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California Dreaming: Anticipating a Fresh Start in 2022

The theme for 2022 was a 'Return to a New Normal' at least that what we were hoping for in our first full winter in Palm Desert since 2020. We took separate flights to CA since Dave spent a week visiting family in Florida and I stayed a little longer in NH to spend time with family.


January

Before heading to California on January 16th, I stopped at the camp in Gardner for one final check. During December and January there were a number of small snow storms so the pond was blanketed in a layer of snow. Everything was looking good.

Snow on Sanke Pond Gardner, MA

We decided that regardless of whether face masks were required on flights, we would continue wearing them for the foreseeable future. Our reasoning was why waste any time in CA being sick whether with COVID or a common cold.

Face mask on plane

Not sure if this plane, I spotted from the window, was closer than it should have been but it made a cool wake as it flew through the clouds.

jet wake in cloud

A sight for sore eyes as I approached the airport - a snow-covered Mt San Jacinto.

snow-covered Mt San Jacinto

We have our priorities. Buying mint plants to take advantage of the perfect winter growing conditions to satisfy our love for mojitos.

mint plant

Everyday in the Coachella Valley is great and there is no better way to start the day than eating breakfast on the back patio to the sound of the babbling 'Mallard Creek'. Even cool morning temperatures in the low 50°F aren't enough to keep us from eating outside.

Park Palms condo palm trees
oatmeal breakfast with fruit

Having awesome 'culinary' neighbors means getting home-made lemon marmalade as a welcome back gift. Statins be damned! This year I was going to enjoy fresh-picked pink grapefruit for breakfast every once in a while. Dave, who is statin-free, enjoys a grapefruit almost every morning until mid March when the supply runs out.

Every day starts off with a slew of text alerts from the Fam Chat group sharing their Wordle score.

On January 18th, we noticed a hummingbird frantically flying in and out of the Meyer lemon tree on the back patio. When the bird finally settled down, we noticed it was sitting in a tiny nest no more than 2 inches in diameter. We discovered that after laying two eggs the size of jellybeans, the female spends the next couple of weeks sitting on the eggs to keep them warm and protected, only leaving for a few minutes each hour to eat.

hummingbird nest

My first task for the winter was to prepare and lead the Friends of the Desert Mountains (FODM) guided hike to Hidden Palms. Ada had convinced me last October to lead this hike and a few other hikes each week during the winter. I spent a lot of time scouting out the terrain and plants as well as researching the San Andrea Fault network that runs right through the trail. Here are a few photos from the hike.

Usually winter sunsets are not as impressive as fall sunsets but this day was an exception.

sunset over mt san jacinto in california

It didn't take us long before we were off exploring. Our first big hike was Coyote Mountain in Anza Borrego State Park. It was great to return to the park after not visiting since 2019.

Jan 30th hummingbird update: We waited until the mother had left the nest and then used a ladder to look into the nest. If you look closely, you can see the tan-colored beak of one of the chicks. Hummingbird nests are built entirely by the female bird. The female will spend several hours a day for five to seven days collecting materials to build her nest. The most common nesting materials include: bits of grass, leaves or flowers, fuzz and lots of spider webs. These materials are woven together into a dense cup shape. The edge of the cup is curved slightly inward to protect the eggs from tipping out in high winds. But the secret to a successful hummingbird nest is spider silk/webs which are used to bind the nest together and to give it elasticity to enlarge as the hatchlings grow.

baby hummingbirds in nest

February

It might seem that Dave and I do everything together but that's not the case. Dave spends time volunteering at the Palm Desert library which means each week he has a new stack of books he's checked out. He also enjoys relaxing at the pool more than I do.

I spend more time volunteering with FODM. This year I started leading hikes with 3rd graders from area public schools. It's all part of the FODM educational program.

I also enjoy hiking and exploring new areas in the Coachella Valley on my own.

Feb 3rd hummingbird update: For the first time, we spotted the female feeding the chicks. She ingests food—a mixture of nectar, tiny insects, and pollen—which she regurgitates into their mouths.

baby hummingbirds in nest

Since some of our neighborhood friends are high-risk for COVID infection, we decided to host a twice monthly happy hour party on our back patio. These folks are the best.

