Monday, September 14, 2009

September Desert Sojurn

Rare riparian area in the Colorado Desert (a subset of the Sonoran Desert) at the Whitewater Preserve, Palm Springs, CA

I had a job interview in the California desert cities (i.e., Palm Springs and environs) last week (September 8-11). It was hot! Each day was 104 degrees--except for Thursday, when it was 113 degrees! I'm not used to those kinds of temperatures, especially since our weather here in the Mid-Atlantic is cooling off nicely now.

Tuesday, September 8, was a travel day (first leg through Dallas-Ft. Worth; second leg DFW to Palm Springs). En route, we flew over Meteor Crater and Sedona in Arizona--my second view of both this year. I had my first set of interviews over pizza on Tuesday evening, and another set on Wednesday morning. Everything seemed to go well, but potential employers generally play with a real poker face, so I don't know how well I was received. No word yet.

The next day (Thursday, September 10), my brother-in-law rode his motorcycle over to Palm Springs from his home in San Diego and, together, we drove the Pines to Palms National Scenic Byway through and around the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, where these images were made.

Pines to Palms Scenic Byway (CA Rte. 74), just outside Palm Desert, CA. All of the green area in the Coachella Valley in the midground of the image is irrigated residential land and golf courses. The Coachella Valley receives less than one inch of rain per year; the Colorado River makes up the difference to keep the lawns, shrubs, and golf courses (all 130 of them) green. Scandalous waste!

Mt. San Jacinto (10, 834 feet; the tallest bump in the right third of the image) is the high point of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. The mountain rises straight up out of the desert behind Palm Springs. This view is from the west (opposite from Palm Springs), taken in the pinyon pine-juniper vegetation zone at about 6,000 feet in elevation.

Lake Fulmor in the San Bernardino National Forest. Despite its placid appearance, the lake (a pond, really) is choked with algae and the ground around the lake has been beaten to dust by thousands of fishers and picnickers.

When we came down out of the mountains and back onto the valley floor, we stopped at the Whitewater Preserve just off I-10. Formerly a private recreation area in which people paid to fish for trout in artificial pools watered by the Whitewater River, the facility has been purchased by a conservancy and converted into the Whitewater Preserve. The pools (and the trout) remain in place.

From the preserve's parking lot, it is possible to walk a 0.5-mile trail to join the Pacific Crest Trail. My brother-in-law and I hiked across the desert and the Whitewater River riparian corridor despite the intense heat. It gave me a new appreciation for what illegal immigrants face when they are dropped off by "coyotes" at the Mexico-Arizona border and attempt to reach civilization across the southern Arizona desert.

Looking northward toward Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains, Whitewater Preserve, Palm Springs, CA.

My brother-in-law alongside the Pacific Crest Trail.

Whitewater River draining southeast from the San Bernardino Mountains at Palm Springs, CA. A few miles downstream, the river disappears into the gravel in its streambed.

My most interesting sighting while I was in the desert: roadrunners. I've seen Roadrunners (Geococcyx californianus) before in Arizona, but in California I saw them under what I considered fairly unusual circumstances. My hotel was next to a park with lots of grassy fields (more irrigation!). On Wednesday morning, I saw two of the birds searching for food in the park, right next to the driveway. Even better, the next morning, I was reading the newspaper on my ground-floor patio at my hotel, and one of the birds walked up to within 15 feet of my chair, stopped, raised its tail, and then walked on. It repeated this behavior twice more before it disappeared around the corner of the building.

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