Art and a Holiday Weekend in Palm Springs

I remember when I was a kid people talked about “low brow” art and “high brow” art. I thought about this today while in Palm Springs.  First we went to see the 25 foot Marilyn Monroe statue on the corner of Tahquitz Canyon  and N. Palm Canyon streets. There is a continuous line of people waiting to take their picture under Marilyn’s skirt and almost always one pose is looking up Marilyn’s skirt and mugging.

Marilyn Monroe by Seward Johnson
Marilyn Monroe by Seward Johnson

The sign for the statue says that Marilyn Monroe was “discovered” by an agent in Palm Springs and loved visiting with her second husband Joe DiMaggio.  She also owned a bungalow in the 1950s in Las Palmas. The sculpture is by Seward Johnson inspired by the famous photo from the film“Seven Year Itch”.

Yes, we can be tourists!
Yes, we can be tourists!

The sculpture was supposed to be temporary and the time in Palm Springs has been extended several times. It is hard to imagine how the Chamber of Commerce can let her go.  Palm Springs already has a walk of fame on the sidewalk with television and film professionals that have a connection to Palm Springs. We also sat beside Lucille Ball’s statue on a bench.  There are also multiple tributes to late-Sonny Bono, entertainer, mayor and congressman.

Then we turned our attention to the Palm Springs Art Museum just a block and a half from Marilyn.  It is a beautiful building tucked up against the mountains. We were keen to see the “George Caitlin’s American Buffalo” exhibition.  It was worth the $12.50 admission price. We were delighted at the anthropological-like precision of the paintings. It was also art–the horses looked afraid as they approached the buffalo in a hunt, and the white wolves looked ghost like.  George Caitlin was born in Pennsylvania and travelled to the prairie states in the late 1800s to capture the Indian way of life before it was destroyed by Europeans. Within about 20 years time, the 30 million buffalo were destroyed and with it the livelihood and spiritual connection for Crow, Blackfoot, and many other tribes.

Bull Buffalo by George Caitlin

As a bonus, we also gazed at the Richard Diebenkorn exhibit, “The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966.” We did not enjoy that as much as the buffalo, yet I could see the influence he must have had on Sacramento-area artists like Wayne Thieibaud and Greg Kondos.

My brother worked for a few years at the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum while he was getting his PhD, and I always found this small gem of a museum worth a stop.  Most visitors to Palm Springs probably are not aware that the town settled on lands occupied by the Cahuilla people.  They are known for their bird songs, which are not imitations of birds singing but ancient tales sung during community celebrations.  They still own and lease a lot of the land in Palm Springs and their economic tide has turned since the mid-1900s when they lived impoverished alongside movie stars.  The museum is right in the heart of downtown and a short walk from Marilyn and offers insight into this tribal community.

I enjoy Palm Springs, but I never think of it as a fun vacation destination. It has always been my brother’s neighborhood so I think of visiting my brother first, and then as a resort.  Watching people from the sidewalk table at Peabody’s on the main drag suggests that lots of couples and families enjoy a holiday weekend here.

 

Celebrating Thanksgiving in Jo Tree

I am back in Jo Tree (the high desert communities of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree and 29 Palms) for Thanksgiving at my brother’s house.  I collected my auntie J on the way to San Francisco Airport and flew into Palm Springs via Alaska Airlines. (Shout out to Alaska Air for the most complete boarding pass ever:  includes destination weather, points of interest, Sodoku, crossword puzzles and a packing list.)  We had the best kind of flight: uneventful. We checked out our rental car from Enterprise where the young man attending was very pleasant and thorough–and gave us a free upgrade.

My brother lives at the Yucca Valley Airport.
My brother lives at the Yucca Valley Airport.

Jo Tree is about a 30 minute drive from Palm Springs airport up into the mountains. We are at about 3,000 elevation and, like the Spring,s the climate is very dry. Yucca Valley is the first of the three communities that string like beads on the 29 Palms Highway.  Yucca Valley is the practical town of the the three with the most restaurants, grocery stores and such. Joshua Tree boasts the National Park, and then 29 Palms hosts the US Marine Corp base with about 19,000 soldiers training for desert fighting.

Our hotel, the Best Western Joshua Tree (in Yucca Valley) is very pleasant and affordable.  It does have the weirdest plumbing in the bathroom with jet streams that attacked us the first morning. You know the plumbing is overly complicated when they leave a diagram of how to use.  The hotel provides a free hot breakfast, which provides some relief to both guests and hosts over a long holiday weekend. At least my brother and his lovely wife do not have to cook us breakfast.

