to about 24 inches and put on a lovely display of fragrant purple blossoms. It's a very humbling thing to see such delicate flowers in such a harsh environment.

Last week we bought a big round of chicken wire, so next week, after the community breakfast (you're going, right?), I'll be building bigger cages for some of the older plants and repurposing the smaller cages for the new plants.

I still want to plant these trees, but some can wait until the spring:

  • Carob
  • Mimosa
  • Chinese Elm
  • Pistachio
  • Persian Mullberry
  • Jujube
  • Sea Buckthorn
  • Goji
  • Shoestring Acacia
The point is to create biodiversity and attract the 'little people' - the bugs, and birds, the snakes and lizards and tortoises, and perhaps begin to reverse the ravages of drought and desertification on 2.5 acres in far north Joshua Tree.

* Author Mary Hunter Austin refers to "the little people" in her book, The Land of Little Rain, 1903, available free online.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

9 simple reasons why it's amazing to live in Joshua Tree

North Joshua Tree at night
North Joshua Tree at night

1. The sky
2. The sky
3. The stars
4. The space
5. Fresh air
6. The people
7. More freedom
8. Less cost
9. No Joneses to keep up with

What are your reasons? Please add to this list in the comments.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Whirlwinds and Dust Devils

Driving north on Mockingbird. The Marine base glows in the distance. Photographer Ben Gould.

The Copper Mountain Mesa Community Center had its second movie night Saturday. The movie was the Inferno, from 1953. Mary Helen and Steve Tuttle, the backbones of the Center, were away so everything fell on the shoulders of the volunteers – me, Ken, Kip, Annelies, Suzy and Patrick. Ken worked the kitchen with Annelies and I worked the snack bar, mostly by myself. Suzy worked the thrift store. Kip worked the projector and Patrick picked up the slack.

Everyone came at once. The gourmet hotdogs with potato salad and watermelon were a big hit at $2.00. Mary Helen made zucchini and lemon muffins which we sold for $1.00 each. There was popcorn with homemade garlic butter, and Halloween boxes of movie candies.

When the movie started I was watching the front by my lonesome. At one point I turned and saw a tarantula on the wall, which was very exciting as it was my first sighting. It was about three inches long and looked like it was made of black pipe cleaners. It was fortuitous as next month’s movie is Tarantula and I had a giant spider I bought at Home Depot sitting on the table.

 I was sitting at the front of the patio alone. A group of about three little brown bats must have seen the spider. They kept flying in, looping past it, and sizing it up. I put on my hat. It was desert dramatic and passed the time as I waited for the movie to end.

James and Ben, two friends from Los Angeles, visited this weekend. They walked across the BLM land to get to the Center and braved walking back the same way in the dark. It was only two blocks but it was a moonless night and we hadn’t left any lights on at the cabin so at one point, when they felt most lost, they were actually standing right by the house. 
The cabin at night. Photographed by Ben Gould.
Ben took some amazing photos of the house and the cabin and other wonders and I’ll post some of these as he sends them to me. I asked about the camera and when I looked it up on Amazon in the morning was dismayed to find it cost more than some of my friends spent on their properties last month. I tried to console myself with a little pep talk about my natural sense of composition and that maybe I’m more of a photo journalist than an art photographer. I thought of going back to a brownie, or pinhole photography. There are options. But when you see these photographs I think you’ll agree that they are quite spectacular. It’s not all the camera, Ben has a great eye and proper skill, but a righteous tool doesn’t hurt.

On Sunday morning our neighbors Denise and Mike Myers dropped by and I helped her with her online marketing. She does psychic readings and even though I’m not much of a believer I’ve been helping design and market her website at I’m also doing the Copper Mountain Mesa website at

After that we all piled into cars and drove to pick up Patrick for breakfast at the Palms. Patrick lives near Surprise Springs – where people used to get their water before the city put water lines in. The turkey buzzards were migrating and the sky was filled with what looked like a dust devil of them swirling around the mesa. Ben took photos and James picked up some feathers.

Turkey buzzard on migration. Photographed by Ben Gould.
The Palms was wonderful as always. Laurel and Frank were there from the Glass Outhouse Gallery; Molly Katelbach from Radio Free Joshua Tree; Almut and Jill were busy working on a campaign to prevent a new tax hike in our portion of Wonder Valley. At first it didn’t sound like much – about $4.00 a month, but there are a lot of people out here living on the margins and $4.00 is not just one latte less a month, but a chunk of their food or gas money and that little chunk just keeps getting chipped away at. Breakfast was delicious as usual and it’s always a delight to see Mary, Laura, Jimmy Sibley and little Punkin.

We stopped by the new Wonder Valley property and gave our guests the nickel tour. Then we drove to Laura Sibley’s new cabin and labyrinth and Patrick and James walked it while the Ken, Ben and I rested in the shade.

When Ken and I returned to our cabin on the Mesa we fell into a deep sleep. We’re both very social introverts and there’s a point at which we cannot take any more conversation and we had reached our limit for the day. When we woke we sat on the edge of the patio and looked at the mountains in the distance.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Mushrooms, roses and butterflies

I'm trying to save money furnishing our house in Wonder Valley and so have been scouring thrift stores for those once ubiquitous buckets of tangled discarded flatware only to find that they no longer exist. It seems people are taking every stitch of flatware that comes into a thrift store and they're selling them on EBay piece by piece - often for about $6.00 a piece. How did this happen? What kind of world is this? I blame that horrid convicted felon Martha Stewart for making thrift stores respectable.

When I was growing up in Boise in the 70s no self-respecting middle class person ever entered a thrift store. My parents were scandalized that I bought clothes there and doing so made me a sort of transgressive outlier. I loved the stores. They were packed to the gills back then with amazing cast offs. For a few dollars I could pack my car, furnish my house and change my entire wardrobe.

