May 31, 2018

The trees of summer: Smoke trees, cacti and palms have long been revered by desert locals

Palm tree in the desert. (Photo: Palm Springs Historical Society/Special to The Desert Sun)

Tracy Conrad
Special to The Desert Sun


Signaling the end of spring, smoke trees in the desert washes become dotted with tiny bluish-purple blooms at the beginning of summer each year.

The color is deep and distinct and has been revered by desert dwellers for decades. Nellie Coffman herself was known to berate anyone who dared chop down a smoke tree.

Most visitors to the desert had no appreciation for the tree having never seen it in bloom. Visitors evaporated from Palm Springs in May as temperatures increased threatening the coming summer.

But local residents, like Coffman, knew better. Agnes Pelton famously painted “Smoke Tree in Bloom” to be auctioned off to benefit the newly formed Desert Art Center.

Carl Bray, fancied for himself the sobriquet “painter of smoke trees” as they featured regularly on his canvases. Other desert artists like John Hilton, William Darling and Jimmy Swinnerton were captivated by the indigo blooms, buzzing with bees, and memorialized their brief early summer show in paint.

Spring in the desert is spectacular, but summer is even more impressive for the cacti, trees and scrubs that survive it.

Wise and observant desert dwellers had special reverence for the plant species found in this harsh environment.

The village of Palm Springs took its name from the indigenous palms, found in the ravines of the surrounding mountains. The native California fan palm signaled the presence of water to early settlers and Native Americans. The Cahuilla used the fruit of the Washingtonia filifera for food and its fronds for weaving and roofing.

The importation of date palms to the area a century ago started the comparison of the Coachella Valley to the deserts of the Middle East and sparked an agricultural industry. Soon there was cultivation of all sorts of palm species as ornamental trees.

Grand allees of palms would soon line the boulevards of Los Angeles and San Diego. In Palm Springs, Ruth Hardy, owner of the Ingleside Inn and the first councilwoman, campaigned for planting palms along both sides of highway 111, engendering its name of Palm Canyon Drive.

Soldiering trees marched all the way to the Indian Canyons where the native palms could be found in abundance; the basis for the village itself.

The original summer survivor in the desert is, of course, the cactus. Reverence for its diversity was elevated to an art form by Chester “Cactus Slim” and Patricia Moorten. The Moortens famously saved cacti in the path of road construction for use as ornamentals in gardens.

They collected unusual specimens from all over the desert southwest and Baja Mexico, bringing them home to Palm Springs and transplanting them into the garden plot around their new home (purchased from photographer and painter Stephen Willard who was leaving town because it had gotten too crowded.)

A botanist trained at University of Southern California, Patricia published her classic book, “Desert Plants for Desert Gardens” much before the idea of using native plants in a sustainable way became the norm. The magazine Popular Mechanics even featured an article on the Moortens in March of 1960.

The Moortens’ appreciation of cacti was akin to Nellie’s reverence of smoke trees. Locals survived through the tough summers to be rewarded with mild winters and glorious springs, just like native trees, scrubs and cacti.

Locals tried to cultivate an appreciation of the subtleties of desert plants by memorializing the spectacular blooms in postcards and pictures. And they tried to inculcate that appreciation through guidebooks for newcomers.

Melba Bennett, the founder of many Palm Springs institutions including the “Palm Springs Hat,” the Palm Springs Historical Society and the Palm Springs Garden Club, wrote a little book just for this purpose. Meant to help new arrivals cultivate a proper desert garden, her little book had practical advice and was annotated in the margins with little whimsical doodles to emphasize her points. The book contains charming descriptions and recommendations gleaned from years of hard work and experimentation in her garden at Deep Well Ranch.

Plants were chosen for their riot of blooms in springtime and their ability to survive the blistering heat of summer.

The diminutive indigo blooms of smoke trees were complemented by the exuberant deep orange bouquets offered by Poinciana, Mexican bird of paradise.

Bennett counseled a variety of colors and shapes in the composition of a garden, and a rotation of flowering to provide interest in the garden through the coming long summer months.

May 30, 2018

How wildland springs affect mule deer population dynamics studied by CABNR

Kelley Stewart lab looked at mule deer in arid environments, particularly juvenile survival

Led by CABNR associate professor Kelley Stewart, a team of scientists and students capture, study and release mule deer in their research to quantify the effects of springs and cattle-watering stations on juvenile mule deer populations.

By Robyn Feinberg
Nevada Today


In 2008, Kelley Stewart, a large mammal ecologist in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, started a project looking at how wildlife guzzlers, or springs, affected population dynamics of mule deer.

"The park service was trying to decide if they wanted to allow California Department of Fish and Wildlife to turn deactivated water sites into water developments for wildlife" Stewart, associate professor in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, said.

"We were asked to determine how important those water sites were for mule deer. We did that for eight years, and had some really interesting information not only on water and how water developments help wildlife, but a lot of it became timing of precipitation and timing of green-up and how that affected juvenile and adult survival and helping those populations persist."

"Green-up" refers to the beginning of a new cycle of plant growth following winter. The research conducted at the Mojave National Preserve in Southern California, in the Mojave Desert completed in 2017.

Decommissioned cattle watering sites studied

Before the research began in this area, the U.S. National Park Service put out a request for research because of the wells that were left behind when the cattle allotments were purchased from cattlemen and troughs that had been maintained for cattle were decommissioned. They required an environmental assessment of the effect of the wells before the California Department of Fish and Wildlife could change anything.

"Right before I got hired here, two colleagues, Jim Sedinger, professor in the natural resources department, and Vern Bleich, emeritus biologist from California Department of Fish and Wildlife, put in a proposal to look at the effects of providing water to mule deer," Stewart said. "When I got here, I took over the project, and I got to run with it because I was hired as the large-mammal ecologist in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science.

"I wrote a more detailed proposal describing the experiment to test the effects of provision of water on mule deer population dynamics. It was really exciting to get here and have this project kind of ready to go, so I designed the experiment for the study on how we could experimentally manipulate water availability and test the effects on mule deer populations."

Stewart's particular interest was in the juvenile mule deer population.

"When we looked at juveniles, we captured neo-natal mule deer, fawns, and put small, expandable collars on them and monitored their survival," she said. "We started doing that right as we entered the four-year drought that we just recently went through, and so survival was pretty low. In fact, the lowest deer survival rate was about 19 percent for the year, and then in 2016, when we had this great winter, we had really good rains between January and March, which translated into really good green-up that spring, and survival went to about 70 percent."

