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Visit High Desert With Eyes Wide Open

Visiting the High Desert of Southern California — PART ONE

When new visitors arrive in the High Desert they are often surprised by how stunning the wide vistas are, they wonder where the real desert is, and seemed confused by the abundant wildlife and scenic beauty of field flowers.

Summer Thunderstorm graces the desert with a pink cotton candy sky

Summer Thunderstorm graces the desert with a pink cotton candy sky

That’s the real High Desert. The other is Hollywood generalizing the desolate sand dunes, the miles of waterless expanses, and those “dead cow heads” scattered across trails once traveled by wagon trains.

Come and Visit the Desert with Eyes Wide Open

Among the lies and twisted history that film often portrays, lays the foundation of a countryside that is endangered and often under attack by development companies who think that these dry desolate places can accommodate a new housing sub-development, a strip mall, or a flood of solar and wind projects.

Goldenrod in High Desert

Goldenrod in High Desert

If they don’t live here and know the desert, then it’s okay to rummage about for a place to use and abuse. So, as more visitors arrive and see the entirely different picture of the High Desert, they wonder if other stories they’ve heard are also lies. You could call us a “melting pot of diverse uses” and you’d be right. The desert can accommodate quite a bit — but not abuse.

Cannon

Cannon High on the Canyon Bluff

As a desert dweller for over 40 years, I can attest that, yes, we do have sand dunes, we have artesian springs, we have areas where you can find skulls bleaching in the sun, snakes, scorpions, and other scary critters, and bugs wandering day and night. We also have defendable tracts of land that are preserved, protected, and being studied. Other tracts are open to development to bring economic variety to a long list of “bedroom communities” with potential growth in their populations.

Visitors should assume that all open land is not public land. We have large expanses that are privately owned or controlled. Areas of critical concern are quilt-patched all across the desert. So a visit to the High Desert should be a time for learning and respecting what is and isn’t here.

 

A desert sunset holds its own magic

A desert sunset holds its own magic

One lady I ran into said to me that she didn’t know there were different growing regions that accept willows, barrel cactus, and pine trees all in one. Another lady said she decided to live here because the LA area was too crazy and dangerous for her family. Another one found out that we have snow almost every year. Other visitors, who have dropped their tailgates to offload their ATCs, were shocked to find that we had rules for destroying private property that had no fences or posted signs.

With all these many views of the High Desert, you can see why some folks have said, “The desert: you either love it or hate it.” And in resort cities like Palm Springs, they once campaigned against visitors unless they took a hotel room. An old bumper sticker once said: We love Palm Springs, now go home.” Yet, years later another one was: “PS — We love you.”

Hedgehog Cactus with lemony blooms

Hedgehog Cactus with lemony blooms

So, what is my point? Come visit and take in the sights, bring a camera, learn about the area through its people and places, events, dive into its history through museums and one-day road trips, sample our food, go hiking but wear a hat and bring plenty of water, enjoy your visit.

A roadrunner attacks a snake for lunch

A roadrunner attacks a snake for lunch

Then, once you get home, unpack, and begin to relive some of those special moments, vivid pumpkin-colored sunsets, fields of purple Desert Lupine, seeing a roadrunner really running across the road — only then will you know whether the High Desert is a place you loved or hated. If you loved it, then you’ll understand why residents are fearless defenders of its right to be respected.

Rusty LaGrange

Surprising Valentine’s Day Gift That Grows in the High Desert

red blossoms

Vibrant little “fish hook” barrel with big blooms

 

Cactus Thrive in the High Desert

Do you really want to receive a dozen roses that will only last a week? Why not ask for a cactus that blooms for you each year? Just go to your nursery and pick out the prettiest. And as for color, you’ll find a good variety.

Many of the varieties offer different shapes and heights, while others bloom in hues of white to cream to yellow, pink to red to rose. All of them are easy to water and easy to grow in typical desert temperatures.

