Monday, June 16, 2014

Wildfires in Southern California

When you grow up in Southern California, you develop almost a cavalier attitude about wildfires. You learn through experience they are going to happen. Every year you hope the hills and the mountains will escape fire season. However, you also know the Santa Ana winds will bring out the bad people. You then make a choice. Either you live in the hills or mountains or you pick the flat land. People new to the area fall in love with the mountains without understanding there are dangers and it is a roll of the dice.

In the 1950's, not only were there prescribed burns but the clouds were seeded to produce rain. After several mishaps (substitute disaster), the cloud seeding stopped and the burns were less frequent. That means like most fires, the undergrowth can be up to 30 years old. That's a lot of fuel. Since the area is not prone to thunderstorms in the summer, it is a given many of the fires are arson. With the winds, downed power lines start some of the fires. Power tools create sparks and start fires and campers start a few. Regardless of the reasons, wildfires are part of daily life.

The Los Angeles Basin and the surrounding areas vary in elevation. From Riverside, it is possible to see the smoke from the fires as far away as the San Fernando Valley. Depending on wind direction, ashes from the fires travel everywhere. There have been many times when the entire valley was surrounded by fire. Even if you are not in the direct line of the fire, the ash and smoke makes it hazardous.

Southern California continues to grow and many developers have moved further into the hillside, creating expensive homes. These homes have great views but as callous as it sounds, it is hard to feel sorry for the people who believe their homes will be safe. If you live in the hills, you will be guaranteed at least one scary fire. Southern California has exceptional firefighters who are well trained and dedicated. Because they are so good at what they do, they have saved countless lives and homes. It is sad when a home burns to the ground but it minuscule to the numbers they have saved. The news will focus on the one home, showing it repeatedly without giving our firefighters credit for the other 20 on the block still standing. Kudos to our firefighters!

People who live on the flat land are not always safe when the wind is blowing embers but there is generally less fuel and spot fires are easier to contain. Our family is fortunate no lives have been lost but several family members have lost homes. Two of them opted to move to the flat land, one moved to another mountain community and lost the second home there. It is always going to be the roll of the dice. Living in the Southern California hills and mountains with the Santa Ana winds is the perfect storm. Wildfires are a way of life.

Monday, June 9, 2014

What to do if you run out of things to do in Palm Springs

If you run out of things to do in Palm Springs, CA, there are many places close by to amuse and amaze. All these side trips are within an hour drive from downtown.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is just north of the town. If you come in on Hwy 111, you have to pass it on your way to downtown. It takes 15 minutes to travel to the 10,834-foot peak of Mt. San Jacinto. At the top are 54 miles of hiking trails. Even if you are not a hiker, just the trip to the top is an adventure. No matter how hot the valley is the temperature at the top 20 to 30 degrees cooler. The rotating tramcars have been providing visitors with breathtaking views 50 miles in all directions. The two trams hold 80 people and are the world's largest rotating cars. The tram was completed in 1963.

On Interstate 10 just before the turn off on Hwy 111 to Palm Springs, there is shopping galore. The Desert Hills Premium Outlet boasts such stores as Prada, Dior, Boss, Gucci and Giorgio Armani. If that’s not enough, the Cabazon Outlets is right next door. It is not hard to miss with the MorongoCasino right down the road.

However, overshadowed by the Malls and the Casino is the Wheel Inn. The Wheel Inn is a slice of Americana that unfortunately has closed. The food was wholesome and the restaurant itself was a museum. Claude Bell who ran the Wheel Inn built two dinosaurs on the property. Dinny is probably the largest dinosaur in America. His belly holds a gift shop. Dinny is an Apatosaurus. Mr. Bell passed away before the second dinosaur was completed. It is a Tyrannosaurus. The dinosaurs have appeared in commercials and the film "Pee Wee's Big Adventure". If you arrange your vehicle just right, you can make it appear the tyrannosaurus is attacking your car. I am sad it's gone because we used to drive out there on weekends just to have breakfast. I hope they'll bring it back. 

The drive from Los Angeles to Palm Springs in the old days was a long and thirsty drive. There were no fast food places to get a drink and people often stopped at Hadley's Fruit Orchards. It was the place to slack their thirst with a date shake. It is still the place to stop for the shake. For those who think using date crystals to make shakes is just not right, they offer a free sample. I guarantee you will like it. We certainly do.  

As you travel along Interstate 10, you will see giant windmills rising from the ground. They start around Cabazon and run well past Whitewater. They look like something out of a SciFi movie and used to creep me out as a young adult. There used to be tours but there are none at the present. 

