Treasures in the Desert

by Bob Sparrow

ironwood 2My formal introduction to the ‘treasures of the desert’ probably took place in the early 70s, when brother, Jack took a job as restaurant manager at Ironwood Country Club in Palm Desert and he invited me out for a weekend. I believe it was in March and I was teaching school in southern California at the time; I remember thinking as I made the drive to Palm Desert just how close the desert really was – only about an hour and half drive and yet, I was to find out, a world apart. And while the weather was certainly nice in Orange County in March, it was amazing in Palm Desert, especially the nights. I remember sitting out on a beautifully clear evening with a billion stars all around, wondering how long this had been going on – apparently for quite some time.

painter's pallet

‘Painter’s Palette’ Death Valley

My love and fascination with the desert and its flora and fauna has continued to this day. I was amazed at the colors and the shear beauty of the desert on my first visit to Death Valley where I was also intrigued with ‘desert stories’ like that of ‘Scotty’s Castle’. My two treks through Joshua Tree National Park introduced me to unique rock formations, eerie hidden caves and spectacular views. My hike through Havasupai introduced me to the extraordinary water features in what was seemingly a dry, desolate desert. I recently visited the Desert Museum in Tucson with niece, Shelley Watson and continued to be amazed at all the beauty and life that exists in the Arizona-Sonora desert. The Raptor Show, featuring Ravens, Great Horned Owls and Falcons was remarkable!

Aside from the ‘family treasures’ in the desert, such as my sister, Suzanne living in Scottsdale and my sister-in-law, Starlet in Apache Junction, there’s a small oasis about three-and-a-half hours from home that calls to Linda a couple of times each year; you might know the place . . . Las Vegas. Linda has not met a Top Dollar slot machine that she doesn’t think she can hit the ‘big one’ on, so for her birthday each year, I ‘surprise’ her with a trip to visit our money. This year we did manage to salvage a little education out of the trip with an excursion to Hoover Dam, the building of which was amazing.

primm3

Primm, Nevada

With all the hikes, excursions, timeshare in Palm Desert and trips to Vegas, you’d think I’d have my fill of the desert, but no, there is yet another pilgrimage that we make each year and from which I have just returned – Primm.

Primm, or what used to be called Stateline, is on the California-Nevada border, and at first passing you wonder why anyone would stop there with Vegas just 30 minutes away. The answer is Primm’s two 18-hole golf courses, which have a unique history of their own. Famous golf course designer, Tom Fazio, was contracted by Steve Wynn to design the golf course at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, under the condition that he would not design another golf course in the state of Nevada. Thus, the two magnificent courses he designed at Primm are just over the border in California.

south point

South Point Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NV

A group of 12 couples from Yorba Linda Country Club have been going to Primm on ‘Derby Weekend’ since 1996. The outing was originally put together by Debbie Osborne, who with husband Russ, still attend, along with two other original members, John & Judy VanBoxmeer and Don & Marilyn Spradling, who made the trip this year from their home in Fresno. Linda and I have been lucky enough to have been part of this ‘gang that couldn’t shoot straight’ for the last 12 years

equestrian center

Rodeo at South Point Equestrian Center

A small wrinkle in the Primm trip this year was, for the first time, we didn’t stay in Primm. While the golf courses are top quality, the Primm Resort & Casino would be lucky to get the tip of one star in a five-star rating. So, one of this year’s organizers, Chuck Sager, who has ‘connections’ at South Point Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, suggested a change of venue. The South Point Hotel is very unique among Las Vegas hotels – it has 124 bowling lanes as well as horse stables and a full equestrian center, where, last weekend, many of us witnessed our first rodeo. It is truly an amazing place.  Thank you Chuck!  We also changed golf courses to Rhodes Ranch, another ‘treasure in the desert’.

derby

Sometimes a ‘winner’ is a ‘loser’

A tradition at this gathering is a large bet on the Kentucky Derby. We have two legitimate ‘pony players’ in the group, Jack Budd and Russ Osborne, so everyone gives them $105 and they make some sort of boxed, parlay, quinella bet to heighten our interest in watching ‘The Derby’. We actually won about $24,000 in 2011, of course it was split amongst 24 people, but still, it was a lot more fun than losing, or winning the way we did this year. Jack & Russ actually picked the top 4 finishers, but because they were mostly favorites, our $105 bet got us a $30 return, so ‘winning’ produced a $75 loss. But it was exciting for a moment, before we realized that winning was actually losing – more mysteries of the desert!

