Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hidden Valley Discovered--Twice

It was 1936 and Joshua Tree National Monument was about to be established.

But four months before that date, Bill Keys, a long-time resident of the area within the designated Monument, blasted through rock to reveal this entrance to what would be named Hidden Valley.

After passing through this opening, we were greeted with a view of a valley completely surrounded and concealed by large rocks, which is why the valley was so important to the folks who came upon it in the late 1800s.

While wandering among the boulders over a century ago, brothers Charlie and Willie Button found a narrow passage in the rocks that led to this valley.

Now it seems that Charlie had just completed a 16-year prison sentence for double murder, but apparently it had not changed Charlie's criminal ways.

He was soon re-united with an old friend, cattle thief Bill McHaney, and before long they were using the secret valley as a hiding place for cattle that had been stolen in Arizona, re-branded in Hidden Valley, and sold to unsuspecting ranchers in California.

A more positive note is found in the story of William F. Keys, who was born in Russia in 1879. The family moved to Nebraska in 1892. Two years later, when he was fifteen, Bill left home and found work as a miner, a cowboy, and a deputy sheriff.

By 1910, Bill had arrived in the Joshua Tree area and been hired as custodian and assayer of the Desert Queen Mine.

When the once-prosperous mine closed, Bill claimed it and a five-acre mill site for his unpaid wages. In 1917 Keys homesteaded additional acreage adjoining the mill site, and the 160 acres became the Desert Queen Ranch.

It was here that Bill and Frances Mae lived for 60 years, working together to make a life and raise their five children in this remote location.

It was hard to imagine living, maybe surviving is a better word, in the harsh conditions of the desert. And to have done this for 60 years.

Bill died in 1969.

The one-mile trail around Hidden Valley was well-marked, with rocks marking the route.

Larger rocks served as steps where short climbs were necessary.

In contrast to the expanse of desert and mass of boulders are the small niche scenes that capture the components of the desert in somewhat hidden areas.

Our hikes are more accurately labeled walks because we take time to look around to find these small scenes. Several hikers quickly pass us by, their eyes on the trail.

Finally, there is at least one more person of note associated with Joshua Tree--and in a far more important role--Minerva Hoyt, who, in the 1930s, persuaded President Franklin Roosevelt to proclaim Joshua Tree National Monument in 1936 to protect the fragile desert environment.

In 1994, Congress remamed the area Joshua Tree National Park.

And there was at least one more part to see.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Joshua Trees and Rock Piles

As we headed north on Highway 79 out of Hemet (CA), the road continued to ascend and the clouds seem to descend at equal rates.

Soon the hills of Lamb Canyon met the clouds and we drove to Beaumont in thick fog.

We began to wonder if this was the best day to travel to Joshua Tree National Park.

Even after we joined I-10 and headed east, the fog followed us for several miles. As we neared Highway 62, the fog lifted and we could see the rolling hills of the San Jacinto Valley.

This was just the most recent wind farm that we have seen in California. We know that many view these wind farms as unattrac-tive, but we see the kaleidoscopic quality of a multitude of wind turbines as contributing to the beauty of the hillsides.

We entered the Park at the West Entrance about five miles south of the town of Joshua Tree. The western half of the park, at eleva-tions above 3,000 feet, is Mojave Desert habitat.

From the Park's brochure: "What tells you that you are truly in the Mojave Desert is the 'wild-armed' Joshua tree."

The Joshua Tree was so named by early Mormons, who thought the trees looked like the prophet Joshua summoning his followers.

Then we learn that the Tree isn't really a tree but a species of yucca.

Joshua trees can grow over 40 feet tall--at the barely noticeable rate of an inch a year.

The photo on the left shows the main features of the Park--the Joshua Tree, the rock piles (the Park's other prominent image), and the muted color of the desert's plants.

The mountains of the Park appear to be piles of rock that are the result of 90 million years of erosion.

Geologists believe that a type of granite rock, called monzogranite, developed a system of rectangular joints. One set of joints was oriented horizontally; another set oriented vertically; and a third set vertically.

Ground water percolated down through these joint fractures, loosening and freeing grains in these joints.

Over millenia, these fractures widened forming rectangles, and as the rectangular forms developed rounded forms, in some instances, spheres were formed.

The remaining photos were taken at some of the turnouts in the early part of our time in the Park.

They contain scenes of some smaller rock piles, and some of the color of the fall desert. When looking at the desert on a large scale, the color and form of the desert may appear relatively uniform.

When looking into the crevices of the rocks or viewing the vegetation gathered around the bases of rocks, the colors of the desert quickly become visible.

We consider these bursts of color--even though muted--to be the gems of the desert.

We took a break from our drive through the Park for lunch at one of the several picnic tables.

Tomorrow a hike into Hidden Valley.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Third Time’s the Charm . . .

or so the old saying goes.

Yesterday, Chuck recounted our quest for lunch. The Culinary Academy dining room was closed for a special event. Simple Simon’s was too busy. But across the pedestrian mall lay Bella Trattoria on the street level of the Mission Inn. This small bistro was the site of a pleasant lunch during our visit to Riverside last summer with Chuck’s Aunt Margaret and his cousin Sandra.

Listed as one of Riverside’s twenty-five top restaurants on, it was described as being “a relaxing outdoor bistro that features delicious Southern Italian dishes with the same high quality you would expect from the Mission Inn. The food is fresh and the menu is simple, yet oh so good!”