Another feature that I enjoy is their slow growing nature. You can plant them in a 10″ pot and it will be years before you’ll need to transplant them into a half whiskey barrel or directly into your yard. Many of them can grow for decades, often dropping “babies” or allowing their arms to be cut and replanted for the new generation of cacti. I have a night blooming cereus that is over 40-years-old and has been inside all of its life.100_0756

“Christmas cactus”, known for blooming in winter with bright red or fuchsia colored pointy blooms, can be more temperamental because they are a tropical cactus. They don’t like their roots too wet or too dry. A trick for forcing their blooms is to place them in a closet for a month prior to the holidays. Once out of the dark, they want to herald in the New Year. Healthy and happy plants will blossom all year.

Rusty LaGrange

Uh Oh, Three Shrikes and You’re Out!

We often have nests in our Mulberry tree in early summer. Just this weekend,  a pair of Shrikes took up housekeeping and were raising a noisy brood of three. A baby bird’s life is spent sleeping and opening its mouth for food. Parents diligently relay back and forth to feed these little bottomless chirping fuzz balls. Fortunately, they grow fast and within 17-20 days, they have enough flight feathers to leave home.

The fledglings began testing their wings. All was well until a gopher snake got a late night craving for the nestlings. You may not be aware that some snakes can and do climb trees to find delicacies. This was not the first time I’d seen a gopher snake climb a tree … the same tree, in fact.

gophersnake[1]

This gopher snake was determined to go after the fledglings. I moved him with my snake stick. A few hours later, the snake was prowling around the tree again.

These nestlings were living on borrowed time. The next morning a whirlwind hit the backyard and I happened to see two of the baby Shrikes on the ground. I rescued them, placing them on a towel in the bathtub. Cute little guys but I didn’t have any bird “food” to keep them quiet.

 

I was determined to keep them safe. I thought that if I could bring the nest to them, I may have a nice cozy environment for them. I went back to check the nest and Mama Shrike was bouncing from branch to branch scolding me about the loss of her babies. While staring up at her, I noticed another fledgling. This one was caught on a piece of stringy fiber in the nest. I had to cut him loose to rescue him.  He was weak and didn’t look strong enough to survive the day.

 

I got on the Internet to look for some help. Bird rescue groups flourish throughout the state of California. I chose a few numbers to call and reached a bird rescue group in Calimesa. I just needed advice. And she was helpful. She supported the idea to replace the fledglings back into their nest. When my husband returned home from work, we were able to place  the babies back into their nest. But, as birds often do, they kept flopping out and landing hard on the ground.

three shrikes and you're out_06072013

By next morning, after my drive to town for a few groceries, my dogs had caught the snake at the base of the Mulberry again. I scooted the dogs back into the house for round two with the gopher snake. I moved him away with my snake stick. In a few hours, the result of our rescue attempt was a failure for two of the birds. My husband found that the one remaining baby bird seemed to have left the yard.

We’re hopeful that he was the strongest of his siblings. Mama Shrike watched our coming and going for the rest of the day. She still thinks we are holding them for ransom.

 

another angry bird

In nature, without our interference, bird fledglings are subjected to hunters from the air and the ground, weather, falling from the nest, lack of food if the parents don’t return, and disease. I can only hope that our feeble attempts were enough for one Shrike to grow up and stay on the ranch.

 

Rusty LaGrange

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Love Those First Days of Spring in the High Desert

I saw her just the other day.

A bluebird migrated through here, navigating between storms, and I just knew Spring was arriving soon.

Sure enough, a day later, as the last of the clouds blew out of the valley, the vultures began their return trip from Mexico.

Do you look forward to the changes? Or do you dread having to fight off the new weeds popping up everywhere?

 

I love the little hints of Spring. I take time to watch how quickly the green seedlings take a foothold.; how the buds on early fruit trees begin to swell; and, how hard it is to find tissue boxes on the market shelves. Well, that part must have to do with allergies and the rise in pollen.