Park Palms condo friends

Seated: Joanna & Wayne

Standing: Jim, Lyn, Charlotte, Ken, Dave & Steve


Joanna is such a bad influence. She introduced us to these two drink options.

While exploring the area surrounding Pushawalla Palms, Hidden Palms and Willis Palms, I came across a stream that flows from the Thousand Palms Oasis. It's an incredibly beautiful spot anytime of the day but especially at dusk.

stream running through desert

We weren't surprised to find numerous coyote prints in the mud. They use the stream as a source of water and hunting grounds. These desert streams attract large and small creatures and coyotes are opportunistic hunters that are willing to eat whatever food/prey is available.

coyote prints in sand

The stream supports a lush green zone. These large brittlebush plants were in full bloom.

wildflower, brittle bush with yellow blooms

I'm not sure how it took us 5 years to discover this tranquil spot. It's now on the list for places to bring visitors. It's so unique having this environment in the driest, hottest desert in North America.

dusk along trail in sonoran desert
sunset along stream in sonoran desert

February means it's time to start picking Meyer lemons. It's a task that Dave has mastered.

picking meyer lemons from tree

Dave started juicing the lemons and making ice cubes so he could use them for cooking later in the winter when the trees had been picked bare by everyone.

Feb 13th hummingbird update: The two chicks have grown considerably. Now you can see why the spider web material is the secret building material. The nest has stretched considerably since we first spotted it.

baby hummingbirds in nest

A Valentine's Day tradition—San Jacinto Cake from Sherman's Deli and Bakery This is their amazing signature cake with layers of chocolate mousse, cheesecake, chocolate cake and chocolate frosting that we share.

San Jacinto cake from Shermans Deli in Palm Springs

Through February, FODM had a banner year in terms of attendance and donations raised by the guided hikes program. To celebrate Ada treated Nancy, John, Dave, and me to drinks and appetizers at the Woodhaven clubhouse.

hiking friends

February was the start of family visits. Time to put Sam and Justien's photo in the guest bedroom nightstand frame. It's a tradition that dates back to 2018.

sam and Justein

For their short stay, we thought the Hidden Palms hike would be a good way to introduce them to the desert environment.

Hidden palms trail in Palm desert california
Sam and Justein at Hidden Palms Oasis
Hidden Palms trail in California
Dave, Justein and Sam at Hidden Palms Oasis
Save, Steve, Sam and Justein hiking Hidden Palms Oasis trail

A wind storm over the weekend but a glitch into their plans, but we still made it to Joshua Tree National Park for some iconic photo stops.

Sam and Justein under rocks at Joshua Tree National  Park
Joshua Tree National Park Cholla Forest
Joshua Tree National Park road selfie

They spent their last day on a walking tour of Palm Springs. We met up with them for lunch at Inka Peruvian Cuisine.

fuschia blooming bougainvillea

It's not as easy to take sunset photos as you might think, but Dave is the king of framing sunset pics.

sunset over san jacinto mountain california

Feb 18th hummingbird update: It looks like there is only one chick left in the nest and he's taking up a lot of room.

baby hummingbirds in nest

Back in the fall of 2021, we purchased new patio sliders and windows, but it wasn't until February that they were received and ready to be installed. We purchased replacements because the seal integrity was shot for most of the windows and the patio glass panels. We replaced the standard 3-panel sliders with 2-panel sliders. It was more expensive but the unobstructed view of the back was worth it.

I completed a hike of Garrett's Hill that runs parallel to the highway in Palm Springs. It isn't an impressive hiking area but I had read reports of some amazing street art on several of the highway underpasses. The reports were correct.

Final hummingbird update: Sometime after the February 18th photo was taken, the last hummingbird flew the coop. One morning we saw what looked like an incredibly clumsy hummingbird circling the tree. It came to rest on a branch, then seemed to compose itself and quickly darted away never to be seen again.


This month we explored for the first time the Pioneer Mountains Preserve. We hiked on the Indian Loop and Chaparrosa Peak trails that had been devastated by wildfires in 2006. It was definitely a great opportunity to check out a new area.


