Our first stop - the world's third largest natural palm oasis. The guy in the center of the picture who is facing the rest of the group is our guide, Darryl Black Feather. That's Ryan (the intrepid adventurer right up front in the baseball hat).
These palm trees are the only ones that are native to California. Any other type you see has been imported. They are known as California or Desert Palms. Also, they are the only one of the world's 6,000 species of palm trees that retain their dead palm fronds - that's the shaggy "skirt" you see going all the way down the trunk. In city areas, the skirt is often cut away to give the palm a more "groomed" look, but when the skirt grows all the way to the ground, then that tree is known as a "virgin" palm. Once cut or otherwise damaged, the skirt never grows back.
One more important fact about the skirt - it's highly combustible. Like tissue paper. So, if the palm tree gets hit by lightning (think about it - flat desert...super tall tree...happens a LOT), the skirt explodes and burns so quickly that the rest of the tree remains undamaged. As long as the lightning doesn't hit directly on the crown, which is the active, growing part of the tree, it just burns the skirt away and the tree survives.
Here's a closeup of the skirt, with a branch of palm fruit hanging down. This was a staple diet item for the local Cahuilla (co-WEE-ya) Indians. We tried some - it tastes like a cross between a raisin and a date.
This is another staple diet plant for the Indians - honey mesquite. It was ground and made into a type of bread. Today, bee farmers like it to make a special "mesquite honey." According to Darryl, it's the best honey in the world and you can find it at places like Trader Joe's if you want to try it.
This is kind of a boring picture, but I took it because I thought this plant was so cool. Again, a very important item for the local people. It's called Arrow Weed. The stalks grow so straight that they make perfect shafts for arrows. Darryl had one made with an obsidian arrowhead and a stalk of this plant as the shaft that he showed us.
But this plant had multiple uses. Below ground it has a tuber-like root that is edible. This root has a shiny black coating that was stripped off and pounded into a soapy-like substance that was used as a natural lice repellent for the hair and, because it was black, it also acted like a natural hair dye. Good for covering up those grays!
This picture is a bit tough to see - we are down in the center of the oasis so lots of shadows, but this is a natural spring bubbling up through a crack in the earth also known as the San Andreas Fault. Swimming around in this spring are dozens of tiny Desert Pupfish.
We left the oasis and headed up an old gold mining trail into the Mojave Desert. This is an active Mountain Lion lair. Darryl had some horns and jawbones of Bighorn Sheep that came from nearby this cave...where the lions like to dump their leftovers.
Creosote bush - has an interesting smell. And I know there were more interesting facts about it except that I have forgotten them LOL! Hey, I'm typing this from memory from a week ago - think I'm doing pretty well so far.
This was the turnaround point of our trip - high up on a hill in Joshua Tree National Park. There's no significance to this rock formation. I just thought it looked cool.
Joshua Trees grow very slowly. This one is estimated to be about 100 years old. As compared to Ryan - who is only 8 and growing super fast.
Looking south towards the Salton Sea and Mexico - which normally we'd be able to see from this vantage point except there was too much dust in the air from the windstorm that day.
That farthest line of brown hills marks the San Andreas Fault. Beyond, you can see the dust being kicked up from the wind.
And that was it for our tour except for Darryl's tall tales on the way back. They included seeing a mountain lion run right in front of his vehicle in pursuit of a rabbit and taking Victoria Beckham, her kids, bodyguards and nanny on a private tour recently.
I have no idea whether any of it was true, but we had a good time anyway.
More vacation download later this week when I get the pics processed.