"So, the drought had a really huge effect on that population, and that pulse of water, which of course affected vegetation, affected nutrition, which helped those females be in better shape to be able to pull off those offspring," Stewart said.

While Stewart's team had originally been studying water sources in terms of survival and importance to deer, they found that the green-up in 2016 also played a pivotal role.

Maintenance of water in the desert

"Maintenance of water is probably really important for a lot of populations in the desert, including species we didn't work on, like mountain sheep and desert tortoises, but really, that timing of green up, and the timing of the amount of green up in the spring, also had a big effect on survival of juveniles," Stewart said. "And juvenile survival is the life-history characteristic that varies the most, and has the biggest effect on changes in populations."

Stewart and her team looked more closely at juvenile mule deer because their general survival rate is lower than fully grown mule deer, so their population can be affected easily.

"Adult survival has a very big effect on population growth. You can tweak it just a little bit, and it has a big effect on the population, but adult survival tends to be pretty high and doesn't vary that much," Stewart said. "So generally, if you make it to be an adult, you're pretty good, but the fawns, we lost the majority of them in the first month of life, and if you get them through that first winter, get them recruited into the adult population, then they tended to survive for a long time. Increasing juvenile survival is where you can actually tweak things to help the population, much more than trying to affect adults."

Stewart's overall research showed the importance of water to mule deer survival rates, with strong selection for areas closer to sources of water. They also saw strong effects of timing of precipitation on survival of fawns, as well as size at birth playing an important role in survival. Stewart said that while the U.S. Park Service is determining what to do with those water developments since the conclusion of the research, she advocates for keeping the water available.

Through the duration of the project, Stewart trained three graduate students who have all since gone into wildlife careers. The research also culminated in three research papers so far, including "Timing of precipitation in an arid environment: Effects on populations performance of a large herbivore" (2018) and "Spatial distributions and resource selection by mule deer in an arid environment: Responses to provision of water" (2015).

The team has another research paper in review, titled "Resources selection by female mule deer: tradeoffs associated with reproduction."

Stewart is planning to continue research on mule deer populations, and has just begun a new study in collaboration with the Nevada Department of Wildlife involving the effects of removing pinyon-juniper trees on habitat selection and use by mule deer. Stewart has always been interested in large mammals, especially the interaction between population dynamics and effects of herbivory on vegetation and, in turn, the whole ecosystem.

Stewart received her bachelor's degree from the University of California, Davis and her master's from Texas A&M University - Kingsville, where she worked in the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute. She received her doctorate from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where she worked in the Department of Biology and Wildlife and the Institute of Arctic Biology.

May 17, 2018

Park Service signs deal to round up Death Valley’s wild burros

A wild burro stands in Death Valley National Park. The agency has entered into a five-year agreement with a nonprofit rescue group to remove all burros from the park. (National Park Service)

By Henry Brean
Las Vegas Review-Journal


Death Valley National Park hopes to be burro-free within the next five years.

The National Park Service said Thursday it has entered into a contract with Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, a Texas-based nonprofit, to round up and remove up to 2,500 wild burros from the park 100 miles west of Las Vegas.

The animals are not native to Death Valley, but they have made themselves at home there, said park Superintendent Mike Reynolds. They damage springs and vegetation, create a safety hazard on park roads and compete for food and water with desert bighorn sheep and other native animals.

“Burros are not part of the natural California desert ecosystem,” Reynolds said in a written statement. “With this partnership, we have created a win-win situation for the burros, the park and taxpayers.”

Starting later this month, Peaceful Valley will lure the animals with food and water or drive them with wranglers on horseback into temporary pens. The burros will then be trucked out of the park to training centers to be prepped for adoption.

“Our main objective is to protect our wild burros. If they must be removed, we want to ensure that it is done safely with as little stress possible,” Mark Meyers, the rescue group’s executive director, said in a written statement.

“This is what they do,” Death Valley spokeswoman Abby Wines said of Peaceful Valley. “Their main mission is to rescue burros and put them up for adoption.”

Wines said the group has agreed to find room at one of its sanctuaries for any animals that can’t be trained or placed in new homes.

Pleasant Valley also plans to remove up to 2,500 wild burros from nearby Mojave National Preserve in California under the same five-year contract.

The operation is being paid for with private donations and grants to the group. Wines said the cost to the federal government is “pretty close to zero.”

Eliminating wild burros from Death Valley has been the Park Service’s stated goal since the adoption of a master plan for the 3.4 million acre park in 2002, but no roundups have been conducted since 2005.

So why now? “They’re multiplying,” Wines said. “We don’t really know what our population is, but we think it’s in the neighborhood of 2,000.”

The largest concentrations of burros can be found in Saline and Butte valleys and in the Wildrose area, she said, but the animals also have recently shown up in the Black Mountains south of Dantes View for the first time since the 1940s.

The National Park Service is allowed to remove them because it is not bound by the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, which requires the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to manage and maintain the animals on public land.

The wild burros of today are not related to the larger animals used in the 20-mule teams that famously hauled borax out of Death Valley in the late 1800s, but Wines said they may be the descendants of old pack animals once used by prospectors in the region.

“That’s the foundation of the wild population in the West,” she said.

The Park Service doesn’t expect the upcoming roundup to eliminate the burro problem entirely.

For one thing, Wines said, “it will be very hard to get all of them.”

And there is nothing to stop burros from neighboring parts of Nevada and California from making their way into Death Valley some day.

“We’re not going to fence the park,” Wines said.

April 14, 2018

Rare desert spring imperiled by company's plan to pump groundwater

Bonanza Spring nourishes an oasis of plants and trees in the Mojave Desert. (Photo: Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun)

Ian James
The Desert Sun


Below the rocky, sunbaked ridges of the Clipper Mountains in the Mojave Desert, a ribbon of green teems with life.

Cottonwoods, willows and reeds sway with the breeze. Crickets chirp. Bees buzz around shallow pools.

Clear water gushes from a hole in the ground, forming Bonanza Spring, the largest spring in the southeastern Mojave Desert.

This rare oasis is at the center of the fight over a company’s plan to pump groundwater and sell it to California cities.

Cadiz Inc. is proposing to pump an average of 16.3 billion gallons of water each year for 50 years. The company says the project won’t harm any of the springs in the area, and it recently presented a study in which researchers concluded Bonanza Spring wouldn’t be affected by its groundwater pumping.

