Monday, April 30, 2012

Oasis in the Desert

Jill's Journal: Doesn’t the thought of an oasis in the desert conjure up images of some exotic foreign spot, perhaps in Arabia or the Sahara? And, of course, the additional image of a weary, parched traveler desperately crawling toward it in a last-ditch effort for a drink of life-sustaining water?

Much to our surprise, we found there’s a place near Thousand Palms, right here in California, which boasts not one, but two oases (and although it was hotter than Hades, we didn’t even have to crawl, completely parched, to get there).

A visit to the Coachella Valley Preserve starts seemingly in the middle of nowhere, with a dusty parking lot and a tiny visitor’s center. And then, a few steps beyond the visitor’s center, one is thrust into the Thousand Palms Oasis. The native fan palm trees are amazing and absolutely huge – can you spot the girls in the photo above for a comparison of their size?

It almost feels like a jungle, especially with the vast community of birds calling it home and constantly “talking” and flying about. But wait. One doesn’t have the full effect of an oasis yet.

To truly appreciate an oasis, one must first hike through desert that looks like this (in blazing heat, of course).

And this. Can you see the next oasis in the distance, that group of trees?

Dripping with sweat, we annihilated several bottles of water on the way. There were plenty of lizards to spot too, by far the girls’ favorite part of the hike.

Almost there! Madelyn triumphantly rested in the shade for a few moments while waiting for her sisters to catch up. She’s our champion hiker.

And then we were rewarded with this: McCallum Oasis. It’s smaller than the first one, but absolutely gorgeous with a stunning natural pond. The clear, strikingly green water is an astounding feast for the eyes given the desert surroundings. An oasis has an almost otherworldly feel in a hot desert. They’re 20 to 30 degrees cooler than open desert, have a cool breeze, and are so lush. What an amazing respite and contrast to the desert all around.

What is the cause of these oases in the desert? The answer is simple but perhaps unsettling. In this case, the oases are clustered on a branch of the massive San Andreas Fault, cause of so many earthquakes. The fault creates an underground dam; the water surfaces where gaps in the earth’s plates force the water up in the form of springs. Voila! An oasis. The fan palms need wet soil to survive.

Although it was only two or 2 1/2 miles long and hotter than blazes, this was seriously one of my favorite hikes we’ve ever done because it was so unique and the reward so beautiful.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Desert Fun

Jill's Journal: After basking in the sunlight and warmth of Palm Springs for the last couple of days, even my cold weather-loving Rob is starting to see the appeal of the desert. We did live in Phoenix long ago, so he’s no stranger to it, but it’s taken him this long to appreciate it. Yay! My work is done. :)

Our girls were thrilled to finally unpack their summer clothes, so they’re pleased as punch to be here also. Isn’t it amazing how a little sunlight just makes everything happier?

We’re enjoying exploring Palm Springs (this picture was snapped on the main drag, Palm Canyon Drive), which isn’t large at less than 50,000 residents, but seems much bigger when combined with surrounding cities like Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, and several others. It’s a resort town and even now, in the "slow" season (the busy season is winter), there’s still a great deal of out-of-town traffic and visitors. Here’s something interesting: Palm Springs alone has over 125 golf courses and over 2,250 holes. At 111 miles east of Los Angeles and 136 miles northeast of San Diego, it’s truly Southern California’s desert playground.

Palm Springs was a favorite getaway for celebrities for several decades and the Palm Springs Walk of Stars is reminiscent of the one in Hollywood.

Downtown is peppered with the sidewalk stars of major celebrities who made Palm Springs home or had a major impact on the community. Bob Hope was one of them.

We took a little side trip to neighboring Cathedral City and Desert Memorial Park…

…where Frank Sinatra is buried…

…as is Sonny Bono, Palm Springs’ best-known mayor. I think of him as a goofy 1970s singer; this town loves him.

Speaking of celebrities, Elvis and Priscilla spent their honeymoon tucked away in this house.

It’s right in the middle of a neighborhood (the same one Liberace lived in!), but it’s peaceful.

Enough of celebrities. We’d heard Sherman’s Deli and Bakery was the best place in town for breakfast or lunch, so we had to try it. “They” were right. If you ever make it to Palm Springs, put this on your list. It doesn’t look like much, but the food is marvelous.

We toured the McCallum Adobe, the oldest building in Palm Springs. It was built in 1884 for the first white (non-Indian) settler to stay permanently.

Ruddy’s General Store Museum is next door to the McCallum Adobe. Stepping into this place is truly a step back in time.

A recreation of a 1930s general store, Ruddy’s has shelves filled to the brim with authentic 30s-era merchandise. The showcases are also original, as are the fixtures and the signs. And the merchandise! Over 95% of it is unopened and unused, filled with the original 1930s contents. The store's namesake, Jim Ruddy, spent 35 years amassing this collection. He opened the museum 30 years ago after buying the stock of a depression-era liquidator who had similar merchandise left untouched in his basement for 40 years. Ruddy’s makes up one of the most complete (and largest) collections of unused general store merchandise in the U.S.

What fun to feel like time travel is possible for a few moments.