Almost all of the seating is on the outdoor patio, but since the weather had been uncharacteristically wet and rainy, we chose one of the few indoor seats just across from the semi-open kitchen. The high counter prevented us from getting a good view of the food preparation, but didn’t prevent our hearing one of the chefs with a bad case of hiccups.

There is a small list of wines by the glass that are served from one of those high tech automated wine dispensers that keep oxygen from spoiling the open bottle.

As the reviewer noted above, the menu is simple. There is a list of twelve-inch pizzas that includes: The Mission--made with chicken breast, mozzarella, olive oil, onions, cilantro, and barbecue sauce; The Garden--made with roasted peppers, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and tomato sauce; the Americana--made with mozzarella, pepperoni, and tomato sauce; and the classic Margherita--with mozzarella, basil, tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil.

There was also a short list of pannini including: the Curry Chicken Panettone--made with diced chicken, walnut, celery, roasted garlic, dijon, and light curry dressing on panettone bread; the La Trattoria--with Black Forest ham, provolone, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pepperoncini, roasted bell pepper and aioli; the Genovese--with spicy Italian sausage, roasted bell pepper, onions, and provolone cheese; the Pulled Roasted Chicken--with Roma tomatoes, arugula, provolone, and jalapeno mustard; and the Oven-Roasted Vegetable pannini--with roasted eggplant, squash, onions, basil pesto, and mozzarella cheese.

And the menu also included salads and soups including the restaurant’s signature soup, the Tomato Basil Bisque (cream of tomato with fresh chopped basil, and roasted garlic and served with herbed croutons).

But both of us looked to the pasta listing for our choices. For Chuck, it was to the The Innkeeper’s Spicy Penne, which consisted of perfectly al dente penne pasta in a rich tomato cream sauce containing bits of spicy Italian sausage. And it lived up to the spicy description. Chuck would take a few bites and exclaim: “Boy this is spicy.” Then he’d take another few bites and exclaim: “Boy this is really spicy.” Before you knew it, his bowl was empty.

I chose the Spaghettini Amatriciana, which was thin spaghetti--in this case, cappelini--with a sauce composed of onions, smoked bacon, tomato sauce, pecorino Romano cheese, pine nuts, and fresh basil. While, like with Chuck’s pasta, the cappelini or “thin hairs” was perfectly cooked, I would have chosen sturdier pasta to go with this chunky sauce. But the sauce was delicious. It was slightly smoky from the bacon. It was slightly sharp and salty from the pecorino cheese. And it was slightly sweet from the reduced tomatoes. And the pine nuts gave the dish an unexpected crunch.

For dessert, we shared the lemon tart served in a flakey shortbread crust. This was served with both raspberry and lemon reductions and was a tart and light finish to a meal of filling pasta.

So if we struck out on our first two attempts to find lunch that day, we finally hit a triple at the 4.5-Addie Bella Trattoria.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Down By the Riverside

We've been wondering whether the "golden" in our RV park name--Golden Village Palms--refers to the amount of sun this area experiences or to the age of us visitors.

For several days it had been overcast and rainy (in Hemet), so when dawn arrived, complete with the brilliant sun and one of the park's namesake palms, it was worth a photo.

By mid afternoon, the sun was still shining through the few clouds in the west, but the dark clouds in the east provided an ominous background for the same palms which were basking in the light of the sun.

In between the times of these two photos, we drove to Riverside to see the area around the Mission Inn. When we visited the city last summer, the Fox Theater (below) was nearing the end of a multi-million dollar restoration project and a pedestrian mall was being developed along a section of Main Street adjacent to Mission Inn.

Well, the 1929 theater, now re-named the Fox Performing Arts Center when it re-opened in January of this year, was magnificently restored at a cost of $30 million--at least the pictures in a booklet look magnificent.

However, we were not able to get inside either as part of a group tour or a solo walk-through. Even the Visitors' Center staff member who told us that they should be offering tours was not able to get any positive response from the theater staff after a week.

We parked on the street in this block of Main Street, one block away from the pedestrian mall. Now when we can find on-street parking for our large truck and be parked that near the main attractions of an area, there must not be any other people visiting the same area.

One of the first shops we came to on the Main Street Pedestrian Mall was Simple Simon's. This bakery and bistro was packed for lunch. Because there was also quite a line, we purchased a couple of baguettes and a loaf of rosemary bread and decided to look across the street for lunch.

The stone-scaped walkway wound around decorative landscaped areas. The greenery balanced the stone and added a freshness to the area.

It was a relaxing walk past fashionable shops and caf├ęs. Strategically-spaced speakers brought classical music into the scene. The volume was perfect; it neither detracted from the flow of conversa-tion nor did it interfere with one's personal thoughts.

Even though in some ways the small number of people made it easier to enjoy all aspects of the walkway, it was disappointing to see so few people enjoying the setting.

There was little traffic, so the sound of the fountain's effect could be enjoyed without having to strain to hear it.

Strategically-placed benches seemed to be placed in just the right places to enjoy the people-watching.

On our return to our truck, we passed the historic Mission Inn. We had toured the Inn on our visit last summer and marveled at the quality of the restoration of this hotel that had been built in 1902 with additions built on over the years.

It is late October and the Christmas decorations are already being added to the Inn.

Back at the RV that evening, we captured this jet on film as it was heading, no doubt, to some exotic site in the Pacific.