Now other researchers have come to the opposite conclusion, saying in a new study that Bonanza Spring is likely connected to the same aquifer where the company plans to draw water from wells, and that the project would put the spring at risk of drying up.

Andy Zdon, a hydrogeologist who led the study, analyzed water samples from the spring and determined that unlike other nearby springs, which are fed by rainfall that collects in relatively shallow underground sources, Bonanza Spring flows with water that comes from much deeper underground.

Zdon said the research points to a “hydraulic connection” between the spring and the aquifer that Cadiz intends to use, indicating the spring would probably be affected by the decline in the water table.

“The spring is going to be highly susceptible to drawdown from the pumping,” Zdon said. “It would likely dry up.”

The study, which was published Friday in the journal Environmental Forensics, involved a chemical analysis of water from Bonanza Spring and other springs in Mojave Trails National Monument. The research was conducted by consulting firm Partner Engineering and Science Inc. and funded by the Mojave Desert Land Trust, a nonprofit conservation group that opposes the Cadiz project.

Zdon and his team analyzed the oxygen and hydrogen isotopes in the water and said the water in Bonanza Spring has different characteristics than several other springs in this part of the desert. The stable isotopes in rainwater vary with latitude and elevation, and Zdon and his colleagues used those “signatures” to examine the sources of the spring water.

They determined that Hummingbird, Teresa, and Chuckwalla Springs are “perched” springs, which are relatively shallow and fed by local rainfall percolating into the ground, but that the water in Bonanza Spring differs from local rainfall and instead matches rain that falls well north of the Clipper Mountains in other mountains in the Mojave National Preserve.

The scientists also found that unlike other springs, the water in Bonanza Spring has similar characteristics to groundwater in the aquifer in the adjacent Fenner Valley — including the Fenner Gap, an area where Cadiz plans to pump groundwater.

Zdon coauthored the research with hydrogeologists M. Lee Davisson and Adam H. Love. They said in the study that Bonanza Spring “has generally been assumed to be a perched spring disconnected from the basin-fill aquifer system,” but that their results indicate it’s likely connected with that larger reserve of groundwater.

And if groundwater levels decline due to pumping, the researchers wrote, that “could result in an uncertain, but potentially substantial decrease in free-flowing water from the spring.”

Cadiz disputed the findings, and scientists who recently studied the spring for the company called the new research flawed.

“Zdon does not account for the existence of two observable geologic faults that fully insulate the Bonanza Spring from any impact from the Cadiz Water Project,” Cadiz President and CEO Scott Slater said in a statement.

In the earlier study commissioned by the Los Angeles-based company, researchers identified two faults that they said block groundwater flowing in fractured bedrock. They said those two “bounding faults” intersect at the spring, and groundwater spills over the faults to form the spring.

The study, which was released in January, was conducted by geologist Miles Kenney and hydrogeologist Terry Foreman, who said the effects of groundwater drawdown around the company’s wells wouldn’t reach the area of the spring due to a “hydraulic disconnect” and faults between the two areas.

The wellfield where the company intends to pump groundwater is located about 1,000 feet lower in elevation than the spring, and about 11 miles away.

In their assessment, Kenney and Foreman wrote that “the spring’s discharge is localized within a fractured rock system that is hydraulically separated from the alluvial regional groundwater system in Fenner Valley located three miles to the east.” They said their research “demonstrates that the perennial spring discharge is controlled by the existence of two bounding faults.”

As part of the research, Kenney mapped the faults and the geology around the spring. During six days of field work, Kenney inspected a tunnel uphill from the spring on the mountainside that was apparently excavated in the early 1900s by miners, and he found a portion of the fault exposed in the wall of the passage. The other intersecting fault zone was also visible.

“Essentially those faults act like dams,” Foreman said. “It’s effectively a subsurface dam that then causes the water to overspill, groundwater to spill over those faults.”

The researchers who prepared the study for Cadiz said the spring’s flow depends on recharge from precipitation in a catchment area that extends over four miles to the north.

“The spring is going to be controlled absolutely by climatic conditions, basically changes in long-term rainfall and recharge above where those faults occur,” Foreman said. “It’s going to be driven by that recharge as opposed to anything that happens in the valley.”

Kenney criticized Zdon’s research, saying “he basically didn’t look at the local geology.”

“We think it’s flawed and it needs to be corrected,” Foreman added.

Arguing over the science

Zdon said he disagreed with the conclusions of the study commissioned by Cadiz. He pointed out that Kenney and Foreman didn’t include a similar analysis of water samples.

“You can’t begin to source where water comes from without looking at the water itself, and they did not do that,” Zdon said.

Zdon previously conducted a survey of more than 300 springs and water holes across the Mojave Desert for the federal Bureau of Land Management during 2015 and 2016. He’s found that most of the springs in the desert rely on local precipitation and may increase or decrease in flow depending on whether it’s been wet or dry.

But Zdon said records from more than a century ago show that Bonanza Spring is different and that its flow has held steady at about 10 gallons a minute. It’s still putting out as much water as it did in the early 1900s, he said, when a pipeline carried water downhill to the railway stop in Danby to fill tanks aboard passing steam engines.

Zdon said other measurements provided additional clues. When a spring depends on shallow groundwater, the water temperature is usually close to the average annual air temperature. But the water in Bonanza Spring emerges from the ground more than 11 degrees warmer, indicating it’s warmed up by the earth deep underground. His team calculated the water must be coming up from more than 750 feet underground.

Zdon also analyzed the water to check for tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that was released into the atmosphere with nuclear weapons testing starting in the late 1940s. The water in nearby Teresa Spring contains tritium, showing the water fell as rain or snow sometime between the 40s and the present day. But the water in Bonanza Spring contains no tritium, indicating it’s been underground since before those atomic tests.

Zdon said other carbon-dating tests, which weren’t described in their study, have found that the water coming out of Bonanza Spring has been underground for approximately 15,000 years.

“So, between the groundwater ages, the temperatures and the chemistry, looking at it from three different directions, it’s all pointing to the same answer: that this is tied into more regional flow,” Zdon said. “That water has got to be moving towards the Clipper Mountains through the basin-fill aquifer… and seeping through the Clipper Mountains, probably along fractured rocks along the fault zones, and surfacing at the spring.”

