Ramble On

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park - part 3

After a half day or so of driving north through Joshua Tree National Park, I was nearly at the end of the road.  I had decided that my final destination was going to be Hidden Valley, which promised to give me a good look at the unique granite formations and the Joshua Trees that are the hallmark of the Mojave side of the park.  Here’s the description of the trail, from the Best Easy Day Hikes book (book linked below):

  • Hidden Valley – For good reason this is one of the park’s most heavily visited trails.  The enchanting valley is surrounded by mounds of monzogranite and attracts climbers as well as more casual explorers. 

Except for the little side trip to the rock arch, none of the walks I had taken in this park could be classified as hikes.  Even this one, which was about a mile long and took around a half mile, was on an easy trail over granite and sand, with a few stone stairways thrown in where the slight elevation required it.  Still, I managed to “hike” two or three miles out there in the desert heat – and that heat was definitely the reason I took it so easy!

Before I left Palm Desert, I had stocked up on water, buying four one-liter bottles to carry with me.  Taking stock before setting out in Hidden Valley, I had already consumed two liters; when I returned to the car afterwards I drank another half-liter.  I finished that third bottle during the drive to Coachella Valley Brewing after I exited the park.

From the Hidden Valley parking lot, the trail winds gently upward through the boulders, until finally cresting a small rise and descending into the valley.  There are interpretive signs all along the trail, and in the first part the subject matter relates Native American life in the valley, and then stories of cattle ranching there.  There are even stories of rustlers that used the valley as a hideout.

The star of the show these days are the incredible Monzonite granite boulders.  While the harsh desert sun tends to wash out the color from a distance, when you get close you can see that they are mostly a beautiful pink shade.  It’s probably a magical experience to be among these formations at sunset.

Since my drive back to the southern exit followed the route of the trip I had made 10 years ago, I started to recognize some of the features I had encountered on that trip.  I was struck by the seasonal changes as I drove through the Pinto Basin – when I had visited before, in the winter, plant life was abundant and verdant, given the desert conditions.  Here in the summer, the general sense was of dusty, dry ground, with the plants all clinging to life from their water stores or from some unseen, deep underground moisture.

My day trip to Joshua Tree was a success – I’d managed to experience, and learn, about the desert ecosystem.  I had not encountered much wildlife to speak of, just the honeybees and a few crows, but everything else remained sensibly out of sight.  There were relatively few tourists, so I had most of the sightseeing activities to myself – except for a German family that was also staying at the hotel in Palm Desert, whom I encountered twice in the park.

All that was left on my agenda for the day was to head over to Coachella Valley Brewing, which I posted on last week, and then find something for dinner.  The next day was set aside for a few brewery chores in the hotel in the morning, and then the drive into LA to get ready for the reunion at USC.  Those will be my next topics.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park - part 2

In my first post about my day trip to Joshua Tree National Park, I mentioned an earlier trip I had made in December 2006.  That time, I only had the NPS guide to the park, which I picked up from the ranger at the entrance station.  I loosely followed it as I drove through the park from north to south.

That plan had worked well enough, but there was one point where I decided I wanted to take a walk towards some of the unique rock formations that highlight the Mojave side of Joshua Tree.  The distance I was going was only a quarter mile, but it wasn’t long before the landscape’s undulations left the rental car out of site, and I turned back for fear of getting lost.  Even so, I had time to experience the amazing diversity of desert plants that can be found here, and I even encountered a small arch that had been carved into the terrain.

This time, I had picked up a copy of the Best Day Hikes book for Joshua Tree National Park, and picked out a few destinations that looked worthy of a stop.  Most of these were short side trips, no more than a third of a mile round trip to the destination; I've also listed Cottonwood Spring even though I didn't visit it this time - the ranger at the welcome station suggested it, and I visited it the first time I visited the park.  

I’ve included the introductory description from the little day hikes guide (which I have once again linked at the end of this post): 

  • Cottonwood Spring (1.6 miles, sandy trail) – This nature trail provides not only identifications of desert plants but also describes their uses by Native Americans.  A stroll farther down the wash from Cottonwood Spring allows you to see another use of the desert at Moorten’s Mill.
  • Cholla Cactus Garden (0.25 miles, asphalt trail) – An unusually dense stand of cholla cactus rises in a cluster above the vast Pinto Basin.  The plants are as captivating as the views of the desert and the mountain ranges that surround the trail.
  • Arch Rock (0.3 miles, granite and sand loop trail)– A short nature trail winds around fascinating White Tank granite formations and features appropriate geology lessons.
  • Keys View (0.25 asphalt trail) – Keys View offers spectacular views of the south-central area of the park.  An interpretive sign provides information on the serious problem of air pollution in Joshua Tree.

