Sunday, January 6, 2019

DESERT SONG Part I - Palm Springs & Rancho Mirage




In desperate need of sun, we flew to southern California for some warmth and a change of scenery – no fir trees, no salt water, no gloom - for a week. There are nine communities clumped together in the Coachella Valley but we stuck to two: Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage for a dose of culture when we weren’t catching rays near the pool at our rented condo where hummingbirds investigated my red shoes.



The area was settled by the Cahuilla peoples thousands of years ago, calling what we know as Palm Springs: Se-Khi” or boiling waters. The local band take their name, Agua Caliente, from the hot springs and are “fortunate” that in 1876 they were granted 6,700 acres of land in what would become the city and are thus wealthy compared to the many unfortunate tribes that lost virtually everything.
The designation of the location as Palm Springs may come from early Spanish explorers who referred to the area as The Palm of God’s Hand, but as early as 1853 the word referred to the native California fan palm. Europeans showed up more permanently in 1862 when a stagecoach station was established and a wealthy attorney from San Francisco, John McCallum, brought his tubercular son to the area in hopes of curing him in the dry climate.



McCallum’s early experiment in agriculture came to an abrupt end when the area suffered an unprecedented 17 days of pouring rain, followed by an 11-year drought, ruining crops and the irrigation canals. Undaunted, other entrepreneurs established hotels touting the dry climate as ideal for those with lung problems. The 1920s brought movie stars like Valentino and Errol Flynn who could have fun (i.e. sex, golf and tennis) away from the prying eyes of gossip columnists who didn’t have money enough to travel the 110 miles from L.A.

By the mid-1940s a new architectural style perfectly attuned to the landscape, was brought to the desert by the architect Richard Neutra, to house the rich and famous. The most famous of these houses is the Kaufmann house, with its use of modern materials and extensive glass windows was the model for many other homes, some of which are open during the twice-annual Modernist Week.


The 1950s were the beginning of the louche Rat Pack era with Sinatra, Martin, Davis, Elvis and others living high (actually low). But it was also the time when miles of attached housing and mobile home enclaves attracted heat-seeking retires who thronged the golf courses. That the area is a continuing magnet is evident in the number of hospitals, urgent care centers, and consignment shops lining the major roads. We passed one major intersection with two care centers kitty-corner from each other just like Starbucks. Despite the warm sunshine, I felt a chill. 

The town sunk during the recession of 1973-75 and again in the 2008. With the latest economic revival, downtown Palm Springs is revitalizing and showcasing its modernist architecture where the angular style is a perfect complement to the stark desert hills surrounding the town and to the landscaping surrounding the buildings – cactus, agave, sparse-leafed trees, and purple bougainvillea. Some of the buildings are painted eye-popping colors, like the Saguaro Hotel.






And some of the shopping opportunities are equally colorful.

We took a walking tour around the downtown where it is evident that restoration is underway with sculptures, and new buildings in the modernist style – such a far cry from the several old buildings that form the nucleus of the original settlement like McCallum’s adobe.













For a change of scene, we spent a day in nearby Rancho Mirage, famous for the Annenberg estate nicely-named Sunnylands. The 200-acre grounds include a private golf course, 11 lakes, swimming pool, and extensive gardens filled with desert plants. We entered the complex through the impressive and new Welcome Center.



Annenberg was an enormously wealthy philanthropist who was Ronald Reagan’s Ambassador to the U.K. He knew every politician from the 1930s on and the room containing his memorabilia is worth a long look. He envisioned the 25,000 square-foot house would be used as a place where solution-driven meetings could take place, and to that end the architect A. Quincy Jones (not the musician) designed a mid-Century modern mansion with its stark lines and egg-crate overhang greeting us at the home's entrance.



To my eye the interior was a strange jumble, especially the gigantic living room with a continuation of the egg-crate ceiling, clumps of furniture in the Hollywood Regency style, a walk-in fireplace, Rodin sculpture, and Chinese antiquities surrounding a central pool like a Roman villa of old. The most startling aspect of the room is the collection of paintings, Impressionist and Post-Impressionists in their gold carved frames. I did a double-take because I was sure I’d seen many of them before. It turned out I had – all the originals were donated to the Metropolitan Museum and these were digital reproductions which lent a surreal air because some of the paper on which they were printed was slightly warped - enough to catch the light.