Whether I’m hiking, exploring, golfing or just losing money, the desert continues to lure me to its hidden treasures.

FINDING ‘HOTEL CALIFORNIA’

by Bob Sparrow 

Eages

The Eagles

I recently watched a documentary on my favorite band, ‘History of the Eagles’ on the Showtime Channel. If you’re an Eagles’ fan this is a must see; even if you’re not, it’s still great music history.  So the first week of April as we headed out to Palm Desert for our 19th year of enjoying our timeshare, I was mixing my metaphors, dangling my modifiers and juxtaposing the reminiscing of the Eagles documentary and the looking forward to my hedonistic week in the lush environs of Palm Desert.  It created a strange concoction in my head – I present it forthwith.

                                                On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair

                                                Warm smell of colitas rising up through the air 

For the uninitiated, colitas is the small, sweet buds at the end of the cannabis plant that makes for what was colloquially known in the ‘70s as ‘good shit’.  This week we’ll enjoy the sweet smell of a good cabernet.

So I called up the captain, please bring me my wine

He said we haven’t had that spirit here since 1969

Hotel2

Marriott Desert Springs Hotel

It’s hard to think of the Eagles and not think of their biggest hit, ‘Hotel California’.  There have been many interpretations of the meaning of the lyrics of that song, the most common is that it’s an interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles.  So this week I’m loosely translating it to represent my decedent week in the desert where we eat at great restaurants, drink expensive wine and play luxurious golf courses.  Because it combines Life in the Fast Lane and a Peaceful Easy Feeling, I have concluded that the Marriott Desert Springs Hotel is my ‘Hotel California’.  The lyrics echoed in my head . . .

                                                                                                              Welcome to the Hotel California

                                                                                                          Such a lovely place, such a lovely face

                                                                                                        Plenty of room at the Hotel California

Any time of year, you can find it here.

Marriott mirror Yes, you can find it there in Palm Desert, but you may not want to find it ‘any time of year’; in the summer it’s not such a ‘lovely place’, but in early spring – awesome!

One of the great features of this timeshare is that it’s an hour and half’s drive from home; so no airports, delayed flights, missed connections or airplane food; and yet once you’re there you feel like you’re in a whole different world – perhaps because you are.

Some dance to remember

Some dance to forget

And there are some of us that have just forgotten how to dance altogether, but the images dancing in my head of desert nights, desert skies, desert flowers, desert sunsets silhouetting Mt. San Jacinto in the distance and billion stars in the sky are simply magnificent.

Relax said the nightman, you are programed to receive,

You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave

Actually check-out is by 11:00 a.m. or you’re subject to late fees, but after a week of ‘Desert Decadence’, it’s time to go home.Hole #2

Hotel California ends with, if not the greatest, one of the greatest guitar riffs in rock and roll history, I’ll conclude with:

  1.  Find your Hotel California – ideally a few hours drive from your home, but in a totally different       world
  2. Listen to some Eagles music, if you don’t have any, GET SOME!
  3. Enjoy a week of indulgence; you’ve earned it . . . probably

Back home and the lyrics that are now echoing in my head are: My diet starts Monday!

 

If you enjoy our blogs, please pass them along to your friends and subscribe – thank you! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Walk in the Park: JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL – Part I

Cholla Cactus

Cholla Cactus


by Bob Sparrow

It was all I could do to make a left turn when traveling southeast on Interstate 10 through the Mojave Desert.  The usual right turn takes me into the Palm Spring/Palm Desert communities where for years I’ve gone to relax, play golf and perhaps partake of a margarita, maybe two.  But last week, turning left took me into Joshua Tree National Park where hiking and camping replaced golf and margaritas.  ‘The Boys’ and I planned to camp and spend the weekend hiking just to see what was shakin’ around the San Andreas Fault, which runs through the park.  Even though I’ve lived within two hours of ‘Josh’ (we’re now on a first-name basis), I had never been there.  Apparently I’m not the only one late to this party, Joshua Tree was a mere National Monument (at slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island it was quite a large monument!) until as recently as 1994, when it finally became a National Park.