So it pains me to see these lovely knives selling on Ebay for $6.00. Look at the design - mushrooms, roses and butterflies! What magical utensils.

I can buy acceptable new flatware online for $40, a fraction of what I'd spend now collecting these silly 70s patterns, but I probably won't. Nostaliga isn't what is used to be but it still has a strong pull for me.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A break from the heat

Last week I dropped my phone face down on the gravel in the parking lot at church and cracked the screen. Okay, it wasn't church, it was the Palms Bar and Restaurant out on Amboy Road in Wonder Valley. It's kind of like church because we go every Sunday, only both the company and the libations are better and no one preaches at you. Well, maybe Frank, but no one else.

I took my phone to get repaired and it worked for a few days, but now the screen is dark so I've got to take it back to the repair shop, only it's too hot to go out. How hot is it? It's so hot I saw the Marlboro man smoking Kool cigarettes.

It's L.A. hot, which means humid. It would be one thing if you were flying down a country road with 2-70 air conditioning (two windows down at 70 miles an hour), but stop and start driving on hot L.A. tarmac with armed and angry drivers (I don't know for sure about the other drivers) is nothing I want to do. Maybe tomorrow.

So no new pictures for the blog, which makes it hard for me to write, but I'll try.

Also, it's hot. Did I mention that? How hot is it? It's so hot I saw the popo hugging Ice T. It has cooled a bit - it was 112 in Wonder Valley on Sunday, down from 120, and 10 degrees cooler on the Copper Mountain Mesa.

August is an interesting month in San Bernardino County. People pick up property at the tax sales. It's cheap enough that you can save up for it. Four of my friends bought cabins - they all need lots of work but are wonderful desert properties.

Ken and I didn't do the tax sales but we did buy another property. It's five acres in Wonder Valley with a house, a detached garage, some sheds, a small dome, a well, a new septic tank (yes! a real toilet), washer dryer, fridge/freezer (ice!), solar and a 6' clawfoot bathtub. The water comes out of the well at 105 degrees and is bona fide mineral water (most people won't drink it). The house also came with a reverse osmosis water filtration unit so we can make potable water. And it has a beautiful grove of athel pines, more commonly known as tamarisk or salt cedar. Nothing will grow under them, though I found a creosote very close to one, and I am thinking of trying a salt bush.

Tamarisk leaches salts from the soil. In the morning salt water drips from the needles. The needles fall, forming a thick spongy mulch chock full of salt. They're a dense, strong wood perfect for hammocks and they provide shade. In many parts of the world, Australia in particular, they are considered a pest, invasive and undesired. People in other parts of the world revere them and they may have been the source of the Biblical manna.

All of this - the house and everything that came with it - cost us MUCH less than, say, a new Escalade. I checked the listings for the area every day for a year and when I saw this property my eyes popped. I couldn't believe it and we moved heaven and earth to scrape together the money to buy it. (We certainly wouldn't have had to have worked so hard to finance an Escalade!) We've stayed there three nights now. We hardly have a stick of furniture but we can make coffee and cold water. Ken fixed the swamp cooler in the dome yesterday with no help from anyone else. I took things off the wall, horrible heavy dark shelves, and we hired a plumber to fix some things. The tub is not properly plumbed and since I don't want to tear out the tile we'll be going for something like this (left).

In the meantime I'm going to nail a sprinkler to a 2x4 and turn it upside down in the trees and take a shower. Our nearest neighbor is gone until the winter and there's really no one else around to see me.

UPDATE: This (to the left) is how it turned out. I need a better shower head and that mint green paint has to go, and I'm not sure what to do with those cabinets, but the plumbing is cool.

We love our cabin on the mesa and will probably "summer" there, but I can't do cottage food there as it's not a proper house, being only 400 square feet, and won't pass the inspection. The new house will be somewhere we can retire and probably lease out, at least short term, when we want to stay elsewhere.

My favorite part about the new property is the darkness. It's way out past the "Last services for 100 miles" sign. At night, when I look to the south I see the Pinto Mountains and NO light -- no light at all. The affect of that kind of darkness on the soul is profound. I feel spun back in time through generations living on the earth. Above is the Milky Way, brighter and nearer than I've ever seen it. I wonder how not having these two visions available affects city people, especially youth, who may never even see stars, with as much light pollution as there is in the city.

One of my neighbors told me they take darkness seriously out here. If your neighbor's exterior lighting casts a shadows on your property you can file a complaint and they'll be ordered to change their lights. Of course I'd never do that, but it's amazing that you can.

So, hopefully (sorry about the inaccurate adverb), I'll have my phone working next weekend and I'll be able to properly illustrate a post. And hopefully it won't be so hot and I'll be more inclined to post. How hot is it, you ask? It's so hot I'm ready to start shopping for a property on Winters Road.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Copper Mountain Mesa Community Center

If you're interested in Far North Joshua Tree, please visit the
Copper Mountain Mesa Community Center website at:

It's a wonderful community center with an active group of volunteers. We had our monthly "First Saturday" pancake breakfast yesterday and served 65 people. The Thrift Store was open and did a brisk business. I took home a lovely three-burner food warmer with a 70's design on it and a white hand-crocheted shawl that I hung over the headboard of my black utilitarian IKEA bed - all for $4.

The Center also has each month - bingo, a USDA Food Distribution and a potluck. On September 20 there will be another movie night. We set up a projector on the baseball diamond and project against a screen hanging on a 40' cargo container. The September 20 movie will be INFERNO. Come early and get a Nathan's hot dog and some scrumptious home baked treats.

I dropped my phone in the parking lot of the Palms last Sunday. Gravel + glass = no camera, so sorry for the lack of photos.