The biggest surprise I encountered on the short walks I visited were the honey bees, hard at work despite the 100-degree temperatures.  There is even a sign warning about them at the Cholla Garden – and they were so omnipresent and curious, I didn’t even walk on that trail.  At the Keys View parking area, they were attracted to the sugar on the parking lot, residue from so many sweet drinks that had poured out there – I parked a long way out in the parking lot in an area that didn’t seem highly trafficked.
I visited Keys View on my previous trip, a clear winter day, so that I could see the Salton Sea in the distance to the south.  This time, the field of view was obscured by haze, and the interpretive sign directed me to look west in the direction of Palm Springs.  The entry to Coachella Valley is there, but a haze obscured the details of the geology – not only automobile emissions over the freeway, but everything else American society might put into the air in the Los Angeles basin. 

These short hikes – or more accurately, walks – were informative and offered a perspective on this beautiful landscape.  I’ve saved the highlight, Hidden Valley, for my last post about the visit to Joshua Tree.  For now, here’s that link to the Easy Day Hikes Book I used as a guide for my visit. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park - part 1

 Back in the winter of 2006 I was in Southern California on business.  My team had elected to stay over the weekend rather than flying back and forth to the east coast, so I took the rental car and made my first trip to Joshua Tree National Park during that trip.  I hadn’t planned my time well for that one; but the park is so fascinating I added it to the itinerary for the 2017 vacation.

A quick reference to the park’s website will provide an excellent overview, but I also picked up a copy of “Best Easy Day Hikes” in Joshua Tree (linked below).  I’ve used these guides in quite a few parks, including Acadia, Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and Shenandoah.  I reckon I have seven or eight of them – and at one point I had completed every day hike listed in the Shenandoah book!

With even this modest preparation, I already knew much more about the park then I did that first time I visited.  Joshua Tree is a desert place – but the park itself actually straddles the border of two North American deserts – the Mojave in the Northeast, and the Sonoran in the Southwest.  On that previous trip, I entered through the Mojave, but this time, I drove over from Palm Desert, through the Sonoran side.

The landscape character is clearly divided in two, with the Sonora an arid, rocky place, and the Mojave characterized by unique rocky formations and the Joshua Tree itself.  On the east coast, we are conditioned to think of deserts as a sandy place with very few plants, lifeless as far as the eye can see.  That is the experience you have in Death Valley, but here in Joshua Tree, specialized vegetation abounds – even though I was there in the summer, and the plants do everything they can to conserve water for themselves, there was green to be found in both deserts, and in one spot, the plants were even in bloom! 

Before getting much further into the Joshua Tree experience, I want to spend a moment or two talking about the eponymous trees.  It’s actually a type of yucca, and its range is not limited to this park – it is found in Nevada and Arizona as well, and south into Mexico.  Young trees are single stemmed and grow to around three or four feet tall.  Once a tree matures, flowers, and has seeds that germinate, it is likely to branch.  They can live to be older than 150 years and reach heights of 40 feet in the park, but as the trees get older they begin to fade back to a single stem before they die.

Interpretive guides say that the trees host all sorts of wildlife, including orioles, small mammals, insects, and reptiles.  Here I was out in the mid-day heat, and those animals, all smarter than me, were hidden in the shade!    


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Desert Breweries - Part 2

As my second day in Palm Desert began, I stepped outside to enjoy the moderate temperatures that settle in to the region overnight and to plan the trip over to Joshua Tree.  While a couple of posts about the park are still to come, we’ll fast forward to the evening when I sought out the other brewery in the area – Coachella Valley Brewing, which I visited on my way back to town after a day in the desert sun.  On their website, the brewery goes by the acronym CVB, which is the shorthand I’ll use in this post. 

To the west, 148 miles or so away, is Los Angeles.  In the city, the road is called “the 10” or “the Santa Monica freeway,” but here in the valley, the smog from the coast finds its destination on Interstate 10.  Freeway imagery is the theme at CVB, from the tap handles to the beer signs.  Calling upon Siri to navigate, I found the place pretty easily, including the twists and turns of the last mile when I arrived at the now ubiquitous office/industrial park that the brewery calls home.

CVB is the older of the two breweries I visited in the desert, and despite the suburban exterior there is a sense of place about the interior: you stroll through the barrel-aging program and find yourself in the taproom, where you’re greeted with an extensive tap list that is so exhaustive it’s displayed on two chalkboards.  With such a wide range of selections to choose from, it was challenging to put together a flight, but I began to decode all the offerings to pair them up properly with the experiences of the day.

I chose beers ranging in color from amber to golden at CVB.  They had a lager, which seemed appropriate for the 110+ degree temperatures I had been out in all day.  Then there were a couple of saisons, a style I like to add for a little variety.  Right in the middle of the board I had sat in front of was a list of several fruit beers – and those became the centerpiece of my flight.

This interest in fruit beers probably stems from Shiner’s Ruby Redbird I had a few summers ago – red grapefruit and ginger were used as adjuncts; and then DePeche Mode , which I tasted at Mother Bunch in Phoenix.  Since it was the summer, I’d already had a couple of peach beers during this trip, so the CVB offering was one of the four beers I chose in this flight.  I also tried one of their IPAs, which is table stakes for Southern California breweries.