March

As the weather warms up, we always remind visitors to be prepared for hot days and cool nights when they come. The main reason for the temperature change is that desert air is extremely dry. Air with high humidity requires more energy to heat up, so it also takes more time for that energy to dissipate and for the surroundings to cool down. Conversely, a lack of humidity in the desert causes them to quickly heat up but also rapidly cool. In other words be prepared for a 30°F difference between day and nighttime temperatures.


March 5th marked the return of the in-person Wildflower Festival organized by FODM. It's one of the organization's major spring events. As usual, the wine and beer tent was staffed by Dawn, Dave and I. Cool temperatures and wind played havoc at the start of the festival, but an army of volunteers worked to relocate the event to a more protected area of the Palm Desert Civic Park.

Friends of the Desert Mountains Wildflower Festival

March means Mecca. One of our favorite hiking locations is the Mecca Wilderness. We've documented a number of hikes in Mecca and if you haven't checked them out, then maybe a few photos from our March hike will encourage you.

Mecca Hills hiking

Every trip to Mecca requires a stop at the Shields Date Garden for a date shake. You are missing one of the best treats in the entire Coachella Valley if you've never had a Shields date shake.

On March 10th, we witnessed the first wind storm of the season. This one wasn't too bad but it left the usual mess on the patios. However, on a positive side, it produced a brilliant orange sunset. The reason why? The dust particles lifted high into the atmosphere split out the light spectrum. Blue light, which usually paints the sky, is scattered enabling more yellow and orange light to break through.

A hike on the North Lykken trail in Palm Springs was intended to focus on wildflowers, but we came upon a herd of Peninsula Bighorn Sheep grazing no more than 75 feet from the trail.

After living part time in the Sonoran Desert, populated with a variety of rattlesnakes, it took over 4 years for my first interaction with these reptiles. On March 16th, Dave was volunteering at the library so I decided to take a casual stroll at dusk on the Willis Palms Oasis trail. After snapping these twilight photos, I continue walking along the trail when I suddenly heard a loud rattle sound. There wasn't enough light to see the snake but my training kicked in. I stopped and tried to determine the snake's location. Meanwhile the rattling sound had died down significantly. I thought it was coming from my right, so I slowly moved forward hoping not to step on or further aggravate the snake. Fortunately, I chose correctly and after walking forward for another 20 feet, I stopped again to compose myself and then began a slow walk back to the trailhead. My heart was beating through my chest the entire time. According to Dave, lesson #1 is that it's not wise to go for a night time hike alone.

sunset over san jacinto mountain california
sunset over san jacinto mountain california

Since the pools are heated until the end of April, we took advantage of the 87°F pool water for nighttime swims.

pool at night

March 23rd wrapped up happy hours on our back patio. Most of our Canadian friends begin their journey home in late March. We had a winter full of good laughs, entertaining stories, and delicious Trader Joe's appetizers.

It was a larger crowd than usual since it was more of a 'going away party' than a happy hour celebration. The fact that everyone was comfortable being in a crowd this size was refreshing.

Park Palms happy hour celebration

On March 23rd, Paula and Scott arrived for their much anticipated visit. Dave was concerned that I'd pack their days with nonstop activities, and he recommended that I ask them what they wanted to do on this vacation. Their answer: a 5-day full schedule of hiking and exploring. No problem was my response.


We started off with lunch at the Desert Willows golf course and then ramped up from there. The next days included hiking in Aqua Caliente Reservation, Joshua Tree National Park, and the Mecca Wilderness; staying at a phenomenal Airbnb in the Mojave Desert; and exploring unique spots around the Salton Sea. We had such a great time that it was easier to post just a few photos here and write a separate blog detailing the weeks adventures.

This was an OK year relative to wildflowers. It didn't compared to the 2019 superbloom but that's always going to be a tough act to follow. Here are a few photos we captured this spring.