‘The Boys’ are:

Sparky, Avalanche, Greeter, Trail Boss

Sparky, Avalanche, Greeter, Trail Boss

Patrick ‘Trail Boss’ Michael, who plans the trips, draws the permits, has all the trail maps, plans the menu and   brings the firewood.  He’s an engineer by trade – what a surprise!

  •        – Bob ‘Sparky’ Pacelli, who insists we each carry a walkie-talkie even though we never get more than 20 feet from each other during the entire weekend.  The only time the walkie-talkies were used was when he heard from a trucker on Interstate 10 trying to get lucky.

Rick ‘Greeter’ Sullivan, the friendliest man on the trail; greets everyone he meets with his big, easy smile. If he’s at your campfire make sure you have plenty of wood, ‘cause he’s got plenty of stories.

Richard ‘Chuck Wagon’ Wade, who is not a hiker, but asked if he could come along and cook.  Hell yeah!  Since he’s a forensic doctor with a degree from Harvard, we respectfully call him Dr. Chuck Wagon.

– My nickname is ‘Avalanche’ because I used to come down a hill fairly quickly, that was then, now they’re thinking about changing my name to ‘Lava Floe’ or ‘Petrified Rock’.

Dr. Chuck Wagon

Dr. Chuck Wagon

We entered the park at the Cottonwood Springs entrance, which is at the far southeastern corner; our campsite was at the Black Rock Nature Center, which is at the far northwestern corner, so it allowed us to drive through the middle of the park (about 65 miles), stopping along the way when we found something interesting.

Bra & Shoe Tree

Bra & Shoe Tree

The first interesting site we saw was the rare ‘Bra & Shoe Tree’ (photo left).  Nope, not sure how they got there, but I’d appreciate it if the person who put them there would call my wife and explain – she’s not sure what kind of camping we were doing.

Our first stop was right inside the gate where there is a good long hike (Lost Palms Oasis) and a good short one (Mastodon Peak).  Given that we had ‘miles to go before we sleep’ we took the shorter hike, which took us past the old Mastodon Gold Mine and ultimately to Mastodon Peak which provided us a great view of the Salton Sea and the namesake rock, the one that looks like a mastodon.

 

Joshua Tree is filled with all kinds of interesting rock formation, many are named after what they look like – Skull Rock, where we stopped to hike

skull rockand have lunch, is a good example. The rock formation in the photo below didn’t have a name that we knew about, so we made up one: ‘Four Frogs Fornicating’ – if you look at it long enough and from just the right angle maybe you’ll see it, but probably not.  I don’t think our name will make it into the National Park Registry.

The road through the park has a good number of pullouts and informational plaques that help explain what lies in front of you, like a beautiful Joshua Trees forest, or a row of those pretty, but prickly cholla cactus or just a collection of interestingly-shaped rocks, many of them with rock climbers on them.

Since ‘Dr. Chuck Wagon’ wasn’t getting in until the next morning, after we got to our campsite and pitched our tent, we decided to go into town for dinner.  Town, in this case was Yucca Valley, although we could have opted for the bustling burg of Twentynine Palms.  We were told about a place just out of Yucca Valley called ‘Pioneertown’, where a movie set of a western town was built in the 40’s and a number of western movie and tv series were shot there staring the likes of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and the Cisco Kid to name a few.  We had dinner at an old western saloon there called Pappy & Harriet’s.  OK, we weren’t exactly ‘roughing’ it, but we did drive back to the park after dinner and retire to our tent for the night.

