Desert Orchard UPDATE: Yay, we have 40 trees at the farm that are alive, well, and – in some cases – fruiting. Upper left: #asianpear; upper right: #jujube; lower left: #persimmon; lower right: #pomegranate. Most of these trees were abandoned by the previous owner and weren't watered for over 6 years. We believe these survivors (hundreds of others died) may be unusually drought tolerant. Next step is to graft from them and create drought tolerant fruit trees, some of which we hope to sell (our 5-year plan!). Harvest comes in a month or two for most of these guys. Fingers crossed #droughttolerantfarming #joshuatree
The “Lake Fire” took a turn for the worse yesterday, jumping in acreage (22k acres total now) and decreasing in containment (from 38% to 21%), sending up a massive new plume that we watched develop all afternoon from our home, over 30 miles away.
This photo is from last night. The mass of darkness in this photo is smoke…
As I type this, we’re hearing news that they’ve started evacuating the Rimrock area, and parts (maybe all?) of Pioneertown. We are concerned for our friends there… Very disheartening news, especially after this fire seemed to have been on its way to total containment just 48 hours ago.
More news: The Desert Sun
Above: One of the resident wild desert tortoises dropped by our Joshua Tree Midcentury Prefab Homesteader Cabin this morning. Photo by one of our pleasantly surprised guests.
Be our guest at this cabin, now equipped with air conditioning. Info, booking: Airbnb
“Then there were the Giant Hairy Scorpions — six-inch-long land lobsters with a mildly venomous sting, who were so plentiful in our outdoor raised bed garlic patch that I hand-relocated them by the dozen to an undisclosed location twice. Amazingly, these ‘insects’ can live for 25 years. Can your dog? …”
Read more: SELF-POLLINATING (from Desert Oracle No. 1)
Originally published in Desert Oracle No. 1 (Spring 2015)
“Letter From North Joshua Tree”
by Jay Babcock
November 11, 2014
I’m composing this missive from beneath our desert ash tree. Watering the Joshua tree, watching the male finches zip about, running Steve Gunn’s Way Out Weather on the house hi-fi out the open windows. That I’m outdoors mid-morning in November means that the warm autumn is continuing: little to no wind, daytime temperatures cycling 10 degrees north and south of 80F, blue skies and clear nights.
But yeah, I’m watering a 16-foot Joshua tree in November because there hasn’t been much rain here since Spring. That was enough to give us our our first wildflower season in years, albeit a mild one. Mildflowers. And grass, and more plants, which meant for everyone to feed on. The ants seemed to mobilize first and widest — black and reds alike, constructing chains of mounds wherever there was sand. Then during the summer months the ant-devourers were out en masse — we saw the greatest variety and quantity of our lizard friends since Stephanie and I set up housekeeping here (as my grandfather would say) five years ago: Desert Horneds, Desert Banded Geckos (!), Western Whiptails. All their real names, your honor. And the insects! I will also call them by their secular names: Thistledown Velvet Ants, Pallid Grasshoppers, Giant Redheaded Centipedes, Tarantula Hawk Wasps — the latter having larvae-nesting habits so hideous they may singlehandedly prove the case for the universe being fundamentally evil in the antinatalist sense.
Then there were the Giant Hairy Scorpions — six-inch-long land lobsters with a mildly venomous sting, who were so plentiful in our outdoor raised bed garlic patch that I hand-relocated them by the dozen to an undisclosed location twice. (Amazingly, these ‘insects’ can live for 25 years. Can your dog?) More bats and butterflies (especially around the compost/manure operation) too. Friends down near Aberdeen Road saw a family of Ringtail cats several nights in a row in October.
And this past weekend, one of the migratory flocks of turkey vultures that we see here twice yearly roosted overnight in our neighbor Old Joe’s giant honey mesquite tree, 250 yards from our house, and in Miguel and Marta’s grove up the road. In the morning they sat on fence posts and at the trees’ apexes, with their three-foot wings extended, motionless for minutes on end sunning themselves, warming up for the day’s flight. “They look like wet umbrellas,” said a friend. Then they were off, in that funnel/cyclone formation they travel in.
Above: a wild desert tortoise walking in BLM land in North Joshua Tree. Photo by Stephanie Smith, April 29, 2015.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is proposing to radically increase the amount of land in Joshua Tree (and the rest of the Mojave Desert) available to Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) use.