On that point, too, the scientists who prepared the report for Cadiz said they disagree based on their observations and their work mapping the faults and reviewing scientific papers. They also studied documents concerning two old mines located about a mile northeast of the spring.

The groundwater levels in those inactive mines are about 150 feet lower than the elevation where water flows from Bonanza Spring, they wrote, suggesting that the faults in the area, which run from the northwest toward the southeast, act as barriers and “groundwater flow is effectively compartmentalized.”

“It’s physically impossible for groundwater to move from the north, across that area where those mines are, to Bonanza Spring,” Foreman said. “Groundwater levels to the north of Bonanza Spring are lower, so there’s no way that groundwater levels can go from a high to a low and then essentially go back uphill. It’s just physically not possible.”

Kenney also reviewed aerial images in mapping the faults and the geology. Cadiz’s research team said they found other geologic signs including an abundance of precipitated minerals along the fault zones, “indicating that the faults can be strong groundwater barriers.”

As part of the study commissioned by Cadiz, 10 hydrologists and geologists visited the spring in December with Foreman and Kenney, and five of them reviewed the report and agreed with the conclusion that the spring wouldn’t be affected by the water project.

Cadiz has proposed to pump groundwater on land surrounded by Mojave Trails National Monument. The company owns 34,000 acres in the desert along Route 66, and it plans to build a 43-mile pipeline to carry water from its property to the Colorado River Aqueduct.

In 2011 and 2012, Cadiz’s proposal went through an environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act. Orange County’s Santa Margarita Water District served as the lead agency in the review process and certified the environmental impact report. The document repeatedly states that “the physical evidence indicates” the aquifer isn’t connected to the springs and therefore the pumping would have no impact on the springs.

Conservation groups challenged the environmental review in court, but they lost.

Frazier Haney, land conservation director for the Mojave Desert Land Trust, said the new research shows those environmental review documents were based on incomplete science and that the water project poses a serious threat to the spring.

During a visit to Bonanza Spring, Haney walked past blooming brittlebush shrubs and wildflowers to the edge of the spring, where the thick vegetation rustled in the breeze. He said he’s seen mountain lion tracks here. The spring is also frequented by bighorn sheep and bobcats that come to drink, and by migratory birds that forage among the trees.

Frogs and tadpoles swim in the ponds, and dozens of species of native plants grow in the wetland, which stretches a half-mile downhill from the spot where water pours out of the ground.

Walking to the top of a bluff, Haney looked out over the springs.

“It’s a magical place,” Haney said. “Springs like this are one of the most important parts of the ecosystem.”

From the ridges above the spring, you can see the open desert of the Fenner Valley below. It stretches out in a plain between mountain ranges, covered with creosote bushes. Haney pointed out the patch of the desert where Cadiz is proposing to drill new wells.

“Intensive groundwater pumping out here could be devastating for the ecosystem,” Haney said.

His group focuses on buying lands to protect parts of the desert for conservation. It has purchased more than 71,000 acres for conservation since 2006. Some of those lands have been transferred to the federal government and have become part of the Mojave Trails National Monument.

Cadiz’s managers have said they plan to use groundwater that would otherwise gradually flow downhill and evaporate from two dry lakes. On those dry lakebeds, other companies dig trenches in the cracked soil to extract salts left by the evaporating water.

The concept of using water that would otherwise evaporate from the lakebeds is reflected in the company’s formal name for its plan: the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project.

“The Cadiz Water Project will stop the annual loss of more than 10 billion gallons per year to evaporation,” Courtney Degener, a vice president and spokesperson for the company, said in an email. “It cannot and will not impact area springs but it will make available new water for 400,000 people, create critical groundwater storage capacity for our region and support 5,900 new jobs in a safe and sustainable way.”

Degener said Zdon’s new study “fails to account for the most current field work and hydrogeological conclusions about area springs, and does not present any new credible findings.”

‘Cone of depression’

Cadiz’s proposal has been hotly debated for years. While pursuing the plan to sell water, the company has been pumping groundwater on its property to irrigate nearly 2,000 acres of farmland, growing lemons, grapes, raisins and other crops.

During President Barack Obama’s administration, federal officials had hindered the project by ruling that the company would need a new permit to build a water pipeline alongside a railroad.

But in October, President Donald Trump’s administration reversed that decision and gave the company a green light. The federal Bureau of Land Management told Cadiz it wouldn’t need a permit to build the pipeline along the railroad right-of-way.

Two environmental groups — the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety — are challenging that decision in a lawsuit. Another group, the National Parks Conservation Association, is suing to challenge a related policy change: a 2017 Interior Department legal opinion that said railroad companies are allowed to lease out portions of their rights-of-way for other purposes without going through a federal environmental review.

Cadiz has said it plans to move ahead with designing and building the water pipeline alongside the railroad.

That plan still could face obstacles, though, because some of the land where Cadiz wants to build the pipeline is owned by the state. And in September, California’s State Lands Commission told the company that any use of the state-owned lands under its jurisdiction would require a lease and its approval.

Opponents of the project seized on the new study, saying it reveals problems in the 2012 environmental review.

“Given this new information, I strongly believe Cadiz’s CEQA review must be reexamined,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a statement Friday. “Cadiz needs to accept this new scientific study and abandon its goal of draining the Mojave Desert of its most precious resource: water. It’s time Cadiz and its investors give up on this desert boondoggle.”

Chris Clarke, California desert program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, agreed and said the new research “demonstrates Cadiz has used a flawed hydrology model that produced flawed analysis” for the environmental review. He said that process “now must be corrected through additional environmental review.”

The company’s officials have defended the environmental review, pointing out that California’s environmental law is considered more stringent than any federal environmental law and that San Bernardino County in 2012 approved a groundwater management plan — formally titled the Groundwater Management, Monitoring and Mitigation Plan — which sets additional limits for the project.

Cadiz also points to the court decisions upholding the review.

“Peer-reviewed science, physical observations of the region and California’s courts all agree: The Cadiz Water Project will protect the desert environment including Bonanza Spring,” Degener said.

The groundwater management plan details the county’s oversight role for the project.

“It is not anticipated that the Project will have any impact on the springs,” the document says. “Nonetheless, this Management Plan provides for quarterly monitoring of the Bonanza Spring as an ‘indicator spring’ because it is the spring that is in closest proximity to the Project wellfield.”

The plan calls for “baseline and periodic visual observation and flow estimates” and says monitoring wells between the wellfield and the spring would be used to track groundwater levels.