Four Frogs Fornicating

Four Frogs Fornicating

 

 

Coming on Wednesday – Part II 

                                  Treks to the Lost Horse Mind, Keys View and the Hall of Horrors

LOOKING BACK FOR NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

by Bob Sparrow

Happy new year 2013 Thank you to my sister, Suzanne for introducing me to the idea of the ‘upside down bucket list’, for it was that concept that has inspired me to look at New Year’s resolutions differently.  Like many, I typically resolve to be a better spouse, parent, friend . . . person and include the requisite increase in exercise and consumption of much healthier food resulting in a painfully slow, if ever, decrease in weight.  Like many, I also have a bucket list of places I want to visit and things I want to do and resolutions always include checking off a few of those items during the ensuing year.  While resolutions and bucket lists look great in late December, reality seems to find its way into the new year and render many, if not most, of our resolutions unattainable.

 So this year, rather than ‘dream’ about the places I’d like to go in 2013, I thought I’d do the ‘upside down thing’ and look back at 2012 and review what I’d done and where I’d actually been.  Then, rather than be disappointed at not doing or getting to the places I resolved to get to, I’d be able to just ‘grade’ myself based on what I’d done and where I’d gone and hopefully put a few checks on that big bucket list.

Twenty-twelve will not be marked in my memory by the many places I visited or the life I led, but rather by the life I lost – the passing inscan0041 February of my best friend, Don Klapperich.  For more than 50 years he was a best friend, a mentor, a singing partner, a moral compass, a confidant, the little voice in my head and so much more.  He was a most talented, intelligent, entertaining and complex man.  He knew me better than anyone and I knew him as much as anyone could.  I miss him dearly.  I regret not spending more time with him, not talking to him more on the phone, not emailing as often as I could have, not going to visit more often.  I suppose it’s natural to now have a better understanding of the tenuousness of life; to better appreciate each day we’re given and to not take those around us for granted.  I don’t know if it’s a resolution, but I will try harder to remember these things – they have become more important to me.

Those who have followed our blog know that I’ve had the privilege of going to some wonderful places this year.  In January I was in Hawaii, on the Big Island to watch the PGA Senior’s golf tournament at Hualalai and then on to Maui to play golf and just watch some sunsets at Wailea.  I had a much too up-close and personal look at ‘senior living’ at my mom’s facility in Sonoma and while I was in the area I hiked through historical Jack London State Park in the rolling hills of Glen Ellen.  I traveled across country on business to Sunriver, Oregon, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Holyoke, Massachusetts and I HAD to return to the island of Kauai to attend a conference.  I lived on a boat in the harbor in Cabo San Lucas for three days while not photo (77)catching a single fish, but I did get to hang upside down at the Giggling Marlin.  I spent a week in our timeshare in Palm Desert for the 18th year in a row and hope I can play another 18.  I revisited the differences between northern and photo (74)southern California as I returned to the palm and pine trees on Highway 99 out of Fresno, and I spent several days not quite 26 miles across the sea on Catalina Island.  I thought I saw John Lennon at the Laguna Sawdust Festival, twice!  I stood at the lowest point on the North American continent in surprisingly stunning Death Valley, and I stood on top of Half Dome in not-so-surprisingly stunning Yosemite National Park.  And I had my annual martini with my Dad in his final resting place at Lake Tahoe.

That’s an upside down list that I may have a hard time topping in 2013.  I feel so very privileged to be afforded the opportunities to experience all that I have in 2012 and I know I was privileged to have such a great best friend for over 50 years.  It was a memorable year in so many ways. I recommend looking back at your year and the only resolution I would make is that in a year from now you’re going to look back at 2013 – make it memorable.

I know I speak for my dear friend and wonderfully talented sister, which she doesn’t often let me do because she can speak so well for herself, in thanking all of you who read our blog and especially those who send us back comments to let us know our words don’t all end up in cyber space.  May you all have an extraordinary 2013.

 

And now a word from our sponsor

Most of you know I’m now working for Zipz Gear, a unique shoe company, but may not know that I am now writing a ‘shoe blog’ called ‘From the Lipz of Zipz’.  You can find the blog by going to our website at www.zipzgear.com.  Feel free to check out the shoes while you’re there.