 

Source: birds.cornell.edu via PJ on Pinterest

 

Needless to say, even though this season as lingered in a frigid theme of freeze and thaw, the desert is greening up. And with the small flowers, low to the ground — belly flowers — you’ll notice the emergence of the insects that gather. The ants have been digging out for a week now. The first robber fly crouched on the rake handle scanning for a juice fly. And, my favorite eight-legged creatures — the turret spider —  opened its rock-lined trap door and sticky funnel to sit, basking in the sun, waiting for his first victim.

Do you sit outside with a cup of coffee and watch the show? Do you call your children or grand kids to let them know that if they look down they’ll see a magic kingdom at work?

Please share with us what you enjoy about the first days of Spring.

Rusty LaGrange

If you like what you see here, then check out my other blogs at : www.aflairforwords.com
 
www.aflairforbooks.blogspot.com http://www.myrustybucketranch.blogspot.com/

 

Spend Some Time at Your High Desert Museums

LUCERNE VALLEY OUTDOOR MUSEUM

 Our town enjoyed great weather and a number of events this last  weekend. From Motorcyle clubs raising funds for our local FFA students to Garden Club Plant Sales and a two-day Powwow, Lucerne Valley had everything going.

So my daughter, Chelsea, and I opened the Lucerne Valley Museum. We took advantage of the increased number of visitors in town to share our town’s outdoor collection. We counted 30 on Saturday and 19 on Sunday. Not bad for a venue of mining and agricultural equipment.

You see, we don’t have an indoor museum like most towns… we just haven’t been able to afford it. But whenever we can, we dust off the counters, sweep out the spider webs, and share our valley’s rich heritage with anyone passing by.

The Muller Family view displays from the porch

Some indoor displays with Chelsea LaGrange

We’ll be opening the Museum on a regular bases, once the weather cools off. Our tentative schedule may be the last Sunday of every month… if weather permits. We’ll post the hours here later. Entrance is free and families or groups may make  appointments to see the Museum by calling CSA 29 office 760-248-6048 or

760-248-6777.

GIFTS IN THE SKY

I leave every morning around 4:00 a.m. for work.  It’s a long ride to Torrance from the High Desert, but these mornings I have received special gifts. Monsoon weather brings joy to the commuter.  On Tuesday I received a spectacular gift.  Let me see if I can paint a picture for you.

I began my travel up through Phelan in an effort to reach the 138 highway.  Now it’s much closer to travel the 395 highway to the fifteen but being human I get bored with the same-O, same-O and I like to shake it up.  So I set out to travel the 138.  You’re probably thinking, so, so what the 138 is a well traveled road.  It is well traveled but this particular morning I seemed to be alone with the sky.

I looked in my rear view mirror and I got a gift.  The sun was just coming up over the horizon, fiery orange that morning, but leading into a still darkened sky of the western front.  Black clouds moving up to open the way for the sun that would later prove to sear the land.  My window was slightly open as to feel the real air of the morning, not the artificial air of my auto. A certain freedom brushed against my cheeks.

The monsoon weather produces unusual cloud formations and I could feel the darkness letting go, surrendering to the orange glow that creeped from the eastern morning.  I could feel the air, and the sky and the gifts that I was receiving at 4:00 a.m.

I went to work with a smile on my face and people asked me all day why I was so happy.  I merely responded it was because of my gift.  They looked at me as if I should have been a patient instead of a worker.  Oh well some gifts are special and need no words of explanation.  I hope that you too will think about a gift you’ve received, a gift that can not be purchased.

The High Desert provides many, they are all around us, and can’t be purchased with MasterCard.

Desert Reptiles to Beware in the High Desert

Coiled Rattlesnake Ready to Strike

Have you ever slept with the devil? I’m not referring to your spouse. But really did you wake up facing death? Here in the High Desert at times you will find a spider in your boot or shoe.

When I was in Iraq I met a military guy who told me a story. He was on patrol and his captain told him to set up a gunners nest on the side of the hill, so he did. He  spent the night on the hill in the desert. The next morning he woke up, looked over his side, and saw a rattlesnake curled up next to him sleeping (I feel the warm fuzzy love here, don’t you?). Well he couldn’t just get up or try to jump and run because rattlesnakes, when they’re in a deep sleep dreaming about eating mice or chasing kids across the yard, they don’t take it too kindly when someone suddenly wakes them up. So using great wisdom and patience, he slowly picked up  pebbles and lightly bopped the snake on the head. After a very long time that felt like an eternity the rattlesnake finally got mad and left.

