Thursday, October 28, 2021

Girls Weekend 24. Wednesday, October 27, 2021. Time to go home.

At the Palm Springs Airport

 Wednesday, October 27, 2021

 And here it is the end of another Girls Weekend. I   am writing this in real time on Thursday morning   from home.

 The last morning was busy but not rushed. We   packed, ate, cleaned, gathered travel snacks, took out the trash and recycling, and were on the way to the airport at 10:30. It was a long day. My flight was supposed to leave at 1:00 pm but was delayed, as was my connection out of Denvery. Lori’s was scheduled for 5:50 pm. So she sat for hours in the Palm Springs airport and I sat for hours on planes and in Denver, and we both made it to our respective homes safely at just about the same time, around 1:30am EST/10:30pm PST

As always, it was a wonderful trip. Many unique, strange and unusual things seen along with lots of nature's beauty. God blessed us once again with good weather, wonderful things to see and do and with our time spent together. Until next year....

Girls Weeks 24, October 26, 2021. Salvation Mountain and East Jesus.

At Salvation Mountain

 Tuesday, October 26, 2021

 Lori is doing the writing today, while Kathi works   on the Monday entry so that we make sure that we  get the entire trip journaled before it is over!

 Today is the next to last saddest day of every   Girls  Weekend in that it is the last FULL day of   Girls Weekend. We always hate to see it come to   an end, but the end always comes. We both were   out of bed for coffee and our normal morning routine at around 7:30. The plan for the day is to go to East Jesus, which is about an hour and a half away. Yes, you read that right, East Jesus. There really is a place with that name and it is down here in the Southern California desert, and, boy, is it ever interesting!! We’ll also be going to Salvation Mountain and Slab City … but I am getting ahead of myself.

We left our cute little apartment with the world's most uncomfortable furniture (with the exception of the beds; the beds are great!) at around 12:30pm. Before leaving, however, we did our final toss of the states and our remaining puzzle piece is the one containing New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Washington DC on it (which, interestingly, in our to-scale puzzle, is only half the size of the Missouri piece!). As I believe Kathi has mentioned previously, we did DC for year 5. There are a couple of pieces in our puzzle that combines small states together. When this happens and it’s the last piece standing after the tosses, we get to pick which of the winning states we want to visit. So we are going to have to do a little research and figure out which of the three options we will visit next year. We will likely combine two of the states, though, since they are small, and that will help reduce our remaining states more quickly. We did not consider when we began these trips in our late 30s that one state per year equaled 51 years, and that there may be age-related challenges to reaching our goal of making it to all 50 states (plus DC) while we’re both spry and able to travel.

On the way to East Jesus we passed many more Date Palm farms where the dates had not yet been harvested. These bunches of dates could be seen with their "coats" on, still hanging from the trees (see entry from Friday for explanation about date farming) and some of the bags of dates had already been cut and were lying on the ground. All of the dates at Shields Date Garden had already been harvested, so we were excited to see the dates still on the trees and wrapped up.

East Jesus is southeast of Desert Hot Springs and the route took us by the Salton Sea, which is a HUGE body of water that is quite strange to see in the middle of the desert. The Salton Sea is another very unique place here in southern California. The following is copied and pasted from an article that appeared in The Guardian in July of this year.

The Salton Sea was formed in 1905 when the Colorado River breached an irrigation canal and filled up an ancient basin in the desert, creating an oasis for migratory shorebirds and, by the middle of the 20th century, for celebrities and dignitaries. Developers dotted the shores with palm trees and built up luxury resorts around its perimeter, and the area became a destination for Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and the Beach Boys. President Dwight Eisenhower used to come by the golf course. (

The Salton Sea
 So, once the dike that was breached was repaired   in 1907 the only water filling the "sea" is irrigation   run-off from the surrounding agricultural areas that is full of fertilizer, pesticides and salt. The salinity of this inland sea that is 35 miles long by 15 miles wide has risen to the point where it is slightly higher than that of the Pacific Ocean and, as a result, most of the fish that were once found in the water died off. The water is evaporating, leaving stinking, rotting algae on the shoreline and toxic air all around it. While there are many parks and boat ramps that we saw on the shores of the lake, we saw only a couple of cars parked in their lots and saw absolutely NO boats out on the water which struck us as unusual considering it is such a large body of water in the middle of a desert. So, while the Salton Sea is attractive to look at from a distance, that is about the best thing that can be said about it. We did stop at the Bombay Beach Recreation area which was mostly deserted with many abandoned and vandalized mobile homes to take a few pics. Kathi also insisted on driving REALLY fast so we could catch up with a train on the tracks that run alongside the road we were on just so I could get a photo. Photo taken, she slowed down to more reasonable speeds, thank goodness!! 