Our highlight over the last few days was definitely a trip up the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

It was a highlight because these two – my Mom and my brother Adam – surprised me for my birthday! I was trying to ignore the day, but they made it really special by driving hours just to be there and surprising the heck out of me. How awesome are they? Thank you so much, Mom and Adam (and Rob!); I felt so loved and blessed! I was so stunned to see them I don’t think I even squealed or anything…it’s not too often I’m struck mute.

Here’s Beppy, Uncle Adam, and the girls in the tram. It’s really something: the world’s largest rotating tram cars (the floor is constantly rotating) ascend from 2,643 feet to 8,516 feet in about 10 minutes. It’s a 2 1/2 mile journey to the top of Mt. San Jacinto. It’s chilly that high up, which I’m sure is a welcome relief for visitors in the heat of summer.

On the ascent…that’s a long way to the ground.

The destination is the “Mountain Station,” where one can hike and enjoy nature or dine in a really fancy mountaintop restaurant. Another surprise for me: Rob had reservations at the really fancy restaurant and we all splurged mightily. My Mom then surprised Rob by taking the check (and probably considered giving it back when she saw the total!). I think we could have all eaten for a week on what dinner cost that night, but it certainly was memorable. A lot of birthdays I don’t remember, but this one I’ll definitely never forget!

This is the view from the top; that’s Palm Springs way, way down there.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Palm Springs, CA

Jill's Journal: You know you’ve made it to the desert city of Palm Springs when…

…there’s windmills everywhere

…roadrunners in your campsite…

…tumbleweeds in the streets…

…and finally, finally a peak at blue skies after overcast ones on the coast for what seems like forever. It was also a wonderful 94 degrees (it’s a dry heat!) when we arrived, such a welcome change for me since I’ve been cold for months and months. Heat, glorious heat! Sunshine, beautiful sunshine! Or at least that’s what this former desert dweller thinks; the other four members of my immediate family aren’t quite as delighted by the heat as I am. Oh well, that’s why God made air conditioners and sunscreen, right?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fitting Farewell

Jill's Journal: It’s time for us to bid adieu not only to the wonderful city of San Diego, but also to the Pacific Ocean. After traveling almost all of the U.S. coast between Astoria, Oregon, and San Diego, California, in the last year, some 1,300+ miles of it, we’re going to miss that spectacular ocean and stunning coastline.

We’re not quite “done” with California yet – this is a massive and varied state with so much to offer! – but we’re getting close. Perhaps we’ll catch a few more glimpses of the Pacific before we leave, but we decided the girls should have one last official beach “hurrah” as a goodbye to San Diego and the Pacific. This particular beach was inside San Diego’s Mission Bay. What is better than kites and a bonfire?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

USS Midway

Jill's Journal: Even with Sea World, the San Diego Zoo, and a host of other places to visit in the San Diego area, the #1 attraction here is the USS Midway. This naval aircraft carrier was commissioned as the largest ship in the world in 1945. She was the first ship to be too large to fit through the Panama Canal. Her flight deck alone is just over four acres. Four acres!

She’s been all over the world, including the sub-Arctic, and has done some amazing things, including during wartime in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. She’s got 18 decks, held a crew of 4,500, and has a fuel capacity of 3.4 million gallons. The USS Midway is so big she used 260 gallons of fuel to move a mile. A mile!

As the longest-serving carrier of the 20th century, she was decommissioned in 1992 and opened to the public in 2004. Time on board the USS Midway is a fascinating glimpse at our military and the lives of the over 225,000 sailors who served on this city at sea during her 47 years in service. In addition, about 25-30 retired aircraft are on the Midway’s flight deck and on her hanger deck and are also open to visitors.

This is “the island” on the flight deck. In here are the bridge/command center for the ship, the control tower/primary flight control for the flights, and the navigation room. This is the only area of the ship with a guided tour (the rest is self-guided) and it is just fascinating.

Our docent (one of over 700 hundred who volunteer on the Midway) served on the Midway himself in 1958. How cool is that?

Getting around the island (and actually, most of the ship) requires the navigation of lots and lots of very steep ladders. Luckily, Victoria just barely met the height requirement.

The docent had the girls sit in the “boss” and “mini” chairs in the control tower. These were the spots which controlled all incoming and outgoing flights.

The control tower’s view of the departing runway. It defies logic how planes can take off in such a short space (the arriving runway is longer, but also short). Cables help catapult planes into the air; they also help “catch” landing planes and slow them down in time. What a ride that must be.

There’s a nice view of downtown San Diego from the flight deck.

This is a F-14 Tomcat, the aircraft brought into the nation’s consciousness in “Top Gun.”

Here’s a Sea Knight helicopter, only one of the many aircraft available for viewing on the Midway.

This is inside the Sea Knight.

This sounds silly, but I always wondered how planes didn’t just bounce off the deck in rough seas. They’re tied down…duh!

The Midway is treated to a nice view of “The Kiss” statue on land.

Inside the ship, one gets an intriguing glance into sea life.

Look at those bunks and lockers. Sailors are not afforded much space. Each bunk has a small space underneath for the men’s incidentals.

Look how tight these quarters are! No privacy here.

One of the mess halls.

This is the post office for the whole ship.

The girls each answered questions about what they learned on the Midway to earn their “junior pilot” wings.

The USS Midway is the world’s most visited military attraction. We so enjoyed our time on this amazing aircraft carrier and are grateful our country has opened this up to the public to learn from and enjoy. God bless our military!