Monday, December 29, 2008
Back from the Blazing Desert
Well, not really. Actually we ended up with a White Christmas.
Here's the view from our hotel of Mount San Jacinto (known locally as "San Jack," though given the Spanish name I suppose they really ought to call it "San Hack"). Of course, since San Jack stretchs up more than 10,800 feet (3,300+ meters for those so inclined), snow atop the mountain is nothing to get excited about. It can be blistering down on the valley floor when when the mountaintop is snowy.
The Southern California mountains are island ecosystems, where the Ice Age vegetation retreated uphill as the climate warmed. You can travel just a few miles (usually rather strenuous miles) and go from cactus and palm trees to towering pines and trout streams. California is truly one of the most dramatic and diverse of the world's landscapes; all of this elevation is less than 100 miles from our house down at sea level. Of course, there's a price to pay: the amazing elevation changes are a result of the fault-fractured geology; the hot mineral springs beneath our hotel are generated from snow melt sinking down through the sands and being cooked in the famous San Andreas fault, which runs from here 500 miles northwest to create the big hole known as the San Francisco Bay. There's some real knock-you-on-your-butt earthquakes in these parts.
I grew up--well, insofar as I did grow up--about forty miles from here, which by California standaards makes this my back yard. My favorite bit of it--especially in my drug-addled teens--was Joshua Tree National Park (which back in those days wasn't a National Park yet; just another part of the Big Empty). Here's a pic of some of the endless acres of rock formations at Joshua Tree. A Salvador Dali landscape; mix in some psychedelics for a little color and you're in Max Ernst country.
If any of this looks familiar from gun battles in cowboy movies, that's because plenty were filmed around here--even though they were usually pretending to be in big flat places like Texas or Kansas. And although you can picture sweaty gunslingers in this scene, in fact it was intolerably cold, and when we drove just a few miles further towards Key's View, the ground was covered with snow:
Somehow Joshua Trees just don't look right in the snow. Maybe a few Christmas ornaments would help?