We passed outside to view the golf course and swimming pool thinking of all the famous people who visited stayed in the guest house – a series of five color-coordinated rooms, each with a list of those who had rested there: Queen Elizabeth, Sandra Day O-Connor, eight presidents, and the current president of China.






A Trust was set up to preserve the estate and to continue fostering positive international relations after the Annenbergs died. Groups of up to twenty now come for meetings (and golf) while thousands of casual visitors enjoy a tour of the home, gardens, and Welcome Center.

After the tour we were ferried back to the Center in oversized golf-carts. We enjoyed an outdoor lunch and strolled the gardens, watching a yoga class on the Great Lawn before viewing a photographic exhibition of the many birds that make their home on the estate.






Enough culture! We retreated to our condo on one of the more than a hundred golf courses on the area to enjoy the late afternoon lengthening the shadows of the palm trees on the course. We lounged on the balcony with our chilled pinot grigio watching golfers approach a rather menacing sand trap. Several, stuck in the hole, raised their heads to look around before furtively picking up their ball and casually placing it on the putting green not far from the flag. I wondered if any of the famous people who enjoyed a round at the Annenberg estate dared do the same.


 


   
all photos copyright Judith Works.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A WINTER WEEKEND GETAWAY



What to do when you’re in the mood for a change of scene but don’t want to fly or spend hours in the car? We decided a ferry ride and 40-mile drive north up the Kitsap Peninsula was far enough. Our first stop was the tiny company town of Port Gamble located on the very tip of the peninsula. The town was founded in 1853 by Pope and Talbot, the lumber company that owned vast swaths of timber in the area. The mill has long since closed but they still own the town of 900 residents. If you’re looking for life in the slow-lane you can lease one of the Victorian-style houses. It’s always fun to spend some time strolling on the main street, each home and business with a historical marker.




My favorite stop in the “shopping district” is a gorgeous yarn shop called The Artful Ewe (www.TheArtfulEwe.com) run by Heidi Dasher.



Fortified with coffee and hot chocolate after our strenuous 20-mile trip, we headed to our destination: Port Townsend. Now a quiet town filled with Victorian mansions, art galleries, and wooden boats, and retirees, it has a wild history. Home to several native American tribes, it was “discovered” in 1792 by Captain George Vancouver and founded as a city in 1851. By the 1880s it was the second-busiest seaport on the American West Coast and famed for corruption where custom’s officials were bribed to allow the import of untaxed opium. The main street was lined with hotels that were frequently brothels, men were shanghaied, bars were booming. Those that profited lived in grand houses on the bluff overlooking Sodom and Gomorrah below. Everyone was sure that the town would become the terminus for the trans-continental railroad. (It didn’t). In 1898 a large fort was built at the entrance to Puget Sound. The guns were removed in WWI and shipped to Europe although the fort was used for military training until 1953. The complex has been turned into a year-round location for meetings and festivals, walks on the beach, and opportunities to stay in the old officers’ quarters.



After the War, the town fell into irrelevance only to be revived by hippies arriving from California in the 1970s. Now it’s one of Northwesterners’ favorite weekend locations with the old “hotels” converted to real hotels, and many of the Victorian gingerbread mansions on the bluff revitalized as B&Bs.



The brooding city hall:


And numerous churches:



After checking in to our favorite hostelry, The Ravenscroft Inn (www.ravenscroftinn.com) and admiring the deer in their garden, we headed out for serious shopping and eating.








The first stop, as always, were the bookstores. Our two “can’t misses” are Insatiables, old-fashioned with crammed shelves,


and the larger and airy, William James. Both are filled with bargains and treasures. The main streets are lined with other shops filled with non-literary temptations: wine, cooking, clothing, art and craft galleries, restaurants, cafes, and an Art Deco movie theatre.

A shop called Bubble N Squeak (after the British dessert) lured me to browse antiques from the UK personally selected by the proprietor, Dawn Mohrbacher. Since it was early December, there were boxes of Scottish shortbread, plum puddings, and other traditional fare. (A hangover from Downton Abby someone said.) I didn’t resist the pudding and of course Christmas crackers with their prizes and silly hats. One table was loaded with green-glazed salad/dessert plates dated from about 1870 that were just the thing to highlight the pudding. Another shopping bag filled.



We enjoyed lunch at Taps where patrons are served in the old Fort Worden guard house. Fortunately, a fireplace and fully-stocked bar are part of the restaurant – amenities probably not available for earlier occupants.  The razor clam and andouille chowder and Dungeness crab cakes were worth a stay in jail. We returned to the fort area for dinner at Reveille (is where breakfast is served to groups). Sorry to say it was lacking in ambience and very expensive.





The next day began with a short walk to the local farmer’s market. It was still going strong in December with a large selection of locally-grown vegetables and all the other items usually associated with a market; in this case, including the proverbial aging hippies, one of whom was trying to (unsuccessfully) to jump rope in her rubber boots. Nearby is the marvelous Pane d’Amore bakery where we succumbed to brownies and other treats. 





We parked our vegetables (carrots, beets, and rucola) in the car trunk and headed back to town to browse galleries and antique shops (some more formal than others).



 Later, we bought a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and headed to our room to prop up our tired feet in front of the fireplace with a glass and a book – a perfect afternoon.



Dinner was at the always excellent Fountain Café. Fortunately, they had paella on the menu.




My idea of food for the gods.



We woke to a glorious sunrise. It was time to head home with our vegetables, shopping bags, and relaxed attitudes. The ferry soon arrived and we slid past lazy cormorants resting on the Kingston dock pilings, no doubt waiting for a meal to swim by as we tried to decide how soon we’d return to Port Townsend.
  

 
All photos copyright Judith Works

Monday, November 5, 2018

THE ROAD TO DENALI







About the only activity in the port of Seward beside off-loading luggage was that of a nearby whale disporting in the quiet sun-lit waters of Resurrection Bay. The little town, first settled in 1793 by Russian fur traders, is named for Lincoln’s Secretary of the Interior who bought Alaska from the cash-starved Russians in 1867. The port was linked to the interior by the Alaska railroad in 1903. A few years later, news of a gold strike in the interior spread to the lower 48. In 1908, surveyors rushed to map out a trail called the Seward to Nome Trail, or more familiarly The Iditarod, based on a network of existing native trails and ten thousand dreamers rushed to Seward to begin their arduous trek to the far north by dogsled. Other planned settlers never arrived after some government official came up with the idea that the town should be the site of a Jewish settlement in 1939. The plan was never implemented. World War II brought activity, and now the town is an important terminus for the cruise ships that dock there May through September. We were one of those many passengers taking a family vacation and wanting to see more of the state.



We piled on a tour bus with others from the cruise and drove along Turnagain Arm, named by the infamous Captain Bligh during Cook’s last voyage. The Arm, which goes nowhere – hence the name – has the second highest tidal movement in North America, a plus for surfers although the 1964 tsunami rushed up the Arm destroying Seward and other towns including quirky Girdwood. That town was rebuilt in a different location and looked to me like it should be the setting of a TV show like Twin Peaks. Just above the town is the Alyeska Resort, home of great skiing in winter and many summer activities, where we were to spend the afternoon and night. With twenty hours of daylight I reveled in the hotel gardens. I was leery of  hiking on the many trails because it was early June, the season when bears are emerging after their long winter doze. Signs were everywhere warning visitors to be careful. We stuck together along a trail, trying to make enough noise including shaking the silly jingle bells we were given to warn the hungry animals off.











Off again in the morning we began a long day with a brief stop in Anchorage. Someone remarked that it hadn’t changed in the 30 years since she’d last been there. Indeed, it didn’t look any different than when we were there ten years ago. It was remarkable that there appeared to be no construction cranes in comparison to Seattle. Declining oil revenues have apparently brought development to a halt.

One location has changed however: the international airport has become a major hub for cargo from/to Asia. Rows of UPS, FedEx, and other cargo carriers were lined up on the tarmac or waiting to take off. Nearby, we stopped to watch the float planes, Alaska’s preferred method to reach the outback, take off and splash down from the busiest such airport in the world.



We turned north up Highway 3, the route to Fairbanks and eventually the Prudhoe Bay oil field passing Wasilla (where you cannot see Russia despite a certain politician’s claim) and Willow which hosts the official start of the Iditarod race the first Sunday in March after festivities in Anchorage.
A complicated arrangement of fencing lined both sides of the double-lane highway. The objective was to keep moose off the road but it had limited success since over 300 had been killed in collisions with cars and trucks in six months. We didn’t see any alive or dead and began to think our land-based wildlife adventure might be a bust after the wonders of the maritime part of the journey.
However, the next stop was a wildlife center centering around a tourist shop. Nothing much was in view except a couple of musk ox in a small enclosure. These curious creatures, natives of the far north, are famous for standing in a circle, young protected inside as the adults face outward with horned heads lowered against predators. We watched one trying to rub off the long winter fur against a car-wash brush; not exactly nature in the raw. The downy inner coat, called qiviut, is knitted by native women into extremely expensive beautiful hats and scarves.





We eventually turned off the main road into the wilderness to visit a sled dog kennel for a demonstration and box lunch. The dogs surprised me because they were of no particular breed in contrast to the ones we saw in Siberia who looked exactly like the UW mascot. (The puppy was adorable though). The dogs' appearance made no difference to their desires. Like those we’d seen in Russia, they were crazy to run when the owner came out with harnesses in this case to be hitched to an ATV since there was no snow. The dogs, each chained to a dog house jumped straight up, barking furiously as if to say, “take me, me, me!” We watched them go off at a run for a few turns around a dirt track trying to envision the annual race, an 1,150-mile mid-winter race through ice-covered and snow-bound tundra and spruce forests. The Iditarod commemorates the desperate rush to bring diphtheria serum to Nome to combat an outbreak in 1925, and is now a highly competitive test for musher and dogs and a great tourist attraction. We watched a film, the theme being the great bonding of man and dog working together but oddly to me, it seemed rather defensive given challenges from animal rights activists. And I can’t help wondering what will happen as the snow diminishes because of climate change.








The next stop was the Alaska Veteran’s Memorial with a sculpture at the entrance honoring the 6000 Alaska Territorial Guards made up of native tribes, who were active during World War II. They served as lookouts for further Japanese incursions and otherwise aided the war effort after the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands, thousands of miles northwest of the monument. The statue is set in front of a series of tall slabs, one for each branch of the military. The invasion is a little-known aspect of World War II where 1,000 US troops lost their lives along with all of the 2,000 Japanese invaders (the last by suicide). A dreadful byproduct of the invasion was the evacuation of Native Aleuts from the dry and treeless islands to the rain forest on an island near Sitka, resulting in tuberculosis and deaths. This stop was a somber way to embark on the last leg of the long bus ride.







We arrived at our hotel desperate to rest our weary bottoms which had been planted in the bus for eleven hours. The accommodations at The Grand Denali weren’t especially grand but the scenery was. The food was excellent as was the interior décor in the main lodge where enigmatic Yupik masks were displayed.






The following day was filled with sightings of grizzly bears, Dall sheep, caribou, and golden eagles. Exactly what we had hoped for except no moose even though a worried-looking park ranger warned walkers to look out for an aggressive female seen in the area. Where were they?  Denali wasn’t in sight either.



All ended well as travel should when we returned to Anchorage on the Alaska Railroad. Moose in abundance and the enormous cloud-wreathed mountain shining in the sun after all.


 
All photos except first and last (Resurrection Bay and Mt. Denali) copyright Judith Works
Resurrection Bay and Mt. Denali photos copyright Kathryn Schipper