Stars in the Desert

by Bob Sparrow

As I was sitting out in the desert this past week, well I was not actually sitting in the desert, I was sitting at our Marriott Desert Springs timeshare, anyway, I recalled the first time I ventured out this way. It was in the early 70s and brother Jack had just started working as the restaurant manager at Ironwood Country Club in Palm Desert. Although I lived in Orange County, it was a particularly cold January and dark clouds hung in the sky as I traveled southeast on Interstate 10 to ‘the desert’. As I entered the Coachella Valley I could see that Mt. San Jacinto and the rest of the Santa Rosa Mountain Range was holding back those dark clouds so there was not a cloud over the entire valley. It was not only my first time in the desert, but it was the first time I could drive for an hour and a half from my home and find a totally differ ecosystem.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the desert; my impression of deserts had come mostly from movies where people were crawling on the sand dying of thirst, seeing mirages of palm trees surrounding a watering hole or of camels trekking across the wind-blown sand with nothing in sight as their destination but more wind-blown sand. This was not like either of those visions, Palm Springs was ‘Home to the Stars’

I learned that there were many famous people who had a second home in the desert, such as Bing Crosby (You can stay in his house today for $3,000 a night!), Frank Sinatra, with a piano-shaped swimming pool, Dean Martin, whose pool was filled with martinis (Just kidding . . . maybe), Sonny Bono (excuse me, Mayor Bono), Gene Autry, Liberace and many, many more. I subsequently found out why the stars back in the day made the desert their go-to get away place.

‘Interesting fact #1’: Most actors had a clause in their contracts, called the ‘2 hour rule’ where they could not be more than two hours away from the studio. Palm Springs was just under a two-hour drive, but a whole world away, so that’s where they headed.

But I digress; those aren’t even the stars with which I was first impressed. During that first trip to the desert, I certainly noticed that the weather was warmer, but the real ‘a ha’ moment for me came that evening, when I was sitting out on the deck of an Ironwood Country Club condo feeling a warm desert breeze, which hardly moved the umbrella in my mai tai, and I looked up to see billions of stars that sparkled as brightly as I’d ever seen them. The Big Dipper was bigger and dippier, the Milky Way was less milky and Ursa Minor looked Major. I could see half the planets in our solar system with my naked eye (the rest of me was fully clothed).

Aside from the spectacular stars, my other most memorable recollection was, ‘There sure are a lot of palm trees around here!” I did notice that these palms were a little different from the King and Queen palms with which I was familiar, these were Date Palms and there were thousands of them.

‘Interesting fact 2’ – This desert produces 35 million pounds of dates annually, that represents 80% of the U.S. crop. You may not have been aware that there are male and female date palm trees and you also may not know that they typically have trouble reproducing, so date farmers must climb the male date palm tree, collect the pollen then climb a female tree and pollinate its flowers. Caution: don’t try this with your date!

I learned more interesting facts about the desert, to wit

     #3: The 50,000 swimming pools are the most pools per capita in the country.

     #4: The thousands of wind turbines make it the largest wind farm in America

     #5: Over 100 golf courses make it the ‘Golf Capital of the World’

     #6: In 1980 the Cabazon Band of the Mission Indians opened the first casino in the U.S. on an Indian reservation; it is now called Fantasy Springs Casino Resort & Spa. I’m proud to say that my contributions (involuntary) have helped make it what it is today!!

For me the desert is truly an oasis, tons of beautiful and challenging golf courses within a few minute’s drive, great bars and restaurants, the Marriott Villas are a great facility and the weather rarely disappoints.

There was a bonus on this trip; I was introduced to some different stars – tennis stars. We attended the BNP Paribas Open tournament, which draws the top players in the world to the beautiful Indian Wells Tennis Garden. I had seen this facility from afar many times while driving through Indian Wells, but never been in it until now. It is ranked as one of the finest, if not the finest tennis facility in the world.  Watching Djokovic and Federer win their matches on a beautiful desert evening was something very special.

The stars in the desert just keep sparkling.

 

The Tape Chapter 3 – A Visit with Chief Chuckwalla

(If you have not been following the story of ‘The Tape’ or need a refresher, you can read Chapters 1-2 by going into our archives and looking under ‘January 2014’.)

by Bob Sparrow

While at our timeshare at the Marriott Desert Springs a few weeks back, I decided to take advantage of being near the home of the Cahuilla Indian tribe and follow up on the information given to me by Matt at Chapman University and pay a visit to the tribe. I had contacted Chief Chuckwalla and made arrangements to meet him in a coffee shop in Palm Springs. With The Tape in my hand and Don in my head, I walked into the coffee shop looking for the Chief. I stood at the entrance surveying the small, sparsely populated room when a voice came from my left saying, “Are you looking for a guy in a headdress and war paint?”

chief2

Chief Chuckwalla

Embarrassed that I probably was, I turned to meet Chief Chuckwalla, who was wearing a plaid sports coat.