We do not need any more ORV routes in the desert.
ORV use in the desert harms everyone and everything in the wild desert habitat. “The desert ecosystem is fragile,” says the National Park Service. “Off-road driving and riding creates ruts, upsets delicate drainage patterns, compacts the soil, and leaves visual scars for years. Plants are crushed and uprooted. Wildlife shelters are destroyed, and food and water supplies are altered or obliterated.” The sound disrupts the peace. The motion sends dust into the air, increasing air pollution.
Much of this BLM land has legitimate conservation value. In our area of northern Joshua Tree, BLM land is home to threatened species like the desert tortoise, and provides habitat and foraging opportunity to a wide variety of desert animals, insects and birds. The wildlife needs this land.
In addition: many of the new proposed routes for ORV traffic are in the ‘checkerboard’ area of north Joshua Tree, where small BLM parcels are interspersed with residential lots. Many of the proposed routes are discontinuous, meaning that ORVers will take a route for a few hundred yards, then have to stop, because the next route is accessible only via County road — and ORV use on County roads is illegal. The proposed routes are also near existing residences — private property — which will inevitably encourage (if not cause) accidental ORV use on private property, which of course will cause more conflict between riders and homeowners. The sheriff and the BLM cannot adequately police ORV activity on County roads and open spaces up here now — you add additional routes, between homes, and we’re gonna have a helluva problem on our hands.
The BLM is now taking comments from the public on its proposals, and has laid out very specific criteria about what kinds of comments count as “substantive” for them. Don’t waste your time writing a general comment about ORVs. It won’t do any good. Write a substantive comment. For guidance on how to do this, go here: ORV Watch
Local biologist and Morongo Basin Conservation Association board member Pat Flanagan has researched this issue and written the best comment letter we have seen thus far for the Copper Mountain Mesa and Desert Heights areas of the Morongo Basin. Here it is: WEMO DEIS Comments_MB and Communities (2mb pdf)
If you agree with it, sign on to it. The email address and physical mailing address it should be sent to are in the PDF.
AND/OR: You can sign an excellent letter of comment on this issue, prepared by our friends at the Center for Biological Diversity, here: Stop BLM’s Plan to Double Off-road Traffic in West Mojave
Beloved Joshua Tree violinist/fiddler TIM KELLY died Sunday night in a terrible accident. We are in shock.
“A Joshua Tree musician was killed Sunday evening when the bicycle he was riding was hit by a car. According to the California Highway Patrol, Tim Kelly, 58, was riding his bike northbound on Sunburst Avenue near Jericho Lane about 8:15 p.m. A 2014 Chevrolet Sonic, driven by Derek Burnham, 26, of Yucca Valley, was also traveling northbound on Sunburst at about 50 miles per hour when the car clipped the back of the bike, which did not have any lights on it. Kelly, who was not wearing a bicycle helmet, was thrown from the bicycle and despite CPR attempts by Burnham, died at the scene. Tim Kelly was often seen at the Joshua Tree farmer’s market playing his violin. Derek Burnham was arrested for several outstanding warrants for driving without a license and for no vehicle registration. Burnham was booked into the Morongo Basin Jail and released Monday morning.”
There will be a public memorial tomorrow (Wed) night at the Beatnik Lounge, startiing at 6pm. Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/1639144579651954/
Here is a short film on Tim that Dan O’Dowd made in 2012.
A wild desert iguana, shedding skin at her (?) collar, yesterday morning near our house.
Click on the image to bigify.
The following photographs and video of this healthy, wild juvenile desert tortoise were made by our guest Emily Curry on Sunday morning, May 3, at our unfenced Midcentury Prefab Homesteader Cabin in north Joshua Tree (cabin rental info here). We’ve seen this little guy (gal?) before, and know where one of his burrows is, but we’ve never been able to get photos — thank you, Emily!
It is very rare to see a healthy juvenile desert tortoise in the wild — this is only the third one we’ve ever seen in our time living out here. Few desert tortoises survive into adulthood due to death by predation (ravens, coyotes); disease; and adverse human activity — road and building construction, off-road vehicle use and climate change — which shrinks available habitat. (More info on threats to the desert tortoise here.)