After making a turn off the highway onto a more rural road in Niland, California, we didn't have to travel very far before spying Salvation Mountain. Woo doggies, is this ever an interesting and weird place! Leonard Knight, a drifter who was passionate about sharing his religious revelation, God is Love, experienced a few failed attempts at other endeavors to spread his message (he really wanted to use a hot air balloon to spread the word, but failed at obtaining or making one.) So, he began to work in earnest on creating Salvation Mountain in 1989. It is a site to behold. Not only the "mountain" carries his message but so do many abandoned vehicles on the property. Leonard died in February of 2014, but there is a man named Ron living on the property who maintains the mountain, which requires constant attention. For a more complete story on Leonard and the mountain visit this link: The Man and Mission Behind Salvation Mountain: What to Know Before Your Visit — The Wayfaress

We spent some time wandering and taking photos at Salvation Mountain and Kathi had a conversation with Ron who lives on the property with 2 dogs, 9 cats and no running water. A way of life that I cannot even begin to imagine. From Salvation Mountain we moved on to Slab City and East Jesus. Slab City was yet another "oh my goodness, I had no idea someplace like this existed" kind of moment. Many RVs and old mobile homes can be found out here on the slabs. Some of these folks are permanent residents, some are seasonal. ALL are heartier folks than I. We are talking the middle of the desert, no trees for shade, and no running water. Not my idea of home sweet home. Not even close. 

Salvation Mountain

And then, a short distance around the bend was East Jesus. How best to describe East Jesus? On the website it is described as "a refuge for artists, musicians, survivalists, writers, scientists, laymen and other wandering geniuses. We are dedicated to providing a working model of an improbable improvised community at the edge of the world." The Art Garden here is a member of the California Museum Association. Everything here is made from things that most of us would consider junk or trash. It is unusual and weird and fascinating and well worth the trip as long as you are not easily offended. I would not bring children here. There is LOTS of broken glass here. Some of it is part of the art and some it does not appear to be, but I could definitely be mistaken. Some of the art contains profanity and some of it is profane, so be warned if you decide to visit. SUCH a dichotomy between this place and the art and statues depicting the story of Jesus at the Shields Date Garden!!

We spent quite a bit of time wandering the East Jesus Art Garden in curiosity and amazement before our bladders began to speak to us of the need for a bathroom. This (no running water, remember) is something that the art garden is lacking. We chatted for a bit with the caretaker currently living there to maintain the property (who ARE these people who voluntarily care for desert art with no amenities?!) about the place and its origins before deciding we needed to answer the call of nature. The nearest bathroom was about 20 minutes away at the nearest gas station (which we were also in need of), so we left East Jesus and Slab City.

We ate the lunches we brought with us (we each had salads left over from previous meals) while sitting at the gas station then began the drive back to Desert Hot Springs and our home away from home. We stopped at a car wash called Quick Quack once in Desert Hot Springs to wash and vacuum the car. Because we rented the car through Turo, which is a peer to peer car sharing company rather than one of the traditional car rental places, one can save themselves the $50 or so cleaning fee if one washes and vacuums the car themselves before returning. Then we stopped at some Mexican place so Kathi could get herself a Mangonada, which she had been craving since our arrival, and then home.

We had bought meat for 2 meals on our grocery store run and had only cooked up the hamburger, so I cooked up the chicken breasts we had with some zucchini, butter and lemon for a tasty dinner. I ate, but Kathi saved her portion to have on her LONG trip back to Indianapolis, having been filled up by her Mangonada. We finished watching the last two episodes of Squid Game and went to bed for our final time here is Desert Hot Springs.

Girls Weekend 24. Monday, October 25, 2021. Escape Room and Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Monday, October 25, 2021

This morning, after finally falling back to sleep in the wee hours, I woke up at 7:30am soaked in sweat but feeling much better. Apparently whatever interloper had upset my own personal ecosystem had been fought off during a great battle over the past four to five hours, and I had the very damp sheets to prove it. During our normal morning routine, I managed to finally complete the journal entry from Saturday. We absolutely love writing these travelogues, but because we ourselves want to remember much of the details of our trips, they take a bit of time to write. Lori has had to write pretty much all of them since I started my PhD program. Now that I am finally ABD (all but dissertation), I certainly still have copious amounts of research and writing to do to move forward with my dissertation proposal, but I am taking this week off from academic writing to write for pleasure, which I sorely miss. Plus, I am relieving Lori of the majority of the writing duties for this year, and I know she appreciates it. So that we can complete the travelogue entries close to the time our trip ends, we are simultaneously writing up different days right now. You will hear a lot of her voice describing tomorrow’s details.

We left the apartment at 11:00 am. There are several wind farms all over this area. We soon discovered how much sense this makes, as the wind here is quite strong, and on at least a couple of days since we arrived, we have heard it howling, whipping, and ripping around outside. We are certainly used to seeing the majestic huge white new-age windmills in Indiana—the road from Indy to Chicago is full of them—but they are even more striking when seen dotting the arid desert floor with a mountainous backdrop. Lori wanted to take some pictures of a grouping of windmills not far from the Airbnb, so we drove as close as we could get so she could get some great shots.

Today had been set aside to explore the city of Palm Springs, that famous desert oasis. I had been to Palm Springs once before, while on tour with Dreamgirls in 1987. All I remember about it is that it was so hot I thought my face would melt off. I also recall going to a mall, and all the cars in the parking lot left divots in the asphalt when they left because it was too hot for the paving surface to stay firm. In other words, for a person like me, who HATES to be hot, Palm Springs equaled hell. Fortunately, the temperatures here in this area in late October are much more tolerable…the temps for most of our trip have been quite delightful in fact. Today in Palm Springs it was about 76 degrees when we arrived, and there was a slight breeze, which was perfect.

We started our “Palm Springs Day” with a reservation for our relatively new GW tradition, an escape room. In case you are new to the Girls Weekend travelogues, Lori and I suck at escape rooms. We failed in 2015 in Richmond, VA; in 2016 in St. Augustine, FL; and in 2018 in Providence, RI. This has been our first attempt since then. We also did one in Indy with our families…fail. Lori has done a couple others at other times with other people…fail. I did one as a team building activity with my work colleagues, and while it was recorded as a successful escape, there was a glitch with one of the locks, so they gave us more time, but in my opinion they gave us more time than we had spent working on the broken lock. They also just about talked us through solving a couple of puzzles almost step by step over the intercom. So, while I will take the W in that situation, Lori and I both really wanted to get out of one of these things on our own.

Escape Room Palm Springs had six room options from which to choose. In a blatant effort to hedge our bets, I told Lori to ask for the easiest room for two people to escape from, so we were booked into the Titanic adventure. The story of the room was: the “unsinkable” Titanic is going down. Fortunately, you overheard the captain speak of a hidden lifeboat at dinner. This may be construed as mutiny, but you decide to gather your crew and work your way through Captain Smith’s cabin anyway. Discover what secrets Captain Smith has been keeping from the passengers and crew.” And guess what…. we did it!!!  WE FINALLY ESCAPED THE DAMN ROOM. Well kind of. Turns out there was a bit of a trick at the end. However, we succeeded in reaching the goal of the game and we were ecstatic to be ex-losers. After posing for a couple of pictures and exchanging a few high fives, we happily got back into the car and asked GPS to take us to our next adventure, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

If ever you are in Palm springs, the Aerial Tramway should definitely be added to your itinerary. It was an awe-inspiring experience and afforded truly wonderful views of the mountainous terrain. The Tramway, which was built in the Chino Canyon on the north edge of Palm Springs, was the dream of Francis Crocker, an electrical engineer who first envisioned a tramway during a trip to the area in 1935. Sweating down in the valley, he longed to “go up [to the top of Mount San Jacinta] where it’s nice and cool”. Over the next 30 years, working with the assistance of desert pioneer and co-manager of the famed Palm Springs Desert Inn, O. Earl Coffman, Crocker’s dream became an actual plan. The plan had to be shelved and re-started a few times, but in 1945 a new tram bill was passed, and Governor Earl Warren signed the measure creating the Mount San Jacinto Winter Park Authority. Coffman was named the Authority’s first chairman and Crocker was named the first secretary.

One of the original tram cars

Funds were raised through the sale of $8.15 million in private revenue bonds, and by 1950 technicians were working on designs for the tramway. The land for the Valley Station and parking lots was donated, and no public funds were used for either the construction or operation of the Tramway. After another delay caused by the Korean War, the ambitious project finally began to take form in July 1961. Construction of the Tramway was an engineering challenge, and the project was soon labeled the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” The work involved using helicopters to erect four of the five supporting towers. Yes Gads!!

view of the valley from ascending tram
On Monday, June 10, 1963, the first of two 80-passenger tramway cars were removed from their packing crates and suspended from the main track of the cables. The second tramway car was unpacked and added the next day. The anticipated date of completion, Aug. 3, was delayed and the first inaugural trip was made on Sept. 12, 1963. The first tower is the only one that can be reached by road. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway was designated an historical engineering landmark in 1983 because of the 23,000 helicopter missions that were flown hauling men and equipment for the construction of four of the five towers and the 35,000 square foot Mountain Station.

My favorite part of this story is that Crocker was able to ride the Tramway numerous times and fellow passengers often would receive a narration from him as they rode up to “where it was nice and cool.” So many of these farsighted folks (such as the poor Integratron dude) don’t get to see their dreams completed, but fortunately that was not the case for Francis Crocker, who died in 1992. In 1998, the Tramway announced that it was embarking on an ambitious modernization program that would see the construction and installation of new cars and an update of its facilities. Beginning in September 2000, passengers first rode the world’s largest rotating tramcars, which were shipped in from Switzerland.

descending tram car arriving at station

These tramway cars are so cool! The passengers stand in the completely round car with windows all around. After it leaves one station, the floor makes two full revolutions during the 11 minutes it takes to reach the other station. This happens going up and going down. The weather for our tramway ride was a bit challenging, as there were a lot of clouds and a rather stark temperature drop down to 39 degrees when we debarked at the top. We were going to hike a bit but weren’t dressed for it. So instead, we went and had a delicious lunch at Peaks Restaurant—housemade tomato basil soup for both of us, followed by a Caesar salad for Lori and a green salad with blue cheese and strawberry vinaigrette for me. Next, we found the two small movie theaters in the mountain station and watched both of the (very severely dated) movies that gave all of the information I have written here, and then braved the chill and spitting mist to go take some wonderful pictures from the observation deck. By the time we decided to board the tram to go back down it was pouring rain and freezing. We did have jackets with us, but nothing to really protect us from this kind of weather. As we traveled back down the rain slowly faded and the temperature slowly climbed. A great experience very much worth the price of the ticket.

ascending tram car photographed from descending car we were in
It was a little damp down in the valley when we exited the tram, but whatever rain had fallen down there had stopped, and it was blessedly warmer, probably around 68 degrees or so. We drove into downtown Palm Springs and easily found a parking spot on the street. The parking was free, which shocked us a bit, but for which we were grateful. We found a great little clothing store that was SO “us”, and each of us bought a couple of items. Then we went up the street to the Free People store. This is a clothing line that both Lori and I just love, and in which we always enjoy browsing. Lori purchased a gorgeous sweater, but I managed to resist, as there was not much on the sale rack. We both needed to find a bathroom by this time, so we walked up a couple of blocks to by far the fanciest Starbucks either of us had ever seen. It’s huge and had contraptions in there that my local stores certainly don’t have. Correspondingly, they had menu items we don’t have in Indy, including ice cream!! They make some blended drinks with the ice cream. They’re a test store, and the only store currently that carries ice cream. Who knew? We bought a couple of coffees, decided to call it a day, and went back to the car.

It was close to 9:00pm when we got back to the apartment, where we watched episodes six and seven of Squid Game. My God, what a show. It’s repulsively fascinating, and SO violent. Finally, after a very long and fulfilling day, we went to bed, still riding the high from our escape room victory.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Girls Weekend 24. Sunday, October 24, 2021. Keys Ranch Tour

Sunday, October 24, 2021


We were up early as usual today but had to get moving with purpose, as we had reservations for a 9:30 tour of Keys Ranch, inside of JTNP. GPS says it will take us an hour to get there, and the website says it’s hard to find, so we wanted to leave a bit early. We tossed the states—Arizona is out, so only four states remain.

 After quick showers, some coffee, yogurt, and protein bars, we gathered up the necessities for a day in the open desert air and left at 8:10 am. We entered the west entrance and made it to the designated tour meeting point at 9:25 am. We were a bit concerned about the time, as access to Keys Ranch is only accessible through advance reservation, but we were nowhere near the last of the tour group to arrive.

 Shortly after 9:30, Park Ranger Ian arrived to open the locked gate that marked the entrance to the Keys Ranch. He was explaining to us what the tour would be like and telling us we would need to go back and get into our cars to drive through the gate. I had just come out of the one bathroom at the meeting point, and Lori had waited for me, so we were at the back perimeter of the gathered group. All eyes but mine were trained on Ranger Ian—I was looking down to make sure I had zipped my jeans—and I thought I spied something. I calmly took Lori’s arm and told her to take a step back. Then I asked if her camera was at the ready, which was a stupid question since it always is. Lori has become quite the accomplished amateur photographer in the past couple of years. I pointed to a big rock almost at our feet, and on cue, a HUGE tarantula marched out from behind it and beelined toward the desert landscape to our right. He was definitely on a mission.  

After recovering from mild shock, Lori snapped several photos, and then alerted the rest of the group to the presence of an extra member. Twenty people rushed over to see him and started snapping away. The big, hairy, leggy creature just kept on marching in a straight line across the sand dusted clearing. Ranger Ian came over and, just like a good park ranger, proceeded to tell us about our furry friend (let’s just call him Harry) and what he was up to. He informed us palmed-sized Harry was a male tarantula, as females are much BIGGER, and that it was currently mating season. Harry was gone a-courtin’! He would visit the burrow of a female and ask for a friends-with-benefits date. If the female did not appreciate the ask, she would EAT HIM. Alternatively, she could accept his advances; however, if he stuck around for too long after the date, again, she would EAT HIM. Therefore, his role in the sex act was to choose wisely, ask nicely, perform his duty, and then get out. Can I get a witness? Are there any other menopausal or post-menopausal women out there who would like to join me in wishing I could adopt the sex practices of a female tarantula?


Park Ranger Ian (who was rocking dark-gray nail polish, by the way) was a font of information about the desert wildlife, and the particulars about their adaptations to the arid landscape. We learned that big horn sheep in the desert do not release as much water when they poop, and that desert turtles hold on to their urine for a very long time before deciding to pee. Ranger Ian was from Wisconsin and pointed out a bird particularly for us Midwesterners to watch for, the Phainopepla, which he said very much looked like a cardinal, except it was all-black. It took until almost the end of the tour, but a group member did eventually see one of the birds and Lori caught a great photo.


The Keys Ranch, according to Wikipedia, is “the prime example of early settlement in the Joshua Tree National Park area. Bill Keys was the area's leading character, and his ranch is a symbol of the resourcefulness of early settlers. The ranch is an extensive complex of small frame buildings built between 1910 and Keys' death in 1969. Keys pursued both ranching and mining to make a living in the desert.” Ranger Ian was clear about telling us the rest of the story though. Keys was a bit of a shyster and a bully and had no problem just lifting items from other people’s property and keeping it for himself. Back to Wikipedia:


William F. Keys was born at Palisade, Nebraska, in 1879. After working as a ranch hand and smelter worker, he was a deputy sheriff in Mohave County, Arizona. During a time in Death Valley, he befriended Death Valley Scotty, becoming involved in a swindle that resulted in the so-called "Battle of Wingate Pass". He arrived in the Twentynine Palms, California area in 1910. In the area that became Joshua Tree National Park, he became acquainted with local outlaw and cattle rustler Jim McHaney, taking care of him in declining health. Keys eventually took over McHaney's properties after McHaney's death, gradually expanding what became the Desert Queen, its name borrowed from the nearby Desert Queen Mine.

 Keys married Francis M. Lawton in 1918, and they had seven children together, three of whom died and were buried at the ranch. During a dispute over the Wall Street Mill, Keys shot and killed Worth Bagley. Keys was convicted of murder and went to San Quentin Prison, where Keys educated himself in the library. Keys was paroled in 1950 and was pardoned in 1956 through the efforts of Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason novels.


Mining equipment at the ranch includes an arrastra and a stamp mill for ore processing. Other buildings include an adobe barn, a schoolhouse, a tack shed, machine shed, cemetery and a variety of houses and cabins.

 Our Keys Ranch tour was wonderful, and we loved looking at all the amazing tools, equipment, buildings, and appliances preserved on the property. It was also quite tiring. It took just over 2 hours and only covered half a mile distance-wise, but there was a lot of standing in one place. We middle-aged women would much rather walk 10 miles than stand in one place for that long, so our bodies were fatigued when the tour was over. This is the final weekend of the Highway 62 Open Studio Art Tour, and we had seen the directional signs up and down the highway on our way to and from JTNP. We had planned to explore more of the park on our own, but we decided instead that we would drive back into the town of Joshua Tree, find somewhere to have lunch, and then maybe visit a few of the art installations.

We found the Natural Sisters Café, a magnificent little spot with amazingly fresh vegetarian offerings. Lori had the avocado and veggie sandwich and I had the daily special, a delicious falafel salad with housemade dressing. Because it’s Girls Weekend, a table magically cleared for us outside of the crowded little spot, and we enjoyed a lovely al fresco meal in great weather. When we left we simply chose a direction to drive in, and took off down Highway 62, turning at the first art installation sign we saw. We ended up at stop #34, the studio of Ron Tharrio, who did delightful work in several different media. When we walked into the big aluminum barn studio, several cronies of the artist were sitting around shooting the s***, but the artist himself was out running an errand. These guys were helpful and friendly, and quite funny as well. One of them was an artist who encouraged Lori to start making her art journals for others to buy.

We left Ron Tharrio’s studio at 3:30 pm, having never met Ron himself, and decided it would be our one and only stop on the art tour. We were wiped out and decided to go back to the Airbnb and relax for the rest of the day. We decided we would watch a couple of episodes of Squid Game while we were still awake. We want to finish all nine episodes of the season before we leave. We turned in pretty early, about 9:30. I had started to feel a bit off and was pretty sure I was running a low-grade fever. The first half of the night was restless, and I was wide awake again at 12:45, still feeling icky. I got up to take a couple more ibuprofen, and then realized that what had likely helped to awaken me was our resident bathroom cricket, who was chirping away at high volume. I went and closed the bathroom door so he wouldn’t wake up Lori, and after about an hour was finally able to put myself back to sleep, praying I would feel better in the morning.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Girls Weekend 24, October 23, 2021

After a somewhat restful sleep, we were both up this morning by 6:30. I say “somewhat” because while our king-sized beds are quite comfy, with lovely, crisp sheets and nice, firm mattresses, this place is kind of noisy. Yes, I know. I live on College Avenue, and what with all the fire trucks, ambulances, people out and about, and now drag racing going on (ugh!), my home is not exactly a mecca of peaceful tranquility at night, but my brain has catalogued and subsequently dismissed those sounds, and I almost always sleep through them. However, here, there are two huge dogs, a Rottweiler and some kind of Akita mix, penned up in the yard next to us, right outside my window. They are outside 24/7 and NEVER in the house, which makes me sad. They do not bark constantly, but there are definitely sessions of loud talking between the two of them during the night. And they bay at any sirens. I do NOT hear the sirens (refer to the College Ave statement), but I do hear the baying, and the barking at whatever nocturnal creature ventures into their lair. Meanwhile, Lori has been awakened a couple of times on each of the two nights we’ve been here so far, by a very loud cricket that has taken up lodging in our bathroom. We cannot find him, and when she gets up out of bed to go locate him, he of course stops chirping. In general, though, we have been resting pretty well here.

 We had an extremely leisurely morning. We thought we were supposed to be at our first appointment at noon but found out that we were scheduled for 3:00 instead. We spent the morning in the normal fashion, enjoying coffee, breakfast a la carte, researching, journaling, and sorting pictures. This is a bit easier said than done in this apartment. This Airbnb leaves something to be desired, for sure. It’s certainly nice enough—it is clean and neat. The decorative touches are sparse and somewhat pallid, but that’s OK. There are several plastic plants…I hate plastic plants, but I wouldn’t call them offensive. Outside there is a nice courtyard and a security gate, and we have a designated parking spot for our car. All good things. However, the aforementioned comfortable beds and the copious clothing drawer and closet space are pretty much the end of the available acceptable furnishings. Where this place takes a nosedive is in the furniture department. The furniture, in a word, sucks. It is utilitarian and broadly uncomfortable, and there is not nearly enough of it.

 In the living room there is a 44” relatively new color TV…OK, but the remote control is crap and seems to only be remote without controlling anything. Directly under the TV is a nice-sized desk accompanied by a chair that could be mistaken for a rock, it’s so hard. The desk is actually very conveniently placed, as my laptop lives there, and I have connected it to the television through my HDMI cable (without which I never leave the house) and this way we can stream TV shows and watch them on the big screen. It is far less frustrating to have to get up to pause the show from my laptop than it is to wrestle and have my fingers cramp up from trying to press buttons on the from-hell remote (and no, it’s not the batteries, although if it were, we would have to replace them ourselves. More on that in a bit.)

 There are four more items in the living room (aside from the fake plants): an armless futon, an almost worthless small round end table (maybe 12” in diameter), an armless faux leather chair and a small faux leather hassock. That’s it. No coffee table or serviceable end tables, no place to rest drinks or “nesting” accessories—you know, phones, tablets, knitting, books, whatever you’ve brought with which to surround yourself. The chair is OK, it’s pretty sturdy, and with your feet up on the hassock even somewhat comfy. And at least it’s wide enough to catch your arms on the seat after you have fruitlessly searched for sides to the chair, found none, and then just allowed them to fall at your sides. But the futon? Oh, boy. The futon is likely one of the most uncomfortable seating places I have experienced outside of a train station or surgical waiting room. The wooden frame is built so that a huge hard beam goes right down the center of the structure, therefore meaning that if you sit in the middle, you have a wooden rod through your butt crack. And with no tables or TV trays or ottomans or anything to help you get settled, you’re left sitting up very much like an attentive student in class. This is NOT relaxing.

 Lori came up with a solution yesterday. She went and got the ironing board, arranged it to be close to the ground, and voila! A coffee table. She looks hilarious sitting there working on her tablet, perched on the end of the torturous futon, looking very much like Peanuts’ Schroeder in mid-recital.

Added to all of this, the kitchen is under-stocked with supplies. There are only huge soup spoons but no regular sized spoons (so we are saving every plastic spoon we come across), no measuring spoons, no larger serving bowls, a teeny trial sized bottle of dishwashing liquid, and one roll of paper towels. There are no additional garbage bags, and the trash can is the kind that holds small bags. We filled it in one day. The bathroom does have a few rolls of toilet paper, but it’s single ply and a corn cob would feel nicer. There is one tiny cake of soap, no facial tissues, and a bottle of hand soap that was only ¼ full. On the desk in the living room is a sign that informs us that the provided supplies “may not be enough for your entire stay and you may need to purchase additional supplies.” You think?? Therefore, at about 11:30 am, after taking inventory of all of this, we returned to the grocery store to buy the items that should have been provided by GOOD hosts. After returning and putting it all away, we left again, on our way to the Integratron to enjoy a sound bath, one of the most unique experiences we have ever had.


The Integratron (in-TEG-ra-TRON) is located in Landers, California, about an hour drive from our Airbnb. It was created by George Van Tassel (1910-1978), who claimed that the structure is based on the design of Moses’ Tabernacle, the writings of Nikola Tesla, and telepathic directions from extraterrestrials. George, who was an aeronautical engineer, was spending a lot of time in a friend’s abandoned rooms, hewn out under a giant rock in the California desert (another story I won’t go into right now) when he was awakened by a visitor named Solganda. Solganda, who was 700 years old (but only looked to be about 28, according to van Tassel), was a Venutian (i.e., an alien from Venus) and took van Tassel onto his spacecraft. During the visit, van Tassel was informed that Earthlings’ reliance on metal building materials was interfering with radio frequencies and disrupting interplanetary “thought transfers.” Solganda also handed van Tassel a secret formula that he could use to build a remarkable machine. This device would generate electrostatic energy to suspend the laws of gravity, extend human life, and facilitate high-speed time travel.

 This happened in August of 1953. Van Tassel spent the next 18 years constructing the Integratron, a one-of-a-kind 38-foot high, 55-foot diameter, all wood dome built on an intersection of powerful geomagnetic forces that, when focused by the unique geometry of the building, concentrate and amplify the earth’s magnetic field. Magnetometers read a significant spike in the earth’s magnetic field in the center of the Integratron. Van Tassel dropped dead of a heart attack when his plans were 95% completed. Since no one else knew the secret formula, the structure was never completed to perform its main function.

 In 2000, the Integratron was purchased by three sisters who had been part of the restoration and maintenance of the structure and property for more than 30 years. They worked to restore and preserve the structure while sharing its amazing acoustical properties with the world via the Integratron Sound Bath, which appears to have been a brilliant idea. A sound bath, as described on the Integratron website, is “an unforgettable sound experience for those who seek deep relaxation, rejuvenation, and introspection. All Sound Baths are 60-minute sonic healing sessions that consist of: a brief introduction to the Integratron and its history and sound qualities, 35 minutes of 20 quartz crystal singing bowls played live, and the balance of the hour to integrate the sound and relax in the sound chamber to ambient music. You will be resting comfortably in the deeply resonant, multi-wave sound chamber while a sequence of quartz crystal singing bowls are played.  Each bowl is keyed to the energy centers or chakras of the body, where sound is nutrition for the nervous system. The results are waves of peace, heightened awareness, and relaxation of the mind and body.”

Lori and I of course had to experience this. So, we and about 25 other peace and relaxation seekers entered the Integratron at the appointed time, removed our shoes on the lower level and climbed the stairs to the second level, a large open, gorgeous circular space capped by the dome. We were given clean sheets which we spread over mats on the floor and lay down to enjoy our sound bath. A middle-aged, desert hippie with a long braid, who was a retired massage therapist and who had been taught to play quartz bowls by his grandmother, sat surrounded by about 15 or 20 white bowls of varying sizes, tuned to different notes. Think running your finger around the rim of wine glasses filled with different levels of water, but on steroids, and with mallets. We were told we would be elevated or sunken to different depths of consciousness and able to connect with our bodies and interplanetary rhythms. I took that to mean I would get a great nap, which indeed is what happened. The sounds emanating from the bowls was surprisingly loud and did indeed seem to sink into our minds and bodies. Lori did not go to sleep, and therefore might be able to tell you more about the 25 minutes of bowl playing. We both definitely found it to be an amazing, unique, and wonderful experience.


The grounds surrounding the Integratron were fun. There were several different seating areas, including a grouping of hammocks, some couches, some chairs, a couple of firepits, and several unisex bathrooms labeled “Mars”, “Venus”, and “Peace”.

There was a lot of very interesting “yard art” made from all kinds of fun things, including old, rusted garden implements, wooden items, old washboards, etc. These things had been incorporated into fountains and landscaping. We loved it. When we finally left if was 5:30 pm. We wanted to get to JTNP to experience the sunset, which was at 6:01, so we had to hustle to get into the park and find good observation spots.

We entered the park through the west entrance this time, drove in for a while, and just decided to pull over at a spot where the colors from the sunset appeared to be good. I (of course) climbed some rocks while Lori stayed at ground level, and we photographed a lot of the surrounding area. The changing colors were so gorgeous as darkness descended. We decided to stick around to look at the stars and spent another hour in the park. By this time, it was very dark and quite chilly, so after trying some artsy photo shots using “light bathing”, which is basically using the car’s headlights to illuminate the landscape, we called it a day and drove the 45 minutes back to our apartment.


I went to work on Friday’s journal entry while Lori worked on her pictures. After our long day of relaxing sound bathing followed by lots of fresh desert air, Lori could barely keep her eyes open. No TV watching for us tonight! Lori went to bed and straight to sleep, and I followed as soon as the journal entry for the previous day was completed. I was careful to close the bathroom door before I went to bed in an effort to mute Lori’s cricket buddy and we both experienced our first night of straight-through sleep with no dog barking or cricket chirping. We did, however, forget to toss the states. Oops!


Many of you have been asking for pictures, so here is a link to google photos album I created, with a selection from the myriad photos we have taken. I hope you enjoy them!

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Friday, October 22, 2021

Lori and I tend to get up relatively early on these trips. This morning we were up at 7:15 ready for coffee. We each have certain protein or breakfast bars we like, and Lori often makes yummy scrambled cheesy eggs, which was what she did today. Mornings are a favorite part of our days on these trips; we are both on laptops writing, sorting pictures, and researching and planning for the day ahead. Lori is far and away the best at finding interesting things for us to do on GWs, and often is scouring the internet for weeks prior to our trips. Today, she informed me that we are apparently in date country. Not the awkward ritual of two people beginning a series of meetings to get to know each other better kind of date, but dates as in the fruit. Dates apparently only thrive in very dry, sunny places where plenty of water is accessible. Therefore, there are dozens of date farms down here. I knew next to nothing about dates except that they are delicious when stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in bacon, and Lori had never even tasted a date before. Clearly, this was an excellent learning opportunity. For various reasons, we chose Shields Date Garden as the place to go to increase our date knowledge.

After a leisurely morning, we showered, dressed, filled our Camelbaks, grabbed snacks and whatever else we needed for the day, and set off for the date garden. As always, it seems impossible to adequately describe these unique and strangely wonderful places we manage to find in each state we visit. Shields Date Garden (est.1924), is primarily a date farm, producing many varieties of dates, including but certainly no limited to Medjool, Blonde, Brunette, Abbada, Barhi…and the list goes on. The palms (did anyone else have NO idea that dates grew on palm trees?!) at this place were not just planted in traditional farming rows; rather, they were artistically placed in garden settings. All kinds of desert plants, bushes, and trees were mixed and mingled in with the date palm trees. In 2011, a wealthy couple who had created a biblical garden in Vancouver, Canada, were looking to relocate the garden statues to the Palm Springs area. Shields incorporated the statues (chronologizing the life of Christ) and created a walking path that winds through the 17 acres of the date farm.

We learned amazing things in this place! Raise your hand if you already knew the following (I would not be raising my hand for any of these things!):

·         Dates are one of the most expensive and work intensive crops to grow and cultivate.


For best results, all steps of date production have to be done by hand.


There is no natural pollination process for dates, so they must also be pollinated by hand! This involves shaking the pollen out of the male tree flowers, gathering it into squeezy bottles (picture bigger versions of those little nose and ear cleaning bulbs for babies), climbing the female trees on skinny, scrawny little wooden ladders, and then shooting the male pollen out onto the female fruit through the squeezy bottle nipples. Sounds just like sex, right!?? Strange, human assisted, tree sex. It’s like in vitro for fruit.

·         About half of each huge bunch of dates is cut out of the middle of the bunch and sacrificed so that the rest can reach top quality status.

·         Too much rain will kill the dates, so each bunch (EACH BUNCH ON EACH TREE!) must be hand-wrapped in a waterproof cover to protect them from the rain during the rainy season.

·         Dates grow on palm trees!! I thought only coconuts grew on palm trees.

Shields Date Garden encompasses the date farm, the gardens and biblical walk, an outdoor event space, a small movie theater where we learned all about the romance and sex life of dates, an inside café, an outside café, a gift shop, and… a soda fountain. And at that soda fountain one can purchase something so delicious, so triumphant, that my mouth is watering just thinking about it. A date shake. Yes, a milkshake made with dates. Mr. Shields, the founder, created a way to dry and crystallize dates to make a sugar substitute. When these crystals are blended with ice cream and milk, sweet creamy heaven emerges. Really. I want one right now.

Oh, I forgot to tell you—this morning, before we left for the day, we realized that we had forgotten to toss the states last night. So, Lori did the first toss. Twenty state puzzle pieces went into the bowl. Only eight landed face up. Still in the running for next year are: Arizona, Texas, Missouri, Alabama, South Carolina, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland.

After exploring almost everything Shields Date Farm had to offer (we skipped having lunch at the café in order to better and more fully enjoy our date shake), we set off for Joshua Tree National Park (JTNP). We decided not to purchase new tickets online and instead to plead with the gate ranger to let us use the picture of Lori’s annual pass that she has on her phone. This turned out to be unnecessary, as there was not even a pay gate at the southern entrance of the park. There was a visitor’s center selling park passes, and we went in, but were told that we would be asked to see our pass on the way out of one of the other two entrances to the park, and we could ask about the picture there. Fine with us, so we went back to the car to begin our first drive through the park.

JTNP spans two deserts. The southern half, where we entered, is in the Colorado desert. There were some interesting cacti, lots of desert floor, and many huge mountains of small (tennis ball sized) to large (basketball sized) rocks. HUGE mountains of them, as if Gulliver had offloaded handful after handful of different sized pebbles down into the land of the Lilliputians. As we continued to drive north, and the Colorado desert transitioned into the Mohave, the mountainous piles of smaller rocks disappeared, and suddenly the landscape was filled with heaping hills of enormous, awe-inspiring, differently shaped boulders.

Rocks are a main feature of JTNP, making me a very happy camper. I absolutely love rocks. More than once, Lori has had to stop me from pausing to stare and marvel at rocks so that we could get to where we were going. Anyway, JTNP is full of gorgeous rocks of all sizes, the result of volcanic activity underground. According to the information on our park map, a special form of granite magma rose up from deep inside the earth, broke through overlying rock, and then cooled and crystallized underground, causing horizontal and vertical cracks to form. The granite kept rising up and came into contact with ground water. The resulting chemical reactions widened the cracks and rounded the edges, and the results were these wonderful boulders that were left piled all on top of each other as the earth eroded.

e made three stops on this initial venture into the park. First, we stopped at the Cholla Gardens, which were in the Colorado Desert side. Almost out of the blue, fields of cholla cacti seemed to spring up from the ground where 20 yards earlier there had been none. Lori and I loved (carefully!) walking through and looking at these smallish cacti, which seemed to have quite a lovable quality to them. They appear fuzzy, cute, and huggable, but the hugging would not last long, as they are completely covered with sharp needles. After walking the marked path through the Chollas, we drove further north. Soon after the landscape shifted to become full of the huge boulders, we stopped again to take pictures, and I just had to go climb up on a couple of rocks to enjoy the better view.

Our final stop was to visit the well-known Arch Rock, an area with boulders forming a natural arch on top of other boulders. This place is particularly gorgeous at the time of day we went, about half an hour before sunset. We were a bit disappointed to discover that all the great pictures one can find online of people standing under the arch must be taken from the vantage point of another pile of boulders across from it. I was having a good ankle day, and made it up to stand under the arch, but Lori’s knees and feet have been misbehaving lately, and she was too smart to risk the climb up onto the Arch Rock, or onto the boulders across from it to take pictures. I was able to get someone else to take a picture of me, and Lori and I were able to wave to each other from high and low rocks, but sadly, the angle just wasn’t available for Lori to actually see through and take a good photo of Arch Rock from the ground.

After leaving Arch Rock we drove back to the apartment, I started writing the journal, and Lori made dinner. After dinner we shared all our pictures, called the hubbies, and watched one-and-a half episodes of Squid Game, before deciding to go to bed. It was time to perform the day’s second tossing of the states, my turn this time. After the toss there were three puzzle pieces remaining, but they represented five states. One of the pieces contains Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey, which are all too small to have pieces of their own. The other two states still in the running are Missouri and Arizona. Lori is rooting for Arizona because she’s never been. I would like to go to Missouri. As always, it doesn’t matter where we go. I swear, we would manage to have a great time sitting in a rain ditch, enjoying each other’s company. Good night!