Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Photo Essay: The Healing Powers of Highland Springs

If you happened to find yourself at the Highland Springs Ranch & Inn in Cherry Valley, CA (about 30 miles east of the City of Riverside, in Riverside County), it probably would be for one of three things: olives, lavender, or sheep.

Or, if you're lucky, you can experience all three at once.

The town of Cherry Valley is still incredibly rural, considering its proximity to the 10 Freeway. But its history of cherry-picking (reportedly the first to debut the popular "U-Pick" during a shortage of farmhands) has given way to these new crops (and to the apples that send people through Cherry Valley on their way north to Oak Glen).

It was the Olive Festival that first brought me to Highland Springs, where I perused the goods in the cottages known as the Organic Galleries...

...and skulked around the tiny, time warp cabins—some vacant, some occupied, and all clearly with lots of stories to tell.

The so-called ranch and inn at Highland Springs were built on the former San Gorgonio Rancho, a cattle ranch that was owned by the San Gabriel Mission and that shares its name with the highest peak in Southern California.

In the 1920s, the property was known as "Highland Springs Resort"—a health-minded wellness resort that drew the likes of Albert EinsteinErnest HemingwayBob Hope, and Roy Rogers to stay for vegetarian meals, juice fasts, and colonics.

Eventually, it attracted people who were so bad off, it earned the nickname "The Last Resort."

But decades before that, it was a stagecoach stop known as "Smith Station"...

...and it attracted the likes of Wyatt Earp (and some lawless robbers and murderers, too), on their way eastward to Arizona.

And centuries before that, the "Grand Oak"—a 1100-year-old coastal live oak tree—was just a sapling, with no white man in sight.

Today, the historic structures that haven't burned down have been restored...

...though the pool, jacuzzi, and bathhouse remain closed...


Today, the focus at Highland Springs is less on recreation, rehabilitation, rest, and repose...

...though the tennis courts await a fresh serve...

...and the basketball hoop could use a good dunk.

Tucked away beyond the manicured lawns and amidst the groves of trees are whimsical and enchanted faux bois bridges, railings, and benches...

...as well as fountains, wishing wells, and figurines that have somehow survived the ranch's preservation and modernization efforts.

Highland Springs is now home to 123 Farm, which nurtures, harvests, and distills from the organic lavender fields and olive tree groves...

...and herds organically-raised sheep.

The flock roams a 70-acre pasture, mingling with free-range chickens and roosters, safely protected from coyotes and such by a Great Pyrenees named Bear.

With rising spring temperatures, this is the time of the year that too-fluffy fleece can make the sheep uncomfortably hot...

...and so begins the ritual of shearing, not only to shed their winter coats but to provide wool for spinning into yarn and felting.

Sheep have a tendency towards parasite infections, so to stay healthy without use of veterinary drugs, they eat olive leaves—which happen to be naturally antimicrobial, antiviral, and anti-parasitic.

Of course, this is a working farm that's left its resort days of vegetarianism in the past, so it uses the milk from the ewes to make soap and cheese; and it uses the rams as studs to make babies, until such time that they're sent "on vacation" to be made into dinner at the onsite restaurant, The Grand Oak Steakhouse (which also serves organic eggs from the farm as well as lavender-infused olive oil vinaigrette and other house-made delights).

For all its whimsy, this place has some serious historical layers to explore, as well as quiet areas to escape and make a wish.

Maybe it's the vast expanse of agricultural acreage, or maybe it's the clean desert air under a clear desert sky, but Highland Springs feels magical and—though it has abandoned such purpose—healing.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Healing Powers of Zzyzx
Plunging My Hand into a Field of Terror at the Lavender Farm
Photo Essay: Graber Olive House
Photo Essay: A Historic Oasis in the Valley of the Oaks

Monday, March 20, 2017

Photo Essay: Where Airplanes Go To Rest

It seems like nearly everyone in the town of Mojave, CA has been trying to get out, from when it was first used as part of the construction of the Southern Pacific Railroad to the subsequent transport of borax and the construction of the LA Aqueduct.