According to the plan, if there’s a reduction in the spring’s flow and it’s determined to be due to the company’s wells, “corrective measures” would include reducing pumping, changing pumping locations in the wellfield or stopping groundwater extraction.

More: Federal policy change criticized for giving ‘free pass’ to controversial desert water project

One of the concerns that Zdon and others raise about Cadiz’s plan is that the pumping would create a “cone of depression” in the aquifer as groundwater flows from surrounding areas toward the company’s wellfield.

The way groundwater drawdown occurs in the desert, Zdon said, “it’s very hard to control what happens once that cone of depression starts building.”

Once the pumping begins to lower the water table, that depressed area of the aquifer would continue to expand for years, even if the pumping were stopped.

Given that dynamic, Zdon said, the monitoring plan “is not sufficient to be protective of the spring.”

“When you lower the water table below a spring system like that, the first thing you would notice is a reduction in surface flow and maybe a complete cessation of any kind of surface water at the site,” Zdon said. “If you see an impact at the spring, it’s probably too late.”

Cadiz’s executives and researchers responded that the sort of monitoring Zdon is calling for is already part of the county’s plan.

Degener said the project “will be regulated by an extensive groundwater monitoring plan enforced by the County that includes the exact kind of groundwater monitoring Zdon recommends and goes even further including monitoring features across the entire watershed.”

There are already two existing monitoring wells, one uphill from Fenner Valley and another close to Danby, Foreman said.

“It’s interesting that the water temperature in those wells is actually higher than the water temperature of the spring,” Foreman said. “And so that water has obviously moved over long distances and it’s 2 to 3 degrees higher in temperature than the spring, so we think that the spring is more local water, and those water temperatures show that separation.”

Kenney and Foreman said some of Zdon’s findings are consistent with their own but they disagree with the conclusions, including that the spring would be fed by recharge from an area far to the north.

“I’m wondering how much of his findings might change if he was to consider the watershed that we considered, not north of the Clippers but just simply the rocks in the western Clipper Mountains,” Kenney said.

Zdon and his colleagues stressed that if the pumping begins, more intensive monitoring would be necessary to protect the spring. They wrote that the groundwater monitoring “should be designed to obtain sufficient early warning of potentially damaging groundwater level decline.”

They said relying on observable changes at the spring would be ineffective, and that drilling monitoring wells close to Bonanza Spring would provide a way of spotting a decline quickly — before it’s too late for the spring.

Their research included not only data collected by Zdon and his colleagues, but also data from a study that researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory conducted in 2000 for Cadiz and the Metropolitan Water District, which were working together at the time on an earlier iteration of the project.

That earlier research focused on identifying the recharge area and estimating the amount of recharge. It included geochemical analyses of the water in Bonanza Spring and other springs and wells.

Davisson, who was one of Zdon’s coauthors, also helped carry out that research for Lawrence Livermore back in 2000, and the data was publicly released in August 2017.

Zdon said the data helped confirm his team’s findings.

“We were actually largely using the same analytical techniques in sampling that Lawrence Livermore used back in 2000 on behalf of Cadiz,” Zdon said. “What that did was essentially confirm our sampling, because basically our results 17 years later were nearly identical with what Lawrence Livermore came up with.”

April 13, 2018

Pahrump-based radio host Art Bell dies at 72

Radio host Art Bell dies at 72

Las Vegas Review-Journal

Longtime radio host Art Bell died Friday at his Pahrump home, the Nye County Sheriff’s Office announced. He was 72.

Bell’s paranormal-themed show, “Coast to Coast AM,” was syndicated on about 500 North American stations in the 1990s before he left the nightly show in 2002. He broadcast the show from Pahrump’s KNYE 95.1 FM, a station he founded.

Bell retired several times in his career, which included a short-lived show on SiriusXM satellite radio in 2013.

Returning to terrestrial radio afterward was not a difficult decision, he told the Pahrump Valley Times in August 2013.

“That’s easy, because I love it,” he said at the time. “It’s my life, and that’s all I have ever done. I went through a lot of family problems, so that interrupted things, and I was overseas for four years, and that certainly interrupted things. I went back into radio because I love it.”

Bell was inducted into the Nevada Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame in 2006. He did not attend the presentation.

In 2008, Bell was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.

Bell was born in Jacksonville, North Carolina, on June 17, 1945. He served in the the U.S. Air Force as a medic during the Vietnam War.

According to the Coast to Coast AM website, Bell was an FCC licensed radio technician at age 13. He also set a Guinness World Record for a solo broadcast marathon, at more than 116 hours, while working as a DJ in Okinawa, Japan, the website said.

April 10, 2018

Finding beauty in detritus in the Mojave Desert

Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Museum of Assemblage Sculpture in Joshua Tree. “No Contest (Bicycles)” (Helen Gordon/CC BY 2.0)

Mike McPhate
The California Sun


In the Mojave Desert, a post-apocalyptic menagerie of 100 or so sculptures rises from the dust.

Visitors, often arriving from long distances, wander among the large works built from junk: toilets, television sets, tires, broken keyboards, and other found objects.

There is a snake-like installation made from lunch trays, walk-through structures filled with castoff clothing, VCRs, bottles, and folded newspapers, and bowling balls fashioned into a gigantic Newton’s cradle.

This is Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Museum of Assemblage Sculpture, the life’s work of one of California’s most fascinating artists.

Purifoy was born in rural Alabama in 1917. He fought in World War II, then emerged later as an influential assemblage artist in 1960s Los Angeles, where he created sculptures from the rubble of the Watts riots and led the Watts Towers Art Center.

In 1989, he fled to Joshua Tree. “I wanted to do an earth piece,” he once explained to a journalist, “and you can’t get that much land in Los Angeles to do an earth piece.”

For the next 15 years, Purifoy constructed his magnum opus on a 10-acre lot at the end of a dirt road. The high-desert setting — silent, vast, and severe — seemed to heighten the strangeness of the works.

Purifoy died in 2004 at the age of 86. The Noah Purifoy Foundation was created to look after the open-air museum, a mission that has been tempered by the artist’s stated belief that the desert itself was his collaborator.

“I do assemblage. I don’t do maintenance,” Purifoy told the L.A. Times. “What nature does is part of the creative process.”

Still, the foundation has worked to prolong the life of the sculptures — touching up paint and adding guy wire to make sure things don’t fall — while acknowledging that some of it will be lost to the elements.