Leaving Palm Springs and heading south on Hwy 111, follow the highway to Shield's Date Garden. Mr. Shields started the date garden in 1924. He would give educational talks about dates to his visitors. He added a slide show to his lecture about date culture and recorded it on a 15-minute film. The film called, "Romance and Sex Life of the Date" is shown in the shop. He invented the date crystals used in date shakes and cooking. They sell many date products in the store, including some of the date varieties he cultivated. It is worth a stop just to see the film and the man who loved dates.

Continuing south on Hwy 111, is the town of Indio and the gateway to the Salton Sea. In December, they kick off the holiday season with the Indio International Tamale Festival. Admission is free and it is a county fair with a tamale flavor. They have a tamale cook-off and were recently ranked in the top 10 of "All-American Food Festivals by the Food Network. They won two Guinness World Records. In 1999, they won for the largest tamale. It was one foot in diameter and 40 feet long. In 2000, they won for the World's Largest Tamale Festival with 120,000 visitors.

It may be possible to run out of things to do in Palm Springs. If that happens, try out one of these side trips. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Western Center for Archaeology and Paleontology

To understand why the Western Center for Archeology and Paleontology (WCAP) is located in the rolling hills behind Hemet, CA, it is important to look at the past. The area is rich in history and starts with the Soboba Band of Lusieno Indians who first inhabited the area. The Domenigoni family, who were some of the first settlers, arrived in the area in the 1880's. For more than 100 years, the family farmed the area. However, even before that, the valley was populated with animals from the ice age. Saber tooth tigers, mastodons, giant sloths and many others roamed what is now Diamond Valley Lake.

When the Metropolitan Water District started their search for a new reservoir, they settled on the Domenigoni Valley. However, when scouting the area they found more than 90 sites that contained Indian artifacts and ice age fossils. This became the most interesting archaeological and paleontological dig ever. It came down to a basic cooperation between giant earth-movers and people with small brushes. As they unearthed artifacts, the earth-movers shifted to other areas giving the archaeologists and paleontologist’s time to unearth, preserve, catalog and move the specimens.

From the excavation, they removed more than 1,000,000 specimens. The WCAP opened as not only a museum but also a learning center. Half of the WCAP is dedicated to research labs and curation facilities. Scientists and researchers have the ability to advance their learning with state-of-the-art, climate-controlled labs. The labs are complete with 12 foot roll-up doors, equipment for heavy lifting, floor drains and water outlets. With this equipment, they are able to study the specimens. The WCAP is the repository for all the material excavated from Diamond Valley Lake. WCAP welcomes scholars, researchers, curatorial staff and cultural groups to study the collection.

The Museum is kid-friendly but appeals to adults as well. You can view two short movies that are entertaining and informative. One explains the animals in the museum and the people who lived there and the other is about the excavation. The screen wraps around more than half of the room and holds the attention of even the smallest of children.

Once in the display area, there are many things to do. You can make your own fossil. There is a place to unearth fossils using brushes. Built into the floor is a re-creation of the burial site of "Little Stevie", a juvenile mastodon. "Max" is the largest mastodon even found in the western United States. "Xena" is a 16,000-year-old mammoth and the giant sloth is called "Sammy". There are displays of the excavation and how all that earth was moved.

Many schools come to the WCAP for field trips. They provide additional programs for the children. In a classroom like setting, the children are given bags of matrix containing teeth, shells and other small fossils. They pour the mix into screens and sort the fossils. Given tweezers, the children are instructed not to touch the fossils. They also have a magnifying glass to examine them more closely. Each is given a guide to match the specimens. These are real fossils and the children feel empowered that they are allowed to work with something so special.

The museum also has on-going learning programs. For children 6 to 9 years old, they have a Super Science program. Children 11 to 15 years old can work in a simulated dig site in the Adventures in Archaeology program. There are programs for people 15 years or older, including Basic Forensic Anthropology. Scouts are welcomed to earn badges working with the education staff. WCAP has something for everyone.

As you leave the WCAP Campus, you might want to cool off at the Aquatic Center. It is directly across the street. It has a heated outdoor pool. There is a zero depth entry with fountain sprayers for the smaller children and a water slide for those more adventurous.

Before leaving the area, drive west to Winchester Road and go south to the entrance to the "Clayton A. Record Jr." Viewpoint. It overlooks the Diamond Valley Lake with views of Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio, Southern California's tallest mountain peaks. After visiting the museum, try to imagine the people and the animals that lived there. There is no admission cost. There is a paved walkway to the top but it still is quite a climb for elderly folks and young children.

The Western Center for Archaeology and Paleontology reminds us that we have a very rich history and it's just a fun place to visit. 

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