It was a good selection of beers – I’ll highlight two of my choices with the description of the beers from the CVB website:

  • Phoenix Vienna Lager:  Phoenix dactylifera is the genus name for the date palm tree, long cultivated for its edible sweet fruit.  This beer is brewed with German Pilsner, Vienna, and Carapils malts, and locally-grown Medjoul dates, which are added to the boil.  Subtle German Noble hop bitterness provides balance and crisp flavor, with notes of toffee, dates, and figs shining through to the finish.  Phoenix is fermented which Mexican lager yeast, and lagered for an additional 60 days…a uniquely Coachella Valley flavor.
  • Windfarm Belgian Seasonal:  One of six core beers, this seasonal is named after the massive wind farms in the north end of the Palm Springs I-10 corridor stretching out towards Cabazon.  This beer accentuates big bubblegum flavors from the Belgian yeast strain and equally robust and tropical flavors from the large hop additions during the boil – and even more after fermentation – giving the Windfarm a huge aromatic zestiness.
As I enjoyed my flight, I realized that there was a steady happy hour crowd building at the brewery, it was really hot there, so it’s natural that you could build a good following with some air conditioning and decent beer served cold.  However, the pours these folks were ordering were unusual, so I asked about them.

They were served in those large 22-ounce pedestal lager glasses, like you get at west coast public golf course clubhouses.  They were rimmed with red margarita salt, and then the beer was mixed in with Clamato juice.  At this point, I don’t remember the name of this concoction – but they must have served six of them while I sat there. 

The one local I was chatting with – an anesthesiologist from Las Vegas who spent his week here in Palm Desert, flying home on the weekends – raved about it as he enjoyed one.  He and the bar staff were interested in what we were doing at Hawksbill Brewing and then filled me in on the history of the place and their local beer culture.  A good chat and a great experience, much as I’d enjoyed at all the breweries so far.

Soon enough, it was time for me to head on out to find some dinner, so I walked out into that blazing sun and was soon on my way.  

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Desert Breweries - part 1

After checking in to the hotel in Palm Desert (and setting the room temperature on the thermostat), I began gathering thoughts for some things I might like to do out here.  I had a plan to spend a day at Joshua Tree National Park – those posts are coming up later this week – but I also was thinking ahead to Friday in LA when I would give a presentation to my MBA reunion.  I decided to go find a haircut, and then to find a local brewery afterwards. 

Except for the face-melting heat in the desert, the haircut was unremarkable.  My next stop was LaQuinta Brewery, which is the newer of the two breweries in the area, founded in 2013.  When I arrived, I noticed a barrel-aging program – but even the beers that had been laid up in casks were older than Hawksbill Brewing!

During these brewery visits in San Diego and now the desert, I had begun to notice how the locals interact with the business – the local trade is very important to our brewery as well, and we are starting to understand what that will mean to our culture and to our success.  Here at La Quinta, the website promises a “laid-back, desert style” and I wanted to know what that was like.

It wasn’t the Eagles (here I could throw in my line from The Big Lebowski, mind the f-bomb, of course); instead the music in the background had a pop-metal sort of vibe.  Behind the bar were the guys who had dialed that sound in, so I struck up a conversation, telling them about my story and listening to them tell me theirs – how they started, how they built the business and menu.  There was a decent crowd of 20 or so folks in, it being around the happy hour.  

For beers, as the photo shows, I kept to a monochromatic selection, mainly due to the desert heat.  I also tried to stay with a session idea, ABVs between 5-6%, although I made an exception with the IPA it tried there (these descriptions are from their web site):   
  • Heatwave Amber:  Toasty malt character with a hint of caramel, this bee is slightly darker than your typical amber ale.  Generous amounts of Warrior hops provide the bitterness while Centennial and Chinook hops provide aroma.
  • Bloody Hot Summer (Seasonal):  Nothing beats this beer on a scorching hot day in the Coachella Valley.  We’ve infused a pale wheat ale with just the right amount of blood oranges, producing a fantastic thirst quenching beer.  This brew is seasonal, so it dries up with the temperatures drop!
  • Poolside Blonde:  A light maltiness provided by the Pilsner and Vienna malts.  Light straw in color, it has a moderately bitter finish.  A true palate cleansing ale.
  • Even Par IPA:  This India Pale Ale is brewed with three of the most sought-after hops in brewing – Citra, Simcoe, and Mosaic.  The result is an explosion of floral, tropical, and fruity flavors.  While this “aiming fluid” may not help you shoot even par, it will certainly make you feel like you did!

The Even Par IPA advertised an IBU of 85 based on the high alpha/aromatic qualities of that hop bill.  At Hawksbill, we designed our IPA to be around 55 IBU, significantly lower than this to emphasize our malt-forward style, but we do use Citra as part of the hop recipe.  Despite the added bitterness, theirs was refreshing and on-point, but ours held up by comparison as well; both meet the objectives of the requirement to have an IPA on tap.

After finishing my flight, I drove back to the neighborhood near the hotel for dinner.  I began to understand something about the community – Palm Springs and Palm Desert are winter playgrounds, but here I was, in the middle of it, in July.  At least after dinner, around 7:30, the temperature had already cooled off – to 106!