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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

April in Joshua Tree National Park

Childhood memories of scrambling among piles of boulders in Joshua Tree, return whenever I visit this park. I have always marveled at the weird and unique Joshua Tree plants and the random-looking piles of granite, making me think of some other planet. Designated a national monument in 1936, it became a national park in 1994.

This park protects 800,000 acres of Colorado and Sonoran desert. I love seeing on the park website that from time to time certain areas of the park are closed to public use "due to wildlife activity." Isn't this part of why we have parks? To protect the wildlife?

On the approach to the park from the heavily populated Los Angeles Area, one drives past Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs, from which there are gorgeous views of 10,834-foot Mt. San Jacinto.

During beautiful sunny days of a visit to Joshua Tree National Park in April, with temperatures in the 70s, snow-capped peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains were still visible from a corner of the park and from nearby Yucca Valley.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Visiting the park with a biology professor who specializes in reptiles, leads to identifying numerous lizards, including these:

Collared Lizard
Chuckwalla - note he's lost his tail!

We even spotted a mini desert tortoise - actually a baby - a miniature of the adult, but only about 3 inches in diameter.

The scenery is spectacular, and the rocks are popular among climbers.

Cactus bloom in the spring, the vibrant color of the blossoms a striking contrast to the forbidding spines of the cacuts.

An early morning walk at the Oasis of Mara - or anywhere else - is a great time for bird watching or photography.

This Gambel's Quail posed and sang for us.

The Phainopepla has a silhouette similar to the eastern Cardinal, but all black, with his striking crest.

Mourning Dove

Desert Cottontail

Wildflowers abound when conditions are right.

There are many hiking opportunities including a few that take the visitor to one of several oases in the park - such as the moderate 3-mile round-trip hike to the 49-Palms Oasis.

The hiker is rewarded by a lovely green oasis.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spring Break in Santa Barbara

Cachuma Lake Recreation Area, about 15 miles inland from Santa Barbara, California, is a lovely county park. 

In spring, the hills around the lake are a lush green, deciduous oaks bursting with new growth. These coastal hills have abundant wildlife, including deer, wild turkey, and many bird species. 

We camped among oaks filled with acorn woodpeckers.

European Collared Doves were common, as were wild turkey, Western Bluebird, California Quail, Scrub Jay, European Starling, and the little Yellow-Rumped Warbler - which I have always thought is a much less dignified name for this cute bird than the former name, "Audubon's Warbler."

Along the coast, Gaviota State Park "takes its name from the Spanish word for seagull, given to the area by soldiers of the Portola Expedition who supposedly killed a seagull while camping here in 1769." A dramatic railroad trestle dominates the way to the beach, and a long pier attracts fishermen and even has a boat launch hoist. The pier is a great vantage point for view of birds and the ocean.

Wildflowers grace every hillside, the most showy flowers being the California Poppy, Lupine, and Mustard.

We delighted in walking along the beach among the gulls, and especially in watching Long Billed Curlews feed in the receding waves, flaunting the unlikely proportions of their long bills, then flying gracefully over the surf.

Refugio State Beach and El Capitan State Beach, also operated by the California State Parks system, offer more miles of beach and hiking trails, and more shorebirds. All of these three parks and beaches are within 20 miles of Santa Barbara, itself a charming seaside town.