“Obviously there’s diminishing returns on a lot of the work,” said Joseph Lewis, the foundation’s president. “But some of it will stand the test of time.”

Lewis said Purifoy’s legacy, beyond his desert shrine, is in the inspiration the African-American artist spread throughout the art world — highlighted in a major retrospective at Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2015 — especially within the black community.

“His conceptual footprint is very, very large,” Lewis said, “and we want to make sure that that is put into the history books and into the canon.”

March 29, 2018

Forget Punxsutawney Phil: Vegas has own forecaster

It isn’t springtime here till this desert tortoise leaves his burrow

MOJAVE MAX has been announcing the end of winter in Las Vegas since 2000, but his public relations team is still working on raising his profile. This year he emerged on March 23 to declare the arrival of springtime. (Springs Preserve)

David Montero
Los Angeles Times


Mojave Max, the desert tortoise in Las Vegas who marks the arrival of spring each year when he emerges from his burrow, has always existed in the long shadow of Punxsutawney Phil — the ultimate case of a big star in a small market.

It's Phil who nabs the national headlines and knowing nods from high-profile news anchors when he is yanked out on Feb. 2 to let the nation know how much longer winter will last.

The groundhog from Pennsylvania has always hogged the limelight when it comes to weather prognostication — a Goliath among all creatures great and small. Even this story, which is about Mojave Max, starts off about Phil. See how it is?

The rodent's public relations team wasn't overly impressed when it heard Mojave Max had emerged from his burrow last Friday to declare the start of spring in Las Vegas.

"Ever heard of Mojave Max?" I asked Katie Donald, the executive director of the Groundhog Club in Punxsutawney.

"I'm sorry, I haven't," Donald said.

"Are you aware of other animals that do, um, seasonal work?" I asked.

"We're aware of few," Donald said. "There's a lobster in Maine — I can't think of his name. And there's a few imitator groundhogs in the Pennsylvania area that we don't acknowledge."

(The lobster is Passy Pete, by the way, and he predicts if summer will last another six weeks by opening a scroll with a claw. Forecast: It might be boiling hot, Pete. Beware.)

But Pete is in Maine, a far-flung state that is famous mostly for Stephen King, lighthouses and lobster rolls. There's also Mojave Maxine, a desert tortoise at the Living Desert in Palm Desert. She emerged from her burrow Jan. 31.

So, how is it that Mojave Max — a desert tortoise in a city that is internationally iconic and draws the biggest stars to its 24-hour spotlight — isn't much known beyond the Clark County line?

"We're working on that," concedes Dawn Barraclough, a spokeswoman for Springs Preserve, where Mojave Max lives.

Around 1994, as part of the Desert Conservation Program's effort to bring attention to the desert tortoise's threatened species status, one was identified in the area and moved to the Red Rock Canyon visitor center. He was named Mojave Max.

The resident desert tortoise, about the size of a football, has been identifying seasonal changes publicly since 2000. when the first Mojave Max emergence contest was held. When Max emerged from his burrow, the biologists would note that it signaled the start of spring in the area.

It was more low key back then — especially by Vegas standards — as the Las Vegas Strip was on the cusp of going big with resorts like Bellagio that brought in rare white tigers and dancing fountains. If Punxsutawney Phil were ever to move to Vegas, he'd probably have his own residency at a casino.

Max, seemingly, would prefer his residency to remain a dirt hole.

Heather Green, a spokeswoman for the county who works for the Desert Conservation Program, said the earliest that Mojave Max has emerged from his burrow in his years as a seasonal forecaster is Feb. 14. The latest is April 17.

Last year, biologists decided it was better for Max to not be bothered at Red Rock Canyon anymore, and he retired to a quieter life. But the tradition still carried on with a new Mojave Max — a 14-year-old desert tortoise living in captivity at Springs Preserve. In showbiz parlance, a casting change. Roger Moore in for Sean Connery. (In James Bond fashion, Max currently lives with four female tortoises on 15 acres of open space at Springs Preserve.)

Max's profile has also been raised on social media, where the tortoise has a Twitter account.

"Yep! It seemed like a good day to EMERGE!! My official emergence date and time: March 23, 2018 at 11:11 am! SPRING HAS SPRUNG," the tweet from @MojaveMax read.

Green said that, unlike Punxsutawney Phil, Max is allowed to dictate the seasonal change rather than being yanked out of a hut on a predetermined day, the way Phil has been marking Groundhog Day for more than 130 years.

Donald said Phil's track record is unblemished.

"He's been right 100% of the time," she said.

Time magazine did an analysis of Phil's accuracy and it revealed he was actually correct only about 36% of the time. This year, a warrant was issued for Phil's arrest by the Monroe County Sheriff's Office in Pennsylvania for deception — claiming that winter has continued longer than the six additional weeks predicted by the groundhog. Phil's publicity team argued that the warrant was a misguided attempt to blame the messenger rather than Mother Nature.

It should be noted that Mojave Max has never been subject to an arrest warrant.

Phil's club also steadfastly sticks to the lore centered around the groundhog's age. Donald said that because of a special elixir administered every few years, the same Phil has been doing prognostications for the past 132 years. Donald will not budge on this point, even though a groundhog's lifespan typically doesn't exceed eight years.

Green said desert tortoises live between 50 and 80 years. And Max doesn't have to drink an elixir, either. Just water.

But with a long lifespan, Mojave Max could have this gig for quite a while. A Vegas residency with the staying power of a Wayne Newton, Liberace or Celine Dion.

March 25, 2018

Mojave National Preserve releases plan to remove most man-made wildlife water

Most small game guzzlers like this one would be removed or neglected into a non-functioning condition under the new NPS policy.

By JIM MATTHEWS
www.OutdoorNewsService.com


This has happened before.

The Mojave National Preserve released its Management Plan for Developed Water Sources on Tuesday this past week along with the environmental assessment of the plan’s impacts, effectively laying the groundwork for the abandonment or removal of well over 100 historic man-made water sources and developed springs used by wildlife.

Wildlife enthusiasts have been down this road before on the Preserve, when its second superintendent, Mary Martin, directed the removal and destruction of historic cattle water sources that had served wildlife for over 75 years. This was a direct violation of the Preserve’s own management plan that called for the evaluation of the impacts that water removal would have before they were removed. That evaluation never happened, but over 100 water sources that benefitted wildlife were removed that time around.

Now, this week’s document lists four alternatives for action within the plan, but all four would lead to the loss of all but two or three of the developed water sources within designated wilderness areas. It would also lead to the loss of dozens of water sources outside of wilderness.

The impacts on wildlife this would cause within the Preserve are dismissed and not addressed in any detail in the plan, calling the impacts “localized and small,” without any supporting documentation.

The public has a 30-day window (until April 19) to comment on the plan. More information and copies of the plan are available on the Preserve website at this direct address: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/moja_waterplan_ea.

Behind the scenes, the Department of Fish and Wildlife field staff is seething over the NPS’ plan. These are the scientists who are watching decades of their water development work and resulting successes wildlife protection and mitigation for natural water source losses across the desert.

The official DFW statement from Jordan Traverso, Sacramento-based information chief, hinted at the outrage, but was restrained.

“Natural and reliable surface water sources are not always available in the current desert environment,” she said Saturday. “The Department has worked with many partners over the years, including the NPS, to establish and document the importance of reliable water sources for wildlife. Across the California desert and since the early 1950s, wildlife water developments have provided this basic necessity to support and stabilize desert wildlife populations.

“While wilderness protection would guide land managers toward keeping a natural and undeveloped landscape, the wildlife that live in these landscapes deal with the reality of the anthropogenic changes imposed upon them. Though they offer protection, large and wild spaces alone do not necessarily ensure that a viable wildlife population can be maintained in perpetuity given some of those changes on the landscape.

“As wildlife managers, we look forward to collaborating with land managing agencies to ensure that wildlife and the habitat needs they require are secured when making changes to available resources within the landscape.”

Hunting conservation groups feel betrayed. Their decades-long conservation efforts to restore and update these man-made guzzlers, spring developments, and the conversion of cattle water to wildlife water on the Preserve are set to be abandoned or destroyed.

In a nutshell, the plan is an assault on all wildlife within the preserve and spells out the agency’s vision of “wilderness.” That vision comes at the expense of all desert wildlife and virtually all the other mandates called for in the Preserve’s management plan. Those who have battled through the 233 pages of “bias and hypocrisy” have pointed out major flaws common to all alternatives.

Cliff McDonald, the president of Water for Wildlife, a conservation group that has repaired over 160 guzzlers in the past several years, including many on the Preserve before the work was halted there, was outraged by the lack of common sense in the NPS proposal.

McDonald pointed out that the 68 big and small game guzzlers within wilderness occupy less than 3/4s of an acre total ground space of the 804,000 acres of wilderness within the Preserve, but the Preserve staff believes that 3/4 acre impacts “wilderness character” to the detriment of the designation.

“The impact is on one one-millionth of the Preserve’s wilderness. One millionth! How is that impact of the wildness an issue?” asked McDonald. “Don’t the benefits of this water for desert wildlife outweigh the impacts?”

Ironically, even the current Preserve superintendent Todd Suess has admitted to DFW staff that the Wilderness Act doesn’t mandate the removal or abandonment of these historic structures to comply with the wilderness designation. In fact, on nearby Bureau of Land Management Lands, also designated wilderness, maintenance and even construction of new guzzlers has been allowed because of the value to wildlife.

According to opponents of the water plan, the hypocrisy comes in when you realize the plan’s alternatives continue to allow at least two big game drinkers within the preserve’s wilderness because of their documented importance to bighorn sheep, but somehow decided the other wildlife drinkers have no importance.

Yet, the National Park Service has done no assessment to evaluate the impact the removal of the other 66 man-made drinkers will have on all wildlife that currently use those water sources. It has been determined -- apparently by “fiat and lots of hypocrisy” -- that quasi-pristine wilderness is more important than wildlife. Ironically, most of the guzzlers would not be removed or their footprint restored, they would simply remain and allowed to decay until non-functional. So, theoretically, the negative impacts will still exist -- they just won’t serve an important wildlife function any longer. This is simply insane.

The NPS staff is also mandated to protect and maintain historic sites throughout the Preserve, and most of these guzzlers were made in the 50s, as part of a concerted effort by the state DFW to create and enhance water sources for wildlife, even then recognizing the important to mitigate for urban sprawl and loss of historic natural water sources. There has been no effort by Preserve staff to recognize the historic value of these guzzlers or to maintain them for their intended purpose.

The park service has even been obstructing the gathering of data that would show the importance of water for the Preserve’s wildlife. Eight years into a comprehensive deer study on the Preserve, the park service removed its support of the project when it was entering a phase when the importance of man-made water sources would be evaluated and tested by turning on and off some of these sources and measuring impacts. The reason support was removed: It wasn’t going to affect the park service’s decision on how to manage the water sources.

The document also says there are 311 natural springs on the Preserve. Somehow that number has increased in this period of drought from a list of 101 that were found to hold year-around water in the 2008 NPS survey of springs. Many of the 175 suspected springs checked during those surveys proved to be dry or seasonal water sources.

So, how has the number of springs increased?

Is that a fabrication that includes historic (now dry) springs, seasonal seeps, and tenejas? Who knows? Is the number included to make the Preserve seem awash in natural water?

It’s not. It’s a desert and barren of wildlife where there is not available water. Sadly, that includes most of the Preserve’s lands. Where there’s water, the Preserve is a wildlife oasis.

So what is this water removal plan really all about?

That is the mammoth in the creosote that no one is talking about:

Fundamentally, it is about the bias the NPS staff has against the Preserve’s number one visitor: Hunters. Hunters still make up the bulk of the visitation on the Preserve. Hunters are the only volunteers trying to maintain this desert wildlife water since that job was abandoned by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and never even attempted by the federal land management agencies, like the NPS.

Hunters (and cattle ranchers) are the only reason there is the diversity and quantity of wildlife there is on the Preserve. Over 350 species of birds and mammals have been documented on the man-made water. (So, no, it’s not only about the seven species of wildlife that may be hunted in the desert.) Preserving and adding water in desert is a good thing for all wildlife, and it is a means of mitigating for what has been lost through human activity elsewhere in the Mojave.

But it still sticks in the craw of the National Park Service staff that hunting was allowed on the vast property, and they are willing to sacrifice the Preserve’s wildlife to try to reduce or eliminate the number of hunters. They are willing to abandon 75 years of solid conservation efforts to bring the deer and desert sheep herds back. They are willing to dramatically reduce the numbers and diversity of birds and small mammals for their agenda.

There is no other explanation for this insanity. They all know the Wilderness Act doesn’t mandate actions this extreme. There is simply no other explanation.

Hopefully, enough people will get their federal representatives involved. Maybe then Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of Interior, will hear about this outrageous proposal and have it quietly withdrawn because it clearly violates Interior policy about cooperation with state game agency efforts and a recent policy to enhance recreational opportunities -- like hunting -- where appropriate.

The NPS staff got away with ripping out the cattle/wildlife water and seriously impacted the Preserves wildlife populations over a decade ago. That can’t happen again.

January 5, 2018

Smoke trees in full indigo bloom are a desert paradox

Smoke trees.

Words by Ruth Nolan
Photographs by Millicent Harvey
Desert Sun Magazine


When it comes to iconic desert trees, Palm Springs is famous for its palm-filled canyons, while the Mojave Desert is home to the ubiquitous Joshua tree. The sultry smoke tree also fills our washes and age-old flood plains, holding its rightful place as one of the most iconic shrub-like trees of the Coachella Valley and vast tracts of the California and Arizona deserts.

The low-voiced, puff-shaped smoke tree (Psorothamnus spinosus) enchants through different seasons – a winter-long, half-dead appearance of tangled brown branches and scant white-green, tiny leaves, and then this: a short, late spring season of vivid, dark blue-violet colored flowers bursting from its seeming passivity that startle the desert sky and passersby with an unmistakable presence and unanticipated beauty.

Smoke trees in full indigo bloom are a desert paradox. Viewed from a canyon overlook down into a desolate, bone-dry desert wash, the purple hues burst from the trees below, making them sag with top-heavy abundance and the weight of their odd, proliferate beauty. The clusters of vivid color, illuminated by the desert’s fabled light and contrasted with stark, brown canyon walls and barren sand, resemble a bigger version of dark purple Fantasy grapes, grown and harvested in many eastern valley vineyards. They offer a sense of visual abundance and reassurance that this is, after all, a desert of life – as well as promises of ephemeral and lasting, if briefly witnessed, magnificence.

Walk up close to one of these powerfully blooming trees, and you’ll see that the indigo flowers are, individually, quite small, and resemble flowers on a pea plant, to which smoke trees are, incidentally, related. The desert at your feet will be covered with a sweet purple carpet of fallen and quickly drying blooms. This past May, as desert temperatures began to climb into triple digits and most of the seasonal visitors had already departed, smoke trees filled Coachella Valley washes with brilliant indigo hues for a few short weeks before fading back into hushed tones.

These vibrant colors are among the fleeting beauty of all desert flowers, and offer deeply satisfying and inspirational views that keep many of us here, year after year, through unbearably long summers of staggering and dangerous heat, and prolonged months without rain. Smoke trees, in all their full-bloomed glory, offer a long drink of cool beauty to all thirsty souls in the desert who have waited so long to sip.

A wise teacher

Smoke trees don’t announce themselves with the sort of loud, outward pronouncements made by palms or Joshua trees. Instead, they weave their way into one’s consciousness, waiting patiently for the intrepid sort of desert rat or visitor who has time to notice, and maybe explore, the magic held within the smoke.

Inside the rugged, forested feel of a single tree or, more likely, a cluster of trees – spaced, like most desert plants, a respectful distance apart and running predictably up and down the wash or flood plain that nourishes its lifespan and offspring – you’ll see desert light filtering in. It gently touches the brown, seemingly lifeless lower branches and illuminates the iridescent, wintergreen-toned upper branches, bringing the purple flowers to brilliant life as if in a cloud.

Each baby tree, brought to life from the odd but vital process of scarification, in which its seed is scratched from the violent movement of sand and rocks during flash floods, sinks a tap root deep into the earth until it finds water. In this sense, the smoke tree is also a wise desert teacher and flood zone signifier: Seasoned campers know not to set up camp wherever there are smoke trees, although for the vast majority of time, water is not to be seen or found in what appears to be an extremely arid land.

The time of flowering for smoke trees is brief, only a few weeks from mid-May through early June, and like many desert plants, their yearly time of blooming can be either abundant or sparse, depending on rainfall, soil temperatures and other factors. This past bloom in spring was one of the most fantastic in recent memory.

Symbol of silence

For most of the year, smoke trees quietly and instinctively scale back their presence, in a process known as “die-back,” common to many other desert plants. While waiting patiently in the rain shadow looming above our canyons and washes, smoke trees take on the brittle appearance of being almost dead, or dying. In fact, the process of dropping most of its tiny light green leaves, except in the top branches of the trees, is what helps the smoke tree survive and even thrive.

The appearance of the smoke tree in winter and other dry months is what has evoked its iconic name: These are times when it appears most like wisps of smoke wafting across canyon floors and washes. But to those who listen, and look, and wait patiently, the very desert-defining presence of the smoke tree comes vividly alive.

The collective voice of these near-invisible trees was certainly heard by the many plein-air, impressionistic desert artists of the earlier to mid-20th century. Dubbed the Smoke Tree School, painters such as Carl Eytel, John Hilton and Carl Bray – whose home and gallery are commemorated along Highway 111 in Indian Wells – brought the smoke tree, in both its more ghostly, silent and wildly blossoming violet-hued incarnations to life, and memorialized the timeless feel of the untouched desert in paintings that emblemize its ubiquitous presence.

The song of this year’s splashy, violet-blue smoke tree super bloom may have faded away, but its melodic imprint remains. Like all desert plant life, its time of flowering is brief, and perhaps memorialized all the more because of its brevity.

The smoke tree remains, at all times of year, a symbol of the silence and adaptability to times of overabundance and drought that are endemic to desert living – and a talisman of renewal, transformation and hope. It represents many qualities that so many of us come here for: a rare, tranquil stillness and the graceful surrender to the splendor of the desert’s wide open and seemingly endless girth, one tempered only by mountains, canyon walls and precious dearth.

Explore More

SMOKE TREES CAN BE FOUND IN ABUNDANCE LOCALLY IN ARABY WASH IN PALM SPRINGS; ALONG HAYSTACK ROAD'S EASTERN SIDEWALK IN PALM DESERT; AT THE LIVING DESERT ZOO AND GARDENS; IN THOUSAND PALMS OASIS PRESERVE AND ALONG MCCALLUM TRAIL IN COACHELLA VALLEY PRESERVE; AND ALONG BOX CANYON ROAD IN THE MECCA HILLS.