The month wrapped up with a tour of Sunnylands, the former 200-acre Annenberg Estate, located in Rancho Mirage. Walter Annenberg was a billionaire publisher and philanthropist whose net worth at the time of his death in 2002 was $4 billion. He and his wife Leonore also served as diplomats under several US Presidents. They had a deep appreciation and love for the desert and in 1963 purchased the estate grounds. Construction on the Sunnylands estate began quickly thereafter and was completed in 1966. A. Quincy Jones designed this 25,000-square-foot midcentury modern house known for its pink roof. At one time, the house was the largest in Riverside County. The property now includes the main house, guest quarters, three guest cottages, a private 9-hole golf course, and 13 man-made lakes. We've visited the estate several times of the years but were never able to snag tickets for the grounds tour until now.


April

Palm Springs is a modernism mecca for mid-century architecture and design so it's fun to spend a afternoon making the rounds of the antique shops and the monthly Palm Springs Vintage Market. We don't need anything for the house but that doesn't stop us from buying an interesting or unique find.

Guest #3 arrived in early April. Weston and Mackenzie as usual were ready for an action packed stay with some down time thrown in as well. Here are a few photos from our adventures with them. They are always up for a trip to Mecca so Dave and I scouted out a hike through the grottos/caves of the Mecca Wilderness. We knew they would love the challenge.

Our second hike was to Pushawalla Palms, since they hadn't visited a desert palm oasis during their previous stay.

Our third adventure involved a 5-mile off-trail Joshua Tree hike to Garrett's Arch. We did this hike earlier with Paula and Scott but this time we were determined to climb up to the Arch. It is a lot more steep and difficult to reach than the photos infer.

Garrett's arch hiking Joshua Tree National Park

Not surprisingly, Weston was the first one to attempt the climb. After he made it, the rest of us joined him following the path he had laid out. Once at the top, the red X marks the spot we had to reach on the climb down. The safest way through the most steep and slick part was to crab-walk down.

It was worth ever tense moment to reach Garrett's Arch.

Garrett's arch hiking Joshua Tree National Park

It's wasn't all about hiking!

The last and final adventure was hiking Murray Canyon in Aqua Caliente Reservation.

The waterfall at the end of the hike was flowing and that's what makes this hike special in the springtime. Another great visit with these two adventurers.


April marks the onset of quiet times in the neighborhood. The last of the citrus has been picked and no one is out on the back patios. In our block facing Mallard Creek, only 3 of the 8 homes are still occupied; most of the snowbirds have returned home. We are one of the last to leave in May.

Park Palms Mallard Creek

On April 11th, we were hit by a really bad wind storm. How bad was it? The top photo was taken the day after the storm. The Little San Bernardino Mountains across the Coachella Valley were barely visible. The bottom photo is the same view during a typical spring day.

The ability to wait patiently for a perfect photo is not one of my strengths but I wanted to capture a hummingbird in midflight this year. Among the biggest problems was that the sun had to be hitting the flowering plants at the right angle and the birds needed to be feeding at just that moment. But my limited patience paid off and I captured these shots.

hummingbird in mid flight
hummingbird in mid flight

With our California time coining to a close, we planned a last minute 8-night excursion to the Central California coastline. For all of our CA travels we had never visited Big Sur and the central coastline. Our itinerary included a single overnight in Morro Bay; 3 nights in Monterrey; and 4 nights in Malibu.


Morro Bay

The highlight of a trip to Morro Bay was the waterfront shops and restaurants as well as Morro Rock State Beach. Morro Rock was formed about 23 million years ago from the plug of long-extinct volcano.

Morro bay and Morro Rock in california

The weather was cool but the sunset was incredible.

sunset Morro Bay beach

Big Sur, Monterey and Watsonville

The drive from Morro Bay through the Big Sur was everything we had hoped it would be. Clear skies, cool temperatures and no traffic - who could ask for anything more. Big Sur is the most well known of all California’s scenic drives. Stretching for 90 miles along the rugged coast, Big Sur spans the area from San Simeon to Monterey and Carmel. The winding, twisting shore-hugging route offers an incredible number of awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, sometimes in the clouds 'we have to stop the car' views.

Big Sur bridge

Big Sur coastline

Monterey and Watsonville

It's no wonder that Monterey is a top travel destination. It has something for everyone: wine, food, history, nature, hiking, and beaches, just to name a few. Even if you are not a fan of aquariums, expect to blown away during a visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium.