Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hit the Road, Jack

I am skipping around, because the desert tortoise sighting was so exciting. I had to post about that right away. What I should have written about first was that last week, Matthias, the dog and I loaded up into the VW Van - Gordita - and took off for a couple of wonderful days. We headed up north towards the Trona Pinnacles. These are tufa spires that were formed between 10,000 and 100,000 years ago in the Searles Dry Lake Basin. (Well, when they were formed, it was NOT a dry lake, but a real lake!) For a bit of reading about Trona, click here. What a cool place! It is quite a desolate landscape near the pinnacles. Not only were we far from any kind of civilization, but also there appears to be little evidence of any kind of life near these amazing formations. A few dusty clumps of shrub, if that. Apparently, many Sci-Fi films were shot here, including Star Trek V, Planet of the Apes, and even some car commercials. When we got there, I could see why this place is chosen for filming Sci-Fi. I definitely felt like I had gone to another planet for a while.

We spent one windy night at the Trona Pinnacles. Thank goodness for Gordita, who makes camping another experience entirely. I mean, she's got a sink, a stove, a tiny refrigerator, and when it got too windy, we just took the sleeping bags down to the lower level and put the pop top down. It makes for just the right mix of camping and comfort in my book. I LOVE that van!!! Mr. Pono loves the van, too. Even if it was windy, it was a warm night. I was happy for that, because I really hate being cold. The next morning was spectacular, and we tried to take lots of photos of the pinnacles in that beautiful morning light.

Pono is quite the tourist, and had fun exploring the pinnacles. We didn't see a soul all night long, although it does seem like plenty of people find their way to the pinnacles for a look. It was well worth seeing, dry and barren aside.

Sometimes, you just need to get away from it all. Day Two is for tomorrow, so I'll see ya then!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Desert Tortoise and other Wonders

Today, we went for a long, eventful hike with our friends, Marti and Jason, and their two dogs. I have been wanting to see a desert tortoise, because I have heard so much about them, but hadn't seen one yet. It was going to be a warm day, because at 8 am when we started the sun was already beating down on us. The flowers continue to amaze me here. Marti and I chanced upon a few of the Mariposa lily (or tulip or whatever else it's known as). They are not large flowers, but they are a vibrant orange, and when you take the time to look at them, they are exquisite! Here is a close up.

While Marti and I were admiring (and photographing) the Mariposa, we had an encounter with a small, scraggly looking coyote. Pono also got some cholla cactus spines stuck in his lower jaw, and even with four people, it was impossible to get him to hold still enough to pluck them out. He is so strong. We walked along some more, after giving up on Pono's cactus spines. Then, Marti and Jason's dog also ran into some cholla, getting it in his mouth (tongue, gums, etc.) So we had another stop for tweezers and cholla removal. Fortunately, their Cochise is not nearly the fighter Pono is, and he lay down and let us remove most of the cactus spines.

When we finally turned back towards the van, I did have my wish granted. Not one, but TWO tortoise encounters!!!! The first tortoise was off from the road a little bit, and was frightened into its shell. But the second tortoise was not so timid, and was spotted by Matthias right in the middle of the dirt road in front of us!!! So cool. It did give us plenty of suspicious looks, but continued to trudge off into the flowers for more "desert flower breakfast." I was so excited! We didn't want to get too close, because these tortoises are listed as a threatened species. Plus, we wanted to get a look at one that wasn't hiding inside of its shell. Such an amazing creature. I had to zoom quite a bit for the close up, so it may be a bit blurry. I will remind you I am NO photographer. Paintings and drawings only. (Even then the quality varies, as we all know.)

I have been reading about Matsuo Basho, the famous Japanese haiku master in the February issue of National Geographic (yes, I am a bit behind), so I decided to compose a haiku about the tortoise:

small desert tortoise
eyeing us suspiciously
trundles slowly by

The rest of our hike was fortunately pretty uneventful, and Marti managed to comb the cholla spines from Pono's jaw in the van on the way home. So all in all, it was a good hike, and I am still smiling at the vision of those desert tortoises! This place is amazing.

I also feel obligated to tell you that according to Marti, this is an exceptional year for flowers in the desert. It doesn't happen very often, since the right amount of moisture from rain combined with the right amount of freezing temperatures have to occur in order for such a wonderful spring display of flowers. So I am feeling a bit like a Princess with desert flowers just for me! Thank goodness for my digital camera, and my blog. I am so glad I have gotten the chance to share it all with you, my dear blog readers. Don't worry, I have not run out of flowers for you yet! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What's in a name: more flowers

Another day. I have discovered from my friend Marti that the common names of flowers are not particularly accurate when identifying plants. She would know, having a degree in botany. So the plant that I was calling the "Bladder Sage" is also known as the "Paper Bag" plant. I don't know the Latin name, and even if you told me, it is unlikely I would remember. "What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet..." I think I agree with Shakespeare in this regard! I still love the plant, regardless of the name. So I will continue with my fumbling efforts of describing these desert plants. As long as you realize I am no expert, only an admirer.

Speaking of names, I have these photos of some yellow flowers, and I can't find them in the flower book I have. So I have been procrastinating sharing them with you. Since I can't seem to identify them, you will have to enjoy them as "unidentified yellow flowers". The clumps these flowers are sitting on can be quite large, but so far, the purple "bladder sage, paper bag plant, balloon sage" is still the biggest one I have encountered in terms of large, shrubby flowers. At least the ones near our house. Ahh, dear flowers. How I adore thee. The Balloon flowers also smell sweet. Another reason to be so infatuated.