“Good morning, I’m Bob, we talked on the phone”

“Yes, I’m Chuck”

“Oh, so it’s Chief Walla, your first name is Chuck?

“No, my first name is Mark.”

“So it’s Mark Chuckwalla?”

“No, I just use Chuckwalla because it’s the last remaining Inviatim word left in the English language, so I’m holding on to it. You can call me Chief.”

“So are you the current chief of the Cahuilla tribe?”

“No”

I felt like I was part of the Abbott and Costello Who’s On First routine.

Nonplused, I decided I would try to impress the chief with the fact that I’d done my homework on his tribe, by using a Cahuilla greeting. I smiled and said, “Yee-Makh-weh”

He stared at me just long enough to make it uncomfortable and said, “I think you mean Mee-Yakh-weh, which is how the Inviatim Indian would greet a friend. You, on the other hand, just called me a grapefruit!”

“Sorry.” I guess I never was much good with homework.

I continued, “I notice you use the word Inviatim rather than Cahuilla when you talk about your tribe, why is that?

“Cahuilla is the name that the Spanish gave to our tribe; it would be like calling the Italians ‘Wops’ or the Puerto Ricans ‘Spicks’.

(Don echoed in my head: “How’s this going for you so far, you’ve screwed up his name and now you’ve insulted his entire tribe?”)

I doggedly pressed on, “I don’t know how much Matt told you, but I have a tape that a dear friend sent me years ago in a language or various languages that I’m trying to translate, Matt believed part of it was in the Cahuilla, er Ivia language.”

(Don: “I was wondering when you were going to bring me into the conversation, are you going to tell him that I’m dead?”)

Chief: “Matt has done much to help the Inviatim cause. What is this tape?”

The Tape

The Tape

I held up it up and the chief stared at it

Chief: “Why did your friend send it to you?”

I told him I wasn’t sure.

Chief: “What does your friend say it says?”

(Don: “See I told you you should have told him I was dead!”)

“I actually got the tape in ’95 or ‘96, but when I asked him about it at the time and on several occasions after that, I couldn’t get a straight answer from him, so I just forgot about it. When he passed away a couple of years ago my curiosity was raised again.”

(Don: A couple of years ago, gosh, it just seems like yesterday – where does the time go?”)

The Chief and I sat down in a corner booth where it was relatively quiet and I pulled out my cassette player and popped in The Tape.   We both fell silent as I watched the Chief listen. His expression changed from dutiful to curious to interested, to visibly shaken when he stopped the tape and stared at me trying to decide what to do next.

Finally he stood up from the table and said, “You need to see something.”

shack

Entrance to ‘Sec-he’

I followed him outside and got into his dusty Jeep Wrangler and we headed for the nearby foothills. After a few miles we left the main road for a seldom-traveled dirt road which, after a few more miles, turned into no road at all, until we were deep in the Santa Rosa Mountains. After about twenty minutes, we came to a narrow opening which revealed a boarded up, washed out ranch-style dwelling tucked in the back of a canyon behind an outcropping of granite boulders. As we neared the structure, we passed under a weathered wooden archway entry gate with a name carved in it that was barely legible; as we passed under it I read it aloud: “Sec-he”.

I asked Chief what it meant.

“Sec-he is the name the Inviatim gave to this whole desert area, it means ‘boiling water’; when the Spanish took over they changed the name to ‘Agua Caliente’, meaning ‘hot water’. Then the white man came and decided that neither of those names would help them sell memberships to private golf clubs or luxury homes for celebrities, so they changed the name to Palm Springs”.

Chief drove under the archway and parked the car in the shade of a Palo Verde tree in front of the gray wooden structure. He slowly pushes open the shack2front door that had neither locks nor hardware. The wooden floor creakes beneath our feet as I followed the chief to a small room off the main living area that had only a crude wooden desk and chair sitting on a dingy brown rug. Chief moves the desk and chair off the rug and slides the rug over several feet revealing a trap door. The hinges squeak as he slowly opened it. There is a narrow wooden staircase that leads into darkness. I notice for the first time, a kerosene lantern hanging on the wall next to the trap door, as the Chief pulls it down, lights it and heads down the stairs motioning me to follow.

To be continued