Our Best Western guest binder in our room says this for points of interest: “Here in the heart of our downtown business district, National Park Drive leads visitors South to the park Headquarters and main Visitor Center of this magnificent National Park, where golden eagles soar above massive heaps of boulders and groves of Joshua Trees reach towards the blue vastness above with arms clothed in clusters of dagger shaped green leaves.” Wow. I guess it is not just sports writers who get carried away with hyperbole.

Desert tortoises are struggling to survive in diminishing habitat. This little guy was adopted through a rescue org.
Desert tortoises are struggling to survive in diminishing habitat. This little guy was adopted through a rescue org.

Joshua Tree National Park is 794,000 acres in two large ecosystems depending on elevation:  the Colorado and the Mojave Desert.  The Mojave section is slightly higher, cooler and wetter (all relative) and is the home of the Joshua Tree, so named by Mormon visitors to whom the groves of immature two-armed plants reminded them of the biblical Joshua reaching up to God.

There is an attraction called Pioneertown nearby. Founded in 1946 to film “B” western movies featuring Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Cisco Kid.  We will have to check it out on our next visit. Apparently there is a fun bar and restaurant, Pappy and Harriet’s.

Tomorrow we are going to spend time in Joshua Tree National Park. It is definitely the main attraction in this part of the high desert. Yet, we are also only 30 minutes from Palm Springs. We are also going to take a break from leftovers and eat at Las Palmas Mexican Restaurant in Yucca Valley. (Yum.)

Pack layers if you do visit the desert in the winter. The temp in the afternoon may be in the 70’s but as soon as the sun goes down, so does the temperature. It is really great to spend a holiday with family in a place that is so different from home with lots of interesting things to do besides shopping. It is a major bonus when your sister-in-law is also a fabulous cook!

Rockclimbing in Jo Tree

The azure sky is so clear we can see a jet stream from a passing plane for miles. The crisp November air and the warm sun, sand and rock are perfect for a climbing lesson for my two sons.  We are at Trashcan Rock in Quail Springs, Joshua Tree National Park.

Climbing Filch with an audience.
Climbing Filch with an audience.

My brother Dean scrambled up the backside to set up the anchor and belay rope and then helped the young men get their shoes and other equipment together.  We watched my over-50 brother give us a climbing demonstration.  With great concentration and arm muscles tense and bulging, he climbed up the face using his feet and hands. We all mentally compared his physical exertion with our own fitness, and I found myself lacking.

Marcos climbed first. Marcos called out “Climbing,” and Dean replied “Belay on.” Marcos made it look relatively easy. He has climbed before but always in an indoor climbing gym, not on an actual rock.  Before too long he was approaching the top.

Joshua Tree NP, named after the unique plant, is a special place.
Joshua Tree NP, named after the unique plant, is a special place.

Tevis climbed next and he worked harder in the beginning to find a way to use his feet more effectively.  Learning to climb on a 5.6 face is challenging and each climber took breaks by “falling” and letting the rope hold them.

Marcos climbing Filch.
Marcos climbing Filch.

We relied on Bob Gaines, Best Climbs Joshua Tree National Park in the “Where to Climb Series.”  The first climbs were on the east face, “Filch”, which Bob Gaines suggests, “Begin off a boulder. Climb the wide crack to thinner jamming.” Then one of the other routes opened up so we moved around to the west face.

There are 13 routes on the west side.  We had time to eat fried chicken while Dean moved the anchor rope, or static line. Tevis climbed B2 next. He worked to stay out of the fissure while still using the crack to help him climb to the top.

Joshua Tree attracts climbers, hikers and picnic eaters from around the globe. Two Belgians were free climbing (no ropes) on other routes near us. A variety of people stopped to watch.  It is a calm, relaxing sport to watch—opposite of the intensity felt by the climbing team.

Everyone is safety conscious--including Nigel.
Everyone is safety conscious–including Nigel.

The biggest risk of rock climbing for the spectator is sunburn.  Do not be like me—remember your sunscreen.  The most common injury to a climber is scraped knuckles, called a gobie. Pack bandaids.

Joshua Tree National Park is 140 miles from Los Angeles and the nearest airport is Palm Springs. Accommodations are more limited and more affordable in Yucca Valley than greater Palm Springs.  The park entrance is $15 for a 7 day vehicle pass (bargain!).

Nomad Ventures in the town of Joshua Tree rents shoes and some gear; not harnesses or ropes.  I googled “rock climbing lessons, Joshua Tree” and 7 schools came up, so if you do not have a big brother who can teach you, check one of these out.