These days, maybe they're just passing through on their way across Highway 58 to Bakersfield, or up Highway 14 to the Eastern Sierras and Death Valley.

Maybe they're testing experimental aircraft to be flown to far-off lands. (A couple of pilots did successfully circumnavigate the globe in the Voyager aircraft—taking off from and landing at nearby Edwards Air Force Base, without stopping to refuel—in 1986.)

Or, most recently, they could be trying to use Mojave as a launching pad into space. The Mojave Airport was, after all, renamed the "Air and Space Port" in honor of Space Ship One and Virgin Galactic.

In any case, Mojave always seems to have been a means to an end. But to me, Mojave was a destination.

Google Satellite View

Mojave is the site of an airplane "graveyard" (or "boneyard")...

...which includes a number of airplane shells that are waiting to be refurbished...

...or are destined for the scrapyard.

Some of those planes have been there a while...

...and aren't going anywhere, anytime soon.

A lot of them couldn't fly anyway, since their engines have been removed.

The area has been famously off-limits to civilians, reportedly since 9/11-related security concerns...

...but that was way before I'd even heard of the place.

I didn't make it there until 2010, when I thought I'd seen everything I would be allowed to see.

But I was wrong—something I discovered when I returned to Mojave and stopped at the Air and Space Port for lunch and some planespotting.

We were excited enough just to dine with the tarmac in view; but then, our server said, "You can go out there, if you want."

And lo, there in the distance were the retired commercial jets—some from airlines I'd never even heard of—all lined up in their death march formation.

No fence separated us from them, nor any locked gate—just a vast expanse of runway and painted red lines that read "DO NOT CROSS."

And we obeyed, despite our curiosity and excitement.

For that day, it was going to have to be enough to get a clear, straight-on view of the bones in the yard.

Of course, in the foreground, we found distraction in the planes that most likely can and do fly...

...with no barriers between us and them...

...and only theoretical flight patterns in the empty sky above us.

But in the time it took to poach my egg and toast Erin's sandwich, a couple of other flight enthusiasts joined us on the airfield...

...though they also happened to be pilots.

We gleefully watched them take off for a trip to nowhere—most likely just to return to Mojave, to that place everyone else is trying to get out of.

And after we'd finished our lunches, it was time for us to leave Mojave, too—just as the gold and silver miners of the 1930s did (who the airport originally served when it opened in 1935), and just as the Marines did after the end of WWII (and again in 1961).

But the difference is: I'll probably be back.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Boneyard at the Former Cal-Aero Flying Academy
Photo Essay: Test Pilot Crash Sites in the Mojave Desert
Photo Essay: Neon Boneyard, Vegas

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Springing Forward in Search of Wildflowers

What better way to commemorate the start of Daylight Savings Time (a.k.a. "Spring Forward") than searching for wildflowers?

We knew that there was already a "superbloom" happening in the desert lands to the east and to the south (more on that later), but we were a lot closer to the arid expanse of the Mojave to the north.

So, we started by driving up San Francisquito Canyon Road to the area of Elizabeth Lake and Lake Hughes—but this year, unlike back in 2014, there were no poppies and no lupine to be seen for miles.

As we headed closer to Lancaster, we could see some orange pops of color on the distant mountaintops...

....and the occasional outcropping along the side of the road.

If nothing else, Southern California is greener now that I've ever seen it.

And this is really just the beginning of wildflower season...

...the buds in the Antelope Valley taking a little bit longer to open than those in hotter climes farther inland.

But still, what had appeared by last weekend was enough to draw people out of their cars...

...and collect on the side of the road...

...in a place they might not ever find themselves otherwise...

...chatting with people they might not otherwise ever meet.

As we continued our journey north, we found ourselves turning off any random side road just to see if we could find something...

...which we did at the southern end of Mojave, CA near the site of Holliday Rock.

It looked promising, but we were just too early. You have to time these things just right.

Fortunately, there's one thing that the California desert can reliably deliver any time of year: ramshackle homesteads off the side of the road.

They may be predictable, but they never cease to delight.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Poppies Peaking in Antelope Valley
Photo Essay: An Explosion of Wildflowers in the Antelope Valley
Spring Forward