When you set a goal to blog, it will seem like every snake in the grass will show up to distract you. The snakes of  frustration, busyness, sickness, relationships going south, bill collectors, and the list can go on and on. This is what you can do to that mean old snake; throw a blog at him. At first he may not budge, but keep bopping that ugly mess on the head with more and more blogs. Keep blogging till he leaves.

Remember, you don’t have to sleep with the devil. Enjoy your next blog, my friend.

Desert Beauty

Beauty is found in the desert in the most simplest ways that touch the senses. During this Christmas season I’ve been  privileged to see these simple desert beauties, treasures of a friend.


Relaxing in the desert takes you away from the fast pace of the city. Just a few hours spent in the desert with friends recently made me feel very aware of nature’s beauty. In the first photo I was taking in the contrast of desert sand and mountain snow. That gorgeous colorful rock in the second photo amazed me. I absolutely love natural colors like that. The swing in the next photo brings one word to mind: relaxing.  The cat and I quickly became friends. It’s a very loving cat that stands on its hind legs to be noticed.

Nature -whether desert sand, rocks, or a cat – brings joy to the heart, especially when one is not in a hurry. Sitting in a swing in the middle of the desert with your shoes kicked off brings a sense of relaxation. Well, maybe the shoes should stay on lest a snake notice the feet. However, snake skins do make nice pieces of art. But that’s another story we’ll save for a later date.

Find the beauty in your Christmas season.

Merry Christmas!

High Desert Seasons

People who like the different seasons could become accustomed to living in the High Desert. Of course, you’re going to have summer. It’s desert. But the High Desert also has autumn, winter, and spring – sometimes all in one week. Like this week. You like snow? We’ve had snow this week.

A High Desert Farm with Snow

How about beautiful days when the sun shines, and the weather is just right? Not too hot. Not too cold. That’s perfect weather. California weather. Then there is rain, like today. Oh, and let’s not forget to mention the wind (which is on its way by tomorrow I hear).

I can’t resist taking pictures of nature. You have to be quick with those kind of photos, however. For instance, one morning this week my husband and I were going down the hill. He said, “Look at the sun.” He was driving, and I was half asleep. Barely opening my eyes, I looked at the sunrise. Neither of us had seen a sunrise exactly like that one. Snapping out of my sleepiness, I dug for my camera in my tote bag. I tried different settings, but none captured the sunrise exactly as we saw it. The camera settings made it look hazy. The sunrise didn’t look hazy. The color looked vibrantly red-orange. When you have moments, barely seconds, and certainly not minutes to capture nature settings on a simple digital camera, it’s a miracle if the results turn out good. My camera is equipped with several settings that work well most of the time. But quick mode wasn’t included in the settings. I took the pictures anyway. Check out the results. Like we sometimes say, it is what it is.

Thank you for visiting High Desert Blogging. Happy Holidays!

Desert Fog and Clouds

Fog and clouds in the High Desert intrigue me. I’ve been an observant fan of the two science subjects since I was a young student in school and would do reports on them. I’m fascinated by the movement of the fog and how it appears as a wall. One one side of the wall the sky can be clear and blue; on the other side there’s a dense fog. You can drive down the hill from the High Desert where it was clear at 3500 ft. or above and see a thick  fog hovering over the Riverside and San Bernardino cities like in this recent sunrise photo that I took. You can see the sunrise layer just above the white fog covering the cities.

Clouds of the High Desert are sometimes unusual like the flying saucer clouds shown in this photo:

http://www.weathervortex.com/lenticular-clouds.htm

Flying saucer clouds are called lenticular clouds that are lens-shaped and that form at high altitudes where there are mountains. I’m always amazed by the uniqueness of these lenticular formations. When one sees such nature’s attraction, a camera is a good thing to have on hand.

 

 

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