Here is another weak attempt at the jackrabbit drawings. This is the shot I most often see, so I have at least 6 sketches from this particular angle. It's called "Parting Shot." I think I may need to darken it just a bit. These watercolors are postcard sized, about 6 x 4" or so. Just FYI.

Monday, April 21, 2008

More Desert Flowers

I just can't get enough of flowers. I have been especially infatuated with the bladder sage. Since I don't care much for the name, I have decided to rename them for my own use. I think "balloon sage" is a much nicer name. Whatever you call it, it is an intriguing plant! The "balloons" are full of air, which I discovered yesterday when I squeezed one between my fingers. I know, I know, curiosity killed the cat. Since I am not a cat I have decided to take my chances. How ELSE are you supposed to figure these things out?

I also took a couple photos of the desert mallow (sphaeralcea ambigua). This is one of the most drought tolerant species of the globe mallow family. It was a bit windy outside, so forgive the slight blurriness. These plants can be quite large, and they really light up the landscape with those orange flowers. I have a thing for the color orange lately, anyway.

I finally decided I needed to do a little art. I have a tiny sketch book, in which I have been doing these dime-sized sketches of the jackrabbits that occasionally visit. If any of you have ever drawn from a live human model, you will know that one minute or 30 second poses are REALLY QUICK. Well, if you want a true challenge, try drawing from an animal. You are lucky to get a 5 second pose. Many of these sketches are so fast, and simple. I thought I could do little watercolor drawings from these sketches. That's what I worked on yesterday. As it turns out, I am not so sure I am getting enough information to do watercolors of them. You can see for yourself. It is really pretty "cute" for me. No, I do not have visions of being like Beatrix Potter. Not by any means. (If you haven't seen the movie based on Beatrix Potter's life, starring Renee Zellweger, you should.) I just wanted to do some art. I do love the big ears on those jackrabbits.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Roller Coaster Ride

I am on a roller coaster ride (not a nice one, either). My mom is home, and gaining strength one day, then she is back at the hospital room with severe abdominal pain the next. I would like to get off this ride for a while. I would like to sit in the sun, eat cotton candy, and not have a care in the world. Tell me, is this what it means to grow up? Because if it is, I don't want to grow up. I'm with Sia, who sings, "I don't wanna grow up, bring me all the toys you can find..." Maybe that's why I am so into her songs right now.

I have been attempting to distract myself with the absolute beauty of the desert. Right now, it is the most magnificent place I have ever seen. There are flowers everywhere, and they are unlike other flowers, anywhere else. (At least the ones I have seen, and I have been a lot of places!) I love that. We have the desert dandelion, pale yellow flowers that grow so thickly it looks like carpet. We have the Desert Globemallow. I don't think I have a photo of that one yet, but it is a fairly tall bush, covered with orange flowers on tall spikes. We also have the Bladder Sage, which is just AMAZING - with these purple buds that turn into balloons (bladders, not an especially appealing word, by any means!). Wow. It does help. I am grateful for flowers, today.

There is also the vibrant pink of the hedgehog cactus. Oh, and did I mention the close encounter of the lizard kind? I met this little guy on a rock. He was the first lizard I've met in the desert that wanted a little fame on my blog. The others were much more shy. I think it looks like he's growing a new tail. (okay, I don't actually know "he" is a he, because I didn't get that close! It just SEEMED like a "he lizard", somehow.)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

There and Back again

I am home!!! We left Denver in a snowstorm on Thursday, to arrive in Joshua Tree in the evening. There is nothing like your own bed. I was so happy to see my husband! Happier still, I feel relieved that my Mom is at home, and she seems to be gaining strength every day. It was hard to leave her, but I really DID need to get back home to my husband and my life. (and Mr. Pono, too of course!)

What a switch, leaving the snow of Denver to walk the next morning in the desert. Now the cactus are beginning to bloom, and it is spectacular!!! I had no idea these cactus flowers were so vivacious. The beavertail were budding before I left, and now they are really beginning to startle my eyes with their vibrant fuscia flowers. I love them!!! So I have been running around, taking as many photos as possible.

It was over 80 degrees Farenheit today in the desert. My friend Pamela is visiting from Hawaii. (She came to Colorado and helped me immensely with my mother.) We are enjoying the sunshine, enjoying the fact that we aren't going to the hospital every day. Life is good right now, and I hope to return to my blog in a more regular manner. I missed you all, dear readers. I truly did.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Disappearing Act

Did Karine fall off the face of the planet? Where did she go?

I am sure you are all wondering by now. I am sorry to disappear without notice, my dear blog readers. You know I do love you. As it turns out, my mother took a turn for the worse a little over two weeks ago. I wasn't going to travel to Denver right away, but things started looking really desperate on the night of Easter Sunday, so I did end up getting on a plane about a week and a half ago. I am back in Denver once again. I am beginning to feel like I live at the hospital. It has been a stressful couple of weeks, but I am delighted to announce that things seem to be improving with my Mom, and finally I feel more comfortable catching up with my blog. Please forgive me.

I want you to know, my fellow bloggers, I have been reading your blogs. Even though I have not commented, your writing and photos have been a much needed escape for me during these past weeks! Thank you.

I have some photos of the Mohave Yucca, which I took before I left Joshua Tree. This yucca is related to the Joshua Tree, but is shorter and more bush-like. I hate to say it, but I think I like these blossoms EVEN MORE than the blossom of the Joshua Tree. The buds start out this amazing red-violet color, and then they bloom in a delicate white. DIVINE! You can make your own mind up, I am sure.